Thursday, November 25, 2021

From f295: The Spoils of Pinhole

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 have unfinished film in four cameras so it's going to be awhile before I have new negatives. Next year it appears that I will be making a little money from Pinhole Photography. That brought to mind my greatest financial achievement as a pinholer. This was posted on February 4, 2009 under the title: "Serendipitous good fortune and no baloney."

I'd like to preface this series with this cartoon which appeared in a very early issue of the CoEvolution Quarterly, a magazine published from 1974 to 1985, founded by Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog. This cartoon has been displayed somewhere in our house ever since (Hand colored by Sarah - this is not, of course, a pinhole photo)

Subscribers to the now-missing Pinhole Photography email list may remember a post from last January where a Barnes and Noble editor asked for a "paper pinhole camera engineer" to work on a kit they wanted to sell with everything you needed to make a pinhole camera.

I sent her the link to the Populist, stating that I certainly wasn't a paper engineer, but just to give them some idea of what's out there in that field.

Well, in about March, I got an email asking me if I wanted to get involved in the project using the Populist as the basis for their kit.

My first question was whether I could leave the Populist up on-line. They said sure, the populations who might find a kit at Barnes and Noble and those who would download directions on the internet probably didn't overlap very much. They just wanted the rights to use the pattern and my help to modify it for their purposes.

I made a few modifications since the kit would be die-cut very accurately and I didn't have to make accommodations for little kids using cheap scissors.

The check came in August. Not enough to retire on, but enough to make Christmas a lot more fun.

Once the check cleared, Sarah and I decided that instead of getting a bunch of small presents for Christmas, we would get ourselves a big present of a High Definition TV. (OK, there was still the Chanel bath oil and the Scotch) Every time we went shopping we eventually got sticker shock and came home and continued to enjoy our 15 year old standard definition 36" Sony.

A week or two before Christmas, we had to go up to Appleton for some other reason, and stopped by American TV and Appliance "just to look."

We had been looking for something in the 38 to 40 inch range, but this week, Sony had a special package of a 120 MHz 46" LCD with a home theatre system including a upsampling DVD for about the price of the a 40", so Sarah whipped out the plastic and made the deal.

We had gone up there in the Mustang. We would have to slice the TV in three pieces to get it in there, so I had to go back in the Station Wagon several days later to pick it up.

You have to go around the back to the warehouse to get it. I had to wait a while

Here's the warehouse at American. There were people going to and fro all during the exposure. I eventually closed the shutter when someone came and drove the forklift in the foreground away.

Here's a shot looking more into the warehouse. There was a guy assembling a dining room set right next to me during the picture

The station wagon was barely big enough to fit the TV and home theatre system in their cartons.

Heck, the kitchen was barely big enough to fit it in.

Coincidentally, at this point I had a conference call with the team of about five people at Barnes and Noble to discuss several issues (one of which was how to eliminate the externally taped corners so they could print a design on it so it looked like a "real" camera.) They're a very professional bunch.

I asked them if it was OK to tell my friends on the internet about the deal. They said OK and to tell all of you to buy lots of them. It's supposed to be released in September. BTW, I got a flat fee, not a royalty on sales. I could have gotten a deal for a royalty on sales after a certain number, but it would have taken months and involved several lawyers. Let's see - a bird in the hand....a gift horse in the mouth...better is the enemy of good enough... I went for the flat fee.

One of the young geeks on my staff came over to set it up and it took both of us about three hours to get it all connected and all the preferences set.

HDTV is about the coolest thing I have ever seen. I haven't read anything in a month. I've finally gotten a little accustomed and have started reading again, but I'm still very impressed. Actually standard definition even looks better on it. It has kind of a pinholey aspect to it.

Here's a shot of the system all set up. I thought of taking the shot with a pinhole photograph displayed on it, but never got around to getting an image on DVD or getting the right cable to connect the computer, so this is with a pinhole image photoshopped on top of it. Just to emphasize the fact that no matter how cool something is, there's room for improvement, I used a stereo photograph so the TV image looks 3D. This actually looks better than the stereo stuff on during the Super Bowl.

All the pictures with Populist and Stereo Populist. The last set up for crossed eyes.

