Sunday, July 21, 2019

Quality assurance, user experience testing and some minor modifications.

The camera I made to redo the pictures in the 10th Anniversary Populist Plans was 45mm from pinhole to film, 6x6cm format with a .31mm pinhole. I didn’t mention it in that post but there were a couple things I did differently, and they needed testing. In any event, you just can't build a camera and not run some film through it. It turns out I learned a lot.

I usually lightproof a camera with black spray paint or opaque photographic tape. Everyone doesn't have those options, so I’ve included a piece on the template to make a double layer in the back of the camera to ensure that it’s opaque. There's a similar piece to lightproof the front, which also serves as a removable mount for the pinhole. I’ve never used the extra layer in the back and when I did use the pinhole mount, I’ve never depended on it to make the camera light proof. I didn't do any other lightproofing on this camera other than the extra layer from the template. I’d better find out if it works.

I rode my bike to Menomonie Park to do some quality control and user experience testing. The first frame was this concrete bunker that has something to do with the city water supply. The railing was full of birds when I first stopped but by the time I was ready for the exposure only one was left. Seems like the camera works well. However, it wasn’t a particularly bright day and I’ve been fooled by that before.

To give it a more analytical test, I advanced directly past one frame and then left the camera out in full sun for a day and a half on the next one. Looking at those two frames I can hardly tell the difference. There is a little bit of a fogged spot on that second frame but if it was overlaid on a negative, I don’t think I would have noticed.

Looks like the extra light proofing layer is a workable solution. (There’s already a double layer everywhere else.) 

I went out again on a completely clear day with brilliant sun.

After I had taken one picture, I decided to try to get some shots with the Manic Expression Cube. In my haste switching cameras, I forgot to wind the film. I realized what I had done but when I got back to my bike, I noticed when I had put the new camera on the bike rack the shutter had come open and ruined the picture.

User tip #1: When you’re not actually taking a picture, use one of the rubber bands to secure the shutters, especially if you’re going to be bouncing around on a bike. It seems I have to relearn this lesson at some point every year.

The picture that got ruined was in the shade with an exposure of 5 seconds. When reshooting it, I looked up from the timer on my phone and noticed that the shutter was kind of loose and had slipped back down a little covering the pinhole. You can see this in the double exposure above as well.

That prompted the first modification. I glued a few small pieces of cardstock behind the shutter to make it a little tighter and add some friction. At first I made it a little too tight. I could still open and close it, but you don’t want to have to use so much force that you move the camera when you open the shutter. In order to get the pressure just right, I had to split a piece of my cardstock. It’s not too sticky to open now and stays up when making an exposure. 

If you notice the shutter is a little loose after making it, another solution is to mount it on the camera so it slides out to the side instead of up and down.

My next stop was the maintenance shop a little farther along.

User tip #2: If you’re bouncing along on a bicycle, retighten the film so it’s flat in the back of the camera before making your next exposure. Although this sort of random curve is sometimes seen as charming.

The little gazebo at the south end of Miller's Bay was my next subject.

While I was taking this, there was a car full of people parked right across from it, just sitting there the whole time. Being watched while I take pinhole pictures always makes me a little nervous. When I went back and attached the camera and tripod to the bike rack, I didn’t notice that my front wheel was facing nearly backward, and when I turned to grab for the handlebars, the bike fell over away from me. Leaning forward to catch it, I went over with it, right on top of the camera. My dignity didn't survive but other than getting a little wrinkle, the camera was still intact.

I once bragged that my cameras could probably survive a fall off a ten story building without exposing the film. Having an oafish old man fall directly on it is at least as much force.

I couldn't tell if the frame in the image chamber got exposed by my fall. The next exposure was of the little concession stand. It’s on the shady side of the building and the exposure was over a minute. Although everything in the picture was in the shade, until I opened the shutter, I hadn’t noticed that the sun was shining over the building directly on the pinhole. What I got was a lot of very overexposed flare bouncing off the edge of the pinhole.

That’s also often seen as charming. Today I saw an ad for an app that would add lens flare to an image “for dramatic effect.” I’m a little old-fashioned and I hate flare. Sometimes you get some interesting diffraction effect but most of the time it’s impossible to distinguish between flare and a light leak. My biggest mistake the last time I did a workshop was failing to warn the participants not to face into the sun when making a picture. I couldn’t tell whether that was the problem or if they needed work on their cameras. 

