May 052013
 

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One Giant Polaroid

by Brad Nichol – His website is HERE

One of the key questions I pose to my photography students is “why do we take photographs”. It usually leads to great discussions where all sorts of reasons are proffered,  commonly the answers centre around ideas such as recording events, serving as memory joggers and story telling.

All good valid reasons, but for me, photography is focused around two drivers.  First I shoot to create photographic art that is in the main “pre-visualised”, normally in bed at 2.00 am.  Secondly and of the most significance I take photographs because it heightens my visual senses and thus provides me with a benefit I carry with me 24 hours a day.  Simply photography has allowed me to enjoy the visual world to a far greater degree and as I tell my students it matters not whether you shoot with a Leica or a Powershot, the visual appreciation benefit potential is the same.

I happily work with any camera, but acknowledge that each tool subtly changes the way I see and guides what I look for, some days are iPhone days, some NEX days, some Alpha days and there are even film days.  I am not a camera buff as such, and certainly not dedicated to a particular brand but in the main I guess I am a mirrorless guy and the NEX series fills my general needs best at present because they are just so adaptable.

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One the other hand I am a bit of a tech tragic, I rigorously test equipment, develop editing and shooting processes and modify gear to suit my needs.  Perhaps later I will provide some posts on these issues.  All this geeky fervour is not however for mere entertainment, it is in fact for the purposes of preparation and practice so that my vision and projects can be realized without compromise.  I often find folk who want to believe they can create great work by just buying the right camera and lenses shooting on Auto,  just letting the creativity flow.  Let me just say, it’s pretty hard to be fully creative if your techniques and lack of planning are getting in the way of your vision and compromising your work. Some folk might jag the odd great shot but I’d rather not treat photography as a lottery, when I go off to shoot I fully intend to come home with the result I am after, so having full technical mastery is for me not just a nice additional option it is an intrinsic part of the process, hence perhaps my rather anal approach.

So here then is a story of a large 8 month  project that I have just completed, perhaps it will inspire some of you, perhaps it will confirm that I have a certain streak of insanity.

Banded Together

I love Polaroids, but in particular ways. I am not enamored with the often poor colour,  unevenly processed edges and poor clarity.  But I just love square composition, I am stylistically at one with the layout of the square beautifully placed within the white border with that extra space underneath for imprinting.  I love that you can tag the image with title and date.  There is something compelling also in the slight edge vignetting of the frame of a well-developed roid, and then there’s the feel of the images in your hand, just lovely.  Most of all I love the subliminal message of the format, it says “hey, here is a moment captured in time and it is important to me”.

What I want however is roids without limitations, fauxlaroids in fact.

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Lets backtrack a little, 8 months ago whilst my body and mind waged war against one another a 2.30 am on cool winters night  I had an idea.  My wife and I were about to fly to the US and Canada for a 6 week holiday and having just moved into our new home I was planning the new artworks for the walls, around 50 in total and at this stage I had planned about 20 of them.

The hatched idea was as follows, shoot a set of 200 images that encapsulated what is different about North America.  Distill these down to 120, edit them to look like Polaroids, print them so they look and feel like Polaroids then mount them in a giant Polaroid frame and hang it in our front entrance way.

The project involved several stages:

Planning what to shoot ( it needs noting that I shot a raft of projects over the 6 weeks, so I had to be careful and efficient with time, after all it was a holiday for both my wife and I.)

Cull and Edit the images.

Have the images custom printed and mounted.

Cut up, name and coat the images, which is far more involved than it might at first seem.

Install the lighting for the final artwork.

Build the Polaroid frame.

Determine the final layout within the frame.

Mount the final work, which again is not straightforward as it weighs about 50 kilograms.

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All of this was worked out before a shot was taken, (I told you I have a mental problem) and it  pretty much went to plan, other than costing a little more than intended and being a bit heavier than estimated. The shots were taken on my iPhone 4S and my NEX 5n, and mainly shot at equivalent focal lengths in the 35-50mm range.

What I consider different between Australia and America may of course be very different to what you consider different, but remember I am an Aussie and this is a personal work.  Of course we found many unplanned  things to add to the collection along the way and often it was a case of finding the  subject that best typified the breed. Unfortunately I missed a couple of subjects because I felt I would find a better example and failed to capture the “bird in the hand”.

Compositionally  most images are quite parred down with strong simple elements, this was deliberate because when the final image is going to be only 10 by 10 cm or so and mixed in close proximity with others complexity will somewhat confuse the effect. Additionally all the images were intended to be colour so potential images that needed “monochromatic contrast punch” to work were not considered for the project donor set.

