31-Day Challenge

March 1: My photography professor, Jeff Rich, recommended I look at the work of California photographer Jeff Brouws. Vintage signs, square frames, stunning colors: what’s not to love?

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March 2: Stephen Shore is another photographer my professor recommended I look at because he felt his work is similar to what I’ve been trying to achieve in my Once Familiar project. Every time I tried to pick a favorite to share here on my blog, I flipped to the next image and loved it even more.

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March 3: Brian Finke’s work is essentially a wide sociological representation of various groups: truckers, flight attendants, frat boys, etc. And his use of flash outdoors is flawless. Plus, he makes work for National Geographic, New York Times Magazine, ESPN Magazine—no big deal.

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March 4: Jennifer Greenburg inserts images of herself in found mid-20th century images to “hijack the memories.”

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March 5: British photographer Simon Roberts explored 200+ locations throughout Russia for his series Motherland.

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March 6: The following image is from Paul Shambroom’s Meetings Series for which he took photos of official meetings in small towns.

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March 7: Kyle Ford’s project Forever Wild is currently in progress. Click the image below to see some of the shots he’s created so far.

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March 8: I adore all of Lacey Criswell’s quirky Minnesota images. She clearly is a genius at finding remarkable locations.

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March 9: I’m always a fan of surreal photography though I don’t care to produce it myself.

New York City-based photographer Brooke Didonato is “influenced by the subconscious and its correlation to emotions and perceptions,” according to the bio on her site.

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March 10: Martha Rosler explores the implied freedom of major American roadways in her series Rights of Passage (which includes much better quality images in book form).

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March 11:  Many photographers probably know Alec Soth’s large format work, but I finally got my hands on a copy of Songbook. I’ll always be biased toward his book Sleeping by the Mississippi because I grew up on the Mississippi River in Iowa, but seeing his black and white work for Songbook was a new take.

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March 12: Stephanie Calabrese is largely an iPhone photographer who made this Georgia series featured by the New York Times. 

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March 13: EI just finished watching Manufactured Landscapes, a documentary of Edward Burtynsky photographing industry in China.

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March 14: Tom Wood photographed bus rides in Liverpool over a period of 20 years for his series Bus Odyssey.

Tom Wood

March 15:  Antti Janjunen is a London-based photographer I ran across while looking for examples of exposures made on Velvia on Instagram today.

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March 16: Margaret Morton made this documentary series about young people living in an abandoned glass factory in Manhattan.

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March 17: If you love vintage signs, Zack Vitiello’s Instagram is for you.

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March 18: In Juan Fernandez’ series Façade, he removes all distracting elements in Photoshop to create an increased sense of tension in his architecture shots.

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March 19: German photographer Elmar Ludwig’s zany work caught my eye in a used book store in Chicago last weekend called Our True Intent is All for Your Delight. Unfortunately, he’s slightly difficult to track down on the internet and I regret not buying it!

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March 20: John Hinde is an English photographer with a nostalgic feel, especially in postcard version.

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March 21: Tamara Reynolds explored transient town Oak Grove, Kentucky for this Oxford American project.

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March 22: Throwback to my angsty high school years when my all-time favorite photographer was Brooke Shaden. 

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March 23: Jennifer Bolande was commissioned to create billboards that matched their scenery. 

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March 24: Drone + Photoshop = Aydin Büyüktas’s photo manipulations 

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March 25: Homai Vyarawalla was a photojournalist at the time India became independent from the British Empire.

Homai Vyarawalla

March 26: Shelby Lee Adams is known as “Picture Man” among the locals he photographs in Kentucky.

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March 27: Lori Nix builds dioramas of imagined abandoned spaces for her project, The City.

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March 28: David Plowden tried to capture elements American heritage that are threatened to be erased by industry and progress.

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March 29: It’s impossible not to love the work of street photographer Elliot Erwitt.

