24 Frames in May: Film Is Still Alive and Well

24 Frames in May: Film Is Still Alive and Well

These submissions were from the 24 Frames in May project we did in May.

The goal was to shoot one roll of 24 exposure 35mm film or two rolls of 120 on a medium format camera.

As you can see, we got some great work. Film is not dead – it is alive and vibrant.

And no, I don’t want you to trade your DSLR for a film camera. I am just asking you to consider the possibility of adding it to your toolkit for another look.







Meet Sid Ceaser: Nashua New Hampshire

Meet Sid Ceaser: Nashua New Hampshire

(All photographs copyright Sid Ceaser)

Sid Ceaser Photography


Video Interview

1. What brought out your interest in photography? How’d you get started?

When I was a kid, I would take my mom’s old Polaroid camera and set up my action figures and toys into battles and then photograph them.  Then, when Fisher Price came out with the PXL-2000, a grainy, low rez video camera that recorded onto high-bias audio cassette tapes, I’d film battles with my toys, and make music videos with puppets.  I’ve always gravitated to things that capture images in some fashion.  After graduating high school in the early 90’s, I spent my 20’s working in various record shops.  Throughout all of those years, I was still making images in one way or another.  Finally, as I approached my 30’s I figured it was time to buckle down and go to school to really devote time to the craft of photography and getting a solid foundation in the arts.

2. What is your favorite subject matter – and why?

People.  God do I love making portraits of people.  When I’m not photographing real people, I’m photographing toys and figures that look like human beings.  I love having the human figure, real or fabricated, in front of my lens.

3. How long have you been pursuing a career (or part-time career) in photography?

The first thing I did when I graduated the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2004 was secure a small studio space.  I needed a place to go to so I could tune out the rest of the world and concentrate on my work. It took a little time after getting out of assignment-based art school to figure out what I really should be doing, and I’ve niched myself into two main categories:  1. headshot photography for corporate, business musicians and actors, and 2. band and musician photography for promotional, press kit, publicity and cd/album artwork.  I will do other things, like high school seniors, but it isn’t anything I advertise.

4. Who or what is your greatest influence?

Everything that I’m interested in influences me; from music to comic books to puppets to sci-fi to movies and cartoons and toys and video games … I jumble all of that stuff into a big soup and I try to let all of it influence my work by bringing what makes me unique into what I photograph.  

Even if it isn’t apparent in the image – it forms the background and the foundation of my work.  Just being able to discuss those kinds of things with my clients helps me build a rapport with them;  helps relax them and build more trust between me and them.

So in that aspect, tons of movie-makers and comic book makers and video games have had some kind of influence on me as well; all that stuff I ate up as a kid.

5. Describe your dream photography gig. What makes it so?

Dream gig: a magazine hires me to fly out to Harrison Ford’s ranch for five days.  It gives us ample time to establish a relationship and trust, so that when we start making portraits, everything flows more smoothly, and neither of us feel rushed to tied to an immediate deadline.  

I book my sessions loose because I never want the client to feel rushed.  I’m not an assembly-line photographer, and I never want the client to feel like just another face.  To me, rushing never produces a well-crafted photograph.

I think getting to know the person is just as important as the portrait.  I have to make that connection.  That takes time.

6. How do you think your work is unique from others? What makes it yours? Style? Subject matter? Context?

I love photography, and creative expression because every single person is unique.  Every interest you have; everything you’ve experienced and all the stuff you love should help form you as a creative person.  I was raised on film, so I try to shoot like I’m still shooting film; low numbers of frames, get everything in-camera as much as I can – avoid visual clutter.  My “style” I think is a result of an organic process that involves the client just as much as it does the photographer, sitting on top of layers of strong technical and creative skill. I’m always striving to create a portrait that not only shows the character of the person but also puts them in a position of power with added drama to the image.  I’m a fine art school kid, so I have to add a little drama when applicable to my images.

Intrinsically, my work is unique because no other person on the planet is me; they don’t have my eyes and they don’t see things exactly the same way – they aren’t bringing the things that float around in my big fat brain to the table when I create images.  I’ve learned to step back and not concentrate on my “style”.  I’ve found that only other people can visually determine your style.  I shoot intuitively – and it isn’t until a client says “I’ve been looking over your work and I like your style” that I step back and say “Okay, people are identifying some kind of visual pattern of some kind.”

I love seeing photographs by other photographers, and art by other artists and musicians that just knocks the wind out of me.  I could be looking at the same subject, but this photographers or artists brain works so differently than mine, and they made this awesome piece of work.  I love that everyone is so varied from one another creatively.  Everybody’s brains work different creatively.  It’s so awesome.

7. What is your most effective marketing strategy so far?

I’m not good at networking at all – word of mouth has been good, and establishing connections and trying to nurture those connections.  Some times it might take years before a connection really comes to fruition.  In once case – it took four years and a series of small jobs before the creative director was confident enough to hire me for the first really big commercial job.  These connections don’t form overnight.  Not only is it being able to provide a spot-on service, but it’s developing trust with those who hire you.

I also place importance on sharing things you make.  Get the stuff out do out there.  Don’t be afraid of ridicule.  Be honest and genuine about what you make and share.  I like to make stuff with puppets.  I’m not ashamed of that.  I’m expressing myself in my own way.  

I’ve found that being genuine and honest works best for me.  People might point and laugh, but at least I’m comfortable being myself and I’m not worried about trying to please anyone else.

8. What is your pet peeve about photographers (or photography)? Or do you simply not have one?

Oh, man, how long do I have to list?  Ha!

I think the biggest peeve of mine is people that are under the guise that you can do this “photography thing” overnight.  It’s a craft.  It’s a vocation.  I feel most of it is figuring out who you are with a camera in your hand and what unique angle you bring to your images than anything else.  There is no silver bullet.  Not only are you developing your technical skill and the ability to problem-solve creatively on the spot, but it’s about not being afraid to bring who you are to your work.  The latest Westcott Gizmo or the current hot Photo-Widget won’t do that for you – it’s introspective.  What makes your work unique is YOU – it’s all that silly shit in your brain that you think about and collect or watch or celebrate.

Also: just be nice.  Just be a good person.  Tearing down others work doesn’t do *anything* for you.  Just be a good person and follow the Golden Rule.

9. What personal projects are you working on at the moment?

(www.sidceaserfineart.com)  I love photographing toys and action figures – that is the basis of my personal work.  I’ve slowly been working on various series’ based on toys.  My last was my “Plastic Erotica” series.  I’m also a big video game and anime and movie fan, so when possible I like to photograph people based on games or comics.  I’m trying to make images that are tied to my interests and childhood.  Things that have formed me to be who I am.

10. Your most favorite 5 pieces of gear are?

  • C-stands.  Seriously, those things rock. Next time you want to get a light stand, save up a little extra cash and get a c-stand.    
  • Hasselblad 500C/M.  My favorite camera ever made.  The perfect combination of function and art and sculpture.  It’s so beautiful.  I recently picked up an old Phase One P30 back for it and I’m re-learning how to use the camera in a more unforgiving digital world.
  • Sunpak 120J flash – I use large moonlights usually, but I’ve had my Sunpak for forever – it’s a mess; held together with gaff tape and balsa-wood and J.B. Weld – I’ve been through World War III with that flash.  
  • HoldFast MoneyMaker camera harness.  I hate the name, but I flipping love my Holdfast.
  • Westcott Apollo 28” softbox.  I’ve had this sucker over a decade.  It’s a mess, but it still works like gangbusters.  
  • Rock ’N’ Roller R12 cart – I work alone a majority of the time.  I got my first R’N’R a few years ago and it was like the Heavens opened up and Angels started singing.  This thing holds so much gear and makes running back and forth to the car a thing of the past.

11. Bonus: What or who are you currently listening to?


Lately, I’ve been listening to Michael Bellar and the AS/IS Ensemble’s “Oh No, Oh Wow” (Jazz out of NYC), and Berklee grad Alice And The Glass Lake’s “Chimaera”.  Electronica band Leftfield just re-released their debut album “LEFTISM” celebrating its 22nd anniversary and it’s just as good now as it was back in the mid-90’s.  The new Jamiroquai album “Automaton” is fantastic and keeps my head bobbing while processing images in the studio.  Also singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball just came out with her new album “Avocet” which is an absolutely beautiful record. Beautiful woodwinds throughout the songs.


Personal Projects and Recharging the Inner Batteries

Personal Projects and Recharging the Inner Batteries

This is kind of a personal post for me. There are challenges that I face as an artist and writer. And photographer. And sometimes those challenges can take its toll on me, and us. Creativity, for me, takes nurturing and constant practice.

