Odd memories, part 23

I sit here this afternoon with a small (in size) project alongside me, waiting for the epoxy to dry. It isn’t exactly a christmas present, but it is a necessary part of one, and I just spent no small amount of time making it. This was nowhere near the amount of time I spent trying to find one already made, which should have been a lot easier than it was, and a lot more fruitful because, it wasn’t – I never found it. Well, let me correct that slightly: it’s possible that I had, but none of the sellers saw fit to give me the crucial measurement that I needed to know that it would work, and of those that did include the measurement, it was either a) distinctly inaccurate, or b) intended for something else. So I ended up making it, and it works, so all is well in Al Land at the moment, despite my gently simmering aggravation. Once the epoxy is set, I can continue.

In the meantime, we have some stories, but without any illustrating images, so it can’t be one of the (two remaining!) storytime posts. I was reminded of this by seeing recently the holiday card failures that people have posted, and remembered that I was borderline responsible for one. Kinda, only not really. Allow me to elucidate.

It was the mid-nineties and I was working in a photo lab, one of the many 1-hour chains that dotted the urban mall before they died out under their own incompetence, and I can certainly vouch for it personally in regards to the chain I worked for: CPI Photo, which was far more focused on marketing than on producing a quality product, and this was reflected constantly. Except, they weren’t terribly focused on marketing, either, because they relied on badly outdated gimmicks and those kind of non-promotions that people never fall for, like putting only the picture frames that nobody actually wants on sale, and of course, insisting on answering the phone with a fucking script. However, they had one aspect that actually worked, which was to produce christmas cards with a variety of templates and the ability to insert the image of your choice. Since this was before digital was readily available to the consumer market (cameras at that time were in the $10,000+ range,) naturally we worked with film and negatives.

Printing by negative was slightly tricky, because of course the image is inverted and overall orange, and at times it was extremely difficult to tell what you were actually seeing. You might think that this wouldn’t make any difference – just print the damn thing – but the print machines had their own exposure meters, and you had to keep an eye on them because they could be wrong just like the camera’s meter could, and it was up to the operator to correct the exposure as needed.

On this particular day, I was running off a batch of christmas cards showing the family’s two kids hanging out on the backyard playset, and had just finished the run and was removing the negative strip from the bracket when I saw the very next frame in the sequence, which was definitely not the two kids. I popped it back in and fired off another print, with the card mask and template still in place, just to see if my suspicions were correct. And then, as we were on deadlines with each order, went on to the next as the print run processed through the machine, which would take about seven minutes.

I was not at the output chute as it came through however – that was another employee, who was bagging and boxing the prints as necessary, and I was reminded about the test shot when I heard him exclaim, “What the hell?” I paused the run and went to have a look, confirming what I thought I’d seen: the very next frame on the negative strip was (I’m guessing) the wife and mother, sitting on the bed pulling up her stockings without a hell of a lot else on. She was posed so that there was no actual nudity, nothing to get censored in any way, but certainly suggestive and risqué enough – right there with “Merry Christmas!” alongside. And at that moment, I toyed with the idea of printing off just a couple more to put on the top of the stack of christmas cards, to give the parents a minor heart attack in thinking that they were all like that. I wisely dismissed this; some people could have seen the humor in it, might even have sent a couple of those cards to their friends, while others would have an absolute shit fit. There are way too many uptight people around, even when they take photos like that.

And there were plenty of people who took photos like that. Believe me, digital has produced this major advantage in that you don’t have to have a lab see your cheesecake (and beyond) photos now, but for decades, someone was going to have to process them, unless you had your own darkroom. And in the, what, six months that I wasted my time with that idiotic business, I saw my share of them. It might sound titillating (I am required by Writers’ Code to use that word here,) but the grim reality is, most people aren’t really in the best of shape, and most especially don’t have the grasp of posing and lighting, that it takes to make the kind of nude photos you’re imagining; one of the reasons that I refuse to shoot any kind of model sessions is my awareness of how little I know about making it work. Plus, I’ve spoken with numerous photographers who would rather perform various indelicate tortures on themselves than work with an amateur, because modeling is a skill and art form all its own.

Probably the most uncomfortable experience that I had there was when the subject of the photo session herself showed up to pick up the photos, and only 20 minutes earlier I’ve been seeing quite explicit details of her anatomy as she sprawled on her coffee table. Normally we took the prints out for the customer and invited them to look through and pick out any that they might have wanted reprints or enlargements of, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Hey, it was the nineties – it was a more innocent time then, with no Tinder accounts where you could tell total strangers about your prowess at eating ass…

We had college students that frequented the lab, with the typical party shots. One group of young women, very likely a bit inebriated, had chronicled their antics in abundant detail, and while nothing at all, again, required keeping from children, there was more than a few suggestive and explicit poses that would have presented some difficulty in explaining to them (“They’re, uh, doing charades for Basic Instinct, I think.”) I recognized the ladies when they came to collect their prints, and as I handed the packages over I remarked a bit impishly, “We’re not letting you guys have a camera ever again.” Their eyes went wide with shock, clearly not remembering much at all about the evening, and I declined to answer their frantic inquiries, simply handing over the rolls while I returned to my work. In moments, the lab was ringing with shrieks and exclamations of horror (albeit good-natured,) and after a minute or two of this I couldn’t resist asking, “So, how many reprints do you need?” For some reason they didn’t order any…

