Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Faith and Reason

Most religions run into trouble when they make the whole of their pyramid faith. An enlightened religion will make the base reason, the center wisdom, and the apex faith.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The second film

My second roll of film since returning from sea was a black and white. This was not the traditional silver-halide emulsion, but rather a color dye film that can be processed by your local one hour photo-lab. While toying with the idea of returning to developing my own film, I just didn't like it back in school, and I doubt that I will like it now, so for now, I just shoot this stuff, which comes in ISO 400 speed.

I typically shoot B&W film in my older manual cameras or my Leica Rangefinder. In this case, I chose the later, a Leica M7. I shot the roll in four different outings, and with only two different focal lengths, but with three lenses.

The first outing was to a country store located at a farm in the town of Dallas in NE Pennsylvania called Shadyrill. Brooke remembers fondly when the "store" was one part of a barn used mostly for equipment storage and had no refinements. Recently they have finished the interior somewhat, but still has that rough-hewn edge to it. Still it was clean, and they have a nice little cafe and various food and craft items from local suppliers and artisans.

My favorite photo of this outing was of the bags of apples they had for sale on a rough-plank of a table. being that it was late Fall, the low sun angled through the front door windows and cast the apples in a chiaroscuro mixture of light and shadow that offered wonderful pattern and texture, which is ideal for black and white.

The second outing for this roll of film was for reportage at a more serious photoshoot at the Greek Orthodox cathedral in Springfield, Ma. I was meeting a Master Photographer named Xenophon Beake and my mentor Fred Bird. Xenophon was to photograph the interior of the church which was going to take a lot of light. The church was built in a Gothic style with moderately high arches and illuminated mostly by stained glass windows. We had to light the whole place with strobes, and considering we were using a fisheye lens, the lights had to be carefully placed to hide them from the all-seeing eye of the camera. The photography took about five minutes, but the setup took three hours and the breakdown took about an hour.

While I wasn't running around dealing with lights, I took a few shots of Xenophon and Fred working as well as a few artsy shots. Due to the very low light levels in the church, I was using my fastest lens, a Voightlander 35mm f1.2 lens wide open with about a 1/15th second shutter speed. No camera but the Leica could have done this with ISO 400 film. My favorite shot of the day was of the baptismal font in the front of the church. the light came through a side window and shone on the wooden font while leaving the rest of the scene in shadows.

The next outing was a walk around downtown Wilkes-Barre, PA. I sometimes go wandering from Brooke's apartment to take random pictures, mostly of cityscape's. During this outing, I found a faded sign in an alley behind the F.M. Kirby center pointing to what was once the McManus Cafe. The McManus Clan has a large presence at the campground that Brooke's family is active in, so of course i am wondering if they are somehow related. Given the "small town" nature of this area, it would not surprise me in the least.

I finally finished this roll of film as we decorated for Christmas. I recorded the decorating of the tree and finished off by changing lenses to my 90mm for a few close ups of the ornaments.

My favorite shot was certainly the font picture, but I enjoy shooting black and white film because it forces me to look at things a bit differently. I must admit however, that I do not shoot it enough, and need to put a few more rolls of it through my cameras to hone my skills a bit more.

Samp Tomato Soup, part one

While samp for breakfast may have satisfied, or at least filled, my ansenstors, it did nothing for me. I will stick with the southern tradition and opt for grits for my breakfast side. Since I still have better than a pound of samp, I needed to go in a different direction. I opted for a more traditional soup, and figured that a tomato based concoction might be the way to go.

I was admittedly lazy in my first soup effort. I had some cans of V8 juice in the refrigerator so decided to throw three cans of V8 into the crock pot with a cup dried samp. The crock pot is definitely my friend when it comes to samp. I cooked it for about six hours in there until the samp had absorbed the liquid and softened up a bit. While it was edible, I wouldn’t say it was good. The samp didn’t work quite as well as I had hoped. I suspect that the viscosity of the V8 juice didn’t lend itself well to softening the samp. I ate most of it over the course of a couple days, but it is not something I will repeat. I will try again with the tomato combination with some tomato bisque soup but my pre-treatment of the samp will be a bit different.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A day with Tiffany & Co.

