Final project: portrait outtakes – Intro to Photography

Fall 2013.  A continuation of this post.  Here are images that for one reason or another didn’t make the cut.  Some I printed along the way for critiques, some I didn’t look at until after I had scanned everything.

Minolta SRT-MCII Outtakes:

Canon AE-1 Outtakes:

Pentax Spotmatic SPII outtake:

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Final project: portraits – Intro to Photography

Fall 2013.  I had been taking portraits here and there throughout the semester, this time around I decided to pursue it in a more serious way.  I started looking at other photographers’ work more, looking at what it means to take a good portrait.  They say that all portraits are actually self-portraits of the photographer, to some degree.  Living in a small mountain town, I have some nice-looking backdrops pretty much wherever I go, and some pretty interesting-looking friends as well.  The first I found that was a keeper was actually taken Summer 2013 before the class even started, with the faulty Hi-matic 9 that I have since given away.  It featured a son of some friends of mine, one of my favorite photographic subjects:

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It’s really hard to just put these up without talking about them, so I’m going to group pictures a bit.

Woodland Park used to host several different series of local music, all non-profit (don’t know how many there are at the moment).  The one that I was affiliated with was called the Mountain Acoustic Music Association (MAMA), unfortunately due to lack of attendance and too large a venue, they had to shut down.  This was the last show they put on, bittersweet memories.

Being in a photo class, I decided I had an excuse to spend a few bucks on a portrait lens, and the local camera store just happened to have a few new Canon FD lenses in, which was nice because I really wanted to try out the AE-1 I’d been given and see how it compared to the Minolta.

It did alright, one thing I discovered was both light meters lied about their readings indoors: if I followed what they told me, I ended up overexposing by 1 stop with the Minolta, and underexposing 1 stop with the Canon.  I did like the winding action better with the Canon…  Up above are final presentations from two rolls of Tri-X and the only roll of Plus-X I ever bought.  Three out of four were with the 50mm 1.4 S.S.C. lens, so that $100 I spent on the 100mm 2.8 S.S.C. doesn’t seem quite worth it, and which lens did I return?  The fast-50.  The middle two came from a roll that I accidentally exposed by opening the back before I’d rewound the film.  Thankfully, it didn’t affect the early exposures!

In the Canon outtakes you’ll see a picture of two bearded individuals: that one was my original portrait, but the fact that I fudged the focus so badly (that Canon 50’s depth of field is narrow) nagged at me, and I redid it when I went over to my friend’s house to take more pictures of his beard.  I went back to the Minolta, because I still had a few more exposures in the Canon, and this particular roll I pushed 2 stops to get faster shutter speeds, the first time I’d ever pushed a roll of film before:

Once again, all on one roll.  Perhaps it was because I was just used to working with that camera?

The last thing I did was to make portraits of two newborn babies, as two sets of friends had just given birth (only hours apart).  I had just the week before (and only several days after buying that Canon 100mm lens) found a screw-mount portrait lens for the Spotmatic (and it didn’t cost $100 either) at a thrift store, a Chinon 135mm f/2.8.  I decided if there was ever a time to break out the Spotmatic, this was it.  Since both families wanted pictures in time to send out as Christmas cards, I decided using some chromogenic film was in order, and I bought a 36-exposure roll of Kodak BW400CN for that purpose, knowing I could get it developed and scanned in a day, then make my own prints at a more leisurely pace.

At the time, I’d never used Photoshop for correction, and the scans I got back were actually pretty low-contrast.  I have to say, now that I know what I’m doing I quite like the look of BW400CN.  Unfortunately, it’s no longer made.  The Chinon turned out to be a worthy lens, but I sort of retired it after I found the 135mm Super-Takumar.

I spent more time talking to my subjects than I did taking pictures, and usually I’d be taking 5-7 shots in a row; it seems that burning a couple shots up front helped my subjects relax, helped me get more natural looks.  My little bit of street photography experience helped me out as well, as some of those portraits were completely candid.

I have lots of pictures that I didn’t end up using, and they can be found here.

Assignment #3: the piano – Intro to Photography

Fall 2013.  Our third assignment was to take two subjects/objects and turn them into an entire series, looking at different aspects and angles. As a music student, I chose to photograph my primary instrument, the piano both inside and out. (That counts as two different subjects, right?)  One of my friends is a jazz pianist and has some pretty nice vintage keyboards, so I expanded my definition of piano to include some other keyboard instruments as well.

