Monthly Archives: January 2011

Need to Be Redeemed

I don’t look like a criminal but apparently some people think I do.

A few weeks ago, armed with a Polaroid SX-70 and my iPhone, I went to a spot I’ve been meaning to photograph for at least a year. On the side of a rural road sits a broken-down, rusted out school bus, a rusted jeep, a few tired old buildings and random rusty skeletons of things that are now unrecognizable. Exactly the kind of things I like to photograph.

With its surfboard rack, peace and love stickers and car seat in the back, I don’t think my vehicle could be mistaken for a great getaway car but there it sat, on the side of the road. Dressed in Old Navy’s finest pea coat and wearing boots, nice khaki pants and nary a hair out-of-place, I set out to get some shots before the sunlight faded.

I always feel a little conspicuous when taking pictures on the side of the road but I just chalk it up to paranoia. Then it happened.

A white car slowed down, a woman rolled down her window and told me she had to take down my license plate number because there had been a lot of thefts recently of the junk I had been photographing.

“No, I’m just taking pictures” I told her as I stood up, SX-70 around my neck.

“That’s what they do” she said, “take pictures in the daytime and come back at night and steal”. Then her car slowly pulled away as I sat there, stunned, unable to come up with a response.

Did that really just happen?

Did she really think I was going to steal stuff? What would she have said to me if my skin had been ‘the wrong color’ or if I had been dressed in dirty, ripped-up clothes and why the hell hadn’t someone moved this valuable junk if people just kept on stealing it?

As a middle-class white girl I know I’m lucky to have never had to deal with racial or socio-economic stereotyping based on my appearance so I can’t IMAGINE what a monumental pain in the ass it must be for those who are.

I am extremely grateful that I don’t live in a country in which my camera is confiscated on a regular basis. Balancing security with freedom of artistic expression is a tricky business in our post-9/11 world. The preponderance of cameras in 2011 should make people more comfortable with the idea of photography, instead I think that people are generally much more paranoid about photographers.

We’ve all heard stories of folks being asked to move on by security guards and there are plenty of landmarks where you can only grab one or two quick shots before you’re mistaken for someone plotting something nefarious. A good friend of mine has been questioned numerous times while photographing bridges and buildings. He’s even been kicked out of places but he really just loves architecture, plain and simple.

I’ve researched my rights as a photographer and know where my boundaries are according to the law, but the general public isn’t usually as well versed. I was on the side of the road and my subjects were clearly in view from public land. I wasn’t deep into the field, poking around in the buildings and vehicles, even though there were no warning or privacy signs posted. I don’t know who owned the land and I doubt the woman in the car did either, but I do try to be respectful.

As stupid as that whole exchange on the side of the road seemed to me, I’m glad that woman took the time to tell me what she was doing. It taught me a lesson and that is to always have a business card prepared to present to people and to always expect that someone isn’t going to like what you’re doing.

Here are the pictures I got that afternoon. I like the way they turned out considering the short amount of time I spent at the site.

Do you have any similar horror stories? I’d love to hear them and how you dealt with the situation.


OK….Snow is Pretty

Winter sucks and it should be obliterated. You’d feel the same way if you were the kind of person who could put two pairs of wool socks on and STILL have cold feet.

I’m not kidding!

Last winter, when we were literally snowed in for two week, was pretty much my nightmare. This winter has been brutally cold with an impressive amount of snow thus far and it’s only January. Historically, we get slammed with snow in February or March (Snowpocalypse of 2010, anyone?).

When I awoke a couple of weeks ago to see more snow falling, I was less than thrilled but as a photographer, I decided to embrace the opportunity and get some shots of the pristine white stuff before the kids tore outside in all their hyperactive, destructive glory. I had my Holga and Mark II Savoy cameras with me, both were loaded with black and white film, and my iPhone.

As soon as the black and white film is developed, I’ll post those shots but for now, here are some surreal beauties captured using Hipstamatic.

These shots are with Melodie lens and BlacKeys Supergrain film

Snowy winter scenes were just made for classic black and white photography so I decided to stretch myself a little and go for some color. I really like these next shots, which were taken with the Bettie XL lens and Ina’s 1969 film, which produces a shockingly realistic vintage photo. They truly look like they came from 1969.


This one was with Melodie lens and DreamCanvas film and looks like a painting.

I mixed it up again with the Bettie XL lens (which I’m going to have to start using more often!) and BlacKeys Supergrain to get one of my favorite shots of the day. This combo produced a wonderful black and white that was dreamy and wispy, without being out of focus—a pretty cool dimension to the arsenal of lo-fi photography.

Near the back of our property is a stand of pine trees and birches. I love the texture of the peeling bark on the trunks of the birches and their stark, bare branches that stretched sideways in the gray sky were very architectural. When I looked up and saw the straight line of the trees soaring to the clouds it was an amazing and surprisingly beautiful sight. I never knew something that lovely and elegant had been planted a few hundred feet from my back door! I don’t think these pictures do the scene justice but they are lovely.

First, with the John S lens and Ina’s 1969 film–a classic combo and one of my go-to favorites.

Then, remembering the crazy burst of color that the Berry Pop flash can give an otherwise neutral-looking scene, I took these with the above film and lens combo. Kind of spooky and Halloween-y.


Finally, I switched the film to BlacKeys B+W film but kept John S and Berry Pop

I love how the BlacKeys gives just the slightest tint of color while remaining mostly black and white. It’s a beautiful film.

By this time I was starting to get really cold, the snow was beginning to pick up again and the iPhone was getting a little too damp. So it was inside to warm up with a steamy cup of joe. I’m convinced now that snow is beautiful….but I still don’t like winter!!

My Picture At An Exhibition

No I don’t have a passport and yes, I’ve been bumming that I can’t go to London to see my iPhone shot on display in the Hipstamatics Exhibit at the Orange Dot Gallery, but thanks to Jack Thomas I’ve been able to visit virtually.

Jack, from Hipstamatics sent each of us a whole slew of shots from the exhibit. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to see my cool black and white shot hanging on the wall! As cool as it is to see my shot, it’s been really fun seeing everyone else’s winning photos, too. My son Elias and I sat and viewed all the photos together. It was a great way to experience the Hipstamatics Exhibit. Here’s a selection of the shots he sent.

Look closely at the column on the right. In the second picture down, my black and white photo is the one all the way to the right on the top! It hangs over the reception desk, which you can see in the top photo. The whole exhibit is simple and beautiful. Again, a big thanks to Jack Thomas and his Hipstamatic friends for putting it all together and sharing the love.

The Best Intentions

I started off the year with the intention of marketing myself and making some money off my photography. It was a lofty goal for sure, and one that I think might be a little over my head.

I’m not a quitter, but when my hobby makes me feel like my head has come unscrewed and is rolling down the road…well…it’s time to examine priorities.

I will still sell on Etsy (and hope to make a little money in the process) but I’m going to concentrate my energy into my blog, which is good news for you, dear reader!  After feeling like I was torn in 12 different directions and almost missing work twice, I sat down and did some thinking. As nice as it would be to make a little money, that’s not what I’m in this (clearly, or I wouldn’t be using toy and iPhone cameras). I’m in it for the fun and creativity. This blog has been one of the most useful tools in that mission by allowing me to reflect and share my experiences. The process of thinking, typing and taking pictures for a blog post has really helped me to get my ideas together and out of my head, not to mention it’s interesting to look back on what I’ve done over the past couple years.

This year should be pretty exciting. So far I’m trying to convert an old digital point and shoot into an infrared camera (if I could just find the right size screwdriver) and have been playing around with emulsion lifts using The Impossible Project’s instant films.

Here’s to a productive and verbose (but scintillating, entertaining and knowledgable) 2011! If you have any ideas for posts or projects, please drop me a line.

Macro Photography, Diopters and Math

I think I’m living in the movie Groundhog Day everytime I look out the window today. The raging snowstorm outside is reminding me WAAAAY too much of February’s Snowpocalypse. While the forecast is calling for only 12 inches of snow (ha!) I’ve decided to get productive today and research a subject I’ve wanted to know a little more about: Close-Up Diopters.

The world of macro photography is one of my favorites to visit. I personally like to get as close to I can to make my subject look alien. I have a couple of diopters, a +4 and a +10 (which is the diopter of choice). How do they assign a number to a diopter and what does it mean? I found a great page on Michigan Tech’s website, of all places, that easily explains some of the mathematical concepts I’m about to present so if you want even more in-depth information check it out (

“Most close-up lenses are marked with a +d number in diopter unit, the power of the lens. The diopter (or power) of a lens is defined as 1000/f, where f is the focal length of the lens measured in mm. Thus, a lens of 50mm has a diopter of +20 = 1000/50, and a +4 diopter close-up lens has a focal length of 250mm = 1000/4. A close-up lens with larger diopter value has higher magnification.”

In the Holga, the native lens is f=60mm which means it’s focal length is 60mm (NOT to be confused with the MINIMUM focal length, which is something entirely different). The diopter of this lens = 1000/60 or 16.6 or, if you round-up, +17.

I often get asked how I use my diopters, especially in focus-free cameras. It is a tricky business, for sure and requires a bit of trial and error. The most important thing you need to know is how close you need to get to the subject, but how the hell do you figure that out? First off, you need the minimum focal distance which will tell you how close to your subject you can stand and still take a shot that is in focus. In a Holga, that would be 2.95 feet/89.95 cm. So the closest you can get to your subject with an unmodified Holga is about 3 feet. By the way, I found this out by looking it up on the web. Most cameras have this number listed in the Specs part of the camera’s manual.

My favorite tool, the +10 diopter, has a power that would equal 1000 divided by 10, or 100mm. This means your working focal distance or the distance between your lens and subject is 10 cm (100mm) or, for those of us who aren’t using the metric system, 3.937 inches.

This all means that when you use a +10 diopter on a Holga, you should be 10cm/3.97 inches from your subject in order to get it in focus. You’ll have to learn where your diopter’s sweet spot is and that will occur through trial and error. The stronger your diopter (the larger the “+number”) the smaller the area of focus and the greater the amount of bokeh you will get in your shots. At least, that’s the experience I’ve had with my plastic diopters.

Here’s a little chart that sums it up quite nicely. I can’t take credit for this. I got it from a Flickr group about 3 years ago. The person who posted it has been deleted but still, thank you to holga_pics for doing the calculations.

Don’t forget to set your Holga to infinity (the mountain symbol) when using a diopter:

Diopter Power              Working Focal Distance

+1                                      100 cm or  3′ 3″ (39.37″)

+2                                        50 cm   or  1′ 6 ” (19.5″)

+3                                     33.3 cm or  1′ 11″ (13″)

+4                                        25 cm or 9.84″

+5                                       20 cm or 7.87″

+10                                     10cm  0r 3.97″

I know what you’re (or at least, what those of you who are into geekery, like myself) are thinking. What formula is used to calculate these numbers? This statement from sums up the formula quite nicely.

“…the diopter power implies the focus distance. Take 100 cm and divide by the diopter. That’s the focus distance with the diopter. So, a +5 diopter wants to focus within 20 cm. A +2 diopter wants to focus within 50 cm. So, higher power diopter implies more magnification – if you can get that close.”

You’re really just dividing 100 into the diopter power number (+2, +3, etc). That’s it! Who knew it was that simple? Certainly not this math phobic girl.

For consistent results and quicker shooting in the field, make yourself a ruler or marker that will help you position yourself the correct distance from your subject. I use some old cardboard and carry it with me whenever I do macro work.

I hope this little exercise has been useful. If you’re still reading this, I think you get a medal.


Thanks for staying with me on my mathematical journey because knowing these concepts will allow you to use any diopter on any lens and get decent results.

Happy Macro-ing!

Going to London!!

…well, not really but it would be awesome if I could!

I got a message from Jack Thomas from the Hipstamatics blog. More than a blog, it’s a self-described on-line photo reel where you can upload your pictures for the world to see. There’s no charge and no profile page or anything to fill out, which I think is part of it’s charm. Click on the link and check out some great photos.

So Jack informed me that my ‘Strolling on the Sand’ photo is going to be featured in an upcoming exhibition in London! Yowsers!! Very exciting news! The show will feature 157 photos, the same number as the amount of Hipstamatic analogue cameras produced (click here for a little history on the original Hipstamatic film camera).

Thanks to Jack and all the folks at Hipstamatics the photo reel. It’s going to be a lovely show. Get there and see it if you can!

The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown

I am accepting the challenge. is throwing down the gauntlet for all it’s members to post once a day or once a week. I swear, it’s as if they were inside my head listening to what I was saying. I can be a bit sporadic in my posting and when I set the intention to make my photography profitable (or at least make enough money to pay for my habit) I decided I needed to blog at least once a week. Serendipity, isn’t it?

I have lots of ideas floating around in my head that I have yet to put on the computer screen so stay tuned. It may all be a bit TMI, but hopefully it will spawn some creative collaborations—as I’m always up for doing projects with my internet friends—and get the creative thought processes going for both you the reader and me the blogger.

If you have any great ideas, feedback, questions….give me a shout!



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