Getting The Old Film Look (With Old Film)

Instagram?  Great stuff.  Easy to use, lots of filters, and an awesome way to show people the taco truck you’re currently visiting.  Strip of all the glossy varnish and what you’ve got is a pretty impressive digital picture – at least for something that came out of a phone.  Want to get those saturated and then washed out colors?  That great film noise?  Those warps and lines that sometimes look so artificial when you digitally create them?  There’s an easy system to do all that.

Film.  If it’s been sitting in your fridge for upwards of 5 years like this Kodak Gold 200 has, so much the better.  If you want to get into it this way, it’s not even too expensive.  Film will set you back a few bucks, but really not much.  Processing is an even better deal.  Most big photo labs will develop negatives for a couple bucks (at Target it’s less than $2) and if you don’t have a film scanner, most places will scan the lot straight to CD-ROM for another few bucks – probably about the same cost as getting some crummy prints, which you probably don’t want anyway.Scanned 35mm Kodak Gold 200 Picture

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You might not even have a 35mm film camera sitting around anymore.  I do have the last SLR I used before switching to digital, but frankly I don’t like it.  That’s why I went back out and bough my first camera love all over again – the Canon A-1.  Great camera, and after a little tune-up, it’s in good shape.  They are also fairly easy to find with a high-quality 50mm 1.8 lens (and remember, since this is 35mm film, it’s actually 50mm – we don’t have the APS-C crop factor you get on consumer-grade digitals).  The sound of that film-advance lever?  Priceless.

Sure you can clean it up in Photoshop, but don’t do it – the first button you hit loses that look you’ve been trying so hard to create.  Here it is, in all it’s questionable glory.

Bokeh at Small Apertures

Maybe it’s just a cactus in the sun.  Maybe it’s not a cactus – a succulent?  I’m not a botanist and I’m too lazy to use the google.  In any case, I like it.   But technically there is something else going on.  Photo nerds, follow me down.

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What you’ve got is an out-of-focus background.  Bokeh is what people like to call it.  This one was shot with my 24-105 f/4 IS L.  Most of the time when you think of bokeh, it’s fast lenses with huge apertures, and that certainly makes it easy.  When we talked about shaped bokeh, you need an aperture that is physically larger than the shape you put in front of it, so yeah – it helps.  At the same time, you can get this blurred background with slower lenses.  Remember that the lens I used above only goes down to f/4.  If you check out the EXIF info under the picture, you’ll see that this shot was at f/7.1 – what gives, right?

A few tips.  If you can’t drop the aperture, you can do two things.  First, get close to the subject – as close as you can.  This is the part that matters the most.  Even if you have a zoom lens, use your feet.  Second tip is that you want the background to be as far back as possible.  Those are the two elements that are going to help your depth of field here, and that’s all we’re talking about, right?  Bokeh comes from having an in-focus subject with an out-of-focus background.  Smaller apertures (higher numbers) give you a greater depth of field, and it increases with the subject’s distance from the lens so keep the subject close (where your DoF is relatively smaller) and keep your background far (where you have a greater chance of pushing it out of your DoF).

Makes sense?  Good.

End of the Line

Always loved industrial areas.  I wish they’d let me wander around rail yards and container storage sites.  Unfortunately, between terrorism and insurance, that’s not going to happen.  The Port of Seattle has a few hidden parks that are invariably next to shipping sites.  Jack Block Park is one of my favorites.  Here is the end of the rail line.

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I wanted to highlight the part of the shot I liked best since I couldn’t frame around the bits I didn’t like.  I used the same technique from here to remove the color from the rest of the shot.  Simple, geometric.  Railroad lines – I’m always trying to frame those.

Time-Lapse Fence Construction

It’s been a long time since I put up a stop-motion video.  The first two I did were fun and had a nice view, but were mostly about the technology, not documenting anything.  Ever since I’ve wanted to actually use it to show something tangible happening.  Last weekend was the perfect chance – we were building a fence.  I knew where it was going to be so framing wasn’t too hard.  The technique is still the same as I documented here.    I think my biggest revelation was when I realized that sometimes the best way to attach your camera to something is upside down – flipping all the shots at the end isn’t too hard.  The biggest issues were taking my camera down every time we had to go somewhere (I get a little queasy touching my camera when I’m covered in mud) and a dead battery toward the end.  Oh well – the most important stuff came out!

Fence Building Time Lapse from Ari Brown on Vimeo.

