Monday, November 05, 2007


Life is very strange and wonderful.

Ever since I started taking photographs (40 years ago, in fact) I wanted to emulate the "great" photographers of the 1920's thru the 1960's. If I could do that, then I too must be "great". Or so the theory went.

Recently, I have shortened the cycle-time between image capture and final "product" by moving to digital. What's happened for me is an extremely rapid development of my own view(s) of the world. Image quality has improved. The chemical darkroom and even the hand coated palladium processes sit idle. Instead, electrons whiz around, sharing images, gathering feedback, stacking up more views then I ever got from gallery shows.

I don't so much care what the "greats" have done, nor do I wish to any longer emulate them. What I want is to continue to uncover that which is uniquely "me". Hopefully there will be enough time between now and when I become food for the worms that I will have created something of value to someone. Someone like "me".

Light from Within

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reaching back 80 years...

Working with Sofia was a joy. She's a very fine dancer and knew, instinctively, how to begin a pose. My wife and I would refine it to the point everyone was happy.

The Canon 40D with it's 3inch LCD helped greatly in the review process. Instant feedback is something I never had with film, even with Polaroid.

The lighting is William Mortensen's Basic Light. This comes from his text "Pictorial Lighting" c.1937. It worked well then and the same lighting works well now. William Mortensen's Basic Lighting using two off-camera strobe or constant lights is "timeless". In his opinion, Basic Lighting was good for creating images where a formal Notan light is expressed. You see this kind of light used by Botechelli as well as nearly all pre-Renaissance artists. This image utilizes what Mr. Mortensen would could a modified Notan light. The predominant light is the use of "limb-effect" to give depth and curvature to an image. This is the first time I have consciously used this approach and I think I'm hooked.

William Mortensen first described a two off-camera light setup in his c.1937 book on "Pictorial Lighting". In there he describes six unique lighting setups.

Each lighting setup is very easy to understand and deploy, and he decried the use of too many lights positioned in too many ways. In fact, he called the effect of deploying too many lights as "butchery by light", and provided a few examples.

After reading through several of William Mortensen's books, I came to realize that my use of light boxes and umbrellas was inappropriate to the ideas I was attempting to express.

Further, I learned that Mr. Mortensen's Basic Light (of which image deployed) is best used for presenting an iconic, formal idea. Since my intention was to create something "timeless" and in keeping with the Notan sense of line and texture, the use of Basic Light seemed best.

Had I wanted to express a "familiar" image, I would have deployed Mr. Mortensen's Dynamic Light. That is still a two light setup. However, the image gives a heavily modified Notan expression of light.

In all events, I have learned to avoid the harsh, though dramatic, Chiaroscuro light that so many artists used during the Renaissance. In fact, in America these days, I see that Chiaroscuro is the predominant light form used in photography. It has that sense of drama that's overly popular, but seldom lasting after an initial emotional "hit".

William Mortensen wrote many books that were published by Camera Craft of San Fransisco during the 1930's and 1940's. In my own work, I'm finding that his "Pictorial Lighting", "Modeling", and "Outdoor Modeling" books to be the most useful. There are many great suggestions, guides on what to do and what to avoid, and in-depth presentations on lighting and what to do with it. Mr. Mortensen's works and writings pre-date St. Ansels by several decades and are still useful today.

The studio space we rented for this is down at Euphoria Studios. Jane Archer is the kind lady who runs the operation. It's a dance studio and attracts some wonderful teachers and artists. I look forward to continuing to work with Sofia, Jane, and Jane's dance troupe Mandala.

Post-processing included heavy Gimp with layers, Gaussian blur, tints, and contrast controls. These have palladium tints for the background, lettering, and vignetting. Sofia is slightly (and I mean slightly) softened, where certain areas are pulled out as perfectly sharp. The palladium tints appear to work very nicely with Sofia's skin tones.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No thought

I was resting comfortably in the living room the day after I hung my Camerawork Gallery show. I was pretty much hammered. Knackered, I think the British call it. It was a very emotional thing to hang 25 Palladium prints and to step back and view it all. It's difficult to take it all in at one look.

