Monday, September 29, 2014

My kids: the best journalism award

My son Logan (center) chasing a ball down the field during a soccer game earlier this season.

Friday night lights. Feature assignments. Low light miracle shots taken in dungeons called gymnasiums. These are the things that build character and build a portfolio in photojournalism. Who would have known that they would also have another positive outcome: making photos of my kids.

I love taking my 2.8 lenses, a digital body and a few memory cards to sporting events and dance recitals. Sure I can't get the good spot right on the side line or up front on the stage, but that "make due with what you got" photojournalism mentality mixed with a little skill and some luck makes for some fun and memorable photos.

My daughter Kalli at her dance recital this spring.

It feels good to sling that Domke bag over my shoulder, and balance that 80-200 2.8 on my hand. It is like muscle memory, there is no thought process- it just happens.

I will admit, auto focus and shutter priority metering helps a bunch when shooting under mixed lighting conditions. And that screen on the back of the camera and flashing histogram helps as well to get the camera and light balance to be spot on. In those "days of yore" with film cameras push processing and manual focus I would have never had it so easy- ha !

Instead of holding a cell phone at arm's length trying to use the digital zoom on the tiny little lens, I am the dad on the sidelines with the big glass and the chunky camera trying to capture that perfect moment.

 I am blessed to have earned my stripes in the news world, and am grateful that I can apply these skills to taking pictures of my kids. I love giving them the chance to have some memorable photos.

An Amish buggy slowly rolls past during a soccer match in Arthur, Il.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hello old friend

Many years ago I started my photography career at The Vidette, the student run newspaper at Illinois State University. It all began in the darkroom which at the time was housed in the Edwards Hall Annex. Sadly Edwards Hall Annex is gone and has been replaced by a parking lot and a power transfer station. The newspaper moved into a new building a few blocks away in 1994.

This "shotgun" darkroom was a narrow space, running the length of the newsroom on the north side of the building. It was my home away from home and I enjoyed many hours developing black and white film and making prints and halftones. 

I took a few photos of the darkroom with a fish eye lens:

The Vidette darkroom circa 1991. Light table and radio near left. Copy stand and rapid print processing machine near right. In the back is the sink, photo gear cabinet and enlargers.
It was a fantastic place to work. With the door shut, red safelights on and a radio playing in the background, it was easy to get lost in time and enjoy making images.

The workhorse of our darkroom was an Omega D2V enlarger. It could print anything from 35mm to 4x5 negatives. The operator simply needed to move a set of condensers in the head of the enlarger and change negative carriers. I made many prints on this enlarger, both for the newspaper and for my various photography classes.

The back of the darkroom. On the left is a small sink for developing film, timer and fridge. On the right is the Omega D2V with stat camera adapter (to make halftone screens) and behind it a wobbly old Beseler CII that never printed worth a damn.
When I first started at the paper, we made prints to size on the enlarger. The prints were turned into halftones on a stat camera in the newsroom. When the newsroom stat camera crapped out, we made our own halftones in the darkroom with a vacuum easel and half tone adapter. Later the whole paste up printing system died in a blaze of glory (on deadline, no less) and we went from cut and paste to digital pre-press literally overnight. We didn't have a negative scanner yet, so we went back to making prints again on the Omega D2V and used a bed scanner to transfer images to a new image making program called Photoshop.

Here I am making a halftone of what looks like a soccer photo under red safelights.

The Omega D2 was a workhorse of an enlarger. We had one at the Pantagraph where I completed my photojournalism internship. I printed my entire senior project on Rt. 66 shot with a Crown Graphic on 4x5 film on this enlarger.

The demands of photography in newspapers moved rapidly from the darkroom to the newsroom. Gone are the days of printing under the safelights with the radio playing in the background. Digital imaging stations are located in the newsroom, and most darkroom spaces have been mothballed, turned into closets or computer rooms for scanning negatives.

Over the years I have owned and worked with several enlargers. In the back of my head I often thought that it would be great to own an Omega D2 at some point. With the needs of the family, home repairs, groceries etc. I put it on my "wish" list for something to get in the future.

On Thursday I was checking my email. I belong to an exchange group called Freecycle, where members put items up for free so that others can have them. We have freecycled a few things, and I have been able to acquire a few things as well. In my Freecycle messages was the message: "Omega D2 cold-light enlarger. Includes easel, Ilford contrast filters, 4x5 negative holder, 6x7 negative holder and 35mm negative holder."

I couldn't believe it. I haven't recently been looking for a D2, and here was one for free. I was excited.  I contacted Nick and Sarah Jungels of Champaign. It was still available, so I picked it up on Sunday afternoon. 

