Friday, October 12, 2018

A Very Harry Halloween

I belong to my neighborhood Bunco group, which meets once a month (it's a dice game I can't explain quickly, so google it if you are curious)  We all take turns hosting at each other's houses, and I regularly sign up to host October so that I have an excuse to decorate my house for Halloween.  This year, while browsing Pinterest for Halloween ideas, I came across an entrance to Platform 9 3/4 that I thought looked cool, and from there my mind took a flying leap down the rabbit hole of Harry Potter Decorating Ideas.
(I'm fortunate that my co-host doesn't seem to mind my enthusiasm for themes!)
For much of the theme, I was able to draw from our existing inventory of Halloween decorations, it was simply a matter of grouping and organizing.  I had a few projects that were planned and then changed, a couple ideas that came up during the project shopping, and a couple ideas that were scrapped.
So, without further ado... here are the photos from my Very Harry Halloween!
The evening begins with the entrance through Platform 9 3/4.  I was originally going to sew a curtain and paint it to look like brick, then I discovered this photography backdrop for only $18.00 (less than what I would have paid for the fabric paint)  I purchased the platform decal on online as well, and set it up on my photo backdrop stand.  (alternatively, I've seen people mount this in their doorway with a shower curtain rod)  The backdrop is vinyl, so I was able to cut up the center without any fraying of the edges.  Bonus - no wind on Bunco night, so it hung straight!

Professor Trelawney, at your service!  My costume was fairly simple - top and skirt bought online, I removed the last layer of the skirt (which was - of course- too long) and used that as the orange headband, and I wore several long silver necklaces, my own glasses (which happen to be the correct color) and comfortable shoes. 

Bonus points for the person who can spot the other fandom in the costume.

The crystal ball is actually used for photography, I did purchase it for the costume and will be using it on future photography outings

The front hall contains the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets and various HP critters

Nagini presides over the Chamber entrance

Looking over the edge of the chamber, it is a long way down.
D made this bottomless pit back in 2009 or so, as soon as I started thinking about a Harry Potter theme, I realized this can be the Chamber entrance.  I just wish I could have fit it inside the bathroom!

A few editions of the Daily Prophet and some wanted posters

Spiders flee from the monster which resides in the Chamber

A niffler is ready and waiting for the bunco money

If you have any letters to send, the owls in the owlery are ready to oblige.

Just off the front hall is the girl's bathroom... (simple window pen from the party store)

Moaning Myrtle is a new addition this year, I printed her onto a transparency and put her up using double stick tape

The family room is transformed into Snape's dungeon classroom

Detail of the mantel show the potions and ingredients (I printed the labels and bought a series of tiny bottles from the craft store)

Two of Harry's books (Quidditch through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts) are among the texts on the shelf (I already had these)  I did add embossing powder to the floo powder jar after I took this photo

Neville's toad, Trevor, sits beside a bubbling cauldron.
(the potion was created with a rotating pumpkin light and clear cellophane)

The dining room is Aragog's hollow. Done with spider webbing and large spiders which I already had in inventory
The lights in the jars are Fairy lights, similar to what Bill and Fleur had at their wedding.  I originally wanted the jars to have moss in them, however the moss was either too see through or too opaque, so I went back to fluffy clouds.

Aragog sits atop the bar



The living room showcases the candles that you would see in the Great Hall, and Hagrid's fire, where his dragon egg is getting ready to hatch

The "scales" wouldn't stick to the styrofoam dragon egg, so I had to cover it with silver tissue paper first, then roll it in the scales.  The fire is done in layers... underneath the wood is a rotating orange pumpkin light, the flames are tissue paper glued to an upside down clear plastic cup, each one sits over a flameless tealight candle. 

Bats taking off for the Forbidden Forest (not specifically part of the books, but I have them and put them up every year)

Crows hanging around Hagrid's pumpkins (I already had all of these decorations)

On the way to the kitchen you pass the closet under the stairs, where Harry's acceptance letter has been stuck to the door.  Inside the envelope is a print out of the letter.

