Unusual Eclipse Photo

Candidly, I'd not planned to take any photos of today's big solar eclipse. Everyone and their brother with a long lens was gearing up, and I knew NASA would wow us all with photos taken from a jet. As things turned out, I was able to snag a pair of eclipse safety glasses from my friends at The Knoxville Community Darkroom last night. One thing led to another, and I found myself standing in our driveway as the moon (almost) totally eclipsed the sun.

In Oak Ridge, we had less than a minute before the moon continued on its merry way and daylight was restored. I had to work quickly, and adjusted my camera manually to get the best exposure I could. I did fire off several decent eclipse photos that look pretty much like everyone else's eclipse photos. As the moon began to edge away, something flew by out of the corner of my eye. I quickly snagged a couple more shots before it became dangerous to continue doing so without any sort of filter on my lens.

When I loaded the photos on my computer, I was surprised and delighted to find this photo among them. Aside from a few Lightroom adjustments (including cropping), this is the once-in-a-lifetime photo exactly as captured by my camera! I'd like to tell you I planned this out carefully, but the truth is I was just in the right place, at the right time, with a camera ready to take a photograph.

Knoxville Aerial Arts Performance Group

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of once again photographing the talented members of the Knoxville Aerial Arts Performance Group, along with the independent performers who joined them for the evening. The venue was the Zoo Knoxville, during their annual "Feast with the Beasts" event. Visitors were able to sample the best Knoxville has to offer in food, drink and, of course, live entertainment.

If you are a member of a local arts group that holds performances, and you need a photographer to ensure that those memorable moments are captured for posterity, use the Contacts link above to inquire about my services. Day or night, indoors or out, I am ready to help you to capture vivid, photographic memories! As a fellow artist, I am sensitive to financial constraints, and I will work with you to offer high quality service at a reasonable and accessible rate.
 

Independent Fire Performer, Meghan Stiles, delighting an audience with her prowess.

Independent performer, Angel Noble (far left), towered above the other performers on her stilts.

A moment of levity after a long night of performing at the Zoo.

Schedule Your Creative Senior Photoshoot

There's absolutely nothing wrong with "typical" high school senior photos that are brightly lit and incorporate popular poses. I've shot a number of photos like that, myself, and I'm happy to create any look a client wants. If a client prefers traditional photos in a scenic location, I'm ready to deliver exactly what they're looking for.

But if you or your high school senior want something a little different - something that really connects with his or her personality - I'm equally happy to work with you in coming up with memorable images that you'll cherish for years to come. Whether it's on a hiking trail deep in the woods, sitting atop a tractor on the farm, inside a charming, lavish home or dusk by a campfire at the lake, I'm committed to going the extra mile to get the photos you and your family deserve.

The photos you see here are from a recent shoot with Phoebe. We discussed the look she wanted ahead of time, and settled on an urban setting with plenty of lines and a theatrical feel. So we headed to downtown Knoxville in the early evening. Although showers threatened to postpone the event, the rain stopped for just the right length of time for us to carry on.

Schedule your senior photo shoot for the remainder of August 2017, and pay only $150 for a one hour session. Use the Contact link above to start planning today!

The Mobile Darkroom

Panoramic photos shot on my Clipper 6x18 pinhole camera at yesterday's inaugural run of the mobile darkroom. It was parked in front of The Emporium for visitors to enjoy during Knoxville's First Friday event. This specially modified trailer functions in part as a giant pinhole / camera obscura, so it seemed fitting to photograph a giant pinhole camera with a smaller one! 

Visitors to the mobile darkroom exhibit were able to peek inside the trailer to see a live, upside-down projection of the crowd mingling behind them. If you've never looked inside a camera obscura, it's fascinating to observe how this ancient technique uses nothing but natural light to project an image on the opposite wall. Also on exhibit were examples of large images previously captured on photo paper, along with samples of other creative work done at the Knoxville Community Darkroom.

You can learn more about the mobile darkroom and other creative events by visiting the Knoxville Community Darkroom website.

 

Exposures for each of these photos ran from about 90-120 seconds. Most people appear as faint, ghostly figures as they moved about the scene. The longer a person stayed in place, the more "solid" their appearance. (Click to see larger versions of each photo.)

The Knoxville Community Darkroom

View from outside the Knoxville Community Darkroom during their open house.

No matter your age, shooting old school film has a distinctly romantic, vintage appeal - at least until you start contemplating how you're going to turn those rolls of negatives into physical prints and share them. The good news is that if you live in the Knoxville metro area, there's a new option in town!

Starting in the late 80s, and stretching well into the early 2000s, one hour film labs were found in virtually every drugstore, alongside discount chains like Costco and Walmart. Several years ago, these labs began rapidly vanishing. As digital photography overtook film in the 2010s, demand for high volume, rapid processing predictably evaporated.

Happily, there remain a number of pro labs where you can mail in rolls of film. Two labs I personally recommend to readers are the Old School Photo Lab in New Hampshire, and The Darkroom in California. Both labs offer digital scans that you can download before your negatives (and any prints you've ordered) even make it back to your mailbox.

Avid film shooters must now choose between sending film out for processing to one of these professional labs, or learn how to process film at home. As detailed in previous blog articles, processing black and white (and even color) film at home is surprisingly easy and inexpensive with photographic supplies readily available online. Many of us who "soup" our own film end up digitally scanning it for editing and to share online. You don't even need a darkroom to develop film - just a light tight bathroom or inexpensive film changing bag will do the trick. That's one option.

What if you want to print those negatives directly yourself, without needing a computer to scan them? While it's possible to set up a home darkroom in even the tiniest of spaces (such as a closet or bathroom), it's not necessarily practical for everyone to do so. My own "darkroom" is in an attached storage shed that lacks AC and running water. It's workable in cooler weather, but entirely impractical during the hot summer months!

Fortunately, film aficionados in cities around the country have banded together to form non-profit, community darkrooms, where you can develop your film, print using conventional enlargers on silver gelatin paper, and enjoy interacting with fellow artists who appreciate the traditional (and not-so-traditional), "analog" methods of making photographs. These community darkrooms are a great way to keep traditional processes alive and relevant in the consciousness of today's photographers.

A few of the enlargers set up for use at the Knoxville Community Darkroom.

Last October, I took part in funding a Kickstarter initiative to launch the Knoxville Community Darkroom. They met their fundraising goal, and kicked things off with an open house in March. While I wasn't able to join at the time, about a month ago I signed up for an annual membership. For a flat, yearly fee, I have 24-hour access to all the equipment and space I need to print. The only items I have to supply are my negatives and any paper I need for printing. (Paper isn't cheap. I recommend starting with inexpensive 5x7 photo paper to avoid costly mistakes as you learn.) On top of the availability of space, chemistry and enlargers, I've enjoyed the added benefit of getting helpful pointers from a number of seasoned darkroom users.

Work is underway on the new KCD mobile darkroom. When finished, this trailer will also function as a giant camera obscura, allowing large images to be viewed and exposed directly on paper via a small opening on the opposite wall.

While I have had to do a lot of experimentation to get decent results printing (and I'm still not "there" yet), I'm gradually getting back up to speed on the basics. If you've been pining for the old darkroom days, or you're a younger person who is curious as to what this film thing is all about, I would strongly encourage you to visit their website. You can also check them out on Facebook and follow them on Instagram.