Here is the Omega D2 from the Jungels'  home. It has the "flying saucer" cold light on top instead of the regular condenser head.

The Omega D2 was produced from 1954 to 1979. It is a solidly built enlarger,  many parts and accessories remain available today.

Included were two enlarging lenses (50 and 80 mm) as well as 3 negative carriers, filters and a nice four blade easel.

I cannot wait to make some prints with this enlarger! I have a counter that I put inside my downstairs bathroom, converting it into a darkroom. The D2 is four feet tall, and will JUST be short enough to make it without rubbing on the ceiling.

The only item I will need to purchase for this enlarger is a 4" cone to mount my 150 mm 4x5 enlarging lens. The cold light head does not have an adjustment like the variable condenser head to allow for different lenses to be mounted on flat lens boards. No big deal, they are still plenty of lens cones floating around on the internet. I should have one without an issue.

When I look back on my photography career, and realize that almost 25 years have gone by since I started printing, it will be nice to have an "old friend"  in the darkroom to print with. I am thankful for Nick and Sarah Jungles, and their generosity in allowing me to make some prints again with an enlarger that I truly enjoy.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day

April 27th was Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. I have been participating for the last few years with a pinhole camera of some sort. I enjoy making photographs with pinhole cameras because they are so simple and create these incredibly dreamy and unpredictable photographs.

This year I procrastinated, although I knew what camera I was going to use. It is a Whitman's chocolate box sampler that I knew would make a perfect pinhole camera.

I didn't do much to modify the camera, just a bit of red paint inside to insure the light wouldn't bounce around and expose the paper negative. I should have used black paint, but alas it was a last minute build the day before I was going to shoot with it, so I used what I had in the house.

 The pinhole was made with a push pin and a Coke can, affixed to the camera with some electrical tape.

I decided that building a camera at the last minute wasn't enough of the challenge, I was going to try a developer I had never used before in pinhole photographs. I mixed up some Caffenol CM developer that would normally be used for developing film. I love this developer because it is so environmentally friendly. The ingredients are water, washing soda, vitamin C and instant coffee.

After setting up the temporary darkroom in my downstairs bathroom, I mixed up the ingredients for the developer and started loading the camera. I brought in my small paper trimmer because I thought I would have to cut down the photo paper I was using as a negative. Alas a 5x7 sheet of photographic paper fits perfectly in the back of the camera! Again a lucky discovery. Four pieces of tape in small loops held the paper firmly in place during the exposure.

Outside I went, and I had no idea what the exposure would be, or how the paper negatives would react to the Caffenol CM developer. I guessed my exposure at one minute fifteen seconds under mostly sunny almost midday skies and returned to the darkroom to take a look a the first image. It is a little strange developing paper in a developer that looks like Guinness, but after about 70 seconds of agitation my first negative came out, and it was perfect! I really was doing well with this camera build.

Caffenol CM developer (top), water for a stop bath and regular Hypo for fix. Two negatives sit in fix after being developed. They are 5x7 sheets of Arista.EDU ultra RC pearl finish printing paper.

I was able to fit in five exposures before having to call it quits. Of the five negatives, only one was blurry due to the winds picking up at the tail end of my shoot and blowing the camera around. So how did they turn out? Very well indeed! This to date has been the easiest pinhole camera I have built. The negatives came out sharp and contrasty, the camera had no light leaks, and I was very impressed with the results.

Four good negatives air dry in the bathroom.
I scanned all the negatives and flipped them to positives in Photoshop. The negs only needed slight tweaking, and just a bit of sharpening. Overall the images were very sharp. I loved the blurry trees and moving limbs, since it was windy that day and anything moving during the minute and fifteen second exposure would be blurry.

First exposure is off the deck looking into my back yard. The round spot is where the pool will go up again later this year.

Second exposure is of a happy dandelion growing in my vegetable garden framed by trees and sky. 

Third image is of the Salt Fork River behind my house looking west.

Fourth image is of the Salt Fork River looking east. This is the photo I selected for my Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day submission.
Just to try out another new technique, I decided to try and make a cyanotype of my paper pinhole negatives. This was the biggest struggle of them all. The paper of the negative blocks a lot of the light from going through which made the exposures very long. I have a small indoor UV lightbox I built to make cyanotypes and even at four hours of exposure I still only had a faint image.

I took matters into nature's hands, and made the cyanotype outdoors using regularly available sunshine. Even with direct UV light from the sun, it still took 2 hours of contact printing to get decent results.

Hand painted cyanotype emulsion with paper pinhole negative.
 Overall this was a fun project, and I have yet another fun pinhole camera to use again.