I have always felt that photography, was more than what I could do. It was a big part of what makes me. In my DNA so to speak. It partly defines me more than any other endeavor that I involve myself in.

I came to photography the usual way. My dad was a photographer / writer and his enthusiasm was contagious. I would go into the field with him and he would photograph fishing ‘flies’ and how to sight in a rifle and such. I would be his note taker, and he would talk to me as he was working and I would write down the distances or the exposures. He wrote and illustrated magazine articles for outdoor magazines. I miss my dad.

(Note: This is an older article from the archive. All material still relevant. The cafe in the last image has been torn down and a gas station now sits on that iconic corner.)

When I was a kid I would wait every Wednesday by our little mailbox to get the issues of Life and Saturday Evening Post. Cover to cover by nightfall. I cut out images and stuck them in a little box. Names like Eisentaedt and Margaret Bourke White started to become recognizable.

The images were so beautiful, and sparked such interest… I would go back again and again to look at the photographs. Moments in time caught forever in a frozen tableaux… to be shared and remembered. Film (movies) doesn’t do that for me. I rarely want to sit and watch a movie again and again. But I can pick up my copy of Ansel Adams Monographs, a Minor White collection, or my old dog eared Cheyco Liedmann book and enjoy a few quite moments.

There has also been some stuff online recently that lets me know that other photographers are talking about and thinking about this stuff as well. Chase Jarvis, Zack Arias, Scott Bourne, Jack Hollingsworth, Kirk Tuck, and others have posted on creativity.

I have been feeling the burn of captivity lately. Seems like I am tied to a desk as I am working on two books, redoing the curriculum for the workshops and editing/post processing images for clients.

So I wanted to go out and do something that spoke to how I was feeling. I generally don’t try to make ‘pretty’ pictures, others do that very well. I like environments that show themselves to be involved in life. From decay to renew, old contrasted with new, and the mark of man on the environment.

Since I am feeling a little isolated and in need of a recharge, I decided to take an afternoon and do something photographically that made sense to me. At this moment… where I am and what I am feeling now.

More after the jump below. I just wanted to remind you that our new feature “Rants and Raves” are shorter form articles that are just that… rants and raves. I have the first few months of the schedule up at Learn to Light, so if you are considering a workshop this year, check the schedule out. I think my workshop is one that will change your lighting and photography for the better.

This is the road that I chose. It is fairly close to where I live and goes through some rather flat and mundane farming land.

View Larger Map

It isn’t a long drive, and it offers no typical ‘beautiful’ scenery. I had a nice slightly overcast sky and it seemed right for my project. I wanted to capture in my images what I was feeling and this light, environment and somewhat desolate landscape was exactly what was called for.

It isn’t a long drive, and it offers no typical ‘beautiful’ scenery. I had a nice slightly overcast sky and it seemed right for my project. I wanted to capture in my images what I was feeling and this light, environment and somewhat desolate landscape was exactly what was called for.

Abandoned migrant worker facilities. Don Giannatti

Abandoned migrant worker facilities.

I find that just getting off your ass and doing something, anything, can get the juices going and create situations that allow vision to be explored. I had nothing in mind as far as photography and gear, I just wanted to make images that would help me understand what I am feeling.

My gear was simple: Canon, 20-35 L, 80-200 L, 4 speedlights, several stands and modifiers, a small boom, and a kit of Mamiya 6×7 film cameras. Tripod, extra batteries and my “lighting’ kit was also along. At the end of the day, nothing but the Canon and the 20-35 was used.

Crossroads in the desert: South of Maricopa, AZ

The lines caught my eye and the clouds added some beautiful texture to the sky.

I guess that was fitting looking back. I am looking for simplicity in the images and the gear seemed to follow. I like the way the wide angle lens adds so much to the field of the image… letting the subject be more isolated within the environment.

Simplicity is the thing for me right now. I want to narrow my acquisition of things and increase my understanding of the ways creativity are manifested in the soul. Too much time spent chasing the material world can create havoc in the creative world. At least it does for me.

The simple, or minimalistic, aesthetic is one that appeals greatly to me. It runs through my photography and design, and it needs to be brought into my self as well. I wanted the images that I do to speak to the minimalist in me.

