Casual Opportunities for Interesting Images #VantagePoint

Vacation or photo safari?  Always a question when traveling and not for an assignment.  Like many outdoor photographers I like to “document” places I visit.  Sometimes it’s just to remember what I saw, sometimes to get some perspectives on a place I plan to come back to for more images.

This image was one of those occasions.  Visited here because it showed up on a tourist guide of the area then found some interesting compositions.  Fortunately I had my tripod and assortment of lenses to use.  One great thing about places you can drive right up to is having all your gear in the car!

Seven Falls, Colorado Springs

What attracted me to this composition was the abrupt change in the water’s flow and the way the wet rocks were reflecting the light in the sky.  I knew this was going to be a B&W image and that I wanted the water to have a nice flow rather than be stopped in time.  The tripod enabled a long exposure and the shorter lens let me put more of the falls in the composition.

So what if I hadn’t carried along all that gear?  Would there be a way to get a similar image?  What about other tourists who have point-and-shoot cameras or their cellphones?  What would they make?  At the time, probably nothing like this.

Friend of mine asked recently about available compact cameras that would give the versatility of a DSLR for dynamic range, depth of field, and varying focal length.  He likes putting something in his travel bag or pocket that will deliver very nice results but not require hauling around lots of gear.  At the time I didn’t have a good recommendation but soon after that I ran across a different type of compact camera.  This one uses multiple lenses and processing software to enable the photographer to capture several versions of a composition and then create the final image with the characteristics desired.  There have been variations on this idea in the past years but it seems the company behind this idea, Light.co, has found the right combination of technologies and design features to meet my friend’s needs.

Photography used to be about skills and technical knowledge, mainly because the tools and processes required those in order to get the final result.  Now the result can be shared in the blink of an eye (no more chemicals and special materials to create a print) and the capture almost with a glance.  Kodak’s original statement was along the lines of, “you push the button, we do the rest” which if you think about it, is how photography is these days.  There’s seemingly no effort required.

Is this a terrible change to a 100+ year human endeavor?  I don’t believe it is.  Now the “technology” of photography can stop being in the way of the creation of photographs.  Today if you don’t like your images you pretty much can’t blame the equipment!  Even the most casual tourist has the chance to create a wonderful experience to share with others – all they have to do is pay attention to what they are seeing.

Computer, well done

You know how we make fun of the accuracy of information found on the web?  Recently I got caught up in a thing that ultimately surprised me while increasing my appreciation for people out there with too much time on their hands.

My Macbook Pro (2008 model) just conked out on me one evening.  One minute it was working, the next – dead.  I tried all the reset procedures I could find online but nothing seemed to give it the urge to recover.  Finally took it to the Genius Bar at the local Apple store and a really nice young lady ran it through some of their diagnostics and offered an answer.  The logic board is probably gone.  That was the bad news; the good news is the hard drive was intact and operating, and she showed me a way to off-load all my data to an external drive without having the logic board actually function.

So, I have my data but a non-operational laptop.  Do I buy a new one (well, a newer refurbished one), get this one fixed (expensive) or just give up having a laptop (my photo processing done in my Mac Pro desktop)?  I decided to browse some sites to see how other people dealt with this quandary.

The consensus seemed to be bake the logic board in an oven.

Yes, the first site where I read that was met with chuckles.  Then it started showing up on other sites, actual Mac sites I respect.  And it seemed several people had performed this culinary/computer operation with success.  And there were a couple of really nice descriptions (with pictures!) of how to disassemble this model Macbook Pro in order to remove the logic board.  Who knew people were taking their laptops apart and bragging about it online?

Really, what did I have to lose?  I’ve always enjoyed seeing what’s inside stuff and it might just fix my problem.

Which it did.  Yes, I now have a recovered Macbook that runs just like it did before.  Crazy, I know, but one explanation seems to make sense.

Laptops go through significant thermal cycles, with the innards getting hot, then cooling down, then getting hot again.  Those little fans you hear running apparently don’t actually move enough air to cool down the insides, just enough to keep it from setting your lap on fire.  As a result of all this thermal cycling (and tossing the laptop around from desk to backpack to countertop, etc.) the solder joints on the chips can get brittle and actually separate.  With this the chips lose connection to important parts of the computer and it just shuts down.  Yeah, that sort of sounds like it makes sense.  But what about the baking thing?

Putting the logic board in an oven for a brief time softens the solder just enough to fill in any cracks interfering with the connection and returns it to a more flexible state.  The key is apparently exposing it to just enough heat to soften the solder and then letting it cool undisturbed so the solder solidifies in place without spreading between connections and causing a short-circuit.

So, it works and I add my happy voice to all those other brave souls who have dismantled their Macbooks and baked the insides.

One caveat mentioned is this fix probably won’t last forever, meaning another baking session or complete breakdown of the board.  Still, I’m getting a little more life out of it and I’ve learned one of those cool internet things – one you simply have to try to believe.

