The Dreaded X-ray Machine

One of the biggest worries of the film photographer is that of traveling with film. We hear horror stories about not being able to find film, uneducated airport personnel pulling out dark slides and exposing film — and the dreaded X-ray machine. I see photographers talking about film and X-ray machines all the time on Facebook, and what I find most interesting is that very, very few photographers, even the grizzled warhorses who have lugged 4×5 rail cameras over hill and under dale to Capture the Shot from the Right Place, even know what film looks like when it has been affected by an airport scanner.

Now, I don’t purport to know everything there is to know about this subject, but I always take precautions when traveling with my film cameras, and I have never had a problem. Oddly, though, I did borrow film from a friend one day when we were out shooting, and when I processed it, a bizarre pattern showed on it and it took me a while and consultations with a number of people to determine that this was actually x-ray damage. Here’s what it looks like:

X-ray Damaged Film

 

 

 

 

 

X-ray Damaged Film

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pattern you see on the negative is apparently the oscillation pattern of the X-ray projector. It continues through the whole strip. My friend had just purchased the film from a local camera shop, so we’re still a little stumped as to how it came to be like this. The common wisdom is that film with ISO ratings of less than 800 is safe, and that if one is carrying ISO 1600 and higher to be cautious. This was Tri-X, which has a box ISO rating of 400, so the common wisdom would have failed anyway. I guess the exception does prove the rule, but I have never seen this happen while traveling, even with Delta 3200 film.

There are many products out there which claim to prevent X-ray damage, but I find that — at least inside the US — hand-inspections of film and cameras is the best bet. And not just for the safety of the film, but also for conversation. I travel a lot with weird old cameras, and I’ve met some wonderful people in the course of a hand inspection. On a trip to Charlotte some years ago, the TSA agent was hand-inspecting my film bag and a fellow traveler became interested. He told me he shot mostly digitally now, but occasionally he dug out his Horseman and ran some roll film through it, and as the conversation progressed I learned that this individual had actually studied for a time under Edward Weston… and when I finally stopped genuflecting towards him, the conversation lasted a couple of too-quick hours before we separated to board our different flights.

It’s a very interesting world, if you’re paying attention.

Junkyard Photoshop

The thing about Photoshop is that it’s too easy to get bogged down in creativity when working on images, and not get anything done.  At the Junkyard, we didn’t have much of a sky so I started in on a couple of images I really liked, two of Lauren and one of the amazing Elley Cat.  Elley was first; I loved her stance on the car, but I didn’t like the sky.

Elley Cat – Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I started playing around in Photoshop.  I pulled images I had shot before, elsewhere; all of the images that ended up as components of these final images are mine as well, so I don’t run into any copyright issues.  After finding what I feel is the best possible image, I ended up with this.

Elley Cat with a new background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This got me really excited about making fun stuff in Photoshop.  So I pulled a couple of Lauren’s Umbrella Corporation images.  Here are the before and afters of these.  If you can guess where the images were shot that ended up in the backgrounds of the composites, please leave your guesses in the comments and I’ll confirm or deny whether you’re right.

Why I Shoot Canon Digital Cameras

Some years ago, I was in Sedona on a photowalk with my amazing daughter.  After the shoot, as we were waiting for the restaurant to open for lunch service, I was accosted by another photographer who demanded (yes, actually demanded) to know why I shoot with Canons and not Nikons.  More than a little puzzled by the vitriol he showed towards a particular camera manufacturer’s product, I found myself explaining myself and defending my choice of equipment.  Since then, I have discovered that there are photographers out there who are so wrapped up in their choice of equipment that they will actually refuse to photograph with a photographer who does not use the same gear they do.

Why?

I don’t know.  I think it’s pretty stupid, and it always annoys me when someone says “well, MY camera is technically superior to YOUR camera.”  Maybe this is one reason I love old cameras so much — the competitive photographer doesn’t have any reference to brag towards when he mentally compares his rootin’-tootin’ 1DX or D900 with my Speed Graphic or RB67.  I guess sensor size really DOESN’T matter.

