This is the Blog page of large format landscape photographer, Jon Paul. This is where you can see new images and read the stories behind Jon Paul's experiences in the field as he searches for and composes his amazing art with his large format film cameras. While based in South Lake Tahoe, California, Jon Paul will share stories of his photographic adventures near and far.
A young raccoon sits and prepares to clean himself. Don't mind me:)
When opportunity knocks, you've got to be ready. Living in the mountains can make this saying wonderfully appropriate. I looked out my front window just in time to see three raccoons in my driveway. as luck would have it, my wildlife setup was in my car ready to go. As I walked out the door toward my car, the little bandits came straight toward me. I waited patiently until they disappeared under my porch, then wandered over to grab my camera.
After just a few minutes of patiently waiting for them to reappear, they wandered straight back out toward me. They certainly aren't shy. Needless to say, I stayed clear and acted aggressive when necessary. It's not good to let them feel too comfortable around humans and their unnatural food sources. They casually moved around behind my house and decided to take a detour up onto a large boulder in the yard. This gave me the opportunity to photograph them at eye level while they groomed themselves. This photo captured the beauty and confident natures of these not so little creatures. I really like the environmental portrait their vantage afforded me. The Fine Art of Nature!
When it comes to nature photography, a little bit of intuition and a whole lot of luck go a long way. Given that I live in the mountains of Lake Tahoe, it pays to be prepared. Several days ago, while going to run errands, I chose to mount my 200-400 F4 lens on my Nikon D800 camera body and place it on my passenger seat. After my final visit to the gallery frame shop I took a bit more scenic route home. To my amazement, I happened upon the first bobcat I've seen in Tahoe. It was a joy to simply reach over, grab my wildlife camera and begin shooting.
As I attached my camera to the tripod, I observed this beautiful cat wandering into a small grouping of pine trees and settling down to groom itself. I respectfully took a very wide approach in an effort to leave her undisturbed. Fortunately, I was able to find a vantage point through the branches that afforded a clear view of her face, and still enabled her to feel secure. (note: this portrait is a reasonable crop from the original.) Being prepared enabled me to take my time, observe from a respectful distance, capture a few beautiful images and enjoy the experience.
When photographing wildlife I generally take a tiered approach. First, I compose a moderately wide frame and capture several "security images". I then quickly check my exposure and sharpness to make sure my camera settings are correct. I then settle in and feel what the experience is offering. With a stationary or slow moving animal, I observe the background carefully in an attempt to minimize distractions, and make a great effort to focus on the animals eyes. At this point, I am attempting to capture "final images". Images that will require minimal to no cropping, and have tack sharp focus where I want it. If necessary, I'll change my aperture setting as well as my iso setting.
After a short grooming session, this beautiful cat sat up and slowly wandered off. If you would like to purchase this image for yourself or as a gift, contact me directly and I will arrange for a consultant to assist with you personally.
My first 8x10 inch Platinum/Palladium print, "Eagle Falls, Emerald Bay Platinum Morning"
For years I've had a vision of what I would describe as "elegant landscapes". This vision includes characteristics such as fine, subtle detail, subdued colors or tones of black and white, calm compositions and unrivaled archival quality. This vision is based on a feeling that I experience in nature and want to convey through my work. EarIy in my career I moved to large format film photography for its ability to enforce this style in my work. The care required to compose the art, and the fine, subtle detail that came through in my large scale prints brought this vision to life.
However, I found that I was still enabling the sensationalized imagery we are all bombarded with to hold me back from truly pursuing the elegant landscape I was conceptualizing. Honestly, I allowed external forces, at least in part, to influence a segment of my color work. I was afraid to take the risk and stray from todays norm. While I was shooting large format film instead of digital, and primarily capturing subdued natural tones, I knew there was an additional path I could follow to fully immerse myself in the pursuit of this vision. For the last several months I have been doing just that.