Camera adjustments

Most semi-serious photographers love their gear, love playing with their gear, love talking about their gear.  Usually the trick is to get us to stop talking about it all and show some pictures.

I use a lot of digital equipment but when I’m interested in really controlling the look of the image I get under the hood behind my view camera.  Being able to “disconnect” the plane of the lens from the plane of the film provides opportunities for images that are practically impossible with a regular camera.  Our brain does such a great job of interpreting what we see into the “correct” viewpoint that we’re generally surprised at pictures coming out of a regular camera.  Oddly, it takes a view camera with all its adjustment capability to deliver a photograph that looks “normal.”  The following three images are examples of what I’m talking about.

20161228017

Snap this shot with a regular camera and you’ll get something that might look similar.  Depending on where you stand the corners of the building might be vertical or slightly slanted, the near part of the curved wall at the bottom might be in focus or not, along with the trees in the distance.  It depends on the lens being used, the tripod setup and aperture selected.  For a view camera, making sure all these elements are exactly as desired is simple.  A little front tilt of the lens to “see” the foreground and an aperture stopped down to increase depth of field.

20161227011

This one would be harder for a regular camera.  The sign is about 5 feet from my camera where as the tower is about 50 feet away.  My camera is set up slightly down-hill from the tower and sign.  And the sign and tower are at different perspectives.  To make sure everything is in focus, and that the vertical parts are really vertical while the horizontal parts stay that way required using most of the view camera’s movements.  The lens and film plane are swiveled enough to get the focus for the tower and sign in the same plane, the lens has been lifted higher than the film to keep the perspectives the same while being tilted forward slightly to “see” the path in front of the sign, and the aperture is stopped down to f/64 so that everything is in focus.

20161227008

This was the simplest shot to make.  Level the camera, tilt the body down slightly to “see” the ice triangle in the river, tilt the film plane to vertical to keep the trees straight, and tilt the lens forward enough to put the foreground and distance in the same focus.

Setup and adjustments like this usually take 15-20 minutes per shot – definitely not a candid image.  Staring at the image developing on the glass screen under the hood is worth it, though, as you see how the adjustments render the shot just as you want it and just as your eye sees it.

One of the definitive books on this subject is Ansel Adams’ The Camera, which provides instruction on using the adjustments to get the image you want.  There are other sources out there but Adams writes well and serves up sound advice from years of experience crafting images exactly the way he wanted them.  It’s fun to read, and who knows, might encourage more people to try out a view camera for a different perspective on photography.

Continued to return to basic photography

I was out chasing fall colors a few weeks ago and discovered I’ve spent so little time with my view camera I’d lost any skill with it I’d acquired.  Do I tilt it this way?  Is that really in focus?  Where’s that shutter lever?  Frustrating.  I’ll be surprised if any of those pictures come out worth anything.

Fortunately a colleague of mine recently sent a link to a developing tool for 4×5 sheet film that isn’t expensive or difficult to use.  You can see it here:  https://shop.stearmanpress.com/products/sp-445-compact-4×5-film-processing-system.

What’s great about it is the use is essentially the same as the tank developer I have for 35mm and 120 film.  After loading the film you can do all processing with the lights on!  Granted, it only does 4 sheets at a time but I’m not looking for a production line, just a way to get more skilled with my view camera.

Since I had a few sheets of exposed B&W in the freezer – waiting to accumulate enough to take to the lab – I tried it out.  Shots were from the late winter of 2015 up in Door County, Wisconsin.  Here’s the best of the bunch:

Ephraim, WI from Peninsula State Park

Ephraim, WI from Peninsula State Park

Not a remarkable image but it does show the development system works as advertised.  The tones are even, no spotting or unusual lines on the negative, no gradient of development across the image.  Not bad for less than $100 and ease of use.

What this gives me is the ability to work with my view camera and get quick feedback.  I can make a few images, write down the settings and actions I used, then develop the sheets and see how they turned out.  It is literally the old fashioned way of learning photography.  From this I can be more confident with this camera when the images are truly important.

So what’s the point now that cellphone cameras do such a great job?  Doing it this way pleases me.  It appeals to my interest in learning a skill that results in uncommon outcomes.  Using a view camera makes me more thoughtful about photography, from the initial composition to the final print.  With all the possible movements it gives flexibility in how the image will look, more so than digital cameras.  And it uses film, which has a look to it that is hard to replicate with digital (in my opinion).

It definitely warms my heart to see people out there who are still working to improve the “old” ways of doing things.  One engineer’s frustration has become my tool for education.

