A Year in Photos

Photography, fiction, and personal essays form my three primary creative outlets. For this blog's first 18 months, I used it primarily for photography. As I've returned to creative writing, I'll use this blog for fiction, too. Sometimes, when reality needs to be discussed more than truth, I write personal essays.

This blog will continue to showcase as many above-average photos as I can muster. Hopefully my written work will be as good or better than the visual. Whichever drew you here -- photographs or fiction, I hope you enjoy both.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Designs on Architecture

One of my 2012 goals is to determine if I can hold my own photographing buildings. Architectural photography, done well, presents some of the most interesting and striking images around. I'm not into photographic trickery, like high-dynamic-range images and substantial levels of image retouching. As art, extensive retouching has its place. But photo editing also robs people of the ability to learn photographic fundamentals and can make people worse photographers. For some of these photos, though, I needed to use Photoshop to correct some gear deficiencies. For instance, I do not own a tilt or tilt-shift lens. To accommodate this absence in my gear case, I used Photoshop's perspective control function to keystone some of the building shots below. I'll note that as a percentage next to the image capture data.

1/60th, f5.6, 35%. In order to prevent the perspective control from cropping the building top, I increased the canvas size about 15% in each direction and then distorted the image. A small rotation correction, as much as allowable without subject loss. This corrected some unevenness amplified by the distortion process. Lesson learned: photograph straight-on.

1/60th, f5.6, 8%. Hotel Vitale. Also increased the red and yellow saturations about 15% or 10% and dropped the blue and cyan saturations about 35%.

1/125th at f3.5. Digital monochrome conversion. In order to make this image turn out properly -- the sky was much brighter than the bus, -- I metered the bus and held the exposure lock button until taking the above shot.

1/640th, f5.3. Also used a wand mask, feathered to 18, on the bird. Dropped the bird mask and increased the exposure on that layer. Then dropped the offset on the back layer minorly and flattened the image.

1/320th, f11.

1/50th, f5.3, 24%. Let's end this post big with an above average reflection capture.

So here are a few lessons from this outing:
1- For building shots, to minimize distortion during perspective control processing, stand far back.
2- Leave space around the subject within the frame to minimize subject loss following perspective correction.

Monday, January 30, 2012


I took the FTN out last Tuesday to see if it had bad light seals or the roll of film I'd previously used in it had a flaw. This camera needs new light seals, and I have to order the material for that this week. It may be a fun how-to blog to share the repair process for that.

For added contrast, I used a red filter. That darkened the sky and lightened all the reds. The results weren't too shabby.

1/1000th at f22. Darkened the sky a bit with the gamma function. The best shot from this roll, I think.

1/1000th at f22. It would have been great had the bird been facing me, but regardless there's not tons to be mad about here. I cloned the left side and dropped it on the right. This preserved the original image and repaired damage caused by the light leak.

1/1000th at f22. Darkened the sky a bit to correct some over-exposure. There's a horizontal line going across the image, a bit wavy. I left it in. That's a stratline and results from dirt in the film cassette felt or a burr on the camera body where the film crosses, among other causes. Those causes both result in perfectly straight stratlines, though. I'm not sure what caused this as I didn't touch the negative until after it dried. And at that, didn't touch the emulsion. If it happens again, it will warrant further investigation.

1/500th f11. A different kind of bird.

1/1000th, f22. Very grainy. The developer was, I think, past its usable lifespan.

1/500th, f16. Here you can see mild damage caused by the light leak. On many images, this was substantially worse.

1/250th, f22. Another image damaged by light leak, so I had to again clone the left side and put it on the right.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sometimes a Jewel

I believe that the Balda Juwella is the oldest camera I own and have ever owned. Made in the early 1930s, I believe, this camera shoots 6X9 negatives -- 6 centimeters by 9 centimeters. Compared to standard 35mm negatives, these are huge. Since the film is basically the same, this allows for greater image quality in similarly-sized prints or much larger enlargements. Part of the issue with this film may have been that it expired in 1989, making its use difficult to predict and the results possibly tenuous. The undeveloped spaces between the negatives exhibited flecking and indicated that the negative film was not perfectly clear. So that could contribute, also, to the film being overexposed. OF eight shots, four were scannable. They are shared below.

