Thursday, April 29, 2021


We had an exceptionally early spring. Almost three weeks ago there were a couple days with temperatures in the high 70s (F). The flowers noticed. I loaded the Evil Cube with Ektar 100 and stuck it right in the face of the new growth.

Readers Digest used to put a short bon mot at the end of each article, to fill in the space on the page. The only one I remember is “Before the eye can focus...Crocus!”

The magnolia usually blossoms at the end of April and started popping out flowers much earlier. The temperatures returned to be more seasonal, so the flowers persisted and it’s still putting on a pretty good show.

The daffodils weren't far behind,

One of the earliest bloomers in our yard are the Lungworts. These flowers are only about a half inch wide so this is a nearly 1:1 macro photograph.

The wood violets, which add a little purple tint to our lawn, are even smaller.

Chives are always the earliest herbs to return.

More daffodils are on the way.

A daffodil just opening.

Getting intimate with one of the earliest bloomers.

The Evil Cube has a .3mm pinhole 60mm from a 6x6cm negative.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

What is it with the Ultra-wide Angle?

Ultra-wide angle is almost a standard in pinhole photography. Among commercial camera sellers the longest I could find with a 6x6cm image was 32mm (86.3°).The widest was 20mm (113°). I’ve occasionally used cameras as wide as 30mm, but most of the time I use narrower angles of view ranging from still-pretty-darn-wide-angle 35mm to quite long 200mm. Last winter I decided to try to find the attraction in these extremely wide cameras, most of it done with 4x5 negatives at 35mm. When I made the 6x6cm Variable Cuboid, I included a 20mm front as an extreme example and I’ve used it occasionally. I loaded it up and set out to further my study.

One thing I’ve always disliked is the extreme vignetting this close to the pinhole. Mr. Pinhole says the image diameter is only 38mm. Working with these negatives I felt like I was slogging through mud to overcome the exposure gradient from center to edge. Scanned the way I normally do, I got a spot of overexposed sky in the middle of a black ring. The only way I found to manage them was to do a very low contrast scan and then, with constant adjustment of the range, size and intensity of the burning and dodging tools, I locally treated the image until I got a relatively uniform contrast across the frame. I think you’ll notice that there’s still significant vignetting with very dark edges and corners. A lot of people feel this is the best feature of ultra wide angle.

In response to a previous post, Tom Miller told me about a method Eric Renner suggested to manage this. During the camera exposure, he would hold a black dodging tool in front of the pinhole and withdraw it away from the camera to expose the edges more than the center. I’d like to see him do that during a one second exposure.

Wide open spaces can be made to look even more wide open, and particularly deep. Another prized feature of ultra wide angle is that optimal diffraction occurs at a significantly lower f ratio, f100 in this case. That, of course is accompanied by short exposures. Just under a second in this case. There are ripples from the wind in the water, you can see a few rocks under the water at the shore and the textures in the clouds are rendered in particularly realistic detail.

This is facing northeast so it’s not the sun behind the clouds that’s making the bright spot, it’s purely the vignetting, but it does draw your eye to the center, doesn’t it?  The rocks at the bottom are of course underexposed so the contrast is pretty jacked. I don’t think they have that great a difference in brightness, it’s just differences in the angle of reflection between the sky and the camera, exaggerated by the high contrast.

This one is pretty much pointed toward the sun so the sky is mostly over exposed across the frame in order to get any detail on this side of the trees. The exaggerated depth allows these two foreground trees to stand out in front of the general pattern of the other trees in this little park next to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute Museum

With the ultra wide angle any deviation from perfectly parallel to the film plane is magnified. I must have been angled slightly to the right because the horizontals are converging toward the left. Tilted very slightly up too. I don’t think there are two truly parallel lines in this. I rotated it to make the top of the door parallel with the top of the picture.

This is really different in color. The new patches of concrete block are grey and the historic wall is kind of a yellowish sepia. Another crooked wall. Again converging toward the left, so the bottom of the wall is angled up from the center, but it’s perfectly compensated for by the plastic pipe coming in from the right!

Putting a white truck in the middle of the composition is not a great way to manage vignetting. When I’m this close to something it’s always surprising to see the picture. I could have reached the bumper from the camera’s position. It’s obviously tilted up quite a bit which makes the verticals so convergent that the tires look like they’re leaning in.

It was a little less tilted for the disk that drives the mixing drum itself and the stack of the big diesel which is only for mixing the cement. I never realized the drum was such an easily interchangeable part.

In Menomonee Park, I thought the view from the pitcher’s rubber would be dramatic. I was surprised to find these giant craters seemingly made by scraping cleats into the infield. Does this have something to do with pitching? Isn’t this a tripping hazard when you’re playing?

