Week 1 – Intermediate Photography

I hope I’m doing this right…this next class proposes a new challenge for me: create new work weekly, whereas I’ve been going back to old habits.  I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a scary concept I’d like to think that I’m thrifty in how I shoot, but also, I just didn’t do a lot of shooting this summer.  I just developed Thursday a roll that has been in my camera since mid-June.  Can I shoot a roll of film a week, and, in being forced to present at least three new images weekly, how much will my quality suffer, especially if I’m pressed for time elsewhere?  I’m halfway through a roll of Provia, but I don’t want to waste that roll to the needs of expediency, plus it would take nearly a week just to get it processed.  I’ve thought about cutting 36-exposure rolls in half, I’ve thought about a 100ft bulk roll of Fomapan or Kentmere, I’ve been comparing prices back and forth.  A 100ft roll of Tri-X is $50 more than a roll of HP5.  Wow.  With Tri-X, it’s almost exactly the same price between a 100ft roll and the same number of feet in 24-exposure rolls, 36-exposure rolls are cheaper than a bulk roll; and you don’t have to load the cartridges yourself.  I eventually found some newly-expired T-Max 400 in 24-exposure rolls for not too bad a price, since it was there I decided to go with it; I don’t think I’ll feel as bad burning through rolls of T-Max.

I was trying to figure out just how I got a light leak across four out of the first five exposures, I think that it must have happened after I took that fifth picture, and it must have happened on the right (take-up) side of the camera: the light leak is in the same spot on each picture and the effect is lighter counting back from #5.  I’d be disappointed (and probably should find some gaffers’ tape anyway), except that it literally happened only on the pinhole shots, and I suppose that gives them just a bit more of that authentic lo-fi aesthetic.  As for the others, some friends of ours from Ohio were in town, and I like taking pictures of my friends, especially when I haven’t seen some of them for 6-7 years.

Someone else who likes making pictures of his friends is artist and photographer Chuck Close (at least according to this site), and so I give you his daguerreotype portrait of minimalist composer Philip Glass:
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Philip Glass, Stage II – Chuck Close

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass…

I remember seeing the documentary of Close working with the 20×24 Polaroid, but I’m not sure I’d seen his daguerreotypes before, that was a real treat for me looking at them in class.  I love to see the old photographic processes alive and well after 150+ years: it’s a ray of hope that the most tedious and expensive (and best-looking) photographic processes still survive in the modern blink-and-it’s-gone digital world.  I chose the Philip Glass portrait because being a composer myself, I like seeing the masters of my craft celebrated in a larger sense, by those outside the music world, and Philip Glass is one of the only living composers who is fairly well-known and recognizable to a lot of non-musicians.

Close’s work is meaningful to me also because it is transformative: here is a man who started out started out as a painter focusing on portraits, who has embraced the more modern world by using technology, yet he chose the most outdated process of them all.  As his paintings were gigantic, so too can these large format images be increased to truly tremendous size with almost infinite detail.  It’s also a redemptive concept how physical limitations and life circumstances don’t have to end who we are.

Close has been presenting portraits of Glass for some 35 years now, and it’s fascinating to see how he’s physically changed over the years.  Max Reger once said that pigs and composers only come into their own after they’re dead.  Glass is now nearly 80 years old, and while he’s not quite there yet, looking at this new portrait while remembering the old one makes me more conscious of the fact that no one is here forever.  Yet here is a composer whose style is instantly recognizable and oft-imitated, one of the most successful modern classical composers, and here is his image preserved for future generations, just as we have portraits of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and countless others.  May the music last in people’s memories even longer than his image.  In Close’s portrait, I see a man approaching immortality.

This post was written while listening to Songs from Liquid Days.

How much contrast is too much?

