Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Notes on Notebooks

P1030479a Typecast115 P1030477a Typecast116 Post-Script: About the Hipster PDA, I realize now that starting with 5" x 7" lined index cards and cutting them in half to make 3-1/2" x 5" cards would make for the perfect hip-pocket sized PDA, with the lines oriented correctly for writing. Perhaps I'll try this at some future date.

When I was using a Hipster PDA more faithfully, I made one with a front and back cover made from thin aluminum sheets, bound with a closeable binder ring via holes punched in the upper left corner, and the corners rounded to make them less sharp. I subsequently archived these old index cards in a file box arranged by date.

Regarding the linoleum-stamped notepads I made yesterday, the ink used is water soluble, and in order to prevent fading or running of the ink (which can happen in one's back pocket due to perspiration) I covered each logo with a square of clear, 2"-wide packing tape, the poor man's lamination machine.

As for the size of the strips of paper used in making the notepads, dividing the 11" side into three equal portions came out to each being 93mm in width; I made a typographic error and subsequently hand-scrawled a virtually illegible correction.

 I should also get one of those quarter circle punches for making neat, radiused corners in the pages, rather than the crudely cut method I did here. I can see another trip to Hobby Lobby in my near future. I also realize that if I get any more serious in block printing I'd need to consider a hand-operated press, especially for wood block prints. Perhaps a makeshift press made from an automotive jack? Sounds like another DIY project.

Additionally, here's a nice article on notebooks from Rand at Rand in Repose.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Typecasting the Grind





Post-Script: The second image was taken of the Albuquerque High School building just after it was converted to loft apartments, recorded with a 5" x 7" pinhole box camera using grade 2 B/W photo paper negatives, inverted in Photoshop into a positive image, made a few years ago. I had to dig through my archive hard drive to find this image.

Typecast via Royal Mercury. In the top photo of the Daily Grind coffee shop, to the right of the entrance you can just glimpse a view of the little glassed-in alcove where I sat. Very cozy. I plan on making many return pilgrimages back downtown to do more typecasting here. And also to drink some very good lattes.

Oh, about that term "Burque": it seems someone came up with that as some sort of hipster shorthand for "Albuquerque." I first saw it in a local free alternative newspaper, the Weekly Alibi, a few years ago. Funny thing is, being a 3rd (almost 4th) generation local, I never heard it before, nor have I heard anyone use it in conversation.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Containing the Collection



Along with the Corona 4 at the top, the rest of the Keepers:
(Olympia SM9)

(Underwood Universal)

(Olivetti Lettera 22)

(Royal Mercury)


Those I'm not so sure about:
(Olivetti Underwood 21)

(Royal Futura 800)

(Remington Ten Forty)


Post-Script: Really, going through the collection today to photograph them, they really don't take up all that much space, truth be told ... provided I don't acquire any more, and provided I don't need any more closet space for anything else, ever in my whole life.

Images via Lumix G5, typecast via Olympia SM9.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Traveller

The Traveller
"The Traveller," Part 1

"The Traveller," Part 2All Along the Watchtower

Quarai Mission Ruins

The Road Beckons

Post-Script: The contents of the mysterious box are at the lab, being processed. Images via tintype lens in Hipstamatic app on iPad2, typecast via Olympia SM9 and shot using Lumix G5 and 14-45mm lens, processed in Filterstorm app on iPad2.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

About Pinhole Photography


I sometimes get interesting feedback, usually after someone’s asked me what I’m doing this weekend and I’ve replied that I’m going to do some pinhole photography. It’s typically one of two responses, either “Oh, I used to do that as a kid,” or “Pinhole photography, what’s that?”

It’s not like I’ve actually done any pinhole photography lately, however. I think the last time was mid-2012. There was a time, maybe five years ago, when the majority of my spare creative time was spent either building pinhole cameras or making images with them. And then my photographic interests continued to expand to include digital image-capture, roll-film cameras and large format lens-based photography. Too many irons in the fire, perhaps?

