Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Cyanotype Miracle

I believe that miracles really happen. In spite of the title, this is not one of them, but the word is apt in a figurative sense to describe the improbability of what happened with these two prints. Allow me to start at the beginning.

I went downtown to the art supply store here in San Diego. I wanted to buy a pad of hot press watercolor paper to make some cyanotypes with. Well, either they don't make hot press in pads, or this store doesn't carry them, or both. So I ended up getting a small pad of Strathmore 400 cold press. It just says "heavy weight", but feels like 140#. One sheet (5.5x8.5 in) is just the right size for 2 4x5 negatives. So I cut it in half and coated it up with my traditional cyanotype solutions which are a year or more old, but still kicking. I left it in the dark over night to dry. The next day, I put everything in my contact printing frame and set it out for a good 7 minutes. That seemed like an adequate amount of time because I am used to using waxed paper negatives which transmit UV light much better than the plastic used in film. Needless to say, when I washed the prints (in dilute white vinegar) there was not much of an image there. The borders were dark, but the image area was very faint. I probably needed around 20 minutes. I set them aside until I could decide what to do. It was too bad I didn't have color separated negs for these photos, because this would be a great start for a tri-color gum print. But I just had the one negative for each image.

So I decided after they were dry, I would re-coat with the cyanotype solution, register the negatives over the existing image and try to print them again. This is where the miracles start happening. Usually, watercolor paper will shrink if you soak it in water then dry it. This paper didn't, at least not noticeably. In fact the negatives seemed to register perfectly over the previous image. I had to just register the edges since I couldn't really see any of the image through the negative. The next day it was completely overcast. I didn't even bother putting the printing frame outside. It was too dark by the time I got home. The next day, I knew I had to do something because the cyanotype was going to start fogging if I just left it unexposed in the printing frame. So when I saw the clouds start to clear at work, I called home and had my wonderful bride put the printing frame outside. It was still sort of cloudy, so I told her to leave it for an hour then bring it in. Then suddenly the clouds broke and the sun was out! We exchanged a couple of text messages and I figured the whole thing was a wash. There was no way to tell how much UV exposure it had, and I would just start over on the back sides of the prints. I came home and took a peek under one of the negatives and it wasn't completely dark, so I figured what the heck. I did the same vinegar wash as before and cleared it in fresh tap water. What came out was about the best cyanotypes I think I have ever made. The tonal scale is nice and long (for a cyanotype), the edges are clear, just the whole thing came out about as good as I could have wished. So through two printings of some unknowable exposure combined with sitting out for a couple of days in the air, I got a couple of beautiful prints. I can not explain how it happened, and I will never be able to reproduce the process. Anyway, here they are.



Monday, October 21, 2013

Moving Pictures

I have always liked the look of film. Even when our first child was born in 1997, I didn't rush out and buy a 'video' camera. I did some research and bought a mid-70's model French made Super-8 movie camera. It is the Beaulieu 4008 ZM II.

Beaulieu Diptych I really disliked the aesthetic of the 'handicam' and don't get me started on the quality of the images and sound. The ultra sharp/contrasty quality along with the ghosting and interleaving effects common in consumer video recorders of that time just left me cold. I did eventually buy one at the urging of my wife who wanted sound and more immediate results, but I still love my Super-8 movies. Recently I had them telecined and burned to a dvd. The shop didn't do a very good job of it, but at least I can share them now without forcing people to sit in front of my movie screen in my living room. Besides, the belt in my projector broke :(

Here is a small sample of what you get with Super-8 film. This happens to be the venerated Kodachrome which is no longer produced or processed. The scene is at the La Brea Tar Pits near Los Angeles. Our (then) young son was about 5 and walking through a quiet museum for a number of hours was about all his energetic little body could take. Once we got outside, he found an open space and cut loose!

Sunday, October 20, 2013


I generally stay away from the higher (smaller) apertures on most of my lenses. Why? Diffraction. This happens when the light has to pass through a small opening. It tends to scatter and your photos will be less sharp. It gets noticeable above say f/11 or so. Also , those small apertures cut the amount of light hitting your film, so unless you are shooting high speed film (or pushing your film higher than its 'box speed') the shutter speeds get long-ish. So when I walked out to the pool the other night I was planning on shooting my lens wide open even though my camera was mounted on a tripod. But when I got out there and saw the light and realized I was looking at a very high contrast scene that might be a little boring, I decided to close down the lens to f/32. I spot metered the water in the pool and came up with a 2 minute exposure time. I wasn't sure if the x-ray film I had loaded in the Speed Graphic would have the latitude to compensate for any reciprocity failure, but I decided just to shoot at the metered value and see what I got. The pool isn't going anywhere and I can re-shoot this scene any night of the week. What I was hoping for with that small aperture was to see some diffraction of the bright lights to give the composition a little 'umph'. Most lenses will also make stars out of points of light at small apertures because of the imperfection of the circle made by the aperture mechanism. I like how this photo came out. It looks pretty much the way I saw it in my head. It's not deeply meaningful or poignant, but kind of a cool night shot of something I see every day.

Night Pool

Monday, October 14, 2013

1/100 Strangers

So I decided to embark on the 100 Strangers Challenge. It is a pretty simple concept. Take a portrait of 100 strangers. That's it. Okay, it's a little more involved than that, but not much. The idea is to take portraits, not candids from 200ft away with a telephoto lens. It is designed to improve two things; your portrait photos and your ability to connect with your models. I am personally terrible at connecting with my subjects. I am on the far end of the introversion scale and striking up a conversation with a complete stranger has a very high threshold energy for me. Making a request is even harder. So I need to improve and that means practice.

I drive past a high school in my neighborhood almost every day. For the last month or more, I have noticed a school bus parked out on the street, presumably waiting for athletes or some other group that is at school late. Inside the bus, the driver is waiting, but not just waiting, practicing. He is playing a trumpet... every time I drive by. So I thought that this guy would be a good first subject. He was already inspiring me with his dedication to his art.

I pulled over and carried my Speed Graphic over to the open bus door and explained that I drove by each day and asked him what kind of music he was playing. We talked for a short time and I explained that I would like to take his photo. He agreed and said that he wanted to do it out on the grass. I thought it would be a great shot inside the bus, but he was clearly uncomfortable with that, so I didn't press it. Anyway, here it is. Unfortunately, I think I over-developed it, so it is quite grainy. I don't know, sometimes that grows on me. I will have to look at this one a few more times.

This is my first stranger.

100 Strangers 1/100 - Roberto

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Front Standard

I am kind of going by intuition here, so if anyone sees me going completely off track, let me know.

I finished taping up the joints on the front standard and devised a pocket for the pinholes to slide into (also with gaffer's tape). I generally use gaffer's tape to "mount" the pinholes which I got from Earl over at The holes come as 3mm disks with the hole in the center, so I tape around them. You can see better below than I can explain here.

Front standard with pocket photo IMAG0346_zpsd8532fe1.jpgSo I started with the standard with a big-ish hole so that the edges of the foam core don't interfere with the light transmission to the outer edges of the image. I folded a piece of gaffer's tape in half and punched a hole in it using a regular paper hole punch. That got taped over the hole in the front of the standard. This pic is blurry, but I think you can make out what is going on there.

Front pocket photo IMAG0347_zps98513509.jpgI made a flap where the pinholes slide into the pocket so that I don't get light leaks behind the pinhole.

Inserting pinhole photo IMAG0348_zpsd3c9db8f.jpgThe pinhole is mounted in a 'standard' (for me) square of gaffer's tape, so that all of my pinholes look the same except that the diameter is written on the tape. So these now slide behind the smaller hole piece.

pinhole inserted photo IMAG0349_zps653c4dae.jpgSo this is what it looks like with the pinhole inserted. The flap sticks out a bit, so it might even make a small rudimentary lens hood for mid-day shots!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Going For It

Ok, enough thought and practice. I am going to make the 8x10 pinhole that I want, not the one I think I can build in a weekend. This is going to have interchangeable pinholes and adjustable focal lengths. It will use a bag bellows with incorporated 'sleeves' for changing film (like a changing bag).

Here is step one. The front standard.
 photo IMAG0345_zps3fbd0f5c.jpg.

It is 4"x4"x2" (10x10x5cm). Stay tuned for step 2!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Flawed Mod

If you were fortunate enough to read my scintillating previous post about the pinhole camera, you probably finished it scratching your head, thinking... "Why would he shorten the focal length to get more coverage on his film?" The truth is that I was doing the same thing. It didn't make sense intuitively. If the pinhole is closer to the film, that should just make the image smaller. How would that effect the area of coverage? The answer is this... it actually doesn't make the image smaller, but it does change the magnification. It is the same effect of changing from a 50mm lens on your 35mm SLR to a 28mm lens. Things get smaller but the image stays the same size (36x24mm). This is done through the magic of optics. The glass lens elements manipulate the light path so that you can change focal length and aperture and not change the size of the projected image circle. I don't have any glass lens elements on this camera though. So changing from 115mm focal length to 81mm focal length has the effect of reducing the magnification of the scene, and if the image circle of the pinhole is big enough to cover the size of film you are using, all is copacetic. However, in my case I also changed the size of the pinhole from 0.5mm to 0.4mm, a gigantic 20% decrease! Guess what. When you reduce the size of the pinhole, you reduce the size of your image circle! So now I have an 8x10 pinhole that has an image circle big enough to cover a 4x5 piece of film. Seriously, I kept thinking to myself, "you shouldn't cut that camera down... just make another back for it." and now that is what I will be doing. I will need to calculate the right distance to cover my curved 8x10 (~126°).

For your viewing pleasure, here is a crappy still life I took after cutting down the camera. Back to the drawing board.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

New 8x10 Design

So, the last foamcore pinhole camera was a lesson in light leaks. I tried a number of things, but the fact is that hand-cut foamcore is never going to form a light-tight butt joint. So the way I designed the two parts of the box did not have enough overlap all the way around to keep the light out. The other thing I learned was that I did not really need anything to keep the film in a curved plane. The dimensions of the box were such that the film naturally lay in a curved shape.

So I decided to make another 8x10 pinhole camera with these things in mind. This first picture is just for the youngsters out there (like my oldest son) who think, "I'm never going to use geometry in real life! Why do I have to take it in school!??". I probably thought that same thing in high school, but here I am in my mid 40's with a hobby that demands the use of math on an almost daily basis. I couldn't have predicted that I would ever want to build a curved plane camera, but had I not been diligent in my math classes, I couldn't; 1.) build this camera, or 2.) help said son with his math assignments. Stick with the math people. It is an investment that will pay dividends later.
 photo DSC_5488_zps1def0cdc.jpgHere is my Moleskine with design calculations.

The construction is simple, so I won't spend a lot of time explaining cutting, gluing and taping foamcore other than to say that you should use a 'fresh' x-acto blade when you start. The foamcore will shred if the blade is not razor sharp, making joinery difficult.

 photo DSC_5479_zpsc6550fdc.jpgHere is the inside of the 'back' of the camera. Note the "lugs" and the flap of gaffer's tape.

 photo DSC_5480_zpse890df5d.jpgThe film sits under the lugs, keeping it in place and centered and curved to the right arc.

 photo DSC_5481_zpsc296874c.jpgThe flap of tape allows me to pull the edge of the film away from the side of the camera. Otherwise, it is difficult to get the film out of the camera without scratching the emulsion.

 photo DSC_5485_zpsf0eafea1.jpgThe front of the camera is simpler. Just a box 2" deep that fits over the opening of the camera back. It fits snugly, so no need for more light sealing. The shutter is again a simple 'drain plug' type since exposures are consistently in the >10s range. The focal length (I know it isn't the right term, but everyone knows what I mean) is 115mm, the pinhole is 0.5mm, the effective aperture is f/230 and the field of view is about 109°.

Coral TreeHere is the first shot with this camera. The field of view doesn't quite cover the film, so I cropped it square. This can be remedied by shortening the focal length to about 82mm which should be pretty easy to do. I probably would also need to change to a .4mm pinhole in that case. This picture was made by wedging the camera into a tree. This pointed the pinhole to the sky which is a problem for this x-ray film (blown highlights) it also caught the sun, which I couldn't really tell since the camera was above my head. That accounts for the characteristic pinhole flare. BUT! there are no light leaks that I can see and so I think that this camera with a little modification will be a nice addition to the toolbox. I may even take it to the wedding I am shooting next month. Leave your questions or comments here or on the forum that brought you here. I am glad to answer.