Sunday, September 27, 2009

10 Golden Rules of Lomography

Toy cameras yield surprising results. Sometimes I'm floored with amazement at the shots that come out, and other times I'm crushed with disappointment. I've learned to not take photography so seriously when I'm using a toy or homemade camera, far better to just shoot something and move on to the next moment, trying not to worry about what the shot will look like.

Some of the most glorious pictures have been ones that I utterly forgot about taking or didn't even take the time to set up the shot or worry about the camera settings. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to visualize what the Holga is going to see, not like an SLR or TLR anyway, but maybe thats the low-budget thrill of using a toy camera?

So, in the spirit of serendipity, here are the 10 Golden Rules of Lomography as stated by the Lomographic Society:

1. Take your camera everywhere you go.
2. Use it any time – day and night.
3. Lomography is not an interference in your life, but part of it.
4. Try the shot from the hip.
5. Approach the objects of your Lomographic desire as close as possible.
6. Don’t think. (William Firebrace)
7. Be fast.
8. You don’t have to know beforehand what you captured on film.
9. Afterwards either.
10. Don’t worry about any rules.

Happy snapping!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

She blinded me with science (and IR film)

Yesterday I had the opportunity to shoot some more IR film with the Holga using the HOYA brand R72 IR filter.

Success!!! They turned out way over exposed, but that's a huge improvement over the last roll using the Opteka filter.

I used shutter speeds at about 1-4 seconds and got negs that were extremely dense. If you recall my last post on using IR film, you'll remember that I was using shutter speeds upwards of 15 seconds and getting underexposed frames.

I cannot recommend the Opteka brand filter and instead suggest that the Hoya filter to be the superior choice by a huge margin. All the characteristic IR effects are there, and I'm sure the sky would have been blacker had there not been an extremely hazy sky yesterday and had I not over exposed the shots so much.

Anyway, heres the contact sheet from yesterday...

Happy snapping!

Holga Hacks: Making a Custom Film Mask

In this brief tut, I'll be discussing how I make a custom film mask for the Holga. There are other places on the web that cover this, but I thought I'd share my experience on the matter and give you some tips that I've found helpful.

First up, get your supplies together. An X-Acto knife with a fresh blade, some gaffer's tape, a straightedge, a pencil, coffee, and a cutting mat are the tools needed. You'll also need a Holga (duh) and—this here is my personal preference—a plastic notebook cover like the one shown. I like using these because it's a smooth, matte-black plastic. You can make a film mask using paper or cardstock, but paper is much more likely to scratch the film emulsion. Plus, these are much more durable and give you a neater edge. You can get between 6-8 film masks from one notebook cover

Measure out your cut lines. Here's the dimensions I use: 2 5/8" H by 3 1/4" W

This fits into the back of the camera nicely. The extra material on the sides is going to be folded back later on and taped down to secure it to the inside of the camera.

Use any shape you find pleasing. This one is just a simple arch over the top of the frame, with neat, squared sides. You could do pointed arches, circles, letters, or whatever. Really, go wild with this one. I love seeing what people come up with!

Like anything worth doing, I tend to get a little OCD with my projects. Use a brand new blade and a metal straightedge. Cutting plastic is trickier than paper, so go slow and let your inner compulsive disorder shine.

You may find that cutting the inside of your frame is easier to do first, rather than cutting the frame down to size. I like doing it this way, but do what you're comfy with.

Here I'm just checking the fit in the back of the camera. It fits! The extra on the sides there is going to be folded back in the next step.

Note: The camera sees not only a backwards image, but upside down as well, something I forgot when making this tutorial. Putting the arc at the top of the camera would place it along the BOTTOM of the frame. So, to get an arc across the TOP of my pictures, I should have put it on the BOTTOM of the camera. Remember this!

Here I'm marking where to score the film mask so that it fits in nicely and folds over the back of the exposure chamber.

Using the knife, just make one fine score-line where it's going to be folded. The weight of the blade is enough. You don't want to cut all the way through this one, just enough to make a nice, crisp fold.

Here we have the finished mask, ready to go into the camera!

And voila! But remember: This mask as pictured should be rotated so the arc is along the bottom to get the effect I was after. Remember to flip yours not only left to right (if it's asymmetrical), but upside down as well.

Happy snapping!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Establishing my fotogeek street-cred

Picked up this shirt this weekend less than a block from my work! Grita and me were hanging out in hayes valley and she spotted this shirt at RAG on Laguna St. in SF. I think it was around $25.

Awesome find! It's my new Holga Superhero uniform; perfect for taking pictures and fighting crime!

Happy Snapping!

Yashica TLR

A big welcome to the newest member of the medium-format family! Yesterday class was cancelled and I spotted this sweet little Yashica-Mat on Craigslist. Drove out to Walnut Creek, handed the dude $60 and walked away with the camera, some filters, a carrying bag, and a flash unit. Score!