What brought this to mind was, over on F295’s pinhole photography discussion forum, a long-time member had commented that they missed my once-regular paper negative pinhole landscape images. I’ve found that, over the years, what motivates me is often the desire for recognition by other peers in the field, of which online specialty discussion forums, like F295, are invaluable for cultivating a creative subculture and providing encouragement to the otherwise lone practitioner. This kind of encouragement is just what I need to get back in the game.

So, just what is pinhole photography, you might ask? It’s simultaneously simple and complex.


There is no simpler type of photography than pinhole. Just a light-tight enclosure (“camera” in Latin means room or chamber) with a light-sensitive surface in one side (film, photo paper or a digital sensor) and a tiny aperture in the other, through which light is projected to form a recordable image. Really, that’s all any camera actually is, in essential functionality, after you’ve removed all the bells and whistles.

Many people consider the simplest form of photography to be the most convenient, like pulling out your cell phone and instantly capturing some scene that can be, within seconds, uploaded to one’s breathlessly awaiting public. Convenient and expedient, yes; simple, no. For all of the complexity that makes digital photography convenient is hidden away inside tiny silicon microchips, out of sight as well as mind. The complexity of the process is concealed from the user, obscured by a false-front of artificially-contrived mediation.

With the pinhole technique, conversely, there is little mediation in the process, but rather a direct connection between the objective reality being depicted and the subjective representation being created. All of it, from the making of the camera, to the fine-tuning of the process, to the development and printing are all hands-on-intensive activities that require an exacting focus upon the materials and methods, and an investment of time, but which in turn reward the practitioner immeasurably.

The most essential question about pinhole photography is how a mere hole can form an image at all. For me, this is one of the most mysterious and yet satisfying parts of the entire process, for it gets down to the essential properties of light itself, its dual nature that’s simultaneously particle- and wave-like.


I’m not a quantum physicist; neither is an education in optics a prerequisite for creating great pinhole images. But I’ve found that a basic description of the principles, though technically simplistic, will suffice to serve as a layman’s explanation.

The basic reason a pinhole casts a coherent optical image has to do with projection. Light reflects off every point of an object’s surface in multiple directions and angles, like small particles traveling in numerous straight lines, but an extremely small hole only permits a narrow range of perspectives to pass through the pinhole aperture onto our film plane inside the camera. How small of a hole, and its uniformity and thinness, affects the quality of the image projected.

Conversely, think instead of a large hole in our camera, too large to form a sharp image. Objects will appear fuzzy in our picture because a wide variety of images, each from slightly different angles, are all simultaneously being projected in an overlapping blur. But as we decrease the size of the hole, the image gets sharper because the range of various overlapping images is reduced. If we were to further reduce our pinhole’s diameter to almost infinitely small, we could imagine images nearly as sharp as a glass-lensed camera. But we can’t, because other factors come into play.

Light, like all wave phenomena, has this curious property of bending around edges and corners. The cone of light passing through our pinhole aperture has a part of it that is near enough to the edge of the hole so as to be bent, which is called diffraction. The amount of diffraction has to do with how much of the light passes near enough (within a wavelength or so) to the edge, as compared to the rest of the light bundle that passes more through the middle of the pinhole aperture, missing the edge entirely. If we start with a large-diameter hole, a majority of its light bundle entirely misses the edge, with only a small fraction passing near enough to cause a tiny bit of diffraction in the image. But as the size of the pinhole is decreased, the perimeter area of the hole that causes diffraction begins to dominate over the central area that’s unaffected. Make the hole small enough and virtually all of the light passing through comes close enough to the edge to be diffracted.


You may by now notice that there are these two competing principles at work to affect the sharpness of our pinhole picture: projection and diffraction. Projection has to do with the particle-like property of light and is affected by the size of the hole and the distance from the hole to the film, with the smaller aperture producing a sharper projected image, while diffraction has to do with the wave-like property of light and is affected by the wavelength of light and the size of the pinhole, with the smaller aperture producing more diffraction, tending to soften the image.

