My Dinner with Matt

Matt usually takes me for a birthday dinner at the Mansion on 86th; usually a few months after my birthday because, well, I’m just not much into eating out.  But on the way back, it’s become a tradition to use him or his camera as a prop of some kind, and to shoot him in the parking garage mirror.  Since he’s shooting film, and it’s night, he’s not going to waste much film on this game; but since I’m digital, it doesn’t matter.

What do we talk about when we get together?  Well, generally some way to build the business – that never goes anywhere.  I’m sure that he’d like me to start a photography lab so that he could have a friend do his printing at a cheap friendly price.

And since I’m doing everything possible to move away (though it isn’t possible) of doing this type of production all day and night, we follow an imaginary path that involves renting space, and hiring people that always ends in the same place – nowheresville.

After dinner, we sit like two old men, outside the restaurant and watch people go by.  Commenting on the shots we’ve missed, or what we’ve gotten.  An ambulance pulls up with lights flashing right at me, and two attendants help someone out of the restaurant and into the ambulance, while I’m taking my pictures.  Matt tells me that my images will be underexposed because of the flashing lights, and grabs for the camera to see what they look like on the back but I don’t give it to him because he’s always teasing me about using digital so why should he get to see the instant stuff.

Get your own digital gizmo if you want instant feedback.  But eventually I hand it over and he’s surprised that the shots come out properly exposed.  Now how did that happen.  When he and I talk about photography, for me it’s like talking to someone from the 20’s.  It’s as if I’ve gone back in time.  You have to remember, he doesn’t even have batteries in his camera.  Doesn’t use a light meter.  Develops film without a timer or a thermometer.  (I’m not kidding).

If I told him that he should at least have a little pocket meter with him, he’d just laugh in my face.  Why would anyone need to meter anything after all these years.

Of course I do miss a few shots because the 5D simply isn’t as fast at focusing at night as the 40D was; esp. it seems with the 50mm.  I have to live with that in exchange for being able to use the higher ISOs.

Well anyway – maybe it that guy ordered the juniors cheesecake, which is what we had and it was like eating an entire cake.  If anyone tried to eat that thing by themselves, they’d need an ambulance.

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The garage mirror (convex or concave… surely I don’t need to look that up).  I’ve going to say concave since it is caved in.

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Ghostly for sure…  and why shouldn’t it be.  We are, after all, just shadows… walking around for a few years before vanishing…

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into an ambulance.

What Was Wrong with the 7800

You might remember (I sure do) all the problems I had with smudges on the left side of the print (facing the printer) a few weeks ago.  I went through every trick in the book trying to figure out what the problem was – but all to no avail.  A few days ago, I had an idea.  I wasn’t getting any smudges with the 4800, and in fact never did.  So I was wondering what the difference between the two machines could be, after all, the 4800 is at least a year or two older than the 7800.

I had noticed something odd with the 7800 a few weeks ago.  What happened was that the ink displays on the printer (those LCD bars) didn’t match what the Epson Driver software was showing in terms of the amount of ink.  In other words, the Epson Driver might be showing 5% of ink left for a particular color, but the LCD bar on the printer wasn’t flashing.  Really weird.  (No, I don’t remember if I ever upgraded or changed the printer firmware).

But I got to thinking that if it could be wrong about the ink, it might be mixed up about the maintenance tank as well.  And luckily, the 4800 and the 7800 both use the same maintenance tank.  So I took the relatively clean maintenance tank from the 4800 and swapped it with the 7800 tank which had quite a bit of ink around the circle part where ink is dumped.

And so I began doing test prints and almost immediately I noticed a difference, i.e. less smudging on the 7800.  Hmmm… could that have been the problem?  Later in the day, I did another print on the 7800 – now there were only very tiny bits of smudge on the print.  And after a third print – it came out clean.

I’ve been printing most of the day – all with clean prints.  I ordered two new maintenance tanks  which I now have, and sure enough, the 4800 is starting to smudge.

