The Barefoot Photographer®

a photography blog

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Do You Have a Darkroom?

When we moved into this house ten years ago, I had ideas of how to finish the basement.  My husband and I talked many times of making the area just at the bottom of the steps a darkroom.  It would be perfect.  There are no windows in that area.  The only door is just at the bottom of the steps.  There was already a light fixture in the ceiling. 


When we worked on finishing the rest of the basement out for a family room, large room with exercise equipment, bathroom with shower, great closet to hold all of the kids' toys and games, a little area off the exercise room for the video games, plus our large office with a super large walk-in closet for office supplies – we did not make the darkroom.  We put it off for another time.  But – we still considered that area perfect for one and at some point it would happen. 


Something happened and it was not the darkroom.  Digital happened.  When I got that first digital camera years and years ago – the little Canon Powershot – that was the end of the darkroom in my future; or so I thought.


Just recently, I have heard about three different people who own darkroom equipment and were trying to sell it.  At this point, one was offering to give it away.  No one is interested.  Digital photography is taking over from film.  


In the beginning, I used the freebie editing software that came with my cameras.  I used the software that came with the Powershot and the next camera I bought (after the Powershot's life was ended by a few drops of Coke).  Things were good – it was easy to use and I thought I had all that I needed.  I was wrong.


About this same time I found a tiny photo in an old trunk.  The photo was taken about 1917 – it had my grandmother, her older brother, mother, and father in it.  It appeared to be a studio shot of the family.  The photo was about the size of my thumbnail.  The photo also had a crack across the middle of it.  It was such a treasure to find.  I had to have it restored some how and a larger version as well.   Three weeks and fifty dollars later, I had my larger copy (5x7) with the crack removed.  I also had the image (repaired) saved to a CD for future prints.  It was great.  But this was not the only old family photo that was in need of repair or restoration – and at fifty dollars (or more) each – that could soon add up.  So I decided I would purchase a photo-editing program and do the restoring myself.  That was it – that was how I got started in my digital darkroom.  And the cost of the program – about the cost of having two photos repaired, restored, and duplicated.


A few nights ago I was teaching a Photoshop Elements class and told them group that the laptop I had there with me is my darkroom.  I don't surf the Internet with it, I don't have any documents saved to it.  I use it solely to edit photos and in workshops to demo editing techniques.  My desktop (in the office in the basement) is used for everything else and some photo-editing too.  When I have photos to print – I print from the desktop.  For the class – I have the laptop and an Epson Powerlite S5 projector.  It works well to show what I am doing with a group.   


Think about it – that laptop, or any computer, is your darkroom.  No longer are you in a truly 'dark room' with a bunch of chemicals – you are there – wherever that may be – with the computer.  If you want to have it outside on the deck, you can.  Most of the time I spend on my laptop it is when my husband is watching something on TV that I really don't care about.  I sit in the living room, on the sofa, with my feet up, and edit photos. 


There was a darkroom in my future – and it has Toshiba written on it.  Oh, and the area at the bottom of the steps?  That is where we store the holiday decorations.  Wreaths, trees, deer, Jack o'lanterns, Easter grass, and more are in that "dark" room.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Could Your Best Macro Lens Be A Whole 'Nother Camera?

When I bought my third digital camera (Fuji S7000) I explored the world of macro photography at another level.  This fixed lens camera had capabilities I did not know about when I first chose it.  The macro setting was wonderful – but the super macro setting was unbelievable.  
The minimum focus distance in the super macro mode is 1 cm!  1 cm!  That is too darn close!  (Well, not really too close – but you know what I mean)  I loved taking photos with that camera – I took many great shots – but the macro shots were the best.  It opened another world – I had such options. 


The next time I was camera shopping (a year or so later) – the macro capabilities were an important part of the decision.  I had the Fuji still – but I wanted another – a back up with similar capabilities.  Could there be a camera out there to match what I had?  The Canon S2 IS came to my attention.  I had read all about it and wanted it months before it was available for purchase.  The minimum focus distance on this one – in the super macro mode – 0 cm!  Zero!& nbsp; The options you have with such a feature are endless.  The little Canon also came with a feature that I just love – it is called "Color Accent."  You can choose a color in your photo to be in color and the rest of the photo is black and white.  That is such a fun feature to play with.  Lately I have been using Photoshop Elements to desaturate a photo and then "put back" color in certain spots.  I really like that effect.


Aside from the color accent feature – I have yet to replace the macro capabilities of these fixed lens cameras with my digital SLR.  And really – why should I?  Why should I go out to find and purchase a macro lens that may or may not completely fit my needs when my fixed lens cameras do exactly what I want?  The Canon S2 IS even has this handy flip out and around LCD.  I always tell anyone that if anything should happen to that S2 – I will have to replace it with the latest version available at the moment.  Right now – the latest version is the S5 IS.  The S5 has more megapixels than my S2 and it has a hot shoe for Speedlite flashes, mine does not.  I am sure there are many other super cool enhancements over my almost three-year old camera – but as long as they keep that super macro mode with the 0 cm minimum focus distance – I will buy one.