I'd been thinking about getting a TLR as a sort of step up from the Holga. Don't get me wrong, I love the Holga for its simplicity, hackability, and cult following (how often have you been stopped by someone who says, "OMG! Is that a Holga?!"). But I've been hankering for something that I can turn out some really sharp looking medium format prints with.

A brief intro to the Yashica TLR: They were started as a clone to the Rolleiflex cameras which to my knowledge have been around since the 1920s, but were most popular in the 1950s and 60s, before action photography took off and 35mm and SLRs became the standard.

To focus, the camera is typically held at waist level and the operator looks down onto a ground-glass viewing screen instead of being held up to your face like SLRs and point & shoots. The image is also flipped from left to right, and takes some getting used to.

The top lens is the viewing lens, which feeds the ground-glass, and is used in composing the shot. The lower lens is the taking lens and is the one that exposes the film when the shutter fires. Knobs on the left and right of the two lenses control shutter speed and aperture settings, which on the Yashica-Mat are all part of the Copal shutter system.

Anyway, enough of all that. If you want to find out more about Yashicas or TLRs there are plenty of resources out there. They tend to get a little expensive on eBay, which is why I was stoked to see this one come up on CL. It seems to work just fine except for the B setting, which I understand is caused by dust and buildup in the shutter speed selecting mechanism, and is usually corrected by a little CLA. For now, I don't intend to use the bulb setting much anyway, so I'll probably put a few rolls through it and see how that goes before sending it out for a cleaning.

Happy snapping!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

App Review: Massive Dev Chart for iPhone

For as long as I've been developing my own black & white film, I've been consulting the huge cheat-sheet and database known as The Massive Dev Chart. I'm sure many of you already know what an incredible tool this is for looking up suggested developing times and such for practically any film/developer combination. There are films and developers I've never even heard of.

Now, in the past, I'd been clumsily logging on to the Massive Dev Chart via a Safari browser window on my iPhone while in the darkroom; totally ignorant of the fact that there's an app for that. (There, I said it. I'm one of those obnoxious iPhone fanboys that gets to say, "Oh yeah, there's an app for that.")

Now, I've downloaded a bunch of apps, and most of them are used for about 2 days before being ignored, forgotten and eventually deleted by me. This app, however, fills a niche so perfectly that you can count me as one of it's biggest fans, and this review is an attempt to explain why.

First off, when you load the app for the first time, you're presented with a large alphabetical list of b&w films. Some popular and well known, and others... Not so much. Going down the list I found some of my fav 35mm films, as well as my perennial favorite 120 film for the Holga, Freestyle's Arista EDU Ultra. There are buttons along the top to select between 35mm, 120, and sheet film.

You can also change the ISO of some films if you plan on push/pull processing.

After selecting your film of choice, you're presented with a list of developers that have been tested to work with your film and with which there exists data for development times/ratios/temperatures.

The next screen after selecting your developer is the timer screen, where a breakdown of film, developer, and time and temp. are all listed in the top half. The lower half of the screen shows a bar graph, that once you start the timer, gives a visual representation of how much time is left in each step of the process. Also, audio reminders tell you when each step is completed, and it does not mess with iTunes if you're listening to music from your iPhone, it just chimes over it.

I'd also like to point out that when the timer is not active, you can edit each step of the process with custom times, inversion cycles, and rinse and stop bath settings, overriding the default presets suggested by the app. You can also change the temperature of the developer solution, which according to the authors, will automatically adjust the development times using something called a "bilinear interpolation algorithm", which, to be quite frank, is getting a little too deep in the dork forest even for me.

You can even add notes to each process if you have any special reminders you'd like to jot down for next time.

Moving on to the favorites button, you can add film/developer combinations that you use frequently, and once you save it, you can edit the development settings and notes they'll stay there for you! Just click the "+" button along the top of the favorites menu, and by following the simple steps above, you can have convenient access to your most used processes.

In conclusion, I've found this app to be not only a great convenience in the darkroom (it is much more elegant and consistent that fumbling around with paper notes and trying to look up development times online), but also a solidly built and extremely well thought out app. Everything works in an extremely intuitive manner, and the audio reminders are extremely helpful.

I can honestly say that at $5.99, this is the best value of any app I own, and one that is used by me constantly. Go ahead and pick up a copy over at the iTunes App Store!!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shooting in Infrared *UPDATE 9/18*

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go ahead and shoot a roll of the Efke IR 820, but it was not without its frustrations. The first roll that I put in the Holga broke after the tape fixing the film to the paper backing was somehow stuck on itself, causing the paper backing to rip in half, making advancing the film impossible. I probably could have saved it by taping it back together while shielded in a changing bag, but of course I had no idea what had happened.

