Friday, November 15, 2019

Ruby Sunset

It's often said that "the best camera is the one that you have on you."

Opinions differ somewhat as to the meaning of this.  For some, it means that any old camera that you have with you is better than none.  For others, myself included, it means that should a potentially good image present itself, you shouldn't be afraid to use what you have on you. Be it a phone or a point 'n shoot, don't pass up a great shot because you don't have your big fancy camera on you.

Wednesday evening was such an occasion.  I had just gotten out from an appointment, and I was struck by the most awesome sky.   "Red sky at night, sailor's delight."   What made this more delightful was the way that the setting sun illuminated a gap between two buildings -- Ruby Memorial Hospital and the WVU Health Sciences building.  The light reflected off of the windows on Ruby, creating an impressive arrangement of leading lines.

Could this shot have been better?  Certainly, if I'd had my Cannon 77D and one of my better lenses, I could have improved on the exposure.  But all I had was my iPhone Xs, and that's what I used.  And as for composition, I couldn't do anything about the white picket fence, which leads the eye away from the other lines.  It's a feature we'll all have to live with.

On a positive note, there was very little lens distortion in this shot, as you can see from the relatively straight vertical lines.  The electric lights are somewhat overexposed but not glaringly so (no pun intended).

Given the technical deficiencies of an iPhone picture, another school of thought would have me concentrate on the artistic nature of the shot.  Yes, I dare to say there is some of that.   So, not to leave well enough alone, I tried simplifying the photo using the BuzzSim filter from Topaz Studio. I saw this mainly as an attempt to smooth over the JPEG "noise" of the original.

Each shot has its merits.  I'll let you be the judge as to which you like better.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Up, Up and Away

It's been a busy week for me and my camera.   Last Saturday, it was Bridge Day and last night it was "night glow" for the Balloon Festival.  Night glow is what they call it when a bunch of hot air balloons fill up at night and light up on the ground.

This year it was at the Morgantown Mall.  I arrived early to catch a decent parking place and some dinner.  The night glow area was roped off between the old Sears (now, temporarily a Halloween store) and Lowes,

Some people started filling up while it was still daylight.  Here's one of them -- a very cool cat.

Once it got dark, they turned off the lights in the parking lot and let the visitors mill around amongst the balloons.  I really like to photograph the red balloon.  Here's a nice view of a number of balloons lined up and lit.  It was a lot like trying to photograph fireflies.   They all lit up and blinked independent of one another.  I had a few lucky shot where I caught several lighting up at a time.

Saving my favorite for last. The flames on these are overexposed, but it's still a nice shot.  I touched it up a little bit with Topaz Studio.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Bridge Day 2019

On Saturday, October 19, I drove down to the Bridge Day festival near Fayetteville, W.Va.  The festival is one time of the year when the New River Bridge is closed to vehicular traffic, allowing an assortment of base jumpers and rappellers to do their thing, while a massive throng of spectators crowd themselves along the bridge.   Vendors hawk their wares on either end of the bridge.

The sky quickly clouded over by the time I arrived late in the morning.  Still, the view from the bridge is quite spectacular.   The New River gorge, below the bridge is part of a national park.

It was a struggle to work my way through the mass of people to get myself close enough to get pictures of some of the jumpers.   I had to practically hang from the bridge railing to get some of these shots:

There is a visitors center on the north side of the bridge, which gives a different view of the activities.  Check out all of the rappelling lines.   There are four rappellers in this shot, along with one base jumper who is just starting to deploy their parachute.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

On Friday before Labor Day and again on Labor Day, I took a hike down the trail to the Henry Clay iron furnace at Coopers Rock.

These days, it's pretty rare for me to come across a new plant.   And this one is doubly notable, because it's also an orchid.   Meet the Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens):

This shot composed of two different shots that were combined in PhotoShop is not very good, but I wanted to be able to show the entire plant.

Most of my shots showing the leaves were blurry.  I need to stop farting around and use my tripod!  This is the best of the lot:

I wanted to show the leaves because of their reticulated pattern.  Oddly, when I tried to find the origin of the orchid's name, the emphasis is on their resemblance to the plantain.

