Category Archives: Imagery

Inspiration by Association

I’ve learned not to think when I run out with my camera to take some pictures. I may have a feeling about a place, a time of day, a sense of perfection or ruin in mind, but I am looking in my camera for something that just feels right. When I began as a photographer I had to think until I mastered operating my camera controls, which were all manual. Unfortunately, that habit of thinking about every shot really inhibited my shooting; and I took forever to expose a roll of film.


2015startonthestreetI was over my hesitancy when my enthusiasm for photography was reignited in 2000 or so when I accepted warm invitations from Randi Laak, then an instructor at the Worcester Center for Crafts, to enroll in his Friday evening photography class. I freely experimented with exposures, films, darkroom chemistry and processes as I had not when I started out.


Together with the freedom in the darkroom (And now in Photoshop), the history of photography of which I had learned as a beginning photographer and witnessed in publications and exhibitions as time passed, and my love of many paintings, prints, sculptures, etc. at the Worcester Art Museum and elsewhere, I am endowed with feelings associated with these beautiful or provocative objects that are evoked, I believe, as I walk through the world. I think those feelings and associations are part of my feeling of “rightness” when something captures my eye.


The universe seems to notice that I take the time to stop and see things then  once in a while shouts at me to stop and look at this!


Here’s one example of a landscape photograph of a scene of light penetrating a shadowy wild place for which I felt similarly to when I look at an 18th century painting by Alessandro Magnasco:In painting and photograph the light seems to stab into a shadowy wild place.


“Good” and Cheap

wetland-reflection-1-PA260181I believe digital cameras, their sensors, lenses, and image processors have evolved and multiplied enough that I can buy equipment to make “fine art” for not a lot of bucks. However, I don’t think full frame cameras, professional lenses and the like are without value. They’re tools in talented hands for making extraordinary images.


My point is that I don’t need spend like crazy on high end gear to make photographs that please me and whatever audience I can gather.


After one or two newer model generations have gone to market, leftover inventories may be steeply discounted. I look at specifications. A pro-grade camera may share technology with a lower priced model. Hey, if I can control aperture, ISO, and exposure time, then I’m happy.


I think of this approach as buying trailing edge technology. Maybe it’s just my Yankee stinginess. Whatever it is, I save by buying things that give me raw files, high resolution, low noise, and that satisfy my fussy eye without breaking the bank.


What is enough? I must be happy with the work that I create. If doing photography doesn’t give me joy and satisfaction, it won’t matter what I spend.

Numbers, part three (Conclusion)

Sensitivity is defined by the International Organization for Standards (ISO) in its abstract thus:

“ISO 12232:2006 specifies the method for assigning and reporting ISO speed ratings, ISO speed latitude ratings, standard output sensitivity values, and recommended exposure index values, for digital still cameras. ISO 12232:2006 is applicable to both monochrome and colour digital still cameras.”

ISO 200 (low noise)
ISO 200 (low noise)

Long ago we used to call this the ASA, which was the similar method for determining film sensitivity from the American Standards Association.

The lower the ISO number is set the longer it takes to record an image; and the less noise appears in the image files; higher ISO’s make faster recordings of images with more noise. Camera image processors have improved noise reduction so I may select higher ISO settings with little noise in my image with recent digital camera models.

Click on images to view at full size for better comparison of noise levels in the two images.

ISO 16000 (high noise)
ISO 16000 (high noise)

Methods of noise reduction include blurring or smearing small artifacts, subtracting pixels based on another exposure, and so on. Perhaps some small details get lost in the process. Although, details may be recovered using the algorithms used in the camera image processor or post processing. Some pixels in the resulting image thus may be made by firmware or editing software rather than light.

In summary, I can apply three basic camera settings: aperture, time, and sensitivity to make creative choices such as sharpness, and blurred or frozen motion. I can compensate for the lighting; I can select high sensitivity for low light exposures, and low ISO settings for cleaner, more detailed images.

Making choices with these settings lets me capture how I see a thing and share it in a photograph.

Numbers, part two

Today, I want to talk about time. The duration of an exposure can be very short, very long or anywhere in-between. Cameras can be set for exposures of one thousandth of a second or less, or of many seconds or minutes.

1/800 Second Exposure Freezes Motion

Time, how long the shutter is open, or how long the sensor is recording can be set for a capture that is shorter, which will freeze action, and is handy for sports and fast moving subjects like children and race cars.

I can choose a longer exposure to blur objects as they move across the frame for an impression of speed, or to smooth moving surfaces like river rapids in which the water is a smooth clear or milky flowing substance over rocks.

With very long exposure times, electronic noise can get recorded in my image file as the camera circuitry builds up heat, and, especially if it had been low at the start, the battery could run out of charge.