As I was sitting there feeling worn out from the 6 months of preparation, image selection, printing, matting, and working with the gallery curator, I let the mind drift and cut it loose from any moorings where it usually docks. The living room is long-ish and slightly narrow. The mind can make weird associations. This mind thought about how it felt when visiting the Sri Gopalaswami Temple just outside Bandipur in southern India last March.

An engineering manager colleague and I paid a visit to the God Krishna just as a family came in to pray and receive His Darshan. Three pujaris (I think they call them archicas, or something similar in Karnataka State) were chanting and waving ghee filled lamps in front of the God.

It was stiflingly hot inside the small low ceilinged temple. My colleague and I were stuffed in tight with the family into the Sanctum Santorum. At one point as the chanting, praying, singing and worship was reaching a peak, one of the pujaris motioned us to make a clear path from the eyes of the God to the doors of the temple. Everyone stepped against the wall so Krishna, now awakened, could view the world. It was incredibly moving to see the tears in the women's eyes as they sang their songs. It was fascinating to watch as the men bowed their heads and prayed their prayers.

What struck me as I sat in the living room half a world away from that beautiful moment of devotion in India was the silence of the God. Unable to do much other than just sit there, I watched as the mind made it's various associations and stilled into contentment. In silence was something intangibly profound and just out of reach in it's incredible depth.

I sat quietly for awhile to feel the silence as I remembered the God, the family, the small temple sitting high on a hill. I looked out on the world, through the front window, out over the street, and up the hill to a beautifully clouded sky.

I wondered if this is what my India colleagues meant when they said that the Gods and Devotees silently watch the world. This, even when carved from stone. This, particularly when they have been imbued with the devotional energies that we sometimes call Mantra. This, regardless of whether we humans are there to witness silence or not.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Getting to the outter edges of the craft

After working with a black and white background as a way of making the foreground more visible I thought I'd better try my hand at all color images to see how that might work.

Here's a first attempt. I like the process and level of control I have over the final image. So... it's coming down to being a matter of mere "vision" on my part as to what gets created.

Monday, July 23, 2007

And now... for something completely different...

I find that I'm really enjoying exploring all kinds of photo creation and photo manipulation. In the following image, it started out with what I felt was a very distracting background of multiple jewel tone colors. Using the Gimp and Layers, I made a Palladium toned B&W layer and erased anything that represented color that would show through from a lower layer in the image stack.

I like this technique and will be experimenting with various images and styles and tone combinations to see where this might lead.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Notan - Real Master Artist Light

Here is a concise definition of Notan. This is the light that William Mortensen felt was long lasting, classic, serene, and the very best for use with "art" pictorial images.

Chiaroscuro - Light by the Masters

Here's a concise definition of Chiaroscuro. It is this light that William Mortensen felt was overdone by artists in the West.

Friday, June 15, 2007

William Mortensen

For some reason, St. Ansel couldn't stand the man. Early in my life I "believed" St. Ansel and attempted to follow in his footsteps. Over time I have come to know that the Grand Landscape is not for me. And I have come to appreciate William Mortensen.

I'm left to wonder if there might be a way I can emulate Mortensen's "look" from the digital workflow?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Back in the day...

Back when my adopted daughter was in college, she would periodically come back for a visit. Each time the kids would come home I would see if there was a "theme" we could use for making a few photos. Something to capture a "memory" of what was.

In similar time, I was quickly working my way through various camera setups and had just acquired a new studio light setup. The lighting was Alien Bees, which I very much enjoy using. The camera gear was something I had picked up at a photoswap after selling a beautiful but very unreliable Hasselblad system. The replacement was a larger than the 'blad Mamiya RZ kit.