Dinner is served in the Three Broomsticks (I know the brooms don't match the books, but I like the lights.  I made the sign by printing the label, aging the edges, the mod-podge it onto the wooden plaque)

Liquid Luck!

Refreshing Gilly Water

Harry's Patronus hangs over the head table (this was a last-minute addition to the decor, it is actually found in the Christmas section of the store.  I painted it silver.  By the way, see what I did there?  Head table?  Hahahahahaha)

The score sheets are printed on the 4 house colors, this is how players were sorted into their houses. (in hindsight, it was difficult to see the pencil on the darker sheets - if I did it again I'd put the house emblems across the tops of the sheets and print them on white paper)

Scabbers has been seen skulking around the grounds (A new purchase this year, just a common Halloween rat, I cut off the right index toe)

I couldn't resist this one.

Once the games began, I forgot to photograph the snacks we set out on the tables... I made little signs for them, pretzels were "magic wands", jelly bellies were "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans", Ferrero Rocher chocolates were "Edible Snitches" and mixed nuts were "Dragon Roasted Nuts"

The projects I didn't complete:
Turning the bird cage into a dementor - our bird cage sat in the corner of the living room with it's regular black cover over it.  I thought I could add a dementor head to the top, but I couldn't get the dementor to look right before game night.

Monster book of Monsters : I've seen DIY's about making one and they look SO FUN, but I just didn't have the time to do it correctly before game night.  I could still make it before Halloween though...









Saturday, October 06, 2018

Refining Processes in the Field

My goal this fall was to get in at least one productive outing with my P.120 camera so that I could gather more variety of images to use for my 2019 calendar.  I prepped my camera bag ahead of time and kept my eyes on my schedule and the weather forecast, and this past week the stars aligned for me on Thursday.  No appointments to be at, no evening events to be back for, and (as it turned out) no rain.

In anticipation of this outing, I made a few changes to my pinhole shooting processes.

First thing: I returned the center post to my tripod.


I had removed the center post last January (see my story about that here) so that I would be able to get my tripod down to ground level for more interesting camera angles, or extreme closeups using a macro lens.  It was effective, and also made the tripod slightly easier to pack in suitcases and lighter to carry.  The downside, however, was that when I shoot at high angles (which turned out to be 98% of my shooting) I would have to adjust all 3 legs to make any height adjustment.  I told myself this helped me stay "in the moment" longer in the field, but the reality is, sometimes I just want to bring the camera up 3 inches without a fuss.  The piece that makes ground-level shooting possible is a disk and bolt which is smaller than the palm of my hand, so I found a small pocket in my camera case to keep it safe.  Now I can shoot with the full tripod, and if I come across a situation where I want to be ground level, I can just remove the center post as-needed and use the disc/bolt combo.

My second time-saving decision was to create a spreadsheet to help calculate the exposures.

This is actually something I've been meaning to do for a while.

I'll try to explain the need for this as briefly as I can.
My previous process to shoot pinhole went like this:
Take a reading of the light with my light meter (which hangs around my neck)
Go to the Pinhole app on my phone, and convert the reading from F/5.6 to F/200 to get the exposure length of time
Go to the film reciprocity app on my phone to then calculate the reciprocity failure of the film I'm shooting with.
Write down the exposure length, expose the shot.

This process required me to have my phone easily accessible and readable.  In sunny conditions I would have to turn up the brightness on my screen and huddle over my phone to create enough shade to read the settings.  Switching between apps could be time consuming if my phone decided to move slowly.  Sometimes I would forget to calculate the reciprocity failure.  Then there was always the worry of batteries getting low in the field.

With this chart, I take a meter reading for f 5.6 and look across to the film I'm shooting with to get the exposure time.  Done and done.  

If the calculations do not make sense, I'm happy to "talk shop" in the comments :)

My chart only includes two films because I made it just for this outing, I printed it out and it fits perfectly in the cover of the notebook I use to make notes on my exposures.  As I continue shooting with various films, I will add those reciprocity failure calculations.