Scratch one roll of film.

The next one loaded in fine. The sun came out and I drove to Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, CA. I knew based on previous experience and advice from others that it's always advisable to err on the side of too much exposure with this film. I used the cable release and exposed from between 15-30 seconds in full sun.

After processing for 7 minutes in T-MAX dev at 68°F, I was elated to see there was indeed an image. Sadly, even with such long exposure times, the negs turned out extremely thin. I spent the better part of two hours in the darkroom yesterday trying to get a decent print out of the roll, but no real success. It's way too frustrating to try and get good prints off bad negatives.

Here's the contact sheet and a sample image that I scanned. (click the picture to view larger image)

Now, you may detect an air of madness, but I like to think of it as tenacity. I ordered 3 more rolls of this film today, as well as a Hoya brand R72 IR filter (the one I have now is a much cheaper Opteka brand).

I'm going to try this again, but I'm still naming my first ulcer Efke.

The original post is below

Yesterday my package from Freestyle Photo arrived. I'd ordered some RC paper and a bunch of their Arista EDU branded film (which I love, btw). But also, and more importantly, two rolls of Efke IR 820 film. There's a Flickr gallery here.

Now, this is my second time at the rodeo with this film. The first was a year ago in Costa Rica. I'd packed along a couple rolls along with my trusty Holga and my cable release and my IR filter, took pictures in Monteverde and Fortuna, only to get home, develop the film, and.....

Nothing. Not a damn frame or even a ghost of an image. The numbers along the film edge showed up just fine, but everything else was crystal clear as though no exposure took place. Now, I know that IR film is supposedly touchy, but you would think that a light-leak or a fogged frame or something would have shown up upon developing.

I was so disappointed. I'd seen such beautiful and surreal images from people using this film in their Holgas, and here I'd just wasted $20 of film with nothing to show for it. (It's 10 bucks a roll, which for an art student is a fairly expensive mistake.)

So, before I get carried away, here's my setup: I was using a small tabletop tripod, the holga cable release, an Opteka R72 Infrared Filter, and of course, the Efke IR 820 film.

I had no light meter or anything to figure out exposure times, if I recall correctly I was trying to bracket shots from between 4 and 15 seconds. This may have been far to short, because I'm pretty sure the skies were overcast the entire time even though it was mid day. Another thing, it might be the filter. I don't think it is, though. The Opteka R72 filter should just filter out every wavelength below 720 nm, and the film is sensitive to light up to 820 nm (which is way into infrared territory). Plus, I've used this filter on my digital camera, and it works fine.

In short, I don't know what the deal was last year when I tried this film, but I'll have another go at it as soon as the sun comes out. I've been wanting to do some infrared work over at Mountain View Cemetery, and I'd better do it soon while there's still leaves on trees!

Happy snapping!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Humble Holga

Ah, the Holga. Behind this simple plastic body, fixed shutter speed, an aperture setting that arrives to you basically DOA, and a molded plastic meniscus lens, beats the heart of a quirky little camera. The back regularly falls off, the sides tend to leak light, loading and unloading the camera takes an iron will, and even when you do everything right, it is impossible to predict how your shots will turn out. Yet it is that serendipity that makes the camera so much fun. You see, no matter how hard you try to be consistent, if you were to take three pictures of the same thing, you'd have three very different pictures. The way I shoot, I take exactly ONE photo of a subject and then move on (unless it's a portrait project). In the era of pixel-perfect pictures, it is refreshing to use such an unassuming camera. Plus, If you've never worked with medium format film, I can tell you that it is a singular joy. The negatives, compared to 35mm, are HUGE.

So, this here is my first and currently only Holga camera. We'll call this one Mark I, just to distinguish it from any future Holga additions to my stable of cameras. One of the first things I did was screw a threaded step-up ring into the end of the lens barrel. This lets me use the standard filters that I have for my Nikon. Make sure whatever step-up ring you get has a beginning size of 46mm. Mine goes from 46mm to 52mm. To get it on there, you basically just shove it into the end of the Holga's lens barrel while twisting the threads into the plastic. It's tight, but it works great and that sucker is going nowhere.

Also, I had a spare lens cap from an old Nikon lens. Pops right on there, with a little lanyard to keep it handy.

Now, I also flocked the inside of the camera. When I got my Holga, the inside was shiny black plastic. If there's too much light bouncing around the inside of the picture chamber you're likely to notice reduced contrast and errant glare (which may be a look you're after, I don't know.) There's a great article about flocking a Holga here at Squarefrog. Basically, you mask off the bits you don't want to get paint on 'em (frame counter window, shutter mechanism, and foam pads) and hit the inside with some matte black paint.

Also, I did the aperture mod—again, found here at Squarefrog. Now you may already know this, but the Holga, upon arrival, comes with an aperture plate that swings over the shutter mechanism. The hole in the aperture plate, however, is LARGER than the one in the shutter mechanism. It doesn't pinch off any of the light coming through the camera because the hole behind it is bigger. Here, you can see the aperture lever set to cloudy/indoor to let in all the light it can.

So, really it's as if you were looking through a peephole in a door, and someone held an innertube on the outside of the door so that it went around the opening. Would any of the light be blocked from coming through the peephole? No, because the innertube is much larger than the peephole.

Basically this mod takes the innertube and puts a smaller ring inside of it (in this case a metal washer), lowering the amount of light coming into the camera.

And here the aperture lever is set to sunny. You'll notice I didn't paint the washer black. I kind of like the bright halo effect I get in some pictures that have strong light coming into the lens, it doesn't happen every time, but when it does its usually a pretty neat effect.

So there's the Mark I in a nutshell. Oh yes, I also removed the stop on the lens so that I can twist it a bit further than normal, allowing me to focus in closer.

I'm contemplating what other mods I'd like to do if I were to get another Holga. The good thing about cheap-as-dirt photography is that it's so easy to hack and tweak your equipment, and if you end up breaking something, it's hardly the end of the world. I can do things I'd never try with, say, an antique TLR or my Nikkormat.

Happy snapping!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Making a custom negative carrier

So, back when I got my Beseler 23CII enlarger (a screaming deal if I've ever seen one), I was stuck to working with 35mm format. Not only did I lack a big enough lens to cover the 120 format negatives (more on that later), but I also lacked a negative carrier. Dorking around on eBay turned up a few, ranging in conditions from unused to abominable. Still, I'm a true DIY-er, and yes, while I could have just purchased one, I did what any self-employed geek with too much free time would do; I made one.

Now, to be fair, I did have a friend later on who loaned me one made out of green mat board.

I'm sure it could have been pressed into service just fine, but it definitely lacked the exacting tolerances that you get from a metal negative carrier. Also, I much prefer the "full frame" effect you get when the negative carrier opening is larger than the image size on the negative. This one cuts into the image area too much for my taste.

So, I had some plastic stock left over from fabricating my custom lens boards (props to the guys over at Tap Plastics). I quickly learned that it is one thing to drill out holes and score and snap straight lines in plastic, and quite another to try and use a roto-zip to bore out perfectly clean lines. Also, it's just a fucking mess. And I'm still finding little black plastic bits all over the workroom.

And, as you can see, the edges got pretty ragged. I'm not generally opposed to ragged edges, per se, but this thing scratched the hell out of my negatives on a regular basis. No bueno.

At the art supply store yesterday, I found some double-thickness black mat board. I figured that, while not possessing the rigidity of metal, at least should hold up well enough to service as a negative carrier. I also surmised that using a mat cutter would bevel the edges away from the negative, keeping light from bouncing around and reflecting down onto the print, a problem with my metal negative carrier.

So here's my solution: A black negative carrier, custom fit to a size that I like, with beveled edges that should help keep reflection down.

So here's how I went about it:

1. Make a pattern. I feel better planning things out on paper first, but you do what you want. For the Beseler 23CII, starting with a 7" x 7" square, plopping the hole right in the center, and nipping the two corners off works really well. (This walkthrough is for a 35mm carrier with sprocket holes showing. You can make these things in any size or aspect ratio you want.)

2. Now, start cutting down your mat boards. Get them as perfectly squared as you can.

3. Lay out your grid lines on the negative side of the mat board and get out your trusty mat cutter. Make sure that bad boy has a blade sharper than justice. You're gonna have to cut through some thick shit. Shown here is the Logan "pull" style mat cutter. If you don't have a mat cutter, do yourself a favor and get one. Trust.

What you can't see in those images is the scrap piece of mat board underneath the soon-to-be negative carrier. That part is important, because those self-healing mats don't take diagonal cuts all that well. They're better used for cuts that go straight through.

Anyway, this is what you should have:

What step are we on? Oh, right.

4. Make another one of these. Hopefully you do it perfectly enough that the two windows line up as so:

5. Now we're gonna hinge these two halves with some gaffer's tape. I friggin love this stuff. It's strong, flexible, and matte black.

So here's what it looks like:


Here's what we get with a negative loaded between the panels:

The only thing else I've contemplated doing is to spray some sealant on the insides and then some matte black paint to really smooth out the insides and keep any errant paper fibers from scratching the emulsion. Also, I tend to overcut quite a bit (as you can see), and I think the paint will help seal over the cuts. I'll try it and let you know. For now, though, these work great. They can be cut into any shape or size that you want, say if you have some panoramic shots or if you shoot your Holga with the 4x6 insert.

Here are some more gratuitous shots of the 120 negative holder all loaded up...