Editing involved colour grading, DOF simulation adjustments, 3D sharpening, etch sharpening, vignetting, careful cropping and some subtle non-constrained resizing to keep everything homogenous within the square frame format. I estimate around 30 hours of editing but it was probably more.

Too Cool Fido

In colour terms I aimed for a subtle look, no chromacities are pushed beyond the others which meant in some cases reds needed to be held back. All non-specular whites are fully rendered and blacks show neutrality and just a touch of detail. Saturation levels are stronger around the middle tones but at no point do they  get anywhere near MTV colour where it’s all turned up to 11. Printing was  handled by a local art printing business called Arthead who handle all my printing and we tried several papers to find the right one, I am also a paper tragic, but lets not go there now.

Once printed the images were mounted to mat board, which had just the right thickness for the task.  Once I had the images at home they were cut up with a knife and blade which was really straight forward as I had laid the images out on sheets of 40 with cutting guides added onto sheets. Once trimmed, the edges were blacked and then the images carefully tagged and dated with a very fine CD marking pen. Following on the next step involved etching into the edge of the image with a semi sharp knife to simulate the edge of the border paper on a Polaroid where it overlays the border of the image area. Finally the image areas were masked off and the perimeter matte sprayed twice, which makes the image area pop nicely and adds a subtle lift to the overall look.

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The frame was quite involved as the images actually float on 32 mm thick blocks with the cavities between them being painted flat black.  This makes the images pop better and gives a more 3D look but it meant cutting up 120 MDF blocks and perfectly spacing them out. The outer MDF frame is an exact match to SX 70 frame layout and proportions and has been thinned down on the edges with a router so that even when looked at in profile it looks quite thin and proportional. The frame surface is matte painted with several coats of water based white primer and ceiling paint, which have been sanded with very fine paper to give an eggshell like surface and then lightly Matt sprayed for protection.

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So there it is, I am currently very happy with the result but time will tell, as I often tell my students I am never quite sure if my work is any good until I have had it hanging on the wall for a couple of years.

But at the moment I think it does sum up the North American differences that we saw and over the course of our sojourn this specific project focused my attention on the visual feast that was America.

Brad Nichol

 

Jan 022013
 

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A quick look at the “new’ Polaroid Z340 instant print camera by Amy Medina.

So my quick thoughts on my new Polaroid camera…

It’s a “new” Polaroid. I do have a few old-school “real” Polaroids… this one is not that. This is the z340, which is a digital Polaroid and instant printer. It uses something called Zink (Zero Ink) technology (uses heat on special paper) to create a smudge-proof 3×4 photo.

It is also a 14mp digital camera that saves to internal memory or an SD card. The files are somewhat like you’d expect from a half-way decent point-and-shoot, with usable results up to ISO 800 (mostly), though it does shoot at higher than that if needed. I like having the digital “negative” but at the end of the day, this camera is really about instant-printing… and that’s the fun of it.

What I like:

The instant printing. Duh! LOL

You have the option to do it without borders or with the traditional Polaroid border (as seen in earlier examples from today – and below). There are also some other cheesy borders, but they are pretty useless. You even have the ability to upload two of your own custom borders to the camera (via SD card).

It takes about 45 seconds to print. It doesn’t spit the photo out as quick as an old Polaroid does, but it takes less time to “develop”… once it’s out, it’s done, dry and will not smudge. I ever had two of my prints out in the rain today and they are 99% of what they were before they got covered with water-droplets.

Physically, It looks like an old Polaroid camera, but has a nifty digital screen on it. Wish it had a viewfinder thought. It reminds me of the old Polaroid Spectra.

It also has built-in editing, so you don’t HAVE to print the second it takes the photo, or exactly what you already took and see on screen. You can shoot directly in B&W or some vintage color mode; You can also shoot in normal mode and then edit the picture after you shoot it and convert to B&W or one of the vintage color modes. You can also crop and reposition.

There are some basic camera functions… choose ISO or select auto, there’s different metering options, EV compensation and bracketing, different focus modes, different size options, a macro mode, different flash settings, and there’s also a digital zoom or intelligent zoom to choose from.

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Print Quality:

You aren’t going to use this to get the sharpest, most color accurate photos. The idea of it is to mimic an old Polaroid camera. Even when you shoot normal color prints (and the digital files will look typical to any decent pocket camera), there can be some odd color shifts. I’ve heard there is old paper and new paper but I don’t know much about that yet… I used what came with the camera. Sometimes you get streaks. Extreme heat or cold will affect the paper.