Another time, as I was covering the lab alone, a gorgeous young woman came in to see if I could help her, and produced an 8×10 print of herself done at one of the glamour photography studios that used to exist as well, this one just down the mall from us. The shot was extremely flattering, with a deep plunging neckline and a distinctly come-hither expression, and the woman pointed directly at her cleavage (well, in the photo) and asked if I could remove that. I managed not to blurt out, “Why?” and realized that she was indicating this small spot where her black lacy bra was peeking out – she really wanted nothing visible there but her own more-than-adequate self. Eventually, I determined that the studio refused to reshoot the photo without another fee and couldn’t/wouldn’t touch it up themselves. Now, we had retouching dyes, but they were intended for scratches and such, basically a white background and thus wouldn’t work on the black bra, and for copyright reasons we couldn’t reshoot the print itself. Nowadays with digital editing I would have had that fixed in seven-and-a-half seconds, and if we’d had opaque inks rather than dyes in the lab I might have been able to mask it back then (perfectly color-matching skin tones with dyes/inks is quite challenging in itself,) but I had to tell her that I couldn’t help her at all. A couple weeks later I got to see the photo again, this time an advertisement in an entertainment circular: she was the headlining act at the top-end strip club nearby. The photo in the ad had been cropped just above the intruding bra (and of course now it made even more sense, because the suggestion of undergarments, no matter how sexy, isn’t what you want to present in such cases.)

And a final memory, back to that same christmas. The Broadway musical Cats was doing one of its US tours at the time and played in Raleigh, and several castmembers had spent the day at the mall, having their photos taken with Santa (“I want a new crinkle-ball and some tinsel to barf up.”) A few of them came in the lab to get some christmas cards done up and decided to hang out for the print run – very friendly and chatty. The woman who played ‘Rumpleteazer’ left me an autographed christmas card – I hadn’t asked, because I don’t collect autographs (no, not even of strippers,) but another worker had and she felt she shouldn’t snub me, I guess. And perhaps it’s disturbing, but that pretty much sums up my celebrity encounters – it’s still central NC, you know, so it’s not like we get Clay Aiken or Michael Jordan around here.

Keeping my hand in

There definitely needs to be a little better planning on our part, meaning we humans, because we have two major holidays that come up in winter, which is good because we need something positive to focus upon as the weather goes hyurgl, but they’re slammed close together towards the beginning of the season (in fact, there’s yet another holiday beating them both to the draw, coming up very soon,) and then there’s bupkiss afterward. We need something exciting to happen, say in mid-February, to help break all this up. And no, not Valentine’s Day, which counts as anything from wishy-washy to downright sadistic for up to half of the population. Let’s start a movement to make Darwin Day (February 12) much bigger than it is, with special food dishes and television specials and so on; this will have the added benefit of really pissing off the creationists, so win-win there.

But until that happens, we have nature photographers in the mid-latitudes, or at least me (how many others do you follow?) trying to drum up something of interest when it’s cold, grey, and rainy, which brings us to this. I had a couple of idle photo topics that I’d been intending to tackle for a while now, and finally did some shooting. Don’t get too excited, seriously.

The first is, while in central New York I collected a bunch of freshwater snail shells from the lake I grew up on (directly on, raised on a raft – I learned to hunt crayfish long before I learned to ride a bike.) It’s kind of curious; for a long time I never even knew the lake hosted snails, and then one winter when the ice was thick enough to venture out on but still pretty clear, my friend and I found a huge collection of shells on the bottom, well out from the shore but still in shallow water, and knocked a hole in the ice to collect a bunch, practically freezing our hands solid in doing so. Then I never saw many again, up until this summer. The place that I’d stayed at suddenly got inundated with them this year, on the shores and in the small bay by the docks, when they never had before; some vagary of currents had washed millions of them ashore, so collecting them was a matter of just digging my hands into the mounds of them in the shallows.

freshwater snail shells from Cayuga Lake
As usual, shells look much better wet than dry, and after cleaning them, they developed a dull, muted coloration, not half as interesting as they’d appeared when wet. Now, I could always soak them down before shooting, but I decided to try something else, and picked a small selection to paint with clear acrylic. This had the desired affect, as well as making them easier to handle than wet shells, which not only require drying one’s hands before grabbing the camera, but also makes them tend to cling together and drip and all that.

freshwater snail shells treated with clear acrylic
Despite the fact that I was indiscriminate in just collecting a few handfuls of them, none were occupied by live snails; those don’t tend to get driven much by currents, and the snails themselves aim for areas that provide their food and not expanses of empty houses.

None of these were very big either, averaging about 15-20mm in length, but some of them were remarkably small.

comparing the size of two freshwater snail shells
I’m showing roughly the biggest and smallest here, ranging from 28mm down to just under 7, and no, I’m not finding out what species they belong to – I’m not even sure where to begin looking.

The sand, by the way, is some pretty fine stuff, not from central New York but from coastal NC. From a typical viewing distance it appears pale grey, but up close the quartz nature of it can be seen easily. ‘Up close’ means with some serious macro magnification, the reversed 28-105.

smallest freshwater snail shell with sand
This is the same small shell again. Like I said, I tend to save these projects for the slow season, and two days ago when I tackled this, it had literally rained all day long, so, yeah.