Community support for an initiative this ambitious is vital. So if you think you'd like to get involved and join in the film photography revival, now is the time to get behind this wonderful project!

 

When Did You Last Get a Family Photo Made?

When did you last get the family together for a proper, planned portrait? Selfies and quick snaps on a smartphone are fun and easy (I take them, too), but they don't compare to the full experience that a family photo session by an experienced photographer can provide. Little things - like controlling the lighting, getting everyone into the frame, and post-processing images for a pleasing look - can be difficult to manage.

You owe it to yourself to schedule a family photo session. Let me worry about handling the camera and making sure everyone looks their best for those memorable photos. We adults don't typically change a great deal in the span of a year or even longer, but infants and children grow rapidly and change before you know it. Your family will never look quite the same tomorrow as it does today. Chances are that you have many snaps of your children on your mobile device. It's time to put yourself into the frame with them, and get photos made that you'll want to print and revisit for decades to come!

Schedule your family photo session today. If you schedule your shoot for anytime between now and the end of August, you can enjoy our current rate of $150 for a one hour session. (Rates will increase to $200 as of September 1st.) You'll get about 15-20 edited, high-resolution images that you can print and share however you wish. Use the Contact link above to learn more and get your family into a frame!

Portrait Price Increase September 1st - Book Now and Save!

Effective September 1, 2017, we will be raising our hourly portrait session rate from the current $150 to $200. This change is necessary in order to absorb business costs relating to upgraded gear and overhead expenses. Please note that our new price schedule remains highly competitive for this type of work.

From now until August 31st, you can take advantage of the existing rate of $150 for any portrait session: seniors, engagement, family or individual head shots. As always, you will receive high-resolution, edited photos with no restrictions on usage, delivered digitally for your convenience.

Don't delay - book your portrait session today using the Contact link at the top of the page!

What is a "Professional" Camera?

Manufacturers of digital cameras sell multiple product lines, each targeting a particular corner of the market. These can be divided into consumer, prosumer or professional categories. The most obvious initial difference lies in cost.

A point-and-shoot camera with its built-in lens can be significantly less expensive than a camera system that allows you to swap lenses and use accessories such as a removable flash unit. Most people (including many photographers) would argue that a professional system costing several thousands of dollars is unquestionably "better" than a  $300 camera. But what does "better" really mean?

A professional camera, at the most basic level, is a camera used by a photographer to earn a living. Major camera makers would have you believe that you need this year's camera model and painfully expensive, pro-grade lenses to produce quality work. So it might surprise you to learn that there are skilled photographers today using entry-level, "obsolete" cameras to create salable works of art.

Cultivating an eye for composition, paying attention to how light interacts with the subject, and skillful post-processing all matter more than the camera. For proof of that, see this article about a woman who creates fantastic images using an old point-and-shoot Canon! There are many stories about people using older gear to make amazing photos, including many who still shoot, or have returned to using, film cameras. See here and here, for proof.

Professional photographers know how to work within limitations, and will even use those shortcomings to their creative advantage. Unconventional and beautiful portraits have been created using 50mm or shorter lenses that are not typically regarded as suitable for the purpose. In my own experience, some of my most compelling work has been made using inexpensive, "toy" film cameras. Cheap, plastic cameras like the humble Holga or the mysterious but marvelous Debonair may look like mere toys. In my hands, they are professional cameras.

Some cameras are admittedly less suited for specific uses than more technically advanced cameras. I love shooting with my Debonair, but I'm not going to grab it to shoot a soccer game. Its fixed shutter speed and wide lens wouldn't work well to capture action on the field. It's simply not the right tool for the job. Sometimes you really do need a long lens, increased low light sensitivity, super fast shutters and other features found on more expensive cameras.

Professional DSLRs generally feature more physical dials and buttons for adjusting exposure than cheaper consumer models that require diving into menus to access the same settings. This ease of making rapid changes is important to professionals who need to make many adjustments over the course of shooting a wedding, for example, adjusting to changing lighting and the desired effect for each photo. While they could make do with an entry-level DSLR in a pinch, it would be less convenient than using a "pro" camera. It's important to note here that image quality isn't at issue.

The end product, the photograph, is vastly more important than the tools used to create it. Print an 8x10 from a pro and consumer camera, place them side by side, and almost nobody will be able to tell which camera made which photo. Megapixels don't play as big a role as people suppose: an 8x10 print of a photo made from my old Nikon D40 (6 MP) will produce the same pleasing results as the same size print from a modern 24 MP camera. The advantages of having many more megapixels are normally not apparent until you print at sizes that most people never use.

Now that mirrorless cameras have been adopted by many photographers, I don't run into much criticism of my Fujifilm digital cameras. On occasion, however, I've had people turn up their noses because they don't think my gear looks as professional as a Nikon or Canon DSLR. (Sometimes the brand name "Fujifilm" leads people to mistakenly confuse them for a vintage film camera.) In short, it's not what many people visualize when they think about professional gear.

My first mirrorless digital camera still serves me well in professional use, despite not being marketed as pro gear.

I chose my current system for a variety of reasons, after months of careful research, and I know from regular practice exactly how these cameras will perform in my hands. I can achieve the same photographic results with my cameras that I would using a much bulkier camera.

Mirrorless cameras come with the normal ratio of benefits to drawbacks, just like every camera system ever made. If there were a universally agreed-upon perfect camera system, the other makes and models would quickly be out of business as photographers flocked en masse to buy into it. As much as photographers tend to be fanboys or fangirls of our chosen system, in the final analysis all cameras are just boxes with holes in them that gather light. It's up to the operator to make something memorable with them.

People sometimes ask me what kind of camera they should buy. The answer is that it really depends. It depends on how much money you have to spend, how much complexity you can adjust to using, what features are most critical to you, personal aesthetics, your physical tolerance for gear of varying weights, and the kinds of stuff you plan to photograph. I can tell you that my camera suits my style and feels like an extension of my arm and my eyes. Not everyone has the exact same needs.

In the end, every camera I own - from $20 thrift store buys to my latest Fujifilm X-T2 - is, or at least has the potential to be, a professional camera. If a client is looking to hire me, it's because they like the work I've done. The camera I bring to their special event is only a small part of the equation.

 

Headshots for Your Organization

Are you looking to update your business photo directory? Or maybe you need to create or refresh a visual directory for your church or civic organization? We work with you to achieve just the look you want - whether that's formal or casual, indoors or out. We will custom tailor the background, lighting and style to present your employees or members at their best.

We'll come to wherever you are in East Tennessee or surrounding areas, and photograph folks right on site! Use the Contact link at the top of this page to get a competitive quote today.

Moving Toward an Open Source Image Editing Workflow

This article is reflective of a work in progress, and it's a journey I am really just beginning to undertake. If you have concerns about where Microsoft is heading, or just want to expand your knowledge of alternatives for editing your photos, please read on! (Get yourself a snack - this is kind of a long post.)

Some Background Information

Aside from my photographic pursuits, I've been a longtime computer geek. This includes dabbling in the various open source Linux operating systems over the past couple of decades. For those unfamiliar with Linux, you almost certainly have interacted with it at some level if you use the Internet (much of which runs on Linux servers), or if you have used any Android devices (which is derived from Linux).