Sadly, I missed catching this orchid in bloom.  Here's the inflorescence as I found it:

I was surprised to read that Goodyera pubescens is considered to be the most common orchids native to eastern North America.  How is it that I've only now stumbled across it?

Thursday, September 5, 2019

SX-70 Alpha 1, Model 2

In an earlier posting, I described the Polaroid SX-70 that I recently acquired.  I ordered a laser-cut leather skin from Etsy, and over the Labor Day holiday I started on removing the old skin.

I watched some YouTube videos about removing old skin, so I did not go into this unprepared.  However, I'm not particularly proud of my results.

I got some Pro Power Goo and Adhesive Remover, which was recommended in one of the how-to videos.  This helped some, but  the old glue was incredibly stubborn.    I used a straight-edge razor scraping tool and I tried to be as careful as I could in removing the skin and adhesive, all the while being careful to not get any of the Power Goo into the camera.  The glue was like a rock.  I managed to slip a bit along some edges where I left some scars.  I used a dremel tool to smooth out those scars, but the end results were still far from perfect.

Here's the finished product.

I'm showing the side with the worst scarring.  Note the left side of the triangle above the bellows.

Did I ruin this camera's resale value?  Maybe.  Probably.  It's still one hell of a nice camera, though.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Morning Woods

On Friday, August 30, I was hiking back up from the Iron Furnace at Cooper's Rock State Park.  Off the side of the trail, my eye did see something a bit unusual.

It appears that a branch or another tree altogether was growing out from a crack in the main trunk and reentering about a foot or two up above.

If you believe in pareidolia and your mind is in the gutter, you may see something of a different nature.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Y.A. SX-70

Yet another SX-70.

I acquired this in the nicest of ways.  A co-worker, who knows I am into old cameras, asked me if I could give this unusual looking Polaroid a good home.  It came from an old nearby industrial facility that is being torn down.  As you can see, this isn't your mother's SX-70.   It has been customized for scientific photography or perhaps quality control.  The entire addition is of a sturdy metal construction.

The addition on the front says it's from Technical Enterprises of Gainesvill, Florida.  There must have been a bunch of these produced at some point, because it features a model and serial number.  The lens assembly on the front looks like it's configured to attach to another tube, such as a microscope.  There's a remote shutter control attached.

I didn't know if this camera was any good.  It was frozen into an open position, and I could not collapse it down.   Looking through the view finder, all I could see was blackness.  I carefully removed all the Technical Enterprises hardware and discovered an Alpha 1, Model 2.   

Lo and behold, I can now see through the viewfinder, and I can close down the camera.  This one has lugs for a carrying strap and a socket for a tripod mount -- something my older model is lacking.   I looked up the serial number and I found that this one is three years younger than my first SX-70.

Serial Number :5J825789173
Config :Alpha 2 Electronics & Alpha 'K' Focus Wheel
Model :Model 2, SE, Sears or Alpha 2
Birthday :Sep 25, 1978

Cosmetically, the leather trim is cracked in places, and it's considerably worn around the tripod mount area.   I'm thinking of plopping down $20 for laser cut replacement skin that I found on Etsy.

I'm now running a pack of Polaroid Originals color SX-70 film through it and the results so far are quite good.  Better, I dare say, than my Model 1.   I shot this Polaroid of the nearby Marriott:

The one problem that I've found so far is that the focus stops a bit short of infinity.  Until/unless I can fix this, there won't be many landscape shots in its future.

I will be giving this camera a good home.

Edit:  see the update here.

Friday, August 23, 2019

In to thy hands, oh Lord

I'm boggled and perplexed. Millions of Americans believe that the election of Donald is the fulfillment of God's will.

God wants Vladimir Putin to be perfect.

People pray that God will guide a surgeon's hands.

Is there any line of demarcation?  Perhaps not.

Let me go back to the Great Orange One (Trump, not God).   Is God putting stupid words into Trump's mouth?  Was this, too, prophesied? 

