Archive for 2009

November Newsletter

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Season’s Happenings in Yosemite

Early November Newsletter

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Yosemite, Digital Thoughts

September Newsletter

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Zinfandel, Tuscany, Quickload

New Darkroom Timer

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

CompnTempscreen_sWorkshop alum and Stanford scientist, Curt Palm, has created a new darkroom timer that significantly “one-ups” the popular Zone VI Compensating Developing Timer.

CompnTemp ® is software rather than hardware and is available for both Windows and Mac computers. I set up a small shelf in my darkroom for my Mac Powerbook and all I have to do to get going is plug in the accessory USB temperature probe and cover the screen with red plastic.

What sets CompnTemp apart from ANY other timer is that is completely user-programmable. if you want your target temperature to be 73 degrees instead of 68 that’s fine. If you want it to count UP instead of DOWN, that’s fine, too.

You can save profiles so you can toggle from one group of settings for prints to another set of preferences for film. It even lets you customize the compensation curves.  It also gives you a continuous read-out of the ACTUAL temperature.


Photo Spotter for Prints and Negatives

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Print spotting is something none of us can avoid having to take to task on some level. Some of us are better at it than others, some just can’t get the hang of it at all. Some are good at it but just don’t have the time or patience for it. If you or anyone you know would like to have some first-class work done for you, I have just the person.

Katherine Gillis in Lake Wylie, South Carolina has been doing much of my own print spotting and ALL of the spotting on the Ansel Adams Special Edition prints for the last 11 years or so. She used to be here in Santa Fe but for various reasons had to relocate.

She is so good and great to work with that I’ve been FedExing prints to her for nearly eighteen years. She works on black-and white and color prints and film. She has e-mail but prefers to discuss particular needs on the phone, so if the link above doesn’t get a response, give her a call at 704-607-1039.

Meter Calibration

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

According to Ted Orland’s poster Photographic Truths:  “No two light meters agree.”  Sadly, that does seem to be pretty much the truth – unless you do something about it.

For years I had a pair of supposedly “matched” Pentax digital spot meters that were never closer than 1/3 of a stop from each other – so I had to remember which meter I used for film tests and which one I had in the field.  One of these meters had an accident and got sent off to its maker for a rebuild – and came back 2/3 of a stop away from where it had been, now 1/3 higher than the meter it had been lower than!  So I sent the other meter off to its maker and after two months got it back about the same as when I had sent it.  Which meter was right?

Airport X-Rays

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

It’s something that worries all of us: Is my film going to get wrecked by airport security? I guess the answer is always “maybe”, but recent experience makes me want to say “probably not.”

In the last year and a half I have had the opportunity to make three international trips with 4×5 camera gear and TMax 100 film. Italy via Frankfurt; Scotland; and China. In Albuquerque and in Florence, when connection times allowed the time, a hand inspection (with wipedown) was done without objection, but other times and places made it practical or obligatory to send the carry-on film through the scanner.

On the China trip, my ISO 100 film got “zapped” six times (they even do this at train stations in China). The net result? No trace of fog.

On the Italy trip last year I made three identical exposures on TMX 100 Readyload. I put one sheet in my checked baggage, one in my carry-on to be x-rayed, and one which I requested hand-inspect. The two carry-on films were perfect, but the film in the checked bag showed definite scan lines. The scan lines were probably Zone I or below so didn’t “print,” but the net reccommendation from all of this is:

  • Don’t put ANY film in your checked baggage.
  • Carry-on film is probably fine with multiple security scans.

Update: November 2008. I just returned from my fifth trip to China with TMax 100 4×5 Readyload film. After, I think, six scans through passenger security machines there was no trace of fog.

Variable-Contrast Articles – Reprints now on CD-ROM

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

In 1998 and 1999 I wrote a 4-part series of articles on Variable-Contrast printing for CameraArts magazine (the “smaller-format” sister of ViewCamera magazine). CameraArts is now defunct in print form however the articles are still available directly through me.

If you have been one of my students and would like something better than the xerox copies of the articles you got in your workshop binder, contact me. I’m offering the Variable-Contrast CD for $30. I’ll even sign it! It’s a single CD with a pdf file which has daisy-chained the four articles together.

Lastly, the illustration photos in the pdf file seem to print a bit on the mushy side with some printers. I suggest printing a single, sample page such as p.23 or p.24 and adjust the contrast and brightness settings on your printer until the images print satisfactorily.

Zone System Heresy – A Case for Zone IX Calibration

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Ever since I was back at Ansel’s in the late ’70’s, I had been faithfully calibrating my high values at Zone VIII, targeting a density of about 1.25 above filmbase-fog.

Since 2004 or so, however, I’ve been thinking more and more that it makes more sense to calibrate to Zone IX, with a target density of about 1.45.

True, Zone VIII is supposed to be the high end of the “textural range”, but then Zone II-1/2 to III is generally considered the low end, and we don’t use THAT as a film speed point.

For me, Zone IX prints on a “medium contrast” paper as not quite a paper white. THIS is the end of “normal” photographic scale and I think it’s ultimately the most useful calibration point, in the same manner that we use Zone I for film speed (0.07 to 0.10 above Fb-F).

The Zone IX calibration point calls for more modest changes in development time and/or dilution to get useful Plus and Minus development. There also is less tendency for Minus development to “block-up” values which fall higher than Zone IX.


If you’d like to see a larger version of these theoretical curves showing why I like this idea, or if they don’t display on your browser, email me and I’ll send a pdf pdq!

To Mount or Not to Mount

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

There’s no doubt about it, a dry-mounted print is the flattest. It was Ansel’s style to mount prints – in fact at the time it was THE way to “properly” present a print. Many people still prefer to mount their prints – when it’s well done and overmatted it looks terrific. The downside is that if the mount becomes damaged or soiled, it kind of wrecks the print. Further, if a slipsheet, fingernail or other object happens to catch the edge of the mounted photo paper it can tear the emulsion away, again wrecking the print. Lastly, the museum world and many serious collectors prefer unmounted prints. For storage as well as archival considerations. Museum archivists feel that the print should not be attached to any foreign material – and an unmounted print is much easier to store! Another camp feels that the mount tissue itself acts as a barrier, protecting the back of the print from exposure to deteriorating gasses.

I quit drymounting prints sometime in the mid 1980’s, or at least I stopped mounting them in the conventional fashion. I print with a minimum of a 1″ margin between the image and the edge of the paper. Prints 11×14 and smaller I don’t mount at all. I flatten the air-dried prints in a mount press and then put them in a presentation/handling mat. A properly sized bevel overmat is hinged to a backing board, and the print is then positioned in the window and then corner-mounted to the backing. 16×20 and 20×24 prints are mounted onto a sheet of 2-ply museum board to stiffen the print and make it flatter, but they are corner-mounted in a handling mat in much the same manner as the smaller prints.

Anecdotally, I’d like to note that I have been called upon to restore several Adams prints, which had become partially or entirely separated from the original mount board. I have had to carefully remount the prints to the original, sometimes damaged or foxed board because Ansel’s signature was on the mount! Additionally, I had several prints come back, from a gallery that should know better, with wine stains on the mats and backing! The prints themselves were fine, so I just put them in new mats!

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