The Original Memorial Day

Memorial Day was established as a remembrance of Civil War soldiers, all of them American. According to History.com tributes to the fallen began as early as 1866. While the exact chronology seems to be a little vague, it became a federal holiday in 1971. Originally known as Decoration Day, it has since been the country’s opportunity to honor all soldiers.

Here in nearby Felton we have an annual reenactment of the Civil War at a place called Roaring Camp. The American Civil War Association (www.awca.org) stage the annual event which includes camp followers and soldiers.

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-Our feature today is Frank. Frank is an engineer turned blacksmith. When we met him he was working on a bottle opener for a couple who stood close by intently watching him ply his trade. Blacksmiths were the local go-to for any part, tool, or trinket made from iron. During the Civil War Frank would have been responsible for repairing or replacing weapons, utensils, building tools and what not.

Of course there’s more fun to be had than just the blacksmith.

What’s a battle without a big boom?

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And a little music…

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And we have to shoot at each other (even if the aiming isn’t too good). Of course it is nearly 60″ long and weighs about 9 pounds.

Mamiya RB67 Ultrafine Extra B&W
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Postcards from Joshua Tree NP-Arch Rock

Arch Rock-everyone’s view

Here’s the famous Arch Rock at JTNP. After our brief thunderstorm experience we drove down the road about a half mile, walked about 1/4 mile and there it was, marked with a sign. The challenge is to get something unique.

Yours truly in the arch, looking for a unique view

I went around to the back side of the arch and noticed the position of the sun. A couple of trial shots to get the right position and voila! Arch Rock at Joshua Tree National Park.

Postcard from Joshua Tree National Park

I was recently at Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Dessert just outside of Los Angeles, California. Moderate temperatures made it ideal for a short hike. No good thought or intention goes unpunished and during the hike we experienced a brief thunderstorm. We didn’t melt (we’re not made of sugar) and the clouds helped capture the beauty of this majestic tree.
Joshua Tree National Park, April, 2019 near Belle Campground.Joshua Tree (WP)

Solving one of the digital era’s big questions: Black and white or color film?

CG-Half Dome B&W 2-2019 (w)I recently had the opportunity to photograph Half Dome in black and white (Ilford HP4) and Color (Kodak Porta 160). I did both because I wanted to answer the question, How does a color image transfer to black and white compared to a black and white photo?”

The is not only a question of the artistic nature of the work but also a very practical question when it comes time to load gear for a trip, especially if an airplane is involved. Moreover, the camera manufactures know the desire for black and white remains strong in the marketplace.

My digital Olympus OMD e-M10 has a B&W mode that mimics traditional filter options of red, blue, yellow, and orange. My Nikon D7100, doesn’t emulate in the camera, I simply change the color palate to black and white and use traditional film filters in front of the lens to make the creative choices afforded to film photographers. I’ll do a post in the future about the advantages of colored filters in black and white photography but if you’re curious now I recommend you do a web search. The processor in the camera blends the three channels to mimic a grey tone image but in fact a digital camera allows you to choose color or black and white on the fly because it only uses color pixels. What’s more any color photo can be turned into black and white after the shoot in most photo software. This means you can wait to do the conversion later with the addition any of the black and white photo editors on the market in post processing. With both options on the table we return to my question, is native black and white film better?

Images from Yosemite beg to be printed in black and white. Due, no doubt, in large part to Ansel Adams classic images. Certain times of the year are more amenable to black and white than others. From the valley floor in the winter nearly everything is black and white anyway, white snow, granite cliffs, and bare or monotone trees make color almost insignificant. I set up my 4×5 camera on Sentinel Bridge for these pictures, made a composition I liked, and put in a frame of Porta 160 and then Ilford HP4. I chose the two films because of their unique characteristics, Porta for its natural color and HP4 for its contrast. Back at home I developed and scanned into Photoshop for the post processing.

Doing post processiCG-HD 2-Half Dome-wng of color film into B&W means I get to use Photoshop’s color sliders to bring out parts of the black and white image. Unlike when shooting with B&W film, I can see the changes in real time on the computer screen as I make my edits. With B&W film you must have the filters with you in the field. For example, the use of a red filter to darken skies and accentuate clouds. With color film using the blue filter while in B&W mode achieves the same effect. On the one hand the freedom to make artistic and compositional changes with B&W happens in the field causing me to slow down and be more purposeful. By choosing to previsualize the end product, as suggested by Ansel Adams, my field session is much more focused and more deliberate. With color film I just shoot and make the artistic decisions from the comfort of my desk with a cup of coffee.