People I spoke with said that Zeiss was the best. Period. I reluctantly started using the Mamiya RZ. I was thinking about how it's optics couldn't stand up to the 'blad and their Zeiss glass. This photo-session taught me to not be concerned about Mamiya optics. This is a Good Thing(tm). You see, the Mamiya RZ has proven to be utterly reliable and the final images are every bit the match for anything I ever squeezed out of a Hasselblad.

On this occasion, my daughter started goofing around with a raccoon tail that someone had given me. One thing led to another and suddenly I'd run through a whole roll of 120 film. Those were nice times. Things got ugly between us later. I miss the good times.

Monday, June 11, 2007

... after all these years, finally, using a soft focus optic...

I can't tell you how many soft focus lenses have passed through my hands. It started with my participation in the early days of eBay. Some of the optics I have owned, put on the shelf, and then sold unused by me were brilliant. A Pinkham Smith. A Verito. Something very rare that got shipped to Japan. It nearly breaks my heart thinking of it all.

I convinced myself each and every time that I prefer very sharp contrasty images to the classic soft focus Mortenson kind of image. I say "convinced" since I never ever actually tried my hand at any of it.

Recently, I have come close to dumping all my LF gear and going straight MF and digital. Scanning MF negs yields 50mbyte sized files with enough detail to make a LF guy weep.

As the wheel of life turned, a very inexpensive 150mm Mamiya RB f/4 Soft Focus lens came my way. It arrived last week. I swore an oath that I would not let this lens go until I had a chance to try it.

So... this past weekend I hauled the Mamiya RZ up out of the basement, mounted it on a tripod, grabbed my wife's very beautiful bouquet of roses that she grew and cut just before the rain hit, and put them somewhere I could focus on them. The light coming into the living room where we were working on these images is north light. It is the most fabulous light to work with.

The film was Kodak TMax100 rated at ISO 50, souped in Rodinal 150:1 for 20 mins at 72F with agitation 5seconds every minute. The negs were then scanned using a Nikon 8000ED film scanner. The processing was through the Gimp (no Photoshop here!) with minimal curve manipulation (I pulled the bottom end of the curve snug against the lowest value on the image). I then took a gum over palladium tint and sample colorized it over the base image.

150mm Mamiya RB f/4 Soft Focus lens at f/4 - This image used no diffusion disks and is shot wide open. It is understandably very soft. There is a nice glow about the highlights that bleed into the shadows.

150mm Mamiya RB f/4 Soft Focus lens at f/5 - This image used f/5 diffusion disk. It is understandably still very soft. The glow around the highlights that bleeds into the shadows is less than the an image shot without a disk.

150mm Mamiya RB f/4 Soft Focus lens at f/5.6 - This image used the f/5.6 diffusion disk. The image softness is better controlled than when shot with either the f/5 disk or no disk wide open at f/4. The image appears to glow and gives what appears to me to be a very pleasing effect.

150mm Mamiya RB f/4 Soft Focus lens at f/6 - This image used the f/6 diffusion disk. This disk has a smaller center hole, as one would expect from a smaller aperture, and the tiny holes that surround the center hole that allow the spherical aberrations through to reach the images from the edges of the optic are quite numerous. I am amazed at how much softer this f/6 image appears than the f/5.6 (with it's wider center hole and fewer tiny surrounding spherical aberration passing holes. Still, the effect is quite pleasing.

150mm Mamiya RB f/4 Soft Focus lens at f/8 - This image used no diffusion disks and on the in-lens aperture set at f/8. There is some glow in the highlights that come from the design of the optics. But at this point, the effect is minimized. It appears that by f/11, the Mamiya 150mm behaves just like any "properly corrected" photographic lens.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Street Art - a folio of images

I have been working to create a folio of images. The new HP B9180 printer is beyond belief. I just LOVE that thing. All I do is take an image (scanned or native digital), work it in the Gimp (a free Open Source image manipulator that rivals full blown PhotoShop), and send the finished image along to the printer. Out comes something like this.

I'm thrilled!

