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Tuesday, 01 September 2020


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For stunning tonality in what must have been a remarkably difficult movie to shoot I love "The Hill", 1965, with Sean Connery and directed by Sidney Lumet. Shot in extremes of contrast and very high key, the story ostensibly takes place in a Lyberian prison during WWII, each frame of the film would make a gorgeous B&W print.

Highly recommended.

Lovely post. I would add a well printed photo book to your list of things to look at for tonality. Some of Irving Penn’s work has sublime tonality. My brother-in-law was an assistant in Penn’s studio back in the 70s. His medium format film was usually TXP.

I had a portrait studio in Vermont back then and used a Rollei SL66 which I loved and still have. Unlike the Hasselblads of the day, it’s backs did not jam or slice film. My studio partner had a Hassy 500 and we ended up calling it the Jammelblad. Same lens set as the Hasselblad too.

When I was in photo school during the 70's, Plus-X (Iso125), was drummed into us as the all round B&W emulsion. In reality no one used it. Tri-X was King from 35mm to 8"x10". If you needed better quality you used a bigger camera.
By the way. On Sunday TMC showed a fully restored director's cut of Orson Welle's classic noir's Touch of Evil. Every scene was a rich black and white experience.
It has taken me many years of trial and error to get something close to that look with my Leica M8. Still its not the same.

"I'll try to put up other examples of excellent B&W tonality from time to time, for those who are trying to calibrate an eye for it."
Please do!

OT comment: My copy of 'The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957' arrived a few days back. Excellent! Your photo book recommendations are never off.

Sort of riffing on your recent movie posts here -- since I broke my arm in July, I've been spending more time than usual on the couch, and got hooked into a couple of Netflix series. One, called Lucifer, is silly, but has amazing aerial shots of Los Angeles. I've been thinking about those not as videos, but as (color) stills, and even have thought about getting out a camera to catch slices of these things as landscapes. They are shot at all times of day and night, and some are strikingly beautiful. Just a riff...

When Kodak announced the demise of TXP 120 I should have filled the freezer with it. I did not and it still makes me sad. Just retired and want to start shooting medium format film again and not sure what way to go. Not much impressed with TMax.
On the movie side I may drop ten bucks a month for The Criterion Channel. Their discs are outstanding and the streaming service should be excellent too. Might be a nice time for a James Wong Howe marathon.

The one big difference and maybe detriment to mastering B&W skills today is the lack of being constrained by only having that end item. I often go out with the intent of shooting monochrome, only to be distracted by some bright color that just has to be shot in color. This causes my B&W visualization to atrophy, no longer seeing tones and contrast as opposed to color.

Seems like a million years ago shooting Tri-X while view finding in color. How did we ever pull that off?

Looking at interior shots in old black and white films often shows up some wondrous lighting. I wish that I had an opportunity as a younger man to work in a pro studio and really learn to light stills beyond the crude basics that I know. Those old movie folks were maestros. The sets must have been infernos though, given the slow films of the day and the necessity to use lots of light.

In those days the three major TV networks all had their own publicity departments with staff photographers who cranked-out headshots such as Marcia’s in their, “photo gallery”.Your assessment is accurate,the guys I knew at CBS and NBC all used Hasselblads with strobes.

But Tri X Professional is for portraits of men! It says so on the packaging even!

Ahhhh! But what was the watt-seconds used on the light in the umbrella? Surely you can see that, Mike?


with humorous intent,


I recently came across a photographer named Christopher Soukup (C A Soukup) on Flickr and was really impressed with the tones of his night shots. I especially like the scenes depicting vintage cars parked on the street. I get lost in his pictures and find myself roaming around the image viewing details at different zoom levels. Christopher’s pictures are so clean and detailed I went looking for an interview to learn more about his gear and found he was using a Hasselblad 500 C/M. I guess this explains the clean, low light pictures. I love the challenge of working in low light with my 6D and EF 135mm f/2L but I don’t get results like this.

Thanks Mike, that was a lot to think about, tonality is step beyond my photo acumen; but I think I've always "known" good tones from bad. This post motivates me to pay more attention. Please put up more examples.

Wow, Marcia Strassman is beautiful here.

If you like the Hollywood photographs, here is a website for you:


It's a website run by Kimberly Truhler who is the go-to person on style and costume design for the movies. She has run a series of lectures on styles in the movies at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood that we've attended. She does an intro lecture on the styles in a particular movie and then shows the movie.

The link above is to her 50 top movies for style, listed by era. The links to each movie's page takes you to a discussion on the costume style and includes lots of studio photos of the costumes.

Here's the site home page - lots of see: http://www.glamamor.com

Mike, I bet you could have fun getting lost here!!!

Last year I was doing some research on Sydney Cotton, an Australian airman who made photographs from his aircraft over Germany in 1939.
He used a Leica 250 and Perutz (Leica film) and developed it in one of the new, then, fine grain developers.
Some of the original prints are in the library of the War Memorial in Canberra and the fine grain and tonal range he achieved is amazing.
He was responsible for setting up a Spitfire flight fitted with Leicas when the Royal Airforce was using huge cameras at low level in lumbering old bombers. They were often shot down before returning to England.
His Spitfires flew at 30,000 feet and could out climb and outrun every German plane of the time.

I think Marcia's teeth have been retouched. Bright bottom edge (some pencil), then black.

Lots of detail in her black hair, well managed "toe" of the H-D curve.

Weird. The Robinson photo looks digital to me. I think it's because the makeup, perfect lighting, and matte painting are all artificial looking and give the photo the sort of smooth, creamy tonalities that digital b & w tends to produce with almost no effort.

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