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March 30: Recommended by Eirik Johnson, who is currently visiting the University of Iowa’s photography program, Robert Adams. How have I not heard of him before?! His photos are just my style.

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March 31: The series Animal Logic by Richard Barnes had me laughing out loud all the way through.

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Photographer Research 31-Day Challenge

At the beginning of January, a prompt in my Steal Like an Artist Journal encouraged me to begin a 31-day challenge. I love photography but don’t look at others’ work as often as I would like, so I decided to do some brief research on one photographer each day and ended up with my own little personally curated gallery of artists that inspire me.

NONE of these images are my own. Please click on the images to see them and other images in the series on the photographer’s websites.

January 1: Irving Penn
Irving Penn is a photographer best known for his fashion photography but also has several interesting side projects that are worth a look.

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January 2: Jon Horvath
His Pathetic Clouds series killed me.

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January 3: Andrew Borowiec
I see so much of what I’ve been trying to accomplish in my Iowa series in this Ohio photographer’s work.

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January 4: Kate Medley
Her work in the South is gorgeous. Unfortunately, her website doesn’t seem to be working right now, so I’ve linked to Oxford American.

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January 5: Francesca Woodman
Her black and white self portraits and long exposures continue to amaze years after her death by suicide.

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January 6: Chris McCaw
Long exposure sun images burn holes through the paper. In the image below, he used new paper every 30 minutes. Click the image to check out his site where you can see a wide range of techniques he used in his Sunburn project.

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January 7: Matthew Brandt
This L.A. photographer is known for making C-41 prints of lakes, then soaking them in the body of water depicted in the image.

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January 8: Rebecca Drolen
Rebecca Drolen’s work is uniquely surreal and witty.

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January 9: Stacey Baker
This photo editor started an Instagram account where she captures women’s legs on the streets of New York.

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January 10: Lucy Hilmer has taken a self portrait every year on her birthday since 1947 when she was 29 for her project “Birthday Suits.”

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January 11: Maia Flore
Check out Maia Flore’s website for fun, surreal images that will make you think.

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January 12: Gioia de Bruijn
This photographer finds traditional documentary photographer voyeuristic and instead believes in being involved in the situations she photographs.

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January 13: Lisa Elmaleh
Lisa Elmaleh shoots 8×10 wet plates of the Florida Everglades and develops them in a darkroom in the back of her truck.

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January 14: Susan Derges
This camera-less photographer makes photograms of the movement of water.

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January 15: Jens Knigge
German photographer Jens Knigge makes plantinum prints

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January 16: Keith Carter
For his book Uncertain to Blue, Keith Carter photographed small towns with odd names in Texas. This image is called Bebe.

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January 17:Michael Weitzman
I follow this alternative process photographer’s Instagram. He uses a wide range of techniques. The image below was produced with a toy camera.

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January 18: Kat Shannon
Today my photography professor showed us this “Girls in Uniform” series one of his former students, Kat Shannon, made and I instantly fell in love.

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January 19: Mauro D’Agati
I checked out Italian photographer Mauro D’Agati’s book Less Vegas. He visited Las Vegas for 10 days, following permanent residents around.

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January 20: Harry Callahan
Harry Callahan was a street photographer who was inspired by the look, though not so much the subject matter, of Ansel Adams. The image below is part of a series made in Chicago.

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January 21: Joel Sternfeld
Check out his American Prospects series for more of his witty sense of humor.

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January 22: William Christenberry
William Christenberry is known for his years-long projects taking pictures of Alabama buildings as they decay, but he also made work that exposed the evils of the KKK. He said that while some people told him that it wasn’t an appropriate subject for art, he said, “…I hold the position that there are times when an artist must examine and reveal such strange and secret brutality.”

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January 23: Gulnara Samoilova
Gulnara Samoilova used handcoloring to express the hidden elements of life in the USSR.

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January 24: Claude Cahun
Claude Cahun was a French transgender photographer who created Surrealist self-portraits illustrating various personas.