Was it God's plan to have toilet paper stick to Trump's shoe as he boarded Air Force One?  It must have been.

Et tu, Corinthians?

Truly, these are strange and mysterious ways.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Polaroid SX-70 Shots

Previously, I mentioned that I got an old circa '75 vintage Polaroid SX-70.  I've taken a few shot with it, and I wish I could be more impressed.   I was hoping for more bright colors, but as you can see, this isn't Kodachrome.  This is what you get with Polaroids.

This is the first shot that I took, which I had posted previously via iPhone capture.  The car is silver and the siding of the house should be like a light chocolate milk color.  You can notice one good thing, however, there is very little lens distortionin the front and back lines of the house in the background.  

This is Morgantown shot from the sixth floor of One Waterfront Place.  Despite the cloud cover, I thought that it should have been an adequately bright day for this landscape shot.

I'd held out the most hope for this last picture of some yellow lilies growing in a flower bed alongside of One Waterfront Place.  This was taken in very bright sunlight.  So bright, that the flower petals are almost over exposed.  Orange day lilies in the background are orange, and the green foliage lacks saturation.

I'm not deterred.  On the positive side, the pictures definitely have a vintage quality to them. 

I can think of a couple of things that might be done differently.   First of all, these shots were ejected from the camera in very bright conditions.  I tried to put the undeveloped film into a dark box as quickly as I could, but there could have been enough exposure to mess up the saturation.   The solution might be to get a film shield.

Another factor that I can think of would be the film itself.  With a little bit of modification, I could use a newer Color 600 Film.  It has a much higher ISO value, which consequently captures much more light.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Polaroid SX-70

I scored another great buy on last week.   Meet the latest addition to my camera  family, the Polaroid SX-70:

As you can see from the picture, it's in good cosmetic shape.   Even more importantly, though -- and this is the risk you take with Goodwill auctions -- it seems to function perfectly.  And something that you probably didn't know:  this SLR camera had a  4-element 116mm F/8 lens.

According to a serial number calculator that I found online, my model came from about the third year of production.

Serial Number :0J501905064
Config :Hybrid Shutter
Model :Model 1 or Alpha 1
Birthday :Sep 22, 1975

The lack of a tripod mount and strap connectors means that this is a Model 1.  It has the old split-lens viewfinder that I really love.

The shot below is not exactly a faithful scan -- it's just an iPhone picture:

Also on display is the package of SX-70 color film that I bought from Amazon.  It's 160 ASA film and I've read that you really should use it out of doors in bright sunlight.  It does have a mount for now-obsolete flash bars, but I don't even want to go there right now.

I've had (much) less than stellar results with previous Polaroid films.  I have a couple of Polaroid Spectras, and I ran a couple of packages of Spectra film made by the Impossible Project.  Most of the shots were crappy.  I suspect that it had a lot  to do with the age of the film, however.

The Impossible Project has recently given way to Polaroid Originals, and the improvement in production quality appears to be substantial.   Of course, I'm basing all of this on my one test shot.  Really, though, my opinion is shared by many other people on the net.

The future brings more experimentation with this camera.  I've read that with a minor adjustment and the addition of a neutral density filter you can run the faster and more easily available Polaroid 600 film through it.   Now that I know this camera works, I feel safe in trying that out.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

More from the "new" old lens

Back on March 29, I raved about the Konica Hexanon AR 50mm f/1.4 lens that I won on a auction. 

I've been using this lens a lot more than I thought I would, getting better at snapping pictures by manually adjusting the ISO, aperture and film speed.

Here's a little gallery of some of my favorite shots:

As you can see, this lens has been performing quite well with close-ups, rendering some pleasing bokeh.

My next challenge is to get better at shooting this lens wide open at f/1.4.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Gardener's Bane

For the past six years, I have given up on my vegetable garden.  I've been entertaining the notion once again this year, but constant rains have robbed me of the opportunity of roto-tilling.  But that's another story.  The real story here is the weed that has discouraged me from planting.

