Processing My Own Film, a.k.a. Back in the Saddle Again

23 09 2014

Over the last couple of years, I have been rekindleing my love affair with film photography. This has been in no small part due to my brother’s enthusiasm for shooting film—lomo, instant or whatever he is into this week. Also, I love to listen to the Film Photography Project podcast. The gang on that show (what show?) just seem to live for photography, and as the name implies, they too are shooting film. Their enthusiasm for film is super contagious (and super positive).

A beautiful thing about film cameras is that, for the most part, nobody wants them. People practically give them away at garage sales, on Craiigslist, eBay, etc.. I have lusted over a Nikon F4s since I was in high school, but the $2,500 price tag in 1988 was just crazy talk. Now you can pick up an F4 for the price of a night on the town in Chicago. Now I have one. Of course, the F4 would be lonely all by itself, with just my old Nikon 5005 to hang out with. So I picked up a Nikon F and an F2 to keep the F4 company. Well one thing led to another, and now I also have a small stable of early Olympuses (Olympi?), a variety of rangefinders, medium format, and instant cameras.

These are no shelf jockeys though. They are out and about putting light to emulsion all the time, which brings me to the point of this post and the reason often cited for the popularity of digital photography—FILM COSTS MONEY. Memory cards? Not much.

I somehow have been lulled into thinking that shooting film is an inherently expensive thing to do. It can be. But I realized that it can also be pretty cheap. If you pay $5.00 for a roll of black and white film and $10.00 for processing, A few rolls of film starts to look pretty pricey. However, if you process your own film, it costs pennies per roll and is super easy. The cost of the film is the same, but not bad. Admittedly, printing still costs additional money, but if you want to print digital photos, you have to pay for that too—so that is a wash.

I used to process and print my own film when I was in college and I (probably) wasn’t any smarter back then than I am now, so I decided it was time to take the processing back into my own hands. For less than a hundred dollars, I got all the chemicals I needed, a developing tank, a changing bag and a film squeegee. The I went to the Home Goods store and picked up three measuring cups to dedicate to the chemicals, and some clips to hang the film to dry. All in, about a hundo.

Tonight I processed the first two rolls of film since college, and it was a piece of cake. I did use the awesome app on my phone  “The Massive Dev Chart” to give me the times I needed for each chemical. The app is worth EVERY PENNY. The only thing I might do differently in the future is get a bigger changing bag. It is pretty crowded in there with both of my paws, the developing tank, film and scissors.

Processing my own black and white film will let me shoot as much as I want and still seems like magic when I see it in action.  I will continue to send my color film out for processing and printing for the time being. Maybe someday…

Now I just need to find a good deal on an enlarger.

You Don’t Need a Camera to be a Professional Photographer

21 06 2012

Obviously you need a camera to take photographs professionally, but you don’t need to own a camera. If you are trying to break into photography as something more than a hobby, don’t rush out and buy a lot of expensive gear (sorry, gear manufacturers). You can rent everything necessary for your photo shoot. Unless you are shooting all the time and getting paid for it, the return on investment for a $5,000 lens and $6,000 body could be many years, or never.

If, for example, you shoot street photography most of the time with your SLR, rangefinder, point-and-shoot camera or even your phone camera, it doesn’t make sense to have a $20,000 medium format camera in your closet for the handful of product shots you do on the side. If you get a job that you need specific equipment to shoot, include the rental price of the equipment into your job quote. Clients who hire photographers regularly are used to having rental line items on their invoices. The are presumably hiring you for your photographic vision and skill rather than your equipment inventory. It is unrealistic for a client to expect a photographer to have every piece of camera equipment that might one day be needed. Use this to your advantage. If you rent the gear and charge the client for the rental:

  • You can use the latest and best cameras, lenses, lights, etc. essentially for free
  • Your money is not tied up in assets that are collecting dust and you have better cash flow
  • You get a chance to “try before you buy” so you don’t make expensive mistakes
  • You can fulfill your photographic vision for the client without the excuse of having the wrong, or not enough equipment
  • If something happens to the equipment, it is covered by cheap damage waivers instead of increasing your insurance premiums

Most likely, you have a camera. Use it as much as possible. Even if you don’t use your own camera for jobs, the skills developed simply by using any camera are transferrable. The more solid your base skills are, the quicker and easier it will be to transition to equipment that you rent. 

Be sure to arrange for the rental gear to arrive a day or two early so that you have an opportunity to familiarize yourself with it before you are under the pressure of the actual job. Clients may not care if you rent gear, but they don’t want to pay for your time fumbling with camera settings you can’t figure out.

I rent my gear from and fully recommend them. They have a great website that is easy to use and very informative. Their customer service is impeccable, and their equipment is in top shape. There are plenty of other places to rent like If you live in a larger city, you probably have local rental options as well. Calumet and Helix are two available here in Chicago.

Save yourself a bundle and improve your odds for making it as a pro photographer by renting your gear. You will figure out (using your most objective inner voice) which gear it really makes sense to own, and you can make a more informed decision about your purchases if you have rented the gear previously.

The Gould Bay Emperor Penguin Colony, Antarctica

30 01 2012

Emperor Penguin adult and chick

Some things in life make you feel like you have won the lottery. In my case, the chance to visit a colony of Emperor Penguins in Antarctica gave me just that feeling. I was in Antarctica to guide a group to the Geographic South Pole for a great company called Polar Explorers. We chartered a flight to the penguin colony for some of our group and I was fortunate to get the chance to escort the group for the day.

