October 3, 2013

Quantity of light vs Quality of light, then and now...

I had a discussion with an adjunct a couple of months back about where commercial or professional photography is heading and after a colorful debate we agree to disagree. 

His point was that professional photographers were essentially mandated to use professional strobes and packs or they were rank hacks and only watering down an already watered down industry. 

My point is this, if you look at the direction that dSLR manufacturers are going in terms of ISO's (and usable ISO's) it is no secret that the quantity of light needed to shoot a job today is drastically less then it was just ten years ago.  With every new camera that is released, these high ISO's keep getting better and better.

Take a quick look at this video that Canon released a couple weeks ago:
While they are not telling us just how dark it was where they photographed the fireflies (or lightning bugs depending on where you are) you know it was quite dark or they would not be showing it off. 

Monday night I was teaching and illustrated this fact on the board, I knew the divide was large, I was shocked to see how large it was.  I was demonstrating how full ISO's either doubled the amount of light or halved the amount of light depending on which way you were going. 

I drew them out on the board from 100 to 12800, like this:
100   200   400   800   1600   3200   6400   12800

I used a recent job and a past job to make the point, the past job was a series of headshots at an annual meeting and the recent job was a series of casual headshots for a local company.

In 2004, I hauled a 2400 watt/second pack with two heads (plus a backup) down to Florida along with a case of Hasselblads. With the larger original size and characteristics of medium format glass, I shot portraits at f/8.

September 5, 2013

I couldn't be any happier to share with the world....well....the world!

My summer Modern Alternative Photographic Practices class was the first group ever to photograph the earth from the Stratosphere with a toy Holga camera.  To get the shot we were hoping for, we actually sent four Holgas up.
The earth as photographed from the Stratosphere with with a Holga
The student led project took a couple of weeks longer then our 15 week semester with the second of two launches taking place a week ago today.  The largest challenge we had to overcome was triggering the cameras while they floated 20 miles above the earths’ surface.  We tested several mechanisms before student Ryan Ledesma brought forth a concept robust enough to trip the cameras in frigid near space temperatures.  His solution came in the form of a power door lock actuator, the final payload carried two Ford actuators in fact.  After he made the suggestion and (much later that night) after the wife and kids were asleep, I worked through a short segment of PVC pipe and various cuts of wood to craft a mechanism that held two cable releases.  Then hitting the power lock mechanism with 15 volts, both the attached Holgas fired even in our test freezer in the adjunct lounge at school.

Another challenge that had to be overcome was positioning the Spot II satellite GPS tracker.  In order for us to get the location on the iPad and follow the payload back to earth, the GPS needed to be pointing up towards the sky.  Not a problem while floating up on the helium filled weather balloon or coming down on the parachute, but if the payload landed on its back or nose (as it did in our case) it could be the difference between retrieving it, or losing it.

While discussing this in class one night, a visiting student (I seem to accumulate these...) made the suggestion of placing the GPS unit in a Gyrobowl which is a bowl designed for children to keep their food from flying about.  The SPOT II was a shade too big to fit into the bowl, which sent me back down to my workbench after the house was quiet.  A glass of wine (or two) later a fully functional Gyrobowl inspired cradle was ready for the GPS and launch.

A million other details later and our Kodak moment was captured, on fresh Portra 400 professional to be exact.  I've always liked the combination of slightly overexposed and saturated grain in the Holga. We did pick up quite a bit more radiation fogging on the other side of the ozone layer then we were expecting but it adds to the look and feel of the final image.   I love the authenticity it adds.  The new Ektar 100, pulled a stop would have probably given us the image with considerably less noticeable fogging but the plastic lens and fine grain film never seemed to look right to me.

So stop by the school if you wanna see the 40 inch print in person and feel free to drop me a line or call if you wanna do a launch yourself.  I'll be happy to help however I can. We've learned a lot this semester and I can't tell you how much fun it is.  Also, a huge thank you to my students for a fantastic summer term and the best section of this class I've ever led.

Now never say never again and remember the pen story!

July 14, 2013

Dibs 2 (and happy summer...)

If you are not from Chicago the idea of shoveling out your parking spot and placing old furniture to keep others from benefiting from your sweat may seem odd. Honestly we've lived here for 18 years and as entertaining as it is, we still find it quite odd too.

But as I'm sitting here guarding the annual Boy Scout Pack 90, post fourth of July parade picnic spot, I realized that I'm surround by the exact same phenomenon.  For several years now, I've been assigned to be the grill master for our growing pack, this year I'll be cooking for almost 100 scouts and parents, it is great to be involved with something this big, I absolutely love it.

The parade ends in a large Brookfield park where people eat, catch up and enjoy a drink or two together.  The Boy Scout group is only one of a couple dozen large groups that show up early or even the night before to stake out a prime location in the park.  Like every year we got here at 7:30 to secure our spot and as I'm standing sentry in a park full of empty and 'saved' picnic site I'm finding it oddly inspiring and picturesque.

There is an unusual calmness to the park as you walk through prior to the laughter and joy that will follow.

I hope everyone has family and friends to enjoy this holiday and all holidays with. Be safe and have fun!

If you wanna check out the 'Dibs' phenomenon (and you should) click here.

June 12, 2013

The Value of Listening...and some really cool plumbing tips

I'm always stressing to my students and students in the program how important the simple skill of listening is.  We talk about a lot of business, utilize (and praise) the support of ASMP and try to cast our students out with a solid understanding of the business tools needed to find and retain a client.

I recently had an experience that taught the lesson better then anything that could be or has ever been said in a classroom.  To understand fully you need to know that my wife and I have a rather small house in the western suburbs of Chicago, if you have been out you know what I mean.  Alongside Kate and I, are our two boys, 10 and 12 so the real estate of the single bathroom is at a premium.  My poor wife, surrounded by her three boys (even the 2 cats and hamster are boys) the shower is often her only escape.

For about a year now the pressure has been on a steady decline until recently when it barely had the pressure for the faucet to convert itself from tub filler, to a shower.  So like anybody who doesn't want to attempt a re-pipe or other fix I started calling around to get an idea of what a fix would involve.  And don't get me wrong, I do a lot around the house but the thought of water spewing in from all angles is enough of a visual for me to call a professional.

Call number one: a ten-minute inspection and a three thousand dollar estimate (of course they won't know for sure until they 'get inside.'  Get inside what?  The pipes??? Are you really going to get inside, I thought you already said they all need to go???

Call number two yielded a similar 10-minute once over, although this one did at least turn the water on to check the pressure.  This was $950.00 for a partial re-pipe after taping on the pipe like a damn Pipe Whisperer to determine that the original 90+ year old pipes are full of 'gunk.'  I gotta say, I'm no plumber but the pipe whisperer bit (and the look on his face while he waited for the pipe to air it's secrets) was both too odd and too much for me.

While at a little league game, (our city and our oldest) are big into baseball, another parent told me her cousin-in-law is a plumber who lives a block or two over.  A couple messages back and forth and I was answering a very thorough battery of questions, the conversation ended with me texting him a couple detailed images of fittings, faucets and other plumbing 'stuff'. He explained I may need new inserts on the faucet, with the pictures he would be able to bring the right one.

I really like where this is heading already...

June 11, 2013


If you are attending Neocon, stop by the Harrington booth on the seventh floor and write on our walls!

May 27, 2013

Brookfield derailment

a few shots from todays train derailment in Brookfield.

BNSF employee inspecting the broken caliper that caused the derailment 
 broken caliper that caused the derailment
 tanker car with derailment

April 18, 2013

The Anatomy of Inspiration...or how a giant yellow tube can inspire.

Anyone who knows me knows I've been building and shooting pinholes and custom cameras for quite some time.  You might also know that I have been involved with the people at Lenox Laser since winning the grand prize in their first ever pinhole competition in 2001 with a recovered type 55 shot of the Great Hall in Chicago Union Station.  That image was made with a homemade super wide-angle 4x5 camera with a Lenox pinhole.  Unfortunately that camera was dissembled and the parts used elsewhere when Polaroid Type 55 hit $100.00 a box!

But none of that really matters because I want to share how the Lenox Hi-Contrast DSLR cap came to be.  Around this time last year my friend Greg Solyar called me to see if I wanted to come and be the Keynote speaker at the Industrial Institute of Optics first  annual Pinhole Seminar in 2012.  I was honored to be asked and started preparing my presentation as soon as I got off the phone.  My talk explored how alternative forms of photography have found their way into mainstream editorial and advertising photography.  It can be viewed by clicking here if you are interested; mom watched my entire talk (all five videos) and thought they were nifty!

In preparation of the seminar, owner Joe d’Entremont and optical engineer Greg Solyar sent me the latest version of the Lenox lens cap to play with which like all of their products, is beautifully built and at the core is fitted with the very best of pinholes available.  So I set out to create a set of samples to share with the audience. 

