Tuesday, December 26, 2006

An Analog Log, Part II

In the digital age with today's technology, all a newsphotographer needs to cover an assignment and file images from a remote location in a matter of minutes(possibly even seconds!)is a digital camera, laptop computer, and a telephone. To offer some perspective on how significant these advancements are from the past, and to clarify and expand upon last week's post, let's revisit the Iowa Boys State High School Baseball Tournament one year later . . .

7/27/84, Marshalltown, IA (UPI): Another baseball season has ended, new teams have emerged to compete for the title, but the assignment's location and logistics remain the same. In addition to your camera equipment and supplies(i.e., Kodak 35mm Tri-X film and Ilford 8x10" Multigrade RC photo paper), these are the necessities to cover the job from your temporary "photo bureau"(i.e., motel room):

A Darkroom: Without exception, the bathroom--as it offered two mandatory requirements: a source of water and a light-tight space. If the sink was located outside of it, water could be used from the bathtub or carried by buckets into the room. If the space wasn't light-tight, black plastic sheeting was duct-taped over the leaks.

A Darkroom Kit: A traveling case was typically no more than 20"x30"x10" deep in size, and bear in mind, all of your film and paper processing equipment and supplies needed to fit inside of it! The kit included:
Chemicals - Liquid or powder concentrates were the first choice for ease of handling and packing, and they could be mixed to quantity on location. For quick one day shoots, pre-mixed individual plastic bottles were packed, but in any event, a wire photog needed to carry film developer(Kodak D-76 or HC-110, or Acufine), fixer/hypo(the same concentration was used for film and paper), paper developer(Kodak Dektol), and Kodak Photo-Flo for film.
Film Processing - All of the following components: a 4 reel developing tank, 4 35mm film reels, a darkroom graduate, thermometer, a timer, a hair-dryer(used for film and paper), and a lupe magnifier, paper punch, and scissors for editing.
Paper Processing - These items comprised the bulk of the kit: a portable enlarger(I chose a Unicolor 35mm with a Nikon 50mm/F 2.8 lens, as its column and baseboard were under 30" long to fit inside the case although this reinforced the need to shoot everything full frame!), a spare enlarger bulb(they burned out at the worst possible times!), an enlarging timer(however, frequently I just timed exposures in my head--1000-1, 1000-2, etc.), a set of Ilford Multigrade filters, an 8x10" UPI speed easel, a dodging tool, an attachable safelight, 3 8x10" processing trays, towels for a print squeegee and the hair dryer for print drying were already included, and finally a spotting kit for minor print imperfections.

Journalistic Tools: Once the film was edited and a high-quality print produced, the culmination of the assignment was delivering(as quickly as possible, I might add!)a fully captioned and publishable image to your network of clients. A small, manual typewriter and letter-sized adhesive labeling provided the caption and other pertinent information, and the UPI domestic transmitter did the rest. Simply put, with a print attached to its revolving drum, a light sensor scanned tonal values creating sound impulses that were decoded by a receiving printer on the opposite end which produced a facsimile print of the original image. This was done by hardwiring the transmitter to a telephone(normally through the receiver using alligator clips on the inside prongs of the mouthpiece)and for an 8x10" print, the transmission process lasted about 8 minutes. A color photograph(or project, as it was called)required 3 separate scans(for the magenta, cyan, and yellow printers)and lasted nearly half an hour--but that's another story. Needless to say, an inordinate amount of time was spent using the telephone lines to deliver images across the network(taking into account poor reception quality or power surges that resulted in defects, hits, or other circumstances that rendered photos unusable), and a wire service's long distance usage certainly accounted for some serious coin in the telephone industry!

But, when everything went off as envisioned or planned, there was no singular greater feeling(for a UPI photographer at that time)than witnessing the fruits of your labor as a stack of published clips from dual wire service newspapers--that is truly how it was!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An Analog Log

This is how it was . . .

7/30/83, Marshalltown, IA (UPI): The Iowa Boys State High School Baseball Tournament--After securing a nearby cheap motel room which served as a makeshift photo lab(the tiny bathroom outfitted with a portable Unicolor enlarger resting on the sink, three printing trays in the tub with a safelight hanging from the shower curtain rod, and a film processing tank filled with Kodak HC-110 developer at the ready)and photo editing/transmission center(the telephone dismantled and alligator-clipped mouthpiece wired to accommodate the UPI domestic transmitter), I was fully equipped and totally prepared to cover this crucial statewide event. Armed with a Nikon FM camera, auto winder, and 300mm/F 4.5 lens--locked and loaded with Tri-X film--I was the archetype of a sports photographer for that time.

