FAQ - Laurie Usher

What is the backstory regarding my B&W sports photography?

Many of the B&W images in these galleries were shot during the 70s and 80s while I was still a college student. As such, I would travel to events on my own dime, shooting in the same elements as the players - sometimes freezing rain or heat & humidity. After the contest, I’d find a dark space, often a custodial closet, and develop my negatives. I’d have to find a darkroom to print the negatives quickly if I wanted them to be published. Sometimes I’d take the negatives to the newspaper directly, abscond some college darkroom, or set one up in my bathroom.

Later in life, as a professor of photography, I realized that I’m lucky to have achieved any publishable photos under these conditions. Film development is a scientific process that is dependent on many variables that include the ideal conditions of total darkness, exact temperatures of all chemical baths, perfect water quality, a dust-free space for film to dry, a high quality enlarger to print the negatives, and adequate time.

Laurie Usher

Laurie Usher

Circa 1974

Why do B&W photos look grainy?

Forty years ago, a photographer had to estimate the lighting conditions prior to arriving at the venue. Then you brought rolls of 36 exposure film which were shot at one ASA/ISO or film speed. This determined how fast of a shutter speed you could use to stop action and the higher the ASA, the more film grain or silver particles it contained. Typically, I used Kodak Tri-X film, 400 ASA for a field event on a sunny day, which allowed shutter speeds of 1/1000 of a second to capture stop action. If the weather changed to cloudy, I’d have to shoot at 1/250 sec. to allow more light to expose the film and time the shots for the “peak of action.”

For indoor sports, like basketball or field hockey in a lit stadium, I only had the option of 400 ASA speed film. So I used a process called, “pushing” the film, by using different developing times and chemicals – FG7 and sodium sulfite. This allowed me to use an ASA of 1600 in these unevenly and dimly lit venues. Pushing increased the grain, but reduced the shadow in an image. Essentially, I could capture a silhouette with some blurred detail, but it was not ideal. Today’s digital technology allows a photographer to constantly change the “film speed” or light sensitivity on each shot automatically. This incredible light sensors allow action or dark capture as high as 64,000 ISO or 16x higher shutter speeds and depth of field than I used.

What’s with the spots on the pictures?

Spots or blobs on a negative can be caused from minerals in hard water, air bubbles from agitation, sudden change of water temperature, or dust in the drying process. Whites lines are usually scratches in the emulsion either because the film is not yet dry or dirt that has scraped along the surface. After negatives are scanned, I will often use a digital editing tool to remove some of the more annoying marks.

Why aren’t the action shots as close and sharp as today’s digital images?

I used a Nikkormat 35mm camera with whatever used lenses I could afford, a Nikon 50mm and 135mm lens. For the Olympics, I used a poor quality 300mm lens, shooting from the cheap seats. There was no auto-focus or image-stabilization in the 70s, and tripods were neither allowed nor practical. Luckily, I was a competitive athlete, so I was able to anticipate where the action was going and what might happen next. This allowed me to run in front of the action, and manually pre-focus on where I wanted to shoot. Today, I would use two cameras, one with a wide-angle zoom of 18-35mm and a telephoto-zoom of 70-200mm, and one 400mm or 600mm lens with built-in shake-reduction on a monopod.

How I determined pricing

I have come up with what I consider an affordable, fair price for prints. My sports photography has been done as a freelancer, meaning I paid my own travel expenses, my own equipment & repairs, purchased and developed many rolls of film in order to obtain a few printable images, stored and cataloged images over a forty year period, paid to have negatives scanned for digital reproduction, purchased computer equipment and software to edit and store photos, created website to show and share images. If you would like to negotiate a bulk discount, please contact me directly.

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