The journey continues…

My car finally reached the condition where it’s not possible to fully trust it.  For over a decade it was simply a matter of turning the key, putting in gear and going wherever I wanted without wondering if I’d get there and back.  It’s a credit to the skills of designers, engineers, assemblers and mechanics that this car has carried me over 200,000 miles with very infrequent repairs.  And for each repair, there was a sense of it being a part that had just reached the end of it’s expected life, not something catastrophically breaking.  Unfortunately, in the past year, these end-of-life experiences have gotten too frequent and too unpredictable and I’ve started to wonder whether I will get to and from my destination.  So, I”m ending this car experience to take on a new one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The guiding advice in buying a car used to be avoid the first year of a new model; let the bugs get worked out first.  I was fully expecting to follow this advice but circumstances worked in a way that it was better to ignore it.  In 2002 Saturn introduced their long-awaited SUV, the VUE.  We were moving across the country and I wanted a car that would not only haul more stuff than my small sedan, but would also be able to get off the road in to the woods.  The first VUE I sat in just fit for all my expectations and was the one I drove off the lot.  I’m sure neither of us foresaw the next 12 years and how we would together to become a symbol for this time of change.  The traditional advice was wrong for me with this car, but I suspect the “traditional” advice was wrong about most Saturn vehicles.  The experiment that was Saturn opened new doors in American manufacturing to create new ways of thinking about quality and endurance.  Although the experiment was killed by business people who didn’t understand how to broadly apply that new thinking, those of us who have owned Saturns are glad we were part of the experiment.

c440948aIn this car I’ve moved across the country and back, twice, for work and photography school.  We loved the west so much we returned there several times in the VUE, hauling photography gear to national parks and small towns from Nebraska to Washington.  We explored the route of the transcontintental railroads, across the plains and mountains.  We wandered around the states we lived in without any concerns, driving up hilly, dirt roads to see where they went and zipping along interstates to get to the next adventure.  I like to think me and this car together became what people thought of when they thought of me – willing to try anything and go anywhere, taking some fun along to see what would happen.

As a photographer it’s important to have a car that carries all your gear and gets you where you need to be in order to make the shot.  An then there are the other benefits.  The window makes a great substitute tripod, especially when getting out of the car is a little hazardous.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere have been so many VUE’s on the road their shape and size is a perfect reference point to give a scene perspective, as well as a nicely reflective surface to frame a composition.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe original idea of a car that would do more than go down a road, one that would get me to places a bit off the beaten path, that idea has been fully realized in my time with this car.  Rocks, snow, mud, water, ice, rain – been through all that safety, usually have pictures to show it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking through my photos I realize how few I have made of my car.  Maybe it’s because I tend to keep man-made objects out of the image.  Or maybe it’s because I rarely see it as more than the means to get somewhere, not really a part of the destination.  Much as my cameras and gear, it’s a tool to aid in turning my vision into actual images.  Why would I get sentimental about a car?

We are inundated with anthropomorphic stories of objects around us, from fairy tales to Disney movies to Pixar animations.  As a culture we seem to endow personality and character onto objects as a way to create a relationship with them.  Even an un-emotional attachment has to realize the connection with a car as each of us adapts to how it handles, the features we love, the way it can be packed with stuff or even the way it sounds.  Over 12 years it is easy to think of my VUE as a partner in all the adventures owning it has made possible.

As with any consumer product, each year of manufacturing sees changes in design and construction.  The VUE morphed to more of a small family vehicle as the years went by, leaving behind the tougher, go-play-in-the-outdoors image the original marketing campaign was built on.  Even were Saturn to still exist today, I wouldn’t see replacing my VUE with a current one; just not my style anymore.  No, 2002 was a point in time when all the aspects of outdoor life I was interested in coincided with the intentions of a few renegade car makers, and was all wrapped up in a simple SUV that just worked for me.  And continued to do so for 12 years.

I’m sure in my next SUV I’ll adjust to where the controls are and how the steering handles and how to get into and out of trouble trying to find just the right perspective for that perfect image.  And although I’ll miss my VUE I will remember that this lifestyle was brought about in many ways by owning it when I did and not worrying about it letting me down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Old lens, new tricks

Saw this limb and shadow while out today and immediately realized it would be a nice B&W HDR.  Used an Olympus film lens on my E-3 and ran through 19 exposures to get the detail in the bright highlights as well as some detail in the shadowy lake bottom.  Processed through the latest NIK HDR Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro to result in the image I wanted.  Time in darkroom – zero.

When this lens was produced computers still fit into rooms and stacking negatives was the only way to deal with very wide dynamic range.  Now the processing is a few clicks on a computer but the design capabilities of the lens remain the same.

Now high-end lens manufacturers like Zeiss are making lenses for compact, mirrorless cameras, whose sensors are approaching full-format sizes.  Perhaps one day we’ll all be shooting with Leica rangefinders or the equivalent.

Except for the wildlife photographers, of course, who will still need their bazooka lenses to get the gleam in an eagle’s eye from 100 yards away!