Archive for January, 2010

Yes, I was rooting around in my archives last week and found these beauties.

Velvet Day Lillies (click to enlarge)

My wife has a large patch of day lillies in the back of our yard. I never tire of photographing flowers. I liked the way this trio presented themselves. They remind me of maroon velvet. Aren’t they lovely?

So how do I get them all in sharp focus? A tripod is essential and I have a nice heavy one that can get very low to the ground. You need the rock solid support so you can stop your lens down enough. I generally don’t go smaller than f/11 if I can help it because you begin to lose definition from diffraction at small apertures. You can’t fight the laws of physics.

My favorite macro setup, 75-150mm manual zoom lens with my Nikon 3T two element diopter (close up attachment), is all manual. If I had auto-focus I would turn it off for shots like this one because auto-focus is a nuisance for macro photography.

I first read about Nikon’s 3T (and 4T)  multi-element close up attachments in John Shaw’s excellent “Closeups in Nature.” I highly recommend this book. It’s filled with well written advice from a master nature photographer and the images alone are worth the modest price. When I checked the price at Amazon ($16.47), they invited me to view my order —  I discovered that I bought the book on May 22, 2001. LOL

I have learned so much from this one book. The pages are starting to fall out of my copy from years of use. Get it. You’ll never regret the purchase.

John Shaw uses Nikon equipment and has gone 100% digital. I think most of the images in Closeups in Nature were shot with a Nikon F3. Hey! I have one of those and it’s the camera I always use for my macro photography. The advice in John’s book is just as appropriate (maybe more so) in our digital world.

When you are using a low ISO and your lens is stopped down, you’ll be shooting at a slow shutter speed. Besides needing a tripod, when you get below 1/30 second, vibration from the mirror in your SLR can introduce vibration and you’ll lose sharpness. When you get below 1/8 or 1/4 of a second, the camera can settle down. So what do you do for the in between? You lock the mirror in the up position before you press the shutter.

Wait. You are using a remote release aren’t you? You should be because even the “gentlest” touch on the shutter button can move the camera and that’s a no-no.

I switch my TTL metering to manual for macro, and I often use a hand held incident meter as a second check, then I choose my exposure. Since I’m using film and must wait for processing (no histograms), I’ll bracket my shots to be sure I get a good one. The light meter in my F3 is almost always dead on, but why take chances.

I was going to write a tutorial on how I do macro photography, but John Shaw is a fantastic teacher, so I thought I’d tempt you with a few goodies and let John show you the rest. Macro photography is so rewarding, especially when you understand how to “do it right.”

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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The camera in your hands is always the best one. You can’t very well capture the moment with the fancy camera you left at home because it’s too large to carry. I like to carry a small camera — just in case.

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I was taking a break at the other end of the arcade when I saw the person standing there all alone. I liked the perspective and my instincts took over. My little Olympus Stylus Epic was out of my pocket ready to shoot in seconds. I’m glad the lens is a no zoom 35mm f2.8. It was a gloomy day but I had plenty of light. A zoom would have ruined the perspective.

I put the viewfinder (yes, remember those little windows where you frame your shots?) to my eye and pulled the trigger. The stylus is fully automatic. The only control you have is flash off and a spot meter if you want. And it’s a pain to use in a vertical orientation so I had to crop from the full 35mm image.

Some of my best shots have been taken with this little camera. I haven’t been using it lately because it sets the ISO automatically from the DX code on the film cartridge and I rate my Tri-X at 1600 instead of the 400 box speed. Ah! Now I know how to trick the camera by changing the DX code with a razor blade. I have an almost done roll of Ilford HP5 loaded now. I must finish and process the film to see how well my trickery worked.

I can shoot a couple dozen rolls with one small lithium battery and the sensor (35mm flim) is the same size as the sensor in the $2,400 Nikon D700. My Stylus fits in my shirt pocket, is ready to shoot instantly, cost me $90 in 2001 and it came with a free, 4 element, high quality 35mm f2.8 glass lens. What’s not to like.

When I decided I needed to get back into photography in 2001 I wasn’t sure which SLR I wanted. I couldn’t wait so I bought the Stylus and have never regretted that purchase. A few weeks later I “happened” to stop in my local used camera dealer and the rest is history. He had lots of Nikon stuff, I bought a low end FG and a cheap 50mm lens.

I tried macro work with the FG and it worked but… Then one day when I was day dreaming about getting an F3 I saw one on eBay for $290 and bought it now. I love that camera. I collected some decent lenses, another body or two and some other goodies. I was addicted to NAS (Nikon Acquisition Syndrome). But that day when I shot this picture, all my heavy artillery was sitting at home. Good thing I always carried my little Stylus.

Drop on by The Monochrome Weekend, especially if you are a monochrome maniac. There’s lots of links to some great monochrome photography.

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Kids will do the funniest things. After all, they’re kids. We should take lessons from them and their innocence. I caught this uninhibited series of photos of one of my granddaughters sometime in 2001. Enjoy her reflections.

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Do I know you? You look familiar. Let me get closer…

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How about a big kiss? Let’s rub noses… Hey, not so hard, you’re squishing my poor nose…

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Oh no. Our lips are stuck. What will we do now?

I was flipping through one of my old albums the other night when I spotted these photos and said Hey! these would be great for Weekend Reflections. I found the negatives quickly (for a change). It took a couple of hours work on these three images before they were ready. The scanning was the easy part. Cleaning the scans was another story.

The film is Ilford XP2 super. It’s a C-41 process B&W film (rated at 400 ISO) that can be processed by any one hour lab using the same system they use for regular color negative film. It’s great stuff, and convenient if you don’t develop your own B&W film. The trouble with most one hour labs is that their cleanliness and film handling are unpredictable. The machines take the film through on rollers and if the machine isn’t clean then you get all kinds of microscopic and not so microscopic dust and debris all over your negatives. And scratches too!

Can you picture the largely untrained operators wearing white gloves while they take special care of your negatives? I can’t either. When you scan a 35mm negative, you get everything magnified huge. I won’t be taking my films to the drugstore anytime soon.

The alternative, sending to a good pro lab, isn’t that much more expensive. It’s worth the extra money for expert developing by people who take loving care of your negatives. Of course there’s the shipping cost and the wait. I plan on sending more than one roll at a time to spread out the shipping costs.

I can’t (or won’t) develop my own color transparency film but I do all my own “real” B&W (not C-41). It takes 1/2 an hour to process and then about 6 – 8 hours for the negatives to dry. And my negatives come out clean with no scratches.

I used my old Nikon FG with the 50mm e lens for this series of photos. I got close enough zooming with my feet and my granddaughter was so engrossed she didn’t even notice me.

I reserve my zoom lens for macro photography and almost always use one of my prime lenses for this sort of picture taking. Primes are so much lighter and faster. I like the speed. The combination of Tri-X rated at 1600 ISO and a fast prime lens f1.8 or f 2.0 is hard to beat for available light shooting. Some people call it available dark. LOL One of my 50mm lenses is f1.4 — I have four 50mm lenses.

I guess this means I like that focal length. 50mm (for 35mm photography) is a great focal length for portraits of kids. You get a natural perspective and it’s easy to throw the background out of focus. Gotta love the smooth bokah.

Besides my 50mm collection, my pro grade primes include  24mm,  85mm and a new 35mm AF lens I’m dying to test. Stay tuned for that one, it’s the first auto focus prime lens I’ve ever owned.

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I love columbines. Good thing because they will often show up uninvited in your flowerbed. We have a purple columbine on the side of the house that moved in and made a home for itself. Our white columbines were planned — my wife planted them in the back yard.

White Columbine (click to enlarge)

Although I’ve taken lots of pictures of our columbines over the years, this close in shot is probably my favorite. Until MaryT started Sepia Scenes, sepia toning my flower images never occurred to me. I’ve converted some into B&W with mixed success — some work and others are pale imitations.