These two adjustments made my time in the field far more productive.  I walked with the P.120 on the tripod and my DSLR on my shoulder sling, along with the green camera pouch attached to the belt of my camera bag for easy access to additional film.  For the DSLR I packed along my medium telephoto and macro lenses, which were accessible without taking off my pack, but as I was concentrating on landscapes for the P.120 I - once again - lugged along glass that I never used.  I brought my new photography crystal ball along with me as well, but never took it out.  In hindsight, I think I would have used it if I'd put it in the side pouch instead of in the main compartment of the camera bag.  Out of sight, out of mind I guess?  

My outing took me to Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.  The location itself deserves it's own blog post, but suffice it to say, I had plenty of variety in which to shoot, and my 3 hours of wandering the grounds have only barely scratched the surface.  Upon returning to the gate house I immediately signed up for an annual family membership.  I shot 3 rolls of film with the P.120, and only didn't shoot more because I already know I'll be returning as soon as I possibly can.  The maples haven't turned yet, and if I can get out there again in a few weeks I expect to see some astounding yellows and oranges. 

My film is at the processor, I expect to pick them up next week.  In the meantime, here are a few of scenes I captured with the DSLR
The Bird Marsh - the stillness of the water made for some amazing reflections

The Japanese Pond - surrounded by layers of green, the maples are just beginning to turn here.

The gardeners at the reserve have set up a squash scavenger hunt for fall. These are stuffed into the root system of a tree long fallen.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Calendar Contemplations

It is that time of year... as the weather turns to autumn and my outdoor adventures wane, I direct my attention to my archive of images and narrow down my decision on next year's calendar theme.

Do I use digital images?  Film?  Images from several cameras?  Should the theme be a subject (landscapes, oceanscapes, waterfalls, birds, trees?) or images of a certain style (Tilt-shift focus, panoramics, macro?) or images all from one camera (Graflex, Holga, Pentax, Vintage Kodak, The other vintage Kodak, pinhole, the other pinhole, the other other pinhole?)  Alternative process?  Black and white, or color?

I actually begin to consider the options in the spring every year, right around the time that the weather clears up enough for me to go on regular outings.  I run through the list above (perpetually adding to it all the while) and keep them simmering on the back-burner of my brain while packing my gear and while out in the field.  This past year I had become enamored with my Kodak Six-20 and had somewhat set it in my mind that 2019 would be a set of Vintage Kodak images - all I needed to decide was should they be color or black and white.  I thought this would simplify my decisions on which cameras to pack, it would lighten my bag to shelve the Graflex for a bit.  I took it on a couple outings and determined I liked how the color images were coming out, though I was disappointed that the lab I took my color film to repeatedly burned the first images on my rolls of film, so in the end I determined that I didn't want to deal with the hassle of the lab, and I'd just stick with black and white.

Then I attended the annual camera swap in Kent, and came away with a lovely - and perfectly functional - Kodak Brownie Hawkeye.  The simplicity of use, the light weight body, the crisp images... all made it difficult to stick with my original plan.  But I thought... I've already started collecting images with the Six-20, the Brownie will have it's turn later.
The Hawkeye is in the center camera.


It also made it difficult to stick to my "scale down the camera bag" goal, because the camera is just so lightweight and easy to use, why not toss it in the bag... "just in case"?  I confess I brought it along on local outings, where I was reminded that having too many cameras on hand makes me feel too scattered in the field.  So when it came time to pick which cameras were going to come on the Big Vacation with me, I reluctantly placed the Brownie on the shelf and kept my gear down to the DSLR, the P.120 pinhole, and the Kodak Six-20
Ready for some vintage shooting!

