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Photograph American Bottom Barns by Richard Keeling on 500px

American Bottom Barns by Richard Keeling on 500px

I drove out to the American Bottom floodplain on Saturday. On a hazy, moderately warm afternoon that was just cool enough to keep a sleepy ambiance at bay.

I hadn’t been on this particular stretch for a long time. Well over two years. It’s the broad, open area of farmland that lies on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River to the south of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge. Several years ago I spent a lot of time exploring this region and had become familiar with the many roads criss-crossing the fields, and as I drove I began to recall familiar sights and scenes.

A lot has happened to my photography in the intervening time. I’ve joined photography clubs, taken up film and medium format photography and expanded my range considerably. Yesterday, I had my Canon 5D Mark III, yes, but also my Rolleiflex plus three Canon film bodies, a 650, 620 and Elan 7E. For the first time I was going to photograph this area on film, black and white and color.

Much of the Mississippi Valley above and below St. Louis has been photographed by Quinta Scott. Including the American Bottom floodplain. She has a fine book of photographs called “The Mississippi: A Visual Biography”. I borrowed the book from the library some years ago and learned a lot, but recall being underwhelmed by the subtle tones of the photography. This was the time when I was most heavily invested in the digital look and had lost an appreciation for the appearance of film. That has been regained.

Regained so much that a lot of digital photography simply looks garish and unnatural to my eyes these day. Despite the obsessive trend towards ever sharper sharpness and finer and finer pixel resolutions. Maybe because of these trends, even.

Yesterday my goal was to find an attractive scene and to photograph it in a number of different ways. Color digital, color film, black and white film using a number of differently colored filters.

These days my black and white filter collection covers yellow-green (Hoya X0), yellow (Hoya K2), orange (Hoya G) and red (Hoya 25A). You can emulate any of these filters with a digital image and Lightroom or Photoshop, and very easily too, but the look is not the same as that obtained with black and white film. Whether the difference is worth the effort of shooting film really depends on your philosophy of photography. In my case it is.

The image above, retaining a good degree of the haze of that afternoon, was shot using a yellow-green filter. A blue filter would have accented the haze even more. I’ll have the results from the other filters when I get around to developing those films, but for reference here’s the digital image photographed using a polarizing filter.

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