The Digital Age as of 2008

The only still camera I have these days is a Nikon Coolpix S10. Most of the digital SLR’s have the LCD fixed to the back of the camera, and most don’t give a live view through the lens, although I think there are a couple of exceptions now. The fixed LCD is the case with most of the point and shoots as well, but the S10 has the advantage of having the lens mounted on a swivel, which is incredibly handy. Gone are the days when I had to lie down, squat, or just shoot blind to get a shot. The 10X zoom is another nice feature, and built-in macro capability--which is rare in premium zoom lenses for SLR’s--and something I use a lot. A nice set of features that you can put in the pocket of your jacket.

As far as technique, I haven’t invented anything new, but things I find most useful are underexposing by -.3 or -.7 stops to get the exposure I want, and then using the half-pressed shutter to lock in the focus. I seem to prefer high-contrast subjects, and usually the highlight detail is more important than the shadows, but the highlights are not necessarily where I want the sharpest focus. In pressing the shutter half-way the camera sets both the exposure and focus, so by putting in the appropriate exposure compensation, I can control both.

Another handy feature I’ve only recently discovered after all these years is continuous shooting. In any situation where camera or subject movement might be an issue, holding the shutter button down in continuous mode minimizes the potential jiggle in pressing off a single shot, and increases the odds that--with subject movement--you may catch a still moment among the multiples--very handy when shooting flowers in a breeze.

Photoshop is indispensible, and I’m a fool for the clone tool. Blemishes and stray bits of dreck disappear, revealing the perfect world we dream of... Throw in a shadow/highlight adjustment, or curves for tricky situations, and all is well; all is exceedingly well

The Era of Film

There is nothing particularly innovative about the way the outdoor photographs are taken. When I was doing color I used Fuji Velvia, and since I started doing black and white (in 1993) I use Fuji Neopan 1600 if I don't have the tripod, and Kodak Technical Pan if I do. The 4x5 has only been used as a studio camera, with either Kodak TRI-X or Technical Pan.

My darkroom technique is for the most part conventional. I learned most of what I know from Fred Picker's book, ZONE VI WORKSHOP, his video, PRINTING WITH FRED PICKER, the Newsletter he used to publish, and numerous other books (several by Kodak), and magazines.

One thing I do fairly often that is a little out of the ordinary is copy 35mm slides and negatives onto 4x5 film. I jam a 4x5 negative carrier into the corner of my 8x10 easel under the enlarger and project the 35mm onto it. (I have one carrier set up with a piece of print paper, back side up, for focusing.) I pull the slide out of the carrier in total darkness and start the enlarger, usually for something like 6 seconds with the 80mm lens at f16

My "studio" photos are in two series. One involves variations in lighting and arrangement of Eve's last bowls; the other is of the surface of moving water.


The Bowls:

Eve Lurie, my fiance, was a potter for 27 years. Her glazed pots were beautiful, but in the play of light on her unglazed bowls, texture and form became the dominant interests. When she was torn away from pottery by the lure of the Macintosh I asked if she would give me some unglazed bowls to photograph. She exceeded my wildest dreams by giving me five nested sets as a present.

In photographing Eve's bowls I have hardly begun to explore the possibilities. All the images so far involve variations of lighting them with a Kodak Carousel model 750h slide projector. I mounted the projector on a square of plywood with holes drilled in the corners to which I tied pieces of clothesline. I use the clothesline to suspend the projector under a step-ladder so that I can vary its height and angle. The bowls are arranged on the floor on a piece of black felt. Another variation on the lighting is that I can project images (usually shots of mini-blinds), onto the bowls.

bedroom studio

My studio/bedroom. On the wall are a watercolor by Larry Lewis, "Trout Metro-paulus #2", and one of my colored-pencil drawings.

The Water:

Water has always been one of my favorite subjects, and I used to spend a lot of time wandering along creeks looking for just the right ripple or eddy in just the perfect light--which would change, of course, by the time I got in position and focused. I was stirring my coffee on a locomotive one night when it occurred to me that I could create a more stable environment indoors.

My first set-up was a large, shallow, dark-brown plastic tub salvaged from Eve's studio. I filled it with water on the kitchen floor and set my camera on a tripod opposite a 60-watt clip-on light attached to the refrigerator handle. I would stir and trip the shutter with the cable release on the 35mm (I didn't have the 4x5 yet), with the 80-200 zoom (my favorite lens) and Technical Pan. I tried various speeds and exposures and almost always got several interesting shots per roll, many of which I have yet to print. Since I got the 4x5 and moved into an apartment with a bathtub, I have also used a piece of hose to create artificial streams in the tub with my upgraded lighting (halogen clip-on work lights from Home Depot) suspended from the towel-bar. I use heavy-duty matt-black aluminum foil (Looking Glass Photographic Arts in Berkeley) under the water to make its surface more reflective.

