Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pushing Through VIII

A drainage ditch is something I had never see until I moved to San Diego. I lived in Pacific Beach for the first year and there is a large drainage ditch running through that neighborhood. In fact I drove over it every time I went to or from work. It was like a bog with very tall grasses growing there. The problem with that is that it also smells like a bog and in the summer I would drive through there with my windows open and I would pass through this massive stinking cloud of choking sulfurous stench. It was (and probably still is) a nasty little feature of the city landscape. Once we moved 5 miles east to Mira Mesa, it was quite a bit dryer. The drainage ditches here are much smaller, but they do collect debris which eventually makes a deep enough bed of substrate for something to grow it. It is another example of nature finding a way around man's design. In this case a big clump of grass has found a home.
Check out the rest of the series if you have a minute.

Pushing Through VIII

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pushing Through VII

See Pushing Through for an explanation of the series.

Pushing Through VI

See Pushing Through for an explanation of the series.

Pushing Through V

See Pushing Through for an explanation of the series.

Pushing Through IV

See Pushing Through for an explanation of the series.

Pushing Through III

At first glance, this looks pretty common. It's just a plant growing up through a gap in the sidewalk. But if you look a little closer, you'll see what attracted me to this particular one. First, behind the plant you can see that "they" have tried to seal up the gap with asphalt. This plant is growing in defiance of not only the sidewalk itself, but the added effort to keep nature at bay. The next thing to notice is that in fact the entire section of the concrete sidewalk is being pushed up from beneath. This is probably caused by a tree root. The roots push up and crack the concrete, then seeds get blown in and there they start to grow. I often try to imagine what things will look like in 200 years. Will man have truly mastered his environment so that his walkways are no longer damaged and 'littered' with these interlopers? Or will the plants continue to struggle and push through the concrete, reminding us that we are the intruders here? We are the ones struggling against nature. We are fighting on the side destined for failure. I want to think that we can come to some form of a 'truce' where man can allow more nature into his urban environment.

I took this photo with my Yashica Mat 124G, using Kodak T-Max 100 film. Development was in Caffenol-CL with 70min stand development. Scanned with an Epson Perfection V600. See Pushing Through for an explanation of the series.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fern Leaves II - Errata

In my post Fern Leaves, I said, "I exposed for 1/10th of a second as metered (no compensation for filter or bellows extension)". And that is true, but that is not the meter reading for the photo I showed in that post. I took two exposures that day. One was as metered f/5.6 x 1/50th and the other one included 2.5 stops for the filter and 1/2 stop for the bellows (that was just a guess, I didn't calculate it). It came out to f/5.6 (to keep the same DOF) and 1/10th. I know that's not exactly 3 stops, but I knew the film would have enough latitude to tolerate 1/3 stop either way. I remember thinking at the time "Three stops seems like a huge difference for one little filter and a bit of bellows extension.", but I went ahead and made the exposure, just in case the experts really do know what they are talking about. I developed both negatives together using recommended times and agitation. When I took the negs out of the tank, one was 'normal' looking and the other was very very 'thin'. That is to say, it was mostly clear with just a hint of an image on it. I said to myself with a feeling of satisfaction, "See? That filter and bellows compensation is all a bunch of nonsense!" and didn't give it another thought. I didn't think it through until I went to scan the thin negative last night. Then I thought about it. A thin negative is either under exposed or under developed. I know the development was fine since all of the other negatives came out perfectly. So that must mean that the thin one was under exposed. That must have been my 1/50th exposure. The experts were right!! I really do need to add stops for the filter and the bellows extension. So, lesson learned, and it only took me one sheet of film to learn it. Even then, it's not a total waste. I threw the negative on the scanner and figured I would get something... maybe even something interesting.

What I got was what you would expect from a severely underexposed negative... grain and contrast. It is still a decent image. It just has a little more 'edge' to it than the other exposure. I thought it was an interesting 'experiment'. Go see the Filter Factor article on Wikipedia for an explanation of how it works and a good chart of different filter factors for different brands of filters.

