Monday, October 20, 2014

Pleiades Rising Over Wingra Park

Pleiades Rising Over Wingra Park
These lovely companions of the fall and winter night sky are back, the Seven Sisters of mythology, the star cluster of astronomy.

Note: Parts of Wingra Park are dark for a city park, but the sky isn't very dark by astronomical standards. All things considered, I'm pleased with the result I got after freezing my fingers and fumbling around a lot in the dark and making a dumb mistake by leaving negative exposure comp on from another shoot, especially since I was using a compact camera.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Entropy In a closed system, everything rusts, decays or falls apart eventually. One reason open systems are good.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Simple way to digitize the occasional slide or negative -- b&w or color -- without a scanner

What My Wayback Machine Looks Like
Like most people who came to digital photography after years of shooting film, I have a lot off stuff sitting around that's not digital -- black and white negatives, color slides, and color negatives. How to convert them has always been a thorny issue for me. The easiest way is to scan prints, but I never made all that many enlargements, and the prints I have are too small to create a really good file. (I've rephotographed some of my old drugstore prints and it works pretty well, but that's strictly a low-res option, only useful for screen resolution on a computer.)

Scanning slides and negs is problematic. Scanning film and slides on a flatbed scanner is better than it used to be, but it's time-consuming and still doesn't give great high-res files. Film scanners made to do the job can do it, alright -- but they're expensive, and I never could justify the expense for my old photos, most of which I just don't like that much anymore. (It would be different if I planned to shoot a lot of film in the future, but that's not likely, although I really respect the people who do. Me, I'm too impatient.) So what to do?

I solved my problem with the Opteka Slide Duplicator -- $29.95 at Amazon. And with it I can get better digital copies than most flatbed scanners produce, comparable to the results of a film scanner at a medium resolution setting. You can get them for most digital SLRs and a few compacts. (Note: This particular model doesn't seem to be made anymore, but last time I looked, there were others out there for just a little more money.)

Yes, it's a plain old slide copier with a 52mm thread that screws into many of my Nikon lenses, including the tack-sharp 50mm f/1.8, which seems to work best. It has a built-in closeup lens, a tube that holds a slide at the appropriate distance (there's an attachment for holding negs, too -- and, surprise, it also works pretty well).

Will Jesus Save the Live Nude Girls?Slides are the easiest. They slip right into the holder from the top. You'll need to manually focus. It's a good idea to stop down to about f/11 for the extra depth of field needed to keep the entire (slightly curved) slide in place. Aim at any neutral light source and set your white balance on auto. Crop and tweak in any photo editing program, and there you are. This digital copy, which I took in Times Square in 1976, looks better than the slide, since I could make minor adjustments that weren't possible on the original.

Digitized from the B&W Neg with Slide CopierBlack and white negatives are also a breeze. I took this photo on Tri-X in Madison in 1985. There's an adapter the size of a slide that has slots in the side for film strips. Insert the adapter, and then slide in the negative strip from the side. You'll get an image of the negative, which you can "invert" in any photo editor so that it becomes a positive image. Tweak brightness and contrast to your taste, and there you are.

Digitized from the Color Neg with Slide CopierI took this photo in Miami Beach in 1985 on Kodacolor. Color negatives are more of a challenge, because of the orange mask that is part of the color negative process. It has to be properly removed, or you will end up with colors that can't be fixed by any amount of photo editing. Click on the photo to see my description of how I did it myself. You could also buy scanning software like VueScan that does it more or less automatically, and which works with jpeg files as well as scans.

I used to have bad associations with slide copiers from the days of film: The colors would never come out right, there was an awful contrast buildup, and you had to bracket the hell out of every shot to even get in the ballpark. You had to have just the right light source. And there was visble image degradation from the second-generation copy effect, going from film to film.

But digital cameras have come so far they're eliminated these problems. You see what you get and can easily reshoot. Auto exposure and auto white balance take care of most of the problems. And if you shoot RAW, as I do with the D90, you have a lot of flexibility in white balance correction. You can tweak in postproduction. And a 12 megapixel camera like my D90 will give you resolution comparable to a 3,000dpi scan on a film scanner. Good enough for me, and a lot quicker.

Will it work for you? That depends. If you're mainly trying to digitize lots of old photos of friends and family so they can be viewed on a computer or TV, or made into snapshot-size prints, use a flatbed scanner with a film and slide attachment. It's faster, and you can set up a regular production line. The quality will be sufficient for your purpose, and the software will help with the orange mask on color negs. But the files you make won't be real high-resolution files suitable for large reproduction.

If you're a serious film shooter today, or have a large quantity of film images you want to digitize at the highest possible resolution, you've probably already invested in a film scanner, which at the high end gives by far the best results. But, again, they're expensive and not exactly speed demons compared with the instant it takes to make a copy with the slide duplicator.

If, like me, you only occasionally want to reach back and make a high-res digital copy of a film image, and you want to do it quickly, the slide copier is perfect.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Autumn Rain in Wingra Park

Autumn Rain As the seasons turn, raindrops cling to falling leaves and clover that's still green.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Do you recognize this Madison landmark by a nationally renowned architect of the early 20th Century?

Remnant The same architect was responsible for buildings as different as the famous Woolworth Building skyscraper in New York and the U.S. Supreme Court Building in the nation's capital. His name was Cass Gilbert, and although his Beaux Arts style of architecture was eventually eclipsed by modernism, he was well-known in his time and served as the president of the American Institute of Architects in 1908-09. This arch is all that remains of the building he designed here -- Madison Central High School, which stood a couple blocks north of the Capitol on Wisconsin Ave for more than three quarters of a century.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Autumn Magic Along the Military Ridge Trail

Autumn Magic When photographing milkweed, add drama by using selective focus to blur the background and exposing for the highlights to darken the background.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Great Egret Goes Fishing

Making Waves
This late in the season, the Great Egret is still hanging out at Stricker's Pond and taking its meals there.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

I stayed in the neighborhood to photograph the eclipse

Blood Moon
Lunar eclipse over Wingra Park, Madison. I used a very useful app called The Photographer's Ephemeris to plot the sightlines for the lunar eclipse early this morning. I found a perfect place to photograph it across the lake from Monona, from where it would have appeared to hang blood red over the downtown Madison skyline. But that would have involved driving across town and finding an unfamiliar street with my GPS in the predawn hours when I would be half-awake. In the end, I opted to shoot it in my neighborhood instead.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


That time of year -- iPhone, Military Ridge Trail between Verona and Riley, WI.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Five Photographs of a Banana in Seach of a Theme

Five Photographs of a Banana in Search of a Theme This made perfect sense to me once. It started out as a high concept illustration years ago. Trouble is, I no longer remember what the concept was. Now it's just five photographs of a banana in search of a theme.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Kodak: When Giants Fall They First Go Bonkers

Kodak played a major role in developing digital photography, but like Xerox before it with the personal computer, they had no idea how to bring it to market as a consumer product (mainly because they were concerned about cannibalizing film sales). By 2006 they were thinking about playing catch-up, but it was already too late. That's when they made this batshit crazy promotional video to show at sales meetings and other corporate gatherings. It's hilarious in a funny-sad benefit-of-hindsight sort of way.

Great Egret on the Prowl

Great Egret Still at Stricker's Pond yesterday. Wonder how long it will stay around.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Marilynne Robinson by Alec Soth in The New York Times

I really liked this portrait of author Marilynne Robinson in the Times by photographer Alec Soth, better known for his 8x10 view camera photographs. If you want to see more by this photographer, there's a major survey show of his work at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) through January 4th. Gorgeous prints. Check it out, if you haven't already.