Ahhh. I can breathe!
The all-consuming monster that is high school tournament season is finally over. I’m now in the process of decompressing, spending a bit of time with my long-suffering wife and getting some of the many things I’ve neglected over the past month tidied up. Now I can also look back with little anxiety on the work I did while I was sadly flying solo as the Casper Star-Tribune photo department.
Tournament season means a lot of preview spreads leading up to the big games. I shot a few preview portraits for the sports section, one involving a trip to Wind River High School in Pavillion. I love traveling to the smaller Wyoming schools we don’t normally get a chance to cover.
The final preview was for 3A/4A basketball, and the seemingly unstoppable Natrona County High School Fillies were a natural choice. Our sports writer Clint Robus had ‘gritty’ in mind. Hmm. I immediately interpreted ‘gritty’ as black & white, and also immediately figured this was an excuse to shoot real black & white film on assignment. “Why not simply shoot digital and use a nice plug-in?” you ask. Because, that’s too easy. And it’s lame. Embrace your media, I always say. If it’s digital color, it’s digital color. If it’s B&W, it’s film. In my case, that’s Kodak’s classic Tri-X.
Problem was, since as mentioned earlier I was flying solo, I was also packed with assignments on this particular portrait day. After finishing my first shoot of the day I hustled over to the NCHS gym, an old building dripping with character. I love it for that character, hate it for its poor lighting. I hauled a light kit in along with my lenses and cameras. Once there, Clint was already in the process of helpfully lining up the team as we had discussed previously. I left the lights in their case and embraced the gym’s drawbacks. I rated my Tri-X at 1,600 ASA (a two-stop push) which would blow up the grain and contrast. We shot a few variations of the team, a group of very cooperative people.
I rushed home and gathered my supplies. I had some D-76 developer that I’d mixed a couple of months back, hoping it hadn’t gone bad. Tri-X is something of a pliable film. Keep your temperatures consistent and agitation smooth and you’re rewarded with tight grain and lovely tonality. Be obnoxious and sloppy and you get some big (but beautiful) grain…and still lovely tonality. God I love that film! I banged out the processing as sloppily as possible, hoping for all the more big grain for that ‘gritty’ old-school look. I washed and hung it up and rushed off to my next assignment. It felt like old times in my first newspaper darkroom.
The following day I scanned a few of the better frames at home with a Nikon Coolscan IV in color for more control. I ended up rather liking a couple of the color versions and turned them in with a total B&W, adjusting contrast and adding some unsharp mask in Photoshop to add some definition to the grain.
Adding to some of the vintage feel no doubt is my choice of lens, a tattered Canon 50mm 1.4 wide-open. The photo was plastered horizontally across the sports page the next day. Give me grain or give me death!