But I had something else that I did this session, which had been sitting in my curio cabinet for, oh, since this outing.

dried remains of juvenile river cooter Pseudemys concinna
I found this deceased turtle, exactly as seen here, sitting atop the washout detritus left behind by high river levels, and figured it had not been there long, but how long ago it had actually expired I could only guess. The lack of any ridges around its scutes (shell pattern pieces) indicate that it was less than a year old when it died, and overall it measures 39mm, slightly larger than a large coin or, if this helps (of course it does,) the same diameter as a film can. I am reasonably sure this is a river cooter (Pseudemys concinna) due to some details that we’re about to see.

empty eye socket of deceased juvenile river cooter Pseudemys concinna
But first, we go take a morbid peek into that eye socket, which shows just how much space a young turtle’s eyes take up in it head. Amphibian brains are not very big nor terribly developed, in comparison to many other classes anyway, but they’re still sufficient to the need.

Now we can take a look at more interesting and telling detail.

underside and plastron of deceased juvenile river cooter Pseudemys concinna
This detailed pattern on the plastron is what identifies the species, or so I believe – you know how often I hedge my bets. I mean, what if I decided (after some brain injury) to run for political office, and then someone dug up an old post of mine where I confidently misidentified a dead turtle? Imagine the scandal! No, I gotta play it safe.

[Yeah, like the posts ripping apart religion will all go past without notice in this country…]

One more detail shot, because.

hind claw of deceased juvenile river cooter Pseudemys concinna
This is one of the hind claws, and the exposed portion of the longest nail there measures all of 2mm. The skeleton of my specimen is surprisingly intact: one foreleg is missing, and a couple of neck vertebrae, but that appears to be it. Notably for turtles, the carapace and plastron form most of the ribcage and vertebrae, so what remains are the limbs, really. Yet as you can imagine, this is still very delicate, so it largely stays in my cabinet without being handled, a nature photographer’s version of a Star Wars figurine. Okay maybe not.

And I just realized that I tried to muddle through the dead season by shooting… dead things. Way to go, me. Maybe I should just stick to the cats or something.

I, uh… I’m gonna sit in the back now

Sometimes you wonder about your own mind. Or at least I do…

Here’s the story: My primary macro lens, for many years now, is a Mamiya-Sekor 80mm f4 Macro that was designed and intended for the Mamiya M645 series of medium-format cameras; I couldn’t tell you exactly when my lens was made, but the system ran from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties. I had purchased it for my Mamiya body, oh, eleven, twelve years ago? And when my Sigma 105 Macro got balky and I couldn’t afford to get it repaired or replaced, I made a quick and dirty adapter for the Mamiya lens and began using it on the Canon DSLR bodies. It is a testament to the quality of the lens that I’m still using it because nothing has ever beaten its performance.

Mamiya-Sekor 80mm f4 Macro lens
It came with a matched extension tube, essentially a spacer between lens and body which magnifies the image even further – sometimes I use this, sometimes I don’t, so it necessitates switching the tube on and off. This can be slightly fussy, especially when juggling the lens and camera body out in the field where I don’t want to drop anything. The lens has a slotted tab at the base where it engages the Mamiya bodies, directly linked to the aperture ring; this tells the body what aperture the lens is set at, because there is no electronic communication between body and lens while aperture is set on the lens itself. This way, the exposure meter in the medium-format body knows what aperture the photo will be taken with (even though it has not closed down yet – that will be done when the shutter trips) and can set exposure correctly. The tab can just be made out edge-on in these photos, the small brassy bit just below the aperture numbers at the bottom of the lens.

Mamiya-Sekor 80mm f4 Macro lens with affixed extension tube
When the extension tube is affixed as seen here, it has a tab of its own that will engage the slot in the tab on the lens. It is part of a free-spinning collar around the entire tube, and duplicates the slotted aperture tab down at its own base, to once again engage with the camera body and continue communication with the exposure meter.

The big bit is, that tab-and-collar has a tendency to slip around when the extension tube isn’t attached, and usually requires a bit of fumbling to get it to fit into the slot at the same time that the extension tube is lining up with the mounting ring at the base of the lens – especially since I want to hold the tube by the very collar that encircles it, which prevents the collar from moving easily to the slot. The knurled/ridged portions at the top and bottom of the tube are the fixed bits, what I should be grabbing, but obviously they’re not as easy to latch onto, especially when I’m endeavoring not to drop anything.

Now here’s the part that just occurred to me: the tab on the extension tube doesn’t have to engage anything at all. It’s intended solely to communicate with the Mamiya bodies, and I haven’t been using this lens on them. The aperture ring does nothing at all to communicate with the Canon bodies; instead, I have to meter exposure (when everything is not set manually, as it usually is with the flash rig,) with the lens manually stopped down so it is transmitting the proper amount of light. I could just slap the extension tube on without worrying about the little tab, as long as it’s out of the way.

