Tuesday, June 25, 2013


PuddleDepending on who you ask, you will get a different answer as to what 'pictorialism' means when talking in context of photography. I will offer a brief layman's understanding since it is an interesting genre to me. When photography started to become more accessible to a wider set of practitioners there was a feeling that it was not 'art', but merely documentation. For us in the 21st century, this is a bit odd and let me explain why. Today we have cameras and lenses that are capable of reproducing a scene/subject with virtual perfection. The colors are rendered precisely how our eye sees them, the edges of the in focus parts of the image are razor sharp, etc. To me that is documentarian photography. What was happening a hundred years ago was grainy emulsions paired with low-ish resolution lenses and variable processing chemistry, resulting in an image that was recognizable as a particular scene or subject, but it was soft and probably blurry from movement during the long exposure and finally it was in greyscale. Regardless of these 'imperfections', the fine artists of the day (painters, sculpters, etc.) decided that this new technology was not art. As you might imagine, photographers took umbrage at this sentiment and so began the pictorialism movement. This is what we would today call 'fine art photography' although some people hold a narrower definition. These photographers were taking photos of landscapes and flowers and still life that had practically no journalistic value and were meant solely for display. They were 'paintings' in silver halide instead of colored pigments.

Often these days, when you hear the term 'pictorialism', it will be attached to an image that is soft focus, out of focus, blurry or some combination of these. However, that is not necessarily pictorialism. To me the point of this style is to make something enjoyable to look at that is intentionally ambiguous or 'painterly' to some degree. It could be abstract like my photo of a puddle above or it could be well focused and objective like my image of the eucalyptus tree below.

Whatever style of pictorialism suits your fancy, give it a try. Start out with viewing some pictorialist images. There are lots of them as this movement is about 100 years old and going strong.

Look up Alvin Langdon Coburn...
or Alfred Stieglitz.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Artyom Tri-xI am not very good at taking portraits. I would love to learn how and maybe someday I will take a workshop on existing light portraiture. I don't dislike studio portraits, but as a photographer, I think that it is just a whole bunch of work setting up lights while the benefit of shooting for as long as you want without worrying about the light changing is, for me personally not worth it. I like changing light. I did an engagement shoot at the beach once. We showed up about 90min before sunset and the light started out good and just got better and better and there was plenty of time to get all the shots I wanted.

This one was just set in my living room. There is a window about a foot to the right of the subject. There is another window maybe 18 feet to the left and 15 feet up. The sun is shining onto a building outside the window to the right and there is a set of sheers covering it. That gives a directional, but diffuse main light and the high window gives a bit of highlight and fill. I shot this with my Speed Graphic press camera loaded with Kodak Tri-x 320. I used EI 320 and shot f/7.7 for 1sec. A cable release is essential in these situations. The tripod was sitting on a carpeted floor, so really any touch would have moved it enough to blur the shot.

The negative is better than my scanning skills reveal. The highlights aren't as blown as they look here. I might send this off for printing in which case I would just send the negative and have the lab do a drum scan and inkjet print. Then I would have a high res scan and a print. I could then do any editing I wanted on the computer and send it back for another print electronically.

Any pointers on shooting portraits with existing light are very welcome.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


BorisMy dog is a greyhound. We adopted him in the Spring of 2010 from the Greyhound Adoption Center in the San Diego area. He is a very good dog although he is not the most friendly with strangers. Greyhounds have a reputation for being very laid back and tolerant. Boris is a little more... mmm... introverted. Among the family though, he is very loving and vocal. Greyhounds will bark, but not very much or very often. Boris only barks when a family member comes home or when someone knocks at the door. Once you open the door, he is fine. He just doesn't like the knocking. Greyhounds do what is called 'rooing'. It is sort of like howling, but it is lower pitched and they move their jaws so it sort of sounds like 'rooowrooowrooow'. Boris does this  when you walk down the stairs or down the hallway, especially if it is nearing time for dinner or his evening walk.

Boris is not a great pet model. Generally, when I point a camera at him, all I get for my trouble is a noseprint on my lens. This day though, I had my Speed Graphic out, which is not very 'camera-looking'. Also, I didn't hold it up to my face. I set it on the floor. It was a long exposure (15sec) and I thought for sure he would move and blur the whole thing. But this day he was resting quietly and the only thing that moved was his right eyebrow (note a little blur there). Otherwise, his laziness played in my favor for this shot. It was taken on Kodak CSG x-ray film and developed in caffeinol-cl for 70min. I think it came out pretty nice. If you care to find out more about Boris, visit his blog over on Facebook.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ted Forbes

Ted Forbes is a photographer among other things. I like his work. He is also a teacher. I mean that not in the sense that he 'instructs', but in the sense that as part of his persona, integrated into his being is the desire and ability to convey knowledge. Now I say this having never met him. I watch his show "The Art of Photography" on youtube, but just from watching him there, I can get a sense of this. I believe this is why he doesn't have a 'gear review' blog. He does do some teaching on the use of some gear, but that is more incidental to his teaching about photography. He covers the work of other great photographers (historic and contemporary), he talks about technique (I especially like his composition series). He covers darkroom, both wet and digital. The list goes on, but the underlying thread that keeps me coming back for every episode is his passion for the medium and his ability to convey and inspire the artistic substance of photography.

