Rolling With The Punches / A Vintage Themed Portrait Session with Sylvia Elizabeth

I travel quite a bit for my day job, which affords me the opportunity to work with models from all over and see the vast amount of talent out there. Last year in September, I attended an industry conference in the Tampa, FL area and took my camera along under the premise of an agreement with a model that proved to be a flake once I was there. After sending a series of messages of desperation to a number of models in the area for help, I was pleased to get a response from one of the most talented models I’ve had the pleasure of working with, Sylvia Elizabeth.

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When scheduling my trip to the same conference this year, there wasn’t a question about whether or not I’d reach out to shoot with her again, but only a matter of whether or not she’d be booked while I was there. Luckily, we set on a date and time, and her friend Nicki, who is a hair/makeup artist with equal talent, would be coming along. We decided on shooting a vintage themed shoot and couldn’t wait.

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The day of our shoot, I would have conference meetings to attend to, but I’d get things ready before I would leave in the morning. I would go down the checklist and make sure that I had enough batteries to power my flashes, had my main and backup memory cards handy and make sure I put my camera battery to charge. Ummm, I said put my battery to charge…. WHERE THE HELL WAS MY BATTERY CHARGER?!?!? Well, it appeared that my battery charger for my Canon 1D Mark IIN was sitting at home while I was in the Tampa, FL area. So much for a photo checklist while packing! Wait a minute, I don’t have a photo checklist while packing either!! Damn… and that’s why everyone needs a checklist, folks.

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What the heck would I do? I can’t cancel the day of the shoot. Not only is that really unprofessional, but a total douche move. So, I would take inventory and see what I could make of the situation. I had a dead digital camera with no chance of finding a local photo shop with a battery charger for that particular battery. Trust me; I called everyone in the surrounding Tampa-St. Petersburg area. BUT, I had brought along my Pentax 6X7 medium format film camera for casual shooting and plenty of film to shoot a few hours worth. My initial thought was, “I’ve been meaning to shoot an all film portrait session, so this is perfect!” Hardly!! I didn’t have a flash meter on me and didn’t have the available cash to go out and buy one at $300+.

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However, I could always use the meter built in my Pentax. That would mean that I would be dependent on ambient or available light and not use my flashes. I did bring along a couple of fluorescent clamp-on lights that I was planning on using for focusing aid, but it appeared that they would then now be my may light sources. No light modifiers, no flags and no white balance adjustment capabilities. I can do this, right?!?! Just rollin’ with the punches… and keeping my fingers crossed.

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She showed on time, I explained the situation and we got to work. She was ready to go in half an hour and we shot for about an hour and a half longer. In that amount of time, we had three wardrobe changes and I managed to shoot three rolls of film at 10 exposures per roll for my 6X7 format. In comparison with my digital format and the comfort level of shooting with my digital setup, that’s a huge difference. In that timeframe, I could have shot about 250-300 digital images versus the nearly 30 images I brought home on film.

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I developed the B&W film first and later the color film when I received my C-41 color home developing kit. I carefully inspected the images and was not impressed one bit. Why was that? I always love to look at my negatives with astonishment of reliving the moment of taking the image. Yet, I was disappointed. Not at all with Sylvia’s performance, but with my own. Imagine how wonderful it would have been had I remembered to bring the camera battery charger…

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It wasn’t until a few days later that I swung by Adolf Gasser’s in the city and was talking with one of my buddies at the video rental counter that he gave some very valuable advice. He said to give it a few days and go back. He assured me that there would be a few gems, and my response was “yeah, right!!”

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I waited a few days and came back to them as he said. I needed to get the images scanned and sent over to Sylvia, as per our agreement. I would brace for her to tell me that they were all crap and I would have to profusely apologize. As I sat there scanning away, the images would pop up on the screen and I would think “that’s not bad at all.” Then I started working on a few and I understood what I had been told.

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Here are a number of my favorite images. Because of the color of light from the fluorescent lights used, the daylight color balanced Ektar film I was using picked up a lot of yellow tones. I decided to leave the yellowish tones in tact since they gave the images a little more of a vintage vibe. The B&W images were shot on TMax 100. Not too bad for my unexpected film portrait shoot and rollin’ with the punches.

The takeaways here should be that Sylvia is awesome and always double-check your photo gear to ensure that you have everything you’;ll need before you head out the door.

Getting My Mind Blown By A Little Wonder Called The Agfa Isolette !!!

