Mistakes That Look Good

One of the issues I’ve long had with digital cameras is that they all look the same.

Yes…I am being incendiary…

I’m really talking about what comes out of the camera itself.  There’s very little room to *mess* with the image.   It comes out in a pure and pristine form, exactly as the engineers intended it to.  Usually that’s exactly what you want so that you have the most amount of dynamic range and colour information to work with, so that you can hone a look in post that you might have already started in lighting and composing your images.  It’s incredibly difficult to try to find ways to create a look in camera from the camera itself.  Of course Lighting and coverage will make a huge difference but I’m talking about what you can do at the point of capture.

One of the things I miss about shooting less film is that there is so much flexibility in being able to live on the edge of what is a technically correct image.  Bleach Bypass is a perfectly good example of what I mean.

Bleach Bypass involves deliberately missing one of the processing steps at the lab when you get your film processed.  Think about what that means.  Deliberately screwing up the processing of your camera negative.

The end result is you get a dramatic change in contrast, with much deeper and more heavy blacks and a change in the way the saturation or colour is reproduced.  It was so popular for a while, that there are many digital post production filters and plug in’s that tried to replicate this look.

Then you’ve got flashing, where you deliberately fog the film at a very low level before it’s processed.  Or there’s Harris Savides who apparently *bakes* his film in an oven to his own recipe so that it’s deliberately denatured.  Or even Cross processing where you process the film through the wrong chemical process altogether.  Cross processing began as an accident when photographers would put the wrong film type into the lab for processing and get weird results. Then they started making the choice to do it deliberately…

I’m talking about what it actually means to do something in camera.  It’s random and variable.  You don’t exactly know how it’s going to end up and it’s always going to be different and better than doing something in post, be it Digital or Film originated.

Digital cameras though just don’t seem to have this kind of in-camera flexibility.  You can’t bake your CF card or hard drive in an oven.  It’ll just stop working. You can’t get inside the camera to mess with how the images are processed.

So what are the digital equivalents to doing something like this in-camera ?  To me the most obvious one is optical. You can try to change things with lighting, with contrast ratios. Maybe using atmosphere (smoke).  And you can do it with the actual optics. Mess with the lens.

And that’s exactly what I did for a very successful short film called Celestial Avenue.

About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
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3 Responses to Mistakes That Look Good

  1. Ez says:

    Hello John Brawley. So obviously you don’t want to do something different for the sake of doing something different, but why is a “random” effect somehow better or more artful than doing it in post where it’s very controlled but where you can actually achieve the same idea? Or are you saying you can’t achieve the same idea? And please, post some pics from Celestial Avenue.

  2. johnbrawley says:

    Hi Ez.

    I’m not advocating for a “random” effect. I just love the randomness of what you get when you choose to use a different process from “normal” in-camera output. Although you can mimic the effect of say cross processing in post, it’s never the same as when you do it in-camera because it’s exposure dependent. The actual exposure on the film will change how the effect plays out…exposure density will change the saturation levels and contrast. This is the problem with post production plug in’s that replicate these effects. You’ll get more or less the same result as any the project that uses that plug in.

  3. Pingback: Home Brew Anamorphic Lenses | johnbrawley

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