Unfortunately, I encountered some unforeseen frustrations while using this camera on my trip.  The first outing in which I used the camera was in a crowded park on the coast of Maui.  The day was a humid 95 degrees and I repeatedly had to remove my camera bag as I kept forgetting to pull out all the gear that I needed.  Once my necessities were finally settled, and I could concentrate on composition, I noticed the shutter on the Six-20 was sticking.  It took several frames for me to figure out that my shutter release cable - which up until that moment had worked flawlessly - was failing to trip the shutter.  I lost several shots as I worked out the kinks of this dilemma, which also meant I was having to reload film more frequently to reshoot images I thought I'd lost.  The shutter itself still worked, so long as I manually tripped it with the lever instead of using the cable.  My goal had been to capture horizontal images, which meant attaching the camera on it's side, which was less stable than the normal upright position.  Triggering the shutter manually required me to squat at an odd angle, wrapped around my tripod legs, to reach the lever and keep the rest of myself out of the frame.

Between the heat, the weight of the camera bag, and the awkward positions, I grew frustrated with the process quickly.  Add to that, I was swapping my P.120 camera onto the tripod and repeating the process of composition, calculation, and exposure of several scenes.

I continued to shoot with the Six-20 throughout the trip, though I know I didn't make nearly as many images as I would have if the shutter cable worked.  I had suspected that the humidity was too much for the gears, however the cable hasn't worked properly since we returned home... so that camera is relegated to being hand-triggered.

Upon returning from vacation, I dropped my color films off at my local lab, and set to work developing my black and whites from the Six-20.  I am reasonably pleased with the images that I did create with it, however the volume I'd hoped for just wasn't there, and several shots showcase an annoying light leak.  I knew I'd need to go on several more outings to build up enough inventory for a good calendar.
 
Banyan Tree Park, Lahaina, Maui.  95 degrees in the shade.

The tables were turned, however, as my color film began to come back from the lab.  I shot Fuji Velvia in my P.120, and the vivid colors, the 120 degrees of landscapes, they captured my attention and imagination.  I had at one time considered doing a panoramic calendar, but decided against it because I could not find a cost effective way to print - or mail - that awkward size.  If I used the conventional format that I've been using, each image would be framed by wide white bars on the top and bottom, or cropped to the point where it was no longer a panoramic view. My latest panoramics, however, inspired me to try to find a way to make it work.

As this potential complete-switch-of-gears simmered in my brain, I set to work to print some of my digital photos.  I had purchased coffee for some friends and family, and I thought it would be nice to add a few postcards from places I had visited, but rather than buy post cards I opted to print some from my own photos.  On each card I wrote a short blurb describing the location of the image and the circumstances of why or how I shot the image.  They were so well received that I had a flash inspiration... why not do that to my panoramic images for the calendar?  I can stick with the 1:2 format of the images and fill the white space with a similar blurb about the location and circumstances of each photo.  
To that end, I made a mock-up of what I thought it might look like:
I'm pretty sure I'll use this shot in the calendar, not sure if the blurb will be worded exactly this way, but it is an example of my vision.

Since creating the mock-up, I've been concentrating my photography-efforts on scanning, sorting, and editing my P.120 images.  While I technically have enough photos to fill a calendar, I'd like some more variety in the subjects, so my next task is to get in at least one - maybe two - more good landscape outings before the weather shuts me down entirely.

Going back to the Six-20, as sad as I am to shelve the camera, the benefit is that now I can bring along my Kodak Brownie Hawkeye guilt free.  It is light weight, takes the same hand-rolled 620 film that I already prepped for the Six-20, is easier to advance the film, takes no calculations to shoot with, and does not require a tripod.  This means I can have my DSLR around my neck, P.120 on the tripod, and Hawkeye in a side pouch - less setting-down of the camera bag means more time shooting. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

End of Summer Update

I know it is quite a leap from the beginning of spring to the end of summer.  Over the course of the last 5 months (and outside of the normal life school/work/household events) I have gone on two family vacations, joined an artist exchange group, and hosted a large multi-family gathering at our home.  Time for projects has been sporadic, and time to spend contemplating projects has been even shorter... hence the large lapse in posting.

Without further delay...

