On the retention pond Yashica-12 Fujifilm Velvia 50
You are forgiven if you think I went out into the country and found some old swimming hole to make this photograph. It’s actually the retention pond behind my house. Directly beyond it is I-65 — the drone of all the trucks makes this anything but a peaceful place.
I sent this film to Fulltone Photo for processing and scanning. They did a fine job with the processing, but I was disappointed that the scans were only 1024×1024 pixels at 72 dots/pixels per inch. That resolution makes good snapshot prints, but any larger than that and things start looking pixelated.
Many labs offer enhanced scans with much larger pixel dimensions at that same 72 dpi. I haven’t been able to figure out how to make my flatbed scanner do that. I adjust dpi to get the pixel dimensions I want, as for my online work pixel dimensions are everything. I recently shot a roll of Kodak Tri-X in the Yashica-12, and scanned the negatives at 2400 dpi. I got images of a whopping 5192 pixels square. That’s more like it — I can crop deeply if I want, and still have an image with lots of surface area to share online.
I have a lot to learn yet about scanning and the interplay between dots/pixels per inch and raw pixel dimensions.
Whitestown is booming. About 15 years ago the tiny Indiana town annexed a large parcel of land to its south and, through developers, started building shopping centers, homes, and apartments. It was making a solid bid to become the next Indianapolis suburb. It is succeeding wildly.
When I moved to Indianapolis in the mid 1990s, Whitestown was just this dying railroad town in the middle of nowhere. It was so much in the middle of nowhere that people used Whitestown as the butt of middle-of-nowhere jokes.
I also heard it said that Whitestown was aptly named because that’s the color your skin had better be if you found yourself there. I’ve heard that said about a number of small Indiana towns. I don’t know if it’s true, but racism is alive and well enough in Indiana that it’s plausible.
As Whitestown expanded, nearby Zionsville realized it had better expand, too, or it would soon be surrounded by Whitestown. Over the last 15 years, all of southeastern Boone County has come to be part of either Whitestown or Zionsville. It’s how the home I live in is part of Zionsville despite being 4½ miles away from its downtown. From my front door, I can walk to Zionsville’s border with Whitestown in just a few minutes.
The only reason Margaret and I ever go up to old Whitestown, about 3½ miles directly north of us, is because there’s a nice brewpub up there in the old school building. Really, the heart of Whitestown is now the modern shopping strip on the main road by our house. They’ve even moved the town hall to that strip.
But I’m forever looking for fresh things to photograph, especially since I’m stuck working at home thanks to COVID-19. I loaded some Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1981) into my Yashica-12 not long ago and drove up to Whitestown on my lunch hour.
After I photographed the Jeep Cherokee in front of the brewpub, I soon encountered it parked on the main road with its driver inside. He was very obviously watching me shoot the rest of this roll of film. Everywhere I walked, if I turned to look at the Jeep I found its driver looking directly at me. Because you never know if a middle-aged man making photographs with a 50-year-old TLR is going to suddenly bust a store window and start looting.
I buy film impulsively with some project in mind. Then I never get to the project and eventually forget why I bought the film. I’ve done it enough that I now have about 15 rolls of film I need to shoot up. I’m working my way through this stock while I refine my home developing technique.
I own two rolls of 120 Kodak Tri-X that expired in June of 1981. I had a day off a couple weeks ago, and it was a warm spring day. So I spooled one roll of the Tri-X into my Yashica-12 and took it for a drive in the country. It was lovely to smell all the rural-Indiana spring smells. Along one country road the fields were awash in fragrant golden flowers. Another road smelled strongly of swine. That’s Indiana!
I stopped when I came upon the small town of Sheridan, and blew through the whole roll there.
In small town Indiana, everybody knows everybody and everybody’s lived there for ages. Even though the streets were largely deserted, a stranger like me stands out. These little towns are seldom popular destinations. The locals are sure to wonder why I’m making photographs there.
As I wrapped up the roll, I noticed one fellow stick his head out his door and give me a sidelong look. Several minutes later a woman pulled up to me in her car to ask what I was doing. Two minutes later, another car bearing two women pulled up to ask the same thing. They put on friendly faces, but that they asked at all told me I had worn out my welcome.
I’ve experienced this many times as I’ve photographed small Midwestern towns. I have a window of time before people let me know, at first subtly and then directly, that I’m noticed.
I’m a middle-aged, well-groomed white man. While I stand out because I am not known there, at least I look more or less like everyone else.
When I was in my 20s, with hair halfway down my back and wearing rock-concert T-shirts, I feel sure I would have received a distinctly unfriendly reception.
If my skin were brown but all else about me were the same as it is now, I’ll bet someone in Sheridan (or in any small, rural Midwestern town I’ve ever visited) would have called the sheriff.
It’s safe to be a middle-aged white man.
I developed the film that afternoon in L110, Dilution B, and scanned it the next day. This film was so fogged that the images were barely visible on the negatives. Yet my scanner cut through it and brought out usable, though very grainy, images. Here are the best of them.
Not long ago I had an unexpected day off, so I shot, developed, scanned, and uploaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X. I shot stuff I found around the house, on my coffee table. My Yashica-12 was on my tripod, and I attached my Spiratone close-up lens kit. The available light led me to slow shutter speeds, around 1/4 sec. at f/5.6, so I screwed a cable release into the socket to prevent shake.