With a wide angle camera like this you almost have to face away from the sun to make sure it’s not reflecting off the edge of the pinhole.

One way to control this a little is to tarnish the pinhole with liver of sulphur, but you can guess what that smells like. 

A common approach with a lens is to make a hood to prevent the sun from shining on it in the first place. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a pinhole camera with a hood around the pinhole.

The solution, of course, is more cardboard. I didn’t want to create something that was flimsy and might get bent or crushed as the camera tumbled in a backpack, so I made my hood by laminating layers of card stock around the pinhole hole opening. It’s easy to tell when you’ve gotten enough layers because you can just look from inside the camera and see if the pinhole is still unobstructed. That turned out to be six layers of cardboard with this camera. 

After I had made the hood, I set up a few compositions facing the sun, even in one case where I had the camera tilted up a bit. The sun is shining on the front of the camera in all three cases but the pinhole itself is shaded. I've just developed that film and it seems to have worked. (Later edit: The results at this link)

After the concession stand, I continued on to the beach house with the sun at my back. It appears that the camera survived the fall with it’s opacity intact.

One other change was using black duct tape to make the smooth edge over the dividers of the image chamber the film rides over. I generally don’t like using it because it’s hard to cut or tear really accurately. It’s a little shiny, kind of thick and not particularly repositionable. I’ve always had opaque black photographic tape around that works really well but black duct tape is opaque, almost universally available, and comes in small rolls. I also taped down the pinhole with it. It worked fine. I think regular black masking tape would work as well for this purpose.

The film for this test was 100. As if I wasn't experimenting enough, I used stand development with Rodinal 1:100 for the first time and that seems to have worked OK as well.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

from f295: That Toddlin' Town

F295 was an international discussion forum begun and administered by Tom Persinger. Originally just about pinhole photography, it expanded into all kinds of alternative methods.  It was active from 2004 until 2015 but it remains on-line. Recently it disappeared from the web for a few days, and that prompted me to decide to reprise some of my favorites here at Pinholica, for backup if no other reason. 

I was reminded of this by Andrew Bartram of the Lensless Podcast's plans to be more rigorous about documenting the experiences of the last six months of his copious hotel room stays. I had minimal need to spend nights away on business but it did happen and I can sympathise with his predicament and maybe provide some inspiration. Also, Andy and Kristin are planning to spend time in the second city next month. It was posted under the title "That toddlin' town" on April 15th, 2008.  

Long time f295 members may remember me complaining about being edited to death preparing the documents for our reaccreditation. We must have done all right because we got reaccreditted with no ifs, ands or buts and the Higher Learning Commission invited us to the conference this year to show off our materials and reassure those with upcoming reaccreditations that they could pull it off too.

The conference is held at the giganto-conference "luxury" Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago

After driving through every kind of precipitation available, we arrived kind of late. My room was on the 21st floor of the west tower (I told you it was a giganto hotel)

It's located right where Michigan Avenue crosses the Chicago River. You know, where, in The Fugitive, Harrison Ford makes the phone call that allows Tommy Lee Jones to figure out where he is. I think Dogtakesphotos may have posted pictures of the Wrigley Building.

Here it is literally at dawn. I woke up at 5:30 and put the camera in the window again and kind of forgot about it, and it was light by the time I remembered.

As far as I could tell the difference between a luxury hotel and a regular one is an extravagant excess of pillows and you have to pay extra for things that are free in a regular hotel, like internet access and breakfast.

We got to the conference a little early and set up in the first row. It was funny how many others came in and set up further back. You'd think a bunch of educators, after bugging students for years to sit in the front would naturally gravitate to the front.

Breakfast was provided by the conference.

Didn't take too long for the action to get going pretty consistently for the three hours. Here I am probably answering the question "What would you do differently if you could do it again?" Just about everybody phrased it that way.

After the session, we met up with my colleague's daughter for lunch at the Bongo Room on Milwaukee Avenue. They couldn't seat us for forty-five minutes, so we went to a thrift store across the street.

