Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Birding Walk

Though the temperature was cold enough to see my breath this morning, the skies dawned clear blue and I opted out of training at the gym in favor of going for a long walk around my neighborhood.  I'm fortunate to live in an area surrounded by woodlands with maintained trails, and I've navigated a nice 4 mile loop that is a nice combination of neighborhood walking and wetland/wooded trails.  It is not uncommon to see birds of prey in the area (haws and bald eagles are frequent fliers) so I've decided to start carrying my DSLR on my walks.  Unfortunately I don't have a compact case which can house my 300mm prime, so today I took my 55-300 compact zoom.  While it is handy and lightweight, the focus at 300mm seems questionable, putting a hazy glow around pretty much anything bright (and I'm now reminded of why I stopped using it). It is decent enough to record birds for this morning, and I'll attempt to clean both ends of the lens (maybe it is just coated with something?) but if the focus doesn't improve I might retire the lens and just take the superior 50-135.  It is heavier and not as much zoom, but especially with bird ID, I really need the clarity.

On to the birds!  Although I've walked this loop many times, I was surprised by the number of birds I was able to identify when I simply took the time to pay close attention. 

Terrible photo, but these are two of the 4 shy little buffleheads who frequent the lake near my house.  They dive and swim away as soon as anyone stops on the trail, hence the distant fuzzy shot.

I found several ducks floating in a water retention pond near a busy road.  Thanks to the road noise, and a chainlink fence, they didn't seem bothered by my stopping.
These are a couple of Hooded Mergansers

Here I captured a Bufflehead on the left, several Ring-Necked ducks in the center, and the Hooded Mergansers on the right.

There was also a pair of Mallards hanging out (upper left corner)  I attempted to get all the ducks in one shot, however framing was difficult due to shooting through a chainlink fence.

On a dirt trail running along a creek/watershed area, I found this Song Sparrow.  He sat still long enough for me to pull out my cell phone to shoot a video, put my cell phone away, pull the DSLR out of my camera bag, and take a couple of photos.  He was a very patient bird!

Along the pipeline trail, listening to the distant calls of crows, I stopped short when I heard a familiar "thunk-thunk-thunk" sound... this Pileated was on a tree just a few feet from the trail.  She hid behind the tree while I pulled out my camera, and kept peeking around waiting to see if I was advancing.  When she decided I wasn't coming closer, she resumed her feast on the side of the tree.  She left when a couple of women passing by stopped to see what I was pointing my camera at.

Outside of these birds, I also heard several hummingbirds chipping loudly, and spotted crows, wrens, juncos, and black-capped chickadees (though I did not walk with my camera out, so I missed those photo ops)

Thursday, February 04, 2016

First Konstruktor Test

This week I had to make a run out to the airport, so I took some time on my return drive to stop off at a local botanical garden to test my recently built Konstruktor 35mm camera.

Outside of my initial troubles with the film advance knob during building, the use of the camera is fairly straight forward.  Open the view box on the top, flip the internal mirror up to see through the lens (lever located by the lens), choose your exposure (Normal or Bulb) compose, focus, press the shutter release button (on the top) advance the film.

I like the way the view box is constructed.  Each component has a little tab to use to flip it up, and they lock together to hold the viewbox open.  There is even a tiny magnifying glass built into the top  that you can use for closer viewing, however without flipping that up it is possible to hold the camera at your waist to compose and focus.  The mirror is pretty bright, once it is flipped up.  (most of the time it took several attempts with the mirror lever to get the mirror to stay put)

I also decided to load one (probably final) roll of film into my TLR to do a final "tape every inch of the door" light leak test.

The camera is upside down here, I taped over the bottom hinge.
Taped all the way around the bottom.
Tapes all around the edge of the back "door" where I load the film.  (the note on the back is because the viewer is so hard to see through that I had to remind myself where to put the lens when focusing)

While I was out, I frequently stood in the sunshine and turned both cameras over, allowing the sunlight to hit it at every angle, both with the viewfinders open and closed.  I had planned on shooting the exact same shots, from different angles, using the two cameras, however about 3 frames in, my TLR's shutter (to add insult to injury) started defiantly sticking.  Perhaps it was jealous that I took another film camera out in the field.  Or it is just tempermental.  In any case, I didn't bother to scan most of the frames as they are mostly overexposed and blurry from camera movement with a long shutter.

