Category Archives: technology

Creating the “100 Mile Runners Book”

100-mile-runner

Cover: Jussi Hamalainen, 66. 2012 Angeles Crest 100
Jussi has finished all 25 AC100s. He won it twice, and all but 4 of his
finishes were less than 24 hours. July 22, 2012. Loma Alta Park, Altadena CA.

I started this project in the summer of 2008. After fits and starts, I paused on it in November 2012. It was 100 pages, ambitious, and still not working. I paused to work on LA:2012.

Fast-forward to several weeks ago. I had a conversation with an outdoor lifestyle photographer I’ve worked with before. The project got new impetus when I realized it had to get done well before the end of June, when the 40th anniversary of the Western States 100.

I looked at what I’d done up to November—HATED IT. Too long, bloated , etc. Using the example of “La Jetee“, which incidentally, is one of the 10 best films ever made, and only 27 minutes long. Make it concise, direct, and emotionally powerful.

LAYOUT Tech Details

Using blurb’s Book Creator has accelerated things enormously. Ballpark the number of pages you’re going to need. Create the pages document.

bbc

Blurb Book Creator

Churn through your revisions, etc. When you get to final, this is where the fun starts. You’re going to want to upload a PDF file that is completely void of PostScript and OpenType references. Otherwise your PDF and ebook will suffer bizarro font substitutions.

  1. Go to the Book Creator and generate the appropriate cover art
  2. Revise and correct as necessary
  3. Make identical copies of both Pages and Cover documents
  4. Convert all fonts to outlines.
  5. All folios have to be outlined on each page, not on the master pages. Otherwise you’ll have the placeholder letter from whatever master-page you’ve used.
  6. Check, re-check and double-check that you don’t have text and caption boxes that got overlooked when you converted. These will pass the preflight, but will set off alarms at the ebook conversion part. The good news is that you’ve got 15 days to pay blurb before they flush your file. Don’t order anything until you’re absolutely sure that your files are clean. If you screw up, delete the file, correct, re-upload for free.

upload TECH DETAILS

Follow the blurb cues for pre-flighting and uploading your files. The image resolution preflight is solid. Now you’re ready to upload.

  • Write a snappy capsule description of your book. Have it ready in a free-floating text doc somewhere. You’ll be using it. When I’m uploading, I can brain-fart and forget something.
  • Have a tag list that describes your opus. Relevant descriptors like subject, location, details that will help people find your book.

If you have both a print book and an ebook, blurb has an annoying aspect that you cannot modify the description once both are uploaded. Sucks, but that’s a fact. You’ll have a URL for each format, like this for my book:

blurb ebook window

blurb ebook window

blurb book window

blurb book window

Hot pink circles show how the two different formats link up. Post both URLs, some people are gonna want one and not the other.

Now, on to the next project.

Due Diligence

rail crossing

Rail crossing, San Joaquin Valley, Dec 2010

Over the years at various jobs, I had downtime. Sometimes for several minutes, occasionally for days, even a week or two. Reading the papers got old. So I began to practice working on problems.

In the paste-up days, I’d xerox and make assemblages. It kept me nimble. Later when the agency I worked at went digital, I’d set up problems and situations for myself in Quark. Yes Quark, the Error 39 Dark Star of my firmament. While the guys next door were sitting in their office with their fantasy baseball leagues, I was skulling out the business of how this goddamned program worked.

Sooner rather than later, I began to encounter actual old-school typographers who’d washed up into ad agencies. They worked with the invisibles on, frames and all. I was hooked. They willingly taught me about style-sheets. Often times I’d outrun the then-feeble processing capacity of the machines I was working on.

As a freelancer I always had to stay ahead of the full-timers. They had a certain security, while I could be more obviously bounced. That is an unfortunate trade-off, one less and less certain as each new day passes in these grim times.

I too became complacent. Until one day I realized I need to know a whole lot more about Photoshop. So off to night-school I went, and discovered that for over fifteen years I was a mouse gnawing my way around a very large cheese. I’d never cored into the program.

Now I was scared. I went to school for the next 2-1/2 years. Always night, on my own dime. That way I didn’t owe shit to anybody. I’d hear from guys I’d worked with over the years the following statements. You might know them too:

  • I’d go to class if somebody paid for it
  • I’ve been meaning to do this
  • It’s too expensive
  • This shit’s too hard

When I started into Photoshop night school, it was about 18 months before the economy went straight into the shitter. I had several classes, one of which was blighted by a perfect storm of self-centered overtalkers, in over-their-head clueless, and some people who just didn’t take it seriously. One night, I’d had enough, and opened up a can of whoop-ass.