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January 25: Rose Marasco
I checked out Rose Marasco’s book New York City Pinhole Photographs and was amazed by the sense of motion in this fish market image.

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January 26: Justin Quinnell
Justin Quinnell made a pinhole camera that fit inside his mouth and photographed humorous situations for his series/book Mouthpiece.

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January 27:  Sandi Haber Fifield
If you’re interested in photomontage, take a look at this photographer’s beautiful, deliberate composites.

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January 28: Andrew Moore
This Omaha-based photographer takes stunning aerial photos of the Great Plains for his project Dirt Meridian. 

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January 29: Chris Verne
This rural Illinois photographer photographed his family and community since high school.

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January 30: Eirik Johnson
Eirik Johnson focused his series Sawdust Mountain on Northwestern identity and use of natural resources such as forests and salmon.

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January 31: Lois Bielefeld
Lois Bielefeld’s body of work The Bedroom is composed of 103 portraits of bedrooms and their owners.

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My 52-Week Photo Challenge

I’ll be graduating college in May and want to be sure I create photographs even when I no longer have photography classes. I decided a good way to make sure I keep shooting is to start a 52-week photo challenge.

Each week I will take a haiku written by my partner, Ethan Zierke and attempt to illustrate it in a photo. I plan to use instant photos taken on my Fujifilm INSTAX Mini 90 Neo Classic because I rarely get my film shot, developed, and scanned on a weekly basis.

I will be illustrating the following four in January:

Jan. 1-7: Poets toss rotting
books from knotted shelves to fro-
-thing populations

Jan. 8-14: A new snow dusting
Above old fixtures rusting
Long live frozen towns

Jan. 15-21: the quiet surrounds:
swallowing sounds, each louder
than my heart expounds

Jan. 22-28: impossible, yes,
the silence cannot listen:
what is there to say?

Jan. 29-Feb. 4: everything is there
and nothing at all; let the
taboo fruit tree fall

Feb. 5-11: the beads of sweat roll
like pearls across mirrored plates:
severed heads of fear

Feb. 12-18: the fruitless dreamscape
buries the rediscovered
paths, past and future

Feb. 19-25: I am not mindless:
I left my mind at home
for you to sustain.

Feb. 26-March 4: Love and passion are
concealed by confused hunger:
a futile attempt

March 5-11: love teeters on the
edge of your bathroom sink where
mirrors hold my heart

 

Check my Instagram for weekly updates. I will be posting monthly updates here on my blog.

Iowa Project Update 2

A little over a month has passed since I posted my first update for my rural Iowa project. Like all long-term projects, it slowed down as time passed, especially after I ran out of small town near Iowa City that I could easily shoot.

I am mostly satisfied with the results. I can see some themes really starting to emerge in the series and hope to continue the project long-term. Unfortunately, the university’s Hasselblad is not available to me except when I am enrolled in a photography class, so I won’t be able to continue the project over winter break. This wouldn’t be a problem except that I want to stick with square format images and don’t have another square format camera. I’m a bit of a purist in that I’d like to stick with film and the Hasselblad’s original 1:1 aspect ratio throughout the entire project.

The best part about choosing film for this project, for me, was my rate of success. I shot 11 rolls of film (132 exposures). There are about 16 good images that I plan to keep in my show which means I am happy with about a 12 percent of the total images I made. It might not sound like a lot, but that’s much higher than I achieve in digital.

evolution_edited_final_800Photographer Mason Resnick made this meme that describes my experience exactly.

To be fair, I do shoot film pretty conservatively only making about one or two images of a single subject before moving on, but I think this is a benefit and I’m a better photographer for it. Limiting my number of exposures helps me make more deliberate, consistent work and really develop a noticeable style.

I still have some cropping and editing to do before I can call this project finished (for now). Plus, I need to write an artist statement and figure out the order I want to hang them at the group show. But you can expect the full project in order with an artist statement on my project page under the Work tab in the next week.