I forgot my notebook last Monday, so I don't recall all the settings, but this was f32, and a long exposure with the shutter set to bulb. It was approximately 1.5 seconds or so. For stability, I set it on a trashcan across the street. A lady stopped to ask me about my camera while I took this shot, and explain to her son how cameras used to work. It was neat and I enjoy it when people ask about my gear. So that was fun.

I'm not sure what the white blob is, but I suspect a static discharge. It could also be flare or a film flaw.

Houseboats in Mission Creek. f22 or f32.

A bike rack. Handheld at f11 or f16.

1/25th of a second exposure, resting on the sidewalk. I'd hoped to get the whole train but hit the shutter too late.

A Year In Photos -- Week Five

This week yielded mixed photo results but much good news as I added three working cameras to my shelf and managed to get two others already in my collection to work properly. My SRT 102 and Nikkormat FTN, with some cleaning and new batteries, now have working light meters. In addition, my Nikon F3 is back and working and I added a Pentax K2 and Nikon EM. This week, in fact, will feature the F3, K2, and EM.

Monday: For fun, a folding camera! This week you'll see results from last week's outing with the Juwella. The results were, to be kind, poor. It seems my Sekonic light meter is not as accurate as hoped. Everything was fairly overexposed. This week's folding camera will be a Zeiss Ikon 515/2 (B 97684) with ShangHai 100 ISO. You may recall from a couple weeks ago my problems with the ShangHai paper leaving dots on the film. To prevent that, I re-rolled the film onto a used Tmax backing, a much higher-quality paper.

Tuesday: Nikon F3 (1635441) with the Nikkor-Zoom 43-86mm (506282), Foma 400 film, and a Nikkor Y48 filter. Foma film benefits greatly from a yellow filter.

Wednesday: Pentax K2 (7024716), Pentax-M 50mm (2507002), and Pan-X 125 ISO with a yellow filter.

Thursday: Nikon EM (7179116), Nikon 35-80mm (4438066), and Foma 400 with a dark amber filter. I've never used this filter, a Hoya, so I'm excited to see the results it yields.

Friday: A second folding camera enters the lineup -- Kodak Retina IIa (EK624702), using Pan-X 125 ISO. I'm sad, actually, to be using the Pan-X. These are the last two rolls I have and, in all likelihood, are the last two rolls I will ever again see. This film has been long out of production and, I assume, there are no plans to change that.

But, without additional delay, let's see what this week holds for you:

The Juwella, when it's on, returns great results. It stops down to f32 and can deliver images of exceptional clarity. It was not on last week.

On Tuesday I took the Nikkormat FTN and a telephoto lens out for ship and bird spotting. The meter was then not working, so some of the shots weren't perfect. And, as bad, the light seals are dust along the door. So most of the photos had light contamination. And I cross-spooled the negatives leading to additional image failures. Through all that, a few shots came out.

The N70 almost always delivers great results. Here is a digital monochrome conversion from last Wednesday.

Thursday I tried out a new lens, a 28mm Telesar, for my Minolta SRT 102. Wow, this lens vignettes like it's inside a tube, but it returned some good results amidst a roll of many blurry or missed-focus shots.

The AE-1 is a great camera and the kit 50mm lens among the best kit lenses. It returned some nice results, but the lab I used has stopped changing their chemicals because they're going to stop developing film entirely in a month. So the results are, again, not up to par in terms of IQ.

This week we'll also have a special Saturday edition from a four-hour walk I took along Market Street and union Square. Fifty or so photos turned out well (of about 170), and I'll share some this week as well as the extensive photo editing done to improve the results. As a sample, this was one of my more-heavily-edited shots ans required separating the background, desaturtating the colors, and increasing the shirt's blueness about 6%.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Welcome to 1908

You may remember my last adventure with the Mamiya/Sekor 1000DTL where all the shots came out very overexposed due to me forgetting a battery for the light meter. Well, readers, I remembered the battery this time. And I think the battery is almost dead. The light meter still did not respond well and the shots were, again, very over exposed. So I had two shots turn out, the two where I ignored the light meter. One of those is below. For the other shots, rather than use my scanner which would add substantial scanner noise to the images, I walked over to the local hardware store and picked up some plumbing supplies. Tomorrow I'll show you what I got and how they're used. For now, I used, in manners not intended in their design, a variety of tools to make a slide carrier. Earlier in the day I had dropped a 72mm UV filter, and it cracked. That filter provided a run I could use to mount the negatives on the camera. I'll explain it all tomorrow. It's a great concept with sub-par implementation.

Here was one of my two photos that turned out well-ish. It's very overexposed. Since I was on a work lunch, I decided not to keep notes. But I think this was 1/30th at f4.

So why did I call this post Welcome to 1908? When I put the thick negatives in the plumbing-bits slide copier, I tried a variety of exposures and setting to see what would yield the best results. And those results are below. And they look like they were taken in 1908 on an old box camera with home-made film. So and interesting artistic thing, but not practical for high-quality reproduction.

Super grainy, super contrasty. Not exactly a resounding success.

This one turned out the best: least grain, fewest image flaws. The white around the border derives from the slide duplicator's design. I masked the front to reduce light intake and flare. This resulted in dark margins on each image that, when reversed appear light.

Not sure what they were fishing for, something small though. Perhaps sardines? The sea gulls were out in force, though, and people with nets were all along one of the docks fishing and pulling in a lot of fish.

And here are those people with their nets.

As I lined up this shot, one of my colleagues thought it would be fun to make hawk noises. The seagulls flipped out and began taking off in huge numbers. Had this shot been properly exposed, it may have been a good shot.

Today's lessons:
1- Homemade stuff does not work to professional grade. It may be fun for some Lomography-type work, but probably isn't good enough for serious work.
2- Buy fresher batteries.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Indoors at Westfield

I took the Super Travenar indoors on Wednesday because the weather was terrible for photography, as noted in yesterday's post. But I also had color film in the K1000, so with the scans worth keeping I had to compensate for the fluorescent tinging in the curves function. I raised the blue (especially the light blues) and dropped the greens. So all of these photos had the same post-processing, some color correction.

1/30th, f2.8. Tea for sale at Lupicia. Smell the teas then bring the cards to the salesperson. The teas provide an olfactory bonanza. Harsh, fruity, wine-scented, the teas provide diversity far beyond expectation. The K1000 did not enjoy metering with the Travenar. Perhaps because it doesn't fit in the Pentax adapter exactly correctly, the meter kept giving me wildly false reading, such as one-second exposures wide-open outside. I need to try yet another new battery in that camera.

12 seconds, f22. I totally guessed at these settings, but seem to have been pretty much spot-on. I tried a number of escalator long-duration exposures but the others were all double exposed. I think I had my finger on the rewind sprocket release while advancing the film. Oops. Well, that's a whole series of photos I can go back and take again when I run out of tea.
I like how the escalator looks like a solid belt, like a moving walkway on a slant. Man would it be fun to have a slanted moving walkway. I want one in my house.

Full-second exposure, f11 or f8, not sure if this was the first or second shot I took of the same subject.

I'm not sure which architect designed this mall, but I love this view. They did well with this open space.

Lessons learned today:
1- Invest in some fluorescent color-correcting filters if I plan to use color film inside ever again.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Brisk Bayside Breeze

Tuesday was a fun photo day. I hopped behind a chain gate and snagged a couple closeup photos of a stuffed dragon and a graffiti sticker. It should be noted that the chain only covered the vehicle drive, a sidewalk went right through where I was shooting. I just like to make it sound like I live a life of danger. Did it work? Great. Let's move on.

I got out twice on Tuesday to take photos -- once over lunch and once after work. I forgot my notebook for the second walk, so many of these photos won't have notes. This was a long exposure, though, at least one second, braced against a lamp post.

Here's a tree. Bark tends to make a good, contrasy subject for monochrome photography. If you're ever out taking pictures and are hard-up for an easy subject, trees don't complain about having their picture taken. Nor do they come after you swinging an umbrella. Just sayin'.

Have I mentioned before that I dislike graffiti but am less disapproving of sticker graffiti? I may have. It's worth repeating. This is a three-piece penguin sticker on a mooring post. I'm impressed that it's three pieces. This picture is super blurry because of the Travenar. There I go again, acting like a Formula One driver and blaming my gear.


This image looks very muddy. That's due to the poor lighting. Overcast skies have the advantage of dampening harsh shadows and not making people squint, so they're good for photos with people. But poor light reduces contrast and leads to poor image quality.

1/180th, f4.5. I had to Photoshop this one substantially. The sky was pure white so I used the magic wand to grab a non-contiguous mask and feathered it at, I think, 95. Maybe 65. Dropped the gamma to about .4, flattened the image, and repeated a few times. The last couple were contiguous masks. Ultimately, I recovered it but I shouldn't have let the image be that overexposed in the first place.