Head over and watch a few episodes. The production quality is good, the sound quality is superior and the content is top shelf.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Models... waddaya gonna do?

I wanted to do a simple test. Shoot a portrait using Kodak Tri-X 320 and then shoot the same using Kodak CSG x-ray film. Easy-peasy, right? Well, apparently not. I totally over-exposed (or maybe over-developed) the CSG shots. They aren't bad, but they can't really be compared to the correct exposures of the Tri-X.

Here is a shot of my beautiful wife with the CSG. High contrast, heavy grain, all the signs of push processing. Still, I think that the effect of her hair and eyes being contrasty and in focus sort of makes the shot. I wish the wall behind her were darker and the shadow side were a little darker, but live and learn.


This one is the Tri-X shot. It is correctly exposed, but still the lighting leaves it a bit flat. What makes this portrait a keeper is the expression. She is clearly losing patience with the 'process' of taking a photograph with a Speed Graphic. I didn't know she was going to do that, I just happened to look up from the camera and hit the cable release right at the moment she decided it was time to be done. She's not even looking at me. She's just rolling her eyes and getting ready to re-compose herself for the shot. Oops! Too late. I like this photo of Laura because this is an expression I see often. I am a big nerd and I try her patience on a number of levels and subjects. She is very good to me and all I have to tolerate from her is an occasional "did you really just make a Star Trek reference at a Van Gough exhibit?" look. She is the love of my life and I love this photo of her.
Laura Tri-x

Crossing the Line

I read a blog entry by another photographer the other day and it really bothered me, but I couldn't put my finger on why. It was about a man who had the police called on him while he was taking some photos of his niece at a playground. The blogger thinks that's just fine. There are dangerous people out there and we should endure a bit of harmless discomfort in order to keep our children safe. What she said sounded sort of reasonable! I'm all for safe children. The following day, my wife mentioned the name of someone and the blog and a bunch of memories came flooding back. Wait! Something very similar had happened to me once! I was at a school camp-out at a nearby beach with my family. I don't think I was even taking photos (though I may have been) but just sort of hanging out on the beach while the kids played and my wife socialized. Then she comes over to me and says that someone reported me to the principle as "a creepy guy watching the kids". My wife works at the school, so the principle knew exactly who I was and put their concerns to rest, but suppose the principle hadn't been there and they had called the police? Then the police show up and start questioning me in front of parents and kids that I have to interact with on a regular basis. Then someone hears or mentions the word 'stalker' or 'pedophile' and I am pretty much done in that community. I've been labeled and there is no amount of explaining that will take away those words and images from people's minds. I am forever 'that guy the police were questioning in relation to pedophilia'. Maybe that is a tiny bit of hyperbole, but maybe not.

So here's my point in response to the blog I linked above. Don't knee-jerk your way into a 911 call. Walk up to the person you are concerned about. If they are a bad person, they will most likely leave once they figure out they have been noticed. If they are not a bad person, they will probably talk to you about their child and the playground and why they are taking photos. Frankly, the bad guys don't even need to get out of their cars these days with digital SLRs and long lenses. I doubt one would risk walking around the playground in the first place. Always be aware of the people around you (wherever you are), but be very careful about making or implying accusations of improper behavior toward children. That is a witch hunt that can't be undone. I for one will continue to enjoy photographing my kids as they grow up and I pray that people will talk to me before notifying the authorities.

Give me a push

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ortho Still Life

Fruit & Nuts

Nothing super exciting in this photo. It was taken with my 1951 Speed Graphic press camera. I used the Optar 135mm lens set at f/5.6 (note the shallow depth of field). The interesting thing about this photo is that the red parts of the apple on the right are very dark. This is what you would normally see with a green filter, however in this case I just used Kodak CSG (Clinic Select Green) x-ray film (see X-Ray Vision). This film is orthochromatic which means that it is 'blind' to certain parts of the visual spectrum. In the case of 'Green' x-ray film, it is more sensitive to green light and less to red light. There is also 'Blue' x-ray film which is more sensitive to blue and less sensitive to red (yes, red gets shafted in both cases). These sensitivities have to do with the intended use of x-ray film, which is to take x-rays (surprise!). The film holders have a fluorescent screen in them which fluoresces a certain color (blue or green) when the x-rays hit it. That shortens the exposure time and thus lowers the dose of x-rays the patient gets.

I took some portraits recently with both x-ray and panchromatic film just to see the difference with skin tones. I'll put those up as soon as I get them developed. Until then, drop a comment about how you are using x-ray film or 4x5 cameras or anything interesting you are doing in your photography.