For almost a year I have been studying, pursuing and practicing a very traditional photographic printing method called Platinum / Palladium printing. Along with being the most archival printing method available, this black & white printing process is a craft that I control from start to finish. I expose the individual sheets of black & white film, I hand process each sheet of film, I can then choose to scan the film and print larger digital negatives, I mix my own Pt/Pd sensitizer and hand coat cotton rag paper (Hahnemuhle Platinum Rag) making my own photographic paper. I then place the film and paper in direct contact in a printing frame (contact printing) and expose the photograph under UV light within a light box I built by hand. Finally, I develop, wash and rinse the print by hand in my darkroom. I am able to control whether the print is cool in tone (black and white) or warm in tone (light to chocolate brown) by adjusting the temperature of the developer. As an end result, I am beginning to produce the elegant landscapes I have envisioned by taking control of an entirely new manual process that has an authenticity unlike anything I have previously experienced.
Not only am I excited about bringing this new process, and extension of my vision, to life as part of my fine art gallery offerings, but I am growing through the process. That is the beauty of art. Through the pain of pursuing a passion, we learn about ourselves and have our entire lives enhanced. Artists, as do most people, have ups and downs. I have allowed myself to focus on learning this process for months. I have also made the investment and taken the financial risk necessary to pursue this vision by investing in the hardware and materials required to produce tests, test prints, failed prints and finally, successful prints. I feel a sense of both pride and fulfillment in having pursued this vision, regardless of the outcome. That said, I am extremely proud of, and excited about, the amazing quality of the prints I am now able to produce.
Subscribe to my Free Insider's Newsletter and receive a 40% discount on this image. I am releasing a limited edition of only 10, 8x10 inch Platinum / Palladium prints on 11x14 inch paper. This offer enables my subscribers to obtain a rare historic print at a substantial discount, while helping me progress to producing 16x20 inch Platinum / Palladium prints. Click HERE to subscribe and receive your discount today.
First 8x10 Platinum Palladium Print - YouTube
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Well folks, the results are in! Last week I conducted a survey asking which image people preferred, comparing two identical compositions, shot on two separate sheets of 4x5 inch film. One was shot on color transparency film and the other on black and white print film. I was excited, and very appreciative, to see the number of responses. I also received a lot of additional information and input thanks to a glitch in the survey program I used. Given that the survey didn't seam to work on many mobile devices, quite a few people sent responses, which included further input, via social media, private message, email and social media. Clearly, this was a subject people found interest in. I am glad to have such an insightful group to share with. Thank you! So, without further ado, the results are:
Color- 55% Black and white- 45%
Given the additional input I received, I would like to share the general overtone of that input. A majority of respondents that sided with the color image felt that the chaotic, and relatively low contrast nature of this particular image, gained from the added "dimension" of the subtle color in the scene. I find this exciting, as it touches on a subject I will be writing about soon. Contrast. As a photographer that shoots both color and black and white, chooses to select which sheet of film to use while in the field, and who is strongly drawn to subtle compositions, I have been acutely aware of the two types of contrast available: light/dark contrast and color contrast. I look forward to delving into this subject more deeply very soon!
Please follow along and share your input! We can all learn something along the way.
This is a split image of the same scene. The half on the left was shot on 4x5 inch black & white film, and the half on the right was shot on 4x5 inch color transparency film. The whole images are below for comparison.
Thank you for your input! I look forward to sharing the results of this survey. You are invited to subscribe to my FREE newsletter, The Fine Art of Nature, where I share details of my new images found nowhere else!
As usual, Autumn started out slowly. A leaf here, a small tree there. This aspen grove, near my home in South Lake Tahoe, however, didn't get the memo. The entire grove changed at once, and rapidly. After scouting the area the night before, I returned before the sun rose above the mountains to compose my first Fall color image of the 2017 season.