I didn’t leave the house with the intention of shooting only one lens, or to do ‘that shot’ I have been wanting to do. I tried to clear my mind of all that stuff and just think about the emotion of the world in front of me… and how to get that into a photograph. Without expectations, I am open to serendipity and that allows the world to present itself.

Remove the filters of self-imposed arbitrary limitations.

Tree and Sky. Between Maricopa and Stanfield, Arizona

The trees made me stop and turn around. I knew there was a shot there and I wanted to find it

I drove right by the trees. I was listening to some music I had brought along and thinking about something I had just seen. The trees just wizzed by my passenger door with only a glimpse. I kept on driving for a mile and realized… that was part of what I need to do. Stop going so damn fast and missing the moments that can be created.

I turned around and went back to the three trees. Closing the car door it looked kinda hopeless. Access was denied due to the fencing and there was a fairly soggy ditch between me and the trees.

The more I didn’t see a shot, the more I wanted a shot. I needed to make that image. I didn’t know what image, but there was one here. I refrained from making images that I knew would not cut it. I worked the camera like it held precious film… not taking the shot till I knew I had something.

That was important to me. I wanted to come back with as few images total as possible, with the maximum amount of images I like. I finally found the image I was looking for, and made a few exposures.

I was feeling less melancholy at this point. I knew I had a few images that would make the day worth it, so I got in the car and headed further south with the feeling that I was making some images.

Entrance to an old ranch house, near Stanfield, Arizona

I have always been drawn to the frame within the frame. It says something metaphorical to me.

This is the power of the personal project. Some projects are large in scope and some are small – like this one. It doesn’t matter which you are on at any one time, but having projects to focus intent on makes a big difference when you are shooting.

Some projects are driven by external elements, a desire to do something to help or elevate or bring attention to a cause or an interest. And some are driven by internal elements… like this one.

Projects help open the mind to opportunities, it let’s the images that may not be seen get through. Awareness of parameters and goals helps refine the creative self to find the answers and solutions.

I waited for the truck to get in position and made the shot. I only got the chance to shoot 3 trucks, and like this one.

Finding emotional meaning in images is so important. The image as metaphor, the image as a reflection of one’s soul. The image as an iconic touchstone for people to refer to in thought and action. A great image can transcend the reality of the object. A piece of paper with some ink or emulsion on it is NOT what a photograph is. We bring so much TO that little piece of paper from our own perceptions, emotions, community and culture. The fact that images can provide that for people of diverse situations is a testament to the power of the still image.

Well, it use to be called the Burnt Buns Cafe. It is under new management. I didn't go in, but I did do the shot.

When I got to the ‘destination’, actually the turnaround spot for me, I found that the “Burnt Buns Cafe” had been taken under new management and was no longer.

No problem. I made my photograph anyway. I didn’t dwell on the loss of an old friend, I instead made an image that showed the distance between. The loss that I felt, instead of the cafe itself. I hope you can see that in my images, but if you can’t, that is fine as well. I cannot guarantee that my images will do what I want them to do. And I don’t make images that scream the message or are so totally flagrant in the metaphor. At least… I try not to.

In the end, the trip was well worth it. I got these 6 images and 7 more that I really like. And I got off my ass. And I took my cameras and gear and set out to do something. Anything.

But I also left with a plan… to make images for ME about the way I am feeling and hopefully to share those images with people who will enjoy them…even IF they don’t know what I am trying to say.

Other projects: I have a 365 iPhone project here, and I am working on a few books and new site for art photographers. In March I will start a photograph/article per day project that will culminate in a book.

I hope that you found the article interesting, and have started a personal project for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a big project, it can be as little as a few hours on a lonely county road.

Post processing was on my mind from the first image. I wanted to mute the colors and increase the contrast from the very flat light. I used overlay layers (soft light), highlight painting, luminance masks and localized sharpening on the images. I then desaturated the image and added a tone of warmth to all the images.

Arc of Beauty: Side to Back Lighting

Arc of Beauty: Side to Back Lighting

Have You Considered the “Arc of Beauty” in your lighting?

(Image by Tracy Sutherland)

We are going to take a high-level view of lighting today and discuss what I call the “Arc of Beauty“. And while no lighting scheme is going to be directly discussed, what we are to think about is a general tone of the light and what it does.