Which version do you like better?

fern 2 - underexposed

Monday, August 12, 2013


I generally try to compose a photo well enough in the camera that it doesn't require a lot of 'fiddling' in post production. I think that as photographers, this should be one of our goals. Improving in the area of composition is one of my most difficult tasks and one that I am always trying to achieve. Composition, of course encompasses a LOT of things, but specifically here I am talking about the relative positions of objects and shapes in the frame. The enemy of composition is the 'hurry up'. Light is fading, things are moving, dinner is burning, etc. These things all cause the 'hurry up' and when you are in a hurry, you will only get a good composition by sheer luck. Large format film is a bit too dear to leave up to luck, so we generally try to go about making photos when we know we will have enough time. But there are situations when the 'hurry up' just descends. Recently, I was at a farmer's market in my neighborhood. I came across it accidentally since it is only there on Tuesdays and I was actually on my way to a different location to take a different photo. But there it was and if I walked by, I would have to wait another week to go and see what was there to photograph. The sun was setting behind the booths and behind the marine layer, so I found myself in the middle of the 'hurry up' trying to get photos before I ran out of light.
I saw this scene and I knew that there was something about it that appealed to me, so I framed the whole thing and shot it.
Farmers market
Here comes the beauty of large format. I took my shots home, developed them and scanned them. Now I only scanned at 1200 dpi which is about a medium resolution image (about 29 MPixels). That gives me plenty of resolution to crop out the bit that I really like. I still down-res that image to upload, so I have pixels to spare and no visible grain (even with Tri-X in Rodinal!!). So this way, I haven't wasted my sheet of film. It still contained the image that I wanted to capture, and later I can revisit the negative or the original scan and re-compose again if I choose.
Farmers market crop

Fern Leaves

I'm not really much of a 'closeup' or 'macro' photographer. So I don't really have many tips on doing it right, but I do know this. Your depth of field is WAY shallower than what you are used to or expecting. Now that can be good or bad depending on what kind of composition you have in mind. A small aperture (f/22 or higher) is still going to give a pretty deep focus. For this photo of a fern on my patio, I wanted a shallow DOF and some good contrast to accentuate the texture of the leaves. If the DOF were too deep, then the texture of the leaves would get lost in the overall jumble of leaves not just of the fern itself, but also those in the background. I shot this at f/5.6 on my large format Speed Graphic, so I got a very shallow DOF. I probably could have gone with f/8 and still had a pleasing composition, but I'm glad I didn't. For contrast, I added a green filter to the lens. This had the effect of brightening up the green of the leaves and darkening the reddish brown stems.

Like I said, I shot this with my Graflex Speed Graphic. I set it up about 18 inches from the fern and extended the bellows about 3 inches past the infinity stops. I didn't measure the focal length I came up with. Focusing is always a bit of a challenge (my eyes are old), but my dark cloth and 10x loupe help a lot. This was shot on Kodak Tri-X 320 at iso 320. I exposed for 1/10th of a second as metered (no compensation for filter or bellows extension). I developed the film in Adox Adonal (Rodinal) diluted 1+50 for 15 minutes. I agitated the tank (Paterson tank with MOD54) initially for 30 sec and then 4 gentle inversions every minute. The grain came out quite fine given these conditions and that it was probably a few degrees warmer than the recommended temp of 20C. This is a credit to the latitude and tolerance of this film. I really love Tri-X. It is hard to mess it up.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cat Tails

If you grew up anywhere near a wetland or marsh in the northern hemisphere, you are sure to be familiar with cattails. I remember seeing these quite often around lakes and ponds where I grew up in E. Washington. I didn't marvel at them then. They were just part of the scenery... just another plant. I don't see them much anymore here in So. California. I think it's too dry. In any case, I saw these recently up in Oregon and couldn't resist. It's not a great photo. You have to look close to see the 'cat tail' seed heads among the tall leaves, but they are there.
As with many things as I get older, I can see the cat tails with fresh eyes. I often find myself looking deeply at normal everyday things. Sometimes they spark a memory, sometimes they are just 'interesting'. I am enjoying this new fascination with the mundane and I think it is helping my photography improve as well. The shocking and the amazing are certainly fun to photograph, but for me, the photos I see of the common things are the most touching.


Taken with my Speed Graphic loaded with Tri-X 320. I didn't record the exposure information, but it was a sunny day, so probably f/11 at 1/200 or there abouts.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Moving Water

There are two kinds of water in photography. There is still water and there is moving water. Both can be interesting and both can be very effective elements of composition.
Woody Reflection
Still water reflects. It adds a dimension to a photo. If it is not reflecting, then it is a dark mass that adds visual weight which can help to balance elements of composition. Still water can add a sense of serenity and peace to a photo. Think of an alpine lake reflecting a distant mountain. You can feel the stillness of the scene. The blue sky, the pine-filled air, the glassy surface of the water, but especially the water. It has a psychological effect on us. We have a feeling that if the water is still and the sun is shining on it, then it is safe and we are safe in its presence. Photographing still water takes patience. The light needs to be right and the more mirror-like the surface is, the better.

Moving water is different. It brings action to the photo and a feeling of dynamism and energy. With moving water you have choices. In the photo of the fountain, I froze the water. It is still obvious that the water is moving, but with fast shutter speeds, the water is silenced. You get that same feeling as with a sports photo where the player is in mid air with some crazy look on his face. The action is there, but it is a moment frozen and taken out of time. It is unnatural. It creates tension because it is outside of our experience. We look at it and wait for the column to fall, the droplets to continue their arc downward.

In the photo of the McKenzie river below, I slowed down the shutter by closing the aperture a couple of stops and resting the camera on a rock to avoid any blur from shaky hands. This creates motion blur in the water while the trees and scenery on the shore are still in good focus. This tells our eyes that the water is moving, even though it is a still photo. That information relieves the tension in the photo and all is well with the world. We can view this photo as a 'normal' riverscape with the water rushing by us just like we have always experienced. You can almost hear the rush of the water over the rocks and feel the spray.

McKenzie River
Go out and find some water to shoot. Use it either as a main subject or as a compositional element. Just have fun and make some photos you like!

Sunday, August 4, 2013


I didn't really have cousins growing up. I have one cousin that I didn't meet until I was 15 or so and then only saw him a couple of times. I had loads of second cousins, but only saw them on rare occasions. Unfortunately, my kids are in a similar boat. They have cousins, but they all live in different places around the country, so they don't see each other much. The wonderful phenomenon about young people is that they pick up right where they left off like it was yesterday. We recently had an opportunity to get one whole side of the family together. The cousins all jumped right in to playing and harassing each other like, well... like family. It is a lesson we all could learn, not to hold petty grievances and hurts from years past, but just to love and enjoy one another like kids do... like cousins do. Cousins
I took this photo with my Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5. This is the first photo I took with this hand-held as opposed to using a tripod. It is heavy and sort of unwieldy, but I had the light metered already and the shutter and aperture were all set. I just had to focus and shoot. I used the built-in range finder, lined up the two images and "click". It is kind of hard to go unnoticed with a monster like the Speed Graphic in front of your face, but in this case only one of my victims er... subjects noticed and looked over. The others were busy being kids, so I got a pretty candid shot of them being themselves. I didn't take enough care sealing up my darkroom (bathroom) when I unloaded the film holders, so it looks like there was a bit of a light leak in the lower corner. I did a little dodging in Photoshop, so it's not quite as noticeable. I will probably crop it out if I decide to print it. That is one of the beautiful things about large format. There are plenty of pixels for cropping before printing. The development was done in Caffenol-CL for 70 minutes. I like the look of Caffenol-CL with a number of different films. Being fairly inexpensive and environmentally friendly makes up for the hassle of weighing and mixing ingredients. I hope you enjoy this photo. Maybe it reminds you of summers with your cousins.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Pushing Through II

Pushing Through II
This photo was taken nearby where I work along the street. You can see the fence in the background. On the other side of that fence there are trees and shrubberies, but it is a hillside, so it is not groomed or manicured in any way. This sort of 'wild' growth tends to send out root runners just under the surface of the ground and in this case under the pavement of the sidewalk. Then it finds a crack where moisture and light come through and it pushes up. You can see in this photo that the larger underground root has pushed the cement block up and away from the sidewalk, creating the 'crack'. I often wonder, "What will this place look like in 100 years, in 500 years?". I wonder if man will perfect the supression of these 'invasive' plants and have perfectly paved walkways with perfect 90-degree angles and none of this messiness. Or will man come to grips with his place in the world and welcome the wild back into his path. Will our cities become more natural or more manufactured? Time will tell I guess. Until it does, I will enjoy the struggle of these little ones pushing through.
Pushing Through I

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Black Butte Ranch

Mt. Jefferson
We had a family reunion of sorts up in Oregon at a place called Black Butte Ranch. It is sort of a typical Northwest resort. It is up in the Cascade range and so there is plenty of mountain air and hiking and glacial run-off. This photo was taken with my '39 Voigtländer Bessa 6x9 folding camera. I thought the corral made a nice compositional element to frame the mountain. One principal of composition I try to keep in mind is framing and frames within frames. This one might have been better composed if I had taken a step to the right and filled the frame with the 'corral frame' a little more. I do like the photo though and the b/w film gives it a classic look.

Woody Reflection
This resort also happens to have a golf course. I don't golf, but this one offered some nice landscape photo ops, so I took advantage since I had my Speed Graphic with me. I splurged a little and used a sheet of my Portra 160 for this. I was pressing my luck a little with the chemicals I had. It was getting along in development cycles and there was some uneven development in some of the images, but this one came out pretty good. There isn't really anything exciting or earth-shattering in the composition, but it is a 'nice' pastoral kind of scene. It conveys the tranquility of the time we spent there (or at least the tranquility I wish we had experienced). Getting four families together under one roof for 'vacation' is a recipe for chaos, but there are still some quiet times and nice memories to be had and this photo hints at those.