And there is the whole "light leak" problem that clearly did not disappear
I scanned the adjacent gap between frames to show the red streak that has plagued so many of my rolls of film.  The leak is either from the viewfinder being open in the sun, or from light reflecting inside the film box when I shoot with the sun to my right.  In any case, I just can't reliably use this camera in daylight, add to that the sometimes-sticking-shutter and the TLR is officially retired to my shelf of "I can't shoot with them but aren't they pretty?" cameras.

On to the successful part of the day, the Konstruktor!

First of all... NO LIGHT LEAKS (so far)  With no special taping, and with keeping the viewfinder open and turning the camera this way and that in the sunshine, I saw no evidence of light reflection or light leaks on any parts of my film.  It is such a relief!

As for the image quality, I do enjoy the nostalgic feel of the plastic lens and film combination.  The focus seems to be fairly accurate with what I saw in the viewfinder (though the viewfinder seems to be sharper than the resulting image)  I like the vignetting that I get from the lens, and I *love* that the film advance knob stops after each frame, so I'm not wasting film over-rolling or overlapping shots by under-rolling.

Here are some of my images from the botanical gardens
This is a meadow along the trail... testing the infinity focal length.

Here are ferns growing out the side of a tree trunk, testing the .5m focal length.  It looks like I get some depth of field on this setting

This is probably my favorite shot on the roll, again testing the .5m focal length

This was set to infinity... the little brown streak in the air near the center/bottom is actually a juvenile bald eagle riding thermals... I did curse under my breath for my decision to leave the big DSLR and lens at home, but this was only meant to be a quick stop to test the film camera. Still... birds!

This was an intentional double exposure

This was an accidental double exposure.  I'm not sure if I forgot to advance the film or if I hit the button accidentally while pulling the camera from its case.  

The next thing to test will be the bulb setting, and the challenge will be to remember to advance the film after each shot.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Konstrukting the Konstruktor

Ever since I was introduced to the Holga back in early 2000, I've enjoyed playing with lo-fi photography (or, lomography)  The quirkiness of each individual plastic lens and camera body makes for unique and sometimes surprising images, and working with film reminds me to slow my shooting process down, and take care with the limited amount of frames I have to work with on a given roll.  I've gone through several Holgas over the years, built a pinhole camera from a cardboard punch-out kit, and tried a few funky fisheye and extra-wide-angle plastic cameras just for fun.

Several years ago, I built a home made twin lens reflex camera from a kit that D bought for me.  Since then, the little black box has accompanied me on many adventures, producing unique images with a nostalgic feel.  The last few times I've brought it out, however, I've had an increasingly frustrating battle with red streaks across multiple frames of my film. While I understand that light leaks are "part of the personality" of a plastic camera, I really wanted cleaner shots... and I have spent a lot of time experimenting and running rolls of film, spreading gaffer tape over every crack and crevice that could possibly affect the film box to the point where the camera exterior was more tape than plastic.  I *thought* I had it beat....

...then I picked up my 2 rolls from my last trip, and it was filled with more "light leak" streaks that I've encountered yet with this camera.  I recall the sun's location when I was shooting the worst of the streaked shots, and I know that I had my camera inside my bag at all times outside of when I took it out to make a shot (in order to minimize potential exposure) so I've come to the conclusion that these are not leaks from the camera back.  The interior of the film box is quite shiny, and it looks as though I'm getting some kind of reflection from the front of the camera (in horror films, this would equate to "the call is coming from inside the house!")  It seems to happen in bright light when the sun is to my right, the angle seems to make the sun reflect off the interior when the shutter is released.

Coincidentally, I'd been eyeing the Konstruktor lomo kit for quite some time, but had held off buying it for myself because I rarely carry two kit cameras with me on any given trip.  Building another kit would require me to decide which camera I wanted to take with me, and I wasn't sure I was ready to give up on the TLR entirely.  The plethora of red streaks on my latest film helped nudge me in the direction of New Toy, and so, inspired by frustration, I clicked away and bought a Konstruktor.