This weed has been like a mythological pestilence.  When I roto-till, I chop up the roots of this noxious weed and a new plant arises from each piece.   Too many to pull -- not that the roots come up with the plant.  Too resistant to mulching.  And too resistant even to herbicides -- not that I want to use those in my vegetable garden.

I've identified this bane of my existence, and its name is Mugwort.

Here's an encouraging little piece on its prevention, control and management that I found:
The dense root system of mugwort can make it difficult to control. Pulling is ineffective, and may even promote growth by leaving residual rhizome fragments in the soil. Mugwort tolerates mowing, and even sustained mowing over two years will not fully eradicate mugwort stands. The relatively shallow roots make mugwort vulnerable to repeated cultivation in agricultural systems, though this practice risks spreading root propagules.
Ironically, mugwort was used in the Middle Ages as a magical protective herb. Mugwort was used to repel insects – especially moths – from gardens.  This was before roto-tillers.

Interestingly, mugwort has a long history as an herb.  WebMD has this to say:
People take mugwort root as a “tonic” and to boost energy.
People take the rest of the plant for stomach and intestinal conditions including colic, diarrhea, constipation, cramps, weak digestion, worm infestations, and persistent vomiting. Mugwort is also used to stimulate gastric juice and bile secretion. It is also used as a liver tonic; to promote circulation; and as a sedative. Other uses include treatment of hysteria, epilepsy, and convulsions in children.
Women take mugwort for irregular periods and other menstrual problems.
In combination with other ingredients, mugwort root is used for mental problems (psychoneuroses), ongoing fatigue and depression (neurasthenia), depression, preoccupation with illness (hypochondria), general irritability, restlessness, trouble sleeping (insomnia), and anxiety.
Some people apply mugwort lotion directly to the skin to relieve itchiness caused by burn scars.
Also interesting is the fact that mugwort was a common ingredient in gruit. This was before the "discovery" of hops.  Maybe I should return to making beer again.  At least my garden would have some use.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Pink Ladyslippers

I was looking forward to this time of year (mid-May) because it's when Pink Lady's Slippers orchids (Cypripedium acaule) first make their appearance in our forests.

According to their Wikipedia article, they are widespread in Canada and the eastern third of the United States.  Even so, I'd never encountered one until moving to West Virginia.

The following shots were all taken last weekend at Cooper's Rock state forest.  All were taken with a Canon 77D and a vintage Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro lens.  In other words, manual settings and manual focusing.

Lady's slippers usually appear in colonies.  They are said to prefer pine forests, but I have only seen them in deciduous woods. Lady's slippers have a symbiotic association with a particular fungus.  It was thought that the fungus was necessary to provide the plant with nutrients, but recent research indicates that the fungus is only necessary for seed germination.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro

Some time back, I bought an old Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro lens from  I've come to like this lens a great deal.  Here's a shot of it mounted on a Fotodiox Pro adapter (the blue ring) for Canon EF.

Because of the FD to EF adapter, you need to manually focus this lens, as well as set the proper f-stop.

Once I determined that the light meter in the camera was unreliable for setting these, I've become adept at using the Lux Professional Light Meter app for iOS.  This is a great app, by the way.  It lets you determine readings based on ISO, f-stop and shutter speed.

Here are a few of the recent pictures that I've taken recently with this lens:

Reviews that I've read about this lens say that it also makes a pretty decent prime lens for regular photography as well as macro.   I haven't tried it for this yet.

I got this lens very cheaply with the idea that I would play around with it for a while and then sell it on eBay.  Now I'm thinking that this is something that I'd rather hang on to.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Camera control via WiFi

My newest DSLR is a Canon 77D that I got for my birthday.  Among its many awesome features it has built in WiFi with NFC to allow connection to a mobile device.

The other day, I tried a new technique where I used the Canon EOS Utility to make a wireless tether connection between a laptop and the camera.  With the EOS Utility, I was able to set the camera on a tripod at ground level and take a series of shots at different focal lengths.  Here's the result of my first attempt:

This was created from a 9-shot focus stack.