The morning was extremely cold (you can see my breath in the video I attached below), and fortunately, still. The forest was visually chaotic, which I embraced, simplifying the composition with a panoramic format that enabled me to eliminate both sky and foreground. I focussed on the layers of color surrounding the two white aspen trunks in the middle, which appear to embrace each other. That little bit of structure adds depth and context to a very impressionistic scene.
I chose to expose my sheet of film before the sun directly hit the back of the trees, as this would have added uneven light, and distracted from the subtle depth created by the layers of pastel tones. I saw a calm in this forest. A simple beauty. The imperfection of this grove spoke to me. This grouping of aspens has character. This panorama is what I saw as I stood quietly and absorbed what I was fortunate enough to experience with all of my senses that cold Fall morning. This is "The Fine Art of Nature".
Wait for the right light in order to capture an image that conveys the mood you envision in your scene. In this case I waited until the light was subdued and even. While this won't work for many scenes, subdued light eliminated harsh contrast within a forest. These conditions made two things possible. First, I was able to easily capture the entire contrast range, from highlight to shadow, in one exposure. Second, it provided a calm mood to a scene with somewhat chaotic structure. The soft light enabled the subtle contrast of the pastel colors to become the focus. The tones of this scene speak to us, they don't scream desperately for our attention. A backlit scene could have worked, but it didn't match what I had felt and envisioned for this image. We have to make a choice as to when, in which conditions, we choose to capture an image in order to create a piece of art that reaches beyond a mere snapshot photo.
Fall is a time of great excitement here in the mountains. People come from far and wide to experience the glory of aspen leaves turning magnificent shades of orange and gold. It is a time for photographers to create new images and capture the fleeting beauty of the season.As a large format film photographer, I don't click away and produce hundreds, let alone thousands of "pictures" in heat of the moment. I approach the beauty of fall as I do each of the other seasons. I compose singular images that truly move me. This requires patience and persistence, which can be difficult in such fleeting conditions. That is, however, how I am moved to do my art.
"Autumn Glow, Aspens, Lake Tahoe" is an example of patience and persistence being rewarded. After several days of wandering this particular area, viewing this expansive grove of aspens from many angles and in varying lighting conditions, I chose to set up my camera and compose this scene. After fine tuning my composition, I chose to wait until the last rays of light backlit the trees. It just didn't do it for me. So, I waited.
As the sun set behind the mountains, the light went flat. Nothing. My experience did teach me to persevere, however, so I waited (almost) patiently as the sun, hidden behind the mountains, sank below the horizon. As the sun dropped, its rays began to reflect off of the atmosphere, creating a subtle glow in the sky. I proceeded to expose one sheet of film for 90 seconds, hoping to capture this warming light on the trees. Then, while leaving the camera set up, I created a short video in order to share the experience (See below). At that point, while the level of light fell, the glow intensified. I was then able to expose another sheet of film for 4 minutes, capturing the ethereal light that took this scene to a whole new level. My aspen grove panorama took on the life of a painterly dreamscape. It's all about the light!
Capturing amazing light in Lake Tahoe's Fall Aspens - YouTube
Camera: Canham Metal 5x7 with 6x17cm Panoramic Film Back Lens: Rodenstock Sironar-S 150mm Tripod: Gitzo 1325 Carbon Fiber with Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head Film: Fuji RDPIII Provia 100F Transparency Film Aperture: F32 Exposure: 4 minutes
Many of my images are born from a feeling. Artistic intuition, if you will. This new image, Zephyr Evening, Lake Tahoe, was exactly that. We had a blustery day in Lake Tahoe with clouds rolling in and the forecast called for a stormy evening. For some reason I envisioned this location, and this general image emerged in my mind. So, I set off to investigate the reality of this image I had conceived.
With thoughts of this creative vision, I chose the camera equipment I thought best for what I felt I might compose, as well as what I may have to deal with in the environment. I chose "my small camera". A Canham 4x5 Metal Field Camera, with which I can shoot relatively large 4x5 inch sheets of film in both color and black and white. I chose this camera knowing the film size would enable me to produce enormous prints, yet it is roughly 1/4 the size of my 8x10 inch film camera, which might not fare so well in the extremely high wind. My final choice was to shoot black and white film, as I felt it would portray the mood of the scene more effectively.
