Saturday, March 23, 2024

MC winter photo session

There I was on Thursday, working on an essay for my other blog (on the drought and the price of water) when I got a text from Michelle, my favourite model, and best run and swim buddy ever, if you haven't been following along in the other blog for the last decade or so. 

She said, 
"I have a photo shoot idea… Might you be curious? I would love to capture a photo in a snowstorm in all black-and-white. Me wearing black, the white snow swirling around and in the background, and just have my red hair being the only thing that’s coloured in the photo. Maybe lipstick to any idea how to technically accomplish this?"

Well, holy doodle! Photographers live for such things. I nearly sprained a finger typing yes. We texted back and forth a bit and it turned out she also wanted to show off a corset she had made. Duh!

1. Here's one of the last photos.

As an aside, it's been snowing off and on here for the better part of a week, so the odds of at least some snow swirling around were pretty good. I was hoping for some big fat fluffy flakes gently drifting down, camera on a tripod, for a slightly long exposure to increase the swirl effect. Or maybe an HDR of 3 different exposures, maybe merged, maybe not. Plus the snow covers all the ugly half melted ground.

We both had things on Thursday afternoon. My eyes are good, thank you very much, only a small change to the astigmatism part of the prescription. I might not have needed new glasses, but these are 3 years old, and the coatings are starting to wear off. Plus there's a sale in April. I digress. She had a thing Friday morning.

We met up about noon, so less than 24 hours from idea to making it happen. Never let it be said we are sloths when it comes to a great idea. There were a few more ideas generated. Her skirt had an interesting pattern on it that I wanted to try to capture. I can see it in Lightroom, not so sure if it will show up here. I had figured out a location and we were off. It wasn't the snow we dreamed of, but it was off and on. You can see the flakes in some of the photos. The overcast skies and snow created wonderful soft light.

We started on the path at the south end of my neighbourhood, on the edge of the hill going down into Fish Creek. I wanted an uncluttered white background to show off the black and red. We had fun trying different ideas just to see how they would turn out. Some worked well, some not so well, but that's the fun of collaboration. One of the things I love about Michelle is that she can project so many different moods, fun, joyous, serious, sultry, mysterious. I can make up a story, and she can project the image. 

Just so you know. Michelle is a real woman of an age to be thinking seriously about retirement. Her skin has tried to kill her at least once that I know of. A Photoshop pro could smooth out her skin and make her look like a teenager, but we both wanted the photos to be of her, not some fanboy Photoshopped version of her. Neither are were we trying to look like the cover of some fashion magazine. They have what I consider to be normal editing in Lightroom and nothing more. The trickiest thing was tweaking the sliders to affect how the skirt pattern would show up. 

The main point was to have fun and and with a bonus if we generated some images that we liked. Both of us are really pleased about the whole thing. You can get Michelle's perspective on her blog here. I have to say I'm enormously flattered.

2A. Yes she is enjoying herself, trying to create a swirl of snow on her own.

2B. Same photo converted to black and white, just because.

3. It wasn't actually that cold out, so no, she's not freezing her shoulders off.

4. You might be thinking indoors, against seamless paper, but no, outdoors. See above.

5. We moved down into Fish Creek, thinking about picnic tables, a bench, and a bridge. 

6A. She found these trees and they turned out to make a great frame.

6B. I decided to try this one in B&W as well.


8.  We spent lots of time with the bridge and nearby bench.





13. She had just refreshed the hair dye and wanted to show it off. Other than slightly tweaking the white balance, I've not adjusted the colour at all. 

14. I liked what the skirt is doing here.



17. These two didn't know what to think. We had a few other passers by during the session, with one woman watching for a few minutes while her dog did it's business. 




There are many more photos, of course. I didn't want to overload this post, so there will be some showing up in the Of the Day section in posts on my other blog

Technical end notes. I started with the 100 mm lens because I was thinking a static portrait at first. Then we realized we wanted the freedom for her to move around a bit, so I switched to the 70-200. No tripod, no HDR. I'd even brought a film camera with colour film in it, but once I got started I didn't even think of it. Much like the double exposure session a couple weeks ago, this was NOT a serious gig, working through a shot list for a paying client, with makeup artists, assistants, and entourage standing there watching us, checking the time because they get paid by the hour. Mostly it was us making it up as we went along. The important part was to have fun exploring an idea, and we did, and I'd do it again, using some of her vision board photos as inspiration. Yay us!

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Double exposure on black and white film

So there I was, with 2 more rolls of Ultrafine Extreme 100, which I didn't particularly care for after exposing one roll. Or maybe I don't know how to take the best advantage of it. I'd been thinking about swapping it with a buddy, but then the idea of double exposures came to me. Nothing really lost if it didn't work, and since I wanted to take one of the cameras for a walk anyway... 

I'm pretty sure that anyone reading this knows what a double exposure is all about, but a brief digression for those that don't know. There you are happily taking photos, and you forget to advance the film after taking a shot. The film gets exposed twice, and depending on exactly what the subjects are and how they're aligned, you'll see parts of both images. The result can be a hot mess, or it can be remarkable. 

1. Here's a nice example. I first exposed the tree, then Michelle was later. The tree trunk hadn't been exposed to much light, so when I did the second exposure the light bouncing off Michelle was captured by the relatively unexposed film, so we see both layers.

In an ideal world, or when it's done by someone that really knows what they're doing, the two layers complement each other. It adds some complexity and ought to make the photo more interesting to look at. Sort of like how a photo with a reflection is better than a photo of that subject without a reflection. Part of the fun is the unexpected. The happy accidents or coincidences, as you will see. Doing this with expired film, or a camera that has light leaks, or using a vintage lens, or developing the film with unusual chemicals all add to the unexpected.

In the digital world there are several ways of doing this. Photoshop comes to mind, but many cameras let you choose how many exposures will overlap. The advantage is you can see your results on the back of the camera, and try again if you don't like it. The disadvantage is you have to do it all in sequence, so there's a problem if the background is one place, and you want to capture your subject in a different place. Let's not even talk about arcane camera menu systems.

Attentive readers will remember I did this on film. There is no seeing what an exposure looks like. I went out and captured 36 photos of random things, usually dark things, often trees, just because they were about the only dark things outside on a bright snowy day. But there were a couple garage doors, the side of a retaining wall, car windows, a garbage can, a bus stop bench, a chalkboard, a blanket. It almost doesn't matter what the background layer is. I was aiming to have the centre fairly dark, intending to put Michelle there.

Generally camera manufacturers want to make things easy for the consumer and prevent them from doing things wrong. For them, a double exposure is by definition wrong, so they design cameras that prevent mistakes. For example, it would be extremely difficult to do double exposures on my GW690. The camera makes you wind the film to the next frame before the shutter button unlocks. To do a double exposure I'd have to expose the roll, then go into a completely dark room to wind the film back onto the original spool, making sure the backing paper doesn't separate, and that it's wound tightly onto the original spool. Then load the camera again. At least the loading can happen in light, and then you'll be able to align the arrow on the film backing with a marking in the camera so the frames align. That's a lot of work, and I can't see myself doing that.

Instead, I'm using my EOS-3 camera. It rewinds the film leaving the leader out. Open the camera, and load that same roll of film again. There's a little marker to pull the leader to, which means the frames will be nearly exactly aligned. Close the camera, there's a click and whir, and the first frame is ready to go. No muss, no fuss.

A couple days later I collected Michelle and we went for a walk. I did not take any notes on what the first layer was for this first roll. There was no planning to think the first layer is this, so the pose should be that, placed here in the frame. I did the exposures like I normally did, none of this doing half the exposure since it will be exposed twice. The theory is that by and large, you're exposing different parts of the negative.

We just treated it like a fun portrait session, trying some different things, with different backgrounds. We've done several of these and they've all been fun. She is an amazing model. If you haven't been following along, here's a gallery of other photos I've taken of her. At one point we had a couple of older men in powered mobility scooters watching. Michelle commented that she thought they might be waiting to see if she was going to take her blouse off. Not. It was a sunny day, but still much too cold for that sort of thing, even if we were into it.

