Dances with Flowers

In these extraordinary times, photography might seem less of a priority, however, mental well-being certainly isn’t and finding creative outlets has been vitally important to that well-being. In the UK, it’s spring and with appropriate irony, the weather has been exceptionally pleasant. The garden has provided the only access to the outdoors of late and fortunately it has been full of flowers.

This is an image inspired by some of the work of botanical photographer Polina Plotnikova and her dances with flowers series. It’s made using one of the oldest techniques in flash photography: rear-curtain sync. The approach takes a bit of trial and error, using a 5 second exposure to capture the motion of the flowers with the flash at the end to capture the image. The flashes are in two soft boxes to give a nice diffuse light.

No doubt different flower subjects will require slightly different approaches, so will have to see if this little project can be extended to make a series.

Not-So Grand Landscapes

I was recently re-reading a short article published in LensWork 51 by North Carolina-based photographer Joe Lipka entitled Photographing the Not-So Grand Landscape. In it, he contrasts the grand landscapes of the American west with the approach he adopted to photographing the ‘small landscape’ of Carpenter, North Carolina – one more akin to documentary photography, questioning where one ends and the other begins.

The article was an interesting read as most of my recent landscape photography has been within a short drive of home. Few, if any, of the locations I’m visiting could be described as ‘grand’ or even ‘iconic’ though some might just make the description of being quirky. I’ve revisited locations multiple times, at different times of day and in different weather conditions, when they are busier and when they are quiet. It has given me the chance to play with different compositions and lighting.

It may not be the Lake District or Scotland, but exploring my local area has given me a better understanding of the photographic opportunities it presents in terms of landscape and its rich heritage. Rutland is the UK’s smallest county and its landscape of broad, rolling ridges and secluded valleys has a quiet, remote and rural character with small villages and scattered farms. It is criss-crossed by a network of narrow country lanes, tracks and footpaths interspersed by small thickets, copses and woodlands, some of them ancient remnants of once larger forests. At its centre is Rutland Water, one of Europe’s largest artificial lakes. Rutland’s moto Multum in Parvo, “much in little” seems rather appropriate for a focus on the Not-So Grand landscape.

Hambleton Peninsula, Rutland

Baryta and ‘Baryta-Type’ Fine Art papers

Black and white inkjet printing has changed significantly over the past decade in terms of the papers and inks available and the quality of the end result. Modern Baryta or ‘Baryta type’ Fine Art papers can yield prints with deeper blacks and excellent tonal gradation that are often more akin to traditional silver gelatin darkroom prints. As I recently started making my own prints again after quite a few years, I‘ve had a bit of catching up to do, in particular over which Fine Art papers I would choose to use for my black and white prints. While there are numerous reviews of individual papers available, comparisons between specific papers are harder to find. However, I’ve had a really useful correspondence with San Diego based photographer Joe Smith, who recently published a comparison of black and white printing on several Hahnemühle Fine Art papers, which prompted me to write up this comparison. Like Joe, my aim here is to find a Fine Art paper that will help me maintain a consistent look and feel to my images. What follows is subjective and purely my own impressions of each of the papers and how they relate to that aim, but by writing them down I hope they might be of use to others.

True Baryta papers have a barium sulfate layer applied to a photo paper before the ink receiving layer, as in traditional darkroom papers. They have some level of sheen and are generally known for having a high DMAX enabling them to show more detail in dark shadows and bright highlights making them ideal for wide tonal range black and white prints. Two of the papers used are true Baryta papers: The Hanemühle Fine Art Baryta and the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta the others might be described as ‘Baryta type’ papers, whatever that means!

The printing for this comparison was done on a Canon Pixma Pro 10-s printer using Canon Lucia pigment inks. The test image I used is one produced by Keith Cooper of Northlight Images based in Leicester, whose site has detailed reviews of several of the papers used here. Colour management was handled by Adobe Lightroom using custom icc profiles provided by UK company Fotospeed for the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta and Fotospeed Gloss Art Fibre and generic profiles for the other two papers. Calibration of an iMac 4K Retina monitor was done with a Datacolor SpyderX Pro.

In all, this comparison involved four papers, one from Hahnemühle (Fine Art Baryta) and three from Fotospeed (Platinum Baryta, PlatinumGloss Art Fibre and Platinum Legacy Gloss). The images below were photographed under a 5500K daylight lamp or natural daylight.

Left to Right: Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta, Fotospeed Platinum Baryta, Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre, Fotospeed Platinum Legacy Gloss – detail section of Northlight Images B&W Test Print
Left to Right: Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta, Fotospeed Platinum Baryta, Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre, Fotospeed Platinum Legacy Gloss – lit by window light to show difference in paper tone.
Left to Right: Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta, Fotospeed Platinum Baryta, Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre, Fotospeed Platinum Legacy Gloss – angled to show reflective surface and texture.

Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300

£50-£65 for 25 A3 sheets

A smooth Baryta coated paper with no OBAs that has the feel of a traditional darkroom photographic print. The smoothest of the papers, it has a level of sheen greater than the Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre, similar to the Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta. When viewed in daylight next to the Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta and Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre it also has a slightly warmer tone, though still cooler than the Fotospeed Legacy Gloss. At 300 gsm, a decent amount of heft but not too heavy as to require any additional margin when printing. Image sharpness and detail was the best of all the papers and it gives excellent shadow detail and deep blacks reflecting its reported high DMAX.

Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta 325

£94-£100 for 25 A3 sheets

A 100% alpha-cellulose Baryta coated paper paper that contains OBAs with a distinct texture and a lovely fine art paper feel when holding the print. The texture is more pronounced than the Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre (below) and the level of sheen is similar to the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta. When viewed in daylight next to Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300, the latter has a slightly warmer tone, indeed the tone of this paper is similar to the Fotospeed Gloss Art Fibre. At 325 gsm, it has a decent heft though I felt the use of a wide margin to reduce the risk of head strike might be necessary. Shadow detail was very similar to the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta and marginally better than the Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre, all three had similar levels of highlight detail.

Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre 300

£54-£67 for 25 A3 sheets

A 100% alpha-cellulose paper that contains OBAs with a subtle texture and a lovely fine art feel when holding the print. The texture is less pronounced than on Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta as is the overall level of sheen, indeed this paper has the lowest sheen of all the papers and could equally be described as a semi-matte paper. When viewed in daylight next to Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300, the latter has a slightly warmer tone. At 300 gsm, a decent amount of heft but not too heavy as to require any additional margin when printing. Slightly more detail in the very light tones than Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300, but not quite as much detail in very dark tones.

Fotospeed Platinum Legacy Gloss 325

£56-£70 for 25 A3 sheets

A 100% cotton paper containing no OBAs with a subtle texture and has a lovely fine art feel when holding the print. The texture is less pronounced than on either Fotospeed Gloss Art Fibre or Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta while the level of sheen is similar to the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta. When viewed in daylight this paper has the warmest tone of all four papers. At 325 gsm, it has a decent heft but did not require any additional margin when printing. Highlight detail was as good the other papers, however, while it gave deep blacks there was some loss of detail in the shadows which seemed a bit crunched up compared to the other papers. Indeed, this was the only paper where I struggled to discern shadow detail in the last 10mm of the detail test strip in the test image perhaps suggesting it would be well suited to softer images.

Conclusions and personal preferences

Choosing a paper for black and white printing is, in the end, a matter of personal preference and whether the paper suits the style of prints you want to make. My focus is on making Fine Art prints of my photographs, which helps reduce the field of papers I’m likely to use. Nevertheless, Fine Art papers are expensive, often 2-3 times the price of a regular photo papers. For that money, I feel they have to deliver not just in terms of image quality but equally in the overall look and feel of the finished print. For a smooth ‘darkroom’ like print full of detail, it is hard to beat the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta. Fotospeed Platinum Legacy gloss may work well for softer images, however, I find its tone a little too warm and personally, I’d be more likely to use a matte paper for such images.

Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre or Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta seem to suit the style of images I produce and both papers have a beautiful fine art feel when holding a print in the hand, something I think distinguished them from the otherwise excellent Fotospeed Platinum Baryta. As I like to present my prints in folio boxes as well as mounting them, feel is an important consideration. Having printed a number of images on each, my personal preference is for the Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre, its more subtle texture and lower sheen winning out over the Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta. I’ve found it produces prints that have smooth tonal gradations and hold detail in both shadows and highlights.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!

One location, 3 compositions

Despite being only a short drive from where I live, I’ve never actually photographed the iconic Normanton church that is seemingly set adrift on Rutland Water in the UK. This week, I finally managed to visit this location on two occasions, albeit in very brief spells in the atrocious weather from the tail end of storm Dennis. Having the opportunity to visit more than once in quick succession lent itself to exploring a number of compositions using a fortuitous piece of driftwood on the shore.

The first visit was cut short by a heavy rain shower, but looking at the images I took it seemed obvious that there were other, possibly more interesting compositions to be had. In particular, I realised that a wide angle lens would enable me to create a sweep around the small bay toward the church. Unfortunately on that visit, I’d not managed to find the ideal position prior to the weather turning foul. With a building in the shot, perspective comes into play quite significantly when using an ultra-wide lens, it’s all too easy to set the camera too high and pointing downward so you end up with the depth-of-field you want but also with a wonky building! Second visit, two days later, and luckily the intervening wind and rain had not dislodged the driftwood from the beach. In the end, the final composition I’m most happy with is perhaps only a metre or so from my original position but equally shot with the camera perfectly level to reduce any distortion issues with the building.

First image, I could see the potential but the composition not right.
Portrait works for depth-of-field, but the perspective needed correcting in post-processing.
Final image and the one I’m pleased with. Fujifilm X-T3 + XF10-24mmF4 R OIS at 13.2 mm, 30.0 sec at ƒ / 11, ISO 160. Lee 0.6 GND + 10 stop ND.