Why do I need to consider purchasing a macro lens for my SLR?  I mean, I could, I would use it.  At some point I most likely will get one.  BUT – in the mean time I don't think I really "need" it.  I can take macro-ish-like photos with the SLR and the zoom I have now.  I am pleased with many of those shots.  But to get up close, use the natural light, and get that super macro shot with super thin depth of field – the S2 or the old Fuji is my choice.  I carry one of them with me in the camera bag, packed away like any other lens w ould be.


What have I bought lately?  More ink (I am always running out of magenta or light magenta – this time it was light magenta and yellow), some matte paper to try out, Ilford Smooth Pearl paper to try, a Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and Manfrotto 808RC4 3-way pan/tilt head.  I haven't tried the papers yet.  Hurray! the ink came before I ran out of light magenta completely.  The tripod and head are awesome – but it is heavier than I was hoping.  Last time I bought a tripod based on it being light – I was unhappy with it (rickety) – so I will love this being heavy (sturdy) and being a good tripod for me.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Les Mis and EXIF

Friday night I attended a play performed by my daughter's school group.  It was Les Miserables – with some of the songs from the musical.  The performance was at a local church with a large hall/auditorium and stage area.  It was great for the performance, but not so great for good photos.


When you have occasion to photograph your child or others in a similar situation – here is what I did.  It may help you.  First of all the color cast you will get is something to deal with.  If I had left my white balance in a semi-regular mode – I would have 200 images that looked orange-red.  After taking a few test shots I immediately settled on the tungsten setting for the white balance.  Even with that being the best choice – I had to do a little color correction in Photoshop – but not much – I was pleased with Tungsten for this shoot.


The lighting was an issue in more ways that one.  I was privileged to get up in the control area for the stage.  Think of in a theater when you look back and up to see where the movie is coming from.  I was there – but to the right, in a place with a swing-in door.  So think about this – shooting that far – across a dark theater to the stage.  The shutter speed had to be there to get movements sharp; but in the dark?   Before the play began and the lights were still up in the house – I was playing with shutter speed to get some interesting photos of the crowd entering and taking seats.  I was leaving the shutter open for 5, 10, and 15 seconds.  Some people were moving so quickly (well not really "quickly" – just normal walking speed) that they did not show up in the longest exposures.


But back to what I did for the play, I bumped up my ISO to 800 and gave that a try – still too dark for the speed I needed to shoot.  So I then went to 1600 ISO.  I have never used this high of a setting.  It worked well.  The only issue with shooting at this high of an ISO setting is the noise that may show – especially in a dark background.  And I had a dark background or two with some scenes in this production.


I can't remember what shutter speed I used most often – I did switch it up a little.  Also – in trying to avoid blurred movements of the actors, I tried to choose moments when they were still or in the spotlight to help keep them sharp.  In checking my EXIF data on the photos I can see what worked the best for each shot.  You can check the EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) data in Photoshop Elements or other photo-editing programs.  In Photoshop Elements, click on File>File Info>Camera 1.  This will show you the information about the shot.  If I click on one of my favorite shots of a single actor, I can see that my ISO is 1600 (whic h I knew) – but it tells me exactly the focal length I had zoomed to (231 mm), that I had the camera in shutter priority, my shutter speed (1/160), and my f-stop (6.3).   Another favorite photo shows a group of actors shows basically the same info – except I zoomed to the focal length of 141mm for that shot.   It will also tell if you used a flash or not.   Obviously, for what I was doing Friday night – flash would do nothing except distract.


The EXIF data is very helpful – let's say I don't do another shoot like this until next year.  How would I know what setting worked?  I could write it down – and lose it.  Here I just look it up.  If you shoot with more than one camera – it will tell you which camera you were using, the date, and the time you took the shot.  The date came in handy for me recently.  I was looking over the information about an upcoming photo contest – the rules stated the photo had to have been taken within the last four years.  I had a photo in mind – and I knew I had taken it a few years ago – but I did not k now if it was three, four, or five years ago.  So I checked the EXIF data and found it was 2005.  I can enter it in the contest – unless I change my mind by June!


Did I mention that I took the tripod only to discover that when I got there I did not have the quick release plate for the camera?  I ended up "borrowing" a fleece cloth that I found backstage to cushion the camera and sat it on the ledge of the opening to take photos to keep it steady.   I have two quick release plates for that tripod and both were at home!


Oh – and the play – it was marvelous!  Although, whenever I hear "Master of the House" I can't help but think of that Seinfeld episode when George keeps singing that song.  It is the one where Jerry buys the very expensive suede jacket.  I believe the title of it is "The Jacket."