The box says "build in 1-2 hours" which is initially true.  However as with other kit cameras, the instructions are somewhat minimal (more like pictures in a Lego set than instructions) Here is the initial build in high speed:


What I did not show in the video, however, was the first time I loaded the film and found that the film advance knob was locked up.  Admittedly, I had forgotten one gear for that part, and that was my first "take apart and rebuild" attempt, but the knob kept locking even with the proper gear in place.  I searched online, but could not find anybody else with the same problem, though I did find one person who suggested spinning the film take-up clockwise (even though the instructions, every other video, AND the camera's direction arrow clearly point counter-clockwise)  Clockwise didn't work either.  After much rebuilding and testing on my own with the back out of the camera, I concluded that two wheels needed to move together, and the "film counter" disc in between was preventing that from happening.  Every review online said that the film counter was not accurate, and my TLR never had a film counter anyway, so I opted to remove it... which seems to have resolved the sticking issue.

Stickers on to personalize the camera, and I have my new toy:

I have loaded film for testing, so fingers are crossed that I've built it correctly.  I plan to take it out in bright conditions if possible to check for light leaks (aka "personality") and will go from there.

The mystery of my TLR does still bother me.  I have poked and prodded and removed lenses and tested it with a flashlight and the red streaks still make no sense.  I seal Every. Single. Seam. with gaffer tape and still end up with streaks.  I am tempted to load one last roll in the TLR and shoot alongside the Konstruktor, in the same conditions, and maybe even wave it around in bright light just to see if it really is an internal issue.  This is one downside to the TLR as compared to the Konstruktor... the TLR doesn't come apart quite as easily and so unbuilding/rebuilding is not much of an option.  I admit, I'm tempted to start another TLR from scratch as well, but I think I'll do one last test on my current one instead.  Maybe I forgot one crucial piece of tape last time I was out.... just to ensure I'm not going crazy, I'll take pictures of it with my cell phone so I *know* for sure what is taped shut. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Christmas Crafting

I have this annual problem as the holidays approach, which is to build laughably long lists of projects to make as gifts for friends/family.  It is not so much that I have more ideas than my schedule allows to make them, it is more like I have more ideas than time exists in which anybody could make them.  Even if I had no job, no responsibilities, and no housework, I could not complete all the projects I think of because I have just Too Many Ideas.

Thanks a lot Pinterest!

(and magazines, and crafting books, and supplies handed down to me by Mom...)

Even when I make my list "realistic", I never reach the end.  Once school starts in September, it is just an out of control train of activity, from school sports to Halloween events, to kid's birthday, to Thanksgiving, to Christmas.  Woo Woo! (that was a train whistle)

This year, however, I refocused my energy, lightened up my schedule by replacing huge Halloween and Birthday events with smaller get-togethers, and came up with a few portable craft ideas which I could work on at sports events.  With those changes, plus joining a craft club to keep me focused and pretty much abandoning all TV watching, I found myself able to accomplish a respectable amount.  (though still not All The Things)

Embroidered towels - this idea came to me from wandering through the craft store's embroidery section.  It was a tradition in our house to have sets of towels embroidered in the corners (one set of which I still own and use, which was embroidered by my mom)  I wanted to incorporate some Zentangle in my gifts this year as well, so this seemed a perfect fit.  I drew the tangle pattern on paper using a thicker pen, making it roughly the size of the embroidery hoop.  I transferred the pattern using carbon paper, and then embroidered away.  There was another towel which I neglected to photograph before giving it away, and a fourth which is still in the hoop because I didn't finish it in time for Christmas.  This is the project I brought with me to G's sporting events to work on in between her playing. 

I love doing the paint-your-own ceramics, and have saved many painting idea/inspirations on Pinterest.  The set of plates is for a neighbor of mine... I'd painted a platter for myself a few years ago which shows a tree bent in the fall, the leaves blowing off.  She compliments it highly every time she comes over, so I decided to do a set of plates for her from a similar inspiration.  The set of plates depicts one tree in the changing seasons (in case the theme isn't obvious)  The vase below was painted for D for Christmas, inspired by designs I've seen on Pinterest.  I do like the way the clouds came out.  I suppose I did a weather theme without really realizing it.

