Archive for July, 2011

The first and only time I got a decent shot of a hawk was on a cloudy Sunday afternoon about 7 or 8 years ago. My wife was all excited. She ran upstairs to tell me there was a hawk in the yard and I should grab my camera. I happened to have a roll of ISO 400 B&W film in my F3HP so I snatched the camera and my longest lens, went out and took the following series of shots.

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This small Cooper’s hawk sat there on the branch unconcerned that there were humans prowling about. There was no time to get my tripod and no good place to set it up anyway so I shot handheld and hoped for the best.

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The sound of the shutter from my first shot must have caught the hawk’s attention because the bird is looking right at me here. This photo is nearly identical to the first except for the hawk’s head. The tree branches are sharper here because I probably stopped the lens down a bit.

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This image is my favorite. I worked my way behind the hawk and got much closer. I was on the edge of the slope leading down to the small creek braced against the trunk of a tree that leaned out over the edge. Whew! I managed to get a decent shot without a tripod and without falling into the creek.

I had a 200mm Nikkor lens and a Nikkor 2X tele-extender on my camera so the effective focal length was 400mm. I have no idea of shutter speeds or aperture because I didn’t take notes. The extra two stops from the ISO 400 film helped a lot.

This wasn’t the first time we had a hawk in the yard. Unlike the red-tailed hawks that have landed in the yard on occasion, the smaller Cooper’s hawk preys on small birds and isn’t spooked when people are around.

I missed a great shot of a red-tailed hawk one day because I had the wrong camera. I was in the yard with my tripod mounted 4 X 5 Speed Graphic on the other side of the yard when a red-tailed hawk landed in the middle of the yard with an unfortunate pigeon in his talons.

I’m grateful I had the right type of film in the right camera when the Cooper’s Hawk showed up to have it’s picture taken on that Sunday afternoon.

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My wife’s china cabinet has clear glass shelves, a mirrored back, and lots of glass on the sides and doors. I was looking for a good setup to make a portrait of a wire sculpture I did many years ago. That idea didn’t work out but I noticed the crystal statuette of a cat I gave my wife for our wedding anniversary one year. Aha!

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This cat begged to be photographed. I used my wife’s Canon digital point and shoot in macro mode with the flash turned off. The image as loaded into my photo editor was dark but was an easy fix with the tone controls. Then I got the idea to convert the color image to B&W.

I converted the original, dark image to give me more leeway with tones after the conversion. I liked the result so much that I decided to leave it dark and mysterious. I reduced the image for web display, sharpened it a tad and added my watermark.

John Daido Loori and his mentor, Minor White talk about photographing without expectations. If you set out to make images with a particular goal in mind you miss the discoveries, the images that “find you.” I had no idea I was going to make this “Reflections on a Crystal Cat” image until it found me. I’m glad it did.

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There is nothing in this world quite like the joy of a small child. Hop on the way back machine for a journey to Clark Park, West Phila. in 1970.

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I must say, my timing was perfect with this shot. The sheer joy on that little girl’s face puts a smile on mine. I knew I had this photo somewhere in my archives and found it the other day among a small stack of prints I made in my wet darkroom days. I’ve searched high and low and cannot find the negative. This digital image was scanned from a 5 X 7 print.

So, instead of wishing I had the negative, I made the best image I could from a print that’s probably a bit too contrasty. Quit complaining John. You found the image and that’s all that counts. Enjoy.

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This is an informal portrait of my friend Phi, taken 45 years ago in Saigon, sometime during my one year tour of duty as an Air Policeman (security) at the Tan Son Nhut airbase.

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Phi didn’t always approve of the pictures I took of her. Maybe this was one of those times? I always liked this shot but struggled with an ill processed negative until now. I was finally able to pull a decent image out of that negative by using some of the digital restoration techniques I’ve learned from Ctein’s book: “Digital Restoration from Start to Finish (second edition)“.

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Hop on the way back machine once again for a trip back in time to the corner of 13th and Market Streets in Phila. circa 1971.

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I’m tempted to title this photo “march of the zombies” — not a smile to be seen. The photo zeroes in on the grumpy looking guy in the business suit. Imagine how the people in this image would collapse into heaps on the ground if the aliens animating their movements turned the zombies loose?