The whole topic of Linux and open source software is huge - much bigger than I have time to detail here. For more background on the many flavors of Linux, as well as the philosophy behind it, you can start by searching Google. In a nutshell, open source software (or OSS, of which Linux is a part) is freely available to anyone to use or modify for any purpose. While there are legitimate commercial uses of OSS, the license under which it is released prevents any business from seizing control of it as their exclusive property.

The practical outworking of this philosophy is that a huge amount of software of varying quality and usefulness is freely available to anyone inclined to download it: from operating systems to games to office suites to web browsers, just about any program you might buy commercially has an OSS counterpart that is often as useful, or occasionally even better than commercial software.

While some of this free software isn't worth talking about, there are a number of mature and respected programs out there. For example, I use the free LibreOffice suite, which reads and writes a variety of file formats. For my purposes, I have no need of Microsoft Office. I can easily open and edit Word and Excel files, as well as files from other popular suites.

Why I'm Preparing to Leave Microsoft Behind

I've used almost every version of Windows since 3.1 (and at least two releases of MS-DOS before that). Microsoft has had their share of duds (Windows Me and Vista being two radiant examples of failure), but for the most part each new version has improved performance and added useful features. While I've taken exception to certain design changes, there are number of third party programs and published tweaks that have allowed users to restore the look or functionality they prefer. Most of these changes were cosmetic in nature. I strongly disliked the "Fisher-Price" interface that was the default in Windows XP, for example, but with a few clicks I could roll XP back to the more austere, "classic" look I prefer.

Windows 10 is something altogether different. It's a game changer. Yes, there are cosmetic details that I dislike, but those annoyances are easily addressed by third-party add-ons, such as the popular Classic Shell. The biggest changes in Windows 10, however, aren't cosmetic. For the first time, Microsoft has migrated to a new business model of Windows as a service. Windows has arguably become an ad-delivery platform and data-gathering tool masquerading as an operating system.

That might sound like an alarmist claim, but those "free" upgrades Microsoft pushed on their user base were not so much for your benefit as theirs. As with "free" social media accounts, the computer user is now the product. Beginning with Windows 10, rolling updates are now mandatory (at least for standalone and home users). You have no control over which updates are applied, whether security or feature updates. While Microsoft has tried to assuage their critics by letting you delay updates for a period of time, there is no option to refuse an update indefinitely. This new policy is a bigger deal than might be evident.

Practically speaking, forced updates mean that if you come to rely on a particular feature in the current iteration of Windows 10 for doing your work, there's no guarantee that Microsoft may not remove and replace it with a different feature in an update. Even more critically for many users, if an update breaks some important piece of software on your PC (as has happened innumerable times in the past), you have no way to roll back that update once it's applied. In short, you have lost control of your computer as a user.

The other major issue I have with Windows 10 is the fact that Microsoft reserves the right to gather telemetry data on what software your computer is running, what kinds of data you have on your drives, and a host of other details about how or when you use your PC. Under pressure, they have given back a small measure of control, so that you can select a minimal amount of phoning home (Basic), but there is no built-in option to completely disable the telemetry feature. There are third-party options which attempt to block this traffic, so if you're absolutely stuck with Windows 10 you may have some remedy against data slurping. However, it's possible that such tools may create new problems for you, so in the end you're only applying a band-aid. It's possible future, mandatory Windows 10 updates will target those band-aids for removal (without your approval or notification).

To be clear, I'm not saying that Windows 10 per se is a bad operating system. To the contrary, it's polished and powerful. I have installed and played around with it; I keep a copy installed as a virtual machine in VirtualBox. It is certainly fast, it has some potentially useful features, and Microsoft claims (as always) that it is their most secure version of Windows to date. My issue is how Microsoft is administering the other stuff mentioned above.

I own several computers, and for now they will remain on Windows 7 and Linux Mint. When I bought my new Acer Aspire laptop last year, it didn't take long for me to dump Windows 10, and "upgrade" to a Windows 7 / Linux Mint dual-boot installation. Microsoft's extended support for Windows 7 ends on January 14, 2020, which means users have nearly 3 years from now to decide about which way to go. This timetable is where this blog post comes into play. 

There are basically three choices for photographers who need a conventional computer to edit photos: Windows, Mac, or other. By far, the most popular other option is Linux, although there's also FreeBSD and other lesser known alternatives. For those who don't need a full-fledged computer, there are perfectly capable mobile apps like Snapseed. For seriously detailed editing, though, most people still use a desktop or laptop computer.

Once Windows 7 is finally taken off life support, it will only be a matter of time before Adobe ceases developing software for a dead OS. Furthermore, since Photoshop is now only available via an online subscription model, your computer must go online at least periodically to verify your Adobe subscription is active. On top of all that, now Adobe is in bed with Microsoft to "share" customer data, so there are compelling reasons to leave both companies behind.

Without ongoing security updates, you'd be taking a huge security risk merely by connecting your PC to the Internet. As for Apple, I won't go into that here, but suffice it to say I'm not a big fan. So that leaves me with one viable operating system choice as 2020 approaches: Linux.

Taking the Penguin Plunge

I am an avid fan of Linux. In particular, I am especially fond of Linux Mint. It's a polished, snappy and secure operating system that is a joy to use. There are a number of key advantages to Linux that distinguish it from the big, commercial software companies: It's highly customizable, tends to be more secure than Windows, you are in control of which updates get installed and when (if ever), you aren't subject to shady license agreements that are designed to limit your use of the software, and there are vast repositories of available software available at the click of a button.

So why doesn't everyone move to Linux? For starters, most people have never even heard of it. Unlike commercial companies that heavily promote their products, Linux is driven by the IT community, and doesn't enjoy a lot of advertising. Among those who have heard of Linux, it has a somewhat deserved reputation for being difficult to use. I say "somewhat" because Linux has evolved from very geeky beginnings to being just as easy to use as Windows or Mac. Is it tricky to install? No more so than Windows or Mac OS X, but the average user doesn't know how to install those operating systems, either. You can buy computers with Linux pre-installed, from multiple vendors, so difficulty of installation is really a moot point.

In 2017, we are well past the technical hurdles that made Linux too complicated for the average user 20 years ago. The main obstacle preventing widespread adoption today is the availability of specialized software to run on it. Popular Linux distributions like Ubuntu and Mint come with a boatload of useful programs for performing typical computer tasks. All the popular web browsers are available on Linux, as are games, and LibreOffice. There's even a version of Dropbox available for the Linux desktop, so you can easily share files just as you would in Windows. You can give Grandma a PC with Linux installed, and she can fire up Chrome to watch cat videos and see photos of her grandchildren on Friendface as easily as she would on any other computer.

There's even a useful program called WINE which allows you to run limited Windows programs under Linux, and a commercial version called Crossover is specifically designed to let you run Microsoft Office, Quicken and a number of commercial games under Linux.  For more specialized applications such as Adobe's photo editing software, you may be able to get older versions running somewhat, but you're still likely to run into glitches. Programs in the Adobe CC stable are just too complex and resource-hungry to get working reliably under WINE.

And that's the biggest issue for photographers who want to move to Linux. Of course, you can always install Windows in a virtual machine and try to run Photoshop and Lightroom from inside that sandboxed environment. But that's a clumsy workaround, and you're likely to find that your software doesn't run optimally inside a virtual environment with limited system resources (nor will Adobe support it if you do).