It was cold outside yesterday, and since I felt like doing some photography, yet still not freeze, I decided to set up for some close up product shooting.

Shooting in an apartment limited the amount of space you have, both to shoot and to store equipment, so I tend to go minimal, which means shooting small objects. Jewelry tends to be my favorite subject, and I am well equipped here to photograph it.

The subjects for the day were a couple of Tiffany & Co pieces that my girlfriend Brooke has bought recently. The first is a ring that she bought. My favorite image of the day paired their holiday red bow on their signature box, along with the pouch and ring on a glass table.

For lighting I used natural lighting from a window,, which came in at a fairly low angle and used a small macro flash (SB-200) hand-held above the scene to fill in the shadows. I was using my D700, as normal these days, and for a lens I used the 85mm f2.8D PC Nikkor. For those not familiar with lenses, this is a lens that allows up half life size magnification and provides movements to control depth of field and "keystone" distortion. This lens is ideally suited for this sort of table-top photography and offers excellent flexibility and image quality.

The second piece was a cross necklace that Brooke gave me for my birthday. Since it was much smaller, I opted to use the pouch for the back ground and concentrate on just the crosses. I used a similar set up, but instead of using natural light, I used two macro-speedlights for the lighting. One was positioned to the right side to fill in shadows with the main light above and to the left a bit. I needed a bit more magnification than my 85mm could offer naturally, so I used my bellows set to get a bit more extension. DOF was controlled by stopping down the aperture as well as a bit of tilting. Exposure was first guessed, and then fine tuned, but the iTTL flash feature of this camera does an excellent job despite no information from the lens.
I was quite pleased with the results and posted them to Flickr as well as here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Samp for Breakfast

Samp (aka coarse hominy) is like supersized grits. It is corn with the hull removed and cracked once or twice. Grits has the hull removed and ground to a powder.

When I was a kid, my father would make Samp about once a year. He'd soak it over night, then simmer it with hamhock. Sadly due to health concerns, no additional salt was added. At the bowl, my brother and I added quite a bit of salt and pepper to make it edible.

I have about two pounds of it that I bought at the Jamesport Country store. My father can regal any interested listener about obtaining the stuff over the years and the efforts he had to go through to get it. In any case, I need to consume the stuff, so I am experimenting a bit in the kitchen.

Since Samp is super-sized grits, I figured I'd try cooking it in a similar way. Being alone for breakfast, I opted for generally the same recipie. Here's what I found from day 1:

3 Tablespoons grits

1-1/4 cups water (need more water than grits because it cooks much longer

1-1/2 tsp margarine or butter

salt to taste

Combine water, margarine, and salt. Bring water to a boil, add samp. Reduce heat and simmer for 32 minutes. Serve hot.

The key is to cook it long enough to soften the grits enough to remove the crunch.

The next samp experiment will be Samp for dinner. I am thinking modifying a corn chowder recipie and see what comes out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The first roll.

As you can imagine, I don’t get to shoot a great deal of film when I am at sea working. While I carried a film camera during the first few years of my career, the outfit was cumbersome due to the fact that I had to carry an always limited amount of film with me. In addition, I had to wait until I returned home in order to get it processed. This added up to little motivation to shoot film on my trips.

Home is a different story. Most of my cameras are film cameras. In fact, there are always a few that do not see a roll of film cycled through them during my four-month vacations. I just don’t shoot that much film. Much of it is due to the cost I am afraid. I have a weird sense of “cheapness” where I will spend thousands of dollars on a lens but will baulk at buying a few hundred dollars of film and processing. This is not just in photography, but in other things as well, but beyond the scope of this.

In any case, I take a camera out and load it with film and then see what inspires me to shoot. The cheapness I have with film has one advantage however, I am always thinking when I depress the shutter of a film camera. I know that I only have twenty four or thirty six frames to use, and that slows me down. With digital, I have hundreds on a card, and after a five-minute download, have hundreds more to go, with little immediate cost. Digital is great for sports, but you also get sloppy.