I can't wait for next year and Fiddler on the Roof!


Thursday, February 7, 2008


Tuesday morning I knew there would be fog.  I had watched the late news Monday night and heard the weather forecast.  Tuesday morning I had to take my daughter to play practice.  Her school group is performing Les Mis tonight and tomorrow night.  She had to be there at 9 a.m.  I thought about putting the camera in the car to take along – but I did not.  Halfway to play practice I was thinking what a goof I had been to not bring along the camera.  The fog was wonderful!


As soon as I dropped her off – I headed back home to get the camera.  It was still only about 9:15 – plenty of fog around.  But before I starting taking photos – I stopped in to vote in the Georgia primary.  After voting, I continued to retrace the route from earlier that morning.  I stopped to take some photos of some trees.  The one place I had noticed earlier (someone's curving driveway framed by a black fence) had changed and so I did not stop there.  I stopped by a fie ld with some cows.  A few of them were near the road side munching on a pile of hay.  A couple of them looked up and gave me a good stare as I snapped their portraits.  Cows remind me of my dog – I don't think the dog or the cows would find that comparison flattering.  Between me and the cows it was clear – but the fog provided a nice background.


Then I thought about a very trite local subject – but I like it anyway – so I went to Starr's Mill.  I took a few of the mill and the falls in the fog – but my favorites there were some trees.  I have converted these to black and white – and I love them!  I believe they are contest material.  I did not stay here long – there was another location I wanted to visit.


I drove almost back to my house to a local wetlands project that is yet to be completed.  I took photos here of the vastness of the property.  I then drove a little ways up the road to another driveway in to the place.  This drive has a chain across the entrance so I could just pull my car in far enough to be off of the road.  As I walked past the no trespassing signs I could hear geese on the pond.  I walked down to see them – but did not have a good shot of any of them.  I did notice the reflections of the bare trees across the pond.  The grayness of the trees' reflection in the muddy brown water made an interesting composition. 


By now the fog was burning off and I needed to go get some gas.  It was a pretty good morning to be out.  As for the bare trees shots – time is growing short on those.  I have spotted a redbud (two actually) beginning to bloom in Peachtree City and other trees budding out with leaves.  There are still many bare trees out there – but next thing you know – it will be spring!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Would Ansel Adams Go Digital?

As I am reading the first of the three books that I ordered from the Lenswork site – something interesting has crossed my mind.  I have thought about this before but one of the stories from Brooks Jensen jogged my memory again.  He was writing about Ansel Adams and the time that he actually met Ansel at the Weston Gallery in Carmel.


It reminded me of my mental discussion I had with myself once of whether I thought Ansel Adams would be heavy into digital and Photoshop or would he be a hold out and still work with film and in a dark room?  Now please tell me that I am not the only one who has these mental discussions (not out loud) with myself.  I just wonder about something and think about it.  I keep some of those to myself because, frankly, at home no one else would be interested in the discussion.  If I were to ask a similar "what if" kind of question around here – it would get the attention of my husband if it went something like, "If Bobby Jones was alive, what kind of clubs would he use?"


But what would Ansel do?


At first I thought he would not want to leave film and the dark room behind.  He would wonder how could a digital camera and a computer actually compete with his darkroom skills.  But I have thought about it more and come to think that he would go digital – at least by now, maybe not in the early stages.  I know there have been some holdouts on giving up the film.  But once you do – you are just amazed at the instantaneousness of digital imaging.    


I think Ansel Adams would have been drawn to it because of the instant feedback on an image.  I also think that due to his skill in the darkroom – he may have even worked with someone to develop a remarkable photo-editing program geared to the black and white photographer.  Maybe he would not want to give up the large-format camera – maybe not just yet.  But you know what – I'll bet he would fiddle with the photos on a computer rather than using a darkroom.  Can't you just see him now – sitting there in front of a very large, very expensive monitor?   I have read that he would enlarge an image – post it to the wall and over a period of days, weeks, whatever he would make no tations on the print for more dodging and burning for the next print of the same image.


Yes – I think he would be digital – and maybe still some film – but I'll bet anything that he would computer edit.  I also think he would have one, extra-large printer!


And about that Brooks Jensen book – right now I am reading Letting Go of the Camera.  I really like it.  After listening to so many of Brooks' podcasts – I can hear the book as a podcast in my head.  These little snippets are the podcasts – or just like them.  So far I have not read something that I have already listened to on the iPod.  I have something else I want to read on Elements – but I am holding off and planning to finish the "Lenswork Three" first.  It is double hard since I brought home the new John Grisham book today.  I have not read his last few – I feel that after the fi rst group of really good books that he kind of lost his mojo.  I have also heard that with this newest one – he kind of gets it back.  I hope so.  I went through the lost the mojo thing with Patricia Cornwell – I used to love her books – but not the next to last one – and I skipped the latest because of that.


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