The visiting team dugout from the end of the inside. A really utilitarian use of the angle of view to get something in the frame you can’t get any farther away from. Jay Leno always refers to his favorite kind of antique cars: original and unrestored. This is my favorite kind of negative: uncropped and unrotated. With the camera this low, I can get a good look at the viewfinders and the bubble level on top the camera. It looks pretty accurate.

One of the results of all this tonal manipulation is I ended up with some really high contrast images with a quality reminiscent of Bill Brandt’s pinhole work. I wonder if he ended up with that visual style just trying to manage vignetted negatives.

This is an example of what I think of as hey-my-camera-has-a-square-format composition, taking some roughly square shape and putting it into the center of the image. Another interesting accident of pointing is the top of the back and side rails form a line that’s almost parallel to the edge of the frame. 

Another reason ultra wide angle is so prized is that optimal diffraction takes place with a smaller pinhole, ergo it can render smaller features. One might say it was sharper. That is refractionist thinking that needs to be overcome. I admit there is an attraction to an optimally diffracted image. I invite you to zoom in to see how the pinhole renders the chain link on the back rail of the bleachers.

Common advice to artists is to distinguish your work by making it personal. I’m not sure how I can do it at the softball field. Except for Andy’s career in Cub Scout softball, I think I’ve seen three complete softball games in my life, separated by decades. So I put my bicycle at home plate, with some ultra wide pinhole fun with the front wheel.

The 20mm front for the 6x6cm Variable Cuboid has a .20mm Gilder Electron Microscope Aperture. The film is Ilford Delta 100 semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Efficacy of Neopan 100 Acros II in treatment of Manic Expression

Last fall, I went into Camera Casino to buy some film. When I approached the display on the counter I noticed they had Fuji’s Neopan 100 Acros II. I said to the young guy behind the display: “People have been really raving about this being reintroduced because of the generous reciprocity characteristics.” He kind of shrugged. I then noticed they only had it in 35mm 36 exposure rolls. I have only done 35mm pinhole with black and white film a couple of times. I went ahead and got three rolls anyway.

A week or two ago, I was riding around with the 20mm front on the Variable Cuboid and kept passing up scenes because they were trite or didn’t illustrate some special feature of ultra-wide angle. I ended up not taking any pictures. I recognize this sort of pathology. The only cure is to take a lot of pictures as fast as I can. One easy little camera, small inexpensive negatives. The Manic Expression Cube is designed expressly for this type of experience and here was a perfect use for the Acros.

The negatives are weird. My previous experience with monochrome in the Manic Expression Cube was with Tri-X. It is stunning how grainy little pinhole pictures can be. Acros claims to be Super Fine Grain but it’s pretty apparent in these pictures. For one thing, they’re really overexposed. Most of this was in brilliant sun and measured exposures were in the range of a sixth of a second (This is at f140). The fastest I can reliably do waving a black card away from the pinhole and back is about a half second and slower than that when I’m trying to be careful. I also think they might be a little over developed. I was trying to measure 3 grams of Rodinal to make 300ml of 1:100 developer and ended up pouring out 4. It later occurred to me that I could’ve just mixed 400 ml and not used it all. It might just be my imagination, but I think grain is more noticeable in pinhole photographs which you’d never notice when using a sharp lens.

I really don’t care if the images are grainy. In grad school I was once told by a professor that I had a grain problem. I worked in the cataloging department in the library and had just processed a book of Max Waldman’s theater photographs and was especially taken with his Marat/Sade scenes. I started developing 35mm HP5 in Diafine pushed to 800. Grain is really an essential quality of film and I don’t understand why people object to it being noticeable.

I headed out north on Harrison Street. The WRVM radio tower on the other side of the railroad, pointed at by the receding line of storage unit doors, caught my eye.  I love the way the white sections of the tower merge with the sky and it becomes this floating dotted line that bisects the composition.

The gates came down just as I approached the crossing. The trains that use the Canadian National line through town go about 45 miles per hour but are miles long. I had plenty of time for a picture. I didn’t put on a show for the waiting motorists by setting up the tripod. I had the little flexible Joby in my pocket and wrapped it around the handlebars. My front wheel is pressed against the No Parking sign for stability. The gaps between the cars nicely illustrate how a focal plane shutter works.

Another storage unit facility on the other side of the railroad. It’s amazing how many of these things there are.

Back behind the abandoned studios by the WRVM tower.

Those two big black parallelograms seemed like interesting compositional elements.

The Pepsi plant has several of these high-bay doors behind a fence with only a person-sized door accessing them.

Halfway down the plant, another fenced in door with no access at all.

The sun had just gone past the back wall of the AT&T building but the fire escape and other railings were still sticking out in the sunshine. Despite putting some effort into it, I had a lot of trouble getting the little camera level and had to rotate and crop these quite a bit. This one really shows it.

Looking down from one of January’s Eight Small Bridges at the special dock for launching kayaks into the Fox.

There were a lot of fishing boats on the Fox. 