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Portra 400

 

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

Top three reasons I still shoot film in 2016

Photographers who grew up shooting digital are making the switch to film. In a survey published last year, Ilford learned 30 percent of film shooters are under 35 years old and 60 percent of them have been using film for less than five years. And many of them use film just because it’s fun.

I definitely fall under these categories. I discovered film in June 2015 when I was given my great grandma’s old Minolta X-700. It was 35mm, so I definitely wasn’t attracted to film because it has higher image quality (though I shoot medium and large format now, which reach better quality than digital camera). I liked it because it made me feel more deeply connected to my photographic process.

Here are three ways film changed the way I shoot.

  1. Film is physical.

Before I started using film, I rarely had the opportunity to handle my images. Prints were the only way I could access my work. With film, the process is touchable from the start. My shots take up real space in the physical world before they became fully fledged works of art. Therefore, each photo feels important and is a tangible product of my efforts. This increases my investment in my work.

  1. Film changes the way you think about shooting.

Shooting on film makes photography less automatic. A roll of 35mm film can only hold 24 or 36 images. If you’re shooting medium format, those numbers drop down to 12 or 15. Because I don’t have an abundance of money to buy lots of film, this forces me to shoot more deliberately. I find it difficult to go through more than one roll in a day, because I will often shoot only one image per subject. With digital, I might have hundreds of images to sift through at the end of the day.

The fact I can’t look at your images immediately after shooting (known as chimping) also works as an advantage. This improves my skills by forcing me to envision your images in my mind’s eye.

  1. Film isn’t instant. And that’s a good thing.

Waiting for the lab to develop my film is one of my greatest joys. My lab typically takes three to five days to finish developing and printing my images. During this time, I have the opportunity to reset so I can view my finished images with fresh eyes making me a better judge of their quality and composition.

That gratification of finally finding out whether my image is pure gold or garbage just isn’t as sweet when it’s instant.

Thoughts while Visiting the Vivian Maier Exhibition

Yesterday I went to the Des Moines Art Center to see Vivian Maier: Through a Critical Lens. Like many, I instantly became a fan when she went viral online a few years ago. I loved her work both for her photographs and her story. Maier was a Chicago nanny who was also an avid photographer. Late in her life, financial restrictions forced her to move to a small apartment and keep many of her belongings in a storage unit. In 2007, she ran out of money to continue making payments on the storage unit and her belongings were sold to a Chicago auctioneer for $250.

Maier died in April 2009. A man named John Maloof purchased one of her lots at auction and posted some images online six months after her death. People have been obsessed with her photographs ever since.

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The biggest controversy surrounding Maier’s work, of course, is whether she intended for it to ever be shown and if it is ethical to do so. According to the book Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, she was secretive about her photography and would not discuss her work with employees at the drug store that developed her negatives who recognized her talent. When she lived with families as a nanny, they were not allowed inside her space, where she set up a darkroom in her bathroom.

For filmmakers, for her fans, and for the people who knew her when she was alive and now must reconcile that elusive figure with her posthumous reputation as an artist, Maier’s story is titillating precisely because of how it deviates from the familiar narratives about artistic aspiration. They can’t understand why she never put aside her profession for her passion. People who never saw her without a Rolleiflex around her neck express bewilderment that they were in the company of a great talent. (“She was a nanny, for God’s sakes.”)

Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women by Rose Lichter-Marck,

Undated, New York, NY

Our automatic assumption, as humans and as photographers, is that photographs are taken with the purpose of sharing. We cannot be sure this was Maier’s goal, however, especially since she continued to shoot even after running out of money to pay for processing. This could indicate that she took photos simply for the purpose of shooting.

Whether it be because she was not confident in her work or was too private, she clearly did not want to share her work during her life. Assuming Maier would have wanted her work shared after her death, it is impossible to know which photos she would have chosen to show or how.