You never know until you try and I think I hit the jackpot with this sepia image. The color original “pales” in comparison. This time, because I wanted to preserve the delicacy of the forms, especially the petals — without film grain — I kept the sharpening to a minimum. I also wanted to retain the whites so I used a light hand with the sepia toning — just enough to warm the image.

I’ll risk stating the obvious here. Some images ‘want’ to be color, some ‘want’ to be B&W and a few come into their own when they are sepia toned. Portraits are good sepia tone candidates and I consider ‘White Columbine’ a portrait. Old buildings are another good subject for sepia. Maybe because they’re portraits as well.

The best way to approach sepia toning might be to pre-visualize, to imagine a picture as warmer. Sometimes a straight B&W print will feel too cold. In a wet darkroom, you could choose a warmer paper. Here in the digital darkroom, you can use tinting to achieve the same result. Using just enough sepia toning can completely transform an image from cold into creamy warm.

You need only ask yourself if the image you’re considering ‘wants’ to be creamy warm. The White Columbine told me it wanted to be warm and creamy — so it is. The White Columbine told me it wanted center stage to show off it’s delicacy. I think the sepia toning has done this and done it well.

A big thanks to MaryT for hosting Sepia Scenes.

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Don’t ever be afraid to crop an image in your digital darkroom. Even a modest crop can be a big improvement in a photograph. And other times a more radical approach yields surprising results.

Night Reflections (click to enlarge)

This image is an uncropped scan of a 35mm negative. I really like this shot and I didn’t want to “ruin” it by cropping. I want a drum scan and an exhibition quality print made from this negative. This would force me into choosing a different print size.

The original is a 2:3 ratio and an 8×10 is a 4:5 ratio which means at least a modest crop. So I sat at my desk with a print this morning and played around with pieces of white paper, a ruler and a calculator.

As I played around with different cropping, I realized that a 4:5 crop for an 8×10 could be an improvement. I fired up my computer and cropped very carefully. Here’s the result. I had to drag myself kicking and screaming, but now that I’ve done the deed, I like this one better.

I knew I had to keep the window frame on the left, and as it turns out, the left side of the image is cleaner now. When I cropped from the right, I realized that I didn’t need the bright reflections at the end of the street and that maybe the image would be better without them. The eye is naturally drawn to bright spots and I don’t want the viewer’s eye to wander outside the image.

I like the 8×10 proportions now and don’t think I lost anything of the original. In fact, I think the image is stronger because I reinforced the central message. I’d call this a modest crop. I never touched the vertical, and only cropped enough horizontally to change the proportions to suit an 8×10.

I took a more radical approach here. A very tight crop gave me this nice portrait.

Here’s the original full scan of the 35mm negative. It hasn’t been spotted so you’ll see the signs of dust on the image. I grabbed this moment with my little point and shoot. By the way, the street scene above and this shot are from the same roll of film.

The full negative is a nice shot, but it’s much too cluttered. I suppose I should have (or could have) turned the camera when I made the photo but that can be awkward sometimes. In any case, this is what I had to work with. As you can see, I cropped in radically from the left and a little from the right. I ended up with about half the frame and a much better image.

I scanned this negative at 2820 ppi, my scanner’s highest resolution. I still have enough resolution to make an 8×10 print if I like. Don’t be afraid to experiment with cropping. I do it all the time because I’ll often see things I didn’t see when I made the shot in the first place.

The goal is the print. Post processing in the digital darkroom is an essential part of the creative process. Straight out of the camera is horse hockey. Experiment. Imagine your delight when you can transform that OK shot into a photo you want to hang on your wall.

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There’s no question in my mind that there are times when monochrome is the right medium for an image and other times when color beats the pants off mono. I love B&W and shoot it almost exclusively these days but I use color transparency film for my macro photography.