We finished off that first roll and zoomed home to have lunch. (Gluten free bison lasagne from Soffrito, in case you're wondering.) Then down into Fish Creek with a new roll of film. Again, mostly random background photos, although there were a few we made a few mental notes about the frame number, and possible poses to layer on top. 

For this first time I was thinking that if I got one frame that worked out of the 72 exposures, I'd be happy. After all, it's a new thing, working totally blind. Some of them were a hot mess, but about half worked out well enough to make a pass at editing. Interestingly enough, the ones I edited are evenly split between the first and second roll. Dust spots weren't much of a problem, but a hair was across the film camera lens for a few photos. Oh well. 

Here's a few more of the ones I really liked. Remember, the second layer was exposed totally blind to what was on the first layer. The nice alignment of some of them is a happy coincidence.










11. She often insists there should be a photo of me, and is happy to take the camera.

12. Here's the example proving I'd need to take written notes. I did the background for this one between 6 and 7 above. Then when I looked at it a couple of days later, I had no idea what the background was. (Look for the faint stars.) I knew it had to be in the house, between the chalkboard message thingie and my computer in the back room. It took a while to figure out.

Notes for next time? Track the orientation. There was one where I took a photo of a door, thinking it would be nice to have the second layer being Michelle walking. Except I goofed, the door was landscape, and Michelle was portrait. Oops. That happened a few other times as well, making for a bit of weirdness. It looks like this.

13. We all know trees don't grow horizontally.

Notes for next time. Scale doesn't matter. The first layer could be a macro photo of something, or a close up of tree bark, or fabric, or a book cover, or a thunderhead off in the distance. Anything really. I'm working up a list of things to try. You'll note that 7 above is a computer screen. Think about skin tones compared to the background. It seems I disappear into tree bark, like in 10. Mixed materials are fine; in 13 that's a stone wall behind Michelle, mixed with the horizontal trees.

I might think a little more on exposure, perhaps tending to slightly underexpose the first layer, but not so much that it goes muddy or loses contrast, then like normal with film, tend to overexpose the second layer. Depending, of course on what the background and subject are going to be. But rather than read about it, go try!

These were inverted using Negative Lab Pro. Generally I don't do much editing in NLP, but most of these I pushed the sliders a bit more. You'll have to experiment to see what works or not. I tried some Lightroom brushes to work on parts of the image, typically trying to make her face more visible. I got mixed results there, but then again I'm not terribly good at that anyways. 

Am I going to do this again! Absolutely!

Friday, March 1, 2024

Visions in reflections

I'll tell you right up front, this is going to be a messy blog. If dust spots in photos drive you crazy, bail out now. This is not particularly a film review, since the photo environment are nothing close to optimal. The film does not show to advantage, but to be fair, I'm not sure any film would.

There's been a couple rolls of Visions 3 250D in my fridge for a while. My lab has a two roll minimum for developing ECN2 film, so I was looking for something where I could go through 2 rolls all at once. For that reason alone I won't buy any more of it. I've done another batch of this film, mostly outdoor garden photos. The colour is pretty good, though some photos have a faint orangey red tint. I think this is a film that likes lots of light, and the outside photos kind of remind me of Ektar.

Some friends had been thinking about doing a photo ramble but it was seriously winter again. Someone suggested it had been a while since they had been in Calgary's +15 system. If you don't know, it's a series of bridges connecting many downtown buildings. The bridges are nominally 15 feet above street level, thus the name. There are some +30 and even +45 levels. There are any number of shops spread through the system. Last I looked it took up about 16Km of walkways. They are very popular in Calgary winters. It might, or might not be, a bit further to walk to your destination, but you don't need a coat. 

Almost all have windows giving a variety of views. As soon as it was suggested, I was in. I love reflection photos, and with all the glass fronted buildings, and filthy +15 windows, and interior views, would give lots of composition fun. I deliberately aimed for a bit of a funky muddy look, wanting the interior reflections to be a ghost of the outside view. I wasn't going to get fussed about perfect focus of the outside, given the distortions in filthy window glass. Did I mention that after a long Calgary winter the windows are filthy?

There are typically some dust spots anyways, and there are some rem jet layer artifacts. I don't care. They add a layer. Dust spots and rem jet artifacts on the film. The filthy window with reflections inside and out. The outside subject and the reflections in it, and sometimes, the reflections in the reflections. Some might say not removing the dust spots makes me lazy, and I wouldn't argue a lot. I think the spots give a bit of a nostalgic air to the photos. Plus even after going to the effort of removing the spots, the photos are still not pristine, clear, sharp. Even if they were, they're still not going to be image of the year. 

Normally I'm pretty deliberate when shooting film, but this time I treated it almost like digital. I had 72 exposures and by golly I was going to get them all so I could drop the film at the lab on the way home. And I did.

I worked downtown off and on from the early 90's up to COVID. I liked walking through the +15 system. There's always something different, new art, new connections to explore, and always a chance to bump into colleagues. I'm pretty sure I've been in every corner of it over the years, and looking at the map I don't think they've added anything new. I'd been looking forward to the hanging glass sculptures in 8th Ave Place, but they're gone, as is the stack of coal sculpture in Western Canadian Place. The spherical fountain is still there, but needs maintenance.

Up till 2015 or so, it was a busy, happening place. Lots of little shops offering an endless variety of goods and services for the office worker crowd. The food courts were full at lunch time. Everybody had a place to get a favourite treat. People walked like they had a place to be, and knew the route. No dithering about whether this was the place to turn or not. Even the people chatting to buddies would move to the side or into an alcove.

We were there just before lunch on a Tuesday. It was almost sad. There was hardly anyone there. No lineups. There were places we could fire a cannon down the halls and not hit anyone. So many closed retail spaces. I had a really polite security guard ask me not to take photos in Western Canadian Place and she even said please. Unlike the brutes in Brookfield Place. Don't get me started on that. Still, I enjoyed the walk with Ann, Kelly, and Sean joined us later. I didn't see anyone I knew, but Ann did.

My runmeter app says I walked 14K, but I don't believe that. I parked in the Gulf Canada lot, navigated a complicated route (construction) to get to the Core to meet Kelly and Ann. From there we walked the long loop west. They called it a day, but I still had film to expose. I made it all the way to the Harry Hays building at the north east end of downtown. 

For the camera gear people, I'm using an EOS-3, with a 50mm f1.8 lens. No flash. No tripod. Developed at the bespoke lab I've mentioned. Digitized using a Canon T6i with Canon 100mm F2.8L macro and lightly edited in Negative Lab Pro and Lightroom.

There are 55 photos edited from the day. That's too many for a blog, so I've picked out some of the photos I found interesting for one reason or another. Like I said, last chance to bail out re: dust spots.


2. The +15 was retrofitted into older buildings, and that sometimes means inside corridors and tight spaces. Interesting views to be had, from a little alley, to an expansive view.


4. An inside parking structure and reflected windows outside.

5. The walkway past the parking structure, home to many cows. This is actually pretty close to the actual colours. 

6. Ann was patient as I figured out the exposure.

7. A selfie.

8. Just before I got asked not to take photos. 

9. One of the many views outside, with a hit of colour on a cold drab day, and a hint of interior reflections.

10. The inside atriums can offer interesting compositions.

11. So many building reflections!

12. We all think panes of glass are flat, but clearly not so here. It's fun, if distracting during a boring meeting, to watch the reflections ripple as the wind changes the air pressure.


14. I'm actually amazed this turned out as well as it did. That sun reflection was really bright, but I still wanted to get a hint of the building details, and the sky is a happy bonus.


16. Yes, there's a real airplane hanging in the Sun Life atrium. At Christmas time they put a Santa in there, waving. This colour isn't quite right. Both the yellow and red look a little dull, but that could be the interior lighting, not the film. 






22. This is a 45 degree angle, with the reflection looking down the actual hallway, but with a space under construction on the other side.



There's other photos from this ramble, with some stories to be told. They will probably show up on my other blog over the next little while. Stay tuned, and get out there to expose film!

Introduction to this blog


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