“For those in this class who haven’t noticed, the economy is about to go into the toilet. There are some of us in here who would like to live in a better quality of cardboard box than at present. If you don’t have anything positive to contribute, I’m going to ask you to [shut the fuck up], because your talking disrespects the professor, your classmates, and mainly yourselves…”

Dead silence.

The situation improved slightly. The instructor’s hands are tied, because they can’t tell these idiots to shut the fuck up, because then said idiots would cry that their rights had somehow been violated, and so on. For the record, I’m a stone-cold liberal, but this manner of disrespect I will not abide.

Time took care of them. By 2009 the poseurs and clueless were gone, replaced by a full class sitting stock still, eyes forward, terrified by the economic apocalypse unfolding daily. However the “Special Olympics” mentality is deeply entrenched. Too many expect somehow that just showing up gets them a finisher medal, and a victory lap around the track.

And that’s when getting into a community college was easy. Now that education funding has cratered,  just try getting into those classes. They are probably twice as expensive, and half as long as they were before.

What are your choices? Maybe its what you have to do.

But back to my working life. I make war on bad layouts inside the InDesign Creative Suite, currently 5. I taught myself the mysteries of tables, because where I work, they live and die by them. And I was fed up with working on weird-ass legacy documents where the previous operators had glued all kinds of random shit together with drawn rules, color boxes, tab-delimited text boxes, floating in an ambiguous space, with no definite margins.

Which you’ll never see if you work with the invisibles off.

Here’s the bottom line, ducklings: if you think your skills are the end-all and be-all, you are sorely mistaken. Because they probably aren’t. So if you aren’t going to school, and you go home and drink, watch whatever’s on TV, maybe you ought to slice off an hour and begin to study a problem. Put it on a flash drive, and take it to work, and when shit ain’t happening, study it there too.

All this is out on the webs. Ask the question. And here’s the hook: When you’re sitting at work, surfing, you’re slack. You’re not engaged. Eventually people notice.

But this requires a spark of intellectual curiosity.

So. What are you going to do about it?

Big Film, Big Picture

100713_4692_5 / LA props, junk and stuff

Forward!

I shoot film for aesthetic and technical reasons. Aesthetics are covered by quality of films and lens-sets. The films are far more sensitive and responsive than digital, the coverage is wall-to-wall, and is far more robust than a digital interface. The optics and chemistry of the lenses are more interesting.

I’ll discuss the mechanics of scanning further along, but first, some fun stuff. Here’s a comparison of various digital sensors compared with medium-format film.

Imaging area of film and digital sensors

Simplifying matters even further, compare the imaging differences between 35mm and 6x9cm:

35mm imaging areas compared to 6x6 and 6x9cm film

Already you can see that with a larger field, grain is reduced (if that’s a concern), but detail can be recorded, and extracted at will. Absent from this discussion are medium-format digital systems, whose costs are stratospheric compared to readily available film interfaces. But hey! If you have $30,000 burning a hole in your pocket, or can bill the client your rental day rate, go for it.

Film, and why I love it

  • every image is high-res
  • film has a greater range than digital
  • shooting film is shooting “cold”, while digital is always a form of “hot”.
  • Film is visually inspectable, digital is not
  • My film has way more info than your MP files.
  • There is no interpolation, data loss, cutting corners.

Ken Rockwell discusses all this and more in his hilarious takedown of digital, here.

Cameras: ways of seeing and recording

In 2000 I read an interview on a retired Washington Post photo editor. The journo noticed his office was lined with thirty years worth of cameras. When asked about them, the editor said [and I paraphrase] that “95% of the news images we see are made with Canon and Nikon glass. These lenses are very good, but not the only way to see the world…”

That pole-axed me. It made perfect sense. And it changed the way I looked at cameras, and later, film.

In 2008 I went to a Walker Evans retrospective at Stephen Cohen Gallery in LA. There were images I’d grown up with, but now new and fresh, literally 48″ wide. There was detail I’d never seen before. Why?

The lens saw it. The film recorded it. But the reproductive media of the time couldn’t convey it. Photo paper, printing technology, paper chemistry all were not capable of reproducing these images. Digital scanning brought all this forward to a new century.

Walker’s lenses were probably 40 years old at the time. Brilliant optics. Going back further, to the dawn of photography, those lenses killed. In 2005 I saw a Southworth & Hawes [c 1845] daguerrotype  show in New York. The image quality was utterly brilliant.