I would call the quality of the prints somewhat unique. They have a pleasant soft appearance (that is still somehow sharp, if that makes sense) and reminds me of an old Polaroid film print. The black and white prints truly look like something out of the 60′s or 70′s (and there are two B&W modes… one more contrasty than the other). There’s also a “LOMO” setting to get more saturated colors and a pin-hole effect, which is rather cool if you like that sort of thing ;)

What I think could use improvement:

Needs a real battery charger. The battery charges inside the camera and the whole camera has to be plugged in. However, I wouldn’t lose this feature as it’s nice if you’re just printing (which eats up battery life). It just needs a separate battery charger too. And while Polaroid is at it, they could make the battery and battery compartment a little easier to deal with. Getting the battery out isn’t all that easy.

Zink paper could be a little cheaper I think, even if the camera is just a bit more upfront. Currently, they end up costing about 60 cents per print.

I’d love to see a viewfinder on the camera. The camera is shaped to hold up to the eye, but you can’t really do that.

More “vintage” color options. The ones to pick from are a bit limited. Some customization of them would be nice.

Make the AUCTION MODE shoot at a higher resolution, and call it PHOTO BOOTH. People aren’t going to use this camera for product photography… that’s not the audience. Being able to use it like a photo booth with proper size photos would be AWESOME! If you’re wondering what I’m on about here… easy. This “Auction Mode” shoots 3 or 4 images and combines them onto one photo. Their idea in the manual is for selling stuff on ebay, so they limit the resolution to 640×480 for each photo. I instantly saw this as a photo booth opportunity… and it can work that way currently, but the photos aren’t clear enough when printed because of the resolution limit!

It needs a proper power button. The one on the camera doesn’t feel like it will hold up to the test of time. The other buttons all seem fine.

And lastly, if I choose to shoot with the official Polaroid border, the LCD should show me that, or at least the correct crop. Now, I’m pretty good at judging and guessing, but it doesn’t ALWAYS work out 100% of the time. When the paper costs what it does, I’d like to know what it’s going to look like ahead of time. At the very least, they could offer an option to turn on guidelines in the display (they already have an option for a rule-of-third overlay).

Overall…

It’s just a FUN camera… which is really what it’s meant to be. I posted some photos earlier today which I’ll include again at the bottom of this article to give you an idea of how it might be used in today’s modern age. I can also imagine at a family gathering it’s going to be a blast. I can’t wait to bring it to my in-laws in a couple of weeks! I also like the idea of giving photos to random strangers (which I did today). I’ll be giving more thought on other ways to use it creatively, but I’ve already had a great time using it in just 24 hours. We are a society losing tangible things — mp3 instead of CDs/tapes/albums — PDFs instead of books — and digital files instead of printed photos — I like the touchy-feeling instant nature of this, married to modern technology. It’s just neat.

First shot is just a picture of some of the prints I made, followed by a collage of the digital files straight out of the camera.

Printed Photos (no border)

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The digital “negatives” that came straight out of the camera, most at ISO 800

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The next two are photos I took today with my Fuji XE1, incorporating the Polaroids I had taken into the shot.

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LINK TO SEE PHOTOS BIGGER: You can also see all photos HERE

Feel free to ask any questions… follow me on Facebook (for my Picture-A-Day project and other photography related things). More links below to other ways you can follow me.

My websitehttp://www.DangRabbit.com/Photography

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Apr 152012
 

User Report: Concert Photography & Portraits with a vintage Mamiya Universal Press and Polaroid Back by Chad Wadsworth

Hello Steve Huff Photo readers! Steve was kind enough to let me share with you some concert photography and artist portraits that I’ve taken over the last few years with Polaroid land cameras and an old Mamiya Universal Press with a Polaroid back. It seems like we are all constantly searching for the next new piece of digital gear, whether it be the M10, X-Pro 1, OMD or NEX-7. I’m guilty of buying a ticket to this carousel and have been through my share of m4/3 and APS-C compacts as they certainly do have their important place in our daily photography. That said, in retrospect, the work that is often most satisfying to me personally has been the “lo-fi” analog photos captured with vintage gear.

As a concert and editorial photographer, my weapon of choice is a DSLR. It offers the perfect combination of rugged build (I recently had to use the body of my 5D to brace myself against the stage as the crowd surged forward), speed of focus, access to excellent optics and a comfortable user interface. But as most my contemporaries use the same equipment, it can be challenging to craft a signature to your work outside of composition and post processing. Vintage gear or larger format cameras can bring new looks to your work and are a ton of fun to use.