Mamiya-Sekor 80mm f4 Macro lens with disengaged extension tube
I want you to understand, I’ve been messing with this damn thing for years, close to a decade I believe, and it never once occurred to me that I was wasting time screwing with having that tab aligned. I’m not proud…

To offset this chagrin, I will point out that, with this very post, I have surpassed the previous record for number of images uploaded in the year; that was 706 photos for 2015. And lest you think this post was simply to break that mark, I will point out that despite the yucky conditions, I have more photos coming very soon (they’re already shot.) Besides, it’s not like I never do frivolous nonsense posts anyway…

Storytime 50

malachite butterfly Siproeta stelenes on broad leaf in NC Museum of Life & Science, Durham
This one actually has two stories, but the first I’ve already covered, though I still reiterate it to students when talking about how positioning can affect composition.

The second story has to do with how this got rejected, not from a gallery or stock or anything (because I still like it,) but from an upcoming post. For reasons that will become apparent in a few weeks, I needed to sort my photos by date so I could find particular ones, and this proved to be more than a little challenging. First off, they’re largely sorted by date anyway, but I needed to be able to find specifics, and that required more like a sortable database – no resource that I have presently (or had, at least) provided this ability. So I had to make it. This required extracting the key line in the EXIF info in a manner that I could use. Long story short: it was possible, but not without a lot of playing around, as hinted at below.

database sorting function
Exporting information to a .CSV file to bring into a spreadsheet program with a useful format is a great skill to have, but it can often take some esoteric formatting, and I ended up cheating a little – deleting some columns, taking the original export (from a Linux program called Exiftool) and doing a search-and-replace function, and so on. Done individually for each of 24 stock sorting folders, totaling over 70,000 images. Which, by the way, is just the digital images – I have somewhat less than that number in slides (haven’t done a recent tally, but I haven’t been adding to them either.) The things I do for posts…

Anyway, in the process of all that, I was able to find images that fit the bill better than this one, which was a day later than I was after, so while initially in the running for a post in the new year, it got rejected, kicked to the curb, discarded like someone’s old flip-phone, dismissed and disowned, spat on and chased out of town with pitchforks, shunned like the kid that was into Star Wars in the eighties. Okay, maybe I’m being dramatic (except for the last bit,) but here it is despite all that, and ahead of the schedule that it originally had too. Insert disparaging sound of choice here.

Recommendations you can trust

Because if you can’t turn to a wildlife photographer that specializes in bugs and frogs to tell you what you should seek in entertainment, who can you turn to?

So topically, I’m perhaps cheating a little. I’ve been planning to feature some music here for a while, and just realized that I could springboard.

In case you have no internet at all, or perhaps you manage to avoid all of the typical trivial discussions that take place anywhere that permits a group input, this is the time of year when people start recommending the holiday movies that few ever think of as holiday movies; Die Hard has now come to the forefront since it has an underlying christmas time period, even though it has virtually nothing else to do with christmas. Well, except for:




[I’ve mentioned this before. I think Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle had a faster delivery…]

And I will always recommend Hogfather, just because it’s not anywhere near as well known as it should be, but it’s safe to say that it’s a christmas movie even though absolutely none of the things that we associate with christmas can be found within. Except for rat skeletons.

Anyway, I don’t have many to add. The 1992 film Toys, with Robin Williams, both opens and closes with christmas, but takes place throughout an entire year. This is one that didn’t fare well, either in the theaters or with critics, which is a shame because it’s not bad at all – you just have to cope with a bit of surreality and whimsy in pursuit of its not-too-subtle message. Plus it’s far more likely to hold the attention of the kids than such ‘classics’ like Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, both too schmaltzy as far as I’m concerned. And Toys produced a lovely holiday song (in fact, most of the soundtrack is solid) that has never gained enough traction: The Closing of the Year by Wendy & Lisa, featuring Seal. I’ve embedded the video below, but remain patient for the kick at about 90 seconds.

I was proud of myself when watching this movie in the theater – the opening version of this song has a bar of bells as the tempo increases (audible here, but greatly subdued in this mix) that reminded me of Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel. Turns out he was one of the musicians/composers on the soundtrack.

Yet all of that is not what I originally intended to feature. Instead, we have a movie that still completely mystifies me over why it never did far, far better, and it too takes place in the run up to christmas: 1941, Spielberg’s first shot at comedy released in 1979, with a plethora of actors (all doing a fine job) but focusing on Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in the promos, almost completely snubbing Eddie Deezen for reasons unknown. I could point out a lot of things about this film, from all of the subtle nods to both other films and the real historical references of the time, to the fact that the sole character based on a real person is the only one with solid competence. I’ve heard many potential explanations regarding why this movie has rated so poorly. and none of them seem to hold water, especially when we’ve had, what, three Twilight and eight fucking American Pie movies? I mean, come the fuck on!

More notable, and the thing that I really intended to highlight (mentioned in the previous post regarding music,) is that the soundtrack was composed and conducted by none other than John Williams, and it shows – in fact, I rate his work here much higher than the Star Wars series because he not just captures, but greatly enhances the mood of the film, with his remarkable ability to express so much, so adeptly. Here, then, is a piece that has gone by a few different names, depending on the release, but most often The March from 1941, also the Main Title Theme and containing the melody that reappears throughout the film, often when Belushi’s Wild Bill Kelso was onscreen.

