Miscellaneous – Techniques Tips and Rambles

This is a catch all page for stuff that doesn’t really warrant it’s own page or fit into any of the other pages.

Sprocket Holes

I’ve always thought it looked cool to shoot 35mm film in a camera meant for a bigger format and end up with the film exposed from edge to edge and the sprocket holes showing. But I never got motivated enough to figure out how to do everything it would take to do it. I’d have to build some kind of a 35mm roll extender to put it in a medium format camera… I’d have to figure out how to take a take a back lit picture of the negs to keep the neg holders for my scanner from cutting off the holes… etc…

So when I got my Speed Graphic occurred to me that it’d be easy to tape a couple 35mm film strips down in one of the 4×5 holders. That would take care of the exposure part of my sprocket dream. Then, now that the wheels were turning, I realized that I could just lay the negatives down on my scanner’s glass (dull side down to avoid Newton Rings), lay the piece of glass that I use for contact prints on top of them to keep them flat and scan them. Thankfully, my scanner is capable of scanning without the plastic negative holders that don’t show the sprocket holes. There’s a button in the software interface called “turn off automatic thumbnails” (or something like that) which will keep the back light on in the lid but scans just like a regular flatbed and doesn’t require the use of the neg holder.

525sprockets1Now that I’ve done it… I’m not sure sure I’d call it easy. I usually shoot the large format using print paper as my negative and I’ve become very spoiled by the fact that it’s so easy to work with. With paper I can load the holders and develop under red light and it’s not a big issue if the room I do it in isn’t perfectly dark. Film is way more sensitive to light so every thing I did had to be in the dark bag. I had to cut the strips of film to the right length and tape them down next to each other in the holder… all in the changing bag. Then, after exposing, back in the changing bag to pull them off of the holder and put them in the developing tank. One thing that hadn’t occurred to me was how hard it would be to spool up the short strips of film. I’m okay at spooling a normal 3 foot long strip of film but the spools are definitely not made to stop after 5 inches or feed the 5 inches in from the normal end point. After fighting it for a while I kind of just pushed both strips into the spool and crossed my fingers. After all that developing went okay and scanning was easy with my scanner. I was ready to  tape them and a sheet of velum to my window and just shoot them with my DSLR as a back up plan though.

So yeah… it is not the most convenient way to shoot. With paper negatives I can easily develop 10 shots and reload the holders in an evening. That isn’t going to happen with 35mm film in the 4×5 holders.

Results wise I’m very happy. I really like the sprocket holes and the way the multiple strips of film look so I’ll make sure to do it from time to time. The only problem is now I fantasize about how cool it’d be to do like 5 strips of film in an 8×10.

Metering For Paper Negatives or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My DSLR

Using print paper for your recording medium (negative) has some interesting complications. For one, print paper is a lot slower than film. 100 ISO is considered a slow film where print paper is usually about 2-8 ISO. And, on pinhole cameras, you’re also usually dealing with really small apertures further complicating the calculation of shutter time.

I’ve got a cheap little handheld light meter that I love and I can kind of set it to that low an ISO but it’s really hard to trust when it gets to the extreme dark or light end of it’s range.

So what I’ve been doing is testing the scene by shooting it with my DSLR. I set the aperture to the same setting I want on the paper negative camera, set the  ISO to 100 (it’s slowest setting) and take a few shots until the lighting looks about how I want it (it doesn’t mater if it’s blurry or anything since I’m just working on exposure). Then I calculate the difference between the shutter speed on the DSLR and what I need for the camera with the paper negative.  When calculating ISO, dividing by 2 gets you a 1 stop decrease. So… 100 to 50 is one stop, 50 to 25 is two stops, 25 to 12 is three stops and 12 to 6 is four stops.  So there’s a four stop increase between what my DSLR shutter speed is and what my paper negative camera shutter speed needs to be. If the DSLR shutter speed was 1/500 seconds then 1/250 would be one stop, 1/125 would be two stops, 1/60 would be three stops and 1/30 would be four stops.

It took a little practice to get it dialed in to a four stop difference and I do usually shoot an extra shot with a slightly different setting just to be sure. But since I got this dialed in I haven’t had any surprise all black or all white shots and it’s really great for shooting in the extreme dark or light situations.

I didn’t address the fact that there’s no way a DSLR is going to be capable of aperture settings normally found on pinholes but I’m assuming if you’re a pinhole shooter you’ve got a system for making that calculation (a topic for a different article)

I also didn’t get into depth about shutter time standards. More details on that can be found on wikipedia.

The Ten Commandments Of Photography

Not that I’m anyone to be commanding anything but here’s a list of things I always try to do. It just sounds more dramatic if you call it the ten commandments and write them like David Mamot dialogue (for extra credit you can read them in your best Alec Baldwin voice).

1 – Thow Shalt Always Have Thy Camera With Thee – You know how it feels when you see something cool and wish you had your camera with you? Never! That can never happen again. Never!