I won’t take up much more of your reading time other than to tell you a little more about the gear and techniques used.

In this group of shots I am using my trusty Mamiya Universal Press (a medium format rangefinder) with a broken shutter trigger so I have to manually hit the shutter lever on the lens. This particular concert was well-lit but the film was slow – Fuji FP-100 and my shutter speed was around 1/30 at f/2.8 with a Sekor 100mm lens. I basically zone focused and tried to stay steady during an exciting set by one of my favorite bands – Spoon. I also had some fun with a double exposure shot from the stage – not sure if it works completely but I like it fine.

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The same camera and Polaroid back combination was used here for an album artwork shoot. This one was shot at sunset on a farm in the Texas Hill Country.

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The Mamiya / Sekor 100mm also makes for a great lo-fi portrait lens with nice swirly bokeh and strong vignetting. Here are some artist snapshots taken at the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX. The artists are: Bounce/Hip-Hop musician Big Freedia, John Dwyer from the San Francisco band, Thee Oh Sees and the truly remarkable Merrill Garbus of the music project tUnE-yArDs

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And finally, here are some photos from an ongoing portrait series using an old Polaroid 450 land camera with portrait lens attachment. Some of these were shot on the real deal – Polaroid 669, others with Fuji FP-100. The camera is positioned about 10 inches from the subject’s nose which can result in an intense emotive quality as they stare into the camera at close range. Artists are: the lovely Annie Clark, also known as St. Vincent, Matt Berninger of The National, Matt Shaw of the now defunct band, Hymns and the beautiful and talented Shara Worden, also known as My Brightest Diamond. Thanks for looking and thanks again to Steve!

Jan 112012
 

Polaroid Announces the SC1630 Smart Camera Powered by Android

Is this the future of Photography? I think it just might be the future of the point and shoot. One day, point and shoots will fall by the wayside as products like this Polaroid come out along with the amazing iPhone apps we have been seeing lately (review of a kick ass app I have been using soon). Imagine if Leica did something like this with an iPhone. Remember the concept camera/phone? The i9? That would be sweet as a take anywhere always with you device. I’m telling you…a few short years from now THIS just may be what the masses are shooting with and us enthusiasts will be the niche market with the higher end cameras.

Full Press Release below:

Fusing the Feature Set of a High-End Digital Camera with the Power of Android*, the Polaroid SC1630 Makes Snapping and Sharing High Definition Digital Images an Instant Experience

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Polaroid today announced that capturing and sharing high-end digital images is now seamless with the Polaroid SC1630, an Android powered smart camera. The Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera features a high definition 16 megapixel camera with built in 3X optical zoom, touch screen display and Wi-Fi, making uploads to social networks as easy as the touch of a button. Merging the optics of a digital still and video camera with the limitless power of the Android platform, the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera evolves the process of clicking, editing, uploading and tagging to an instant experience on one device.

With the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera powered by Android you will no longer need to choose between your smart phone and your point and shoot camera because it offers the best of both worlds. Delivering everything expected from a digital camera but powered by Android, the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera surprisingly packs all the features needed to conveniently capture, connect and instantly share beautiful HD digital images and video into one device, weighing a mere five ounces.

An ultra-portable, two-in-one instant sharing powerhouse, the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera leaves even the most powerful camera phones in the dust by combining an advanced imaging feature set with an unmatchable Android powered mobile platform:

Capture Like the Pros: Life’s quickest moments are no longer at risk to becoming blurry images from a basic camera phone. Built on a 16 megapixel CCD senor, the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera treats images to a 3X optical zoom – a feature not found in most mobile phones. Choose from 18 scene modes and then click and view crystal clear images – captured at 36mm or full 108mm magnification – on the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera’s 3.2” widescreen display.

Enhance Your Moments With Smart Features: The Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera powered by Android takes the work out of being behind the lens with automatic face and smile detection. Also, gone are the days when digital images that never connected with a USB cord went unorganized and forgotten. The Smart Album feature of the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera automatically organizes photos by date, location and people. Plus, geo-tagging features can add longitude and latitude coordinates to photos.

Edit, Share and Save: Now there is no reason to leave the party – everything needed to edit, save and upload can be done anywhere right on the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera. On-board editing features include cropping, red-eye removal, resizing and color correction. Backed by the power of Android, the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera uploads images to social networks with the touch of one button and can hold up to 32GB of memory via a microSD card.

