Category Archives: gear

about:blank is my Light Table


While I was traveling this summer, I shot a bit of film. Since I didn’t have a scanner with me, I ended up hacking together a mobile contact sheet workflow so I could share some shots before I got back home to my scanner. Doing this required an iPad,* iPhone, Photoshop Express, and Snapseed.

*I’m working in Appleverse so these will all be within the iOS space. Nothing here requires Apple stuff however since Google makes Snapseed and Adobe makes Photoshop Express.

First, pointing the iPad toward about:blank is a super-simple way of getting a light table. This is useful in general for previewing negatives or slides and once I started doing that the obvious next step was to use my phone as a loupe and take photos of the negatives.


When I’m doing this I set my iPhone to invert colors. This is a standard Accessibility option and only changes the phone display—the camera and even the screenshots all result in the non-inverted colors. Inverting the screen allows me to get a better sense of the negative and even adjust some of the camera exposure settings before I take a photo. The hardest part is minimizing the reflection of my phone off the negative sleeves.


The resulting image should look like a decent negative. I didn’t worry about cropping or even getting things super square since I can fix all that later on in Snapseed.


I use Photoshop Express to invert the negative. It’s one of the basic looks and there’s not much to say about it. Open the app, select the photo, invert, and save the photo. If I screwed up and reversed the negative on the iPad I often flip it here. But that’s something Snapseed can do too.

Since this is just an inversion, it won’t work with color negatives. Removing the color mask is a lot more complicated than a global color correction can handle so this workflow only works with black and white film.


The result is a low-contrast positive image. This is sufficient for sharing and previewing but I like to run it through Snapseed and adjust the levels to reflect just what’s in the film. No recipes here. I adjust the crops and perspective correction until it looks square enough. And I play with the image tuning so that the histogram covers the entire gamut.


I don’t push things too far though. I like seeing the negative borders and keeping a sense of “contact sheet” to these. They’re supposed to be roughish and prepare me for scanning them for real. I just want them to be nice enough that I enjoy sharing them too.


Flipped lens


A roll through the Brownie with the flipped lens. I still find myself thinking that this is one of my better portrait setups. Also underexposed Ektar is mighty odd stuff. Usually underexposure just gives me reds. Ektar gives me blues instead.


iPhones, iPods, and Filters


The release of the Flickr App, coupled with our recent acquisitions of an iPhone5 and an iPod Touch, has opened up an area of photography which I’ve otherwise managed to avoid so far.

I’ve written previously about filtering apps, touched on gimmickry, and even experimented with Instagram. But I haven’t really seriously played with mobile photography and filtering apps.

They’re tempting to hate on. At the same time, I’ve found that I really like them. I’d probably prefer a much more fully-featured set of controls but I’m finding that rather than using the filters for retro effects, I’m using them to emphasize or hide elements in the photos which I want to emphasize or hide.

Heavy vignettes or crushed shadows help compensate for the way the iPhone flash works. Low contrast or non-white whitepoints can recover highlight detail. Many of the filters seem especially tuned to the way the iPhone camera renders things and I’m starting to get a sense of what filters I like,* why, and when/how they’ll be useful.

*Mammoth in particular.

The sheer number of black and white filters is very nice. As is the ability to desaturate the image before filtering. Many of the color filters do very nice things to the desaturated images.

Also, a lot of the fake noise and film grain is proving to be especially useful for compensating for the iPod Touch’s somewhat lousy camera. The iPhone camera is pretty nice in its own right and the app is great at just letting me upload photos without having to plug into my computer. They’re both also extremely handy to just grab a photo.

The photos here are all either processed by the app or taken with an iPhone/iPod. Or both. It’s been fun so far—both shooting and processing. And that’s really the best praise possible.

Coyote Firetruck

Keeble and “The Box”

I’m lucky to have a good local camera shop. Not only have I purchased my three workhorse cameras at Keeble and Shuchat,* I’ve been steered in the right direction regarding lenses** and other equipment as well. If you can get past the sort of I-know-more-than-you-do attitude of some of the clerks, this is a great place to actually get a new camera if you want to try stuff out before you buy.

*Nikomat FTn, Nikon Coolpix P3, and Nikon D40x.

**While it’s not difficult to pick a good 50mm Nikkor prime, that they recommended the 50mm f/2 AI as my first lens says a lot about the price/quality understanding.

I also take all my film there for development—even the crappy C41 35mm stuff since I’ve had too many bad experiences with the local minilabs. They’re good enough to return my 620 spools and are friendly to people doing weird things or using weird cameras. I’ve also been able to score and experiment with some expired film as well.

And they have a pretty good used section. Not huge, but pretty well stocked. I’ve picked up a few good lenses there over the years.*

*The 105mm f/2.5 AI and 200mm f/4 AIS being the best two.  

What really sets Keeble apart however is the box. It’s legendary. And for good reason. The bargain box is worth cruising past in each visit. Most of the time it’s full of junk, but every so often you find a gem. I’ve purchased six cameras from there so far and shot four of them to-date.

