December 28, 2009

'tis the season...

Over the past 6 weeks we've made a remarkable 4 round trips from Chicago to St. Louis and as the song says ‘shooting’ all the way.  The trips have included everything from fowl w/ all the trimmings, a big jolly guy, an 8x10 camera test at the Gateway to the West, several shopping outings and other family events.  Throughout (as usual) I’ve had a camera at my side, actually it’s been around my neck more-so lately, but that really doesn’t matter.

So ‘tis the season to bore one another with our travel and vacation pictures, here are mine, a tad left of center, but that’s the way we like it!


December 22, 2009

If you’re going to make an omelet….

The final class shoot in my fall Modern Alternative Practices class is to explore high-speed flash photography using a quartz delay timer system.  After a couple ideas were discussed, we set out to break an egg over a one-inch paddle drill bit.  We thought the juxtaposition of the two would make for an interesting and unique image.

Now, when buying eggs in an urban convenience market, who knew to make sure they weren’t frozen.  Most of the dozen were frozen and the ones that weren’t currently frozen were at one time.  Even after we thawed them out (don’t ask how we did it) the insides were a yicky semi-Jell-O like consistency that didn’t splash well when broken by the bit. 

On some of the drops the drill bit pierced the egg and nothing came out, it just bounced into the catch tray.

So off to a different store and two-dozen small AA eggs later were in a little better shape.  Ideally, a large or extra large egg would have provided a more dramatic break and ultimately more dramatic ‘industrial meets domestic’ image, but alas, we learned a lot and made an even bigger mess. 

The second shot we tried was to capture a soap bubble that was filled with smoke as it popped.  This image was the idea of student Martina Josimovska ( and was pretty straightforward to set up.

Smoke was blown through a toilet paper tube after being dipped in a small dish of soapy water.  Once the bubble was airborne it was popped and photographed. 

We didn’t use a timer for this image, just relied on the lighting fast reflexes of Beking Joassaint ( and shot a number of takes until we got some images we liked. These were shot with strobe with a D3x Nikon.  For the egg image, we used a shock sensor attached to the base of the drill bit which when tripped, began the timer which in turn fired the Profoto strobes. A Phase One P25+ back captured the egg image.

December 21, 2009

no words...

                            rest in peace Grandma Ruth

November 24, 2009

Welcome to the trailer park...

Below is a trailer for my short documentary film, The Digital Dilemma, which posed concerns about the archivability (or inarchivability) of digital for recording your family history.  The days of finding a box of pictures in grandma's attic are going to be over...

The Digital Dilemma, 60 second trailer from Dirk Fletcher on Vimeo.

Finally! (Winter Games pt. 2)

Here is one from the ‘Geez, everything takes longer then you think, file!'
I got both the Ansco Ready Flash 620 cameras and while very cool, they wouldn’t work for the project.  What was really appealing about them was the ability to use a flash to offset the limited (or actually no) aperture and shutter choices.  After getting the camera, cutting it apart, mounting it into the cannibalized Polaroid 250, I realized that the flash sync is set to close, or trip, very (very) early in the shutter cycle so the flash bulb would be in full burn when the shutter was fully opened.  When using it with an electronic flash, the flash fired before the shutter was even open.

Oh well, it looked promising and the cool retro styling was too good to be true.

I still have a Ready Flash 620 that hasn’t been cut apart, if you are interested, drop me a line, both are yours for the cost of Priority Mail!

So I was hoping for something with a little larger circle of coverage then the Holga, but at 11:30 in my basement shop/office/world headquarters, a surplus Holga was the only thing not making eye contact when I looked its way.  So a little time with the Dremel and bench grinder and I had the back focus measured and cut perfectly, 30 feet of black gaffers tape and its light tight (mostly) and ready for action!  The finishing touch was in the form of the Polaroid 95a’s super-cool flip up finder that sits atop the camera.

The shots below were not scanned but rather shot with a digital camera, while I was hoping for a little more pano-landscape-ie feel, the price was right and when inspiration strikes…. well, you know :)


November 16, 2009


The view from fellow ID Department Chairman balcony this past Friday evening!