I went to 11-mile Reservoir for a class back in June, and while we were primarily recording nature sounds, the camera had its place in my explorations as well.  Looking at the pictures later with the other members of my group, one made the comment that they were too high contrast, something I didn’t even think about or notice myself.  I think he’s right, but it took me this long to actually correct them.  The thing is, the lower contrast didn’t necessarily improve things…

So what’s the deal, then?  I was alright with what I had before, but there was definitely more detail in the pictures that I wasn’t getting.  Maybe I’m too content, and I need to be more critical, train my eye better.  It’s interesting what the change in contrast does to the colors.  This is the first roll of color negative (and the only one I’ve shot all year) that I’ve put through the Pakon since getting it back in February, and really, just how different the look can be from so small a tweak makes me think of some of the complaints Ken Rockwell has against anything that isn’t Fuji Velvia: I don’t really have a baseline for how any particular image is supposed to look.

How much time are you all putting into your color images?  I’m kind of used to just taking what the photo lab has been given me (unless I’m wandering into dangerous color temperature territory, ahem, Cinestill).  Maybe it’s force of habit, maybe it’s that I don’t find my color work as critical/important as black and white, maybe it’s because there are too many variables I have to deal with now, and I can’t be bothered.  It’s not really a complaint, but more of an observation.  Color changes things.

Hey look: shadow detail!

Alright, I’m learning a bit more about scanning every time I fall down flat on my face.  I rescanned all my negatives from the Fall 2013 Intro class and not only did it take less time to scan, it’s taking way less time to finalize.  I’m guessing I could still dig into TLX Client to pull even more information out of those negatives (and I will at some point), but going back to processed scans with PSI has satisfied me for now.  Basically, all I’m doing at the moment is bumping down the contrast to -20 (more, in some cases), and raising the light on a few just on a case by case basis, then again, final correction in Photoshop.  Like I said, I’m happy and it’s making life easy for me:

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before

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after (and I didn’t even dodge her face!)

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before

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after

So I’m glad I finally got that settled.  Read the first part of this saga here.

Students conducting students

…it was a bit like a horror movie…

This was the first of two scoring sessions we did in film scoring class.  As one of the directors, I didn’t have much to do, and ended up taking pictures.  As I brought a quiet rangefinder that day instead of a noisy SLR, I felt more confident about taking a shot here and there while they were actually recording.  Having the drum set there helped me as well, I’m sure.

Off-topic, this is post #100, so I’m celebrating that milestone.  It’s only taken me the better part of 2 years.

What I’ve learned so far living with the Pakon

So I ended taking a bit of a sabbatical the last few months, not my original plan but I’ve been doing a lot of music stuff and not much on the photography front.  I’m here, I’m alive.  In fact, it was my intention to keep shooting black & white over the summer and start developing with my Caffenol recipe at home, but what happened is that I think I got a bit burned out taking pictures for a bit so I took a break.  I just finished my first roll of black & white since the summer started.

What I have been doing though, ever since I got the Pakon, is scanning and adjusting all my negatives from my Fall 2013 Intro to Photography class, just whenever I had some free time to get on the computer.  I’m on roll 9 of 13 right now, and along the way, I’ve noticed a few things.

First of all, I’m losing shadow detail, and I don’t know what to do about it.  Here’s an example:

Michelle
flatbed scan of an optical print

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Pakon scan

FYI the print I had wasn’t my final one, I gave that one away to the subject, and this was one of the outtakes from practicing dodging and burning.  I actually burned her face in a bit in Photoshop to make it look more natural.

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Minolta DiMage Scan F-2400

 

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Pakon F335

Looking at the raw Pakon scan, there’s just nothing there in the side of the piano.  The Minolta scan has its problems, mainly due to the fact that I was quite new to the process and insisted on doing all adjustments in the scanning software itself.  With the Pakon though, for the most part I’ve been taking the raw negative images captured by the scanner and doing all the work myself in Photoshop, and have been pretty happy with the results, but not necessarily wowed.  In fact, going back and comparing some of my earlier work to what I did on the Minolta, the Pakon-scanned pictures can look a little flat sometimes.  It could be that I just don’t know how to use the software that well, I’m not going to rule that out (UCCS does offer a digital photography class, I’ve stayed far away from it so far, now I wonder if that’s such a good idea).