I began to shoot with demi-vintage cameras, and getting very familiar with the eternal Sunny 16 rule, to sharpen my mind. Also at that time, I was working at the Workbook as a pre-press tech, and saw hundreds of pro-shooters’ work a year. It showed me what I could do, and more importantly, what I didn’t have to do.

The Royal Scan

The luxury of shooting a large juicy negative never pales. The fun starts in translating those negatives into editable digital files. Either you do it, or someone else does.

In 2008 I bought a Nikon LS9000 ED film-scanner to access 35mm negs I’d shot back in 1979, and current 120 negs. At $2199 these machines are not cheap. Rationalizing that the unit cost per scan of that project was $10 ea, if I scanned 250 images it would pay for itself. It did.

The next thing I realized was that the supplied 120 film carrier was inadequate. What you really need is the optical-glass neg carrier which sandwiches the neg flat. I ordered one from B&H for $250. An occasional Newton Ring occurs, but its all in focus.

Nikon then announced that their NikonScan software would not be updated to the Mac OS 10.5. I started using the Hamrick VueScan.  More details here.

Hamrick VueScan is not easy, but not thoroughly impossible either. You conform to it, not the other way around. Then you get on with it.

In time I discovered that some scans I’d gotten from labs were horrifyingly bad. Like magenta shifts in color files, crushed shadows and blown-out highlights in black and white files.

Horrifying lab scan on left, my un-curved scan on right.

Details below:

Note crushed tones and blown highlights on left. Much more detail on right, which can be shaped.

I nearly had an aneurysm when I saw the image on the left. Had I really forgotten everything I’d learned? And then on the right, when I realized I’d been screwed. The image on the right is before I went in and recurved it slightly to give it more depth. That lab is no longer in business.

6×6, 6×9…oh, what the hell!

In 2009 I began shooting with the gorgeous Fuji GSW690iii (shown below), which yields massive 6×9 cm negs on 120 or 220 stock. I was having problems pulling effective preview scans of 6×9 negatives. The last time I would pull a preview scan of one neg, flip the strip, preview the other one. This is time-consuming and very annoying.

Big G-One comes home to find Little Miss Olympus 35RC being romanced by hulky Mr Fuji GSW690iii. This is one of three Fuji medium format rangefinders. 690 image size: 9x6cm. The 65mm lens corresponds to a 28mm wide-angle lens in a 35mm format. This beast has no batteries, no meter, and lives in a Zip Code all its own.

Scanning medium format negs is a different mechanical process than 35mm film. The 35mm carrier is physically indexed with 2 rows of 6 frames each. The medium-format carrier is blank, in both the default version and the way-better optical glass carrier. You have to provide the correct numbers in the VueScan interface to make proper previews and scans, because the scanner does not automatically know if its going to scan 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, or 6×9.

I looked for answers. The VueScan manual was opaque. A salesman at Samy’s Camera in Pasadena archly told me that the scanner would not batch scan all 3 negs in the tray, so why bother. Thanks.

Finally this spring on photo.net, Dave Goldsmith provided the answer

(edit) “It’s a simple fix – use “Input | Frame spacing” – use a ruler to measure the distance between the beginning of the first frame and the beginning of the second frame.

Note that it is is Frame SPACING, not Frame OFFSET! For the 6×4.5 ratio the value for the Spacing parameter that I have used is 48 +/- 2 mm, and for 6×6, 64 +/- 2mm. With those values I get for a strip of 6×4.5 images four distinct frames and for the 6×6 ratio three distinct frames.

So, set VueScan for Batch mode (All or List), set the appropriate Frame SPACING value, click on Preview, and when the previews are done, yes, you will probably have to adjust the crop frame (not a big deal!) for each picture frame. Finally just click on Scan. Considering all of the frustration about this subject (including on my part as well) the recommended method worked perfectly.

OK! This begs the question as to why the hell didn’t Ed Hamrick say that in plain English in the User Guide? Why do User Manuals have to be written in Techno-Esperanto?

Hamrick Vue-Scan, with a black & white neg. Note numbers on left-hand side of image.

My old-school Schaedler rule was put back to work as I measured it out.

For scanning 6×6 negs:

120, 6x6 with frame offsets

under INPUT:

  • FRAME OFFSET: -5
  • FRAME SPACING: 60
  • BATCH LIST: 1,2,3

That took care of the 6×6 neg issues, on to 6×9.

