Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Negative Space

shoot-348Negative space in a photograph serves to draw interest to the subject. I’m beginning to think that negative space on my misfit shelf is drawing attention to what I need, and what I really don’t need.

I’ve been ridding myself of cameras lately, creating negative space. I had looked at some of them and couldn’t remember the last time I’d picked them up and used them. I’d looked at others and remembered I didn’t like using them, for some reason or another. Sometimes ergonomics played a part, but mostly it was because I did not like the results I got from them. I even found a couple of lenses I hadn’t used in so long I’d forgotten I owned them.

This is the down side of G.A.S. It will promise you many things when it hits you. The thrill of the hunt. The joy of winning an Ebay auction. The promise of something new in your photography. So you buy, and then the down side sets in. The thrill passes, and you’re left with a camera you really don’t care for, and it becomes another dust catcher. So you let it sit on the shelf, and eventually, the cycle begins again.

There are some folks who collect. I am not one of them. I acknowledge cameras can be works of art, and examples of good science made real, but to me, they’re mostly tools. A tool is to be used, and kept in good repair. If it isn’t used, it’s not living up to its purpose, and it’s time to give it the chance to do so.

shoot-347But the one thing that collectors do right is to look at every purchase with an eye towards curation. The closest I’ve come to this has been deciding what systems I wanted to use: Nikon F mount, M42, M39, P6, and so on. That got me to get rid of some random things a while back. But now, future purchases are going to be guided by what I need to fill in specific needs.

So no, negative space isn’t going to stop my G.A.S. It is going to channel it in to reasonable directions and away from the “oh, shiny!” type of purchases I have been guilty of in the past. While those have occasionally been fruitful, finding something unexpected, the vast majority of them have been a waste of time, space, and money.

Just as negative space in an image brings out the subject, it’s going to draw me towards what I really want, and need, to have, and in a productive direction.

Negative Space

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Doing it the hard way

Ishoot-345 was walking around shooting a camera I’m trying to modify, and finding the shortcomings in my work this past week. When I stopped to answer questions about it, the person asking was a bit astounded. “You only get one shot?” .

“Well, two. It’s a 4×5. Each film holder has two shots.”

After I said that he held up his digital p&s and went on about how many it held. Which missed the point entirely.

I’ll admit, I do a lot of things the hard way. It’s been years since I flew. I take the train when I can. I bicycle. I walk. I spend time doing things in a way that seems to most people to be the hard way. But it’s not to me.

I enjoy the process of things. I guess most people don’t.

When you’re on a train, you get to see parts of the country and meet people you wouldn’t otherwise. You eat well, and have wine while the countryside rolls past and it’s an enjoyable experience.

On a bike, you learn the contours of a place and experience it intimately. Cresting a hill under the power of your own legs is satisfying in the way that pushing harder on an accelerator doesn’t give you. Seeing a place solely from an interstate doesn’t give you a feeling of it, doesn’t allow you to meet anyone who lives there. You almost always see people at their best when you travel on a bike, they’re curious about what you’re doing and generous with their time and help.

shoot-260I walk to and from work, the store and home, and the vast majority of my errands. I nod hello to people who do the same thing on most mornings. I can just nip in and get a breakfast burrito on the way if I want it, or more coffee, without the hassle of having to park. I know the people who I buy from and they call me by name and remember what I like in my orders. Personal service is more enjoyable than the alternatives.

shoot-346When I shoot a film camera I enjoy every part of it. From selecting the film stock to composing and taking the shot. I enjoy mixing the chemicals and developing, listening to the comforting sound of water and never failing to be surprised and satisfied when a negative comes out. Printing is the best part of it, mixing science with craft, literally shaping light with your hands.

I always feel that people who live life other wise, hurrying around using the easy way are missing out on so much. I guess I prize experiences rather than craving checking things off of lists. The hard way is usually far better and satisfying for me. Which doesn’t make it the hard way, it makes it the way worth doing.

I just smiled at the guy with the p&s digital camera. We were standing right next to each other, having very different experiences, and living in different worlds.