The March from 1941 – John Williams

There’s also a big band dance number that sets the background for a chase/fight/dance contest scene – yes, all three at once, and it’s the kind of thing that may escape the viewer’s conscious attention unless they make a special effort. I mean, they will certainly notice all of the action taking place, and the catchy music that it’s set to, but the idea that an elaborate chase and fight scene was choreographed around the piece of music, to take advantage of the trills and stings within, and still have perfect flow, is a spectacle of staging and editing that could only have taken days, but more likely weeks. And while the musical piece performed within is Williams’, it is very closely based on an existing song: Sing Sing Sing by Benny Goodman (and I link to that here so you can compare the versions directly.) Williams’ homage is below, provided with some misgivings, because the whole scene is something that I urge you to check out – the visual aspect is just as important.

Swing Swing Swing – John Williams

So if you haven’t seen it, find an opportunity to check out 1941; any film that features Toshirô Mifune, Christopher Lee, and Slim Pickens in the same scene deserves some recognition at the very least. If you don’t like it, fine; let me know and I’ll take the blame and feel ashamed. Really. But if you don’t like the music, I’m afraid I’ll have to consider you mentally incompetent.

As a bit of trivia, 1941‘s opening scene not only lambastes Jaws (Spielberg’s own movie,) it features the exact same actress. Who still gets upstaged by Hiroshi Shimizu…

Oh, stop it

This is just a trivial curiosity, found while sorting and set aside for a post when the season has slowed down. We’re not going into deep philosophical territory here.

nighttime clouds illuminated by hidden lightning
Waaayyy back in July, during a failed attempt to get some lightning images, I tried a small experiment, and dug out the green laser pointer that I carry in my camera bag. I have this mostly for student outings, because it’s powerful enough to be seen during daylight and works a whole lot better than trying to describe where exactly a particular photo subject can be found within the foliage, but I’ve also used it for astronomical directions too. It’s one of those that you ardently avoid aiming towards any aircraft, but the risk of that was nil this evening. So while the shutter was open for a ten-second exposure, I aimed it roughly parallel to the lens axis and held it pointed off into the distance, as steady as I could.

green laser beam during time exposure at night
Green lasers work so well for astronomy because they illuminate the atmospheric humidity better, and thus the line of the beam can be seen even when the pointer itself is shining on something, oh, a few thousand light-years off. I wanted to see how vivid it would show in the image, with a small sideline of how steady I could hold it. I expected a little better results on the former, and less on the latter; that beam really isn’t too wobbly for handheld at ten seconds. The origin, by the way, was from the right of the frame, so the wider beam there is both a matter of being a hell of a lot closer to the camera and of my hand moving laterally while aiming fairly well.

By itself, that’s just an idle curiosity, but there’s another detail that’s apparent that I find slightly more interesting: the beam has a very clear stopping point to it. I kind of expected it to fade off into darkness, which is what you would see when pointing out stars, but enough of the beam remains to serve as a guiding line. I didn’t expect it to stop, which tells me that it was actually hitting the undersides of the clouds. Now, knowing the storm conditions, they weren’t very far away, especially since they were obscuring lightning that wasn’t far off by itself, but I was also aimed pretty damn flat, which makes a lot greater distance to cover. My best guesstimate is that we’re talking in excess of a kilometer, minimum. It’s not hard to believe that the light could travel that far, but what we’ve got here is enough illumination of the atmospheric humidity to see it that entire distance, even capturing it in camera, which is much more impressive.

With some precise measurements at the time of the photo, especially with the beam being issued from two different known locations, someone much better at math than I could actually calculate the distance involved; I’m almost certain that too little can be derived from this particular image to do so. Still, I’m impressed, because that seems to be quite a range for the beam to remain visible. But there’s always the possibility that the shutter closed before the beam had gotten too far away…

Just for the sake of further trivia, that above statement remains possible, but to give an accurate idea, assuming that the beam was on the moment the shutter opened and the shutter was precisely ten seconds, a light beam could have gone to the moon and back better than three times – in ten seconds the beam would have traveled close to 3 million kilometers. Granted, its time within the atmosphere would have slowed the photons slightly, but that would only have been for a fraction of a second. I did not calculate the effects of local dark matter, however…

Storytime 49

The author dicking around in the dark
From a whopping 13 years ago, back when the continents were all different (well, they were,) comes to you this image from my very own darkroom, the last one that I had active. Over the years, I’ve had four darkrooms, actually, starting with my first (well, duh) in a spare closet back in NY, the only one without running water, but then the next three were all set up in bathrooms in apartments, two semi-permanently in half-baths – makes it easier than setting up and taking down everything. Here in the new house, there really isn’t the space for a semi-permanent one, but at some point I may tackle a temporary one; I’ve still done negative developing in a bathroom here, but no printing, which is what this image shows. Printing requires the enlarger and at least three trays to develop the print within, and running water sure helps. The running water is necessary for the negative bit too, but by that time the image is fixed and no longer light-sensitive so the developing tank can be carried to a sink anyplace.

I forget what I was illustrating with this, but the challenge was to see if I could get a usable image in the narrow confines of the half-bath, and the narrow settings of the camera, which was my Canon Pro 90 IS: fixed zoom lens, maximum shutter speed of 8 seconds. To give you an idea of the room size, the toilet is directly alongside my left leg, and one wall of the bathroom is just a wee bit behind my back. The sink and just-barely-adequate tray counter space are out of sight below the frame, while the camera itself sits on a shelf against the remaining wall. Overall, it came out fairly well, I think, and I even held reasonably still for the eight seconds.

