Peeling the Film

I have a closet in my house which I call “Nick’s Home for Wawyard Cameras.” It’s a sort of rest home/photography museum for various old equipment. It holds three 35mm SLRs: my dad’s Pentax Spotmatic and Sears-Ricoh TLS (M42 mount, plus lenses), as well as a friend’s Nikon FG-20 (F mount, plus a 50mm f/1.8 Series E); also two 6×6 TLRs: my dad’s Zeiss Ikoflex and Rolleiflex, both with 75mm f/3.5 Zeiss lenses.

I occasionally take one down and run a roll of film through it, and I noticed a few weeks ago that I had accumulated 11 undeveloped rolls this way. It was long past time to develop them. I put them all in an envelope and sent it to North Coast Photographic Services in Carlsbad, CA, which has long been my lab of choice.


My wife gave me an afternoon off to shoot on the day before Valentine’s Day 2011. Of all the pictures I took that afternoon, this is the most important, as the restaurant depicted no longer exists. Ilford HP5 in the Sears-Ricoh with a 50mm f/1.4 Super-Takumar.

Harley Century

I’m hit-and-miss with selecting a correct exposure, it seems; better than I used to be, but not practiced and smooth. This is the best-exposed slide out of a whole roll of Provia 100F that I ran trough the Nikon, and it makes me want to buy a whole case and practice until I’m consistently on. The tones are to die for.


If you’re used to an SLR viewfinder, the reversed image of a TLR can be quite the challenge. As a longtime devotee of square format, it’s a challenge I enjoy, all the more because the larger film area yields better image quality. This was made in the Rollei with a very old roll of Kodak Plus-X that I found my parents’ basement. I wasn’t sure it would still be usable, having not been kept frozen, but it worked very well indeed.

I don’t shoot much film because of processing costs, but I hope to continue shooting the occasional roll, hopefully maintaining and even increasing my skills as time goes on.

Stormy Weather

My best man’s son, who lives in Denver, got married in July, and I wanted to give him and his bride a framed print as a wedding present. I wanted to use the occasion as a spur to make a landscape image, and I wanted something that said “Illinois”; the idea of a thunderhead looming over a cornfield was the obvious way of satisfying both conditions.

August Thunderstorm, Champaign County, IL

This rather simple-looking image was anything but simple to assemble. Since I don’t own a camera or lens capable of tilt/shift movements, I could not carry focus simultaneously in the corn and clouds; an in-focus exposure had to be made for each one separately. The corn was also much lower-valued than the sky, so the corn-focus exposure would need to be “developed” accordingly, and it was windy on the evening I took the picture, so the silhouette of the corn did not match between the cloud-focus and corn-focus exposures.

I could not get sharp detailed corn cleanly bordering on sharp detailed sky in Lightroom alone. Layering two TIFFs, one “developed” from each candidate exposure, yielded masking and gradient artifacts on the lower cloud and corn edge. Ultimately, I had to layer three TIFFs:

  • The sky-focus exposure
  • A copy of the corn-focus exposure “developed” identically to the sky-focus exposure
  • A second copy of the corn-focus exposure “developed” for the corn

Using my trusty Wacom tablet in the GIMP, I then had to manually mask in the edge of the corn
with a small soft-edged brush, taking care to leave no edge artifacts. This may be the single most tedious task I have ever undertaken. To prevent eye and hand strain, I had to break it up into multiple small chunks over the course of a few days rather than go for it in one marathon session. I consider the labor and patience well spent, though, as the result is far superior to any other method I attempted.

Many people say that rural Illinois is boring. Subtle it may be, but boring it is not, and I only wish I had more time to go out and make images that justify my opinion. Consider this one small step in that direction.

Tour de Campus


I seem to have developed the habit of photographing bicyclists as I wait for the bus after work. It’s certainly more convenient that it used to be since Urbana created bike lanes on the whole length of Goodwin Avenue through campus, and on a sunny afternoon one can get really dramatic results, especially with a simulated red filter in post.

Apathetic Bunny


While waiting for the bakery in downtown Urbana to open, I wandered down a nearby alley and found this moment of zen nestled among several mains power interfaces.

Shooting on Velvet

It’s been a little while since I wrote about portraits, and wouldn’t you know, I have a couple recent ones.


I make at least one portrait of my children every year, as close to their birthdays as possible. “As close as possible” was almost three weeks afterward this year for my older son, pictured above, because of paternal inertia. The delay had its benefits, though; I was able to mentally discard several unnecessarily complex ideas in favor of something simple and attractive. A secondary goal was to create something that would look good both in monochrome and color.

We have here a variation on my favorite two-light setup, with a large soft key (the 60″ Photek Softlighter) balanced by a harder separation light, with a pure black background. The separation light is warmed both with a 1/4 CTS gel and by setting flash white balance rather than daylight. The key light’s color is unmodified.

Normally, I use a bare speedlight for separation, but this time I wanted a slightly softer edge to the separation transfer, so I strapped a LumiQuest SoftBox III to the front of my strobe. I’m extremely pleased with the result; so pleased, in fact, that I’m inclined to use the SoftBox in preference to a bare strobe from here on out, unless I absolutely need the harder edge.

Really, Now

My younger son wanted in on the action too, of course. I made things easier for both of them by using gaffer’s tape to mark where they should stand on the floor, something which I’ve never done before but should have been doing all along.

The background is a piece of black velvet curtain which I bought from a local hobby store, attached to and draped over a tall bookshelf. Since it’s supposed to be pure, textureless black, I was able to push the contrast a little harder in these images than I would have otherwise, resulting in a palette of tones I really like. I haven’t shared the monochrome versions in deference to my mother, who prefers color portraits of her grandsons, but the B&W conversion is every bit as pretty as the originals.

Slow Commotion

The atmosphere of a university campus in mid-August is charged with a bizarre mix of abandonment and anticipation. The summer students are gone and the campus is empty, yet all of us who work for the university know that the quiet is fleeting, as we frantically prepare for the beginning of the fall term mere days away.

Great Falls of the Boneyard

I’ve long wanted to make a longish exposure of this fountain, and the peculiar mid-August mood put me in mind to try. I carry my X100 with me almost everywhere, but I don’t necessarily carry a tripod, which makes these kind of pictures much more difficult. Fortunately, I was able to balance it on the edge of the fountain steadily enough to permit a 1/3 second exposure.

I’ll have to save up for a deep neutral density filter, for greater smoothness in the blurred water next time.

Computational Light

Shafts of Knowledge

The west entrance of the Siebel Center is overlooked by a large curtain window extending the entire height of the building, and in the afternoon the reflected sun produces these lovely stripes across the wall beside the accessible walkway.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers