Sunday, July 31, 2016

Under the heat dome

Well, the northern end of it anyway. I don't think the temperatures can compete with most of the country, but anytime you have a dew point in the upper 70's, it seems like a little oven-like.

It's always a little surprising that someone with such a great deal of fluff isn't uncomfortable in these conditions, but I guess it's the same insulating quality that leads him to sit around out here in the Wisconsin winter.

This whole series began when I noticed these really tiny flowers in the diverse ecosystem that is my lawn. I wondered what it would look like if I got as close as possible.

I'm surprised at how few close-ups I see on pinhole forums despite the ease of doing it. One of the facets of the digital photography revolution that's often overlooked is how easy close-ups have become.  With most digital cameras, you can almost set the lens on an object and still get it in focus. It hasn't been that long since everybody had to use film cameras, and I'm not sure how aware people are that it use to be fairly complicated to get a closeup at much less than two feet, even with a professional SLR.  Either you had to have a specifically micro lens, which even then only got down to 1:2, or a set of extension tubes or a bellows. Exposure had to compensated to account for the additional distance of the lens from the film. Full aperture built-in light meters still had to be stopped down in order to get an accurate reading.  With pinhole, no focusing is going on, so you can put the camera as close as you want.  There is the issue of diffraction, and you probably can get a better closeup with a smaller pinhole before Lord Raleigh's equations blur your photograph. but you don't otherwise have to make adjustments for getting as close as you can.

Anyway, the camera was about a half inch from these flowers, so its at a magnification of about 2:1. Kind of tricky to keep the camera from shading the subject, and I blew a couple frames when I opened the shutter and it cast a shadow on the scene.

I then noticed that these were only the buds of these flowers. Even this close to the ground with a short exposure, the wind got in my way.  When you're this close up, it doesn't take much movement to blur things.  It's also a little tricky to accurately pre-visualize what you're doing, and I missed the blade of grass in the foreground.

Another humble little flower that's very profuse on the lawn is the clover.  Even moving out to two or so inches away, there was a enough trembling from the wind to prevent a really sharp image.  But does that really matter? Occasionally on the f295 forum there would be a post about how to achieve maximum sharpness with a pinhole, and inevitably the discussion would end up with numerous exhortations to not get too hung up about sharpness – the pinhole aesthetic was about something else.

The pictorialist movement, begun by the Linked Ring in England, argued that emphasis on technical achievements, one of which was sharpness, was limiting photography's acceptance as a medium of art, and that more emphasis should be put on subject, composition and lighting.

A prime objective of composition is to direct the viewer to a center of interest. One of the tools you have with a lens to accomplish this is reduced depth of field by using a large aperture, but this isn't available to the pinholer, so you have to use composition, light and albedo to ensure that center of interest pops out from the background.  This weigela blossoms rather profusely fairly early sometime in May, but this one flower was still left in late July. The color contrast definitely contributes to it's prominence in the picture, but what really pops it out is that it's sitting out in the sunshine against the shaded foliage.

Sometimes albedo is sufficient to highlight the center of interest.  In this case I had a little trouble keeping these white monardas from blocking up, and I did a good bit of burning them in. I admit to spending quite a bit of time burning and dodging and otherwise manipulating contrast to get my pictures looking the way I want. Sometimes I encounter the argument that anything but a straight scan is somehow inauthentic. Ansel Adams is often idolized as the ultimate photographer and he unabashedly promoted how he manipulated negatives.  Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico is famous for how unrecognizable a straight print is from the final exhibited print. I don't see any difference in doing it with digital software.  (Although Edward Weston used to brag that most of his images were unmanipulated prints)

Lighting isn't the only tool for giving the illusion of depth. Scale can be another tool.  The two blossoms flanking this double decker in the center provide a cue to the depth in this picture.  I also like the way the cluster creates this triangular shape in the center of the composition and the way it's framed by the areas of somewhat lighter green foliage on either side of it contrasted against the darker corners.