Sometimes I print straight from the original negatives which gives mostly white figures on a black background; sometimes I copy them and print from the copy to reverse the overall tonality.

The Computer:

I start by scanning 8x10 black and white prints into the computer, and from there the sky is the limit. Some of the output is fairly close to what you could get by cutting and pasting, except incredibly easier. I did an early cut-and-paste version of Passion Flower, without the border, and it drove me crazy. Some things, like the border I just mentioned, would be so labor intensive by conventional means that no one (except maybe Jerry Uelsmann) would ever do them: burning, dodging, cutting, pasting, ad infinitum.

I copy the final computer file to an EZ-135 cartridge and take it to my local service bureau, Custom Process, where they convert it to a 4x5 negative (currently $40 a shot), which I then bring home and print.

An Example:

"Eve's Last Bowls Singing", is one of two 16x20 inch prints that were in a Spring exhibition at ACCI Gallery in Berkeley, California, at 1652 Shattuck Avenue (510) 843-2527. The idea for something like this image began when I was washing multiple prints of the first bowl compositions in a large tray. The way the prints overlapped each other and isolated different sections brought attention to the pattern potential of the isolated parts. I started by cutting and pasting bits of scrap prints, then moved on to scanning the prints into the computer and putting them together there.

photagraph of manipulated bowl photo

Eve's Last Bowls Singing

This particular image started with part of a photograph called, "Eve's Last Bowls # 1", the first composition I did with them.

first step

Eve's Last Bowls, The Starting Point

I scanned an 8 x 10 print into Photoshop, selected the area in red, copied it into a new document, duplicated it, and then flipped and rotated the two fragments to get them into this position:

piece 2

After adjusting their positions and cropping, I used the rubber stamp tool to pick up and paste bits of texture until I had the two pieces welded together:

piece 3

I then duplicated this fragment and arranged the two images like this:

piece 4

Another duplication and flip resulted in this:

all the pieces together

Putting four of these together gave me the basic image, then many more scaled down were put together to make the border. To give the border depth, I selected the areas that needed shadows and overlaid a partially transparent gradient of the foreground color.

With the computer file complete, the next step was to copy it onto a Syquest disk and take it to Custom Process in Berkeley, where they made a 4x5 negative, which then went to the Photo Lab, also in Berkeley, where the 16x20 print was made.

I liked this pattern so well, I used it in another composition, also showing in the same exhibition at ACCI. The second is called, "Two In One Suspended," the story of which includes a lesson on the importance of following directions.

Two In One Suspended

This image contains the first photograph I ever made with my new 4x5 camera, way back in 1993. I had been carrying this worn conch shell with two tiny scallops wedged inside since about 1973. Gail and I, married at the time, were driving down Highway One in a 1968 Volkswagen Squareback, camping along the way, and picked up a couple who were hitchhiking somewhere on the coast of Northern California. They were on their way to Los Angeles, which I intended to pass through on my way to Mexico, and we got along, so we traveled together for a couple of days. Gail had to get back to work, so we left her at the Greyhound station in Santa Barbara. It was one of the hitchhikers who picked up the shell in question at the beach at Montana de Oro, and then left it, along with a bag full of other treasures (all of which I still have), in the back of the Volkswagen.

When I bought the 4x5 camera, I knew I finally had the equipment to do the shell justice. I immediately ran into problems, however, in getting the right exposure. I was using Kodak Tri-X professional film, which is rated at ASA 320, but when I took what should be the right exposure, there was nothing on the film. I kept lengthening the exposure until I had the negative I wanted, but only after that did I discover that I had misread the written instructions on inserting the film into the holder and had been putting it in backwards. It is possible to get a good negative by exposing through the anti-halation backing on the film, but it takes a very long time. I had put the time to good use, however, by using it to add extra light to the two wedged-in shells with a Mini Mag-lite.

With my primitive lighting set-up, it took a lot of burning with custom-made matt-board masks to get the final print, which, four years later, I scanned into Photoshop to use in the composition here:

two in one suspended
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(The End of Photo Techniques)

Light & Dark Inc

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