I used to be able to do this sort of thing using MagicLantern on my EOS T2i, but there's no current support for it on the 77D.  With the EOS Utility, I can control the focus from my laptop in increments.  While not automatic like MagicLantern, I do get to see what the camera is seeing on the screen of my laptop.  The software even allows for 5X zoom to make fine focus even easier.

I had been able to do some of this previously using the Canon Camera Connect app on my iPhone or iPad but the focus control wasn't as easy for me.  Maybe I'll play around with that some more and report on the results later.

Friday, March 29, 2019

A New Old Lens

A while back, I scored a Konica Hexanon AR 50mm f/1.4 lens from   It came attached to an old Konica TC film camera, but the camera turned out to be broken.  Still, the entire thing only cost me $20, plus shipping.

I spent a lot more money on a Fotodiox Pro adapter with focus confirmation chip for Konica Auto-Reflex (AR) SLR Lens to Canon EOS.  However, after a little fooling around with that lens, I'm convinced that I got a real gem.

Here's a shot I took a week or so ago:

The shot is a little dark, because I discovered that the camera's built-in light meter was giving me inaccurate readings though the lens.

Later on I tried using the Lux light meter app for iOS.  This proved much more accurate, as demonstrated by this test shot I took from the seventh floor of my building:

This is actually a crop of a much larger shot.   Looking very closely, there was slight chromatic aberration that was easily corrected in Lightroom.  This shot has crisp detail.  In some ways, the lens surpasses my favorite Canon EF-S 17-55mm lens.  I thought that the road signs over University and Beechurst Avenue were more legible.

I can't wait to try this lens out some more!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Revisiting B&W

A couple of weeks back, I visited the Gulf coast in southwestern Florida.  I took lots of pictures with my crappy old Rebel XSi, but that camera is another story.

I visited my usual favorite spots and got a few decent shots.  However, because of the nature of these shots, I experimented with Black & White processing.

I took this shot of a trail in Jelk's Preserve with my LensBaby fisheye lens.

The trees here are all overhung with various epiphytes.  Although this might be somewhat interesting from a botanical point of view, I thought I could capitalize on the artistry instead.  The overhanging branches were further enhanced from the curvature produced by the fisheye.  I enhanced the sinister, closed-in appearance further by using a "film noir" filter setting in PhotoShop.  I also lightened the vignetting a bit. The circular tunnel effect combined with the harsh B&W processing makes this look like an old illustration of Mirkwood Forest from The Lord of the Rings.

Sharkey's Pier in Venice, Florida, provided another opportunity for B&W.  This shot was taken looking out over the pier.  The sky and water colors were nice, but they weren't anything special.  I used B&W to help concentrate the eye on all of the lines instead.  

Perhaps a "meh" picture, but it's a better class of meh.

Saving the best for last, here's the same pier shot from the ground on the right side.

Once again, I wanted to emphasize the lines.  I think that the black & white toning enhanced this picture.  Coupled by the composition elements, such as the old and young figures on the far left and the American flag in the center, this picture evokes the feel of an Americana style from the past.

Monday, January 14, 2019


Santa gave me a fisheye optic for my Lensbaby Composer.  Truth be told, I find this a lot more interesting to use than the default tilt-shift lens of the Composer.

Freaturing a 12mm focal length, this lens can shoot from one inch to infinity.

To Infinity and Beyond!

This is a shot of the Buzz Lightyear toy in my cubicle at work.  I put a black card behind it, relishing the 2001 Space Odyssey-like reflecting lights on the plastic helmet.  To help matters along, I added a lens flare effect from photoshop.

In the following shot, I lined up the Pink Panther figures to look somewhat like the Keep on Trucking graphic from the 70s.  Shot from a short distance, the line of panthers shows nicely the perspective effect that you gain with a fisheye lens.

Here's another one, among my first shots with this lens, that also shows the type of perspective I'm talking about:

This shot of Stewart Hall on WVU's main campus illustrates the visual distortion of a landscape shot.  Note the barrel distortion and chromatic effects in the four corners.

None of these shots are what I would call great, but this has been a very fun lens to play around with.
Like this car, I'm happy: