Archive for December, 2009

My theme for this final post of the year, begins with a farewell to Vietnam and looks back on 2009, the year The Aware Writer blog was born, nurtured and, thanks to all my friends, continues to grow.

Saigon Street Scene (click to enlarge)

I shot this street scene in downtown Saigon late in 1966. The date stamped on the slide is Dec 66. I decided to convert the old Ektachrome transparency to B&W this time.

I think this shot was from the same roll as my “Reflections: Saigon Street Life (1966).”  Take a look at the guy in the foreground on the right. He’s holding what looks like a badminton racquet as he bends over to pick up something. It’s the same guy who was in the background in the reflections shot.

Vietnam from On High (click to enlarge)

I converted this photo to B&W from an undated slide, but I don’t need a date this time. You’re looking down at the coast of Vietnam from the vantage point of my seat in the back of the Pan Am jetliner that was winging me home to the US in January 1967.

This was a regularly scheduled commercial flight out of Saigon. My friends in customs (my Air Police squadron was involved in customs at the airport) arranged for me to sit in the back with the stewardesses. I did enjoy the ride home — a ride that ended my tour in Vietnam, my hitch in the USAF when I arrived in San Francisco and was the eve of a new phase of my life as a civilian.

The Aware Writer blog was born in mid-May of this year. I kept telling myself that I wanted to start a blog and when I “retired” from my duties as a senior steward at Helium.com I finally had the time.

The Aware Writer began as a platform for my writing with a focus on helping and interacting with fellow writers. Within the first week I was adding graphics to compliment my words. I used my own photographs whenever possible. Gradually, my focus shifted to photography with the words as compliment and balance. My true passion for photography pushed to the forefront but my words refused to stay behind. Now we’re partners!

I think the big shift began when Tammie pointed me to Lisa’s Chaos and her Monday Macro meme. My first entry was “Flowers Can Have Bad Hair Days Too” at the end of June. Then James commented on my “Monday Musings: Circle of Life” Monday Macro at the end of September and suggested that my photo would be perfect for his Weekend Reflections meme.

My first entry for James’ weekend reflections was “Reflections: The Wonder of Innocence” in the beginning of October. Then I discovered Ailene’s Monochrome Weekend in mid-November. My first monochrome post was “Pedicab Rest Stop: Saigon (1966)

Just a few weeks ago, MaryT left a nice comment on “A Found Portrait II (Sepia Toned)” and suggested I might drop by her newly launched Sepia Scenes meme. I stopped by Mary’s site, linked my post and am an enthusiastic participant now.

Thanks to Lisa, James, Ailene, MaryT and all the participants of their marvelous photo theme memes. We visit, we help, we learn and we are having lots of fun doing the meme thing. I know I am. Participating has given me pushes and advice when I needed them most.

I’ve dug deeply into my archives of both color slides and B&W negatives and am finally organizing them. I ordered fresh chemistry and film and got back into developing my own B&W again. And I’ve refined my work-flow so I know how and what to expect.

I’m learning how to convert my color images to convincing B&W photos. The pair of photos I converted for this post are evidence that I’m learning my lessons well. I’ve learned a few tricks of my own that I’ll share with you when I fully understand how they work. Sometimes when you flaunt the “rules” you get better results.  I fooled around with toning B&W in the past and now I’m digging deeper and really learning how to tint (when appropriate).

It’s been a great year — a year of exponential creative growth, sharing and new friendships. Next year will be even better. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow when I post my first reflections of the new year. Happy New Year’s Eve. See you all tomorrow.

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This portrait of my granddaughter Maddy and her uncle Brian was taken on Thanksgiving after the dinner dishes had been cleared away. At first I was disappointed. I wanted to include Maddy’s face but I couldn’t because of where I was and the angle I had to use. The moment was too important to miss.

Brian and Maddy (click to enlarge)

Serendipity? When I saw the result after I developed and scanned the film, I knew instinctively that I had a keeper. It wasn’t until yesterday that I understood why.

It’s the hands John! I was reading Tom Ang’s book, “The Tao of Photography” yesterday when I finally got it. There’s a short chapter in the book called “Working with Hands,” illustrated with four wonderful images that brought the lesson home to me.

Maddy’s posture and her hands resting lightly on Brian”s hand are sensual and evoke powerful emotions. I published this B&W version of the portrait a few days after Thanksgiving. It’s good, but I was using an unfamiliar film and the whites were too strong. After reading Tom’s book, I thought of this photo and decided to see if I could make the portrait better with sepia toning.

Not every image will benefit from sepia toning, but when it works it can be special. Toning this photo made two important differences: 1) It introduced a warmth and softness that matched the emotional content of the image. Portraits like this one are prime candidates for sepia toning. 2) Sepia tinting compresses the tonal scale and can enhance an image without losing contrast. Less can be more. The lighter sepia tones tamed the stark, too white, gray tones and put visible texture back into the tablecloth and Maddy’s sweater. The sepia tones also brought out the subtle tonal variations in Maddy’s and Brian’s skin.

I love B&W but I’m beginning to use toning selectively to enhance certain images. Most but not all of my recent toning experiments have been sepia. I snuck a bit of blue into my December Snowstorm images to cool them down (just a little). I think the key to success with toning is to match the color and the degree of your tint to the image.

I’m pleased with the results of the experiment with the portrait of Maddy and Brian. I discovered a lot of new things in the past few days and I’m open to new discoveries every day. Creative experiments are what make life a joy. You never know when, where or how the next idea will jump out at you. Listen to your dragon and if you get the chance, check Tom Ang’s book out of the library — it’s filled with wonderful images and terrific advice.

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This is a close-up of the never ending eternal supply of delicious, juicy, can’t wait to savor the next treat in life’s infinite bowl of cherries.

Click for a bigger bite

Just look at these tasty morsels. Go ahead. Stick your hand in the bowl and grab a handful — the cherries are there for the taking.  Which one will taste the best? Pick one, munch and discover for yourself. Delicious.

Ideas are like cherries. You never know what they’ll taste like until you bite into one. Would you shun a bowl of luscious cherries because you fear one might be sour? Imagine what you could be missing. The next cherry, the next idea may be the one to send you into a frenzy of creativity.

Ideas are like cherries. Bet you can’t eat just one. Linger and savor them one by one. That’s how you find the best ideas.

Be sure to visit Lisa’s Chaos for more Macro Monday photos. Thank you Lisa. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to share.

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When you develop your own film at home, keeping the negatives clean and free of water marks as they dry can be a real challenge. People have come up with all sorts of ideas: special squeegees, using your fingers to wipe the wet negatives, chemicals like photo-flo that make the water wetter, etc. Touching the wet negatives comes with a high risk of damage to the soft emulsion and why use chemistry when water and a neat trick work better. If you promise not to laugh, I’ll show you a way that works every time.

Yes, this is a salad spinner. Huh? For drying film? Sure and why not. I saw this idea somewhere while surfing the Internet a few years ago. I wanted to try developing my film again and was looking for simple ways to keep water spots to a minimum. I hadn’t developed my own film in decades and my first attempt at a comeback was an absolute disaster. I had no idea negatives could get that dirty!

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Spinning the water out is the last step before I hang them up to dry. I’ll skip the developer, stop bath and fixer and jump right to the wash.  I’ll extol the virtues of my favorite developer and the process I use some other time.

I do all my film processing with stainless steel tanks and reels. I use Ilford’s development tank inversion method to wash my negatives. After you dump your fixer (or pour it back into the bottle for re-use as I do), fill the tank with water (I use tap water for the first wash) and turn it upside down and back five times.

Dump the water and fill with fresh water. I use distilled water for the second and third washings because I don’t want to risk minerals in my tap water drying on the film. OK, invert your tank 10 times and dump, then fill with fresh distilled water for the final wash. Invert 20 times, dump and according to Ilford, you will have archival washed negatives. This washing method conserves water and delivers clean negatives quickly with a minimum of fuss.

The next step is to prepare a place for the negatives to hang and dry undisturbed. I let mine dry for about six hours. Where? In the bathroom shower stall. I discovered that one on the Internet too. I have one of those huge springy clips used to hold papers together. I clip it to the pipe on the shower head then turn the shower on hot full blast and close the bathroom door. The place really steams up and that’s the idea. The steam will knock the dust out of the air.

Meanwhile, put your reel with the wet film into the salad spinner as I’ve illustrated in the photo above. I use stainless steel reels, but I expect this method will work with plastic reels also. Put an empty reel opposite the one with the film to balance the load, put the lid on and start cranking. Hint: The spinning seems to go easier when I align the knob on the lid on axis with the reels, opposite the reel with the film. I spin about 100 revolutions in one direction, let the spinner stop and repeat in the other direction. I have no idea if I need more than 100 revs, but it doesn’t hurt so why not?

Take the film out, unwind and clip it inside the shower stall. I use a weighted clip on the bottom and go away (after closing both the shower door and the bathroom door). Don’t come back for 5 or 6 hours. You’ll be amazed. The final spinning really works, especially when you use distilled water for the final rinse. Since I’ve been washing and drying my negatives this way, I’ve never found a single streak or water spot. I still get some dust, but not much and who lives in a clean room?

When you scan your negatives at high resolution as I do, every imperfection will show up in the final scan. Clean negatives are a must and my negatives dry sparkling clean. As I mentioned, I do pick up a little dust but not much and what I do pick up is easy to fix in my editor. I cut my dry negatives into 6 negative strips and file them in PrintFile archival pages that I keep in an oversize three ring binder. I expect that with proper handling, my negatives will last for many years.

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Snow transforms. Each delicate snowflake dances and swirls through the air until it finds a neighbor on the ground, clings to a tree branch, or tickles a child’s tongue. Our world glows with a magical light, so quiet you can hear the ballet of the snowflakes as they sing through the air to soften and cleanse the earth in a blanket of white.

December Snowstorm I (click to enlarge)

Each time it snows I become a child again, as I stand at my window, hypnotized with the wonder of it all. I wanted to capture some of the magic on film.  I took this photo from an upstairs window, upper sash down, using that sash as a makeshift tripod.

If you look closely, you can see Mr. Gnarly T. O’Root in this photo. He’s the large tree in the foreground on the left. I wonder — do trees dream as they stand quietly sleeping in the snow? I must remember to ask the old guy when he awakens in the spring and we can visit and chat.

December Snowstorm II (click to enlarge)

I turned my attention and my camera to the west for this view. I’m happy with both photos, but I think the first is the better of the two.

My Nikon F3HP was loaded with Tri-X rated at 1600 (developed in Diafine). The more I use this film/developer combination, the more I like it. The high film speed and the stable rest on the window sash let me stop my 24mm lens down, take my time and capture the mid-afternoon light. The 24mm Nikkor is an outstanding wide angle lens and, as it turned out, the perfect choice for these shots.

After I scanned my negatives, I cropped them to a 4 x 5 format, worked with curves to get the tonality I wanted, gave each photo a bit of cool toning and sharpening. I’m happy. I think I captured and preserved the mood and my vision as I gazed out my window during our December snowstorm last Saturday.

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I want to wish all of you, my friends who come to visit (and your families) a Christmas season filled with peace and love. Thank you all for your kind words, for enriching my life and for the opportunity to share our passions for photography, writing and life itself with each other. You’re the best.

December snowstorm (12/19/2009) -- from my bedroom window

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The Saigon Christmas collection wouldn’t be complete without these festive display windows. Enjoy. Merry Christmas to all and a special thank you to James for making our sharing possible.

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I’m not going to say much today. Instead, the photos will speak for themselves. I planned the first three street scenes in advance, but I wanted to share these last few photos of the kids from my archives so I added them at the last minute. I think I took the last three at Christmastime, but it doesn’t matter when I shot these favorites — the kids do.

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Sepia Scenes: Sleeping Child

Kids can fall asleep almost anywhere. There’s a funny story associated with this photo. My wife has been caring for our granddaughters, while their parents are off earning a living, each weekday for almost 12 years now, and until the twins were born last year, the girls would come to our house.

Julia Sleeping (click to enlarge)

One day, a few summers back, my wife came running upstairs to tell me that Julia fell asleep in the living room and I had to come down to look. Naturally I brought my camera with me. You can’t see Julia’s legs in this close up but they never made it onto the sofa that day. She must have been asleep on her feet and when she got to the sofa simply collapsed, half on and half off. She certainly looks peaceful here. If I remember correctly, we rearranged Julia after I took a few photos.

I thought this found portrait would be a perfect candidate for the warmth of sepia. I’m glad I always keep at least one of my cameras loaded with film. You never know when the moment will arrive and you must be ready. This photo is a few years old and I can’t remember which of my Nikon bodies I used. I think the lens was my 35mm. The film was Ilford FP4+ that I developed and scanned myself.

I fooled around with sepia tinting a few years ago, but it’s just in the last week or so that I’ve gotten interested again. I’ve been refreshing my memory with the how to and the why. I’m planning on writing a tutorial (maybe more than one) outlining the steps I take to arrive at my finished sepia toned photos.

Sepia toning, in fact all toning, originated in the world of black and white wet printing in the traditional wet darkroom. Toning serves two purposes, archival permanence and aesthetics. The image in a straight B&W print is made up of metallic silver. This form of silver is susceptible to fading and discoloring at the hands of atmospheric chemicals. Toning converts the metallic silver into a more stable form.

According to Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz in their “The Black & White Handbook,” the most common sepia toning methods convert the metallic silver to silver sulphide.

The color changes inherent in the toning process are a by product of the chemical changes. Photographers and master printers have come up with many different ways to tone prints. All extend the life of the print and each different method has it’s own aesthetic.

I would never consider wet chemistry toning because the chemistry is highly toxic. We’re fortunate that we can emulate the aesthetics digitally with none of the nasty environmental hazards.

I’ll explain more when I write the tutorial(s), but it’s important to understand that for a successful sepia toned photo, you should always begin with a good black and white image. I’ve always liked the B&W  portrait of Julia sleeping, but the warmer sepia version takes it a notch higher.

PS — Be sure to visit MaryT’s Sepia Scenes for more sepia photos.

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Kids & Christmas: Saigon (1966)

Maybe the innocence of all the kids I met in Vietnam, is what drew me to them. We got to know one another just a little for an oh so brief moment. And now, through these few photos, I invite you to share a few of those moments with me.

These two guys knew I was taking their picture. Wary? Curious? You can’t quite make out the facial expression of the young guy peering from behind the Christmas tree. Is that a half smile? None of the kids I photographed were the least bit hostile and most opened up to the occasion.

This young man gave my camera and I a friendly smile. Maybe just a bit shy, but he struck a nice pose.

I especially like this last photo. This little guy is completely at ease, both with the woman and with me. I’ve always been drawn to this photo. I like the colors, the composition but most of all, I like this little kid. He’s so expressive — and innocent. Did he just wink? This is one of those times when I knew I captured the moment.

These three photos of the children are among my favorites from my “Christmas in Saigon — 1966” collection. Of all the photos I shot while I was stationed in Vietnam, I think I enjoyed photographing the kids most of all.

We’ll hit the streets tomorrow for more shots of the people of Saigon at Christmas time back in 1966.

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