Back in late Feb of this year, I happened to stumble across another awesome camera store, this time down in San Mateo, CA, that also had a full range of film and digital camera offerings and accessories for me to lust over. This Shangri-La of camera collectibles is none other than Kaufmann’s Camera on 25th Ave just off of El Camino Real. Although the part of me that remains loyal to Adolf Gasser’s screams all bloody hell every time I set foot in Kaufmann’s, I’ve found ways to appease my tendencies and have been favoring both equally. Sometimes its just as easy as whether or not I want to drive into the city or take the easy route into the Peninsula.

It’s at this treasure trove that I have come to find refuge in the vast knowledge of Ron Kaufmann, the original owner’s son, and where I cross paths with today’s blog topic. While perusing in the extensive used film camera display cases that contain many consignment and store owned pieces, I came across a very unassuming folding camera tucked off to the corner and amongst other cameras that called out for much more attention. I asked to see the camera and was quickly attended by the staff.

Although I won’t bore you with the gist of the conversation with the salesperson about the camera that almost certainly has become exaggerated in my mind and ends in my getting a complete steal for a camera that I undoubtedly knew would be an incredible hit, I’ll just say that I was shown how to work it and was offered a deal I couldn’t turn down. If I remember correctly, I paid no more than $40 dollars for it.

I brought it home and instantly jumped on Google to find out as much as I could on it. What the hell did we do before the internet??? That doggone, fandangled Google!!  Anyway, I found an online manual, figured out how to take it apart, clean everything, put it back together CORRECTLY (ha!) and adjust the focus ring to correctly match up with the markings. I won’t go into the process since a simple Google search will undoubtedly lead you to the same tutorial that I followed, but perhaps I’ll make comments in a future post.

The Agfa Isolette was an inexpensive camera made by the German film company, Agfa, who was trying to capitalize on market share away from Kodak by offering a cheaply made camera with decent optics to promote their film and keep customers coming back for more. This particular model was manufactured between 1952 and 1960 and sold for approximately $65 dollars in the early fifties according to a Popular Photography magazine I happened to come across. At the time, most medium format camera were being sold for nearly two to three times that amount, which is why the Isolette was such a bargain. The camera takes 120 and 220 spool medium format film, shooting a 6 cm X 6 cm image frame size with an Agfa Agnar 85mm f/4.5 lens with 3 coated elements. The camera also feature a Pronto shutter capable of 1/25 to 1/200 of a second with no double exposure prevention, for all you artistic double exposure types. The flash sync was at 1/25 and no flash option was available, although a provision atop the camera was made to allow the mounting of a few accessories. The camera measures 143 x 96 x 39mm (closed) 143 x 96 x 99 ( open) and weights approximately 520g.

So, I now have what I presume to be a fully operational medium format camera that shoots 6X6 frames for a total of 12 images per roll of 120 film. What am I going to do next? Test it out, of course!! The following images are the results of the first roll of film I put through the Agfa Isolette I. Keep in mind that these images are a result of a completely manual camera that required the use of a light meter app on my iPhone for correct exposure settings and my best guess on focusing using the estimated distance gauge found on the rotating lens. All images were shot on Delta Pro 100 b&w film, scanned using my Canoscan 9900f mk II and passed through PS for auto everything just to clean up the images. Not bad for my first time shooting a camera at least 64 years old!!

There will be plenty more to come from this little treasure. Enjoy!!!

While not the exact model I have, the Agfa Isolette II had all the same features and options as the original Agfa Isolette with the added right side knob in case the operator wanted to reverse the film once shot back into the original spool.

While not the exact model I have, the Agfa Isolette II had all the same features and options as the original Agfa Isolette with the added right side knob in case the operator wanted to reverse the film once shot back into the original spool.

Backside of building on the corner of Oak and Embarcadero in Oakland.

Backside of building on the corner of Oak and Embarcadero in Oakland.

Railroad tracks

Railroad tracks

2nd and Oak St in Oakland

2nd and Oak St in Oakland

Peerless Coffee storefront on Oak St.

Peerless Coffee storefront on Oak St.

Parking lot view from my former office in the Portobello complex.

Parking lot view from my former office in the Portobello complex.

Front courtyard in Portobello complex.

Front courtyard in Portobello complex.

Walkway to Embarcadero West lined in maple trees.

Walkway to Embarcadero West lined in maple trees.

View from driver's side through Pacifica while pulled over...

View from driver’s side through Pacifica while pulled over…

View from driver's side on I-280 N without looking through viewfinder.

View from driver’s side on I-280 N without looking through viewfinder.

Waiting for a truck driver that couldn't back into the receiving bay to save his life!!

Waiting for a truck driver that couldn’t back into the receiving bay to save his life!!