1/25 Second Exposure Blurs Motion
1/25 Second Exposure Blurs Motion

There may be technical consequences to very short and very long shutter speeds that I want to bear in mind. Higher sensitivity (which I’ll write about in my next post) may be required to capture an image completely when I wish or need to make a very fast exposure.

Instant Photography

Bankruptcy and the ceasing of production of instant films by Polaroid could have left only Fujifilm as a producer of peal apart instant film for Land Cameras, but no integral instant films for classic Polaroid cameras. However, in 2008 The Impossible Project was conceived and funding was found to purchase the last Polaroid film manufacturing plant in the world.
Ten of the best former Polaroid employees were recruited to join in the effort to recreate film chemistry for SX-70, 600, and Spectra/Image cameras.By 2010 Impossible released its first black and white instant film, recreating instant film for Polaroid format cameras.
Polaroid SX-70 Black & White instant film
Scamper in the shadow of lace curtains. Polaroid SX-70 Black & White instant film.
Today, it produces black & white and color integral films, 8×10 black & white film, and the Instant Lab, which works with black & white or color SX-70 or 600 films to make instant prints from smartphones and tablets; and it refurbishes classic Polaroid SX-70, 600, and Spectra/Image cameras.
Polaroid SX-70 Black & White instant film
Pepper behind lace curtains. Polaroid SX-70 Black & White instant film.

Find out more about Impossible.

Fingers and Digits

As I wrote last time digital photography was on its way to surpassing the market share of film or analog photography when I got much more active in the first decade of this century. In my mind, at first, it was hard for me to understand digital black & white photography. Plus, there is an aesthetic to each as practice: one a craft working in all physical media, the other seemingly technological, electronic, office-work-like. One emerges gradually before the eyes, the other instantaneously from the camera, or with a change of settings or a few clicks of the mouse. This thinking took a few years to work out in my mind.

What finally made me happy with digital photography is a realization that the same full spectrum light arrives at the surface of the negative or the surface of the camera sensor. There are parallel choices in editing software to choosing contrast filters and the like. I can still choose my preference of texture and brightness and gloss in photo papers. I can make alterations by hand, hand cut window mattes, and assemble frames.

Alternative chemistry equivalent with digital gear and editing.
Alternative chemistry equivalent with digital gear and editing.

What is different, do I think? One thing is an historical fluke. Right now serviceable good quality film cameras capable of producing very high resolution “captures” (up to gigapixels in large format) are available at a fraction of the up front cost for their digital equivalents. Afterwards, film and processing costs accumulate, making analog a non-competitive choice in commercial settings where expenses must be controlled. For us ordinary Joes and Josephines, film can be very satisfying at least occasionally or for certain uses such as landscape and architectural subjects. A good thing about today, is the variety of choices a camera enthusiast gets. I can shoot film and print in the darkroom, scan and print from my computer, scan or use my digital capture to produce a transparency for alternative printing processes, such as cyanotype, platinum and many others. A variety of chemistries, tools, and materials can be had from websites such as Jumping into these processes is easier than before digital emerged.

Toned Silver Gelatin Print
Toned Silver Gelatin Print

Another is the physical work (or play) in analog photography. It’s just fun to choose and use various films, papers, developers in different dilutions, amounts of agitation, and more in the darkroom to alter the impact of processing on the negative or photo paper; and then to watch the result gradually darken in as it sits in a trayful of developer under a safe light.

Who am I? Why am I here?

stspyridonsepiaI’m here because I have been a photography enthusiast for many years and my story includes years of shooting film and making a transition to digital cameras. Never a commercial photographer, I’ve mostly made pictures for my own pleasure and to fulfill the urge to create. Other than for social occasions like cookouts and holiday gatherings, I always shot black & white film; and mostly developed, printed, mounted, matted, and framed my own work.

I live in central Massachusetts, a place full of urban and suburban, rural, and (man-made) wild environments such as watersheds surrounding the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs, and the Ware River any of which provide many subjects for the photographer.

In the early 2000s my passion for the camera greatly heated up. My mother was growing more frail. I joined the Worcester Craft Center and took some knife making classes as something completely different from the rest of my life to do for relaxation. Randi Laak, the instructor in the photo studio down the hall, once he learned I was a photographer invited me to take a class sometime. I did repeatedly for several years, taking advantage of the darkroom and the convenient time the courses were offered.

Computer-made Van Dyke Brown-like image
Computer-made Van Dyke Brown-like image

Film and digital shared the market when I began these classes, but digital was on its way to dominance. Digital hardware and software give me a great amount of power and flexibility for creating black & white, infrared, and color photographic images, although a much less hand crafted product in most cases. Next time, I’ll talk about my anxiety over that and how I wrapped my head around digital (but without completely abandoning analog) photography.