Saturday, April 24, 2010

The more things change the more things change

Basic photographic technology has changed at a stunning rate in the past ten years - my first digital prints turned yellow within a few months, and now prints will last for decades and the color reproduction of today's printers is mind boggling.

The technology I grew up on had been in existence for seventy years (at least). Improvements came slowly, and sometimes were not improvements, but disasters waiting to happen - color prints made in the 1970s mostly turned orange and died. Films became faster and finer grained - Fuji 800 f\color negative film was a joy to work with. Cameras auto-focused faster and better, meters improved, but it was still a film/paper world.

Color permanence meant having separation negatives made, at great expense, of your color work; black and white prints had to be toned and washed for hours. There was also the matter of all of the hours spent in the darkroom. Seeing the print appear in the developer was magical. But - the hours in a dark, often hot, smelly, usually cramped space was only for those who truly loved what they did.

My first darkroom was the floor of my bathroom. Since I started shooting seriously in 1974 or so, this lasted for thirty years.

I now spend hours staring at screens, and doing what was once almost impossible, in minutes.
The changes that made digital photography more than a competitor for film has evolved in under ten years.

Do I miss the darkroom? No. I certainly don't miss pouring gallons of water down the drain so a print would last, or dealing with some of the chemicals. There were toners made out of some nasty stuff (like mercury and uranium), bleaches with cyanide in them, stuff that would cause contact dermatitis, or turn your fingernails black if you handled your prints without tongs.

Oh - and I used to smoke. I know, you should never smoke in a darkroom. Ha.

I'd come staggering out of a printing session with a bad case of the head staggers. When the prints were washed drying presented another set of problems. Do I air dry? Use blotters?
When are the blotters used up? Have I really gotten the damn things free of chemicals? If I use fast drying resin coated paper do I have to worry about permanence? Thousands of prints made during the eighties and nineties turned red in the highlights because there was developer in the paper emulsion (to speed processing). Will pollution turn parts of the print into a weird bronze color?

So the new world is preferable.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tulips Everywhere

Tulips to the right of me tulips to the left of me - everywhere I go there are tulips in beds, in pots, in window boxes, around trees, and in pots on the street. Red, white, purple, red and white, yellow and orange... Growing from planters, in front of buildings, all over the parks and sold by the bunch at every fruit stand and florist. Is this really the only spring flower? Yipes.

Shouldn't really complain, this has been a gorgeous spring in New York City. I venture out to shoot dosed with generic Zyrtec, and still come up stuffy and sneezey (grumpy and dopey, too).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hi! Dynamic Range

My aim has always been to catch every bit of texture, color and detail that I can. Way back when I used Kodak High Contrast Copy and H&W Control Developer (H&W promised large format quality from 35mm film), I kept trying all sorts of films and developers since I didn't really want to schlep medium or large format stuff around.

Oy, is it easier today... an 8 to 10 megapixel dslr, raw file and some basic attention to what one is doing and 11x14 and 16x20 prints are great.

Everything I learned from perusing Ansel Adams books - "The Print", "The Negative" and "The Camera" helped immensely (although I never went too crazy with all the paper and film testing that seemed to be required - left all that up to David Vestal). All of Adam's work still applies - seeing where and how tone and contrast will fall in the final print. Often this requires disagreeing the camera meter, or relying (not ideal, but sometimes unavoidable) on the contrast range of the sensor.

The old down and dirty film technique (for black and white) was expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights. This meant overexpose about a stop and cut back on development 20%- 30%. Shooting through a light yellow filter helped. Slide film was another story - I simply underexposed a little and hoped for the best.

If there is a down and dirty digital method I would have to guess it goes something like this:
1. Realize that the camera's meter is trying to average everything out to some middle point.
2. Know when that will work.
3. Know when it won't.
4. Bracket. But not too much.
5. Assuming that a high quality print is the point - try to see the finished print of the subject before you press the shutter release.

And shoot shoot shoot and shoot some more.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Settling In

We are settling in, and the neighborhood is a-swirl with cherry blossom petals.

I'm going through the throes of upgrading; first the camera, then a larger monitor, and since there is no computer too fast to be slowed to a crawl I'm either going to add memory or get a new computer.

At times like this the digital revolution seems more like a well oiled machine designed to suck money out of my pockets.

However, this is one glorious spring - I live near Central Park and there has been an explosion of growth and color. And since I have gone back into always carry a camera mode, I've been piling up pixels like crazy.

The question still remains - how to freelance in the current photographic world?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Back to Work

Finally got all of my machines on line - tried repeatedly rebooting the modems, rebooting the computer, and finally uninstalling and reinstalling the firewall...which seemed to do the trick.

Am in the throes of trying to sell my work in an era where the sheer amount of available images is drowning most of us.

Got two websites. I'm Linkedin, facebooked, not tweeting nor twittering nor flickring yet, but that's going to come, I guess. . It's really a matter of supply (and there is a huge supply of photographs) and demand (which doesn't seem to have increased).

So many people willing and grateful to have their images used for free...