The print I’m working on is another matter. First experiments showed that it was getting ridiculously overexposed in the eight seconds (in the digital image – I wasn’t actually exposing print paper here, just staging it,) and I wanted a discernible image in the easel, so I had to cut down the time that the enlarger was actually on and throwing the image down; for most of the exposure duration the enlarger is simply off, and that’s what gives the print image down there its sepia tone, because the red darkroom light is illuminating the background paper for a few seconds. I could easily correct it for accuracy, but then where would my story be?

This particular darkroom, however, was the best organized and laid out, despite the small size, and three different people had used it while it was set up: Jim from the Kansas branch had a couple of sessions, and The Girlfriend’s Sprog was using it while taking classes at school. I’m not going to make any comments regarding real B&W work, but darkrooms are a lot of fun and a whole different aspect of creating images, and for anyone that has the chance and is wondering if it’s worth the effort, I can answer that one easily: it is. Go do it.

Good morning Tycho!

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got my timing down. Again, I mean.

waxing gibbous moon showing sunrise on Tycho's central peak
I’ve talked about this countless times now, but for those who have not seen any of the earlier posts, I’ve had a goal of catching sunrise on the central peak of the Tycho crater on the moon for a while now, and earlier this evening, just a little after sundown actually, I snagged it. Tycho is the prominently deep, but not too large, crater down near the bottom, the one with the little dot in the middle which is its 1.6-kilometer-tall central peak; it’ll catch the rising sun before the crater floor does, of course, and that spot of light against the shadow is what I was after.

Now granted, this is a little anti-climactic, given that I’ve captured it before without really trying, and didn’t even know it for years, but this is the first with a conventional camera and lens (the Tamron 150-600, of course.) And you can check out plenty of other posts under that first link above to see just how often I’ve tried, if you’re bored. But I was slightly prepared for this one, because I shot the moon last night and knew how far along the sunrise (or phase, from our perspective) was then.

half moon showing Arzachel prominently
Tycho is not even beginning to be illuminated here, but I know from mapping that it’s not far out of sight in the shadow. The notable crater with the central peak in this image, about a third of the way up from the bottom, is Arzachel. Don’t get the impression that I recite these from memory; I know a handful of craters by rough position, and everything else I determine from fantastic maps like this one. Full credit to the illustrators: each feature is shadowed as if by late lunar morning, so the craters and mountains can easily be discerned, which is hundreds of times better than, say, Google Earth’s version which shows all features at lunar noon from their perspective. This renders craters into indistinct circles, like those seen over at the right side on my images here. The shadows provide the shape and height and such, which is why (again) I say that full moons are far less interesting than any other time (well, except for new moons – they’re really boring, except at certain times.)

Even with the map, however, plotting moon features can be challenging, because perhaps a large portion of the moon is in shadow, reducing the number of ‘landmarks’ you can use, while the shadows or lack thereof can cause things to look very different from your guide source. I usually switch back and forth a bit between my images and a guide, comparing various visible features like lines of mountains and craters within craters and such.

animated gif showing difference in about 20.5 hoursBut then I had to do this, and it came out fairly well despite the difficulties. This is just the two images above overlaid, with faded transitions between the two, showing how much the lunar day has advanced in one full Earth day: not much. It’s not quite accurate, because the difference is 20.5 hours instead of 24, and for accuracy I should be out shooting the moon right at this moment but I’m not gonna. That’s the kinda sloppy journalism and illustrations that you’ve come to expect from me, and I see no reason to change now. And yes, it doesn’t look ‘perfect,’ because the two moons were actually oriented differently in the viewfinder because of this difference in shooting times, and I had to resize and reposition the two images to match, which is a hell of a lot harder than it sounds, PLUS, the moon wobbles a little (libration,) and there is no way to do a perfect match anyway – part of what you’re seeing are my errors, and part is simply this natural wobbling motion. You can also see a faint difference in exposure, especially if you look to the top right, and this is because the moon gets brighter as the phases advance, due to more sunlight reflecting directly rather than obliquely, and exposure times have to be adjusted to compensate. Again, I could have tweaked it in GIMP for a close match but didn’t bother. What you should be looking at is the changes in definition near the terminator; not just Tycho appearing, but other features becoming less distinct as the sun rises higher for them, shortening the shadows.

Yes, others have done entire lunar days in this manner, which takes a full month of photographs, some of which have to be done during Earth daylight or, you know, shot from above the atmosphere – I probably won’t tackle that aspect anytime soon, even though I am bereft of lunar projects now. But there are plenty of other craters and details I could be aiming for. For now, a quick comparison between the two images used here, this time full-frame as shot, so you can see the difference in angle that I had to correct for in the gif (pronounced “shuh-VON,”) and have a better inkling of what it looked like in the viewfinder as I was trying to nail sharpest focus.

two gibbous moons shot a day apart
Annnndddd one more little trivial bit. Last night when I was shooting the moon partially as a test, I tried out something else that’s been on my photographic plate – I mean, a figurative photographic plate – and got the answer that I needed. Not at all the one I’d hoped to get, but at least it’s a baseline data point.

faint image of M31 Andromeda galaxy at 600mm
The fuzzy blob you see here is the Andromeda galaxy, or M31 in Messier’s catalog, NGC224 in the New General Catalog. Andromeda can be found on a clear night with binoculars, if you know exactly where to look, and on rare occasions by unaided eye, but it takes optimal conditions and even then you may only see it peripherally, since peripheral vision tends to resolve fainter objects than our direct (foveal) vision. The faint lines all around are stars, moving slightly in the 3.2 second exposure and also faintly out of focus, because if you think the moon is hard to pin down precisely, try it on dim stars. I’d love to get a more detailed shot of Andromeda, but this image tells me that it will come only with the help of a tracking motor, to counteract the rotation of the Earth during a much longer exposure, and more likely also a good telescope. You’re not gonna see it before the year is out, is what I’m saying.