Here are the results. Can you tell which is which?

Hornitos, California and the Dustbowl

We arrived at Hornitos, California late in the day close to the golden hour. The golden hour, actually two hours before sunset, makes colors deeper and reduces the contrast between the light sky and shadows. Shadows are our friend when it comes to communicating three dimensions on the flat plane of a photograph, so our arrival time was perfect.

Windmill(2)-B&WHornitos is Spanish for “little ovens” named after the above ground graves from early gold prospectors in the Gold Rush days. Today the old town is little more than a couple of buildings on a small secondary road.

I limited my creative tools to a DSLR, fast lens, the golden hour, and my intuition and training. My objective: to make art and not documentary photos. By art I mean photos that evoke feeling and a sense of wondering. I have in mind to be purposeful in composition, use aperture to control the depth of field and take advantage of shadows.

Among the potential subjects was an Aermotor windmill, an essential farm tool in the pre-electric era. In the early 20th Century Aermotor came to dominate the market, so much so that the odds are good any old windmill you see going down the highway is an Aermotor. These self-oiling water pumps use the motion of the blade to work a suction pump. Water storage is always close by, often on a platform, so gravity does the work of everyday water pressure on the farm. Placement of the tower and blades to the water storage tank varies depending on the need of the farm. I’ve never seen an integration of storage and tower like the one pictured. Look closely and you’ll see the storage tank custom sized to fit inside the tower. The maker solved the space and gravity problems in one fell swoop. All of life is a compromise so he sacrificed a large tank for the convenience of locating the tub within the frame. How ingenious! I liked the position of this windmill and tower to the house and took photos from a couple of angles before settling on the one you see.

Three things make this picture work. A large depth of field, f8, careful framing to include something in the front, middle and back of the image, and the choice to use black and white. Let’s look at each of these to see why they work for this image.

On a digital camera the sweet spot of the lens is f8. Overall this aperture creates good depth of field, the lens is at its sharpest, and chromatic aberration is not an issue like it can be at f16. (If I had been using a larger format, medium or large format film camera, I would have used f16 for all of the same reasons.) F8 makes the picture sharp from front to back.

Next, I included the fence posts in the front of the image to draw the viewer into the image and focus on the subject-the windmill. I took several photos including one without the fence. While, I knew this composition would work for the idea I had in mind, I also knew I wasn’t coming back, and another composition might work for another day and purpose. It’s good do “work” a scene to get as much out of it as possible. Who knows, on another day I might prefer the no-fence version. The other aspect of the framing was my desire to include the clouds._DWP5191

I have pictures in my mind of the Dustbowl and with the help of historical research and the novel and movie Grapes of Wrath I think of the 1930’s when I see an old windmill. Part of the nostalgia of these images is the medium: black and white photos. Between the black and white conversion and the clouds I wanted to evoke the feeling of those old dustbowl days and with it the heartiness of Americans and the American spirit.

I’ve included both the color and black and white versions of the image. Let me know what you think.

 

The Nikon F2 Photomic

aka the Leica Killer

Ken Rockwell writes the Nikon F2 was a Leica killer. While that may be a bit extreme (Leica is alive and well), he makes a strong point about the quality and robust nature of the F2. Built for professionals and with Leica clearly in their sites, Nikon set out to make a camera that was virtually bullet proof. It’s all metal body is apparent when pick it up. Unlike earlier 35mm cameras the F2 is a modular camera. Interchangable lenses and viewing screens which can include a needle type light meter make it easy to take it anywhere from a newsman’s primary tool of the trade to the backpacker who wants to take alone a smallish camera with wide angle and telephoto options.

I recently picked up an F2 and put it through its paces. I used a variety of apertures and shutter speeds to make sure everything worked correctly. The meter worked well with fresh batteries and the split prism meter makes for easy focusing. I checked the on-board meter with a Minolta Auto Meter III F. The negatives came out sharp with good contrast. Overall using the camera was a good experience. It weighs enough that you can’t forget it in your hand and with that reminder it’s easy to dedicate time to making those 36 frames count. After using the camera it’s easy to see how the 1970’s filled up with good reliable 35mm cameras that shared most of the F2’s features like the Canon A-I, Pentax K1000, Olympus OM-1 and so many others that stood toe to toe with the Nikons. The emergence of the SLR with through the lens focusing and exposure help either by the needle or lighted f stop/shutter speeds in the viewfinder was a game changer for many people.  

All things considered a used F2 would be a good buy if everything worked right. While some would argue for it in favor of the other models mentioned above, I’d be happy with any them.

Until next time.