Two which are now in my semi-standard rotation of cameras that I count on:


Kodak Retina IIa—My first purchase and still the one I’m most happy with. This is actually a quality camera with a coated lens.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C

Kodak Pony 135 Model C—My 35mm toy camera of choice. Double exposures and a cheapish lens make this one a lot of fun to play with.

I’ve also picked up a few “museum pieces” which, while I’ve shot a roll of film through them, have some reliability issues and are just a bit too much work to use. But I can’t bear to part with them either.

they don't make 'em like they used to

Kodak Retina I—Too pretty to pass up. Too flaky and too similar to the Retina IIa to shoot again.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior

Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior—Another beauty. Works well, but carrying a cardboard camera in my bag is kind of scary. And filing down 120 spools doesn’t work too well so if I shoot it again, I’ll have to respool 120 onto 620.

I’m a bit scared to look in the box now. It’s too good to pass up but I can’t really justify any more project cameras. I barely shoot the ones I have now as it is.

Six-20 Brownie Junior


Another Keeble $5 box special. I couldn’t turn this down since it’s just a nice camera to look at.* Plus it came with a 620 spool inside.

*Suggesting another requirement to my rules for purchasing vintage cameras. In addition to taking either 135 or 120, they should be nice objects in and of themselves.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior

I’ve never shot 6×9 before. Nor had I ever shot one of the old-style cardboard-body Kodak Brownies. It’s an interesting experience. The viewfinders are brighter than I expected and the shutter switch (not a button) requires a bit of getting used to. And 6×9 negatives are almost too much larger than 6×6 negatives. I’m not feeling the same rush I received when I shot my first roll of 6×6 in the Hawkeye and was instead feeling a bit of fatigue in dealing with them.

That said, the camera is an interesting choice for architecture photos. Especially old buildings.

I also played a bit with long exposures since the shutter switch functioned almost as a cable release. My other toy cameras require holding the button down continuously for the long exposures. The Brownie Junior shutter though just has to be pushed twice so while there’s a little shake at each end of the exposure, the longer you leave the shutter open, the more negligible the shake becomes.


I’m pleased with the two areas I chose to really experiment with. The people testshots weren’t even worth scanning since this camera doesn’t focus close enough to be worth it. I’m not sure if I’m going to continue using this guy but I’m more inclined to use it next June 20* than the Duaflex I used last year.

*620 camera day

I just need to do a better job with my film handling and either file down my 120 spool a lot more or do it properly and respool 120 onto 620. There are stress marks on all the negatives.



In my post about photographic gimmicks, I mention that wide-angle lenses are dangerously close to being gimmicky. Ultrawides are even closer. They are an easy way to get some extra drama in a photo and are usually the first new lens new photographers are tempted to purchase. The result? Lots of crappy ultrawide photographs. And a lot of people who do not like ultrawide photography.*

*That Ken Rockwell is an ultrawide nut does not help with this matter. Even though his ultrawide advice is very good.

I am not one of those people. I shot with a 20mm lens almost exclusively for over five years (until I upgraded from 35mm film to a digital SLR) and it’s the largest reason why I still shoot film.

But I see why a lot of people don’t like ultrawide shots. Most of it suffers from a combination of boring foregrounds, distant subjects, and a lack of cohesiveness between near and far. It’s very easy to point the camera down and get the view which includes both what I’m standing on and what I’m looking at. Tying it all together so that the viewer moves through the different depths takes work.

florence-duomo.jpgMy initial motivation for the ultrawide was photography while traveling—especially in the narrow streets of Europe. I’ll admit that this was a bit of “get everything in” but since I’ve never been one of those guys who likes to step back from a scene, this was more a way to allow me to make the most use of my working distances. If I can only step forward, I may as well shoot as wide as I can. And then that approach just becomes natural…

Dish-Tree1The danger of an ultrawide is that it’s very easy to end up with too much junk in the frame—when you get it all in, you get it all in. Walking forward is one way to avoid it. Another is to use the junk instead.

siena-campo.jpgWhere I find myself liking the ultrawide the most is inside where, instead of having to worry about boring foregrounds or skies, the entire interior space is available to me. And by inside, I mean any interior space. It doesn’t have to be fancy architecture or anything.

overpass-3Since picking up film again after a couple years just shooting digital, I’ve been branching out a bit more and experimenting with other ways of using the ultrawide. Whether it’s trying to take nice photos of people, attempting more rigid compositions,* or trying other experiments, I’ve still got a lot to learn about this lens.

*Getting in close means that everything gets all bendy. I like this a lot but I recognize that, as with tilted horizons, sometimes this encourages lazy shooting.

time to go home
four trees
powell st

Multiple exposures

pond multi

One of the best things about my Kodak Pony 135 is its ability to do multiple exposures. The basic exposure controls and the fact that 35mm film is relatively cheap on a per-frame basis were enough to get me to start experimenting with multiple exposures.

While I readily admit that these are a gimmick, I’ve found that I really enjoy creating them. I haven’t taken too many yet, but the challenge of planning two or three consecutive shots which add up to some sort of coherent frame is a very different way to approaching photography and seeing the world than I am used to. Sometimes I will encounter something that is just asking to be photographed repeatedly. But more often, it’s an exercise in finding and remembering each component of the shot as I come across it.

efi multi
tree multi