Because few vintage prints exist, we also cannot know how she would have printed her work. Many aesthetic choices are made in the darkroom and the artist did not did not have any say regarding the printing of the images displayed.

We cannot even know how she would have cropped them. At the exhibition, I noticed several images were crooked and wondered if it would be ethical to make a seemingly small edit like straightening them.

 

If you want to learn more about Maier, I would recommend the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. It details how Maloof purchased and curated her images and is currently available on Netflix.

My Philosophy on Color Correcting Scanned Negatives

Last week, I was using Photoshop to spot dust off a scanned negative with my boyfriend sitting beside me. After watching for a while, he asked me how I feel about digitally editing images shot on film.

Having the perspective of someone without a photography background can be so valuable. I never thought to ask myself this question in the past. If I love film for its look and its materiality, why alter it digitally?

To give you an example of the types of changes I make, here’s one of my originals. I scanned this one in as a TIFF using my university’s Hasselblad Flextight X1. It lacks a preset for Kodak Ektar 100, which I’ve been using exclusively for my current project, so I choose RGB negative then edit later.

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I consider most of the edits I do adjustments and enhancements. They are never serious manipulations that alter the content of my images (though I did remove a bird in this one).

In Camera Raw, I performed lens corrections so the architecture would be perfectly straight, cropped, adjusted levels, sharpened, and color corrected. Then I opened the image in Photoshop where I used the spot healing brush to remove dust and did some more minor levels adjustments to avoid clipping the highlights.

Still, my biggest qualm when I’m scanning and editing my own negatives is that I can’t be sure my adjustments, especially color corrections, are true to how Ektar might be intended to look.

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Even from a professional lab, the look of a single image can vary. In this Tweet, @Afsoneh shows how different her scan and print looked coming from the same lab.

In a way, these disparities can be disappointing. I choose to buy Ektar supposedly for its vibrant colors similarly to how I would buy Portra for its skin tones or Tri-X for its contrast but I know my compensation in Photoshop may look nothing like Kodak intended. When I upload an image to Twitter or Instagram and tag it “Ektar”, it can feel like false advertising.

At the same time, sticking to a particular look is not important to my work. In fact, there is no way to adjust negatives perfectly because there is no exact recommendation. An Ektar preset, which my software lacked, would get me close but would only be a starting point. And even then, I would adjust in Photoshop after scanning.

After thinking about how I use Photoshop to edit scanned negatives — especially in terms of color — I realize that what really matters is that I achieve my desired aesthetic in the end. The art of creating images is all about the artist’s intention.

Dreamy Rural Iowa Diana Pinholes

To mix things up, I wanted to try using my Lomography Diana F+ in pinhole mode. I had never made a pinhole image before and I thought it would be a break from the formal images I’ve been working on for a semester-long project. (Some are posted on my Instagram.)

I shoot much more casually with my toy camera because the results are so unpredictable. It allows me to stop thinking and make images just for myself.

Plus, it’s really easy. The Diana can instantly be converted into a pinhole by removing the lens, then switching the shutter to bulb mode and the aperture to pinhole mode, f/150.

The exposure times for 400 speed film were listed right in the Diana manual, so I chose Ilford HP5 Plus 400 film to keep things simple. Of course, I could have done the math and then factored in reciprocity failure instead but Lomography’s approximate times served my purpose.

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I used a tripod for all of my images. To avoid camera shake, I covered up the pinhole with my left hand then depressed the shutter and inserted the plastic piece that holds it down with my right hand, based on a suggestion from this Flickr forum. I uncovered the pinhole to expose the film and when I wanted to stop my exposure, I covered the pinhole with a finger again before letting the shutter back up.

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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (3 seconds)

I developed the roll of film by hand and I was surprised at how well my images were exposed. They all had the soft, dreamy feel I wanted which was enhanced by the nostalgic feel of black and white film.

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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (3 seconds)
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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (15 seconds)
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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (4 seconds)
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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (10 minutes)