November 8, 2009

The Bracketless Flash Bracket

I first made one of these little contraptions about 10 years ago for use on my Contax G2.  Not being an ‘everything bringer’ I’m always looking for ways to minimize my gear and for on-camera situations like events and PR work this is does the trick.

This latest version came about as I’ve finally bit the bullet and jumped out of the auto-flash world and into the modern smart flash era and traded in my 283’s and big honkin’ potato masher style Metz unit for a trio of 580exII’s.  I should credit both Will Crockett and Bob Davis for helping to push me over the edge as they had both put on some pretty compelling programs for our students that I had to give it a whirl.  After a good amount of testing I’m sold!

This gives you the ability to get the flash way above the lens (in your hand) for both verticals and horizontals if you want without toting a huge lighting rod like rig around a swanky cocktail party.  It also makes it possible to shoot with two cameras, this is a draw back for a majority of the commercially available brackets.

I tried numerous cold-shoes or accessory shoes before settling on the Stroboframe accessory shoe.  I initially wanted a finished product that wouldn’t need two hands to remount the flash on the camera but decided that the mount would remain more rigid over time if you weren’t pushing the flash into the shoe. 

You will also notice that I’m using the older style Canon Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2 cable, the newer one, touting being more waterproof (really…. really???) does not give you enough room inside the cover for the ¼ 20 screw needed to mount the shoe.  The Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2 also is perfect as the mounting screw you need fits perfectly through a piece of metal that then receives the screws that hold the top and bottom of together.  So you are ultimately mounting the shoe to metal and not plastic.  If you look very carefully you will see that I put a thin coat of black metal epoxy and used a shoe with an anti-twist pin to ensure that the shoe remains solid.  While you do need two hands to remount the flash atop the camera it’s a trade off that’s worth it, I’m amazed how solid the unit is.

If you wanna build one and I’ve confused you, drop me a line. 

Happy shooting!

Here is the shoe you need:

November 4, 2009

Winter Games pt. 1

With the days getting shorter, and especially with the demise of daylight saving time a couple days ago, I started looking around the basement for a winter project.   

For a fleeting moment, I thought about building a 4x10 camera, even found a couple holders at a great price on Glenn Evans website ( which is an absolute playground for anyone wanting to build, shoot or have anything to do with unique and high-end large and medium format equipment. 

So, I decided against such a large undertaking and opted for a project that would get me shooting quicker, my ADD was side taking over last night.

Something seems to happen to old Polaroid film that is a lot like rabbits, if you aren’t keeping a close eye on it, it multiplies…. don’t ask me how, but it does.  It never did it when it was in-date, expensive and actually useful, now that I think about it.  I have quite a collection of different kinds, even some Fuji stuff that had all been rendered useless by a histogram.

After diving into a drawer of prized possessions I surfaced with a classic Polaroid ‘Automatic 250’.  These are available on eBay for a few dollars; you usually pay more for shipping then the camera itself if you are patient and shop wisely.  After the wife and kids went to sleep I got to work with the dremel, drill press and pliers.  40 minutes later, nothing was left but a rather interesting looking 405 Polaroid back awaiting transformation into a one-off Holga-Roid style camera.

I’ve had students build HolgaRoids in this fashion, which works great, but I wanted to get a tad more image on the 3¼ by 4¼ inch Polaroid while still getting a strong vignette. A quick trip to eBay and twelve dollars later, not one, but two Ansco Ready Flash 620 cameras were in route. 

Next post: Grafting the two into one and some images.  

* here is the salvaged polaroid back and remnants of the camera alongside my personal Auto 250 that still gets use.


October 29, 2009

Bring the Noise (the G11 vs. the G10)