We still have the television and sound system, and the refrigerator we bought a month or two later. The camera kit is still available, but I'd suggest building a Populist instead.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Making up with Neville

When I took the film from the trip to Massachusetts to Camera Casino to be developed, I looked on their film shelf to get some more color 35mm. They had a film I had never heard of - Kodak Image Pro 100. All the labeling was in Spanish. In packs of five it was as cheap as the Fujicolor 200 I had been using. When I looked it up, I found out despite the name, it's a new consumer grade film that's only recently become available in North America. The review I read criticized it mostly for it's graininess but hey, I likes me some grain.

As my bicycle rides have extended to 25 to 30 miles, it occurred to me that a five minute rest in the middle would make the last few miles less excruciating. Also, on YouTube a vlogger said that rookie bicyclists often neglect to eat some sugary fuel about every hour. Oops. I'm no rookie, but I never thought of that before. There are scenic little spots along my routes with a public bench to enjoy these sojourns.

I felt a little bad about going off on adventures without bringing Neville along, so I loaded him in order to try out the new film in these bucolic little places.
On my next ride, the break was in a place I had never been to before, the county public boat launch on the southwestern shore of Lake Butte des Morts. Most of the lake is surrounded by swell estates, but the need for the masses to launch their boats is provided for by the county. Historically, there was a little inlet in this place but now it's an artificial lagoon with boat friendly shores.

Lake Butte des Morts is a wide, shallow, windy lake so the narrow inlet provides a protected little harbor 

A few days later south of town, I intended to stop in the small village of Van Dyne, but couldn't find a convenient bench. In the big heat earlier this summer I had stopped to buy a soft drink at the "country market" and at the insistent urging of the proprietor ended up having to politely take advantage of the air conditioning along with four conservative looking fellows having afternoon beers. This time, I decided to continue on to the shore of Lake Winnebago and found this bench on a dock in an otherwise undeveloped narrow strip between the road and the water.

I had dressed too warmly and brought a chocolate covered granola bar in my pocket. I had to squeeze it out of the wrapper like a Mercury astronaut to keep from getting chocolate all over my hands.

During spooky season, I made a pie for Sarah's blog.

We went out to Fernau's Garden Center to get pumpkins for Jack-o-lanterns. This fall in our garden, we had the best results we've ever had with pumpkins, but I understand it was a bad year for commercial growers. These tables are usually packed right up to Halloween.

They seemed to have plenty of these decorative gourds,

I had a picture accepted into a juried show at the Neville Museum in Green Bay (no relation to my camera). Looking for further entertainment for the trip up there to deliver it, the Botanical Garden's web site's challenge to see their autumn color looked like potential blog material. This little grouping in the parking lot seemed like a good omen.

We went in the morning because the forecast was for probable showers in the afternoon. It looks like the clouds were a little frisky over the bay and it was getting pretty overcast here on the west side of the city.

We had been here about fifteen years ago when it was still being developed. They've really come a long way and it's now a very professional garden with nature trails looped around its boundaries.

It was really kind of shocking to see so many blossoms on October 20th. The rose garden was one of the best we've ever seen at any time of year.

This zinnia was a little worn but I always appreciate it when a flower is polite enough to rest on a post or a bench so I can take a close-up.

The Herb Display Garden is arranged among these geometric box hedges.

It's overlooked by the Schierl Wellhouse & Garden. Almost everything is named after a benefactor. That could explain some of their success.

A bench under the arbor in the rustic English garden.

Next to the pond between the Children's Garden and the Hobbit House Restrooms is this giant willow. Adding to the quaintness of the scene were a group of Mennonite women in their colorful long dresses and white bonnets. One of them was taking pictures with a folding camera.

We went into the city and had lunch across the street from the Museum at the old railroad depot, located next to the Fox just about where the first European settlement in Wisconsin was.

I rode down to Asylum Point one day just to see how the new bridge is coming. There's a solid looking footing on either shore, but that's about it.

I didn't stop there. My break was on the opposite corner of the city at the Sawyer Creek Trail.

All the benches are memorials to somebody and this one gets festooned with plastic flowers which are replaced every so often.

Another ride, up north to Neenah. This little lighthouse at Kimberly Point is where the Fox leaves Lake Winnebago. There's a nice plaque explaining how the richest person (as in Kimberly-Clark) kept the other rich people from making this just another wealthy neighborhood and made it into a park.