So there you have it – the crazy problem is solved – mostly – and I’m guessing that something is screwed up with the Epson firmware and I’ll install the latest and greatest.  I should do it for the Epson Driver as well so that the Exhibition Paper shows up in the media choices.  I don’t feel like futzing with either one right now until I’ve got all my orders finished, but once that’s done I’ll update everything.

Ever hear of anything so strange.  The printer firmware had always been correct, at least I never noticed it not being in sync with the Epson Printer Status app until a few weeks ago.  Did I change something?  Not that I can think of, and anyhow, nothing I could have done would’ve changed the Epson firmware.

I suppose this falls under the heading of odd anomaly, though maybe all anomalies are odd if you don’t understand them.

Picture in a Frame

Pictures by Beckerman… mostly… Song by Tom Waits… and production by Lester G.
I asked Les if he’d do one with more of my popular images for my home page… Which he did. The idea is always to make the site as personal as possible. Of course I should’ve done some podcasts a long time ago, but frankly I never find the time for all the PR stuff.

Now a funny store. I’m sure you all remember all the problems I was having with the 7800 last week, or whenever it was – and that was a hellish week. So that got me into looking at WCI as a possible outsourcing lab. They did there usual wonderful work, and I got two prints (3 or each) from them yesterday in super packaging and re-used the packaging for the 15 x 19 print, and put the copies in a box to use as stock.

But I was so messed up – mentally that week – that I asked West Coast Imaging to print something that I already had sent out to the customer, and the one other print that I needed them to do – I didn’t upload. Brilliant. In fact, this morning I had the wrong print ready to go out when I realized I had sent it already. This has not happened before.

Anyway – so I hadn’t done any printing with the 7800 for the last week, and had left some paper towel under the print head. Not up against it – but there – under it.

So I did a test sheet, and there was a bit of smudging, but not much. And then I came up with the trick of all tricks. Thinking like the print head, and realizing that the smudge was always near where the print head lifted up after doing a pass (or if not lifting up, stopped spritzing) but was still touch the paper – I decided to take an 11 x 14 image and put an extra two inch border around it with an actual gray 10px line. In other words, two inches on all sides there’s a 10 pixel line.

And since I didn’t want to waste any more of the exhibition paper, I decided to use silver rag on a roll. And yes, you guessed it, there was a bit of spritzing near the borders – but nothing even close to the print image. I tried it again – and this time there was no smudging at all and the gray border printed perfectly.

In science – this is exactly what you don’t want to do: change two variables at once. Now you don’t know whether it was switching paper, or the margin gimmick that did the trick – or whether it will continue to work. But I still don’t have the time or patience to deal with it as I’d like to get cracking with the test prints at DSI; and I’ve got a bunch of images that are crying out to be combined; and there’s ordering from vendors; and tomorrow I’ll pick up the 5d… etc. etc.

But everything seems to be turning for the best… I even found the cutting blade from the 7800 which had popped out about a month ago and which I could never figure out where it had gone until I went through the printer with a flashlight and voila. Stuck it back in and it is cutting the roll paper as it used to.

And so – somewhere in the middle of the night – I sent the images to Lester for this video. I wanted him to do some quick cuts at some point, but he seems to be against that practice. Oh well – you know how artists are. They all have a mind of their own. But what a perfect song.

Digital Silver Imaging (continued)

Now that orders are coming in again – I have a few that I’m going to try at DSI.  I spoke this morning with Eric at DSI and it was just a straight foward conversation and what I learned was that they use two common profiles: Adobe98 (which is what I’ve been using for years for b&w) and hmmm PhotoPro?  I forget.  Anyway, the fiber paper is the same Ilford Gallerie Fiber that I was using for years in the darkroom.  Can you imagine that?

I’d better calibrate my screen again – haven’t done it in a few months.  And just as I was speaking – a fourth order came through.  So it’s starting again.  I’m planning to do these orders through DSI, and send a physical proof from the inkjet along as a guide.

WCI would still be necessary for the really big prints – even if this works out (which I expect it will).

Things are turning around.  I found a place RediMat that has 12 x 16 Museum Rag with 12 x 8 openings at a reasonable price, if you buy enough (which I did).