Photo Editing in Linux

So what are your options? As it turns out, there are many options available - many of them quite powerful and capable. That's the good news. The bad news is that none of them are an exact replacement for Adobe's flagship products. If Adobe would port their software to Linux, I would gladly pay a premium for it. I'm not looking for ways to be a cheapskate. My objective is to maintain control over my data and my privacy, which are worth more to me than "free" Windows 10.

Open source software is largely developed by individuals or small teams, with limited resources. For many developers, these programs are a labor of love done in their spare time while they hold down "real" jobs elsewhere. There's also the fact that OSS has traditionally been developed with a view towards performing a particular function rather than trying to be a Swiss army knife that does it all.

Perhaps the best known open source image editing program out there is Gimp. It's been around for many years, and has even been ported to Windows and Mac. A lot of photographers will sneer at the idea of using Gimp for serious work. but it's still a solid program that can do most things one would do in Photoshop. It lacks certain features that I really like in Photoshop, such as content-aware fill. On the positive side, it has some features that may work better than their equivalent in Photoshop. One area that I've consistently seen Gimp outshine the competition is where is comes to Auto Levels and Auto White Balance. In my experience, 9 times out of 10, the auto settings come closer to the right values than Photoshop or Lightroom deliver.

I'd be lying if I claimed that Gimp is a drop-in, feature-for-feature Photoshop replacement. It doesn't claim to be. But even though certain processes may require a bit more work on your part, you can nearly always achieve the same or similar results seen using Adobe products. Menus and keyboard shortcuts will initially be unfamiliar, but you can usually figure out the steps required to replicate a Photoshop tutorial without much difficulty. There are also plenty of books, online tutorials and videos to guide you in achieving pretty much any desired result.

A major shortcoming (not, I'm sure, in the view of its developers) of Gimp is that it doesn't natively handle RAW files. If you shoot only JPG, then you'll have nothing to worry about. Otherwise, you'll need a RAW editor as well as a photo editor such as Gimp. Fortunately, there are some powerful tools available. One popular program that's available for Windows, Mac and Linux is RawTherapee. I've only poked around the program a little bit, so I can't tell you much about it at this point. But it is worth looking into as an option.

Another program that will feel somewhat familiar to Lightroom users is Darktable. I've been working my way through features of the program, and have been impressed at its depth and functionality. Like Lightroom, Darktable is a non-destructive editor. Nothing you do inside the program will alter your original files, so you can experiment to your heart's content without fear of ruining an image via post-processing. Once you're happy with your edits, you can export the image as a new file (several formats, including JPG, are provided), and then bring that exported file into the image editor of your choice.

I'm still learning the ins and outs of Darktable, but I'm pretty sure this is the RAW editor I'll be using in the future. There are, of course, many other worthy programs you can use for processing your images under Linux. I was recently directed to this helpful website, which lists quite a few of them, including some I've never tried. There are a few commercial Linux image editing programs (not open source) that you may want to look into, as well. One of the best known of these is Aftershot Pro, sold by Corel. I've looked at the trial version, and it seems to have some nice features. The last time I checked, the list of supported camera models seemed rather short, but it will handle RAW files from quite a few different makes.

So this is where I'm headed, and plan to commit my photographic future within the next 2-3 years. For the time being, I'll continue to use PS & LR in parallel with Darktable and Gimp. If you're considering a move to Darktable, now would be a good time to configure Lightroom to use sidecar files. That way at least some of your past edits will be retained when you import those images into Darktable.

Feel free to add any comments or questions about open source image editing!

 

 

Update on my Instagram Dilemma

By way of follow-up, I've wrestled long and hard about what to do regarding my Instagram account. On the one hand, I didn't want to leave all my photos there to be sold off by IG to a third party (as their Terms of Service allows). But with nearly 500 followers built up over the course of nearly 3 years, I loathed the idea of cutting myself off from a community of wonderful, creative people.

Last night I announced my intentions to delete my account. By morning, however, I began to question that decision. In the end, I decided to do the thing I didn't really want to do: start using watermarks for new posts. I also spent several hours purging old content, from my original 1,200 photos down to a modest 265. Culling old work was actually a refreshing thing, and reminded me of how far I've come as a photographer.

Most of the photos I kept were people photos. Knowing that any legit commercial agency is going to require model releases, I feel safe leaving those alone. Future posts, regardless of content, will bear a watermark. I'm still working on a standard look for that purpose; it needs to be a nuisance to remove but not so obtrusive as to ruin the viewing experience. That's always a fine line.

For those interested, I've found a useful app that will add customizable watermarks in the form of text or images. It's called Add Watermark Free. There's also a paid version which I may eventually buy once I determine a standardized workflow.

Reconsidering my Online Presence in 2017

A belated Happy New Year to my readers!

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions. We all know that most of the time these are short-lived efforts at long-term changes. So this post isn't about a resolution. It's about concerns that have been weighing on my mind lately with respect to my online presence, which happen to coincide with the start of a new calendar year.

A little more than a week ago, I once again deactivated my personal Facebook page. (I had already deleted my long-neglected photography business page on there weeks earlier.) I don't know when or if I will reactivate it. Frankly, the constant chatter and ongoing political rancor have worn me down, and I needed to de-clutter my brain.

I'm still quite active on Twitter. I have long used Tweetdeck (and now the excellent lookalike Tweetduck) to mute annoying keywords, and I was elated to learn that Twitter finally introduced a mute feature to their official app. Most of the time, I manage to limit my tweets to photo/ art-related discussions, and occasional lighthearted banter about coffee and other innocuous topics. In a nutshell, I've taken steps to ensure that Twitter remains my "happy place."

Lately, I have been taking a thoughtful look at my online footprint and asking myself whether I need to further reduce the breadth of my activity. I don't plan to disappear by any means, but maybe I've stretched myself too thin on too many platforms. I was alarmed by a recent tweet evaluating the terms of service (TOS) provided by the hugely popular Instagram. Few of us bother to read the fine print on these services when we subscribe. If you're an avid Instagram user, as I have been for several years, you may want to take a closer look at the terms to which you have already agreed.

A lawyer has rewritten these in terms in plain English, and you may be surprised at what Instagram claims as rights to your intellectual property. Basically, they say that they can do whatever they want with your photos without any compensation (beyond using their service), or express permission from you. They also reserve the right to make further changes to their TOS without providing any notification to users, so unless you periodically review the terms you have no idea what changes may have occurred.

I don't know how you feel about signing away the use of your intellectual property for free, but I have to admit I don't feel good about it. In fact, I'm rather disgruntled at them - and perhaps a bit annoyed with myself for not reading these terms before I uploaded 1,200 photos to their service. While I hate to give up some of the connections I have there, I'm not sure I want to keep giving my photos away to any third party Instagram chooses. They have essentially positioned themselves as a photo stock agency - the key difference from traditional stock agencies being that you agree to work for them for free.

Options to address this without deleting my account include placing big, ugly watermarks across each photo. I don't really care for that idea. Another, less obnoxious choice might be to reduce image resolution to ridiculously low values (say 640x480), potentially undermining any resale value on their end. Both approaches are simply variations on poisoning the well so they'd look elsewhere for suitable stock material to sell product.

I'm still undecided on what I'll do, although I am leaning strongly towards simply deleting my account. At a minimum, I do plan to keep my beloved Twitter account, this website and my Flickr Pro account that I've had since 2008. While Flickr traffic has waned in the past few years, it's still a vibrant community filled with excellent work and useful group discussions.