I’m not being fair. These folks are ordinary big city, wary of strangers people going about their business on a typical day (brrr).

Look at the building behind those folks. The Wanamaker’s department store was a Phila. landmark for many years. It belongs to Macy’s now. Did you know this store houses the largest operating pipe organ in the world? And this marvelous instrument has been fully restored.

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This is a fun photo. I haven’t seen one of those lumber carriers for many years. I remember seeing them often when I was a kid. This one is empty, but you can imagine one of these vehicles trundling down the street with a full load of lumber.

If you look carefully you can see the Linton’s sign in the background. Linton’s is another long gone Phila. institution. Linton’s had restaurants all over the city. I ate breakfast in our neighborhood Linton’s many times. Scrapple, eggs and coffee. Yes!

When I was in high school, we would go to the Linton’s in So. Philly just over the Passyunk Ave. Bridge and sit for hours drinking coffee and eating grilled stickies.

These old street photos stir up the memories. I’ll dig through my archives to see if any more turn up.

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It seldom occurs to us that the older folks in our lives, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., were young once and that someday we’ll be the old fogies.

Have a look at this photograph of my grandmother and I, taken in May, 1949. Grandmom was 60 and I was 4 1/2 years old. The photo is one of my favorites and my first serious restoration effort. The inspiration? I needed a good image of my grandmother for the second edition of her cookbook that I edited and produced as an e-book in November, 2010. I used this image on the title page.

I finished the cookbook, “The Collected Recipes of Frances K. Sullivan” in plenty of time to burn the e-book to CDs and mail out to my sister and cousins in time for Christmas. Everyone else got a wrapped copy in person on Christmas Day. I used this restored image of grandmom crocheting in her favorite chair for the cover.

The first edition of the cookbook was done in November, 1987 and printed using a dot matrix printer (and more than one ribbon). Mom helped me decipher grandmom’s handwriting and put the book in order. Mom also paid for the printing and binding (spiral bound 8 1/2 X 11). And we surprised everyone in the family with a copy of the book that Christmas 23 years ago.

This time around I had far more sophisticated computer resources at my disposal. There are 20 chapters in the cookbook. It occurred to me that it might be fun to include images from grandmom’s life in the book so I inserted an image at the beginning of each chapter.

I had discovered a small suitcase filled with old snapshots in mom’s garage. The photos belonged to my late Aunt Martie Ann. As I went through these images looking for material, I saw grandmom as a young mother. I saw her growing family. I realized that these images weren’t simply old photos — they were much more. They were windows into the lives of my grandmother and her family. Real people!

The images I put into the cookbook whet my appitite for more so I published a photo book. This is the cover I created for that project. The book is 8 inches X 8 inches printed on real photo paper. It contains 46 digitally restored photos and sits on my mom’s coffee table. I gave it to her as a Mother’s day gift — she loves it.

The cover image is another of my favorites. Here’s Frances K. Sullivan (she wasn’t a grandmom then) as a young mother in her early thirties with her first three children. The building in the background is the farmhouse. Mom wasn’t born until the family moved to Phila. a few years later.

The reason the image is light and ghostly on the right is because it was double exposed. I cropped and fiddled and came up with a decent image.

The inspiration for my digital restoration journey began with the desire to include images from grandmom’s life in the new edition of the cookbook. The journey continues and takes me deeper into the lives of grandmom and her family. Just the other day I ‘finished’ and published the restored image of grandmom and uncle Harry when grandmom was 10 years old. I restored another image of her grandmother (Uncle Harry’s mother). The journey continues to expand.

I don’t know where the journey will lead but I’m certain of one thing. The images I restore digitally will preserve these precious images and bring them to life for our children, grandchildren and generations to come. And I’m enjoying every minute of the journey.

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Among the mother lode of old photographs my mother found in her bottom dresser drawer was an old photo of my grandmother (Frances K. Sullivan) with her Uncle Harry (Clifton). My grandmother was born in 1888, the photo was taken around 1898 so grandmom was all of ten years old. I set out to restore this photo as best I could.

Here’s a scan of the original that I made for illustration purposes. It’s a faithful reproduction of the original and not suitable for restoration.

