Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Week of 06/24/2013

“I Expect Nothing…”

Location: 2nd near Chestnut
File Size: 11 x 16 @300 dpi
Camera: Nikon Ftn
Lens: Nikkor 105 f2.8
Film: Tri-X, ISO 200
Develop: HC110 1:49 6.5 mins @68F
Scan Epson V500
Printer: Epson 3880/ Piezographic Inks
Proof: Cone #5 Baryta Paper

This shot was taken back in April. I guess it’s my theatre background; the wall and the poster felt like an excellent backdrop. I waited across the street, camera to my eye, set and ready.    

I didn’t realize that the person captured had a camera until I printed it. BTW, you should never carry your camera casually hanging down by your feet as if you prepared to hurl it at Goliath. Better to keep it in your bag or with the strap wrapped around your wrist while gripping the camera and letting your arm extend naturally by your side.  That way the instrument is easily brought up to your eye and you’re not likely to let it slam into anything. The other advantage is the camera is not nearly as noticeable as it is hanging it around your neck.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Week of 06/17/2013: The Road Less Traveled

Camera: Lumix G2
Lens: 14-42 Olympus ED

ISO: 200

Conversion to b&w: Photoshop via channel mixer and gradient mapping

Print Size: 11.5” x 15” @270 dpi

Print: Epson 3880/ Pieozography K7 Inks/ Moab Lasal Paper

 I originally had another photo prepared for this week, since I tried to get a jump on things before the Jazz Age Lawn Party that was this past weekend on Governors Island. I’ll save that shot for next week.

The photos from the vintage photo booth are here on Facebook:

These were done using a special camera I designed and then had built by sculptor Christopher Smith. The rig allows a digital camera to capture the ground glass image from a 1950’s era press/view camera. It’s a little tricky to use, but one soon becomes accustomed to its idiosyncrasies. 

I had wanted to do some shoot walks in the Big Apple for some months now, but the timing and psychological space never seemed to work out. Surprising myself at my efficiency in getting the party images post-processed, I determined to seize the moment and spend some time in NYC photographing. The walk went from Jay Street, Brooklyn in DUMBO to Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue, to Henry Street, across the Manhattan Bridge, into lower Manhattan and uptown and west to Varick Street, where I again caught the subway.

One thing I’ve learned is to simply go for the jaunt and see what happens; forget about bagging the great photo and enjoy the landscape and what unfolds. Let the mind wander along with the body. Luckily, I love to walk and simply take in what’s there, the only destination being to arrive at a state of being fully present. Alfred Stieglitz talked about the creative photograph aiming to be “an equivalent;” that is, a formal expression of what the photographer was feeling at the time the shutter was pressed. This is all well and good, but on the practical end, there are other convergences that have to take place. In fact, there are too many to discuss here, both internal and external, and traveling the road that courts serendipitous moments is the real work. While not the whole answer, a large part of getting the muse of chance more on one’s side rests in getting behind the camera as often as possible.

The Brooklyn Bridge is too much a tangle of tourists and bikes for my taste, unless it’s very early in the morning. The pedestrian walk of the Manhattan Bridge (bikes travel on the opposite side), near lunchtime was practically deserted. I could stop and take a shot as it pleased me. There is a wire mesh fence to contend with, but the Lumix, because it is not a full-sized dslr, but a micro 4/3, can stick its zoom lens right through with no problem and leave a little maneuvering room to boot. The only problem to contend with was the bouncing of the bridge from the Q Train that goes by. You don’t notice it when simply walking, but look through the camera’s magnified spot for focusing by eye, and the vibration becomes quite evident. Luckily, the weather pattern was very stable, the Sun very bright and I could use a high shutter speed to arrest any telltale motion plus a small f-stop for a deep field of sharp focus.  I patiently waited for the wave phenomenon to damp down, using the time to frame a stronger composition. 