Sewing:

In April I completed a tote bag for my niece with the April birthday.  Unfortunately I failed to photograph it before sending it off.  In July I completed two more totes for my two nieces with August birthdays, and I did remember to grab a photo of those before wrapping them up.  The April tote was the same shape as these, done in a striped fabric with palm trees printed along the stripes.


Having less time where I needed to sit and wait for G, I spent less time working on the bird quilt... however just this past week I finally managed to finish up the last of the cardinals.  My next batch of bird squares shall be a set of three robins.



Photography:
Once again I attended the big annual camera swap in April.  I picked up a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye which is in fantastic shape (center below) and G picked up a Brownie (on the left) and a half-frame 35mm camera (on the right)  I've tested all the cameras... G's Brownie has a slightly sticky shutter, but her 35mm is perfectly functional and quite fun to use.  My Brownie is in great condition (even the handle, which is astonishing considering the age)  The viewer is a little dusty on the inside, but I've resisted the temptation to take it apart and clean it only because I don't want to mess up an otherwise functional camera.  



We took a short family vacation during Spring Break in April, where I took advantage of the wide open PNW shorelines to take some photos with my P.120 panoramic pinhole and my Kodak Six-20.  I also brought along my DSLR, as usual, and this trip became somewhat of an experiment in how to carry my gear during an outing, and how to make the swapping of cameras on the tripod more convenient.  
Unfortunately, the shutter on my P.120 stuck open partway through the trip, so I had to shelve that camera anyway.  The maker fixed it promptly once we arrived home, however I missed some lovely potential landscapes on the Oregon coast.  
P.120 in action

Kodak Six-20

Last Spring, of my fellow pinhole photography friends arranged for a group visit to a salvage yard a bit south of where I live.  Having seen several images of his from his previous trips, I was inspired to pull out my Polaroid Land camera and packs of expired film.  The Polaroid peel-apart film is no longer manufactured, and I'd been holding onto my stock of expired film for years, waiting for just the right subject.  I felt the moss-laden landscape and rusty car bits was a match for outdated film and a camera built in the same era as the cars I was photographing.  The full project plan was to take several Polaroid images of the cars, then take the images home and do emulsion lifts (lifting the image off the original paper and transferring it to a piece of watercolor paper, where I could then stretch and manipulate the image)


Photographing with the Land camera proved to be a challenge, in that I had not anticipated the amount of garbage produced by the film.  My previous experience with the film had been indoors, with a slide printer, and a handy garbage can nearby.  Out in the field it was a different story.  I had slung my DSLR over one shoulder, Polaroid Land camera around my neck next to my light meter, placed my P.120 on the tripod, stuck my Kodak Six-20 in a pocket, and held my Brownie Hawkeye in my hand.  I took my first Polaroid image, counted out the developing time, then peeled it apart... and stood there, wondering where I was supposed to put the sticky paper backing that I'd just peeled off the image.

I ended up folding the papers over and stuffing them into my other pocket, until the pocket became too full... then I'd pause to remove my camera bag and empty my pockets into one of the spaces inside the bag.  So, as a note on future Polaroid outings: bring a bag for the garbage, and a safe flat folder for the images.

The juggling of 5 cameras ended up feeling far too chaotic, especially with one of the cameras being as cumbersome as the Polaroid, but it was a great outing nonetheless, and I was very happy with the results of the Polaroid images.
Back home I pulled out my long-stored gear for doing emulsion lifts.  It only took one sample try to remember the technique and set to work.

Over the past few years I've not done a lot of printing, however joining the APEX artist exchange group has inspired me to do more with my work than just shoot it and store it away.  This is the grouping of images I put together for one of our meetings - examples of the same subject shot with a variety of cameras: Top image - P.120, lower left is Kodak Brownie, lower right is Kodak Six-20, and center is the Polaroid emulsion lift.