What do you think? Is Instagram a good platform for sharing your work, despite the overly generous terms they lay claim upon for themselves? Is getting more "likes" of your photos worth the potential cost?

Instax Monochrome: A Brief Review

Last month Fujifilm introduced a long-anticipated product for fans of Instax Mini cameras: a monochrome instant film. At the time of this writing, they have not yet released an Instax Wide version of the product, which many instant shooters (including myself) would love to have as a more grown-up option.

Packs of Instax Mini Monochrome currently retail at $14.95 on Amazon for a single 10-pack, notably more expensive than its color predecessor. However, you can take advantage of some bundle offers that will reduce the cost a bit. I recently purchased a bundle of 3 10-packs for $40. If the new film follows the pattern of the Instax Mini color film, it's probable prices will drop as demand drives sales. Early adopters of any new technology tend to pay a steeper price for the privilege.

I've shot a couple packs so far of this film using my Neo Classic 90 camera. My initial impressions are generally good, with a few caveats regarding performance and the purity of this monochrome offering.

The first thing you should know is that, like the color film, Instax Monochrome is an ISO 800 speed film. That means it is best suited for conditions with less than direct, mid-day sunlight. If your camera model allows it, I'd suggest setting your exposure to "Dark" in moderate-to-bright lighting conditions. (Sometimes even using your flash from 5-6' indoors will inexplicably blow out your subject; oddly enough. my Neo Classic 90 seems to use the perfect amount of flash in the macro setting.)

Another thing you should know about Instax Monochrome is that it doesn't seem to be a true black and white emulsion. Whatever recipe Fujifilm has cooked up to produce this film, there's a noticeable color tint in the photos. It's not terrible, but it's there. I'd characterize it as subtle cyan. If you like to scan your Instax Mini photos like I do, you could work around it by scanning as, or converting to, grayscale before saving.

If you're looking for a "true" black and white image to hand to friends, this may be of concern. For whatever reason, Fujifilm has not produced an instant film that resembles their much-loved, FP3000b peel-apart pack film which they discontinued a few years ago. Nor is it as contrasty as the FP3000b. For good or bad, Instax Monochrome is an entirely different animal.

All photos in this review, except where noted otherwise. are "straight out of camera," meaning that I've not manipulated the images beyond scanning and resizing for this article. All photos were scanned at 2400 dpi, in color mode, using a CanoScan 9000F Mark II flatbed scanner.

Miniature donkeys, as they appear in the original Instax Monochrome print.

Miniature donkeys, converted to grayscale mode using GIMP. It's only when you see the image devoid of its default color that the cyan tint becomes obvious.

Tomatoes on our window sill. Shot in macro mode using the built-in flash.

Tired pups. Shot in near darkness with the built-in flash turned on.

Fort Dickerson Park, Knoxville. This shot was taken in late morning, with the exposure set to Dark.

View from the site of the old Baptist Hospital in Knoxville. This was shot close to noon. Even with the exposure set to Dark, the scene was just too bright for a decent shot with that ISO 800 film.

I was curious to see how Instax Monochrome would respond to the use of a filter. As there are no threads on the lens for a filter, I had to improvise by holding a filter against the lens. In this case, I used a 67mm Sunpak YA2 orange-yellow filter - more than large enough to cover the lens and (hopefully the little AE light receptor holes adjacent to it). The only difference I could tell was that highlights were slightly brighter in the filtered version; blacks seemed unaffected.

Will I buy more Instax Monochrome film in the future? Most likely so, even though it seems to me that the film falls a bit short of its promise. It is, like its color Instax film sibling, capable of delivering beautiful images as well as frustrating you with its somewhat unpredictable response to light. If you have an Instax Mini camera, it's definitely worth trying a pack to see if it works for your style of photography.

 

 

Home Processing Black & White Film: Getting Down To Business

In the first installment of this two part article, we discussed the materials you need to acquire in preparation for processing your black and white film. Now it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of how to use it all.

Disclaimer: Photo processing chemistry can be toxic. Be careful handling liquids and developer in its powder form. Please read the instructions for each chemical product carefully, and take appropriate precautions for handling. It's also not a bad idea to wear some disposable latex gloves when you're working with developer and fixer to protect your skin. Handled responsibly, typical photo chemistry shouldn't expose you to any serious health risks, but use reasonable caution.

Pictured above is my changing bag with the items you'll be placing inside of it. Top to bottom, these include: film reel, 35mm film cassette, can opener, scissors, clip, center post, developing tank and screw-on lid. On the left in this image are the elastic arm holes. This end will face your body. You'll stick the film and supplies inside through the opposite end, which is then securely closed with a zipper and velcro fasteners to ensure no light enters. It's helpful to place the items strategically inside the same way each time before you begin so you can find and use items easily.

Getting Your Film Into the Developer Tank

The first order of business is getting your film ready to process. Loading the film on the reel is probably the trickiest part for newbies. It's not that the task itself is super difficult, but doing it blindly in a changing bag can be tricky. Here are some pointers to get you started:

  • Always make sure your reels are completely dry before attempting to load film on them. If they are slightly damp, it can make a challenging task nearly impossible. In the same vein, when it comes time to work inside the bag, you may want to turn on a fan to keep yourself cool while you work; this can help reduce sweaty hands that can cause similar snags.
  • If the film does jam while loading it on the reel, don't try to force it. Stop, open up the reel, carefully remove the stuck film, and try it again. Sometimes you may have to do this more than once with a particular roll. Make sure there are no rough edges on the end of the film strip you're trying to insert. Carefully trim the end so that it's smooth and slightly rounded, with no open sprocket holes.
  • Shorter lengths of film are usually easier to load as there's less length to potentially jam. If you're using 35mm film, stick with 24 exposure rolls at the beginning. (120 film rolls come in standard lengths so any roll should load like any other.) Also, you may find that old, expired film is trickier to load on the reel, so start with film that's somewhat fresh.

No, this isn't a really old photo. It's one I shot about 5 years ago, and it came from the first roll of film I processed at home. I got the "film sweats" while trying to load it on the reel and mangled it - badly. It's important to relax and take your time inside the changing bag.

  • Sacrifice a roll of your least valuable film to practice loading in the light. This will give you a chance to see how the film loads when your hands aren't stuffed inside a bag. Start by keeping your eyes open, then see if you can keep them closed through the whole process. If you can master that, moving to the bag will be a cinch. If you don't want to sacrifice a roll for practice, at the very least use a roll with everyday snapshots or still lifes that can be easily recreated. Irreplaceable vacation photos are not a good idea for your first attempt.

For the exact steps on how to load either 35mm or 120 film on a reel, I refer the reader to one of the many online demos available via YouTube. This is easier seen than explained, and you'll want to find a video featuring the general type of reel you own. It's a good idea to use your changing bag in an area with subdued light (turn off overhead lights and any nearby lamps), to prevent strong light from straying in through a weak seam.

Along with scissors and a can opener (for 35mm film only), you'll need to place your film, developing tank, screw-on lid, center post and clip inside the changing bag so you can place the newly loaded reel safely inside the tank. If your tank has a plastic red cap, you don't need to put that in the bag  - it's used to hold your chemistry in place during agitation, not to block light. Once screwed tightly shut, you can remove the tank from the changing bag.

You are now ready to begin developing your film.

Processing Your Film

Now that your film is securely in the developing tank, you can begin the process of developing. I perform the following steps in my kitchen sink. As mentioned in the first part of this post, there are three chemicals (plus water) we'll be using to complete the process: developer (D-76), Ilford Rapid Fixer and Photo-Flo.

Here's a typical scenario of times and sequence you'll use when developing your film using the guidelines I suggest:

  1. Developer (9:30)
  2. Water rinse/ stop (3:00)
  3. Fixer (5:00)
  4. Final rinse (3:00)
  5. Photo-Flo (0:30)

The only step that will normally vary in length is the developer, which is dependent on the specific film and developer. Generally speaking, you can find the developing time listed for D-76 (and other popular developers) inside the cardboard packaging for your film. The manufacturer will list a suggested time for the film, although these are only recommended guidelines. While times for various temperatures are often listed, I recommend sticking with the standard 68°F (20°C) for consistency's sake. You can experiment later, but keep it simple to start.

You'll also note that the manufacturer provides guidelines for agitation during the developing process. Agitating should be done fairly slowly and deliberately, by inverting the tank (flipping it upside down and back = 1 inversion). Avoid vigorous shaking. Typically you'll agitate the tank every 30-60 seconds, for about 5-10 seconds at a time. I normally do 5 inversions in 10 seconds once every minute. This will probably earn me some flack from purists who claim otherwise, but I've never seen any difference in results based on specific agitation intervals.

The important thing is that you do agitate periodically and gently. (You may have heard of a popular technique called stand developing, but I'm skipping that here for the sake of simplicity.) Here are some pointers:

  • After pouring the developer into the tank, applying the cap, and doing your initial agitation, be sure to gently rap the bottom of the tank against a sink or counter to get rid of any air bubbles that might stick to the side of the film. There's no need to repeat this step after the first agitation since the film surface should now be thoroughly wet inside the tank.
  • Make sure you follow the developing tank instructions for the appropriate volume of chemistry. If you have a tank like mine, those values are imprinted on the bottom for easy reference. Using more chemistry than required won't hurt, but too little may result in uneven processing along one edge of the film. Processing 2 reels of 35mm, or 1 reel of 120 film, requires more chemistry than a single roll of 35mm to cover adequately.
  • Use your smartphone to help you develop film. There are a number of film developing apps that feature timers and even a database of films and suggested developer times. I mainly use the Massive Dev Chart, which is available for both Android and iOS devices. It currently runs for $8.99, and it's money well spent. Virtually any kind of film you can buy will have presets listed in the MDC, and these can be modified as needed for your own workflow. When you modify an entry, it is automatically saved as a custom entry, and can be easily exported to a file whenever you move to a new mobile device.
  • If you want a free, simple timer for Android, you can also try Darkroom Timer (by Chicken of the Web), on the Google Play store. It's no longer supported by the developer but it still works fine. I use it now primarily for color film processing, as you have greater flexibility to make custom presets. (One little quirk about Darkroom Timer on newer devices is there's no obvious way to add a new entry. No problem. Press and hold an existing preset, choose duplicate, then edit and rename the duplicate.) Unfortunately, I've never been able to export custom entries successfully so moving to a new smartphone means recreating them.
  • I suggest using 1:1 developing, which does mean that your developing times will be about 50% longer than using stock solution For example, 6:45 in stock solution might translate to 9:30 for 1:1 processing. The Massive Dev Chart normally shows the suggested times for 1:1 and other common dilutions. It's not complicated at all and requires no advanced math skills. If your tank says to use 475ml of solution for one roll of 35mm film, just round that up to the nearest easy number (500ml), then divide that by two. In this case, you'd pour in 250ml of stock D-76 solution and add 250ml of water. Be sure to do this in a graduated cylinder, not the developing tank. 
  • Using 1:1 processing will double the return on your investment without appreciably extending the overall time it takes to develop a roll. Diluting your developer will not adversely impact image quality in the slightest; some people even claim it increases apparent sharpness.

Check to ensure that your developer is at 68°F before you start. If it's higher or lower, you can stick the cylinder in the fridge for a few minutes or immerse it in hot water until it's right where you want it to be. Then start the timer and pour the developer into the top of the tank in one smooth motion. Apply the cap, and begin agitating according to the manufacturer's guidelines or whatever your preferred app suggests.

Once you're done with the developer, you can dispose of the contents and begin your stop bath, or what I like to call "rinsing it out with tap water."* Since you've not applied fixer yet, you'll need to keep the screw-on lid attached. I don't worry about the precise temperature of the rinse water, but try to keep it in the ballpark of 68F based on feel. Let the tank fill, dump it out, and repeat at least a few times right away to remove developer residue. Then you can let the water flow through until you're done. I've seen various suggestions on how long a rinse/ stop bath should be, but I settled on 3 minutes as a reasonable period of time years ago.

After the rinse is complete, pour out the water and gently shake it upside down to get out most of the remaining water. Don't shake too hard or bang it against the sink, or you could dislodge the little clip that holds the film reel down on the center spool inside. (You don't want the reel to float freely inside or your film may not get evenly exposed to the chemistry.) Once you're satisfied it's mostly empty, it's time to apply your fixer. As with the developer, measure the volume needed in a graduated cylinder. When you're ready, pour the fixer into the developing tank. I do a few gentle inversions at the beginning, although it's not really necessary. Then let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

When the time is up, use your funnel to pour the fixer into a 1-liter bottle for the next use. Remember: Don't just dump your fixer after a single use. You should be able to get at least 12-15 uses out of a single batch - likely more than that. If the film is ever milky looking after fixing it, re-do this step with fresh fixer.

At this point the film is insensitive to light ("fixed"), so the lid can come off for the remaining steps. After fixing your film, you'll want to do a final rinse to get rid of the chemical residue. Again, I do this for an arbitrary 3 minutes. If you feel better with a longer rinse, it certainly won't hurt anything. After unscrewing the top, just let tap water fill the tank and spill over the edge. I gently plunge the reel by slowly raising and lowering the center post as the water flows over it, occasionally emptying and refilling the tank to ensure a steady supply of clean water.

The final step is applying Photo-Flo. Fill the tank up almost to the top with fresh tap water. Then, using your eyedropper, squeeze in 2-3 drops of Photo-Flo solution. Resist the temptation to go overboard; more is not better. Then slowly plunge the reel a few times into the tank until you see suds start to appear on the surface. Wait about 30 seconds and then remove the reel from the tank and the center post. You're nearly done!

At this point, I like to shake the reel over the sink with a snap of the wrist a few times before opening it up to remove the film. This is where the magic happens: you'll lift your film gently from the reel and unroll it. If everything went well, you should see negative images unfurling before you! Gently shake any excess moisture from the film strip, being sure not to touch it against anything, and you're ready to hang it up to dry using your weighted clips. I hang mine in my home office area with the ceiling fan turned on low nearby; just be mindful about not stirring up dust while it's drying. Dust sticking to negatives is no fun.

Some people like to use a dedicated film squeegee to wipe the water off prior to hanging the filmstrip, but many photographers have found that anything but the lightest touch tends to produce scratches along the emulsion. It seems some film types are more susceptible than others. Either way, I'd recommend against it.