Basler BT-67

Some of the group in front of the Basler BT-67

We flew a few hours from the Union Glacier  base camp in a ski-equiped, Basler BT-67 to a location on the sea ice on Gould Bay, about a mile from the colony. We landed between a couple of huge icebergs frozen into the ice.

Hiking to the penguins

Walking to the penguins from the landing spot

We hoofed it for the mile over to the spot where the penguins were gathered. What a sight! From a distance, you would swear there were a bunch of people shuffling around. We tried to keep a distance of 5 meters from the penguins, but they were so curious, they would waddle right up to you.

Even more chicks

Fuzzy gang of penguin chicks

We weren’t required to run away from them, but could not approach them. They have no land predators in Antarctica, so the penguins did not view us as any kind of threat.

Penguin Close Encounter

Hard to believe how unafraid the penguins are

I have to say the penguin chicks are just about the cutest thing you can imagine. It was all you could do to resist stuffing a few into your camera bag to take home.

the smallest chick

The smallest chick I saw– about the size of a grapefruit

The chicks were about the size of an overinflated football, or maybe a bit longer, and they travelled around in these little gangs of grey down that made me giggle like an idiot.

More Chicks

Penguin chicks showing off

Off to school

The penguins would wander alone or in groups from one cluster of penguins to another

Regal Near and Far

Some penguins waddle, some slide

The adults were about waist height and very regal. They would alternate between waddling along and sliding on their bellies.

Penguins on their bellies

Two adult Emperor penguins and one chick

The sliding looked a lot more efficient to me, but I suppose they can see a bit farther when standing and it is probably warmer not laying on the ice. The sound of the colony was a cacophony of honks and chirps. I made a short audio recording of the penguins. Listen to it here: 

Happy Feet

The penguins' feet look almost reptilian

Penguin Headshot

Closeup adult Emperor Penguin

2 chicks

Acouple Emperor Penguin chicks about the size of a football

I brought a few lenses with me to shoot the penguin colony, but I ended up shooting almost everything with a Nikon 70-210mm f/4–5.6 on a D700.  I recorded the audio with a Roland Edirol R-09HR digital recorderI think if I could do it again, I would have 2 bodies (full frame sensor) with a 300mm f/2.8 on one and a 24–70mm f/2.8 on the other. I would bring a 1 and 2 stop neutral density filter for each or a variable neutral density filter so I could get 3 stops wider open in the bright sun. A flash would have been great, but I am afraid it would be too disruptive/stressful for the penguins. If I was going to be there for a couple of days, I would bring a body that could shoot video also and a tripod with a fluid head. I would also add a shogun mike to my Roland recorder.

My camera kit was necessarily light for this trip, since it was not a photography trip, but rather a ski trip. We were to be skiing with our camping gear in sleds pulled behind us on our approach to the geographic South Pole, so camera equipment with its weight and volume was something of a luxury item. As the guide for the trip, I had to (rightfully) put the team and its needs in front of any desires I had to make photographs. Therefore, I only brought a Nikon D700 body, three lenses (20mm, 50mm, 70–210mm), and a Canon G10 point and shoot for basic video and pocketable convenience. The lens selection was pretty good overall, but I really didn’t use the 20mm with the penguins and I didn’t use the 70–210mm for the ski trip.  For a trip where I had to travel light and cover a range of situations, this kit suited me well.


Curious little penguin chicks

My Radio Interview from the South Pole

22 12 2011

Actual Geographic South Pole Marker, 2011

This is my interview with Radio New Zealand from the South Pole. I was there guiding a 20K ski trip for PolarExplorers. Click the link below to hear the interview:

mp3 of Interview

Big Day at the Bottom of the World

21 12 2011

The centennial anniversary of Roald Amundsen and his team reaching the Geographic South Pole on December 14, 1911 was celebrated last week with people from all corners of the Earth in attendance. Toasting a great accomplishment for Norway and humanity, the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, Explorer, Børge Ousland and officials from the Norwegian Polar Institute and the NSF each addressed the crowd. At  – 35° C,  fingers were cold holding the camera.

Antarctica is as photogenic as it is inhospitable to human life. The effort required to get there is easily paid back in memories.

I was on this trip as a guide for

Ilyushin IL-76 on the blue ice runway at Union Glacier, Antarctica

Norwegian expeditioner with cognac from 1911. Mmmm.

Reflecting globe atop ceremonial South pole

Sleeping in a recreation of Amundsen's tent

Refueling at Theil Mountains fuel cache

Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg and Rick Sweitzer

Re-enactment of Bjaaland's famous photo of Amundsen's team at the South Pole

Me with ice sculpture of Amundsen at the Pole

Me at the Centennial celebration

Bluebird day at the South Pole

Ilyushin back in Punta Arenas, Chile at the end of the trip

Dirk Jensen Photo blog is LIVE!

25 04 2011
Skiers near the North Pole

Skiing towards a beautiful halo around the sun on the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole

Thanks for dropping by Dirk Jensen Photo blog! This is a place for me to share stories and ideas about photography and how it relates to my life. I will have some good tips for your photography that I have picked up along the way that are yours for the small fee of reading them. Let me know if you ever have any questions, or give me feedback on my posts–I love hearing from others who find photography as addictive as I do.

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