Incidentally... throughout the last spring and summer I had something of a battle with my local film developer.  My color film from the P.120 was coming back from the lab with the first image being burned due to the way they were loading it into their machines.  After several conversations, attempts on my part to push the film frames forward (which resulted in, to my great disappointment, several overlapped images) and many additional test rolls (accompanied by "promises" that the film would be loaded the way I'd requested) I sadly had to completely give up on the company.  It was a difficult decision, because I always enjoyed long conversations with all of the other employees in the place, but the one guy that works in the lab stubbornly refused to load my film from the tail end of the roll, and I just don't want to lose any more of my work.

The Junk yard outing showcased the importance of scaling back my gear for each outing to a practical amount.  Of course I'll always take my DSLR, but when it comes to film cameras I really needed to have a better system for camera swapping, and also it was necessary to scale back on the number of cameras on any given outing.  Because the plain truth is, once a camera is set on my tripod, I'm reluctant to take the time to swap it out, even when I'm out shooting on my own and don't feel the pressure of fellow travelers waiting on me.

I'd considered sewing a side pouch to clip onto the belt of my camera case, as a quick "side pocket" for swapping, however when digging through my gear closet I came out with this old little green camera bag, which had originally been designed to fit our first digital point-and-shoot.
The P.120 fit perfectly!

On to our big family vacation: Hawaii!  We spent two weeks in the islands, staying on both Maui and Kauai.  After much deliberation I had determined that I should leave the Kodak Brownie at home, and just bring the DSLR, P.120 (for the anticipated amazing volcanic landscapes) and the Six-20 (intended to be the images for my 2019 calendar)

I learned that I am wise to always bring my DSLR, as some of the amazing landscapes we visited were far too windy to set up any kind of tripod.  
On the cliff at 10,000 feet, trying to stay upright for the photo.

Although I had a good camera swapping option with my side pouch, I did run into a bit of a struggle with the Kodak Six-20.  The shutter stuck when I used the shutter release cable, so just a few days into the trip I had to change my strategy with shooting and hold the trigger manually.  The camera still worked, but this did make it more difficult to work with, and my patience with it waned as I stood in 95 degree weather, dripping sweat, trying to hold still while holding the shutter open.  
Meanwhile, given the subjects I'd be photographing, I opted for Velvia slide film for my P.120, which was developed by a lab in Seattle and (as they load the film correctly) I had zero burned images.  Upon arriving home from the trip and retrieving all my developed film, I found myself to be far happier with my P.120 images than those of the Six-20.  The film advance on the Six-20 is also rather difficult to manage when my arthritis is acting up, so I'm now leaning towards shelving the Six-20.  The good news is, this opens the door to popping my Brownie into my camera bag, and also leaves the P.120 to be the only camera I'd need to have on the tripod (unless I want to put the DSLR up for a panoramic digital shot)

As this post has gone on quite a bit more than I anticipated, I'll save my 2019 Calendar debate and photography site updates for another time.

Drawing:


I was given a lovely brush pen as part of a Christmas gift last year, then a local art studio held a class on travel sketching.  Inspired by both, I decided to try my hand at quick sketching with the brush pen.  The original idea had been to sketch while my camera is taking long exposures, therefore doing sketches that can be completed within about a minute, however I enjoyed it so much I began carrying the book around with me and sketching during all my travels.  Here are a couple of examples.


Also on the drawing front, I've picked back up my Zentangle gear.  The inspiration came from a combination of the quick travel sketches, my mention of Zentangle at the APEX meetings, and also the lack of photography outings during the summer (which was mostly due to the horrible smokey conditions we had throughout the wildfire season of August)  As I haven't managed time to print more photography to share, I thought I'd pull together some examples of Zentangle art to share at my next APEX meeting.



Summer's End

We really crammed a lot into the summer, ending with a long weekend visit hosting two families (total of 10 people in our house at once!)  It was a spectacularly lovely visit filled with games and food and family and fun.  Now as we settle into our new autumn schedule, I am wrapping up the summer adventures as I lay out my project plans for autumn and winter, with the hopes to be back here with updates a little more regularly.