Monday, June 10, 2013

"Exotic" films

Gasworks Forest

At first glance, you are thinking "James! Holy cow, take care of your freakin' white balance, will ya?" I thought that too, and I still do sometimes when I see a photo like this. But once you know what this is, you might gain an appreciation for it. This is "red scale" film and it is called that for obvious reasons. The colors are all 'shifted' toward the red end of the spectrum. So what is it and why use it?

Red scale film is simply regular color negative film that has been put on the spool with the emulsion side facing away from the lens. Ok, maybe I should back up a bit. Here is a diagram showing how modern color film is produced.
 Normally, layer 'a' would be facing the lens and light would pass through the layers in a-i order. The layers are made and balanced so that this produces an accurate rendition of the actual image in terms of human vision. However, if you put the film on the spool backward, the light passes through in i-a order. That means that it first passes through the antihalation layer, followed by the base, then the red layer. This completely turns the balance on end and strange things begin to happen. It isn't just taking a photo through a red filter. That would cause blues and greens to look very dark, but that isn't the look you get with red scale film. It is shifted in a strange sort of surreal way. It isn't just white balance either. Take a look at this image that was 'corrected' in PhotoShop for white balance.


Now it is almost a sepia tone with the blue sky going grey and the whole thing giving a kind of monochrome (but not really) feel.

Next up is not really an exotic film as much as a misplaced one. What would happen if you took color transparency (slide) film and developed it in negative film chemistry? You would get what is called "cross-processed" images. The result depends on the film you start with and how you expose it, but in general, you are going to get increased contrast and potentially some color shifts. Some colors may saturate and others may wash out. You just have to experiment and see what happens.

Here is an image that I cross processed.

The bee and the coral tree

You can see that the sky has taken a very cyan color .The greens have saturated and the red of the coral tree flower has washed out to orange. To me it makes a kind of retro look as if the film or print has been left out in the sun. You can use regular Fuji Velvia (100 or 50) and either process it yourself or send it to a lab that offers cross processing (usually for a couple bucks more than regular E-6 slide processing). It is a lot of fun seeing what kind of results you get using unusual films or processes. Give it a try. Create something unique!!

Monday, June 3, 2013

X-ray base layer

As I mentioned in my previous post, the base layer of the x-ray film I bought is blue. Here is a color 'transparency' scan of the Voigtlander photo.
  Voigtlander Negative

X-Ray Vision

Ok, that title is a little misleading. I haven't found a new way to see through clothes or walls. I'll leave that to the comic book writers and the pervs on the interwebz. This is about the latest 'thing' in the large format photography toolbox... x-ray film. Believe it or not, they still make this stuff and they make it cheap! I'm sure that budget is one of the drivers behind the popularity of this film. A 4x5 sheet of b/w film can go for between $1US and $4US while x-ray film is going for around 1/10th of that! Now the down-sides may change your mind about it being a bargain, but I enjoy DIY aspects of my hobbies, so I am all in! X-ray film is ortho-chromatic, which means that it doesn't respond to every color of light like pan-chromatic film does. I haven't been able to find the hard data on this, nor have I done any real testing to see where the sensitivity falls off, but it is pretty much agreed that these films are blue/green sensitive and red insensitive. Next, if you have an 8x10 camera, you are good to go. However, if you have a 4x5 camera, you are going to have to cut the large sheets down to size. This can be done with a regular paper cutter and a red darkroom safety light. I got an 11" paper cutter (the kind with a sliding blade) for about $11 at my local office supply store. I marked the 4 inch and 5 inch marks with a silver marker to make them more visible in the dim light as the cutter itself is made of black plastic. I tried a couple of other things with Xacto knives, but it was too difficult to manage in the dark. Save yourself some frustration and just get a paper cutter that will hold the film square and cut straight. I loaded up my holders and set up some test shots. I rated the film at iso 50 for some shots and at iso 100 for others. Then I did a semi-stand development in a 1+50 dilution of Adonal (Rodinal). Agitation was constant for 30 sec and then 10 sec at the 10min mark. I used the MOD54 and a Paterson tank to hold the film. Iso 50 gave better, more constant tones while iso 100 was quite contrasty but still very usable. Here is a shot of my Voigtländer Bessa taken at iso 50. I could probably even go down to 25 or lower and do a longer development cycle. Maybe next time.

Voigtlander Bessa

You can see a couple of marks/scratches at the top and bottom of the image. That is where the MOD54 holder contacts the film. The x-ray film has emulsion on both sides, unlike regular photographic film. It is also very thin. The base and the emulsion layers are quite delicate. I will say that the base of this film is the most beautiful sapphire blue. The negatives are quite stunning to look at. I am using Kodak ClinicSelect Green X-ray film purchased from Deep Discount X-Ray. I have 100 8x10 sheets, so I am sure I will be using this film a lot. I am quite pleased with this first image. Let me know your thoughts.