Now... it's off to make a folio of Street Art from India (movie poster art, actually), three folios of images from World Heritage Site temples from the Hoysala Dynasty (found in Southern India), and a folio of color images from around Karnataka state. I think I'll add a quotation from Indian poetry to each image too.

See what happens when a person "gets started?"

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

India - working on a sadhu part two

I realized after yesterday's post that comparisons between the various tints might be difficult. Each image was handled individually. So any consistancy between the images for contrast, resolution, and tint handling might be invalid.

Here's my second try. The first image uses Ken Lee's "Bronze Quadtone".

The next image uses my sampled chocolate. This is the one I think is a little too magenta. But I'm willing to reconsider this position.

The last image uses my sampled second chocolate tone, with yellow added to the mid-range and very slight yellow added to the highlights.

I'm not yet sure, but it feels as if Ken's quadtone tint has more depth than the two chocolates I sampled.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

India - working on a sadhu

I was recently visiting the Sri Gopalswami Temple in Southern India. Periodically I visit the state of Karnataka on business. This trip I hauled the wee-digi-snapper instead of my usual 4x5 inch Ikeda Anba view camera. The goal was to get "sufficient" image quality while being mobile and unteathered to a tripod.

In general the experiment worked well. I was able to take images, look at them briefly and then reposition myself for another go at a subject if I felt it needed it.

The sadhu was sitting near the entrance of the temple and was begging for money. My colleague gave him a few rupees while I attempted to capture something of the spirit of this man and his way of being in the world.

After I returned home I "sampled" a chocolate color from one of the chocolate, well, colors. I dropped this into the Gimp to see what might happen. I LOVE this color, but I think I need to work a little on a few of the tones. I have images were I needed to bring the shadow detail "up" and the coloration in the highlights suffers to become nearly duo-tone.

In the mean time, here are three comparison color "samples". The first is Ken Lee's "Bronze Quadtone" palette.

This image was toned using a straight chocolate "sample" over the standard grayscale. No alterations were made beyond what Gimp gave me. I'm not sure I like the tones yet as it appears to be too magenta on my LCD displays.

The last image shared here is with a second chocolate color that I sampled. This time the color came from one of the commercial chocolate supplier backgrounds. After I "sampled" the color over a standard grayscale, I noticed that it too contained too much red or magenta for my taste. So I bumped the mid-tone yellow up a bit and tweaked the shadow with just a smidge of yellow too. It's not half bad and is getting closer to the chocolate tones I'm looking for. I may have to play with this palette a bit to get it "perfect", but at least this is a start.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Tones - Bronze Quadtone, Afga BS111 (in two forms)

I have a print that has the tones I really love. It's something that's not been made for decades and comes from an original silver-based print. The paper came from Agfa and was labled BS 111 Double Weight.

There were several formulations of this paper. The one I like contains warm tones throughout. I have one surviving print of my grandfather and the image is just about perfect.

Using GIMP Sampling I was able to take a scanned copy of the print (in color, of course), and apply the tone sample to a standardized black and white gradient. I don't know if the scanner was able to faithfully capture the original colors, so I modified the gradient colors slightly to get the gradient to match my monitor's coloration.

First, here is a copy of the image that uses Ken Lee's Bronze Quadtones.

Here is a copy of the image that uses the raw scanned gradient from the Agfa BS 111 warmtone print.

Here is the copy of the image that uses the slight manipulation of the original Agfa BS 111 warmtone gradient.

I want to look at this for awhile and consider if any progress has been made in "improving" Ken's original Bronze Quadtone sample.

Looking at a LCD, the "agfa" samples look too green. Ken's Bronze Quadtone sample looks just slightly magenta compared with the original print tones. So, at first pass it appears that the print scan does not match the print tones of the original image. Bummer.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tones - Palladium, Platinum, Bronze Quadtone

I wanted to see how closely the digital toning technique compared with native Palladium hand coated to COT320.

For some time now I have been using Photographer's Formulary Palladium print materials. I love the warm tones and rich details it gives. Sometimes the "dmax" isn't what I'm used to in original silver based prints. Overall, though, the Palladium processes have opened up my print making along new vectors of art.

