Wednesday, March 30, 2011

F-stop printing

I wanted to share a darkroom technique that I use when I print that not many people seem to know about. It's called F-stop printing.

Now, this isn't something new, it's been around for a long time, but it's not what we are taught in school or in many photography books. When I was taught to make test strips, we'd make them based on multiples of seconds. So start at say 5 seconds, the next bit would be 10, the next 15 etc. I personally find this to be rather inefficient.

Instead, I do my test pieces (which are few - but that's another post) based on using stops. Just like when you factor in stops when you shoot, you can factor in stops when you print. A stop more is doubling the light, a stop less is halving it, regardless of whether you are exposing film or paper. So to begin, I'll pick a starting exposure in seconds based on a best guess, knowing what my paper, aperture etc tends to go with. For me, 10 sec to 20 sec, which is one full stop by the way, tends to cover my average negatives, and makes for easy calculations. This will be different for you and depend on your paper, your negatives and what aperture you choose. I use a very slow paper, Fomatone, which is a full two stops slower than Oriental for example, and commonly print at f8, if you are curious.

Next I simply divide that one stop range into quarter stops, so you get 10 sec, 12.5 sec, 15 sec, 17.5 sec and 20 sec. Now, someone is likely to pipe up at this point, that these aren't exact 1/4 stops, which is true, but they are close enough and a simple extra 2.5 sec from my starting time. If you want real quarter stops, from 10 to 20 it would be 10/11.9/14.1/16.8/20. See the link below for a chart if you are picky. While I am very exact with measuring chemicals, 0.7 of a sec at this point isn't a big deal.

I then expose the test piece or strip accordingly. When I take a look, I can see which is closest to the exposure I need and since it is all roughly quarter stops apart, I can very accurately, off that one strip, pick a good exposure. No guessing, or fiddling around with a few more seconds, here, or a few less, taking several tries to get it narrowed down. Now it can be pretty close and sometimes hard to tell the bits apart, but you can always make it thirds or half stops, whatever works for you.

F-stop printing also helps when it comes to burning and dodging, as it makes things easier to decide. You can burn or dodge half a stop, a full stop etc.

Here's some further info to take a look at, including a couple of manufacturers of F-stop enlarger timers, which are on my wish list.

If you own Tim Rudman's The Master Photographer's Toning Book, (a previous post) there's a chart in the back. If you don't, what the heck are you waiting for?

Give this a try the next time you print. You might be surprised at how it simplifies things for you.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The allure of the hand written letter

I love getting mail. Period.  Even catalogues and some junk mail. Other than bills, finding things in my mailbox is like getting a present. Something new and mysterious to be savoured. And since the quality of my mail these days is rather sad, I've been looking into penpals.

I had penpals way back in secondary school and wrote to people in far off countries. And even now, in our internet age, people still want to write real letters to far off, or not so far off people, whom they've never met. Really. And I'm one of them. 

There are those who will consider people like me luddites, or anachronisms but when you get something personally addressed in the mail, a letter, card, post card, what have you, doesn't it make you feel rather special that someone took the time to let you know they were thinking of you? That they actually put effort in; had to write it, go get a stamp, mail it effort. What can make you feel more appreciated than a hand written thank you note?

Time is the most valuable thing people have. By sending a piece of snail mail, you've spent a little of that on someone and I personally think it counts a hell of a lot more than dashing off a quick email or sending a text. And you can't exactly draw something or otherwise embellish by hand an electronic communication like you can a piece of paper.

And besides, how else can you use fun and cool things like fountain pens, sealing wax and seals, pretty stamps and paper.....

Here's a few links for those interested in giving it a try.

Places to find penpals:
The Letter Writers Alliance
Good Mail Day Blog (post on call for penpals)

Sources for awesome stationery and pens:
In Vancouver, Paper Ya on Granville Island is fantastic. One of the few places locally to buy real writing paper. (from France, mmmm)
Etsy always has cool stuff
Perks, a really cool pen store on Cambie in Vancouver (the store is listed with others on this site)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Another darkroom DIY - film drying cabinet

Here's my second darkroom DIY project. A film drying cabinet.

I purchased one of those soft plastic hanging clothes storage bags, the rectangular type, from Ikea. I got one of those old bonnet style hair dryers that has a dryer base, hose and shower cap style plastic head cover from my grandmother. Hadn't been used in probably over 20 years. Packrat grannies can be good thing.

I cut a hole in the side near the bottom of the bag. Then I cut the hose fitting off the bonnet and taped it into the hole in the bag. After hanging it from a portable shower rod, I was able to attach the hose to the bag. Some duct tape around the hose took care of it being sticky from plastic breakdown. While I put some small slits near the top in to let air out, they didn't do much, so I just keep the zipper down a foot or so so the air can escape. Now I have a nice, heated film drying cabinet.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Directing your marketing to the right people

My business, which is still in its infancy, has me doing a lot of marketing research and planning, especially as I work on my business plan. As someone who is looking at marketing a unique product, to the fine art portrait market, and going for a niche portrait photographers generally aren't, I need to be as innovative with my marketing as with my product.

I want to very tightly focus my marketing as I am going for a very defined group of clients. While I expect most of my sales to end up coming from word of mouth, I still need to get my work out there in front of people and this is a prime way to market to specific groups. For an artist, getting the right people to see your work and ideally buy it takes more than just getting it in front of as many eyeballs as you can. The most bang for your buck will come from getting it in front of qualified eyeballs.

If you are a portrait artist and looking to make a living from your work, the people who can afford your work are the ones to show it to. Beyond economic stratification, your audience also needs to be refined by interest group, gender, age, profession or anything you can use to narrow down the parameters of your market and define who you are marketing to. To make your marketing very direct, pick a group with a common interest or characteristic (your theme), and create a body of work or curate one you already have, to appeal to that specific group. Have a show that will appeal to those people in particular, at a venue they already patronize and you have essentially a pre-qualified audience who will very much appreciate what you have to show them.

A specific example would be the equestrian community. Portraits of members of the community or their horses, shown at one of their clubs, would be a very strong draw for these clients. You would have very closely defined your market, given them an exclusive look at your product and whether they buy then or there, they will remember you when they are ready to get a portrait later. 

Now it's up to you to figure out how to do this for your business.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Do it yourself darkroom lights

Finding darkroom lights these days, that don't cost a fortune, can be pretty tough. I came up with a simple solution for red lights, as I do a lot of lith printing and want to make sure I don't have fog problems.

Now bear in mind, I haven't tested these to see if they might fog. I figure, if ruby lith film has been used on windows safely enough, it'll be fine for led lights and they aren't pointed right at the paper for long anyhow.

Now, what I did was go and get three little push lights from my local Canadian Tire, the kind with three leds. What is nice about them is that you can have one, two or all three leds on, and so control the amount of light. I also picked up some ruby lith film, which I cut into a circle and taped over the light with opaque tape around the edges. If you don't know what ruby lith is, it's a red film used by printers and generally pretty safe for darkroom stuff.

These lights are surprisingly bright and even with the red film on them, which does cut down light intensity, they still give off quite a bit of light. What was surprising is that the light is rather directional, far more of a beam than I expected. Which is good, as I am able to nicely hold one in my hand (they are only about 3 inches across) as a darkroom torch. With one light on, they work very nicely to check the progress of my lith printing. 

Now go have fun in the dark.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Music in the dark(room)

I love music. I've played various instruments over the years and have a nicely eclectic collection of cd's, heavy on world music. I wanted to share with you some of my favourite bands and artists. I can't live without my music while I'm in the darkroom. Sitting for 15 minutes doing a lith print, in the dark, listening to myself breath would drive me nuts.

Now in no particular order.....

Bellowhead: An awesome band from England playing English folk music as you've never heard it before. 11 piece band with a brass section. How cool is that? Greensleeves would never sound the same. Not that they play that one, they choose much more interesting songs than that.

And for a little taste....

They were even more amazing live.

Pink Martini: Another fantastic ensemble, this time from closer to home in Portland. They perform in over 8 languages, songs from all over the world. Mix in Bossa Nova, French cafe music, Cha Cha and lounge music and you get as they put it themselves a "rollicking around-the-world musical adventure".

An intro....Also incredible live.

Stan Rogers: And being Canadian, I can't forget our own wonderful talent. One of the greatest Canadian folk singers was Stan Rogers. Incredible voice and great songwriter. If you really want to get an idea of Canadian music this is it.

Audio only I'm afraid.

The Arrogant Worms: And for something rather different, The Arrogant Worms. A wonderful example of the great Canadian sense of humour. It's their 20th year together, so be sure to try and catch a concert if you can.

Now, does anyone have any suggestions for more great music?