My posts about flowers get by far fewer hits than others.  I suppose that's because it's perceived as being trite. I guess I've often told budding photographers that they should just express themselves and make photographs they like and the audience will decide what is important art or not. I think Imogen Cunningham and Robert Mapplethorpe pulled off getting artistic recognition using flowers as subject matter, and I'll just let you decide about these.

All with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Midsummer garden

Another day with just enough of a lack of wind to tempt me into the garden.

Always impressed by some of the volunteers that come up in the driveway.

A red volunteer among the purple petunias

Some calabrachoa sneaking out among some sweet potatoes.

A lily sneaking though some invasive tree.

It doesn't take much breeze to make flowers tremble, but in this case it was a big bumblebee that landed just after I opened the shutter and stomped around for the whole exposure.

Cherry tomatoes in the middle of a cage in various shades of ripeness,''

An old rose pushing up through the hostas.

And staring down the throat of a yellow lilly.

All with the Populist .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame (I can't wait till they quit referring to Trump's approach as Populism - and it bothers me to see that Stratocaster in the RNC logo)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Road Trip: The Southwest.

The southwest of Wisconsin, that is.

Last year for our 40th wedding anniversary, Sarah and I went to Spring Green to go to the American Players Theatre and tour Taliesin. We thought the area was worth another visit.  American Players Theatre has a special goal to make the works of Shakespeare accessible, so this year, we picked The Comedy of Errors. You can't beat Shakespeare for zaniness and I don't think I'm emotionally ready for this year's other Shakespeare selection, King Lear.

We stayed at the House on the Rock Resort (only loosely associated with the House on the Rock Attraction) just across the road, which is in the middle of a golf course.

I don't think Frank Lloyd Wright had anything to do with its design, but they're obviously trying to make it look like it.  On the parking lot side, our room was on ground level, but on the other side, it's four floors over the golf course.

The Theatre is on the top of a hill in the middle of the woods. Here everyone traipses up the hill as the sun sets.

The "lobby" is at the top of the hill...

and the theatre is down the other side.

It's really out in the middle of nowhere, but even on a Thursday night before school was over the place was sold out. I tried to get a picture of the set, but the lady in front of me took her seat not long after I opened the shutter. The stage is completely framed in forest. I only saw one this night, but the bats put on a bit of a show over the second act last year.

There's kind of a picnic atmosphere before the play, so we were one of the last to arrive, but the way the parking lot is configured, that meant we were about the last out. That object in the sky has to be the reflection in the windshield of the car lights behind me. While we waited a monster lighting storm that had been threatening all day to cancel the play, put on a show in the other direction, just to the east.

Just down the road from the theatre and the resort, is Tower Hill State Park.  As you might have guessed from the name, it's a hill that rises up to a bluff overlooking the Wisconsin River Valley.

The park is also a historical site. This area was settled by Europeans originally to mine lead.  A miner is one of the figures on the Wisconsin State flag.  In 1830 a Green Bay entrepreneur noticed the bluff when travelling down the Wisconsin River and got the idea this would be a great place to start the Wisconsin arms industry by making lead shot. At the top of the hill is the smelting house and shot tower.

Shot was made by dripping molten lead down a shaft which surface tension would draw into a perfect sphere before it landed 60 feet below in a tub of water which would instantly re-solidify it. The shot tower, which is actually carved into the hillside along with a couple tunnels, is covered with fencing so no one falls down.  I left the camera laying on it for about 5 minutes, but it was darker than I thought.

Roughly on the way back to Oshkosh is something you might have expected seeing when reading the title of this post, the Natural Bridge State Park.  Wisconsin rocks are made up of several eras worth of sandstones which get carved up by glaciers and other methods of erosion.  Lots of places would probably look like Monument Valley if, as one of my geologist friends used to say, the rocks weren't covered up by all this damn dirt and vegetation.

The park is really unimproved except for a weedy parking lot and single file foot paths. You can't see the bridge until you're nearly on top of it, and there's few other viewpoints. I stuck the tripod as far over the little fence as I could reach to get a little different angle.

The overhanging ledge near the bottom is the site of the earliest human habitation in Wisconsin.