Positioning myself along the first base line in the 100 degree heat, I had the opportunity to strike sports photography gold. When an errant throw from left field stretched a single into a double scoring a run, the catcher was forced to dive for but miss the cut-off relay, and I follow-focused/squeezed off three sequential frames sensing I had captured something remarkable. Rushing back to the darkroom, I waited in eager anticipation to view the film I had just shot. After it cleared in the hypo, I knew this photo had "legs". Quickly knocking out a print(which from exposed film to finished product took less than 30 minutes, thanks to resin-coated photo paper and the utilitarian hair dryer for both film and paper), I offered this photo to the statewide split(meaning it would be transmitted to only Iowa and Nebraska clients), but after the regional editors in Chicago were able to see it, they recommended it for the entire Central/West region--something normally unheard of for state-specific stories. Later I learned this "inconsequential" Iowa boys baseball photo had been published in several client newspapers throughout the Central and Western United States--much to my amazement!

We've come a long ways since then, but our past still defines who we are today. To all the former Unipressers of the world, I salute and thank you for the memories!

Sunday, December 10, 2006


An ancient form that has since influenced many contemporary painters and photographers, it arose from early Christian art and was the standard format for altar paintings from the Middle Ages onwards. Derived from the Greek(tri meaning "three" and ptychee meaning "fold"), the triptych is a work of art divided into three sections with the whole intended to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Recently I had the opportunity to work a five month stretch in a cleanroom environment for the semiconductor industry, and from day one, I was amazed at the precautions and safeguards that were instituted simply to set foot in the production area or "fab" as it was called. Besides having fresh-air circulated and fully ventilated ceilings and floors, workers were expected to dress in cover-alls that concealed and protected the wafers from any form of human contamination. Essentially this meant that from head to toe, not a single body part was left uncovered.

Eventually I approached the management and asked if I could photographically document an entire workday(12 hours--we worked a compressed shift)and was granted unprecedented access heretofore unknown in the semiconductor industry(note: additional photos will be displayed/discussed in future posts). The first images I wanted to capture were of the workers, and considering all of the measures they had to take simply to perform their jobs, I felt that a triptych(or disjointed collection of three separate individuals and their uniforms from top to bottom)demonstrated this circumstance the best.

When searching for a structure to enhance or reveal multiple images as one, don't overlook the triptych--after all, history will be in your favor.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dominant Foreground, Contributing Background

With its macro capability yet panoramic and sweeping perspective, the wide angle lens(in this case, the 20mm, my personal favorite)is the perfect choice for utilizing the compositional technique of dominant foreground, contributing background.

The essence of this device can be summarized in two words: content and context. The main subject, or content, must dominate the image(notably the foreground)with the background contributing a contextual, complimentary, or supporting element to the photograph.

While working on my essay of 100 black and white photographs capsulizing a season of Oregon fly fishing, I needed a picture depicting the first full box of flies I ever tied and a suitable environment that provided it with a contextual meaning--I discovered the perfect balance on the banks of Fall River near Bend, OR. Considering the inherent depth of field it offered, a wide angle lens presented the best of both worlds for this shot. This is not to say that a telephoto lens can't be used to employ this technique(with the correct application they can be quite effective), however I believe a wide/medium wide angle lens was created specifically to facilitate this type of photography.

If your creative intent is to accentuate or isolate a singular subject in an explanatory framework, then this is the method you should rely on.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Powerpoint: The Rule of Thirds

Whether it's applied consciously, or as I believe in most cases unconsciously or even accidentally, the rule of thirds is the most basic or fundamental compositional technique that photographers can employ to create more energy, interest, or tension in their images. I say this because most photographs, especially newspictures, are conceived in a matter of seconds which doesn't allow the photographer the luxury of planning, reflection, or time--everything is done instinctually and purposefully, without regard to any "rules". Perhaps a definition of this creative device will support my argument.

The rule states that an image(or your viewfinder)can be divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, with this grid forming four points from the intersections of these lines--commonly referred to as the powerpoints--which in turn can be used as targets to align features in the photograph. Moreover, the rule of thirds can be adapted by positioning subjects either parallel or perpendicular to the guiding lines--sighting the horizon with the top or bottom lines for example, or allowing linear or spatial features to flow from section to section across the image with respect to the vertical lines. In any event, most people would agree this technique offers much more impact than simply centering a subject.

Moments are fleeting and often there's only time to react and capture something that feels and looks "right". So whether it's in theory or in practice, a conscious decision or an unconscious one, the rule of thirds, its nine section grid, and the power of the four powerpoints should always be in the forefront of your photographic imagination.