Thursday, December 31, 2009


A few links for the last post of the year. I hope everyone has a happy and safe New Years Eve.

In 1957, photographer Eugene Smith moved his family into an apartment in downtown New York. This building was a hangout for a majority of the cities jazz movement. He kept a tape recorder running and of course took photographs. A ten part NPR story from WYNC collated from the tapes and photographs can be listened to here.

You have to love television shows where they can get infinite detail out of a $300 video camera. A YouTube clip exploring "enhancement".

Lifehacker is continuing to explore the "best of" posts. Here are "6 kitchen skills you can pick up in a weekend".

How to build a slit type panoramic camera.

Two guys build a light field camera out of a bunch of point and shoots. Plans and software are promised later, though some more info has been published since the original post.

Make Magazine has an article on Macro Photography on a budget.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Digital Killed the Camera Store

Wandering through my local camera store earlier this week, looking for a tripod mounting plate with a 3/8 ths screw instead of the usual 1/4. This is the part that screws into the bottom of the camera, that would mate with the tripod head. The bigger screw is used for heavier cameras than the usual SLR sized bodies that are so prevalent these days. I found the smaller ones, but none of the plates with the bigger screws. Asking a salesperson provided no help and after he disappeared in the back for a few minutes, he came back and told me that the bigger sizes were only used in Europe and it would take a long time to get here. Recognizing a load of spin, I made a not so witty comment and walked out without buying anything.

On the way home, I was thinking about how often I'd been disappointed by this particular store. At one time time they were the type of store where you could walk in and find all sorts of cool things. Usually a clerk who had been there a while would be able to find some obscure item stuck in a back corner. Now, most camera stores you walk into have more in common with Best Buy. They seem to be more interested in selling cameras than the incidentals.

I personally think the advent of cheap digital cameras forced the change. Film cameras lasted a long time and new models were introduced infrequently, sometimes in excess of 8 to 10 years. Compare that to todays 8 month release cycle for a point and shoot, to a 1 year cycle for a mid range camera to somewhat longer timeframe for high end cameras. With this type of release schedule and the accompanying hype that convinces a large proportion of photographers to buy a new camera, the stores can survive by stocking cameras, lenses and the bare minimum of other essentials. They don't have to stock anything else to stay in business. That and tax laws on unsold inventory didn't help either.

It's too bad most of the old style camera stores couldn't survive. The nearest one I know of is Central Camera in downtown Chicago. Since I tend to want what's considered to be more exotic stuff these days, I mainly do mail order. While I usually support local businesses, I'm finding it impossible to do so nowadays.

It's just too bad.....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Matter of Size

Earlier in the week, I was getting ready to take the 4x5 camera out. This involves cleaning it up, making sure the batteries in the handheld light meters still work, and loading film holders.

A film holder, for those that don't know, is a two sided contraption. It holds two pieces of film, one in each side. Loading these is a somewhat slow process for me. It involves getting the canned air out and making sure the dust is blown clear. The dark slides have indicators on them that remind you if the film has been exposed or not, and I have to find a dark room to actually put the film in. This process can take, depending on the number I do, up to an hour or so. It can be a mite tedious, but there is a tactile feedback from doing all this. The can of air getting cold, handling the holder itself and the plasticky feeling of the film in the dark. Trying to find the notches on the edges of the film, so you can tell if it is in the holder the correct way. A feedback loop that merely inserting a memory card in a digital camera lacks.

As I was finishing loading the 20 film holders I was going to take on my outing, I thought about scale. Even though they are double sided, a film holder to me is a single photo. I expose both sides with the same scene to ensure I get the photo. So for a days outing with the large format camera, the most I would photograph is 20 scenes. Now I know that I would probably not get anywhere near 20, if I was lucky, I would get 10 or 12. And that is a good part of a whole days output.

Thinking about it, I realized that with a large format camera, I could get 20 shots in a days sesson. When I take the medium format camera out, I usually go through 2 or 3 rolls of film, which is anywhere from 30 to 90 shots, depending on what film I buy. Yet when I get the digital camera out, I can take several hundred shots or more.

The strange part of it is, I get a higher percentage of "keepers" from the film cameras than I do the digital. Something I'm still pondering.

Monday, December 14, 2009

December Links

It's been busy, it's just that time of year. I've been out with the camera a bit, but really haven't shot a whole lot of stuff I'm overly excited with. So, since I've got some links I've been saving, you get to see those instead. is running a bunch of "best of" posts. Here is the one to the most popular photography hacks of the year.

There is a movement to get an open color standard to replace Pantone.

Light painting using a cold cathode tube.

Not exactly photography related, but good anyway. Lifehackers most popular DIY projects.

A good podcast on keeping our photography fresh. Photographing the Familiar. Be sure to listen to the companion piece on Shock Treatments for Artists also.

A cute animation about "Thinking outside the box".

An iPhone app that let's you document lighting setups.

A tool from Canon that helps you calculate how many shots you need for a panorama. It's interesting to me that the calculator web page almost looks like a phone. I wonder if they are going to get into the phone app business.

That's it for now. I hope things are going well for you during this busy season.

Friday, December 4, 2009

YANS (Yet another night shoot)

I was downtown this week with two friends of mine looking for Christmas lights. Since sunset is so early this time of year, by the time we met at 5:30, it was effectively dark. We were wanting to get in some time at dusk to photograph, but it didn't happen.

We didn't see a whole lot of lights, but I had adventures anyway. One of the security guards at the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum came up and asked me what I was doing and whether I was a professional. We kind of wanted to go inside the Public Museum also, but they don't allow tripods inside unless you make an appointment. Lastly I got kicked off what looked like a public plaza by a security guard at the Fifth Third building on Monroe. It just wasn't my night to please security guards I guess.

While I didn't get a whole lot of Christmas lights photos, we did spend some time at Calder Plaza photographing "La Grand Vitesse", the iconic Calder sculpture that has come to symbolize Grand Rapids. I've never spent a whole lot of time photographing the sculpture, and never any at night. It's hard to come up with a view of the sculpture that hasn't been published before, hopefully I was able too. I switched to a wider angle lens and went for photos of a subset of the sculpture like the one above, or to photos showing the sculpture sitting alone in an empty plaza. I'll come back to them in a bit and see it I still think they show a different view.