One of the special little lighting fixtures along the Riverwalk.

One of the first and biggest of the wood manufacturing companies in Oshkosh was Morgan Door. This Old House did two location shoots here. They closed in 1999 and the factory was torn down shortly after. Most of the time since the property has been full of Oshkosh Trucks. For the last couple years, there have been plans to build four apartment buildings and it’s been empty except for this giant pile of gravel.

An odd little patch of paint on the wall of one of the Sanitation Department’s buildings.

Farther down river the rest of the Sawdust District is in these differentiated piles.

The back of one of the establishments in the Oregon Street business district.

It is a little ironic that the big deal about Acros is it’s relative lack of reciprocity failure in dim light and I did most of this in full sunlight.  I did do this late sunbeam in the corner of the room and expected a 20 minute exposure, but it measured at only three minutes and that seems to have been accurate.

I went to the Farmer’s Market early enough to get the sun reflecting off my favorite sidewalk where they wove it around the hydrant and poles rather than move the utilities.

The wall to the right is the Mercury Marine Engineering Lab. It’s white cement block and is usually pretty non-descript.  The light was just raking along it and popping out any relief. I had never noticed these circular decorations in it before.

The regular pattern of the blocks stands out.  I lowered the camera and used the rising front to get the top of a trailer on the other side of the wall out of the picture.

I suppose this is probably a fire escape route from the basement of the court house.

In the shadow of the shiny new water tower downtown.

The sun reflecting off the metal bleachers at the softball field at Menomonie Park.

The great white hulk of The Waters.

The storage shed of The Waters.

There were about five frames that were overwhelmingly overexposed and several times I did a second exposure of a scene when I wasn’t sure if I’d moved the camera opening and closing the shutter. I did two double exposures and advanced past about four empty frames because I couldn’t remember if I had wound the film. It took a little over 26 hours to expose the roll.
The Manic Expression Cube has a hand-drilled .17mm pinhole 24mm from a 24x24mm frame.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Random Acts of Color in the Evil Cube

One morning I was looking at some pictures I had done with the Evil Cube and thought about what a nice convenient, reliable little camera it was. With such nice pinholes. Then I looked up and saw the sun shine in the corner of the room shortly after dawn. I had just finished Sun and Shadows and had the Variable Cuboid loaded for North Main Street. What harm would it do to load the Evil Cube with color film and just carry it along? I must have been expecting to do more interiors since I chose Portra 400.

Later that afternoon I had to go to Oaks to get some Easter chocolate so I went down Main to scout for the black and white project. I couldn’t pass this sophisticated bit of color. A long shot from across the street two days later ended up in North Main Street.

The next morning I was riding my bicycle down Bowen Street/Highway A and I noticed this radio tower. For as long as I’ve been a pinholer, I can still be seduced into pointing the camera straight up at some tall object, in this case contrasted with the dried vines which surround it.

Lining up with a link looking through a chain-link fence again. I always try to imagine seeing these things all lit up in radio waves. I wonder if this thing is lit up in the radio band?

It’s right behind what used to be the studios of a top forty light rock station. It’s now just a repeating translator for WRVM, the Radio Voice of the Master, a christian station with transmitters all over Northern Wisconsin. I know of at least two other FM transmitters in the area and they’re much more neatly maintained than this one.

Later that day I photographed the east side of North Main. I was going into Camera Casino to change the front of the Variable Cuboid on the comfy couch when I heard chanting coming from Opera Square, half a block away. There were Black Lives Matter activists drawing attention to the Brianna Taylor case and the upcoming George Floyd trial. They were chanting pretty consistently and I couldn’t get anyone’s attention to ask if I could photograph them. I just started extending the tripod and mounting the Evil Cube. It’s fairly wide angle so I had to be right in the middle of them. They finally paused and I asked one guy if they minded me doing a photograph. He said “You don’t even have a camera.” I explained about pinhole photography. He lost interest and moved out of the frame before I got ready.

A sun beam on some spring decor in the morning.

And now for the abstract expressionist portion of our program: spring surf on Lake Winnebago. 

Oh darn! I spent some time setting this picture up with the axial pinhole and leveling it. I was concerned about how close the sun was. And then I opened the rising pinhole instead and got all this flare and not the picture I wanted at all.

I had photographed the back wall of the Dollar Store several days before. The next day someone put this brilliant lime green dumpster in the front of that black wall.

Andy got to go to Kindergarten in the one of the neatest classrooms I’ve ever seen. His teacher, Mrs. Leffin, sat in the sun in front of those windows with the children around her. Interesting scale with those large windows and little children and their furniture. Wish I could photograph that.

We were watching this sunbeam move across the room as the sun set and I waited about 10 minutes to see if this little group would be centered when I realized I could just move them over into the sun and do the photograph now. 

 All with the Evil Cube. .3mm pinhole 6cm from 6x6cm frame. Kodak Portra 400.