Monday, January 23, 2017

Graflex Pinhole Lessons

Last August I took a Girl's Weekend road trip with my daughter while my husband entertained some buddies of his at our house.  G and I picked a few new spots on the Olympic Peninsula to visit, and while I had intended to do an entire post just on that trip, my family events overwhelmed my time.  Suffice it to say here, we found a few lovely spots - Cape Flattery, the Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest, and the Tree of Life in Kalaloch - which we intend to go back and visit again in the future.  Maybe I'll find time to do a trip report later, but for the time being let me just insert a piece of advice: Port Angeles is an excellent "home base" in which to explore this region, however it is very difficult to find a decent meal west of Port Angeles, so pack picnic food in your car accordingly.

I bring this trip up because it was my first real outing with Clunky, the converted Graflex pinhole, and I'm starting this post with a shot from that trip.

This is the Cave Tree, also called the Tree of Life, in Kalaloch Washington.

With this roll of film I feel that I managed to get the exposure correct.  It was a difficult shot to meter due to the rolling fog and misty conditions, but I concentrated on the bark of the roots.  The framing needs work, though.  I use the viewer on the top of the camera (it's a little rectangular optic that is supposed to let you aim without using the glass plate on the camera) however it seems to  show more of the ground than what I recall framing with the viewer.

Fast forward to my New Years trip to Kauai... which also happens to be the next time I used Clunky.  Having had 4 full months between usage, I lost a lot of my mental process notes.  Thankfully I had decided to pack some Kodak Ektar 100 speed film for it.  Originally I decided this because I thought the sunshine would be so bright that I would need a lower speed film than my Ilford 400.  

My first outing with Clunky was during our walking tour of the McBryde gardens on the south end of Kauai.  The day was overcast and parts of the gardens were thick with trees, so I loaded Ilford 400 first.

This is the straw hut in the McBryde gardens, which is admittedly my main inspiration for wanting to go to these particular gardens.

This session started in a frustrating way.  I hadn't gone over my process notes prior to the trip, or even prior to the drive to the gardens, and once I was on location I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the circumstances.  I expected most of the garden to have paved paths, but it was mostly dirt paths which were muddy from recent rains.  The day was mostly lovely, but had passing rain showers which made me anxious about my equipment.  I forgot the thin hiking towel I normally bring to set my gear down on, so I could only put my bag down in red mud.  It was hot and muggy once the rain showers passed.  The mud and the rain made me feel clumsy, and I felt D and G were ready to move on before I could even properly set up my tripod.  
They were very patient with me, but as I lined up my shot I couldn't help but feel I was forgetting something.  That "something" (I later realized) was that I wasn't lining up the shot with the viewer on the top of my camera.  It is difficult to miss it, but somehow I just looked past it.  I did have a vague recollection that the camera tended to aim low, but even so I didn't seem to correct it as much as I thought I was.  This is the only shot I got of the hut where I didn't cut the roof off.

Oh, and also, I didn't compensate for reciprocity failure.  For the whole trip.  I only remembered that part of the process when I was on the flight home.  *facepalm*  

First lesson:  I need to write down my process for each camera, laminate the card, and carry it with me.  This camera shoots lower than what I am aiming at, and I need to keep that in mind when I frame my shot.

A few days later we headed to a sunny beach, so I used the last of the B&W roll then loaded some Kodak Ektar 100.

Lesson 2 - color film goes to the lab.  The lab processes on a C-41 machine, which means they need to pull a bit of the film out to attach it to the card that pulls it through the machine.
Every color roll has the first frame partially exposed like this.

This is something I possibly *could* have anticipated if I had thought back to my years at the photography studio, however that was a long time ago, and those camera backs gave us enough space on the end of the roll to load the film.  My Graflex back lines up the first shot practically on the edge of the roll of film, and leaves about an inch of space on the other end.
The simple fix is roll the film a little further when loading, prior to setting the film exposure counter dial on the top.  This is a step to add to my process notes.  I've decided I will also expose my first shots twice, just in case they get a little crazy with pulling the film out to load it into the C-41.

This is a shot that had been badly exposed on the edge.  I can still get a square format out of it, and sadly I only took one shot of this view so this is all I have, but I would have loved a full size image of this scene.

Lesson 3: I think I prefer color out of this camera more than black and white.

As convenient as it is for my impatience to get the (relatively) instant gratification of developing my own B&W film at home immediately after shooting... the effects of the long exposure in color are so much more enjoyable to me.  I have some wave photos I shot in black and white, but they just end up looking sort of blurry.  The color in this shot shows the undertone of blue beneath the white foam from the water lapping over the rocks, and the hint of warm sand in the thinnest parts of the waves.  It gives it almost an impressionist feel.

I've scanned all my film from the trip and edited down my favorite shots.  Towards the end of the trip I started feeling like I was doing more deliberate composing, but in retrospect I feel like the timing of my shots was still a little poke-and-hope.  I was calculating the exposure time, but I wasn't thinking about what the exposure length was going to do to the shot.  This last beach scene makes me realize that I really love the effect of the 5 second exposure, the waves are smoothed but still show motion.  And in hindsight I realize... this doesn't have to be poke-and-hope... I have the capability with my DSLR to set up the shot, calculate the exposure, then change my DSLR settings to the same exposure length and take a digital shot so that I can get an idea of how the movement might play on film.

So: I need to make notes on loading and exposure process.  Shoot the first scene twice, just to be safe.  Color film is preferable to show motion.  Test shot on the DSLR to get an idea of movement.

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