To compare original alternative print techniques against new digital tones I took two images and sliced them into three parts. The "lower" section would remain the original scanned Palladium tint, the "middle" section would take on a "platinum" tint selected from the GimpGuru, the "upper" section would take the "Bronze Quadtone" tint from Ken Lee's experiments on the topic.

The image of the old steam powered tractor is very instructional. The differences between the three tints are very clear. This leads me to think that digital tints might not duplicate the original Platinum or Palladium print tones.

The image of the old tractor hood is also very instructional. There are practically no differences between the original Palladium tones and the GimpGuru "platinum" colors. Ken Lee's QuadTone tints remain quite different. This exercise now leads me to believe that original alternative print tones may be duplicated in digital. I also learned that there are significant variations in original alternative print tones between prints. While intellectually I "knew" this. "Seeing" the effect first hand was a little startling.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Linux and the GIMP - IIa

Coming back from lunch today I was taken by the spring time fallout of buds and pollen. Here's what the camera saw.

Here's what I saw.

Interesting, isn't it?

I think I really like Ken's bronze quadtone. Of course I'm keeping an open mind and am searching for additional color samples.

Linux and the GIMP - II

I have been following the tutorials on the GIMP and found one on vignetting. The description of the technique is found here.

My starting point is the following color original.

Then I converted the Mode to black and white with a little contrast curve manipulation.

I RIP'd Ken Lee's Bronze quadtone colors from here.

Then I followed the vignette example in the tutorial to generate the following.

The image changes with each step and leads to something closer to what I first envisioned when I tripped the shutter on the wee-digi-snapper.

Next exercise? Dodging and burning an image using the increasingly powerful Linux and the GIMP!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Linux and the GIMP

I found that I can apply multiple tones to an image. This is entry is a quick discussion and example of what's possible.

If these hold up to printing through a digital printer (such as HP's B9180 or Epson's 3800), then I'll be really excited! It could be a nice technique for selective toning and quickly generating beautiful B&W prints.

The GIMP discussion on this topic is found here.

Starting with the raw color original digital capture 10mpixel image (size reduced for this blog), we see what the camera recorded. No manipulation was applied.

Now we take a quick look at a little image sharpening and contrast curve changes.

Then I switched the mode to Black and White.

Here are the first two image samples from the toning exercise. Both are "sepia".

Here is one in Platinum and Palladium.

Here are two in Palladium. I think this emulates warm and cold Potassium Oxalate developer.

Here are two more. This time in Platinum. Again, I think the difference is what one might see between warm and cold Potassium Oxalate developer.

Now I need to sit back and study these to see if any one in particular strikes me in a positive manner. From reading the GIMP instructions, if I don't like what I see, I can always create my own toning samples.

This may quickly prove to be really powerful stuff!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Messages Whispered

Hidden behind a planter, this message peeks out at the world.


StreetArt can be concise and to the point.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Metal on Metal

One last thought for the day...

I love motorcycles. They are very freeing. While I no longer ride, there are days when I think about it.

One of the things I see is that my level of enjoyment brings a level of visual awareness that more easily translates into a pleasing image. Well, at least from my perspective.


Still on the theme of how I "see", the digi-snapper allowed me to create this image rather quickly. It took only a matter of seconds for me to "see" the scene, frame it, and to take the image.

If you were to put this side by side with a 4x5 image, I doubt I would be able to tell the difference in composition. I would have taken the vary same image if I'd used a large camera.

Using the Digi-Snapper

Well, I have been using the new digi-snapper as a precursor to my trip to India. I need to become familiar with it's operation so that I can capture what I want when I'm under the stress of overseas travel.

What I'm finding is that I tend to view the world as I do when working with one of my large format cameras. The 4x5, 5x7, and 8x10 cameras have "taught" me to frame the world in certain ways.

This image is a prime example of what I'm seeing is my world view.