I was trying out this camera body at its highest ISO rating to see what it produced, which is why the image is so grainy, but actually, it’s better than expected in that regard – less so in the resolving-the-object one. But c’mon, Andromeda is 2.5 million light-years off! And so you know, this image was shot at 3.2 seconds, f6.3, ISO 6400, while the moons up there were shot at 1/50 or 1/60 second, f11, ISO 250. What this means in photographic terms is that this image of Andromeda captured just shy of thirteen thousand times more light than the moon shots. And it still looks like this. Bugger.

Okay, that was too much fun

The previous post was a couple days in the making, mostly because once I had the concept, I had to find the time to stage and shoot all the pics, but they were all done earlier today. And the tag about not being Photoshopped is absolute truth – I used GIMP instead. In fact, only one of them didn’t involve compositing; I’ll let you determine which one it was. In the process, I learned a couple of techniques that I’d known how to do in Photoshop but not in GIMP, so just reapin’ the benefits here.

A couple of little notes, because what’s a blog without meaningless trivia?

  • The first image looks the worst – I’d originally shot the lens and smutphone in the same frame to match lighting, but the phone was a little too far out of focus, so I reshot it. The composite could have been better, but you know, it was a nonsense post…
  • The same quarter was dubbed into two different frames, radically resized, for ‘scale.’ For the speakers and the earbuds, I had to edit out the wires.
  • The ‘HD Projector’ is actually just my angle-finder, a right-angle attachment to the camera eyepiece for those difficult shooting positions, propped up on a random piece of plastic.
  • You need to look close at the ‘CBD Oil,’ if you haven’t already. This one probably took the most time, because of the curved text.
  • The ‘flask’ was probably the easiest edit just to remove the power cord.
  • I really do have a knife that largely looks like that, and stays in the car. My pocketknife isn’t anywhere near as goofy-looking.
  • The selfie gun… well, I don’t have any firearms, and won’t, and this was the closest I could get (and yes, I do have a foam dart gun that the cats love.) Better, the ‘camera’ is some old MP3 player that I had, with the selfie-image dubbed in. All of these were self-shot, by the way, because I was alone when I had the time to play with the post. If you were sharp you noticed the lighting is all wrong.
  • The cooler was the beginning of the difficulties, to make that text angled properly. It’s easy enough to paste in any text that you want, but distorting it to reflect the apparent angle that it should display takes a little more. Mostly, I had to find the damn option in the menu, but all four corners of the text layer had to move independently to make it look right.
  • You can see the remote in my hand for the shirt shot. But believe it or not, I’ve never studied modeling at all – that’s pure instinct.
  • The nondescript software bundle actually shows Walkabout Studios in all their/its glory, vertical mouse, drumsticks, R2-D2 mug and all. But the screen was dubbed in, and I had a very eclectic collection of HTML, Javascript, and BASIC commands in that text – you just can’t make it out, dammit.
  • And the cutting board was almost ‘real,’ in that I was making duck soup at the same time that I was shooting the images, so I just added a couple of spinach leaves. The bloodstains were of course added in – I’m a much better cook than that – but the overturned wine glass kinda got lost in the mix. Just didn’t put in the effort that I should’ve.
  • So okay, it was all just lame sarcasm, a lot of effort for a joke, but thinking of the shots and the materials was a good exercise, or at least I consider it so. Had I been tasked with doing serious shots of this nature, naturally a bit more effort would have been put into the settings, lighting, and, you know, ironing, but for an idle idea, it came together fairly nicely. Every photographer should try some staged humor shots from time to time.

    Great deals to give me your money this season!

    Far be it from me to pass on any ridiculous trends, so I’ve decided to jump on the Frenetic Capitalism bandwagon this year and offer you some really really cool, super useful holiday items that you can order for all those hard-to-shop-for, gift-card-deserving people on your list. No, not that list, your gift list. For others. Or, you know, you can buy these for yourself – we don’t judge here.

    Here are the things that, apparently, everyone needs, all marked down for Cyber Wednesday to pass those exorbitant savings on to you.

    Clip-on Shit Lens for your smutphone – Because you didn’t overspend by a factor of seven on obtaining a device to destroy both your attention span and your ability to even read, now you can attempt to ignore the fact that you really should just be using a real goddamn camera. For just the cost of some overpriced sneakers, you can have some saccharin-tablet sized lenses to stack in front, never realizing that the lack of quality actually comes from using a sensor the size of a pimple. Was $164.99, now only $74.99

    Portable Bluetooth Speakers – MP3s are not compressed enough as it is – they become ever-so-much-more-so when played through a 14mm speaker that will last, oh, about 22 minutes with the tiny battery within. That’s okay, though, because you’ll still be annoying everyone around you with your personal music choices played publicly and tinnily because you won’t wear your earbuds. $69.99 $34.99. But wait!