Here’s the scan I used as the basis for the restoration. I made the scan on my Epson V600 flatbed scanner using VueScan Pro software. I scanned 48 bit RGB tiff at 1600 dpi. The high resolution and the color made it easier to isolate damage once I got the scan into Picture Window Pro for editing. I learned these two tricks from Ctein’s excellent book: “Digital Restoration from Start to Finish — Second Edition.”

Here’s where I am now, a work in process. Am I done yet? For now yes, but I expect a better result as I learn more. This was a tough one.

I experimented with different scan resolutions. I played with scanning as B&W, but in the end, I followed Ctein’s advice and used the color scan as the basis. I extracted a monochrome version from the color scan using the channel mixer monochrome transformation in PWP. The idea is to combine one or more channels into the cleanest possible B&W image.

Quite a bit of the damage was blue so I boosted the saturation of the color image by about 60% to exaggerate the damage. This made it easier to make masks of the damage.

I still had to do most of the heavy lifting by hand. The toughest issues were reconstructing my grandmother’s mouth where the emulsion was missing and getting rid of the massive stains across the front of the photo.

I’m still not satisfied with grandmom’s mouth. Believe me, reconstructing her mouth was a serious challenge.

Digital restoration has a steep learning curve which is why I picked this image for practice. I figured if I can restore this one, the next one will be a lot easier. I haven’t used masking all that much in the past. Making good masks is an art form and another steep learning curve.

I think I’ll put this image aside for now and work on my next challenge. I have a photo of my grandmother’s grandmother (my great great grandmother) that was taken well over 150 years ago. It’s a simpler portrait that appears to be in better condition. I’m eager to show a finished restoration print to my granddaughters. I can tell them this is a picture of your great great great great grandmother. Hmmm. This is fun.

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My grandmother used to say: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” I had to have one. I just had to have a little Minox spy camera. It was a neat little camera that slipped into my pocket. But the negatives are tiny with a mere 8mm x 11mm image area. I had one roll of processed film and a handful of prints from that roll to work with. Wishes? Instead of wishing for bigger, higher quality negatives, I worked with what I had and picked my four favorite images.

I wonder if this young woman even knew I was right in front of her taking her picture? She was deep in her own world completely unaware that I had captured a particularly expressive moment in her life.

Hands can be so expressive. The posture of mother (I’m assuming here) and child says it all.

Another decisive moment. I love the woman’s smile, her posture and the atmosphere of this shot. A genuine human moment.

Another human touch. Another smile. Another moment in the life of a Saigon street vendor. This is kind of a fun image. The shy smile, the woman’s hand and her friend with the neat hat squatting across from her. The baskets help pull this image together.

Getting these images into a presentable format was a challenge. I used scans of the prints for the middle two and tricked my Minolta scanner into scanning the tiny negatives for the first and last images.

The Minox lab (I had these developed in the States right after I came home) did a real number on my film. They managed to fog the edges of some frames, scratched others and all of them are filthy.

I got rid of that camera after one roll of film. Fortunately, I salvaged a few good shots from that roll. Enjoy.

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It’s into the archives again for a couple of candid shots I made in the Phila subway(s) in 1971 (or thereabouts).

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I got lucky and was in the right place at the right time for this photo and caught the young lady unaware. She had no idea I took her picture. If I remember correctly, I was crouched on the Market Street El platform (13th street) positioned so one of the car doors would be in front of me. Yes, I got lucky. The girl’s pose was perfect and nobody in the way. I’ve always liked this shot.

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Ya wanna buy some flowers? This guy loved having his picture taken. I probably stopped to chat but no way can I remember something that happened 40 years ago. This shot was taken in the 13th street subway/surface station.

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Two Women Waiting

I dug into my archives this week for another image from my street photography days in Phila.– back in the early 1970s.

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I shot a series of images on the subway platforms at 13th street. This photo captures two women (friends probably) waiting patiently on the platform for their train to arrive. They had no idea I was taking their picture.

The lighting stunk and probably still does. I’ve always had a steady hand shooting in available light. I’m sure I had the lens (which one I don’t remember) wide open for this shot. The picture was taken with B&W film and my Pentax Spotmatic SLR.

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