The print was reasonably straightforward to make and could be printed full frame. Being evenly lit, brightly but with a reasonable dynamic range, it required minimal masking other than a special channel mixer layer mask for the sky to make the clouds show. I used it to pull back the blue prior to conversion to b&w. I applied a slight gradient to deepen the right side slightly and improve the symmetry. The left foreground had some fairly dusky areas and some planes that I lightened to make the overall image better tonally balanced. It only took 19 small proofs and about a morning of work to arrive at version with which I was tentatively satisfied.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Week of 06/10/2013: Two for One

Print Size: 11.5 x 17
Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2
Lens: Olympus Zoom ED 14-42
ISO: 200
Print: Epson 3880/ Piezographic Inks/ Moab Lasal

Please step down…

Philadelphia is a city that is constantly in motion. The open sites, the digging in the earth, the structural skeletons of buildings going up and the ruins of old construction coming down, are often in my viewfinder. (I wish there was more re-purposing and restoration.) The building collapse last Wednesday at 22nd and Market Streets in addition to being a terrible tragedy had a further chilling dimension for me as I had been in front of the site a scant two days previously photographing it. I’ve been documenting that row of buildings in its various stages of demolition from the very beginning when the salvage company removed the ornamental façade from 2132 Market, a fantastic structure with a carved stone façade that ended its days as a pornography emporium. 

This shot is from a different spot. It was taken the previous week at 20th and Race. The building was so undistinguished I barely even noticed it in my travels. Apparently the front had been redone at some point in a glass and tile, industrial fashion, popular in the 50’s/60’s. The interior was clearly much older, likely from the turn of the century.

The combination of the white wall, the contrast-y shadows, the abundant details and textures, and the dark rubble in the foreground made this a difficult print to get right. I was close to finishing up when I just kept on looking at the print and feeling it was off, unbalanced, so I rebuilt the file, changing the cropping slightly.

A print remade and a lesson learned...

For last week’s image, I suspected I could make a stronger print and I wanted to test the limits of the image-making chain.  Even after fiddling with the existing file yet again, I was not satisfied. There was tonal separation in the dark areas of the print, which was visible in the 13 x 19 version. This is usually the result of overdoing the adjustments in Photoshop, such as radically changing the lightness/darkness or contrast of an area. You lose intermediate tones and end up with patches. Was the problem in the camera, or the software, or the way I was working? It’s easy to point the finger at the tools but my experience is that the biggest fly-in-the-ointment is often the guy behind the camera or the editing desk. I’d much rather turn deficiency into a “Eureka!” moment than blindly invest in more gear.

The original source file looked fine, but I could tell I had really bumped up the contrast in certain areas when making the black and white print. It’s very easy to overdo in Photoshop and radically changing brightness or contrast often leads to mid-tones dropping out and a non-photographic, unpleasant look.

I did an end-run around the problem by making multiple .tif files from the .raw data the camera creates, one for each problem area of the print, doing my best to get each as close to the envisioned final result as possible. The goal was to make the tonal and contrast adjustments in Photoshop as mild as possible. I then employed one aspect of a technique I often use called “layer masking.” Layer masks allow certain areas of images aligned and stacked one on top of the other, to either show or not show. The fusing of the visible areas from different layers to make a unity is often the tricky part. There are ways to automate the masking process, but each image is unique. Invariably it seems I have to zoom into the image at high magnification and “paint” the masking in for certain delicate areas. The pay-off is it allows a lot of control in manipulating the print when the ambient lighting is not quite ideal. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

06 03 13: In The Wilds of Center City

Camera: Lumix G2
Lens: Olympus 14-42 zoom at 33mm, f5.6
ISO: 200
Print: Epson 3880/ Piezography K7 Inks/ Moab Lasal

This image showed up in my neighborhood late in an afternoon of unplanned shooting. Printing and editing over a long morning that had started very early, I had walked up to Penn to use their Internet and found them closed.  I decided I needed a break and went to see what my lens might find.

The white flower caused the most problems since it needed to be both bright and show detail. It had to be as perfect as possible within the limitations of the original capture. Tonal control had to be employed on four different areas: the petals, the underside of the flower, the large leaf, and the background. This meant three areas that had to be carefully masked. I worked with a color base image and even though I could use the color to select various areas, there still was a lot of manual labor involved filling in areas and cleaning up edges. Dodged and burned in the darkroom, a result like this would probably be nigh impossible even for a virtuoso printer, which I never was. A good print often took a whole day and a garbage can full of tests.

On the twenty-first iteration (shown here), I felt I had a print that worked.  I backtracked slightly, to version sixteen, deciding that somewhat less illumination and contrasting detail around the base of the leafy plant made for a stronger print. Since I can’t resist experimenting, I continue on, and have hit iteration twenty-six as of the time of this writing. In the course of making different versions, I had used two different color-to- black and white conversion methods on the leafy part of the image, but it wasn’t a “one size fits all” proposition. One was better for the top, the other for the bottom. So, I’m in the process of merging both into one file. Obsessive? Perhaps, but why compromise?