Red Begonias (click to enlarge)

I love begonias, especially red ones. This picture is the color original of the sepia image I posted the week before last for Sepia Scenes. And the winner is…. The red begonias?

Begonias (click to enlarge)

Here’s the sepia version. Yes it’s nice and I do like it, but when you compare it to the original??? The color version sings to me — yet the sepia version has a kind of timeless elegance. The media are different and those differences can be striking. Is there a clear winner? I really do like the red begonias, but something about the sepia version won’t let me go either. OK then. I like both.

I’m just getting started with my experiments. I have another sepia image of flowers waiting in the wings that has a magic that the original lacks. I bought two new B&W contrast filters for the express purpose of exploring macro and still life with B&W film.

Kind of like the Saturday matinee at the movies when I was a kid. Every week there would be a new episode of a serial before the main attraction. Will the hero survive the fall off the cliff? Beats me. I’m simply going to play around and discover. Some discoveries will stink while others??? Stay tuned for the next episode.

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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I normally don’t do reruns, but this is a special case. I’m revisiting this image because it was originally published this past November on James’ Weekend Reflections — the week before I discovered The Monochrome Weekend and missed the cut. I put a larger image up this time (I finally figured out how to do that — duh). Just click to enlarge.

Night Reflections (click to enlarge)

Of all the B&W images I’ve shot over the years, this may well be my favorite. It’s in my top 10 in any case. I used an inexpensive point and shoot Olympus Stylus Epic with a 35mm f/2.8 lens loaded with Kodak C-41 process B&W film.

I haven’t used C-41 B&W (for a few years) since I discovered Diafine and began developing all my own film. I bought a couple rolls of Kodak’s newest version last week. Now all I need is a one hour lab that runs a clean line.

Not as sharp as “real” B&W film, but the Kodak C-41 B&W (and Ilford XP2) has great tonality and amazing exposure tolerance. It’s excellent for portraits and the tones in this photo have me wanting more of the same.

Rather than repeat the story behind this photo, I invite you to jump over to the original post, Reflections: The Solitary Hour Before Dawn. I’ll give you a hint. This was the ultimate grab shot. I couldn’t even use the viewfinder. I got lucky again.

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Another trip on the way-back machine, this time to the summer of 1970. I was playing with my new Pentax Spotmatic and my nephews were playing a peeking game with me with me out in front of the house.

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While rooting around in my archives, I noticed that this photo of Marc peeking from behind the telephone pole isn’t just a fun photo, it’s a rich vein of reflections. Goes to show you that you can find reflections in the most unlikely places. All you need do is look — reflections seem to be everywhere.

It’s like the time we just got a new red car. When I looked down on the parking lot from the train platform, it seemed as though the lot was filled with red cars I never noticed before. I had red in my head that morning.

When I went to class the day I got my first pair of glasses, I though everyone was looking at me funny. They weren’t of course, but my mind was focused on the new glasses. I always thought I had good eyesight and here I was in my late twenties making a spectacle of myself again.

One of the courses I was taking (physics for non scientists) had a test for astigmatism in the textbook. Wasn’t I surprised when I flunked the test. You know how it is in college with all the reading and my eyes had been getting a bit tired lately… So I went to the eye doctor.

Walking home the day I picked up my new glasses was a real adventure. Of course I had to try them out. The world turned into a funhouse. I’ll never forget climbing up and down the curbs each time I came to an intersection.

Now I can’t imagine myself without my glasses.

It’s fascinating the way our minds work. Before James launched his Weekend Reflections, I hardly noticed. Now I see reflections everywhere I look. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit Jame’s blog, you’re in for a treat. Every Friday at 11:00 AM EST, James posts a new reflection of his own (and his are always good ones). Then James invites his fellow reflectors to post links to their latest and we all go visiting. Stop by…it’s a blast.

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Emily’s birthday was Sunday. She’s nine years old now.

Newborn Emily (click to enlarge)

I caught this moment shortly after Emily came home from the hospital in 2001. Em’s Aunt is holding her. Mom and Em’s big sister Megan are in the background.

I cropped the right half of a 35mm frame and added the soft oval vignette frame to isolate the ladies from the clutter. I thought this portrait was a perfect candidate for sepia toning.

Here’s the original B&W picture for comparison. I like the cooler, B&W version too. You can see how well the vignette frame works to isolate and focus on the ladies The vignette eliminates all the distractions..

Which camera did I use? I’m glad you asked. I used my still new, Olympus Stylus Epic point and shoot 35mm film camera. This marvelous little guy cost me about $90 back in 2001. The film? Kodak BW400-2, a black and white film processed in C-41 chemistry  (color film developing) by a one hour photo lab.

A big thanks to MaryT for hosting Sepia Scenes.

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I like my coffee black — no cream, no sugar, and certainly no fancy flavors that stand between me and the rich taste of a cup of good coffee. When I pull up a stool at my favorite diner and order coffee, I know exactly what I’ll get. I don’t need a fancy Starbucks menu.

Nikon F3HP w/ 50mm Nikkor-H lens

When I pick up my F3 I know what to expect. No wait for the camera to “boot up.” I simply switch on the built in meter (if it’s not already on), put my eye to the viewfinder and begin taking photographs. My left hand cradles the lens, my thumb and fingers select the aperture and focus. My right hand controls the shutter, shutter speed and film advance — all without ever taking my eye away from the viewfinder.

Press 1 for English… Press 2 to clear up a billing mess… Press 3 to inquire about your order… and on and on. When I use the telephone, I expect to speak to a human being thank you. Press the thingy wheel on the right to access menu 1… Press the dooflinger on the right while depressing tiny switch “A” with your fingernail to enable pseudo manual focus…

Please! When I pick up my camera, I want to make images. When I pick up my camera, I want it to disappear so I can concentrate on pictures. A good camera should be an extension of the photographer’s vision, an able assistant who knows when to shut up, do their job and stay out of the way.

It’s not rocket science. Set the camera so the proper amount of light hits the film (sensor), frame your subject, focus and press the shutter release. OK, so I’m lazy sometimes. I set my shutter speed dial to “A” (automatic), select the aperture I want (to control depth of field) and my F3 selects the appropriate shutter speed for me. All I need to do is frame, focus and shoot.

How about auto-focus? Manual focusing is easy enough, but I have another Nikon body (N8008s) that’s AF and I finally sprung for a nice new Nikon AF 35mm f2.0 lens. When I want auto-focus, I have it. If I don’t, I flip a simple switch and focus the lens manually. Piece of cake.

Did I mention that my F3 is tough enough to survive combat photography? And that the two tiny silver oxide batteries last a year or more and never need recharging? I can change focusing screens in seconds and if I want automatic film advance, I just attach my MD-4 motor drive. My F3 is the heart of a modular system that I tailor to suit my needs.

Nikon produced this top of the line, pro level camera for 20 years. I’ve had mine for almost 9 years and it never once let me down. I paid $290 for it on ebay. A few years after I bought it, I put it in the shop for a CLA (clean, lube and adjust) that cost me less than $100. No problems, I simply wanted assurance and got it. Everything was on spec and the repairman cleaned, lubed, adjusted and replaced all the light seals and mirror damping foam.

These days, Nikon and every other camera manufacturer come out with new & “improved” cameras every 18 months that “obsolete” the old models. Their top pro models are big, heavy, carry huge price tags and are so complex (with multiple, deep menu systems) that they can get in your way.

Digital cameras are finally catching up with film (almost). When I pick up my F3 loaded with black and white film, we work together as partners. We eliminate all the bloat and get down to the basics of making images, good B&W images. Even the finest, most expensive digital cameras on the planet can’t match the richness of black and white film.

And we do it simply and elegantly. Photography with a top of the line camera, fine optics and quality sensors (film) is pure joy and an extension of my vision — never an obstacle.

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