I wanted a pleasant day of photography more than I cared about making images for the ages, and I succeeded. I’d been thinking about doing some available-light still lifes for a while, I suppose to channel my inner Edward Weston. I found no gnarled green peppers in the fridge, so I worked with whatever I found lying around. That included my favorite coffee mug, the little pot we keep paper clips in, and a geode given to me by a dear old friend.
I used the Yashica-12 because it was out and because it has an accurate onboard light meter. When you use that meter, the 12 limits you to films of up to ISO 400. This was fine, because Tri-X 400 was the fastest film I had on hand anyway.
The Spiratone kit comes with two lenses, one for each of the TLR’s lenses. The viewing lens promises that it corrects for parallax, but it also magnifies the scene more than the taking lens does. I made every one of these subjects fill the frame, but had to crop them all in post. In this photo of the lidded bowl I wish I had managed to get the entire lid in focus.
The photo above of a Belleek china pitcher came out a little dim, and I couldn’t fix it in Photoshop without overcooking. The photo below of a duck decoy did too. The duck is painted in dark and muted colors, which might have led to muddy middle grays. My mom’s grandfather made the decoy by hand, by the way.
I had greater luck photographing a couple bottles of whiskey Margaret and I brought back from our tour of the Old Forester Distillery. We sampled both of these whiskeys at the end of the tour and they’re delicious. The 1920 whiskey is a whopping 115 proof! We’re saving the bottles for a special occasion.
Conventional wisdom is that Tri-X in Rodinal results in pronounced grain. Yet I don’t mind the grain in these. Perhaps that’s in part because I didn’t have any particular look in mind as I shot these. I just wanted to have some fun and see what turned out. But as I think about doing more still-life work, I feel sure that T-Max 400 or Ilford Delta 400 would yield sharper, smoother results with richer blacks. I think that would be a nicer look for subjects such as these, so I’ll use T-Max or Delta next time.
I’ll also dig through my stuff for a much longer shutter-release cable, as the one I found was too short for me to stand out of the way. Look closely, and you’ll see me (and the Yashica-12) reflected in the bottles.
Of the 12 exposures I shot, only nine were scannable. Something I did wrong in developing partially fogged my first three shots. My scanner’s bundled scanning software thought there was nothing on those frames and threw an error. I wish it would simply scan whatever it finds, as I might have been able to do something with the partial images that are clearly visible on those frames.
Also, the Tri-X curled enough during drying that I struggled at first to lay it flat into the scanner mask. My scanner came with a little card the width of 120 film that you lay onto the end of the film to hold it flat in the mask, and then pull out after you close the mask. It worked brilliantly.
Despite all these challenges, I had a lovely morning of photography. It was wonderful to go from concept to uploaded scans in just a few hours!
The Graflex Miniature Speed Graphic takes 2¼”x3¼” sheet film. Can you even get sheet film in that size anymore? Cursory Googling isn’t turning up any. Not that I could make time right now to learn this camera and the ins and outs of sheet film anyway. It and a short stack of sheet-film holders make a lovely display item on the fireplace mantel.
About three years ago a longtime camera collector contacted me to ask if I’d take a portion of his collection. He was preparing to close his studio and move halfway across the country as he retired. A year later, a giant box full of old gear arrived. This Speed Graphic was in it.
If you’re still out there reading, my generous benefactor, I apologize for not getting to your cameras sooner. I have shot the Kodak Retinette II (here) and the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F (here). I’ll work through the rest in 2020, I hope.
Of the twelve images I made on that roll of original Fujifilm Velvia (expired 8/2006 but always stored frozen) at Crown Hill Cemetery, eight were stunning and four had exposure issues. I did what I could in Photoshop to rescue them.
I overexposed this one. Photoshop rescued the trees and sky, but the grave markers were simply too blown out thanks to reflecting sun. I did the best I could with them but I think they just look unnatural. Lesson learned: notice reflected light and consider its effect on the photo.
I wanted to see how Velvia handled this tree’s deep, vibrant red. But the sun was off to my left rather than directly behind me, which created some haze in the image I couldn’t Photoshop away. Lesson learned: invest in a lens hood for my 12.
Heavy contrast between light and shadow tripped up the Yashica-12 and the Velvia. As I stood at the top of Indianapolis’s highest hill and looked south toward the Indianapolis skyline, such as it is, a cloud partially obscured the sun. The rest of the sky was bright, but the shadowy ground took on a sickly pall. Lesson learned: when using slide film, wait for the sun to come out for even lighting.
Finally, as I crested this hill on this side lane, Crown Hill opened up before me. I thought it would make a lovely image but I didn’t realize, I guess, how poor the light was right where I was standing. I don’t know much about the Yashica-12’s meter and the Internet isn’t much help. If I had to guess, I’d say it measures the center of the frame. The center of this frame was in the brightly lit distance, so the 12 underexposed the foreground. Lesson learned: meter for the shadows, because with Velvia you can often correct overexposure, but never underexposure, in Photoshop.
There’s always one more thing to learn in film photography. Especially when shooting Fujifilm Velvia.