While we were waiting, Mabel (the daughter) entertained us all by trying on "vintage" clothes. Unfortunately, I ran out of film so no shots of the Bongo Room.

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

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Oshkosh Plein Air Festival

For the last two years, the Oshkosh Fine Arts Association has sponsored the Plein Air Festival. Artists paint or draw a work in Oshkosh over a four day period in the open air. This year they publicized several event venues where the artists would be clustered and the public could visit, watch them work and interact with them.

One of the things that has attracted me to pinhole cameras with small negatives is that the low resolution, grainy images they produce are reminiscent of painting. In case Alfred Steiglitz or Ansel Adams is reading this, I really don’t want to get into an argument. The photos from my little cameras are, I think, still distinctly photographic.

On Friday and Saturday the air was particularly plain and the big star high in the midsummer sky had free rein.

I thought my new Manic Expression Cube was particularly suited to capture this event. Despite the fact that it hadn’t been tested in full sun, I optimistically ventured forth to see what I could get. It turns out this camera can’t be trusted out in the brightest conditions and some of the exposures were fogged to some degree. I’ve never been one to give up on a negative. It turned out that the editing required to bring back these fogged frames produced images that had an abstracted quality. That seemed appropriate for this theme.

The venue on Friday was The Waters on the shore of Lake Winnebago. The rising front, which is the culprit in the questionable light-tightness of this camera, demonstrates it’s value in this first image.

There was one family with young children that was going from artist to artist. By the time I got the tripod set up, the older ones had run off with dad in pursuit and left just mom and baby to watch the painting.

As a photographer with just one angle of view available, I was a little surprised when I saw how narrow an angle this painter was rendering. I asked her about the opaque umbrella.  She said it did modify how the colors and detail of the painting appeared but admitted that a good deal of it’s value was just shading her from the heat of the sun.

The umbrellas were very popular but some chose to brave the deluge of photons.

A variety of media were eligible for the competition but this was the only person I saw working in pencil.

Although each day a particular venue was specified, they could paint anywhere in certain designated areas of the city. As I rode downtown, I encountered this fellow in the dappled light among the grand Victorian houses on Washington Avenue. The distorted colors and contrast caused by the fogged negative turned out to be serendipitously appropriate. There was a guy cutting up the sidewalk with a concrete saw just out of the frame.

Saturday’s location was the weekly Farmer’s Market on Main Street. I started at what turned out to be the most popular spot to paint, the intersection of Church and Main.

Exposures in the shade were five seconds and I was hoping I could record the artist looking back and forth from her subject to the painting. It appears she spent more time looking at the work than at the scene.

When I first heard about the location, I expected tables of colorful vegetables to be a common subject but no one I saw was facing the farmers.

I first walked south down Main Street and didn’t find any more participants in the festival. When I passed Jim Evan’s Art Haus, although it wasn’t associated with the festival at all, it seemed an appropriate subject.

When taking the previous picture, I was right next to a face painting booth. Works on flesh weren’t eligible for the festival, but she was painting in the open air.

Returning to the north end of the market I found the rest of the painters. As usual, I was surprised when asking people if I could take their photograph how unremarkable it seemed to them that I was doing it with a little cardboard box. I did speak to one or two about pinhole photography, most of which consisted of them asking if I was familiar with some other pinholer they knew. When this one heard me extending the tripod, he said “Oh, you have a real camera“ before he turned around to see what I had. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “I have a real camera.”

The painters themselves were generally ignored by the crowds around them but occasionally you would find someone pausing to study how they worked.

The pencil artist from the previous day was also being unusual by choosing this low angle of view.

I usually only take one exposure of a subject but decided to also get close up to this painter to capture the colors of his palette. I forgot to wind the film and got a double exposure, which is often considered artistic.

The Fine Arts Association had a booth with materials for the public to try their hand at painting but it was a hard sell with the passers by.

I really liked the way the sky and the reflection off the front of Roxy’s Supper Club highlighted this painter’s face.

Her image included a turret at the corner of Main and Park but everyone else I saw that morning was depicting the round Queen Anne turret of the 1895 Webster block back at Church and Main.

All with the Manic Expression Cube.  .17mm pinhole 24mm from 24x24mm frame on Kodak Colorplus 200.