Last year I bought up two sets of Melissa Frances glass ornament dome kits, and put them to use this season.  In my efforts to find a tiny nativity scene worthy of the pretty glass, I discovered French Feves... teeny tiny porcelain figures usually used to bake into an epiphany cake in France.  I bought a few kits on Etsy (straight from France!) and also a few individual feves which really spoke to me.  The ornaments above were inspired by and made for individual friends of mine.
I made my own French Feve parrot ornament for myself (unfortunately it dropped during our un-decorating of the tree, and the dome is now cracked, the parrot is laying down.  I'll repair it next year)  I made the bear ornament as my annual bunco ornament exchange contribution - this one was inspired by (and supplies purchased at) my favorite craft store/money pit.  It had originally been opened by my good friend, who immediately recognized that I must have made it, and we made eye contact from across the room.  Then it was sadly stolen from her (but by another friend who really appreciates bears, and really did adore this little guy)  I happened to have picked up duplicate supplies, with the intention of making a bear dome for myself (because Cute Bear!) but instead I used the supplies to make a duplicate for my good friend.  I suppose that could be considered "cheating" the bunco exchange, but people also declare where they bought their ornaments in case anyone wants to buy something they saw, so... all is fair in my opinion.

The craft store was sold out of the adorable bears, so I needle-felted myself a little cardinal and set him into a dome ornament for myself instead.  (This was my project for our December crafting club meeting)

I am most proud of the two sets of coasters I made for D for Christmas.  The idea came to me early on... I've attempted several types of tile coasters in the past, all with poor results, but after a little research I found people had been able to create the look I was going for using resin instead of modpodge like medium, so I headed to the art store for resin kits.  There I found actual coaster kits, with holders and all, just above the resin.  It's like they knew I wanted to make coasters!  
I made two sets, one with 4 images from Jamaica, and one with 4 images from Kauai.  Printing, trimming, and gluing the photos onto the coasters was easy.  I painted over the photos with a layer of mod-podge as well, however the paint strokes did show a little in spots, so I wouldn't recommend doing that... just glue them down all the way to the edges really well, the resin will coat the images nicely.
(I regret that I didn't take photos during this process... I really had to sneak it in without D noticing, so I had very little time in which to work)
The resin did not smell nearly as much as I thought it would, though I still did the resin part inside a bathroom with the vent fan going and a window open just in case.  I set the coasters on small wooden blocks inside of the lids of banker's boxes (to catch the drips), mixed the resin, and poured.  I did the 8 oz kit, which was well more than I needed for the 8 coasters.  After pouring the resin and smoothing it out, gravity pretty much does the rest.  I tried and tried to scrape the drips off the bottom of the coasters, but it kept dripping and once it was set, the bottoms of the coasters had bumpy resin bits.  
My solution to the resin drips on the bottom was to put the scraping blade on my Xacto knife and pop them off, which also took off some of the white paint on the coaster.  (note: use the scraping blade like a planer, scraping away from your body, NOT the pointy one... I started with the pointy one, it slipped and stabbed me in the thumb)  My original plan had been to attach little felt feet to the bottoms, however with the paint scraped they looked beat-up.  After starting to paint the bottoms (which looked uneven at best) I realized that I could just cover the entire bottom with felt instead, so that is what I did.

Here is a close-up of my favorite coaster - notice the teeny tiny helicopter in the shot :)

Outside of gifts, I also worked on my own projects... completing two buildings for my Christmas village.  A little house (colors somewhat based on our own house colors)

The gingerbread bakery (because SO CUTE!)

My village has expanded in size, now requiring a larger space and more lights.  
Inspired by a friend of mine, I hang my Enterprise ornament over the village.  I've often joked about making an Away Team for my village, and this year I decided I should paint some villagers with Star Trek uniforms, as my Away Team incognito.  I was unable to start that project this year, but I already have a Riker and Westly in mind for next year.

I managed to paint just one ornament for myself this year... a little black-capped chickadee who happens to be a Gryffindor.  (I am nerding out our Christmas stuff in subtle ways)

Done back in in the fall... I also gifted out jars of home made jalapeno/anaheim chile jelly, made from peppers grown in pots in my yard.  My grand hope this year is to have a proper garden again, with herbs galore, so that I can return to gifting home grown items to friends again.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


After several years with little to no attention paid to my blog, I've decided to get back into blogging again, but in a different direction.  To that end, I've wiped the slate clean and am reconstructing my site.