#694. Monday Post (5 Feb 2018) – Analog a prioris

By pascaljappy | Monday Post

Feb 05

This AnOther article by Holly Black (Inside the Surreal World of Playboy’s Centrefolds) dissects the aesthetics and the surreal worlds suggested by the worlds inhabited by the sexy ladies on the centerfold. It’s an interesting read but it’s the frame around the images that gave me a sock (yeah, I’m old enough not to have to pretend something else than the voluptuous bodies is of interest to me in those pics).


(c) Edward DeLong, 1970, Playboy


Those are film positives. Presumably from a 4×5 camera ? (update: they are probably 8×10 chromes, see comment below. Thanks Mark.).

What staggers me here is how close those are to what I assume to be the final image that would have been (yeah, I’m young enough not have been born when some of these were shot and to not have seen those final images in the … flesh).

Yes, those are studio shots. Meticulously crafted by some of the top pros of the time and with the ability to fine tune with Polaroid proofs. Intellectually, I know that the final image would have been close to the selected slide. But our photographic world has swung so far in the opposite direction of Instagram filters, presets that seem more tolerable to the cognoscenti (but are exactly the same) and intensive post-processing of some artists, that it’s still a shock to view slide scan and feel you could be looking directly at the glossy mag itself.


(c) Joel Tjintjelaar


It stands to reason that digital would have opened up a whole realm of post processing that was far more difficult to achieve in the chemical lab. Jerry Uelsmann’s work becomes particularly staggering when you realise it was created before the Photoshop era, for example. Even so, it comes as a shock to witness a process that ends so close to the triggering of the shutter (OK, yes, they had to process the slide, but that hardly counts as there is very little manipulation involved).

Here’s a question : given a total work envelope for a photograph, where do you put your personal slider along the in-camera / in post axis ?

This is not a trivial “do you shoot OOC jpeg ?” question or an easy one to answer properly. Take the following photograph, for instance, which is representative of what I shoot for myself. It’s was made using a Zeiss 85/1.4 at f/2 with an extension ring, on a backlit scene, then converted to B&W in CaptureOne with a few colour slider adjustments and some vignetting.

Because of my own specific cocktail of neuroses, I do not own the IQ3 monochrome back I would love (and so indisputably deserve) to own, so there is B&W conversion involved. But it’s fair to say most of the work was done before the shot was made :

  • Gear choices. The camera produces the look that suits me. My current 4 lens kit is based on an extensive – test, sell and keep only the most pleasing – process that has lasted for years.
  • Shot type. I’ve done hundreds before this one to determine the aperture at which the lens produces that soft look and where to focus.
  • Composition and visualisation. This was always meant to be a monochrome because the main subject was the light in the dolphin-like glass vase.



The pre-shoot work is not just how you set up your camera and lights. It’s also the results of years of meticulous testing of gear, PP software choices and PP process choices. This all amounts to tens of hours of work whereas the actual PP here probably lasted less than a minute. Not quite Playboy centerfold level but close.

This, on the other hand, is a bit more post-click labour intensive and the result of far less pre-click planning :



Same lens, at full aperture, to get a real sense of sharpness on the building and a little bit of vintage softness on the rocks and diffusion in the sky. More PP work went into keeping the sky bright but not completely white and the foreground rocks not totally black, without the photograph looking heavily manipulated. You could say, though, that the weeks spent reading Ansel Adam’s books on the Zone System heavily influenced my PP today and you’d be true. But a high DR camera such as a modern Sony FF really doesn’t require much exposure knowledge to get this right. While this would have been a tough shot for Adams, it’s a no brainer for anyone with the same camera as me. This wasn’t labour intensive at or before shoot time (I believe any reasonably good 85/1.4 would have produced a similar look) and did require a little bit more effort in PP as the previous photograph.

And here’s a third shot that required almost no a priori effort and a but more post-shoot thinking. In fact, I took another photograph of this with my Smartphone that’s not very different except for the post processing.



Finally, here’s a shot that was first a reaction to a scene, a tap on the phone, and a crop. Instantaneous before the take and almost instantaneous after.



I think you’ll find artists spread unevenly along that axis. Someone like Michael Kenna has done immense work on his thinking, his worflow and even his post processing, however elaborate, is so consistent that it feels more like a priori work than a posteriori. Many fine art photographers spend a tremendous amount of time on post processing although, more often than not their process has been honed over years or decades. Conceptual photographers such a Hiroshi Sugimoto are all about the idea and the preparation. Yes, a tremendous amount of time goes into the finalising of print but all the intellectual, value creating work, is a priori. Famous photographers congregate at either end. It seems to me that most are in the pre-shoot extreme. But do you know of anyone famous who actually prints close to SOOC, like the Playboy guys ? (man, I wish my parents had bought me Playboy when I was a kid, I’d be a better photographer today …)


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  • Mark Muse says:

    I believe that was an 8 x 10 chrome. I am firmly in the PP camp. I want to react when out in the field, not preconceive and plan.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Mark. Great to know. I would LOVE to see an exhibition of those slides. They must be incredible.

