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Monday, September 1, 2008

Old World Charm

Fine-art photographer Ben Ham merges the best of a film-based process with the best of a digital process to create the quiet beauty of his nature images

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This Article Features Photo Zoom

old world charm
An image of a plantation road has been sepia-toned to achieve a feeling of antiquity that more closely communicates the timeless feel that Ham strives for in his work.
For lenses, I have a great Schneider 150mm XL, which is incredibly sharp and has great coverage. It’s an ƒ/5.6 lens, which is fast for that format. It gives a bright image on the ground glass. I have a great 240mm A ƒ/9 Fujinon that I use a lot, which is super-sharp, a 300mm Nikkor and then, to round things out, a 450mm Fujinon—so I have a real nice kit of lenses that cover a pretty wide range.

There’s just something magical about working with an 8x10; it’s almost like looking out a window with that large ground glass on the back and, of course, you get all that information in a negative. Most of my work is printed very large.

Outdoor Photographer:
How large are you going with your prints?

Ham: If it’s a panoramic piece, it can get out in the 85-inch range and 42 inches tall. I’m printing now with the Epson 9800 on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Satin, and I’m looking at the new Epson printer, the 11880, which is a 64-inch-wide printer.

Outdoor Photographer:
It’s interesting that you prefer traditional film process when shooting and making the negative, yet you migrate into the digital space to print. Do you still do some printing in a wet darkroom, or is it all digital now? Do you find that there are specific advantages to being digital for output?

old world charm
“Falling Ceiling”
Ham: I’ve had Photoshop since the first version came out. I was fascinated by it. I didn’t start thinking about it until about 10 years ago when I came to the conclusion that it’s a usable thing from a print standpoint. I needed to figure out how to do in Photoshop what I could do in the darkroom. The guys over at Nash Editions were starting to make that happen when it came to making fine-art prints. I started to buy some larger Epsons and experimented with a lot of different inks and papers and was really refining that process while still printing in the darkroom. I made a breakthrough and stopped printing in the darkroom about six years ago. Now I use the Epson UltraChrome inks exclusively. They’re great. They give me a wide range of tones. Most of my work has a sepia tone to it. I’m using the ImagePrint RIP.

I’ve always been kind of a green person, and it bothered me that I was using all those chemicals. I’m now running my sheet film in a JOBO, so I’m running five sheets in a big drum. By the time I’m done, I’ve used less than a liter, whereas before, I’d use gallons of chemicals.

Outdoor Photographer:
It seems that black-and-white has come full circle, with more interest in it than ever. Most of your photography is black-and-white toned to sepia. What does black-and-white/sepia give you that color doesn’t?


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