Instantly Connect to the World: The Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and optional cellular data connections empower digital images to be shared from anywhere in a snap.

Get Productive: Need to check-in on where friends are gathering, get directions or make the next move in your favorite game? Backed by the power of Android, the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera supports Google’s Android Market, making it truly like no other camera available today. Now you can snap, share and link up with more than 400,000 apps.

“Polaroid has helped the world bring stories to life through photographs for the past 75 years,” said Scott W. Hardy, President, Polaroid. “The newest member of the Polaroid family, the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera unites the beauty of high-end digital images with powerful Android connectivity features. The result is an instant experience of click, capture and share that enables social networks to see and experience the moment as if they were there.”

Designed to be just as fashionable as it is portable, the simple, clean lines and straight forward interface of the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera makes capturing and sharing effortless. Loaded with features that enable easy capture, connecting and sharing on the fly, the rechargeable battery can last all day on a full charge.

Jul 142011
 

The Power of the Polaroid (and photos in general)

By Steve Huff

I have been home for 3-4 days and am STILL going through my e-mails so sorry if you wrote and did not get a reply just yet. One of the emails included a link to a story with some pretty powerful images. All shot with a Polaroid…

I remember seeing this story a while ago and I may have even posted a link to a story about it but once I started digging into the images I realized this should have it’s own post.

This story is about a man named Jamie Livingston who for 18 years, took a Polaroid photograph every day. From 1979 to 1997 he documented his life up until it’s short end at 41 years old when he died of Cancer. It is a tragic story and being a sensitive guy, one that brought a tear to my eye as I browsed through all of his images. You can see  them all HERE, and believe me, I sat here for hours looking at all of them. I am still jet lagged so my sleep schedule is all over the place right now :)

From 1995, Jamie even shot a few intimate moments at times..

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Two weeks before his death he married his girlfriend, who can be seen in many of the previous shots he took

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The last Polaroid. We do not know who shot it but it shows him just before his death in 1997. Age 41. My age. 

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Again, you can see the whole collection HERE and it is worth taking a look at when you have some time. As I browsed through them I was reminded of the power of photography. The power of life, love, friends and family. Those we spend time with while on this rather short journey we all have on this planet. There have been a couple of events in my life that made me take a step back and realize I have to live life like every day is the last, because ANY day could be my last.

Photography, wether shooting stills or video/film is the one medium that will record our lives for our kids and their kids to see. Magic. Sometimes the stories will be happy, sometimes they will be sad. There will be challenges and there will be triumphs. But to remember all of these times we should all be snapping away every day! If you are reading this I KNOW you have the gear to do so!

I just created a folder on my desktop called “daily” and while I may not take a shot every single day, I am going to try and snap a shot of what is going on in my life at least every other day. I will use my Iphone and Hipstamatic and hopefully I will live at least another 20 years so I can look back at my life with a smile, some tears and even some laughter.

This story also was relevant to me because just recently I toured the Leica Shop in Vienna and was amazed to see the Polaroid Impossible exhibit. Getting to see Ansel Adams ORIGINAL Polaroid of his self portrait..how cool is that? When I was there with Seal he picked up a couple of really cool SX-70 cameras. I am kicking myself for not buying one myself but I may buy one online here really soon. The new films are pretty special but my fave is the black frame B&W.

You just gotta love Polaroids. My 1st camera was a Polaroid back when I was a kid and I LOVED that camera but the damn film was so expensive it was a rare treat when I was able to get a new pack of the magical instantly developing goodness. I used to burn through that film like mad, irritating everyone in my path. I think I have some of those Polaroids somewhere and will dig them up one day but in all reality, most of the photography in my youth was shot with a cheap 110 film camera :)

It’s funny, I always disliked when photos were shot of me so I would do silly things when my Mother or Father would snap one of me..

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I have a bunch of photos from my teen years in boxes. Maybe one day I will scan a few and share them with you…some funny stuff. That is another magical part of photography. SHARING. We all love to shoot and share which is what really makes this hobby special. Facebook, Flickr, forums…these days PHOTOS ARE EVERYWHERE. I love it.

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In Moscow with the backing band – shot by Holly Palmer on her Ipad with SHAKE IT!

So the moral of the story? Memories are priceless…shoot whenever you can. Shoot life. Shoot love. Shoot YOU. Until next time…

My only two looks. Mean or Goofy :)

© 2009-2014 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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