For scanning 6×9 negs:

120 6x9, with frame offsets

under INPUT:

  • FRAME OFFSET: -5
  • FRAME SPACING: 93
  • BATCH LIST: 1,2

TREATING THE IMAGE

After scanning the image to its proper folder, I’ll preview it in Adobe Bridge. This is where I use the EXIF template features to mass-tag files. Create the template[s] you want and go for it.

Now your gorgeous film images are in the digital workflow. Color-balance, spot, edit at will. More on that, later!

Tech Triumphalism Never Sleeps

Extracting assumptions and trivia from this video…

1/ Assumes that the mere weight of data is somehow better or more valid than previous technologies or cultures
2/ That an issue of the NYT has more data/info than an 18th century person would encounter in a lifetime assumes that…

  • the info was only written, in a time when most working technologies and cultures were non-literate.
  • ignores the fact that an 18th C. individual was probably better equipped to feed/clothe him/herself than the 21st C urban techno-servant. For instance, when was the last time anyone in any office you worked in made a pair of pants, skinned a rabbit, tended a bean-patch?
  • that all info/data in that lucky issue of the NYT is of equal weight and value to all. In freight terms, what is the difference between a pound of lead and a pound of feathers? None. Mass is a different story.

3/ Broadband penetration: Geography & infrastructure is key. #1 Bernuda = tiny. #19 Japan = highly developed archipelago

4/ Number of text messages? How many actually say something? LOL/STFU. Highlights the metrics of availability and theoretical cost of use.

5/ Water, water, water. The invisible missing element.

6/ All these networks, infrastructures, systems are kept alive by electricity. When the lights go out, party’s over.

For starters.

The “Plan B” Photo Shoot Weekend

Saturday, June 28 2009, 1945hr

I was on location at the finish line of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. The winner was due in about an hour.

I was setting up my lights—A Norman 2000 power pack, 2 lamp heads, one with softbox, the other with translucent umbrella. I was taking preliminary flash readings when I heard a loud cracking sound from the powerpack, followed by a slow puff of smoke. I toggled the switches, hoping that I had been hallucinating. The test switch was inoperative. I had a dead power-pack.

I could’ve been totally screwed. However—I’d packed my Lighting Plan B: 2 Vivitar 283s, 2 285s, a radio slave, and some Wein Peanuts. Incidentally, the case was a dumpster salvage from Art Center, thanks to my friend Lars who is the Shop Supervisor at the Lida St campus.

case and strobes

Salvaged heaven—two date-expired camera cases, 283s, 285s, in a vintage Mole-Richardson carrying case. I’ve since reorganized all strobes, cables, chargers, battery-packs into a split-level Black & Decker wheelie tool-locker.

I quickly took new readings. The winner arrives. I make my shots, and await the next runners.

Over the next 12 hours I photograph another 40 runners. Not every finisher makes it to the studio—they’re wasted, distracted, otherwise not interested. No matter, its not a mandatory.

TECH DETAILS

site shoot plan

site shoot plan

  1. 283 firing into silver umbrella at purple setting
  2. 285 set to 1/4 power, firing thru translucent umbrella
  3. 283 set to 1/4 power, stofen’d, set to 1/4 power
  4. Film: Kodak TriX ASA 320, 1989 vintage, shooting at 1/250 f 4
  5. Camera, with 4i Radio Slave

So far, so good. Until about 0945 on Sunday. The 80mm lens on the Hassy decided it’s had enough. The Plan B Camera is pulled from the green room—the Yashicamat 124.

Plan B camera and strobist flash units, inside vintage case.

I shot the remaining roll of Kodak 160 in it, then switch off to Kodak ASA 400 TCN. Keep shooting.

Now comes the fun part: had I learned anything in the last 6 months, and more importantly, did I remember when I needed it?

I’d heard about using small strobes for big jobs. To tell the truth, I didn’t quite believe it. Looking back I needed to have big lights dump light to overcome a tendency to underexpose.

Realizing I needed more information, I’d started to read the Strobist.com back in December ’08, as these guys are all about creative solutions with small strobes.

Over the years I’d collected a stable of Vivitar 283s and 285s. No, I couldn’t afford Nikon Speedlights, and yes, I’m a primitivist. These Vivitars are the AK-47s of flash—sturdy warhorses that dump an unholy amount of light. Even dialed down to 1/4 power, they make a lot of magic, and go all night.

When I got the film back, I saw that overall reduced light at night gave me rich shadow and modeling. As the sun came up behind the light-proofed backdrop, the same settings opened up deep shadows in the faces, and left enough modelling so there was dimensionality. By 11:00, the official end of the race, the sun was nearly overhead to give that special “hair-light” effect.