As we continued down the trail looking for a another view of the bridge, we had to step over this huge hole where it looks like something is living now.

We followed the Overlook Trail to it's end in the hope that it meant overlooking the Bridge, but it's just another view of a green Wisconsin Valley.

All with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Developing paper in Caffenol

When the coordinator of the local ArtsCore initiative and I were discussing the pinhole workshop, it came up in conversation that I was developing film in home-made developer and wasn't that kind of a pinholey thing to do. The idea that the ingredients in Caffenol had about the same danger to the environment that the waste water from your clothes washer and dishes have also seemed to work with the theme of the event: "Nature and her Tales."

As I began to panic about what I was actually going to do, I put the idea aside, but I've sort of caught up, and since I needed to practice shooting with 4x5 single shot cameras with paper negatives anyway, I mixed up a liter and gave it a try. (Don't you love it when I mix metric and imperial units of measure).

An immediate impression as I mixed it was that it sure was dark. I've been inquiring of teachers that I knew had conducted workshops and one thing they all emphasize about the response from the students was the magic of watching the image form in the developer.  That's not going to happen with Caffenol.  It's got 40 grams of instant coffee in it. Compared to that cup of coffee in your hand, that's probably about 2 to 4 times stronger. It is essentially opaque. Maybe if you were introducing pinhole to a group that already had experience in the darkroom, it would be interesting, but I'd hate to take any of the magic away from the experience.

But I already had it mixed when I thought of that, so I went ahead anyway.

I didn't do any specific research about it, but I've read a bit about Caffenol and never heard anyone mention developing paper in it.  I remember some internet discussion about using the same developer for paper and film so I thought it would probably work to some extent, but how long would it take to develop it?  Would it stain the paper (it really doesn't stain film)? Would you rate the paper at the same ISO rating? What kind of grey scale would you get?  The biggest caveat about Caffenol was that it tended to create background fogging on films rated 400 or over. I didn't think that would be an issue with paper.

I was using Arista RC Grade 2 Semi-matte, rated at ISO 5 in the f250 workshop camera.  It was a sunny day, and direct sun seemed like an exposure I could repeat fairly reliably for comparison. I even metered it and it agreed with Mr. Pinhole and my standard chart for paper.  A minute.

Somewhat randomly, I decided to start with 2 minute development.

The first negative looked pretty good, but it struck me when I first looked at it that it was a bit underdeveloped. The blacks looked like they could get darker but, I could get a pretty good scan from it.

The next two negatives seemed a little lighter than I'd like, but I couldn't tell if it was a case of a difference in exposure or something to do with the development.

The fourth picture, I decided to go with what I thought would be a lower contrast subject. It was in the shade so the exposure was a lot longer, but I didn't measure it, I just guessed (based on the standard chart) that it was about three stops lower. After two minutes in the caffenol, I pulled it out of the developer and it looked really thin, and although I tell everyone to wait to judge a negative until you look at it in room light, I decided to see if more development time would bring out more detail, so I left it for another two minutes. The extra development time definitely made a difference. The blacks are blacker, but I thought I was starting to see staining on the unexposed portions.

I still got a pretty good scan out of it


I realized that by taking a photograph and developing it and then going back out when the lighting conditions were changing, I wasn't going to get any real comparison.  So I loaded three of the workshop cameras and took three successive shots at the same exposure, and then developed them for 2, 3, and 4 minutes.

The two minute does look a little underdeveloped to me.  The three minute seemed pretty good, and the four minute seemed to have even better shadow detail, but the highlights seemed to getting a bit blocked up.

My best scans of the three.

The first is a little lacking in shadow detail, but despite the differences in the negatives, the last two look pretty good to me. If I was going to do this regularly, I'd probably pick the middle one - three minutes.

So, can you develop paper in Caffenol? Yes. Does it affect the response of the paper? Not really too much. Does it stain the paper?  Yes, a little, and the longer developments showed a little more staining, but it still wasn't too bad, and might have controlled contrast a little.

I'm still not going to use it in the workshop in order to let the participants watch the image form, but it would work.