In selecting my location, I was mindful of aligning the small island with the shape and direction of the blowing clouds. This enabled me to draw the viewers eye into the center of the composition...the island. I was also mindful of the light and dark aspects of the scene, and I consciously moved in order to have the lighter clouds (where the sun was setting) as close as possible to the main subject in the scene. I used a wide angle lens to accentuate the sky and the feeling of motion in the scene, while also communicating the sense of scale in this grand location. The landscape, weather, mood and emotion are all "grand" and moving here. Zephyr Evening, Lake Tahoe is an expression of that energy.
The style I have evolved with is very personal, especially noting I haven't had any mentors or photographers I have chosen to emulate. I believe this relative isolationism has lead me toward singular images that call to me. My artistic process, which joins the external environment and my inner creativity, seams to be almost involuntary. I shoot what feels right. Visions that elicit emotion within me come to life with feeling, as opposed to vast amounts of thought. My large format film cameras are an extension of this. I want to do justice to the scenes that move me and fill me with creativity. I hope you enjoy the view!
Camera: Canham 4x5 Metal Field Lens: Rodenstock 90mm Filter: Lee Yellow contrast filter for black and white film Film: Ilford FP4 4x5 inch black and white negative (rated 100 iso) Tripod: Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod Head: Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head Exposure: F32 @50 seconds Processing: N-1.5 in Pyro developer and fixed in Photographer's Formulary TF4.
"High Sierra Snow Cave", Alpine County, California
One of the most common questions I am asked is, "How do you see what you see?". My very simple answer is, "I feel it". While I have made an effort to understand the rules of composition, I work in a very simple, intuitive way in my approach to composing images. I shoot what I feel, I don't force anything and I carry equipment that is both limiting and freeing. Let me share the creative process I went through in composing this new image.
I set off into the mountains in search of unique images. I didn't know quite what I was looking for, but it was spring in the mountains, and I was happy to be on an adventure. On my back I had my big camera pack containing my 8x10 film camera, adapter to shoot 4x10 inch panoramas, 3 lenses, and film holders with both color and black and white film. I was hunting for something that moved me. I actually passed up some of the best wildflower displays I've seen in years because the conditions didn't work and they didn't motivate me.
As I rounded a small alpine lake and took in the view of one of my favorite valleys, I noticed a deteriorating snow field on the slope below me. As I explored the cave (a tunnel really), I worked through my standard process. Foremost, I was drawn to the abstract feeling of the snow patterns on the roof of the cave. As I composed, I felt that the sky and hillside above the cave were distracting, so I eliminated that by composing with 4x10 inch film. As I settled on my composition, I realized that the color within the scene was dull. This, along with the patterns on the roof of the cave pulled me toward using black and white film. This choice also enabled me to control the contrast in the scene, using the Zone System to capture the entire contrast range, from dark shadow inside the cave to direct highlight outside the cave, in one single exposure.
As I look at the final image, I believe I have produced a final scene that matches the vision I experienced in the field. The equipment I choose to use fits my style. I like to take responsibility for my artistic vision in the field, while I'm experiencing everything about the environment. I choose my composition, film and exposure while in the field. This is part of what I have dubbed, "The Fine Art of Nature". I don't want to leave the details of my final print up to future interpretation while in an emotionless, sterile office. I choose to do my art in the field. I simply leave the fine tuning of the print, which can't be done in the field, to last.
Things are getting crazy in our "civilization" today. Please allow me to share an other worldly image with you. My intention is to provide a few moments of peace, tranquility, escape and wonder. If you would like to enjoy the story behind this image, you are welcome to click on the image and read about it on my web site. You are welcome to share this post with friends who may appreciate the sentiment.