The “Arc of Beauty

The Arc is backlight from side to full back. This lighting is one that I think of every time I get ready to do a still life, food, tabletop, or product shoot. It is a go-to lighting at the highest level.

What that means is I haven’t thought about whether it will be a softbox, or an umbrella, or a grid spot… I just want to get the benefits of back / side-back lighting established first.

And I do this usually with a boom or grid-held light instrument that allows me clean vision below it while keeping the light itself above and or behind the subject. While it can be done with a stand, the boom allows me to get the stand out of the picture from behind and not have to limit my angle in order to not see it.

Full on side light is also part of the arc of beauty. And remember, top down lighting is also side lighting since it is oblique to the camera.

Full Side Light is also within the Arc of Beauty and can provide some stunning textural and dimensional presentation.
The arc also extends vertically from lower than the subject to directly over top (also a ‘side light’ in angle from the camera.

From a full on back light oblique to the camera to top down light from above, the arc is also a vertical tool that can help with dimension, texture, color definition and more.

Why do I start here?

Because the tendency of front lighting is to make things flat. Dimension falls away, shadows fall away, and the overall texture is diminished as well.

Here are two shots to show you how it works from a small, intimate image to a large scene.

The pear and grape still life was shot on an 8 x 10 Deardorff and 14″ lens with Ektachrome 64 Transparency film. Light is from camera right and is a 24x36″ softbox shot through a 48x48″ scrim. The light is above the set.

Shot on Canon 6D / 24-105 MM at 30 MM. The back light gives texture to the sand, the wall and the sidewalk. It also creates a much more interesting set of shadows and shapes. Dimension and texture.

Bob Knill used a grid spot from the back.
Billy Walker chose side light to lift the details off of this head of lettuce.
Lisa Narduzzi chose a large soft light to bring out the texture and shape of her farm fresh beets.
Maciel Blaszczuk used a window light directly behind the bowl of onions for this iPhone shot.
James Kern uses light from the back right side to sculpt the texture and dimension of the assorted objects.
Soh Fong chose a diffused side light for her bananas in a corner of a small box.

Are there exceptions?

Absolutely. Shiny objects, liquid, situations where you WANT a flatter, less textural light. Of course there are exceptions and there are also some very talented photographers out there who choose front lighting as a stylistic difference for their work. They make killer images because they have worked with the technique long enough to know where and how to absolutely use it.

However that might be, we are talking about the bulk of our shooting approaches here.

To see it for your own self, set up something as a still life and move your softbox all around it as you make the photographs. You may have to add a little fill to the front (large white card perhaps) but shoot one with side light, back light, side/back light, low back light, high overhead backlight.

And shoot some with the light up front.

I believe you will see the difference and may help you think about your light in a bit of a different way.

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Using the RNI Presets for Color Palette Consistency

Using the RNI Presets for Color Palette Consistency

I like to ‘metaphorically’ be shooting film in my head while holding a digital camera. One of the great things that I loved about film was the fact that different emulsions gave different color palettes.

Kodachrome didn’t look like Ektachrome which didn’t look like Fujichrome which didn’t look like Agfachrome – and on and on.

And then we had the color negative space as well. A very altogether very different color palette than the chromes.

Digital all looks like Ektachrome processed rather badly to me. But we can do so many wonderful things to that digital “negative” or “transparency” that we couldn’t do in real analog days.

So I imagine that I am packing a specific film when I go on a road trip. One that I believe is more appropriate than others for that particular part of the world.

If it is people, I probably will be thinking along the lines of Portra color negative film. Perhaps Agfachrome for its very strong skin tones.

If it is the desert, Fujichrome 100 makes sense. Still life would be Ektachrome 100 and the mountains would have me buying a brick of Fuji Velvia / Fuji 50.

I apply the color base (preset) before doing any work on the image so that the base colors are all in one palette. I can then adjust exposure, burn and dodge and do other work on the image without changing the color palette.

I am a big fan of the RNI products.
(I am not sponsored by RNI)

RNI – Really Nice Images

Best of Project 52, May 27, 2017

Best of Project 52, May 27, 2017

The Best of Project 52 is a completion of images from our 2016, 2017 P52 Pro groups and any of the 8 Week Courses that may be live at the time.

These photographers work hard to create images that will work for a portfolio and to show clients that they can indeed shoot to meet the most exacting demands of the commercial photography clientele.

From the week of May 27, 2017.