The outside:

The inside:

I wasn’t sure if the inside and outside of a piano would count as two different subjects, but thankfully my instructor let me.  As a backup plan, I had photographed stairways, but I’m glad that I didn’t have to use them because they didn’t turn out as interesting, I thought.  However, they did give me the benefit of padding out my rolls of film, allowing me to get the shooting assignment done quickly and turn most of my time to printing.  Here are some outtakes:

A lot of these pictures were taken using a Quantaray 70-200mm zoom lens, the only Minolta-mount lens I possess (then or now) that had a macro function, and after the whole Sigma lens issue I had, I wasn’t expecting much from a third-party zoom, but I’m very happy with how those images turned out.  The picture of my piano student’s hands is one of my favorite shots using a Minolta-brand lens, and I think Minolta really deserves a bit more love than most people are willing to give them.

Assignment #2: street photography – Intro to Photography

Fall 2013.  We were to practice the art of being a flaneur and connoisseur of the streets, something I’ve come to enjoy more and more since.  All I used to do was work and play video games, and even when I went on a hike, it was earbuds in and head down.  These days, I take a camera with me almost everywhere, I stroll, I look at almost everything, and I learned to always have the camera cocked, the next exposure ready to go: you never know when that perfect shot will materialize.

I remember we watched several videos, looked at plenty of pictures, all having to do with street photography, and how to really go about getting over fear, being able to just walk up to someone, put a camera in their face, and snap a shot before they knew what was happening.  I’m still working on that, it’s about as far from my natural inclination as can be.

I experienced a truly transcendent moment while out on one of my walks in Woodland Park: I had crossed three sides of one intersection, just killing some time, when a group of middle school girls appeared, capering up the street.  The light was red and I was waiting at the cross section, they were coming from the other side of the street. My camera slung around in front of me, I made sure I was set for another shot, stopped down all the way and the focus set to take in as much of the action as possible.  We all waited at the crosswalk together, myself and about a dozen tween girls.  As the sign changed to “Walk,” the girls surged across the street towards Starbucks and a shot of caffeine they obviously didn’t need; I had the camera hanging down at stomach-level and when I was in the midst of the crowd I took my shot blind and as surreptitiously as possible, well aware of the cars stopped and the possible witnesses.  I’d never felt like such a creeper in my life, some bearded guy in his late ’20s wearing an army jacket and taking pictures of middle school girls.  I just hoped I’d escaped the notice of the stopped drivers, just brushed the camera, tripped the shutter release, casually kept walking up the street.  I didn’t even wind the lever again until I was around the corner.  Usually, it’s pretty easy to tell when I’ve captured a great image because it sticks in my mind hours and days after I’ve taken it, before I ever get the film developed, and this was definitely one of those times.

Here are a few outtakes:

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Assignment #1 – Intro to Photography

Fall 2013.  Our first assignment was to explore shutter speeds and apertures, learning how to use them in creative ways go get the effect we were after.  We were to produce six prints: fast and slow shutter speeds, wide and narrow depths-of-field, and two that were a combination.   And I had to use at least two rolls of film to do it, and show the contact sheets.  That part really went against my way of working in the past, taking a month or more to finish a single roll (these requirements cured me of using 36-exposure rolls, too).  Though I suppose with assignments lasting only 2-3 weeks, it makes sense.  I quickly got to the point where I would shoot for a few days (one week tops), and spend the rest of the time in the darkroom, printing.

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narrow depth of field, wide depth of field

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long exposure, short exposure

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wide dof/long exposure, narrow dof/short exposure

I believe I have all the aperture and shutter speed info written down somewhere, but not on me.

There are two self-portraits in there, as well as one that I took at my old job at Seven Falls before it closed down.  Two of the shots were taken while out cutting down dead trees for firewood with a friend, an annual Summer activity.  What’s nice is that now that I’ve finally got these scanned to my satisfaction (for now), I can put up some outtakes that either didn’t fit the assignment or didn’t work with the rest of the images.  Some of them may be familiar:

 

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:

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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.

Prepared piano

Fall 2013.  I was working with my composition teacher that day on improvisation and since her piano was already far out of tune, we decided to make it sound even more interesting by altering the sound of the strings with clamps and whatever else we had on hand.

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I pulled out the camera on my phone so I could remember later where I had put the clamps in case I ever wanted to get that sound again, then remembered that I was in a photography class, had my camera with me, and should really be using it more often.  This also became the inspiration for one of my later projects in the class, where I created a series of images of the inside and outside of the piano.