If you were to graph both of these phenomena together, you’d see that where the two curves cross is a point of optimal system sharpness, representing the best compromise between diffraction effects and projection effects, accounting for both the wave-like and particle-like dualities of light, and that for any given focal length of camera and wavelength of light there is one optimally sized pinhole.

Of course, you don’t have to bother with all of this talk about photons and diffraction effects to make great, compelling images, unless a somewhat sharp image is important to the kind of pictures you create. Many great pinhole images are created with little concern for optimizing the camera’s pinhole size. But there are many of us in the world of pinhole photography to whom crafting a finely-tuned pinhole camera, one that makes compellingly sharp images, represents an irresistible challenge.

However, there are other parameters in the picture-making process that can induce negative consequences onto the overall image quality besides pinhole size. Shutter speed is one such parameter. Even with fast photographic films, exposure times can often be on the order of a minute or more, meaning that any slight movement of the camera can blur the image from its optimal sharpness. Even atop a sturdy tripod, soft ground can cause the tripod legs to settle over time, or wind gusts can vibrate the camera sufficiently to cause motion-induced blur. And the larger the camera the bigger the problem, which is one reason why there appears to be an upper practical limit on format size in real-world conditions.


Relating to exposure, I like to think of pinhole photography using another analogy, that of the garden hose and bucket. Let’s say you have a bucket which you need to fill up. The bucket is your image, the size of the bucket being how much visual information is present in the image. You have to fill up the bucket using a garden hose. The size of the hose is your pinhole aperture and the time required to fill the bucket is your shutter speed. The total volume of water used is your overall exposure, while the pressure of the water in the garden hose is the brightness of the scene being photographed.

You can use fast-speed film, which is represented by a small bucket. It doesn’t take as long to fill up, because its volume is small, but it contains less visual information. A larger bucket, represented by slower film, contains more information, but takes longer to fill up.

There’s a third factor in this garden hose analogy, which is evaporation. If your bucket is too large and your garden hose too skinny, it takes the bucket so long to fill up that, while it’s filling, some of the water is evaporating out of it, meaning you have to add some additional exposure time to account for the difference. In photography, we call this “reciprocity failure,” and happens more so with film and less so with photo paper.

One of the temptations, after getting obsessed with pinhole photography, is to want to make the largest, sharpest pinhole camera possible. But there are practical limits to how far you can successfully take this and get meaningful improvements.


Because the exposure we give to the light sensitive media inside the camera is related to the area of our pinhole aperture and the time the aperture is open, a larger sized camera format, optimized for sharpness will, with its larger surface area, require a longer exposure time, all else being equal.

Knowing that there’s an upper limit to how fast we can record an image in a pinhole camera, the larger film format gives more chance for the tripod to shift position or the camera to vibrate in the wind, further reducing the information throughput of the system. The larger, heavier camera also requires a steadier tripod, adding even more weight. For this reason, it becomes necessary to define a practical upper limit to how big of a film format you wish to employ, striking a fine balance between quality and practicality. For cameras that employ sheets of film or photo paper, that are subsequently either scanned or contact printed for output, I’ve found a practical balance to be in the 5”x7” format or thereabouts, with an upper limit around the 8”x10” size.

But for other people, portability and practicality trump overall image quality, a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way, of which I’m reminded of the time that my wife and I hiked up to the top of Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park, during the middle of a Utah summer, she lugging the heavy Bogen tripod and I the large 8”x10” box camera, backpack and changing bag. An exercise in pinhole extremism, for sure. Though the pictures were satisfactory, I’m doubtful they were any better than if I’d been employing a carefully optimized camera of a smaller sized format, because of the wind atop Delicate Arch that day.

Conversely, I’m reminded of what operating near the lower limit of the format-size spectrum is like, when I read of people being disappointed by the results from attaching a pinhole aperture to their digital SLR camera, the problem being that, even in the case of a so-called “full-frame” camera, a 24mm by 36mm image area is pretty small and, for a normal angle of view, the focal length so short that the optimal focal ratio (the ratio of focal length divided by pinhole diameter) amounts to barely over f/100. Compare this to a 5”x7” format pinhole box camera whose optimal focal ratio is around f/300, resulting in a sharper image that’s also much larger.

There’s much more to write about regarding pinhole photography and too little space or time for you to comfortably digest, so perhaps I’ll post more at a later date. In the meantime, this lengthy essay serves not only as motivation for you to begin your own journey in pinhole photography, but is really just further reason for me to get outside in the near future, to somewhere scenic, with a box camera and paper negatives (or that newly-purchased Holga and some 120-format color film) and create some new images myself. Which, if I do, I’ll be sure to share with you the results.

Post-Script: I wrote this piece last week and worked on revisions earlier this week, using iAWriter on the iPad2, but had sent the roll of Kodak Ektar 100 film to the lab in the mean time, shot on my Holga 120 format pinhole camera. I was pleased enough with the results to include some images herein, scans of luster-finish prints. The camera was tripod mounted for all of these images, exposure times being around 3 seconds each.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013






Post-Script: I had The Line Writer (my grandson) sit down tonight and type a blog posting (on the Olympia), which he hasn't done for a while. He commented how much he liked its ease of typing and, with the endless roll of paper, he says you just can't stop typing.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Better Call Saul



Typecast via Underwood Universal, photo via Lumix G5

Friday, February 01, 2013

Gone Forever - Once Again

P1160271a This last autumn, Airship Ventures ceased operations from their south San Francisco Bay area base. Their one-of-a-kind Zeppelin NT airship was dismantled and shipped back to German from whence it was built. The firm cited, in their reasons for ceasing operation, lack of consistent corporate support. Instead of being funded by proceeds derived from corporate branding (which was one of the firm’s primary goals in their business model), the semi-rigid airship was used primarily for site-seeing ventures, paid for by private individuals whose cost per flight was high enough to warrant the image of an exorbitant luxury rendezvous for the wealthy, yet never generating the kinds of revenue required for long-term sustainability.

Once again in their long, troubled history, passenger airships have disappeared from the scene.

On paper and in the bright, shiny laboratories of theoretical conjecture the airship seems like a concept ideally suited to the future transportation challenges facing our technological culture. They can fly faster than a ship can sail, delivering air freight at a cost cheaper than jet aircraft, consume fuel more economically than any other form of motorized air transport and are able to float in midair without the expenditure of additional energy. They seem almost magical, as if in their employment some law of nature were being sidestepped, hinting of some improbably futuristic science-fiction brought into conventional reality.

Yet the airship has consistently failed to live up to its promise, in its 120+ year history, with the notable exception of the German Zeppelin airships, pre- and post-WWI. Those who have paid attention to airship developments over the intervening years, including yours truly, have been intermittently excited at the prospects of some new-fangled attempts at reviving the era of the great passenger airships, only to have their hopes dashed to pieces when said ventures failed to materialize.

On paper, the problem of building massive airships is a closed field, the technological problems involved being entirely solvable with today’s (not to mention yesterday’s) technology. Materials science and computerized design have advanced to the point where airships can be modeled and flown entirely in simulation, with the technical aspects of their safe operational envelope entirely understood. Their safe operation, however, will always be dependent upon a careful consideration of atmospheric conditions; airships are massive and buoyant, thus becoming one with the atmosphere.

Despite the continued legacy of spectacular historic airship wrecks, the central problem of flying airships has always been, and continues to be, one of economics. Even in the classic era of the German passenger airships the cost of airship development was underwritten by the German government, and in their formative years of development, pre-WWI, funded in large measure by the German public. It is doubtful whether, even in their heyday, passenger airships operated in the black.

Contrast this with contemporary heavier-than-air jet aircraft development, which appears, upon first glance, to at least turn a modest profit at the bare minimum. Yet one wonders how much of Boeing’s civilian airliner development costs, for instance, are shared with their more lucrative, profit-guaranteed military contract subdivision; and if perhaps the taxpayer indirectly underwrites Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner development project.

Operational costs of commercial aviation continue to rise with escalating fuel costs, labor and regulatory uncertainty and the need to upgrade the fleet every few years. Many carriers are barely turning a profit, while many more have already folded. In this troubling environment, the prospect of a successful passenger airship service seems naïve, at the very least.

Airships were flown long distances across oceans, spanning continents, in an era of the 1920s and ‘30s before rigidly enforced air traffic corridors were the norm, as they are today. Then, major storm systems were avoided by being flown round-about, in a direction to take advantage of tail winds. Now, today’s air traffic control system would require airships to stick to rigidly defined air corridors whose boundaries have little to do with the realities of weather systems, and is simply unrealistic given the airships vulnerability to winds.

And yet the dreamers (myself included) persist with their visions of behemoths floating in midair, of a more genteel and serene form of air travel, less harried and hassled; an air service for the upper classes, it would seem.

Despite their troubled past, there continue to be airship development projects in both the civilian and military sectors. Aeros is (as of this writing) finishing a novel rigid airship prototype in Tustin, California called the Pelican, while Lockheed Martin has already flow the P791 tri-hulled non-rigid hybrid airship, and recently flew (and crashed) the HALE-D high-altitude airship prototype. Several other military airship projects have been recently proposed and canceled, or came to a tragic end.

Rumors also persist, within the fringe community, of enormous secretive black triangle-configured aircraft that some insist are buoyant using lighter-than-air principles and incorporate some novel UFO-inspired propulsion system. Though these rumors are most likely false, one is reminded of the present-day helium shortage and its similarity to the carbon fiber shortage of the 1980s that was exacerbated by the materials requirements of the then-secretive stealth aircraft development programs. Sometimes there’s a grain of truth at the core of every conspiracy theory.

Throughout the 230 years of Lighter-Than-Air flight, balloons and airships have never proven themselves capable of providing the quick, expedient air travel that customers now expect. The era of week-long transoceanic voyages is passed and people demand quick travel to and from any corner of the globe. Airships are simply too slow, fly too low and are too vulnerable to the kinds of weather systems encountered in the lower troposphere.

But so what? Rocket ships have not displaced bicycles for recreational travel either, for example. So why not recreational LTA flight, like what Airship Ventures was promoting? The problem always comes down to money, it seems. Though the Zeppelin NT was the most advanced airship ever flown, and had an impeccable safety record, economics ruled the day. It was simply too expensive to operate, even with $500-per-hour passenger rates, to stay financially afloat.

But there are other flight profiles better suited to the airship’s capabilities, like surveillance and long-endurance patrols, which might help explain the recent interest by the Pentagon in LTA craft.

Perhaps there will a time in the future, after the global petroleum supply has peaked and world economies are struggling to find technological solutions to intractable problems, when lighter-than-air craft might once again ply the skies, sipping fuel and offering mankind one last opportunity to remain solvent as a technological species. The hypothetical airships of that future might not use helium for buoyancy, due to its scarcity, but some technique of safely using hydrogen could be employed, perhaps using some exotic method like nitrogen encapsulation or even a proton gas of ionized hydrogen, contained within an electrostatic field.

Or, perhaps not; it might also be possible that the era of the airship has forever passed into history, to be resurrected periodically only in the imaginations of us airship fanatics, in the form of models (like the one pictured above). But at least we can dream, for that is what airships are like, giant dream-like clouds floating in the sky, inducing the daydreamer to his fantasies.