A Previous Excursion with the Mamiya 645 AF at the Ferry Bldg and Justin Herman Plaza

Hi folks! I’m back from the Chicagoland area where I was fortunate enough to listen to our San Francisco Giants clench our third trip to the World Series in the last five years. Yes, listen and not watch, to my dismay. Not only did my hotel not have a sufficient cable package to offer Fox 1, but the hotel bar’s TV sets were fixed on Thursday Night Football. I tried the MLB at Bat app, but the Wi-Fi service was crap and only had one bar of service on 3G that didn’t get me any closer. So, I had to go all MacGuyer and use the hotel alarm clock radio. Luckily, I was able to track down the ESPN radio station and rode the ups and downs of the game until victory.

For today’s post, I thought I would continue in the theme of the shots taken with the Mamiya 645 AF w/ 80mm f/2.8 lens. A few months earlier than our dinner party, I headed down to the Ferry Bldg area on a weekend. I was able to figure out that it was on January 24-25 of this year since the ice-skating rink was still out, which tells me I need to start keeping better track of my equipment rental dates. The only reason I was able to determine those dates were thanks to the record keeping habits of Gasser’s. After placing a quick call to my friends in the still rentals department, I was able to determine the rental dates. I have to say that having a date imbedded in digital file is extremely convenient…and the point goes to digital on that front.

I do recall having a bit of trouble figuring out the selector button on the body of the 645 AF that would allow the change between manual focus, single autofocus and continuous autofocus. The previous renter of the camera had placed the body in continuous focus, so as I focused and composed my shot, I noticed that the focus point would always shift to the center of the image. I only recall all of this because I had reached a stand in the artisan marketplace just in Justin Herman Plaza that sold handmade coffee mugs with very interesting and funny catch phrases. I managed to snap a picture of one of the mugs, that I included below, before I started playing with the buttons to figure out the focus issue. I happened to continue to pick his mugs as my focus test spot to his displeasure since he figured that I was taking “too many” pictures of his mugs. He was rather rude about it, so I was happy to hand the rudeness right back and mention that I would have bought one of his mugs, but his lousy attitude got in the way. He tried to take his foot out of his mouth when he realized that I had a film camera and had no intention to copy his mugs for profit, but we walked away.

The optics available on the autofocus lenses for the Mamiya 645 AF system are top notch. Although the body is more than happy to take the manual focus lenses as well, the autofocus lenses transmit data about the image to the camera that allow it to meter and expose the image properly, such as focal distance and aperture settings. Although I did find with this particular shoot that the small hood available on the 80mm f/2.8 is rather shallow, it did the job on most every shot. There was one shot that I put the hood to the test, and as you can see below, it appears as if it manages to block out the direct sunlight in only part of the image, while the rest of the image is blown out quite a bit.

Other than that, the camera is rather brilliant. It is very intuitive, quick to respond on the autofocus and appears to have its meter tender spot on exposure settings for awesome images time after time. The biggest perk of the camera is that the film back used with the cartridges is replaceable with the Mamiya and Leaf line of digital backs that make the camera completely digital with one simple (yet extremely expensive) accessory. The camera even with the film setup is on the pricey side, but photographers understand that most of the time you have to pay for quality.

Will I run out and spend nearly $1,000 for a body alone anytime soon? I seriously doubt it when I have the convenience factor of being able to rent it from Adolf Gasser’s nearly anytime I desire. But would it be a welcome part in my photographic arsenal? Oh, hell yeah!! For now, I’ll stick to my photographic guerilla tactics of taking the cheap route until someone chooses to start paying my ass for my imagery!! Ha!

Justin Herman Plaza Ice Rink

Justin Herman Plaza Ice Rink

Inside of the Ferry Bldg

Inside of the Ferry Bldg

Mexico City F-Line Street Car

Mexico City F-Line Street Car

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Ferry Bldg clock tower

F-line Street Car

F-line Street Car

Handmade clay coffee mugs. I do LOVE killin' me some zombies...

Handmade clay coffee mugs. I do LOVE killin’ me some zombies…

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Justin Herman Plaza ice skating rink

Justin Herman Plaza ice skating rink

The 80mm lens hood could be a little longer...

The 80mm lens hood could be a little longer…

How about we stop in the middle of the street and take a picture...

How about we stop in the middle of the street and take a picture…

Buns of steel!! Or maybe just bronze...

Buns of steel!! Or maybe just bronze…

Clock tower

Clock tower

Justin Herman Plaza artisan kiosks.

Justin Herman Plaza artisan kiosks.

More kiosks...

More kiosks…