I bought my first “real” in 1987, a Cosina CT-1 Super.  Cosina is a Japanese manufacturer that makes cameras which have been sold under the Ricoh, Pentax, Canon, Olympus, and Nikon brands as well as its own.  This particular Cosina is a Pentax K-mount body, very basic, and nearly indestructible, considering the many hundreds or even thousands of frames I have shot with this camera.  From the Cosina I progressed through a series of K1000s, ME Supers, P3Ns, and PZ70s, loving every Pentaxian minute of it.  But there were storm clouds on the horizon, and I was to discover that every one of those clouds had a silver halide lining.

When I started shooting weddings, I had been shooting with Pentax-mount 35mm cameras since that first Cosina, and was at the time shooting with the most current Pentax cameras.  I shot my first few weddings with these cameras on Kodak Portra films and absolutely loved the results.  One night, however, I was hired to photograph a wedding reception in a church hall, and the lights were so low that my Pentax camera could not pick up a solid focus in the darkness.  Frustrated, I started doing research and discovered that Nikon cameras have a focus-assist beam the body sends out to illuminate enough of the subject to allow the camera to lock focus, and Canon cameras use a beam built into the external flash unit to send out a matrix that interacts with the focusing system in the camera body to obtain a solid focus lock.  Not having a lot of money invested in my system, I decided to switch to Canon and purchased a brace of Canon Elan film bodies.  When I went digital a few years later, I already had enough Canon equipment that I continued to acquire Canon-compatible gear, until now I am completely outfitted with Canon.

So the short answer is that I shoot Canon professionally because my Pentax 35mm cameras would not focus in the dark.  The funny thing is that almost immediately after I replaced my Pentax with Canon, that Pentax’s shutter blew up and I never replaced it, for obvious reasons. I still have that Cosina, though, and it works perfectly, even with cracks in its plastic body and the scratches and wear of 30 years

I Quit. Really.

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last posted to the blog. I must correct that. It’s been a whirlwind of activity, but not all of it on the photography front. A workplace promotion, more responsibility, more work, and that’s been really refreshing. I like being busy; my ADD brain doesn’t do well with idleness. That’s why I always have something to do with me, whether it be my laptop, a camera, a book to read, or the tablet.

The thing is that I’d grown tired of the same old thing. My 7D is so comfortable in my hand, with the 70-200 2.8L and other lenses, that I was bored. Shooting a wedding is never boring, nor is shooting an event, or a portrait session, but there began to be a certain “sameness” to the images that didn’t float my boat much anymore. I was in a rut. A LARGE rut. Like the rut one of those Tonka-toy quarry trucks would make after a week’s rain. That big a rut.

So… I quit.

No, I didn’t quit photography. I hung up the digitals, and went back to film. I already had a bulk loader, and I bought another one. Filled one with 100 ASA black and white and the other with 400. Rolled a bunch of 35mm cassettes. To give myself a little bit of a push and to get my feet wet in a darkroom again, I signed up for a Photo I class at Estrella Mountain Community College. Even though the poor kid who was playing the part of instructor was so far out of his depth that I ended up doing most of the explaining to other students, it was cathartic to be doing something different to what I had been doing.

My film camera collection is growing, as people find out I collect cameras and offload Dad’s Olympus or Grandpa’s old Kodak onto my blue piano (the primary storage space for display of interesting cameras). I now have probably a hundred or more cameras, most of which can make some semblance of a clicky noise. I am currently shooting mostly black and white and in many different formats, both roll film and sheet film. My primary film of choice is Arista.edu Ultra 100 speed, though I do occasionally shoot 400. I like this stuff — which seems to be private-labelled Fomapan — for a couple reasons. First, it’s inexpensive. Second, the tonal range is beautiful. And last, I can get it in all the formats I shoot: 135, 120, 2.25×3.25, and 4×5. This means I can pretty well predict what the image will look like, and I can develop all formats at the same time in the same chemicals and not have to adjust much. That’s pretty convenient for a relative beginner.

So from here on out I will be writing about my successes and failures, frustrations and encouragements, loves and hates, experiments with different cameras… and sharing negative and print scans as I can. I’m not quite sure how this will end up being organized, but I’m sure as I go along, it’ll come together. So here goes:

The Cameras

As I’ve said, I have probably over a hundred cameras, most of which I have never used. Some of these cameras — the 616s and the 116s and the postcard camera — film is no longer manufactured for, so those cameras will mostly have to sit on the shelf and watch the others have all the fun. The logical place to start, though, was with what I know so well: my Canons. My digital gear is all Canon, so I have two film bodies that are also Canon so I can shoot film using my L-series lenses (the L apparently stands for “luxury,” and they live up to that) and Canon flashes and stuff. The Elan 7e bodies are SOOOOO much lighter than the digitals that it’s almost comical how unbalanced they feel at first, and the 7e is not a high-level body so their performance is somewhat less than the digitals. They do, however, sport one really nifty feature that i wish they had ported over to the megapixel line — the eye-controlled focus. Essentially there’s a small bit of magic in the eyepiece that wathces where your eye is pointing and focuses on that part of the viewfinder. Once it’s calibrated, it’s almost creepy how accurate it is, and I wonder why they didn’t keep that feature around.

So I found some batteries for the cameras and loaded them up and went somewhere to shoot with them. The 2014 Veteran’s Day Parade in downtown Phoenix seemed a pretty good place to start.

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I believe these were shot on Kentmere 100, which is made by Ilford and is a very nice film, and developed in probably Ilford DD-X developer. Good tonal range, good grain. I love the look of schoolmarm disapproval on the face of the woman on camera right.

So overall, it was a success as I now knew the Canons still worked, after many years of sitting idle. It was time to find something else to do with them. But that’ll be for the next installment, so you’ll have to come back and read more.

Trashing the Dress

I am always looking for beautiful ways to make art and have fun at the same time, so when Alexandra contacted me to do a Trash the Dress session, I was all over it. Not only is she extremely beautiful, but we had the perfect location in mind and everything — weather, light, temperatures, and location — came together in a perfection that is truly rare. There are so many shots I love from this session that it’s almost impossible to choose which I love the best. So here is a small sampling.

The thing about Trash the Dress sessions is that it’s not actually necessary to destroy the dress; most times, and soiling that happens to the dress will come right out with a quick brushing or a cleaning, and in this case that’s exactly what happened. Alexandra’s dress, even though it was in the river, cleaned up just fine afterwards. So if you’re planning on keeping your dress, we can always find a way to do a unique, fun shoot in it and not do irreversible damage to it.

Alexandra Trash the Dress Session
Alexandra Trash the Dress Session
Alexandra Trash the Dress Session
Alexandra Trash the Dress Session
Alexandra Trash the Dress Session
Alexandra Trash the Dress Session
Alexandra Trash the Dress Session
Alexandra Trash the Dress Session
Alexandra Trash the Dress Session

“Evil” can look GOOD…

So a good friend invited me to participate in a project shoot, that would be taking place in two locations: Oregon and Arizona. The theme was contrasting “good” vs. “evil”; our end was the more fun side — evil. So we grabbed models Willow Rayne, Rachelle, and Jeremy and went out into the dark forest and had some fun. It’s always a blast to shoot stuff like this, because not only do we get to just hang out with good friends and good people and get great pictures, but we also get to experiment with themes and techniques as well.

The funny thing is that we were shooting in a public campground, and there was a large group of boy scouts there as well as all sorts of other people there, so shooting with an audience was a little weird. I am grateful to be invited along on this shoot. Thanks friends!

Evil
Evil
Evil
Evil
Evil
Evil
Evil
Evil
Evil
Evil
Evil

BLOONS!!

With the windows and doors open in the beautiful weather, we heard what sounded like small jets overhead. I grabbed a camera and went out to find three hot-air balloons overhead! The people in the gondolas were waving at me as I pointed my long lens at them, and one friendly soul called out “Howdy, Neighbor!” as she floated overhead. These balloons were so low that I we could see the flames from the burners. And then they drifted out of sight.

Hot Air Balloons
Hot Air Balloons
Hot Air Balloons