With less than 30min before the official close of the race, the sun is high in the sky, and strobes open up the shadow areas.

image taken around 1030am.

A major added benefit of smaller strobes: a lot less weight in travel, quicker setups and knockdowns, and the versatility of photo-guerilla shooting. I’m a way happier camper now.

Oh yeah: all the pix right here.

Creation Myths Revisited & Rendered

Nativity Scene of the Holy Family, Attended by los Tres Reyes Godzillas

Nativity Scene of the Holy Family, Attended by los Tres Reyes Godzillas

In the Beginning

The Holy Family is attended by Los Tres Reyes Godzillas, who each have brought unique gifts of takeout, espresso, and a movie.

I shot this in 2001 with a Pentax ME Super, Fuji Reala 100 2G. Over the years I’ve scanned it as a print, then at least twice as a neg. Each time, I’ve seen more and been able to do more with the image.

When I scanned the print, I was captive to the murky print quality. The first time I scanned the neg with a Nikon LS2000, the details were eye-popping by comparison. The most recent neg scan was done with a Nikon LS9000 and the VueScan software [a whole other discussion] at 5400dpi, approx 12×16″.

The Bride Laid Bare

Moving pretty fast here:

  • duplicated the original source layer, set the duplicate to multipy. Combined the two layers to build out slightly underexposed shadow areas. Modified with curves. Collected all three layers to new working layer “Collect 1”. Saved source layers in a folder their own, to be left untouched.
  • All subsequent changes are written to “Collect 1”. Targeted areas with masks to bump the saturation, color-balancing, and modify inherent color casting
  • Finished with an overlay layer, solid color at 5% opacity to unify all the elements. Painted out areas on the mask to modify as needed.
  • I captioned it. Marion True helped me out on this one. Promise.
  • Then saved it as a web-ready jpeg.

Here’s the map:

Nativity Layer Palette

Nativity Layer Palette

Have yourself a Merry Li’l Xmas, and I’ll see you in the ’09.

RTFM Really Means “I Love You”, (But Only If You Were Paying Attention)

Part One: I Get A Wild Hair

Several weekends ago I was reminded that “impulse control” is the woeful precursor to “anger management”. Specifically, I decided to swap out the logic processor on my near-vintage Quicksilver G4.

I’d watched the videos, memorized the moves. I tore open the box, found the processor, pulled the old one, and began to install the new one.

The warning signs were visible early on, but had not yet penetrated my chattering monkey mind.

I plow on.

Part Two: Darkness

Everything was going too smoothly. Didn’t drop any screws, hooked up the fans. Whoo boy. Plugged it back in. Pushed the “on” button.

No signal.

Oh. Shit.

Now I had Terry Schiavo. It lit up, but no brain activity. I re-inserted the old processor, but no life. In my fugue, did I forgot to plug in the power lead? No. There was no brain function.

With a creeping dread worthy of HP Lovecraft, I discovered the install manual. And like the fabled Abdul Alhazred, I begin to page this late-surfacing Necronomicon. Therein were the incantations I did not perform, to wit, the firmware downloads. Of course! This was OWC, not Miskatonic University.

Back to the 21st century.

I called the Apple Store. Of course this all happened when they’d unleashed the 3G iPhone, and all the techno-weenies were howling, or at least texting, with their base desires. I got an appointment for 24hrs later.

Part Three: Dorkness, Unto Light

The lad at the Genius Bar looked at my G4 with an antiquarian’s amusement. Since I’d installed a 3rd party device, they weren’t going to touch it. Besides, they didn’t have the elderly 733Mhz processor card that was original stock. Of course not, it was sitting at home on my desk.

I needed big-ass professional help. Several references led me to Louis Katz. Not too long afterwards, he swung by my office. I led him to the scene of the crime. He smiled enigmatically.

“It needs to come to my workshop”. And off it went. Several days later, Louis calls.

“Larry, how you doing?”

“Louis, I was hoping you’d tell me”

“Well, it’s not looking good”

“I kinda thought so. I didn’t think you were out there eating birthday cake…”

“Sorry for the bad news”

“Yeah, I’m not thrilled either. But hey! it’s a dead computer, not a teen pregnancy…”

Long and short: the motherboard was fried. D-E-A-D.

I turned to face the light. My elderly G4 had run its last lap. I was going to make the long-overdue upgrade that I’d postponed. Lucky for me, it happened at a quiet moment, not in the middle of a crunch. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but here it is.

Damn.

NEXT: Mr Pre-Press signs off on the fiscal proctoscope(s) to finance a new beast.