Through the Telescope

On the surface of it, taking pictures is all about finding a way to show other people how you see the world.  Often times, I just want the picture to reflect what I really saw – the framing, the light, whatever.

Other times, seeing a scene through a new light reflects something new.  These Through the Viewfinder pictures were all about a new way of seeing.  I like any sort of new framing device.

As it so happens there are a bunch of those big metal telescopes (kinda like this one) across the street from my work, overlooking Elliott Bay.  I was kinda curious if I could shoot through them.  Turns out I can.

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That’s Smith Tower, poking out over downtown.  Want to see a few more?  Hit the jump.

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Pictures from Seattle Snowpocalypse 2010

It rarely snows in Seattle, but when it does, everyone immediately freaks out.  Partly it is because this is a very hilly city with few backup modes of transportation.  All it takes is a little ice (which usually accompanies even the mildest snowstorms) to turn many major streets into car-sized pinball games.  The other reason is that we’re just not used to it, and even in the best conditions, Seattlites are horrible drivers.  Nice people, horrible drivers.

As such, every snowstorm up here is a Snowpocalypse.  Here are a few pictures from the one currently gripping the city.

How it starts:

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Full snow accumulation.  Sorry about the blur – taken from my steamy living room:

Probably my favorite picture.  Mental note – things that are safe from the rain are not necessarily safe from blowing snow:

One last photo-note for everyone out there.  When you’re taking pictures in the snow, you want to over-expose.  In film, it really mattered.  With RAW, you can do it later, as I did here, but if you’re shooting JPGs and you want them to come out well, overexpose by at least one stop.  If you don’t do it all the time it might take some fiddling to figure it out, but unless you want dark pictures, you should take the time.

The theory behind it is simple.  Cameras are trying to make the scene average out to 18% gray.  If you fill the frame with something very bright (like snow, sand, or reflected sunlight), the camera will underexpose it to make it less bright.  If you actually want it to look the way it should, you need to have the camera over-expose.

Make Your Own Planet

It’s been a while since I posted any nifty little Photoshop trickery, but there has been something I’ve wanted to try out for a while – I just needed the right picture.  Your ingredients here are a panorama with level edgeswhere both the fore and background are pretty plain.  After getting this night shot at Greenlake a little while back, I thought I might have the raw materials:

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It’s really not too hard!  Hit the jump for the whole walkthrough!

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Night Panorama – The Revenge of the Stuck Pixel

Night photography can be pretty cool.  During the day, generally speaking, the human eye sees more variations of color and shadow than your camera, hence the reason for HDR and all that.  At night, the camera has the ability to accumulate light and color over time, which your eye can’t do, so in a way it sees more.  I don’t do enough night photography, but I got out the other night for this.

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I was pretty pleased, reviewing on the camera.  Pleased enough that I forgot about the downsides.  Doing things in the dark is just difficult.  I generally like shooting things a bit farther away, because it’s really hard to tell what is and isn’t in focus.  If you have more distance between your camera and the beginning of your subject, it’s easier to get enough depth of field to get them all sharper.  I did bring along a flashlight to check focus up close, but… it becomes a pain.  I also stepped in a lot of goose shit.  That’s just how it is.  This being Greenlake, I wasn’t even worried about getting mugged for my backpack full of camera lenses.  All was good, right?

Well… yes until I got home and saw a line of blue across all my shots:

All.  The.  Way.  Across.

You don’t see it in the panorama above because they have all been laboriously removed in Photoshop.  After I found the problem, I immediately shot a few more pictures with other lenses, batteries, whatever – I wasn’t happy about this.  They’re all the same, including with the lens cap on.  Any aperture, ISO speed, whatever.  I did some research.

If you want to get technical, this is called a stuck pixel or maybe a whole row of them.  It is slightly different from a hot pixel, which would be white all the time.  All that matters is it is going to ruin my pictures.  The internet is rife with folk remedies about taking off your lens, setting your camera to manual cleaning mode (where the mirror flips up) for a few minutes and then turning it off and reattaching your lens.  Maybe it works for some people, but it didn’t do anything for me.

Since hot or stuck pixels (at least a couple of them) are nothing new, there are some other options out there.  Some cameras have options to use a dark frame (basically a picture taken with the lens cap on which should contain light only on the problem pixels) to cancel out the noise in the good frames.  The theory is that since the bad pixels are always in the same place, you can map them and work around them.  I’ve yet to find any software that works correctly with my camera and since I’m a few weeks past the grace period on Canon’s warranty, I’m still unsure what happens next.  I see a lot of healing brush in my future!