2 – Never Let Minor Inconvenience Keep You From Shooting Something Cool – Pull your car over and shoot that sun rise. You’ll only be a few minutes late (later) to work and when you show them the pic they’ll understand.

3 – ABS Always Be Shooting – Even if you’re not producing anything you like, worst case scenario – it’s good practice. Second prize is a set of steak knives

4 – Thow Shalt Learn The Rules… Then Break Them – Hack right? But it’s true. I know you’re not supposed to put your subject dead center or have a tree growing out of their head but guess what sometimes that the shot you’re given and guess what else sometimes that’s a great shot.

5 – Try New Things – Step outside your comfort zone. Gear, techniques, subjects, whatever. Free your mind it’s fun. You can always go back to what you know you’re good at and you might learn something in the process.

6 – Thow Shalt Not Let Thy Skills Get In The Way – I don’t care if you have the latest 50 MP hassy and sell your images to getty for a thousand bucks a pop. If it’s too big a pain in the ass to get that shot of your daughter walking for the first time then really what’s it worth? Sometimes you just need to shoot and not worry about all you have and all you know. At those times… do that.

7 – Go Ye Therefore, And Teach All Nations, Baptizing Them In The Name Of Photography – There ya go. Now that’s a commandment. I think photography like no other discipline not only encourages but also can really reward newcomers. So share your love of it with all who will listen.

8 – Share Your Pics Too… But Don’t Share Too Much – Much of photography is editing. It’s being able to spot a good picture. Especially in this digital age where you can take a million pictures to make sure you got the best of all possible options (which I love to do) .  Bracket for exposure, DOF, shutter speed, composition, ambient light… anything you want. Literally take 100 pics of the same thing but please… Please don’t share them all. Your relatives back east don’t want to see all 500 shots you took of decorating the Christmas tree this year and your flickr group friends don’t want to see basically the same picture posted every day for a month. Narrow it down to 1 or 2 for each scene, or a handful for any given event. Pick the best ones try and visually convey what you were shooting. If you post them all the good shots and the story will get lost in the noise.

9 – If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say Don’t Say Anything At All – We’ve all got insecurities about our pics and we’re all tempted to deflect by preemption when we share them.  But I see people who are constantly over critiquing every pic they post and they almost always come across as just whiny. An occasional discussion of the struggles you overcame making your masterpiece is cool. But if you really don’t like it so much that you feel the need to post a laundry list of flaws… how about you just don’t post it.

10 – It’s All About The Clouds – Sometimes I feel like a surfer or one of those storm chasers. Like the most important photography tool I have is weather.com. Bottom line is… clouds look good in pictures. If you wake up and the clouds look good… call in sick, grab your rig and go shoot all your favorite spots and all the spots you’ve been meaning to shoot.

Bonus commandments

11 – Embrace Chaos And Imperfection  (coming soon)

12 – Shortcut To Greatness… Shoot People (coming soon)

Getting My Head Around Tilt Shift

So… I’ve been aware of tilt shift lenses for a while and I’ve seen enough of the results they produce to kind of know what they do but it wasn’t until I got my large format speed graphic (which has some minor tilting and shifting capabilities) that I realized I had no idea how to use tilt and shift to control the way images look. I noodled around and crossed my fingers and had some fun but never really got to the point where I felt I really understood what was going on.

Tilt – Then I saw a large format camera where the back was capable of tilting and thinking of the image being projected on to a surface that tilted made it much easier for me to visualize what was going on than thinking of a tilting lens. With a low depth of field the area in focus perpendicular to the lens is fairly small but if the surface the image is being projected on to is also perpendicular to the lens and within that small area then that whole surface is in focus. But if you tilt that surface so it is not perprndicular to the lens anymore then some of that surface is no longer in the small area of focus. Some of the surface is movied closer to the lens and some is further away. You can use this to have a very selective area of focus across an image. This effect can be narrowed even more by having a small depth of field and composing so your subject the only thing in that line of focus. Like shooting a portrait and having the lens tilted so everything above and below the persons face is soft and have them far enough from the background that it’s soft too. You end up with the subjects face really emphasized because it’s sharp and everything around it is really soft (not to mention a cool look).


Shift – So… I think this one really clicked when sling42 explained it to me. I think I was assuming it was a bigger deal and more complicated than it actually is. Basically, if you go back to thinking about a large format camera and how a lens projects an image on a surface… the image from the lens is like a cone with the pointy part at the lens and the big circle part on the flat surface. If you move the lens paralell to the flat projection surface the image being projected on to the flat surface moves accordingly. So say you’re pointing the camera at a tall buliding, you can shift the lens up to project more of the top of the image on to the flat surface. The benefit of this is being able to include more of an object in an image without having to tilt the whole camera which reduces the keystone / perspective effect you get from not having the subject perfectly perpendicular to camera.

Coming soon:

Contact prints


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