Monday, October 20, 2008

Back to basics

I went back to basics this weekend, and am so thrilled with myself that I could just spit.

I confess, I've been mailing it in for awhile now. Digital makes it so easy to put the camera on "P" and fire away. (P means program, by the way. A means Aperture-Priority, not Automatic, as most people think. Nope, that would be too easy. P is automatic, or the camera's way of saying, "P = Push the button, dummy, and I'll handle the rest.) Metering systems have advanced to the point where the camera can handle 95% of the readings and you'll generally get a decent image. This is fine, except that quite often I'm not shooting typical stuff and therefore have been spending quite a bit of time in Photoshop fixing things in post-processing. And since I'm not all that fantastically skilled at Photoshop (I can hold my own, mind you, but I'm not the resident genius on it), there are some things I just can't fix.

So I've gotten lazy and therefore have been producing sub-par work. Which is disappointing and which, of course, I've blamed on the equipment. Because it's easier that way.

And when the equipment fails, what else is there but to buy more equipment? I decided that I needed to go back to film, and that it would be great to try medium format (MF). This is not just ordinary film...this film is HUGE in comparison to 35mm, and allows beautiful enlargements. Plus, film has more latitude than digital, which means I can screw up a little more and still pull a decent print off it.

I began researching. It didn't take me long to determine I needed a Hasselblad, which can set you back a pretty penny. At first I thought, "I'll just get an old beater to mess around with, so I should be able to get this for $400-$500." Um, no. Sure, you can pick up an old beater body for that, but then you need to add on the lens and the film back. Before I knew it, I was looking at over a grand for a camera in fair to decent shape, that I had no clue how to use.

Then I realized that if I wanted to maintain my digital workflow (which I do, because I barely have time to work digitally these days, much less dealing with mixing chemicals and all the crap that goes along with it - nevermind the incredibly inquisitive 3-year-old in my house who does not need to know what developer tastes like), I'd have to invest in a negative scanner. Which, you know, needs to be a good one if you want to really make use of that dynamic range inherent to negatives. Tack on another couple grand.

All this, and I haven't even shot a single frame yet. Those on-going consumable costs (film and processing) haven't even been factored in.

After a week or so of researching and learning, I had that paper-chewing evening where I got all my filing and budget work caught up. That pretty much put an end right there to any sort of format change. Disappointed, I began to map out when we might be able to afford a foray into MF.

Then, it hit me. "Take the damn D100 off P, you stoopid %&$#." Oh. Duh. I love simple solutions.

So, this weekend, on my two (yes, two! love it!) image-making excursions, I went off P and on M, which is manual. (Not "on M" as in the hubster M, which I'm sure he'd have preferred, but whatever.) I used the spot meter in the camera, and made myself decide which f-stop and shutter speed to use. It took a bit for my brain to engage in thinking like that again. It was like the old rusty gear cogs started creaking and turning, and the spider webs stretched until they finally broke. Eventually I was back in the mode, metering off things here and there and determining what exposure, exactly, I needed to capture both the gorgeous azure sky and the front of the building that was in shade.

I honestly can't tell you if I was more excited about the images I was making or the fact that I was thinking like a photographer again. Both, probably.

Most of my images from this weekend are for the project I started awhile back, which has been sidelined due to work and school and everything else. So I can't share them with you just yet. It's one of those things that I think will be strongest in it's entirety, not bits and pieces throw out every so often...the whole sum being greater than the parts thing. But I did make a couple random images that might be okay to toss out here...I'll see if I can get some (digital) darkroom time in this weekend. My photographic priority this weekend was to capture images and stock up for the long winter months, giving me something to do when it's cold and nasty outside and I don't want to bundle up and go shoot. I have started a decent pile that will be fun to work on later.

Anyway, I went back to basics this weekend and it felt absolutely wonderful. I'm taking this approach to other aspects of life, too, and so far it's working quite well:
  • Last night I hauled up the old Mr. Coffee that can be programmed to automatically brew up a pot at whatever time you feel like you'll want it. Cleaned it all up and got it ready, then M and I chose our travel mugs and determined how much we'd need. Everything was set, and this morning I left with my old Mizzou Java Joe mug full of caramel-apple flavored Folgers decaf (thank you, CoffeeMate) and didn't even glance at the Starbucks as I went rolling by.
  • My hair dryer blew up recently, and by blew up, I mean quite literally. The thing has been a beater for far too long, since the on/off switch broke off, and the heat selector switch, too (forcing me to use tweezers stuck inside the machine to make adjustments...not real safe). M is a firm believer in using things until they are quite literally unusable anymore, which is generally a good policy but not when one is drying one's hair when one's dryer starts sparking and having flames shoot out of the cord. He snipped the cord before tossing it in the trash and off we went to Target. I looked at all the ion-charged dryers and ceramic-something-or-other dryers and this and that. I got a $14 travel dryer that I absolutely adore. Tons of air, the right amount of heat, and tiny to boot. It helps to have short hair, but, whatever.
  • Can I tell you how thankful I am that we fixed the Zoemobile instead of taking on a car payment? Because the fix is paid off and I get to toodle around in my beloved (reliable) car without worrying about door dings and scratches and whatever. Which is great when I'm driving about looking for photographic material and don't want to be real concerned about where I park. The car is simply a mode of (albeit comfortable) transportation at this point, and has lost any sort of status appeal. I guess I just have different priorities now. I asked M last weekend if he thought the roof could support my weight, plus that of a tripod and camera. He said no. Damn. So the car has one flaw.
  • Most of you know about our habit of drinking a lot of milk. We might as well tether a damn cow in the back yard, we drink so much milk. In an effort to hold off the soda demons that have resurfaced since I ended my year-long moratorium on soda, I brought a little container of milk to work with me last week to eat with my lunch. It. Was. Perfect. I heart milk. Something yummy to drink with my lunch that's not full of caffeine, carbonation and sugar.
  • We went to Shop 'n Save and stocked up on food, which means I have a variety of things from which to choose for my lunch. Having a variety of good food translates to I don't find excuses to go out to lunch every day. What's not to love about a hard salami and colby-jack samich, with romaine and tomatoes? Today it's left-over chili mac, fresh pear and a hard-boiled organic brown egg. And milk (or "meelk" as Zozer has been saying it)! Yum!

Huh. All this back-to-basics stuff means we have more $, which means that I could get a Hasselblad. And here I don't even want one any more.

By the way, since I translated camera dial settings for all of you up there at the top of this rather long-winded post (sorry 'bout was a great weekend), I'll finish with this one: in the photographic term "f-stop," f = fun.


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