1/45th f16. No post-processing here at all. This shot just worked. The RT seems to more accurately meter non-native-mount lenses when they're stopped way down than when they're way open.

1/90th, f6.3. The shadows in this were a bit washed out, so I began post-processing with an overall contrast bump. After that, I used the magic wand to grab the over-exposed areas and feathered them at 65. I copied the layer and pasted it directly in place. I dropped the gamma to .3, maybe .2, and did a transparency at 45% or 55%. That made the highlights a bit less blown-out and added some character to the shadows.

So what are the lessons learned today?
1- Lenses matter. This is common sense, but all cameras function basically the same way. Sure some have more features and bells and whistles to break, but mostly they all do the same job: hold a lens and film. The lens you use will not make you a good photographer, nor will it make your photos turn out well, but it won't hurt your chances, either. Using a bad lens simply sets you up to fail.
2- Weather controls photography. Bad lighting leads to bad photos. Photography is an art form based on light and if you want to create good photos you need to work when the light is good, typically in the morning and evening.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Life in the Digital Age

This is my first post this year with the K-7. This is a masterfully well made camera and demonstrates that Pentax, when they try, are every bit the company of Canon and Nikon. That said, Pentax won't actually get to play with the big boys until they release a full-frame DSLR. Know who will be buying that when it comes out (or within a year, depending on how long I have to save for it)? Yes. Me. Pentax needs to release a full-frame DSLR so I don't have to buy a Nikon one.

Anyway, I got off on a tangent. The K-7 is great and it works well with old M42 lenses. That's one thing Pentax, I think, does better than Canon: Their sensors work better with old glass than I understand Canon's do. My understanding could be wrong, though, since I've never shot a Canon DSLR. Maybe I should borrow the Canon DSLR at work for a week.

Anyway, finally, here are some photos. The Travenar challenge was to take five photos: building, street scene, portrait, landscape, and closeup. With the K-7, I caught all five, though the landscape was awful and should never be viewed. The following nine photos turned out decently well. If you want to pixel peep, you may, but the Travenar does not have great lines-per-pixel rendering abilities and you'll be disappointed. You may be happier to just enjoy the photos as shown. :D

And yes, I know the sensor needs cleaning. I've since done that. That said, I started the day by hopping off BART to grab a quick shot of this Bank of America building. Don't get me wrong, Bank of America and I have a very adversarial relationship, but the vantage of this shot is great. This time, I got on BART before the doors shut. So, that was nice.

Oh a quick note, for this shoot I forgot my notebook. You're welcome to look at each photo's EXIF data if you want to know the shutter speed, but I neglected to record the aperture.

At lunch I hopped on Muni for a quick ride and ended up at AT&T Stadium. I do like the Willie Mays statue a great deal. So this was my backup portrait in case I couldn't get one which was better. I managed, to, though, in the next photos.

This seagull thought it could scare me. The only thing that scares me about birds is when they get a taste for human and start eating people. Don't believe ti can happen? Just you wait. I'll prove it!

Here's a different bird flying away to circle around and come in for a kill shot. Oh yes. These things happen.

Why are birds terrifying? Because of scenes like this. No one leaves a jacket and bag full of groceries behind. Whoever was feeding the birds clearly failed to bring enough seed and, as retribution, the birds ate them. Photographic evidence! Man-eating birds! It's just like Hitchcock predicted. And this qualified as my street scene shot.

While beating a hasty retreat lest the scene also include a digital camera and half-eaten cargo pants, I stopped to grab a closeup shot. This is a decoration on a fence post. All the marina's fence posts have these. It works.

This is a yacht club near the marina. That means I'm not allowed. I once pronounced it "ya-CH-it" and was forever banned from all yacht clubs, events, and am not allowed to wear sailor garb. Those yachting guys are seriously well organized.

After leaving the marina, I headed back for Muni. Having taken now a full three-hour lunch (but only clocking out for one, cha-ching!), I decided to return to work and write some e-mails. But I decided to grab one more closeup on the way and see how this lens renders saturated colors. Result: decently.

After work I hopped off the BART train again to end the day the same way I began it: a long shot of this building. However, the day did not end exactly as it began because this time I didn't get on the train before the doors shut. At least that BART stop has a bathroom.

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