    Really And For True Wireless Earbuds – We kid you not, there’s not a single wire in these! Not even surrounding the speaker magnet! This makes the battery really long-lasting! Which is good, because it’s tiny too, and if it were hooked to anything it would last about 37 minutes before dying. You will, of course, lose one of these when it falls from your ear someplace public, because taking the damn thing out when you’re not listening to music is more effort than it’s worth, and note, we don’t sell single replacements. So, multiply the price times five throughout the year. Formerly $129.99, now only $49.99

    The Smallest HD Projector Yet We Swear – What’s better than watching high-definition movies on a screen that comes nowhere near high-definition resolution, thus making you waste scads of memory in your smutphone? Projecting the same damn thing in low-contrast onto a sub-optimal surface! For the 23 minutes that the battery will last, of course – even moderately bright lights require power. But what better way to share some vapid video instead of, you know, sending the link to someone else’s phone? I’d love to hear it. $264.99 Price slashed to $84.99!

    “Now hold on, Al,” you say. “My life does not revolve entirely around my smutphone!” And perhaps you’re not lying to me, but the thing is, Google and Apple want it to revolve entirely around your smutphone, because that’s how they get all the data they’re selling to anyone and everyone. But okay, I hear you! Here are some other super cool, ultimately necessary items that you’ll want because I tell you that someone else has them!

    Something CBD – It doesn’t matter what, really, because it doesn’t do jack shit, but the placebo effect remains alive and well, and so does the concept of how cool weed is, because only the coolest kids in school were into it, remember? So now you can indulge in your teenage rebellion in the lamest and most ineffective way possible, without actually rebelling because it’s legal because see above about jack shit. Regardless, you can put this oil in, I dunno, vapes or gummy bears or Doritos or something. Marked down from $72.99 to only $34.98!

    Alcohol Flask Hidden in Some Damn Thing – Even more teenage rebellion here, as you get some liquor into someplace it’s forbidden, mostly because alcohol breeds assholes, and dog forbid you go without a buzz for a couple of hours, or find something to do that’s actually entertaining on its own. Whatever – it’s ‘Muricah, dammit! Fucking Alcohol! Alter your brain because you’re pathetic! And stick it to The Man by sneaking it past, um, The Man. $32.99 $28.99

    Badass Knife – You’re sure to be prepared for something that will never happen – zombie apocalypse, the downfall of civilization, some mugger dumb enough to let you try and dig out a weapon that you have no clue how to use – with this over-decorated, black and knobby knife that says “Tactical” on it. First Blood started this whole idea that with the right knife you can do anything, ignoring that a knife only does light cutting – packing tape, fishing line, and so on. Any other pursuit has a more proper tool that will work dozens of times better. But this isn’t a tool – it’s an ego-stroker. Now you won’t have any feelings of inadequacy with a knobby black knife that has a weak flashlight, a compass you don’t know how to use, and a snakebite kit built in! Plus it has a crosshairs etched on the side, because knives and crosshairs go together. Millions have bought this pigsticker at the regular price of $335.99, but today only you can get it for the low, low price of $174.99!

    Bang-Thingy Selfie Mount – Mount your smutphone or XtreemKoolDood action cam onto the end of your deadly toy so you can film yourself looking cool while making noise for no reason like a child. It even points away from the target that you keep missing, so no embarrassing evidence here! Includes a variety of filter apps, like scars or trickling blood or more of a five-o’clock shadow than you can manage. $129.99 $79.99

    Tenzing Cooler – Made with technology and engineered, so it has to work many times better than, say, a cooler costing less than a tenth of the price, because insulation is very complicated. But you’ve heard the buzz over the name, so you’ll pay the price, and imagination will do the rest. $379.99

    Outdoorsy Shirt – More buzzwords here, like “breathable” and “micromesh” and “carbon-fiber,” plus the idea that with this, you become fit, rugged, and totally not afraid to run to your car in the rain. It’s still just a shirt, and won’t last any longer than any other shirt, but there’s a cool logo others don’t have, and pocket flaps. At leading retailers for $119.99, we’re offering it here exclusively for $69.99!

    Professional Something-Or-Other Bundle – It’s time for a new career, but going to school is right out, so here’s a software bundle of instructional stuff that will clearly educate you enough to get into a high-paying job, because those don’t really require experience or advanced courses. Employers love seeing “self-taught” on a résumé! Get your life on track, whatever that means! (Even the losers in the race were on the track, but…) Was $789.99, now only $12.95!

    Some Cooking Kit – You want to learn how to cook, but simply doing recipes found online is too passé. We’ll send you stuff you still have to know how to cook, but don’t have to buy on your own, for a subscription fee, and include a complicated knife set even though you really only need three or four to do everything you could possibly want in a kitchen (or see Badass Knife above.) Best way to spend four times as much on food and still be just as disappointed. $49.99/month $29.99/month

    Supplies are limited and these deals won’t last, so click ‘Add To Cart’ for all of them to get your special holiday shipping rates! We guarantee that no one will think you’re a tool or influenced by misplaced hype! Don’t waste a single second!

    Happy Holidays!