And the next step is to prepare the files for DSI and see how it goes.  As I say, I’m hopeful that this works out.  Since these really are silver gelatin prints – and since that still means something to some collectors – well that may make it easier to sell at the higher prices.  We’ll see; but what I like is: they just do black and white prints (well they do scans and infrared conversions etc.) but basically they are doing b&w.  The idea of combining digital workflow with silver fiber prints – that is something that I thought about a long time ago.  And they are fairly small – again something I like.  Usually customer service is good at this sort of place that is essentially working with artists.

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Paper Delivery – Pre-Dawn

Times Square Paper Delivery.  Infrared and “faux” HDR

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p.s. I’m doing so much color work lately that I changed the blog name.

p.p.s. No sales since I raised the prices.  Still too early to say that’s an issue, but I have gone back and added 5 x 7’s.  Then wait awhile and if still no sale, then I’ll add mats back.  And wait.  And then… well, then I can say that people won’t pay these prices and have to lower them and go back to doing my own printing, unless I come up with some other ideas.

Park Plaza Hotel – 2005

One of the great benefits for people like myself who change styles frequently, or at least at some point may change styles for a while, is shooting raw.  It’s just something that pre-digital photographers couldn’t do, or at least couldn’t do well.  It was possible to shoot color and print on special b&w paper (as an example) but you just couldn’t get the same results as if you had shot with your favorite b&w film.

Another benefit of working in digital, is that the tools keep changing.  So long as you began with a raw image, the chances are good that as you go along you’ll find a newly developed tool that again – has one aim – to give the photographer more control over the final image.

Of course, this is also a possible downside to the digital experience.  When we were shooting fine-art b&w, the common technique as espoused by the man – Ansel – was to pre-visualize your final print, and to expose and develop to try and make that final image a possibility.

You would typically use a spot meter, and measure the extremes of the scene: the highlights, and the shadows, and a few other things like the middle tones, and then you’d put your Zone thinking cap on, and think about what you want to achieve; whether the negative tones needed to be compressed or expanded.  In other words, if the tonal range was too wide and you couldn’t get it all on the negative if you exposed for the middle tones, then you might decide to bring the highlights down and the shadows up during the film processing.

Again, when you got to the actual darkroom phase.  Commonly you’d make test prints, and then a working print, and eventually a final print where you’d do a sort of ballet with your hands or cut outs to dodge and burn various areas.  You would need to keep careful notes, with little stick-like figures to remind you about which areas need more or less exposure; and what your time was, and what ratio of water to developer you used, and whether you might have bleached an area or how much toning you did.

If it was a complicated print, you might not be able to completely duplicate two prints.  You tended to do one print several times, so that you’d work in batches so you could remember exactly how to expose the prints.

And then you come to the digital print world, and it is the exact opposite.  First off, given that you are working with a nicely calibrated system, with the same output and same inks, profiles and papers – you really can do prints that are virtually the same.  That is one obvious benefit.

However, in real life, at least for me – I don’t work with batches at a time, and in fact prints that were shot years ago, that you’ve been printing digitally for many years – other options become available, or strike you as your printing the 30th print.

The digital workflow, for the artist, is actually closer to the painters experience than to the old photographers darkroom.  Assuming that the artist is learning new techniques, or even that he/she is changing emotionally, or artistically through the years – that print that you’ve done 30 times may suddenly present new possibilities.  Whether it’s the HDR thing that happened to me, or even if you are still using the same tools – it is so easy with contemporary tools to tweak some area of the image, change the contrast in one area – or sharpen something — the list is virtually endless – that you find yourself making printing changes to the 31st print.

These changes can be subtle, or drastic.  For some people, this freedom is something that you shouldn’t mess with too much.  You had an idea when you originally shot the print, and the idea is to try to stick with the original vision.  For the tinkerers – it’s just the opposite.  You look at the same starting point – and have ideas about how the original idea can be presented more effectively.  There really is no right or wrong for this type of artist.  Just change.

This is all by way of saying that what interests me now, is redoing older prints that were all originally presented as b&w images – and using hdr to do a color rendition, or a different take on the b&w rendition.