Some of the pictures are looking a bit flat because if I push the contrast too much, I get some rather unfortunate and annoying artifacts, I don’t know really how to describe them.  On the last roll of film I completed, I had given myself the PSI-processed versions as well (I think I adjusted them to -10 contrast or so) for comparison.  PSI tends to make black & white way too contrasty and sometimes unpredictable, but I had lots of shots that I had liked looking that way on this particular roll, so I brought the PSI-processed scans along.  That’s when I learned something pretty wonderful:

From RAW
scanned raw, completed in Photoshop

From PSI
scanned with PSI conversion, final tweaking in Photoshop

 

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The grain seems to be exaggerated in my raw scans, and gradients don’t do too well (look at the top of third of the picture–I’ve been dealing with that a lot), but PSI is doing a better job making these pictures look nice.  I hadn’t been using my earlier scans as a baseline to match what I was doing with the raw Pakon scans, which is probably why I’ve gotten some funky results without knowing.  I went through that entire roll making the raw scans look the best I could, then taking the PSI-processed pictures and making those look the best I could, and PSI won out just about every time.  And that’s with the Pakon not being able to read the DX code on Tri-X.

One thing I haven’t tried doing is seeing if TLXClientDemo will give me a different-looking file at all, I don’t know if that would make a difference at all, but one of these days I’ll research it.  The other thing is that this company is reputed to have the best modern way to convert and process negatives, and have good color profiles for all modern films that came out after Kodak stopped updating Pakon’s software.  I’d like to try out Color Perfect with raw Pakon scans, see if that could make a difference for me, but that’s in the future.  For now, I think I might be starting over with my 2013 negatives, getting the PSI-processed scans and working from those.  Man, that’s a lot of work to redo…

edit: The saga continues (with a happy ending) here.

Wet Plate Day picture – Alternative Processes

It’s been submitted, it’s up there, I’m happy to be among those who participated.  Check out the full gallery here.

Irvin-wetplateday

The exposure was around 23 seconds, my instructor Carol pulled the trigger for me, but I was the one who came up with the idea, pose, the 2-tone background, and called the shots for exposure, so I’d say this counts as a true self-portrait, and I like it quite a bit!  If I ever wrote a book, this is the image I’d stick on the back cover.

I paid a bit closer attention to the lens this time, just to have the information.  It says: J.H. Dallmeyer, London.  U.S. Patent 1868.  I suppose going off the serial number would tell me exactly when it was made, but I’d guess sometime before 1890.

Community – short film

Sorry guys, I’ve had a busy few weeks completing final projects, writing papers, and all the other general craziness with finals week, plus playing a show Friday night.  Here is what became my final for my film scoring class, Community:

We did two video assignments in the class.  I wasn’t sure if the second was going to come off or not, but we ended up doing it anyway; we only had a week and a half to shoot, edit, and score the film.  Thankfully, the minimum running time was a manageable 1 minute, so I threw some stuff together using part of my final in my Alt.Process class (don’t tell the instructor!)

I was happy enough with my project that I entered it (unscored and not-quite complete) in my school’s short film festival, and competed against three other films in the Experimental Film category.  Needless to say, I didn’t win, but had fun being there again, and took the opportunity to talk a bit with some of the students and faculty in the filmmaking program.

The footage came from a roll of T-Max 400 and a roll of Tri-X shot at 800, and was developed in the Caffenol C-L recipe using my trusty Spotmatic SPII.  This was also the first time I was really able to put the 1.4/50 Super -Takumar through its paces and it performed really nicely, I think.  It was definitely nice having the extra 2/3 stop, as the light was quite dim in the room.  Unfortunately that lens has a screw loose (literally) and is in danger of falling apart at the moment, so I’m not using it anymore until I can get the thing fixed.