You'll want to wait at least 45-60 minutes before you take your film down. Don't be alarmed if your film twists and bends in weird ways as it dries; that's perfectly normal. It should be flat (or mostly so) when it finishes drying. An hour is usually enough time, although there's no harm in leaving it overnight or longer. (If you're processing older, expired film, leaving it overnight will help reduce any excess curliness). You're now ready to scan and enjoy your first roll of film!

*Some photographers shy away from using tap water in the developing process, especially if they live in an area with deposits or other water problems. If you encounter any unexplained issues using tap water, it's worth trying some distilled water as an alternative.

 

Home Processing Black & White Film: Gathering Supplies

Introduction

My friend, Chryseis, developing a roll of film in our kitchen.

I am occasionally asked how one goes about processing black & white film at home. After answering the question multiple times, I decided it might be helpful to put together some simplified instructions for getting started. I should emphasize that my methodology is not infallible, nor is it the only way one can achieve the desired results. It's just how I do things and what I find has worked well for me.

As you gain experience, you will no doubt want to tailor the process to best match your own workflow. I am confident in stating that while my approach may not be the end-all, be-all of film processing, if you follow these basic steps you should get usable results. If you find a better way to do things, please feel free to add to the conversation in the comments section.

This two-part blog article provides an overview of the materials and the process of developing black & white film. There are some excellent online articles and YouTube videos that can help you flesh out specific steps, but what I found lacking when I started back into processing film was a general guide that spelled out explicitly what I needed to get started. I had last developed film way back in high school, and had forgotten most of what I knew.

After lots of Googling, asking around and pulling from multiple sources I was able to piece that information together into a useful workflow. I hope these articles will save you some time and answer your questions so that you feel confident getting started. I have covered some of these issues, such as scanning negatives, in prior posts.

Let me begin by dispelling a myth: You do not need a darkroom in order to process film. (If you want to make traditional paper prints with an enlarger, you will need a light proof work area which might be a formal darkroom or a bathroom with tape sealing any light leaks. But that's another topic altogether and beyond the scope of this article.) You can easily process film in your kitchen with minimal gear, and then scan it digitally with your computer. If you're been interested in working with film, rest assured that you don't need a dedicated room or expensive equipment.

Why process your own instead of just sending it out to a lab? Some people enjoy DIY projects, and processing your own film can be enormously satisfying. In my case, the major factors that pushed me into it were cost and convenience. I was driving nearly 30 minutes to get to the nearest pro lab that can handle black & white film. On top of the drive was the waiting (up to a week), and the cost. By "souping" my own film at home, I can shoot a roll and have it developed and hanging to dry in about 30 minutes.

Acquiring Supplies

A snap of some of my supplies on the kitchen counter.

In order to get started, you will have to spend some money on basic supplies. Initially, expect to spend around $150-200 buying all the "hardware" and chemistry needed to get started. Most of this cost represents a one time investment, since chemicals are the only ongoing expense (apart from the film itself, of course). Depending on what chemistry you buy, and how you use it, you can process individual rolls of film for literally pennies apiece, and certainly well under a dollar at the "expensive" end.

Let's start with the reusable supplies you'll need to process your film. These can all be sourced through various online retailers, and some of them you're likely to already own, although you may want to reserve some items strictly for developing as you don't want to contaminate kitchen supplies with potentially toxic chemistry. I bought most of my supplies from Freestyle Photographic Supplies. Here's what you'll need at the start:

  • Film changing bag
  • Daylight developing tank
  • Film reels
  • Can opener
  • Scissors
  • Measuring cylinders
  • Eyedropper
  • Funnel
  • Thermometer
  • Jugs (various sizes) for storing chemistry
  • Weighted film clips


Freestyle carries a few changing bags. You can also find film changing bags on eBay, sold by a variety of vendors in different sizes. Prices currently vary from about $13-$30. I would advise against buying the very smallest bags since you want to allow plenty of room for loading your film. Changing bags let you work in the light while your hands and film stay in the dark. This is the only step in the developing process when absolute darkness is required while handling your undeveloped film. I'll explain this in further detail in the second installment.

A daylight developing tank, as the name suggests, is a device that lets you pour chemistry or water in and out under normal lighting, while keeping stray light from reaching the contents. There are various designs and price points, but I recommend a simple plastic model (with plastic reels) that let you process 2 - 35mm rolls (or 1 - 1 20 roll) at a time. The film will spend the rest of the process in this tank before you hang it to dry at the end. Your tank may come with a reel or two, but it's not a bad idea to order a couple of extra reels when you buy your tank. Some people swear by metal tanks and reels, although I've been happy with my plastic kit.

A handheld can opener (like the kind you use to puncture cans of juice) is useful for removing the ends of 35mm film cassettes in the changing bag. Scissors let you trim the ends of the film for easier loading onto the reels. If you only want to process medium format (120) film, you won't need either of these items since there's no cassette to pop open or rough edges to trim.

You'll need at least 2 measuring cylinders for measuring quantities of chemistry. I would also suggest buying a small cylinder for measuring certain developers (like Rodinal) or other chemistry that you need to measure precisely in smaller quantities. You will want to buy an eyedropper and funnel that you reserve for photographic use. Both are inexpensive but very important items you'll regret skimping on (really).

You can get by with a cheap, basic thermometer for black & white photography. However, if you're considering delving into color or slide film processing in the future, I'd suggest buying a $10-20 digital thermometer at the outset for fast, accurate readings. There's no sense in shopping twice for the same item, like I did before I knew better. Digital thermometers are readily available online or in the kitchen section of your local Walmart. Black & white film is very forgiving when it comes to temperature variations (I developed a number rolls at the start without even using one), but other film types require tight temperature control for good results. If you want consistent results with your black and white film, get a thermometer.

You'll need some jugs for storing the chemicals you need to mix. How many and what sizes you'll need depends somewhat on the specific chemicals you choose, but I would suggest the following as a minimum to get started: one gallon (quantity 1), half gallon (2), 5 liter (1) and one liter (1). Some people improvise by reusing household containers, but I would suggest buying photographic "Datatainer" jugs. They have the advantage of being opaque, have white space for writing out the contents with a Sharpie, and you won't contend with the uncertainty of wondering whether residue from whatever was stored in them previously might contaminate your chemistry. These jugs are not very expensive and pretty much last forever.

Finally, I recommend buying some weighted film clips for drying your film once you're done processing it. If you're handy, you can probably rig up a system of your own. You can even use clothespins in a pinch. Personally, I find clips made for the purpose are easiest to work with. I have two sets, since I frequently process 2 rolls at a time.

The Chemistry

I've experimented with a variety of developers - commercial and homemade - but I recommend that if you're just starting out, stick to the tried and true chemicals, and master that before you delve into more exotic concoctions. You'll save on shipping if you order both the items above and your chemistry below at the same time from Freestyle. When it comes time to restock your chemistry, I'd recommend ordering from the Film Photography Project store. They are a non-profit organization, with competitive pricing. Their offerings are more limited, but they charge actual shipping cost - plus, your purchases support their charitable work equipping schools and other organizations with free film cameras.

For basic home developing, I suggest buying the following:

  • Kodak D-76
  • Ilford Rapid Fixer
  • Kodak Photo-Flo 200


Kodak D-76 comes in a packet in powder form. You simply mix it thoroughly with warm water, and this solution becomes your stock solution. I generally use D-76 in a 1:1 ratio for reasons of economy. That simply means you mix equal parts water and stock solution when you are preparing to develop your film. The higher the ratio of water to stock solution, the longer the processing time will be. Some people reuse their developer, pouring it back into the storage jug after each use, but I've never done that since the small cost of developer doesn't merit potential failure of subsequent rolls to me. A packet of D-76 costs around $7-8, and will process many rolls if you use it 1:1. You can use D-76 with practically all varieties of black & white film (including films from Ilford, Fujifilm and others.)

D-76 mixes with a gallon of water (smaller packets for 1-liter quantities are also available), which makes storing the solution in 2 half-gallon bottles convenient. It's a good practice to divide larger quantities of film chemistry into smaller, airtight bottles so that it keeps longer. The more air present inside the container, the more quickly the chemistry is likely to go bad. There are specialty bottles available with an accordion design to minimize air pockets, but I've never personally used them. Fortunately, D-76 gives you some warning and doesn't fail suddenly (as will Kodak X-Tol, another popular developer).

Stored at room temperature in opaque Datatainer jugs, I find that D-76 will last at least a couple of months - sometimes as long as 6 months or more. When it starts to change from clear to yellowish, it has begun going bad and it's time to mix up a fresh batch. (You'll probably still get OK results if it's only a little bit yellow, but you may not want to take the risk if it's an important roll.)

Old school film users will say that you should always use a stop bath following the developer. Stop bath is used to immediately halt the developing process. While I do use stop bath in my darkroom for making prints, I've always just used cool tap water to rinse my film following developer, and never have noticed any problems arising as a result. If you want to do it "correctly," feel free to look into a stop bath that meets your needs. I really don't think it's necessary, especially when you're using a 1:1 developer solution which necessitates longer developing times. A few extra seconds with developer on the emulsion as it rinses isn't likely to have any noticeable impact.

The next chemical you'll need is a fixer. I have always used Ilford Rapid Fixer. It comes in a 1 liter bottle that you mix with 4 liters of water for a total of 5 liters solution. A given quantity of fixer can be used many times before it is exhausted. I keep my current active batch in a 1-liter bottle and store the unused remainder in the 5-liter bottle I used to mix it. You'll know your fixer is exhausted if the film looks milky after fixing is completed, but you can always re-fix for longer or with fresh chemistry.

Your film will not be ruined if the fixer is exhausted and you have to do it again or add more time. Conservatively, you should get at least a dozen uses out of the same quantity of fixer. So don't dump it out after each use - it has a LOT of staying power. I've never actually seen Ilford Rapid Fixer go bad, but I'm sure if it sits long enough in a partly empty container it will eventually fail. I've used fixer that was probably a year old with no ill effects.

The last chemical here is Photo-Flo. It's a soap-like agent that prevents spots from forming on your negatives when drying. The trick is to use only 2-3 drops of it in your developing tank at the end of the process. Don't pour it - use an eyedropper. Use too much, and you may end up with more spotting than you would have otherwise! I'm still using the same bottle I bought 4 or 5 years ago; one 16 ounce bottle will last you literally years. Some people swear by using a tiny amount of dish soap as a cheap alternative, but this stuff is so economical to begin with I don't see any reason to scrimp and improvise.

Our next installment will take a look at the actual steps involved in making those photos magically appear on a strip of exposed film. Until then, go get these supplies and you'll be ready to start!

 



 

 

 

Review of a Classic: The Chinon Bellami

Here the barn door lens cover is closed, protecting the lens and making for a very pocketable photo experience. The camera will easily fit within the span of a typical adult's hand as seen here (and I don't have very large hands).

The Chinon Bellami is a very compact 35mm camera with a novel lens cover that opens a bit like the doors of a cuckoo clock. When closed, the body feels almost aerodynamic, and easily slides into a coat pocket. Despite its diminutive size, the Bellami has a solid, quality feel that suggests it was made to satisfy people who want to capture something perhaps superior to your average snapshot. A flash attachment is available, although mine came without one so I've not had occasion to try flash exposure. Experience with the similarly designed Olympus XA flash attachment suggests this type of flash will yield somewhat harsh results due to its proximity to the lens.

Operation is simple but elegant: The Bellami uses a zone focus system, so you need to guesstimate the approximate distance to your subject since you can't see through the lens to determine focus visually. Distances are clearly marked in feet and meters on the focus ring, but absolute precision isn't necessary. In fact, the manual recommends that under sunny outdoor conditions, you can use the "safety" setting of 10 ft / 3 meters (marked in green) and just leave it there for all your shots regardless of distance. The focus ring can be set from 3.5 feet to infinity. The Bellami has a fixed focal length of 35mm - great for all purpose photography, and a maximum aperture of f/2.8. Exposure settings are selected automatically by the camera.

The Chinon Bellami with its lens cover open. Using the film advance lever to open it also turns on the camera so it's immediately ready to use.

As this camera was released in 1980, you don't have to deal with the now obsolete mercury battery that was common in older cameras. Instead, the Bellami uses 2 alkaline or silver oxide button type batteries that are easily replaced. It predates the advent of DX film canister encoding, you'll need to set the film's ISO speed using a small dial located atop the viewfinder. The camera is programmed to accept film in the range of ISO (or ASA) 25-400.

I was given my copy by a friend about two years ago. To be honest, my first roll yielded disappointing results. The images were badly overexposed, although I was able to massage a few to near acceptability with curves in Photoshop. I figured the shutter had probably gotten sticky with age, and set it aside to live out its days as a shelf queen.

Recently, I've launched a personal quest to reduce my excess camera gear, and I've started taking a hard look at non-functioning cameras. Aside from a select few sentimental or collectible models, I've decided that I don't have room for unused or broken cameras on my shelves. As I've mentioned in past posts, I am not primarily a collector but a photographer; I enjoy actually using the gear I own. When I came across this forgotten camera, I decided it might deserve another chance. After spending some time cocking and firing the shutter multiple times in hopes of working out any stickiness, I popped in a roll of black & white film and took it for a spin yesterday afternoon.

I was more than pleasantly surprised with the results. Whatever was plaguing the camera's exposures before seems to have corrected itself. Needless to say, this camera has now established itself as a keeper! If you can find a known working copy of the camera at a reasonable price, I wouldn't hesitate to pick one up.

The sample images below were from the same roll of Arista.edu Ultra 100 film. Processed in Xtol 1:1 for 9:30 at 68F, with minor edits and sharpening in Photoshop.

These friendly goats at the Museum of Appalachia were curious about the visitors. Mostly I think they were hoping for a handout.

One of the many buildings at the museum. While it's worth paying the fee to go inside at least once, there are a number of interesting things that can be seen for free on the way to the main building. Be sure to stop by if you're in the area for a look at authentic Appalachian culture.

The Grist Mill at Norris Dam State Park. I've probably taken a million photos of this place, but not with this camera.

Closeup of the water wheel at the Grist Mill. The mill itself is authentic, although it was relocated here some years ago as a park feature. I really like how this shot came out.

The Threshing Barn - another authentic piece of Appalachian history - as viewed from the Grist Mill. This area of the park is popular for engagement and wedding photography, although I learned some time back that they've had to crack down on rogue photographers trashing the place, writing wedding graffiti on the barn, etc. I was told you now need a permit for professional photography here.

Pier at Norris Lake. Not much activity, and the water has been lowered markedly for winter. Tennessee has very few natural lakes; most are dammed up rivers.

Winch on the pier.