I’m often asked – but don’t you miss shooting film.  Not at all. Not only don’t I miss it, but the longer I work with digital output, the more opportunities present themselves.  Sometimes by accident.  Sometimes after a lot of careful planning.  In other words – there really are no “final prints” anymore.  There are variations on a theme.

It’s not that one rendition is better than the previous one.  As I say, I don’t feel any obligation to stick with the original print.  They are just variations on a theme, which is common in the music world.  Think of it as the cadenza at the end of a classical piece of music where the musicians are encouraged to improvise.  The same technique has come down through the ages to become improvisation in jazz.  Play the melody so the audience knows where you are starting – and then close your eyes and run with it.

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Reservoir Night

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Two images used.  1600 ASA.  Both with same EV (so this is really a faux sort of HDR) but with the Image Fusion and  ToneMapping tool in PhotoMatix (I keep wanting to call it PhotoMatrix). But I was able to pull very specific areas from the RAW 40D file.  I never saw those windows with their mosaic-like prints on them when looking at the image in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Can’t wait for the weather to warm up a bit so that I can do more night shots.  In other words, if I knew ahead of time that this was going to be an HDR type shot I would have bracketed it.  And frankly, these shots look better in color than b&w.

I was answering questions for an interview this morning, and remembered a phase I went through when I was 16, where I would take negatives and while they were on a lightbox, I would scratch lines in them with a needle, or sometimes just punch holes in them before printing.  In other words, I’m still the same guy – but the tools have become more sophisticated.

Po Boy Inkjet Dryer

As you might have discovered, it’s a good idea to let your fine art inkjet prints dry before they’re stuck in frames.  Depending on the ink / paper combination this can take various times but if you use a paper that takes a while to fully absorb the ink, you’ll end up with vapors being trapped in the frame if you frame them too soon.  In my case, I have two issues, one is that there’s cat hair floating around, and even one hair landing on a print while it’s fresh out of the printer will ruin the print.  Well maybe not always, it depends on where it lands.  If the print (I’m using Epson Exhibition F Gloss paper with K3 inks) is still wet and it lands in a dark area, I have never been able to remove it without pulling up ink at the same time.  If it lands in a very light area, then you’ve got a good chance.

At any rate, the paper is expensive, and it takes a long time to do big prints, and you just don’t want to have to do it all over again.

I divide the process into two parts – drying and curing.

I purchased boxes from Uline which come flat, and fold into 24 x 28 x 4 inches high.  Close and tape one end of the box.  I also bought cardboard pads that are 24 x 30 inches.  This is the size of the largest paper I use.

Since I don’t want to have the prints sitting on cardboard for various reasons – not exactly acid-free, and cardboard isn’t smooth; I also bought a roll of acid-free glassine paper and cut sheets the size of the cardboard sliders that will go into the boxes.  I staple the paper to the cardboard.

After that it’s just a matter of stacking the cardboard boxes somewhere that the cat can’t get to them and tape them all together into one unit.

It’s not perfect because two inches of the print stick out of the box.  On the other hand they get enough air (I happen to have a ceiling fan which helps) and it’s a good way to prevent particles from falling on the paper while it’s still remotely wet.

After two days of drying, I can then cut sheets of the glassine paper to stick between the prints and stack about ten prints in one of the original Epson paper boxes.

The system works pretty well because it’s sort of like sliding pizza into an oven.  The cardboard / glassine board serves to help make sure you don’t bend the big paper while you are placing it (often from a ladder) into the drying boxes, and then later when you are removing the inkjets you just take it out on the cardboard pad with glassine.

It is of course extremely cheap, and even in my tiny apartment, I’ve made two stacks of cartons so far, each six high, and I have space to do another two stacks if I need to.  In other words, with this Po Boy system I can have 24 prints drying at any one time.

Later, when it comes time to shipping, the original Epson box makes a great inner container (it has a cardboard buffer and comes with three sheets of 24 x 30 inch cardboard for the top and bottom.  You then need a larger flat box so that you can wrap the Epson box with bubble wrap and stick it into the outer box.  Pretty sturdy way to get out a bunch of large prints.

Six drying cartons with a few sliders left sticking out. (Beautiful – eh?)

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