I rode a little farther along to Riverside Park to enjoy my granola bar.

The view down the Fox toward downtown Neenah, which is partly on the southern shore and partly on Doty Island on the right.

Wanting to extend my ride a bit later in the week, I looked to see if a there was a reasonable route over to Doty Island and back and discovered the Loop the Little Lake Trail which repurposes several railroad bridges to cross the Fox to the island, then over the north branch of the river for about a hundred yards in Menasha, and across Little Lake Butte des Morts, another wide spot in the Fox.

Unlike it's larger namesake up river, Little Lake Butte des Morts is surrounded by urban and often industrial development. The bridge terminates in Fritse Park in the recently renamed Town of Fox Crossing. It used to be the Town of Menasha, but they got sick of explaining the difference between the township and the city.

Most of the park, and a couple others on the loop, were created as a result of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDA) Fox River PCB Clean-up Settlement. I wasn't kidding about the industrial development.

About the time I had gotten to Neenah, the clamp on my handlebars started to feel loose. I was worried I was going to have to ride very carefully (i.e. slowly) all the way back to Oshkosh. When I pulled up to a bench at the park shelter to rest, a bicycle repair station appeared before me including the Allen wrench I needed.

On another ride west of Oshkosh, I again stopped at the County Boat Landing.

This time on the opposite side.

Looking down the shoreline slightly northwest toward where the Fox and Wolf Rivers come together to form the lake. 

Neville has a hand-drilled .17mm pinhole 24mm from a 24x36mm frame. The film is fine. I can't really tell any difference from all the other cheap 35mm film I've always used.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

In praise of editing; a comparison to automatic prints.

Next summer at the Trout Museum of Art, I'm going to teach four sessions of a pinhole class where the participants will build a 120 Populist and expose a roll of film. It will be processed before the next day's session by the only lab in the Fox Valley, which happens to be just across the street. I thought that having physical prints made would have more impact and let the participants get a look at them and evaluate their camera work without the distraction of a digital device. The commercial automatic print process is designed to give the masses snapshots done with Instamatics that only had a single aperture and shutter speed. It should produce a reasonable print from almost any negative.

I've never had automatic prints made directly from pinhole negatives before. To find out what they're like, I exposed a roll of Ektar 100 in Goldberry (She had been loaded up for the trip to Massachussets, but there wasn't enough room in my backpack.) The lab made 4x4 inch prints. On reflection, they're OK, but initially I was pretty disappointed. 

It's made me aware of how critical editing is in photography. In the past we would have just called it print making. When I read people proudly state that their images are completely unmanipulated, I always think they just don't have enough respect for their negatives to polish them up. Maybe they have perfect negatives. Everybody deifies Ansel Adams and he was very public about how much he manipulated prints. The manipulations I do are analagous to what I used to do in the darkroom, except I could never afford to do it in color. It took mental skill, like deciding on filter packs and development, and physical skill, like burning and dodging and bringing out detail in highlights by holding your warm hand against them in the developer. 

I'm not adding anything or combining images. I'm only working to bring out what I think is there in the negative. I'm really impressed by film lately in capturing the subtleties of color and light. I never do any sharpening or unsharp masking.

Doing this well in software requires a bit of skill. My first version of Photoshop was v0.87.  There are some basics, like extending the tones to the full print range, that anyone can learn quickly.

The Levels Tool with it's histogram of density is like a test strip of the whole negative but with more choices. The first Photoshop workshop I took was taught by a guy I had known in college who was insistent that no one really serious uses Brightness and Contrast instead of Levels. but for me it's a useful supplement, almost always to increase contrast. Most negatives require Color Balance, but the pictures below are Ektar 100 in daylight processed by a commercial lab, so job done. I continually Burn and Dodge manipulating the brush size, range and intensity, always with the 100% softness brush setting. 

The lab prints don't seem to have any dust spots. With my scans, dust is a real problem. I hate dust removal filters. They remind me of the way bipolar people describe mood stabilizers. It takes care of the worst problems but they make you feel a little blurry. (Kind of a funny statement from a pinhole photographer.) All the microscopic dust is retouched with the Clone tool in the 200% view. It's tedious but I get into kind of a shop yoga state. And besides, I really want to see the absolutely clean picture. I think of every picture as a very large print.

Later on I'll show a comparison of the automatic prints to the edited versions, but first, the test images in all their finished full-resolution glory, from my scans. In almost all of them, the initial preview scan was adjusted to make them darker. I didn't compare them to the lab prints when I was doing this,

The morning light through the front windows on the pumpkin lady with her white head and black dress and the crow in the shadow would be a good test. Her face is overexposed and the shadows are competely blank.

Orange slices and cherry coins to take on my bicycle rides. I spent a lot of time trying to eliminate the cyan/green cast of the highlights off the cellophane and then realized it was a reflection of the sky and the garden,

It took a lot of work dodging midtones and burning shadows to make the skinny tubes of the arbor visible.

One morning, the air was extraordinarily still.  I found a bumble bee sleeping in one of the dahlias. The exposure was twenty minutes. When I came back to close the shutter, the sun had moved from behind the trees and woke the bee up but made some great highlights on the edges of the petals.


Another subtle color test with a pink zinnia in dappled light. Sarah planted a row of dahlias, zinnias and cosmos along the garden path. It's made the most delightful patterns of random dots of color.

After getting that zinnia holding still at the end of a long stalk, I tried a cluster of blossoms on a rose bush and lost the bet with the wind.

I started looking under the vines for subjects that would be better supported.

We haven't had the courage to eat the ghost peppers. They were a pale spectral presence for most of the summer but they've matured into a nice set of color swatches.

A habanero fits comfortably on a 6x6cm negative so this is at least a 1:1 macro. I think it moved ever so slightly in a barely perceptible gust.

The Jack-Be-Little pumpkins were held pretty solidly among the vines.

Lungworts look just like someone spattered dilute white paint on them.

Another gamble with the wind. This was the only red lettuce plant that came up from the mesclun mix.

I got out the black felt again for the tomatoes and Granny Smiths from the farmer's market.

So here's the comparison of the prints. Without having you over to my house to look at them, it’s impossible to make a perfect comparison. I just scanned them together and let Epson Scan pick an average. On my screen at least it looks about right.

On the left is a print from my edited file sent on-line to Camera Casino for their normal one-hour print service. On the right is the print that was made by the lab who developed the film, Murray Photo. I didn't pay to get the scans those prints were made from, but my bet is they look just like the prints.. 

When I did the automatic preview in Epson Scan, it looked a lot like the lab prints. On most of them I just made them darker with the Brightness scale. On a few, I used the histogram tool and did some fiddling with the black point, the middle and the highlights.

My first impressions of the lab prints is they look underexposed. Wishy-washy. The blacks aren't one hundred percent dense and brighter areas look a little blown out. Just what you might expect from my typically overexposed negatives. (My shutters are hand operated, OK?)

Another thing I notice is the lab print is masked to 6x6cm, whereas my scans are the entire width of my handmade camera's negatives. Call me stingy, but I appreciate the little bit of extra film, for example the half a candle next to the pumpkin lady and the crow's tail. It's surprising how the slightly looser cropping improved a lot of these. Just luck. I don't think I'm that accurate in my pointing.

I  think I got the orange slices a little too dark.

This was the only negative I rotated and only half a degree.

I did slightly crop a few of these.

I got at least one strip of negatives in the scanner backward and forgot to flop this one. This is another where the little extra width with the black-eyed susans and the blue cosmos in the shadows make a big difference in the composition.

Sarah noticed that the shadows on the white petals are a little too blue in the print from my file and the original lab print was more accurate. If you scroll back to the original file, this print from Camera Casino looks a little bluer than the file I sent. This is one where comparing it to the lab print when I edited it would have helped.

The shadows on the middle pepper give it depth, but I could've tried to hold the higlights at its top better.

I got a little carried away with the red in this one and again lost some highlights.

A few of the prints from my files look a little too dense, but look OK in a well lit room (or gallery).

Not having that upper left leaf blown out really helps this one, and I held some detail in the shadowed leaf at the lower right.

Next to my file, this lab print looks a little flat, but it was the only one I liked originally.

I may be guilty of a little over saturation, but the tomatoes in my file look delicious.

I'm still inclined to give the workshop participants the automatic prints, but I'm going to be sure to get some kind of editing experience in there too.

Goldberry has a hand-drilled .32mm pinhole 80mm from a 6 by approximately 6cm frame. Ektar 100.