Archive for the ‘projects’ Category

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

As I mentioned, recently, I’m gearing up to work on a 4×5 project that’s going to involve some moderate close-up work. The project in question starts with a subject I’ve worked with before — on digital, on film, on multiple occasions, never to my real satisfaction.

Here’s the latest version — still not providing that aforementioned satisfaction, but hopefully a step in the right direction:


The subject is a tree that is growing around a metal sign pole. It fascinates me greatly, and I’m collecting similar subjects — trees growing over or around pieces of human infrastructure, and other such things — for a project that I refer to as “engulf.”

By the way, an anecdote from the “things people ask me while I’m using a view camera” file: While I was working on this photograph, a guy passed by with his wife or girlfriend and their kid in a stroller. The guy was perplexed — to the point of offense — by my activity. He asked what I was doing, and I explained that I was photographing the tree.

He demanded to know _why_ I would want to photograph a tree, using all the gear and effort I was using. I was debating between trying to explain the whole project or telling the guy to fuck off, when he noticed the pole for the first time. It was awesome to see, because a cartoon light bulb practically went off over his head — and then he went on to tell me a story about how, at his job, they’d had to cut down a tree, and found one an old support line for a telephone pole that the tree had grown around and which had been left inside it.

I took this, overall, as a pretty positive sign regarding the project. While I do not underestimate the importance of being able to explain, in words, what one is trying to do with a photograph, it is good when a subject is also able to speak for itself, and elicit intense visual memories from a viewer. (Of course, the fact that the real subject is able to do so does not necessarily mean that my photographs of it will necessarily succeed so well.)

The reason I’m using 4×5 for this is that it allows me to work with perspective. This subject (like many others in the series of which this is the representative) is near ground level and fairly small in scope; as a result, working on them with any of my medium or small-format cameras creates problems in terms of perspective. In fact, this series was the primary reason I bought a 4×5 in the first place — although that is not to say that it will necessarily turn out to be the reason I choose to continue working in 4×5, if I in fact do so.

In this round of attempts, I will (at least some of the time) be bringing artificial lighting to the task. This is contrary to my basic instinct and orientation as a photographer, which is to always keep the manipulations behind the camera, not in front of it. However, I think it is a necessity, here; many of the subjects are persistently in extremely flat light, and the flatness of that light obscures significant aspects of the subjects.

To that end, I’ve somewhat beefed up my “strobist” kit, and am currently trying to find a way to integrate it all with my 4×5 kit while maintaining the level of portability I generally insist on — what I refer to as “commutable,” meaning I can take it with me to work on a daily basis if need be, so that I can use it during my lunch break or on my way home.

I did a quick check yesterday to see how things work; the polaroid above is one of the results — although not necessarily representative of the results I’ll get with the HP5 I shot at the same time, since both depth of field and contrast should less dramatic/gloomy on the film.

Still, I expect I will have to return to this scene I try different approaches. (Cross lighting and working closer in with a shorter focal length being next on the checklist.)

If setup photos are something you care to say, I did snap a few with the GRD:




The test run took quite a long time — maybe a couple of hours in total. (Of course, once the kinks are worked out, I should be able to cut that down substantially.) Most of that time I was kneeling, squatting, or sitting on the ground, as a result of which today the muscles on the front of my thighs are exceedingly unhappy.

In terms of functionality, the gear worked well enough. I’ll need to figure out something in lieu of sandbags for the stands, if I’m going to be using umbrellas in the breeze. Or I could just carry sandbags, but that sounds too masochistic.

My main concern is about power. Even working fairly close, using these umbrellas, I was limited to f/16-f/22 when shooting at ISO 400-800. That may turn out to be enough (we’ll see when I’ve got the HP5 developed), or it may not.

If I need to work at f/32 or f/45, I’m going to need to make a change — maybe opaque umbrellas would be sufficient, but I may need to either use the flashes without them (in which case the light may be problematically hard) or I may need to replace my flash units with something more powerful, which would be a huge PITA, not so much because of the cost and having to go shopping again, as because of size constraints. Going more powerful is likely to mean a physically larger unit, like my big Sunpak, or more units — either of which will seriously compromise my efforts at maintaining a portable kit. If I wind up having to put all this crap in a rolling case, I’m going to be pissed at myself, since a big part of going with a field camera in the first place instead of a more economical, functional monorail camera, was to permit me to carry a full kit on my back.

Still, despite the hiccups and caveats, my thigh muscles, and the slightly emo polaroid that I came away with, I’m still pretty happy with the result. I’m happy with the perspective, and happy with the improved texture and three-dimensionality provided by the lighting. It’s certainly a start.


Friday, March 13th, 2009

So, I recently signed up to do SoFoBoMo. You can click through and read about it there, if you aren’t already familiar with it, but the short version is, it’s like NaNoWriMo for photography. I think it’s a great idea, although I don’t feel so positively about the name. It makes me think of someone trying to cuss me out while eating a peanut butter sandwich.

I signed up in part because I’m a sucker for stuff like this, but mostly because I have yet to do the sort of project where you conceive, execute, and output a bunch of images on a single subject in a delimited time window. And that seems like something I ought to be able to do, and ought to have practice doing.

I’ve debated a bit with myself on the topic. I was considering using my translation of Chapter 18 of the Mūlamadhyamikakārikāḥ (a Buddhist philosophical treatise in verse), but I think I should save that — I don’t think it would be best served by a rigid constraint on time and number of images.


So, I think I’m going to revisit a photograph (at right) I made some time ago, and with which I was never fully satisfied. The subject is a tree which is growing around a metal pole, and if allowed to continue growing, may at some point fully engulf the pole within itself. I plan to return to this subject, and to others like it, which embody the conflict of nature and civilization in small ways.

We’ll see how that works out for me. I plan to use my RB67 and shoot the whole thing on Portra 800, a film I know fairly well and from which I believe I can get good results in a wide variety of conditions. This will have the advantage of giving me high-quality output I know how to work with, along with a degree of built-in consistency. This is good, because consistency between images is not something I’ve previously worked to achieve; normally, I treat every image as a task unto itself. I don’t generally try to match the look of one image to another.

The downside is that this means shooting 35 images on 120 film (minimum four rolls; with any degree of redundancy, more like six-eight), and getting them developed and scanned, which adds overhead in the chronology.

Well, we’ll see.

Peek w/case

Right now what I’m doing is scouting potential subjects. I may do a few still life images at home (likely with vegetables), but for the most part, this is going to be about things found in the “wild,” as it were. I normally just wait and shoot subjects as I come across them, but for this, I’ll need to make a lot of images in a comparatively short period of time in order to have the time needed to develop, scan, process, and design. Thus the need to plan ahead.

To do this, I’ve been using the combination of my Peek email device and Remember the Milk, an online todo list service with particularly good email integration. When I pass by something that I particularly like, I send an email to RTM, along with a reminder date (shooting for sofobomo won’t start for a while) and an instruction to file it in a separate sofobomo list.

I could, of course, keep a paper list, but the metadata aspect is really appealing, and paper doesn’t remind you when to do something. And while paper is great for some things (like taking notes while I’m shooting), I find it doesn’t work well for me when I’m aggregating lots of little notes over time. Either I make the notes in a fixed-page journal, in which case I have trouble finding them all later in the midst of the other text, or else I make them on a removable-page notepad, in which case I tend to lose the pages.

So, yay for technology….