I got the long awaited call from Martin at Helix that a shiny new G11 was sitting on his desk with my name on it. These are such cool cameras; I’ve carried one with me almost every day for the last couple of years.
There are so many decent reviews floating around I don’t want to reinvent the wheel here but I will tell you the some people didn’t like the inclusion of the swing out screen, I LOVE IT! If you don’t like it, leave it in and stop your griping.
What I do want to share is the reason I upgraded from the G10, the promise of less noise….and it delivered!
800 is the new 400 and 400 is the new 200 hands down. While some feel 1600 is usable I found it too noisy if you weren’t already in a coal mine or steel mill.
My first reaction and what surprised me the most after reviewing files shot with both cameras was what I mistakenly thought was a color shift between the two cameras. The 800 and 1600 iso G10 files were actually suffering from color noise affecting the overall color of the image.
So I desaturated the files for a closer look, with the color shift and all the color gone, you can view the files and the grain/pixel structure on a closer level. The smaller G11 RAW files seem tighter and a good deal ‘smoother’, which isn’t really something measureable, kinda like an audiophile and his turntable vs. a CD. Ok well, maybe that’s a bit much, so how about an MP3 to a (much) less compressed digital counterpart.
So if the CCD sensors are the same size in the both cameras, you know something had to give in exchange for file size. Reducing the file size from fourteen to ten megapixels, which is plenty for camera like this, has a positive effect on the files it produces and the camera as a whole.
Sure a sensor as small as the G11’s has limitations, but simply being aware of them, working within its limitations, this camera is truly fantastic!
These images were shot yesterday in a cornfield coming home from a location scout with my class, as we will be shooting a windfarm at dusk in a couple weeks. I tried to find a neutral subject with a wide dynamic range but on a flat gray day in the middle of Illinois this was about as good as I could muster. Plus the G10 was about to meet its fate, in the inside of a Priority Mail box headed to its new owner!
Double click to see the image in a larger window or drop me a line and I’ll email the RAW camera files if you would like to see the entire test.


October 22, 2009


If you are all in need of inspiration in any capacity click here and enjoy.

The short story is this: Vivian Maier was an amateur street photographer from the 50's to the 70's. All of these fantastic images have been discovered in a locker that was sold off due to late payments.

Her images are nothing short of fantastic! Perfect in so many ways, I also enjoy that they were made with a normal lens on a Rollie, less is truly more!

I visit this site often and to enjoy her vision and fuel mine, it’s well worth a look!

October 21, 2009

Digital Video...

Unless you have been living under a rock (a big one with moss on it) you have watched the wall between filmmaking and still photography become blurrier since the introduction of the 5DmkII. Now all the major DSLR manufacturers offer HD video in some capacity. Yesterday Canon jacked the bar WAY up (again) with the introduction of the 1Dmk4.

It’s lowlight capability coupled with variable frame rates, really make this another quantum leap forward. Not many people really know where this is all going to pan out but Vincent LaForet stated it perfectly in his blog yesterday “The next few years will see photography and filmmaking redefined by technology.

Canon has requested the film come down, it should be up in the next couple days, keep checking for it, its well worth a look.

his blog shares some details about the production and more and is also worth a click:

Also on his blog you can sign up for detailed information about his entire HD workflow, which will be released in the weeks to come.

Even if we don’t quite know what to do with it yet, everybody should be on the waiting list.

Don’t forget if you are shooting video with a DSLR check out my finder, which lets you operate the camera more as a tradition film or video camera:

October 20, 2009

Painting with Flash

This July, I took a group of students to picturesque Brookfield Illinois to experiment with and discover the true potential of small shoe mount flash units. The goal was to split up and emulate techniques of O. Winston Link in a modern fashion.

While everyone did a great job two groups in particular really rose to the challenge.

The first group ‘painted with flash’ to create their images. During a long exposure they popped the flash multiple times to build up the exposure, using the number of pops to control the exposure. At the end of the day students had surrounded the art deco Brookfield Water Pumping Station, each popping a specific number of times to get the exposure where they wanted.

The same group ‘painted with light’ the newly installed footbridge in the same fashion for this image.

The second group did something especially unique. April 9th 1981 the historic Grossdale train station was moved from its post at the tracks to its new home a half block down the street, where it is now the Brookfield Historical Society.

A rather boring cinder block train station replaced it. The group chose to shoot the historic Grossdale station where it stands and composite it back to where it originally stood. Using several historic images the location was determined and exposures were made at each site.

To photograph the Grossdale station the group used a combination of existing, or practical fixtures and several well-placed strobes to define the front of the building after it was removed from the background. The roof was a dusk exposure that was adjusted in Photoshop to match the exposure.

The final result was a 30x40 print that was fantastic!