Using a pinhole with a digital camera creates a uniquely different and look and feel than you would get shooting on a 4x5 and 8x10.  For a long time I've thought that 4x5 is the ideal format for pinhole photography largely due to its sharpness and natural fall-off on wider cameras creating a natural vignette you can almost touch and feel.  With manufactures producing less and less sheet film, professional labs waning and Fuji's pending 20% price increase hanging on is really only prolonging its demise.  Before you email a nasty-gram, I know there will always be a film shooting sec that may or may not outlive me, but the practically of shooting film is just no longer there at least for most of us.

So enter,  the completely ADD friendly lens cap pinhole.  The idea nothing new, I tried this on my first digital camera but quickly returned the parts to wherever I absconded them from once I saw the painful results.  The image overflowed with digital noise because of the early digitals cameras poor (or I like the word anemic here) ability to handle long exposures.  Coupled with its small APS sized sensor, you were left with a blurry nondescript image that did not look or feel unique in any particular way. 

This changed as todays cameras have amazing high ISO abilities and full frame sensors.  In fact the most current of Canons offerings looks too good with their superior noise suppression at high ISOs and longer exposures.  In fact, the low light ability and grain structure of the older 5d MKII complement the look of the pinhole perfectly making it my ideal choice for digital pinhole photography.

So how did the cap improve and what's this talk about the yellow pipe of inspiration?  Below is the picture that changed everything.  I was out shooting with the Lenox cap while the kids were across the way playing Gaga Ball.  I photographed various stuff in the park including the newly installed yellow piping protection layer on the outfield wall.  On a bright sunny day, I thought it should be nice and bright, a perfect subject for some dramatic images.  

It wasnt until I printed some of the shots that I really noticed the dramatic increase in sharpness, as the pipe got right up to the camera.  Hmmmm, that's particular, it's as if I had the lens board too far away from the film plane or had focused right to the front of the camera.  

A simple solution would be to bring the lens closer to the film, play with a lens on your camera and you will see what I’m talking about.  Easy with a normal lens but a bit more challenging with a pinhole cap.

So after a glass of wine and a bit of drill pressing and super gluing, I had a completely functioning prototype that looked like the one to the right.

Here is how the much more polished (and now available) high-end Lenox version looks.  
Looking at the calendar you can still have one delivered before Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day on the 28th of April. 

Participate with a high-end Lenox cap or a Quaker oatmeal box like the one my dad built with me so many years ago but get out and enjoy some timeless lo-fi photography. When you complete your masterpiece share your work on the WWPD website here.    

April 12, 2013

Over spring break we took the very long way to St. Louis via Peer Marquette Illinois.  We had a great time at the lodge, ate ourselves silly, zip-lined and explored the area.  Here are some vacation pics shot with the new Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II.  I was really skeptical of its over 2K price tag, so look for a full review shortly.  Here is a sneak peek of some of the images, enjoy!
the Alton Bridge
The Melvin Price Lock and Dam also in Alton

I've always thought Matt Siber's Floating Logos project is cool, so here is my 'reverse-Siber' as found in a gas station along the way.

April 9, 2013

In the Ring

This past Sunday, I backed up the ring photographer at the New Traditions Riding Academy Spring Horse Show. In addition to having a great time and making some fun images, my son earned his first Blue Ribbon, go John!

March 24, 2013

i Wonder...

Hostess and Wonder Bread delivery trucks awaiting liquidation after bankruptcy filings.

March 10, 2013

Reversing the negative

Some inverted shots of fine art photographer Richard Misrach's negative images at this years SPE.

A negative (but quite positive actually) Misrach can been seen at the podium in the lower left corner.

March 7, 2013

SPE Day 1, a couple of Martins and a Richard

Martin Parr getting ready for his keynote
Martin Parr front and center

Richard Kelly
'I'm creating fiction out of reality'

'The thing that I miss about Britain when I'm away is a cup of tea and a bit of irony'
Martin Parr

January 27, 2013

Bridges, well viaducts actually...


Finally shot the 55 to 355 exchange I've been wanting to shoot for awhile, still lovin' the 6D!

January 8, 2013

revisiting the Sunny 16 rule

Thought that I would share a document that I just finished up that goes into detail about 
Basic Daylight Exposure (BDE) or as most know it, the Sunny 16 rule.  It is complete with 
charts, graphs and very cool old Kodak data sheet art like this one below.