When I returned home this time, my first roll of film was a roll of Fuji Velvia 50 slide film into my Leica R8. The film is a fine-grain, highly saturated slide film that is designed for nature and wildlife. The slow speed means remarkably fine grain and the colors really “pop” when they are projected on a screen. I like this film with the Leica because the Leica lenses really draw well with this film. The color rendition and sharpness of the lenses really allows the film emulsion to shine. The only two real drawbacks are that the film does not do well with skin tones and it is quite slow.

I shot this roll in three outings. The first outing was a walk in the new river-walk park on the Wilkes-Barre side of the Susquehanna River. I brought only one prime lens with me, as is often the case with my Leica’s, as I only have primes, and I rarely carry more than one. This day I decided on a short telephoto lens in the form of a 90mm Summicron-R. To those new or ignorant to Leica terminology, “Summicron” refers to a f/2 lens. This one is the last generation spherical lenses, and is quite sharp and has lovely color rendition.

Being that it was late fall, there was little color to take advantage of, so I tuned my eye to form and shapes rather than the color of things. Perhaps I could have used B&W film instead, but I did not. The Market Street Bridge and the new concrete walkways in the park lent themselves most to this outing. My favorite image is one of the statue of Jesus with outstretched hands at King’s college across the street appears to stand on a a slightly blurred concrete wall with grass in the foreground. The foreshortening effect from the telephoto lens helped with this to make the statue appear somewhat on the same scale and plane as the wall, despite being at least a quarter of a mile away.

The second outing was with my widest Leica, a 21mm f4 Super Angulon. This time I went to the Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre. They had set up their Christmas tree and a local Church had set up a crèche as well. I got up close and low to the crèche and while I liked the composition, the image fell a bit flat with some lost highlight details on the frame. I also shot a rather banal image of the tree, and since it is blocked in by a chain-linked fence, there is nothing terribly artistic about it. The favorite image of mine from this outing was an image similar to the crèche, only with the statue of Christopher Columbus. There were wreaths and flags around the statue, and the image really worked. The vignette inherent with this lens added some darkening to the sky which emphasized the statue even more and was most pleasant to me. After a bit of scanning and post processing, I even had an image printed from this frame.

The final outing with this roll of film was to Kirby Park in Kingston, PA, which is right across the Market Street Bridge from Wilkes-Barre. There is a small pond in the middle of the park and I wanted to see if there were any wild fowl there that might be so kind as to allow me to photograph them. As you can imagine, birds, even the large ones like geese and ducks, require long lenses to photograph effectively, as they usually don’t allow you to approach them without great stealth and effort. For this outing, I had a long telephoto lens, a 560mm f4 lens. This is a large and heavy setup requiring my heavy tripod and gimbaled head. I went a bit “rogue” for this shoot as far as wildlife shooting is concerned by leaving the motor drive at home. The R8 had a nice drive, but the manual wind is much quieter and I was not expecting to be shooting action sequences in anycase.

This was my first time using this lens and it lived up to expectations. While it is manual focus, the geese I shot were slow moving enough for me to get exacting focusing and careful compositions. I gleefully shot off the remaining half of the roll before breaking down the rig and carting it back to my car. My favorite of the bunch is an image of a lone Canadian goose as he wearily eyes my activities from my perch. The sun had come out at just the correct time and was behind me, which offered wonderful lighting to capture them as it was late afternoon during the “golden hour.”

Once the roll was finished, I packed it up into one of my pre-paid mailers and sent it off to Los Angles to the lab I use for my E-6 processing. This is an at least ten-day round trip to send it to the West Coast and then back again, so as usual, the use of slide film is not only expensive, but an exercise in patience. Still, when that box arrives in the mail, it is a good feeling to place the slides on the lightbox and then to project them onto the screen for the best photographic viewing. Slide film is what I really love about shooting film, and is well worth the wait.