      Strike one for the PP camp then 😉

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Mark, I am firmly of the view that I take photos for my personal enjoyment, and – in some cases – to give to friends. I don’t need “rules” to do that, and being confronted with a choice of SOOC or PP seems to me to be heading in the direction of yet another “rule”. I think I was 8 when I found myself deciding I’d make my own way & do my own thing. We only get “one life”, and it seemed a pity to waste it doing what everyone else wanted, when they could do that all by themselves, without interfering in any way in what I want to do with mine.

      Candid and street photography don’t lend themselves to “planning” the shoot. Studio photography on the other hand is usually up to the eyeballs in planning, and that’s before they start on the wrinkles and the freckles.

      Ansel Adams did planning AND PP. Which ought to mean “there is no right or wrong, you can do both – or either!”

      So – whatever floats your boat – pushes your buttons. 🙂

  • Lash LaRue says:

    I think that either end of the spectrum is fine; the general problem is that too many photographers do not hone their skills enough to be able to occupy a convincing presence in either position. (Include me in the class of those who have weak skills.)

    • pascaljappy says:

      Exactly. Falling into an unremarquable middle ground is the trap for all of us. It takes a very special drive to find seek consistency at one extreme.

  • John Wilson says:

    Ansel Adams said it perfectly -“The negative is the score. The print is the performance”. In my photographic universe, the camera is just a device to capture the data and we all know from experience that RAW files tend to be notoriously drab and dull. There are exceptions but they are “the exception” not the rule. Since the majority of my images are B&W that means an additional step. And then there are all the selective adjustments for tone and sharpness. If you haven’t guessed by now I’m firmly in the “post” camp and have no plans to immigrate elsewhere.

    • pascaljappy says:

      It’s interesting that the higher DR of raw files makes them dull to look out, out of camera. The more limited technical envelope of slide film means that all has to be planned ahead of the click. That’s probably why artists like Gregory Crewdson go to such lengths to create their scenes, with the click being the final touch to a very elaborate procedure.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I seem to be both, in this digital era.

    I’ve abandoned film altogether, simply because I already spent over half a century on it, so now it’s digital or nothing. Did I do everything in cam in those days? – no – apart from fairly developed “darkroom techniques”, I was also very good at touching up the prints. Dust specks, the inevitable air bubbles that prevented the chemicals doing their job on EVERY last speck of the printing paper, whatever.

    What happens now is unpredictable. Some photos slide straight through, with scarcely anything done to them – I seem to have altogether abandoned Lightroom (using Capture One Pro in its place), COP is occasionally used to pull a gradient filter across part of a print & basic controls over highlights or shadows, Photoshop suits me for sending stuff to the printer. But then there are photos that need work done on tints & tones, too.

    So I’m afraid I can’t offer up any sort of black & white answer to your question, Pascal. 🙂 If this helps – as my experience with digital – and with the gear I’m now using – grows, the extent of PP decreases. I don’t think I will ever reach a kind of state of suspended animation, where NO post processing takes place. Remember the man with the green carnation, who thought he could improve upon nature? Rejected in his time, by the British, and buried (instead) by the French? I think that no matter how good the “in camera” result might be, I would find the temptation to tinker with it before hitting “print” would be irresistible, and we all know how Oscar reacted to temptation.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Oh dear – staring at that last sentence, it struck me that the reason is most likely the fact I DO print my photos. If I only ever saw them in digital format, I am quite sure that PP would decrease substantially – for a whole range of reasons.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Once again, printing is the ultimate judge, isn’t it …

      • PaulB says:


        I would say yes. Continuing with the Playboy photographer video noted below. There was a question about the image quality differences between the medium format digital and the Canon 5D-II. The reply was; Yes, there is a difference on screen, but it is not noticable in the printed magazine.


  • Cliff Whittaker says:

    To determine the film size and type all you need to look at is the notch in the top left side of the frame. Notches were coded like the ear notch in a cattle brand. I don’t think I have any of the technical publications that I used when I was shooting 4×5 b&w but I’ll bet you could find that notch somewhere on the internet.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Cliff, that’s great to know.

    • PaulB says:


      You are correct, the notch codes are available on the web, see the link below.


      Though the code tells us the emulsion, not the size. The notch codes are the same regardless of film sheet size. Since they are there for the developer to read and know which chemistry to use.

      Edward Delong’s image above, and all the others (if you follow the link in the above image), were exposed on Kodak Ektachrome 64. From the number of alignment pin holes in the right edge of the image, I would say the film size was 8×10.

      A while ago there was a video interview on the web with a Playboy photographer that touched on the cameras that were used to make the centerfold images. In the 1970’s 8×10 was the format of choice. Though, as the recording medium improved the format size decreased. As films improved the format changed to 4×5. With the possible exception of special issues. I want to remember reading in the 20th Anniversary issue that an 8×10 was used. When digital came online it was medium format, then at the video production date they were using a Canon 5D-II.

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