Doing it the hard way

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Banjo Brothers Phone Pack, bar top mounted

shoot-343I’ve admitted to being a fan of Banjo Brothers in the past. Those crazy dudes from Minneapolis make some solid gear. The Phone Pack, bar top mounted is one of my favorites.

I’m definitely a commuter cyclist. I spend a lot of time going to and from on my bike. I’ll tour occasionally, but mostly I’m on my way to work or running errands. I’m firmly in the tucked pants leg, chain guard and fender camp and I like it. Commuting lowers your carbon footprint, clears your head, and makes you a better person. It can provide you with tales of daring-do, dodging cars and buses. It’s a good thing to do that’s good for you.

So I appreciate some solid commuter gear. I’ve already done revues on Banjo Brothers panniers and seat bags, which are solid commuter gear. But I’m not so sure The Phone Pack can be considered commuter gear.

shoot-342It’s a small pouch, holding a claimed 27 cubic inches, so not a lot fits in to it. It can serve as a pocket when you’re wearing bicycle shorts, which are mostly bereft of useful pockets. Keys and wallet can go in to the zipped compartment, and the phone can go on top, in a sleeve.

While in the sleeve, your phone is fairly protected from the weather by a clear plastic sheet. You can still operate your phone when it’s in there, the touch screen still works under the plastic. Which is handy, as the marketing information for the Phone Pack says, “The worlds best cyclo-computer is your phone.” This is very true, and the Phone Pack makes it easy to use your phone this way.

Everyone has their own favorite cycle app, I use Cyclemeter, but that’s not the only handy thing you can do with your phone since it’s so accessible. Not having to dig through a bag to find out if this little rain shower is going to go away soon or if the monsoons have caught you is a very good thing. Also, since Google’s bike route instructions are actually useful and getting better, it makes it easy to find your way using them when they’re right there and you can watch your little blue dot move down the trail.

shoot-344The Phone Pack is connected to your bars and the stem as well by Velcro straps. It’s not going anywhere once properly strapped on and those straps can be trimmed to fit cleanly.

As always, the Phone Pack can be purchased directly from Banjo Brothers on their website. But their website is the special kind of cool that will direct you to your LBS to buy if they carry it. Very solid, and very supportive of keeping your local bike scene alive.

Get your Phone Pack from the Banjo Brothers here.

The Banjo Brothers Phone Pack, bar top mounted

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Photographic field trip, a social shoot

Engine cowlings

Engine cowlings

Photography is pretty solitary most of the time. Stephanie shoots toy cameras while we walk and wander, but I don’t often hang around with other photographers. When I do, I often get questions about shooting film, or I just tend to zone out all the digital gear talk and wander off. It’s not very social, to say the least.

Part of that is where and what I shoot. I sometimes like to shoot in the woods, and not everyone likes to hike. I sometimes spend days in the 4Runner, wandering the mountains for ghost towns, and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea either. I spend countless hours bicycling and shooting while I ride. While I love and appreciate that Stephanie shares these interests with me, I don’t expect it to be everyone’s cup of tea.

So it was nice to get together with the Rocky Mountain Film Photographers and visit an airplane graveyard and shoot.

The propeller house. Hundreds of prop blades

The propeller house. Hundreds of prop blades

The group is pretty small, and very new, so for a first outing, it was fantastic. There was coffee, a bit of grub, and a good amount of shooting. We had to leave a bit early, since we needed to drive to Lyons, CO before 5, but it was still a good day.

I think I shot the smallest camera there using my Canon 7. It was fresh back from the shop, and I had missed using it, so I burned the last of that odd Rollei CN200. It turned out to be a good choice. I also shot some Ektar and Portra. I still haven’t gotten the hang of the Ektar yet. I know it was supposed to replace their positive emulsions, but I don’t think it is as good as hey were. I shot the Portra at the wrong speed, since it was loaded in to a film back for my Kiev 88CM that was still marked as holding Velvia 100. Even though I blew it, it still performed pretty well. Aside from shifting green in the shade, it wasn’t bad at all. I also burned some Delta 400, but I haven’t had a chance to develop it yet.



I almost never take my Kiev out. It’s heavy and awkward, and I lacked a proper strap for it. I picked up a cheap one to use with it that worked well enough. It’s going to let me carry that monster out more than I have in the past. I like big negatives, and this let me get some even though I did not take my large format out. I’m still waiting for the CLAC to be done so I’m limited to medium format as the largest I can produce now. But it’s a satisfying result, so I want more this summer.

Being social was a good thing. I’m voting more photographic field trips and coffee in the near future.



Shooting with film people prevented the digital gear talk, and I’d never looked though the back of a 8×10 before. That is a huge, startlingly clear image. I’ll need to master my 4×5 first, but some day. Thanks to Dan for orchestrating access, and it was good to meet fellow photographers.


Photographic field trip, a social shoot

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Mod54

shoot-336I haven’t shot that much with my 4×5 camera. But the experimental shots I’ve done have been a good learning experience. Development had a bit of a learning curve until I got a Mod54.

Traditionally, people developed large format negatives in trays. I’ve never done this, since I lack the room to easily try, but I have heard enough about scratching negatives that I was reluctant to try it. I have a Patterson tank, so I started with the taco method.

Like it sounds, the taco method involves bending the negative in to a taco shape, emulsion inside, and slipping a rubber band hair tie over it to hold it in place. You then place them inside the tank, and go on and develop as you would roll film. Then, once the rise cycle started, you moved the hair tie to allow the water to rise off underneath where it was, and you were done. In theory, it sounds pretty easy. In practice, it wasn’t as reliable as I had hoped. I had hair ties slipping off, and was finding the film curved along the inside of the tank when I opened it. There was an unacceptably high number of failures.

Some research turned up the Mod54 development reel for 4×5. And all those problems were a thing of the past.

Morgan O’Donovan, a photographer who lives in England, invented this reel for use in a Patterson 3 roll System 4 tank. It very cleverly uses a notch system to load and hold the sheets. Each sheet ends up curved around the center spindle with the emulsion toward the center. There is ample room for the chemicals to flow around during agitation, but the sheets are held securely enough they will not come adrift while you’re doing it. With the Mod54, you can develop six sheets of 4×5 at once in a Patterson tank.

The Mod54 comes with a warning that you may have to vary the amount of chemicals you put in to the tank. I found that I didn’t have to, however. In fact, it is just as easy to develop 4×5 with the Mod54 as it is to develop 35mm or medium format. This will save all kinds of time when I step up and shoot more large format.

Line up the notches on your film with the Mod54 and all will be well.

Line up the notches on your film with the Mod54 and all will be well.

There is a trick to loading the Mod54. Most people load theirs in a dark bag, as I do. The Mod54 has notches on the top of the reel you can feel in the bag. Line up the notches on the top of the film with them, and it will work perfectly. When loading you should also make sure that every sheet is in its own notch on the side and bottom to make sure there is separation between them. I practiced loading in daylight with some throw-away 4×5 sheets and had perfect success loading in the bag.

The Mod54 is by far the easiest way to daylight develop 4×5. It doesn’t require a specialized tank, nor does it require any modifications to agitation strategy. It’s going to be a huge time saver going forward.

Here’s the video on how to use the Mod54 from Morgan O’Donovan

The Mod54

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pictures of the neighborhood and a sense of place

shoot-334“So what are you going to do with all these pictures of the neighborhood?” Steph asked me the other day.

It’s a fair question. We take walks every day. To and from the grocery store, to and from Cheeseman or City parks. Sometimes out to Wash park and back via the flower gardens at Alamo Placita. Sometimes just a ramble around to stretch the legs. And because the best camera is the one you have with you, I always shoot some on these walks.

I know I’ve taken these pictures purely to exercise my eye. Sometimes they’re memorable, most of the time they are not. But they always help me to become a better photographer. Like any muscle group, the eye has to be exercised in order to make it stronger. And only regular exercise is going to help.

Maybe there’s a project in there. Sometimes you can look back at the sheets of negatives and think “hey, here’s a common theme” and make something of it. Not always, but sometimes. I’ve been shooting the decline of the old Central Catholic High School. Built as a high school, used as a homeless shelter, an AIDS hospice, and art studios, it was almost torn down a few times. The latest owners bought it to make it an office space, but nothing has happened for a couple of years now. It sits, empty, forlorn, vandalized, and rotting away. I’d love to see it make a comeback, but I kind of doubt it will. I’m the only person who seems to pay attention to the building on my walks where I shoot a few frames of it. Everyone else seems to ignore it.

Maybe that’s what I’m doing when I shoot these little walks we take. I’m recording change, keeping memories of what was once. I haven’t been in Denver that long, but the city has changed quite a bit already. The influx of people has led to buildings vanishing and apartments springing up in their place almost literally overnight. Even having only been here a short while, I have lost a few of the places I used to drink and dance. I got here right at the end of the Rock Island, and the pictures I took are pretty much all that remains of it for me.

shoot-335I suppose what I am doing is just establishing a sense of place. Memorializing the background where people lived their lives and had significant things happen that aren’t obvious without the back story. There’s a particular bike rack on 13th Avenue, for instance. Doesn’t look different from any of the hundreds of bike racks in this city at all. But it’s where I first kissed the woman I am spending the rest of my life with, and where I took her back and asked her to marry me. You never know how important a particular spot can be.

Pictures of the neighborhood and a sense of place

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The notebook army marches on!

Field Notes notebookYou may not know it, but there is a war raging among film photographers. A war for the hearts and minds of people who use film, a war for their very soul: notebook, or no notebook.

This is a weighty matter, I know. And I do admit I have a bias. But, in the interest of fairness, I’ll talk about both options for use recording the particulars of an image when you take it: f-stop, shutter speed, film stock, time of day, and so forth.

I recently won some of the Field Notes Cherry Graph notebooks. Usually, I don’t like graph paper in my notebooks, but I’m liking how it looks. It also is harder to smear than most, and I’m somehow feeling it allows me more freedom to write however I want on the page. The cover looks so much like wood I was not originally convinced it wasn’t. I like using them when I take my bigger cameras out, most especially on large format. I want to compare my results and learn from those big negatives.

I loaded Pocket Light Meter on my iPhone for comparison. Using it is pretty simple. You simply fire it up, select your film ISO, frame up the shot on the phone, then tap the log button and it records the scene. Once the image is saved, it gives you the option to add a note to be saved with the image. I have mine linked with Dropbox, so when I get back to the house, it’s already on my computer.

Pocket Light Meter

Note the space where notes go. I never fill it in.

So which do I like? Well, they both have their merits. Using an app like Pocket Light Meter is simple and easy. But I find myself just tapping through the note box and not entering any data, which is counterproductive. It’s not the app’s fault, it’s the fact I find the keyboard on an iPhone is not conducive to entering a lot of data. I sometimes mark a spot on a photo where I think it might need a dodge or burn in a notebook by doing a quick line drawing and pointing it out. It’s probably not something everyone does, but there’s no provision for it in the app.

So yes, I’m still a notebook carrying member of the Notebook Army. If you’re just recording the raw data of an image, then an app like Pocket Light Meter is the way to go. Do me a favor, though. It’s a free app, but it has the option of buying the developers a pint. Be a decent sort and buy a thirsty programmer a pint. I like the aesthetics and functionality of the Field Notes, which makes me more likely to use it. My own creative process works better with pen and paper as well. For now, those are my weapon of choice in this war.

Field Notes can be purchased here. Pocket Light Meter can be downloaded here.

The notebook army marches on!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Never get off the bike

shoot-330I’d been off of the bike for a while. Many things conspired to cause this. I’d been injured. I’d had health problems. It got cold and snowy. I started walking to work instead of riding to avoid the problems with traffic I was having far too frequently. It ended up being a long time off the bike. Too long.

I’d just had the bike tuned up for a tour that never happened. Which was a good thing. Like any machine, if you leave a bike sitting for a long while, it gets wonky. Just like older cameras need their shutters exercised once in a while, bikes need to be taken out and ridden just to keep them functioning. Entropy gets everything. And besides, the purpose of a bicycle is not to sit in the living room unused. At least mine didn’t suffer the ignominious fate of stationary bikes after the urge to exercise subsides. It never became a clothes rack.

All in all, the hiatus was a mixed bag. True, I needed to sort out the issues I was dealing with, but it wasn’t the most fun I’ve had. I missed all the good stuff a long ride does for me. When I ride, it clears my mind, and my mind became almost unbearably cluttered. I was miserable without knowing why. It affected my photography as well. The two activities have grown intertwined, and one seems to impact the other now. My creativity became stagnant and so did my work.

My favorite stop. Picnic tables where Clear Creek runs in to the South Platte.

My favorite stop. Picnic tables where Clear Creek runs in to the South Platte.

As I’ve shaped up and started feeling better, I got back on the bike and started putting miles under my wheels again. Either I didn’t realize how much better I feel now, or I just feel better overall when on a bicycle. I don’t know. What I do know is that from the seat of a bicycle, he world is a much nicer place, and so is the inside of my head.

I still need to make adjustments to being back, of course. I’ve found that I’m riding a little faster than I used to, which is not a bad thing, but I think I’m going to have to carry more food as a result. I’m usually starving once I get past 20 miles or so and I’m eating everything in sight to try to offset it. And, of course getting past the saddle soreness is always a pain in the ass. Literally.

shoot-331But still, I’ve missed being on the bike. I’ve missed going for miles for no other reason than just going for miles. I’ve missed seeing my home town from what I think is the best perspective: from a bicycle. I’ve missed being happier. I’ve missed shooting the sights.

Never get off the bike. As far as addictions go, shooting film and riding steel are the best.

Never get off the bike

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Domke F804 Super Satchel

shoot-327I may have mentioned I kind of have a bag problem. My beloved likes to poke fun at me about having so many bags because I’m in touch with my feminine side. I’ve had to put myself on a bag diet of sorts. When the closet got full, and so did the space under the bed, I had to cull the collection. The Domke F804 Super Satchel made the cut, though and got to stay.

Domke is a legendary bag maker. He made his first camera bag while working as a photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1975. Like that first bag, they’re all simple, rugged canvas bags with minimalistic interiors. Some people don’t like that about them. They like little specialized pockets and flaps for items. While I do find those useful in things like a shoulder bag for laptops, I find them useless in camera bags. The velcro pocket for SD cards always annoys me since I can’t re-purpose it.

The Domke F804 stays true to the line. It’s rugged, versatile, good-looking, and simple. I mistakenly thought it just had enough room for a camera or two, closer to the original F-2. It’s more than twice that size.

My 4x5, film holders, meter and all fit inside well. The only thing that doesn't is my tripod.

My 4×5, film holders, meter and all fit inside well. The only thing that doesn’t is my tripod.

The F804 is just one big space inside. It does have a mesh compartment on the back wall that I’ve never actually used. There is a spot that can hold a laptop in front of that space, and it has two huge pockets in front of that. The flap, which covers the front of the bag secured by a heavy-duty metal clip, has smaller pockets for electronics and light meters on the underside and two zippered pockets on the outside. Some people do not like the absence of built in padded dividers. I love it. This allows me to configure the bag in any way I want to use it.

The bag can be carried a few ways. It has a non-slip shoulder strap which is what I use most of the time. There is a harness of sorts that can be affixed to the bag that allows you to wear it like a backpack. It’s not really comfortable enough to actually use the bag as a backpack, but it is easier to wear the bag than carry it when rock scrambling a short distance to get a shot. It also has what Domke calls the Super Handle. It’s a rigid carrying handle that clips to the bag with metal clips. It’s heavy-duty and very comfortable to use.

It’s billed as a waterproof bag, but I wouldn’t submerge it. It does hold up to an afternoon rain shower pretty well, though.

This bag carries a lot of stuff. I’ll have my cameras and clothes for a weekend in it when I travel with lots of room to spare. Now that I’m trying out large format, I can carry my 4×5 with ease in this thing.

Domke is right. The F804 is pretty super.

The Domke F804 Super Satchel