Here is a link to the website, and a link to my submission this year.  It is submission #1862, which is a perfect number for me!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Building a Moustrap Camera

This year marks the 175th anniversary of photography. One of photography's inventors, William Fox Talbot, used various small cameras to record his photographic studies.

William Henry Fox Talbot, by John Moffat, 1864

From Heilbrunn timeline of art history:

As his chemistry improved, Talbot returned to his original idea of photographic images made in a camera. During the "brilliant summer of 1835," he took full advantage of the unusually abundant sunshine and placed pieces of sensitized photogenic drawing paper in miniature cameras—"mouse traps," his wife called them—set around the grounds to record the silhouette of Lacock Abbey's animated roofline and trees. The pictures, Talbot wrote, "without great stretch of the imagination might be supposed to be the work of some Lilliputian artist."

Mr. Talbot's inventiveness was the inspiration to create a mousetrap camera of my own. I contacted Roger Watson, curator of the Fox Talbot Museum. Mr. Watson helped explain how to make these cameras: 
"...find a focal length and build a box around it. Talbot used a simple meniscus lens (flat on one side and curved on the other)... Talbot had almost 80 different cameras in all different sizes so anything you make will be close to the size of one of these cameras."
I've built a few cameras here and there, and have a tackle box full of camera building materials. Luckily I saved an old meniscus lens from a broken box camera, and this would be the lens I would build my camera around. The lens is about 18mm across, and with the help of a rubber washer and a piece of coiled wire, it is held snugly in place inside a piece of copper 3/4 inch water pipe (left over from a plumbing repair).

I still had no idea what focal length this lens would be. I focused the lens on the window across the room, and as it drew a faint image into focus on the wall I measured that distance with a ruler.  It was somewhere around 3-4 inches in focal length.

I made a rough box out of foam core and used wax paper as a focusing screen. After playing around with this for a bit, and focusing it on different objects around the house, I decided to build a little mousetrap camera. With the lens between 3-4 inches in focal length,  I built the camera 3 inches in height and width, and 3.5 inches in depth. The copper pipe/lens assembly is held with pressure at the front  of the camera,  and can be pushed and pulled in and out to aid in focusing.
A view through my small mousetrap camera, showing the lens assembly.
 Talbot used a cork on the front of his cameras, and he would peer through the front of the camera to see what was in focus, and then re-cork the camera before loading it with sensitive paper. I found this to be rather awkward, so I took a page from modern cameras and used some wax paper to make a crude focusing screen. I could focus the camera outside and set the lens, and then return to the darkroom and load it with sensitized paper.

This is my little mousetrap camera built out of black foam core and duct tape. The waxed paper focusing screen (right) snaps in the back of the camera to focus the image.

A view of the trees across my yard through my little mousetrap camera. Like all view cameras the image is upside down and backwards on the focusing screen.

Taking a photograph is a multi-step process. First the camera is taken outside and the focusing screen is used to frame up the subject. The lens is pushed and pulled until the image is in focus. The camera then goes into the darkroom and a piece of photo sensitive paper is placed and sealed inside the camera. The camera is taken back outside and the image is made. Finally, the camera returns to the darkroom, the paper removed and developed.

I used sticks to outline my camera. This way I could tell exactly where the camera should go after focusing and then later returning with the camera loaded with photo sensitive paper.
Here is the darkroom, complete with coffee-based Cafenol developer (left). Finished images are sitting in the fixer tray (right).

The 2.5 inch square paper negatives hang out to dry.

 Talbot used special sensitized drawing paper he made himself. I had the luxury to use regular enlarging paper in my cameras to make negatives.

After the negatives were developed and dried, I scanned the negatives and inverted them in the digital darkroom to make positive images. Overall I was very pleased with the results. The negatives were a little flat and lacked some contrast. Luckily that could be fixed with the help of Photoshop. The lens was never intended to be shot wide open, it had a much smaller stop inside so that only the "sweet spot" in the center was used, and the outer corners with swirls and light fall off were never seen. In my camera, the lens is used almost wide open, so you can see all the effects of a simple meniscus lens when it is used to make photographs. Images were all about three seconds in exposure, and developed for about 1.5 minutes in the Cafenol developer.

You can see the light fall off in the corners, and the out of focus areas o the outside of the frame.
The lens recorded the trees, grass, and the bank of leftover snow quite nicely.

I tried a macro type photo through a small grape arbor looking out towards my garden. The lens was pulled almost all the way forward to focus.

So what is next? Now that I am comfortable with the focal length and design, I would like to build my mousetrap camera out of wood instead of foam core and duct tape. I would also like to learn Mr. Talbot's sensitized paper formula, and make more images of course! I can't wait for the weather to get warmer, so I can get out in the garage and start building my camera, and making more images.