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Combining a 170-Year Old Wet Plate Process with Food Photography

Combining a 170-Year Old Wet Plate Process with Food Photography

Photographer Markus Hofstätter — known for his collodion wet-plate photography expertise — decided to try something different and used the 170-year old shooting process to capture incredibly detailed high-end food photos.

Hofstätter, based in Austria, has photographed it all — from portraits to wildlife — but hadn’t experimented with food until an unexpected connection was made. While in the process of purchasing a Cambo AST studio stand, Hofstätter learned the seller was well-known food photographer and columnist Hans Gerlach.

After months of planning and discussing, both decided to collaborate on a high-end food photography shoot using the wet collodion process. Hofstätter and Gerlach had to carefully plan what dishes to photograph and what colors the dishes should contain because this type of photographic process only sees blue light — this means that red color turns black and blue turns white.

Hofstätter writes in his blog that the collaborative project was even more enjoyable because of Gerlach’s extensive food preparation and presentation experience which combined well with Hofstätter’s own expertise in the wet plate collodion process.

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The shoot took place in Hofstätter’s studio where he used a 13 x 18 centimeter Mentor camera with a 250mm Zeiss Tessar lens. While Hofstätter set up the equipment and made it’s secure enough for top-down photography, Gerlach prepared the dishes in the kitchen. Both worked tirelessly throughout the first day and photographed numerous dishes but realized that the silver nitrate bath had turned bad which caused some plates to come out less than ideal. Once the problem was corrected, they could return to shooting and producing successful wet plate images.

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This is not the simplest type of photography and other issues were caused by Hofstätter’s modified wet plate holder which didn’t stay in place and caused some plates to become scratched.

“This is something every wet plate artist has to face from time to time,” says Hofstätter.

However, most plates turned out exactly how they imagined it — full of detail and texture that would look great as large prints.

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Shot with Dallmeyer 2b Petzval lens

Hofstätter also shot some plates with a 150-year old Dallmeyer 2b Petzval lens which created a swirly bokeh. Even though the lens produced a strong out-of-focus area, what was in focus — such as the texture of the bread and the onion pieces — show great detail when closely inspected.

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More of Hofstätter’s work can be found on his website, Instagram, and his blog, including a list of what tools he uses for his wet-plate photography. Hofstätter’s prints from the shoot can be viewed on ArtPal.


Image credits: All images by Markus Hofstätter and used with permission.

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Alex Timmermans on the wet-plate process

Person on a motorbike with an ostrich

Photographer Alex Timmermans tells Damien Demolder why he uses the wet-plate process to bring his carefully planned situation comedies to life


Finding a niche isn’t every photographer’s aim. Some of us are happy to shoot to a decent standard while mastering our kit and making a pleasant composition that maybe appeals to more than just ourselves. If you want your photography to stand out though, a niche is a useful thing. If no one else is working that way, shooting that type of subject or processing their images in the same way, your work will automatically look different.

The problem with a niche is that it won’t stay a niche very long. As soon as other photographers admire what you are doing they will be inspired by your work and begin doing it themselves. As more take it up the niche-value diminishes; and when others start doing it better, new faces take the spotlight.

Wet-plate photograph by Alex Timmermans, black and white showing a man and a rhino.

Alex had to build a structure to support the plastic rhino head to make it appear to belong to a whole one

The best way to ensure you remain unique is to move away from a former niche once it no longer qualifies as one – which isn’t easy. You then need to find another, or to combine two niches in one to make it much harder for anyone to take up doing the same thing.

‘I started off doing wet-plate portraits,’ says Dutch photographer Alex Timmermans, ‘but there was no challenge. Someone would come in with a good face, you’d take the picture everyone would say, “wow”, but eventually it stopped being a challenge and there were too many photographers doing the same thing. That’s when I started the story-telling series.

I wanted to do something else with the process that other people were not, and still are not – shooting outside and creating images with some humour in.’ Thus combining one niche with another – the uniqueness of an ancient process and humour – Alex has been able to create a series of pictures that are really special.

Dutch photographer Alex with his gigantic studio camera

Dutch photographer Alex with his gigantic studio camera

Nitrous nitrate

‘There are very few photographers using humour in their pictures,’ Alex says, and as I think about it I have to agree. ‘There’s a photographer called Rodney Smith who makes humorous pictures and he inspires me. I don’t know how the ideas come – I can’t explain how these stupid things turn up in my mind all day.

Sometimes I see a prop that sets off an idea, or a location, and then I get carried away. The pictures take a lot of planning and thought, so I only make about five or six every year.

I like creating things. I come up with an idea and then start collecting the props. The picture might only take a few seconds but the fun is in the planning, working out how to achieve the look and making the things I need.

Black and white photograph, man playing an instrument with floating teapot pouring tea

The magic teapot is supported by a metal rod covered in silcone to make it look like pouring tea

It’s great when people like the pictures. Some people hate them and don’t think they are funny – that’s also good. I love to stand back at exhibitions and watch people looking at the images. When they smile I know that I’ve reached my goal.

‘I started with wet plate in 2008 because I saw an exhibition of Sally Mann’s and was impressed with the look and feel of the pictures. So I wanted to know more. My work is different from hers of course, but there is a similar atmosphere to the images. Wet plate was the start of my artistic phase of photography. In 2002 I bought a Fujifilm S2 Pro digital camera, which was a revolution at the time. It was an amazing camera, and I loved it.

Person reading the newspaper, white gloves and bowler hats are on a washing line

Alex is fascinated by the things he imagines about what butlers are asked to do, and what they do in their spare time

One broke and I took it apart and was surprised to see that inside you could see there was a film bay as it was based on a film camera. I shot urban pictures, which wasn’t popular then. You’d go to a location, take 300-400 pictures and share your pictures and then suddenly there would be too many people turning up at that location. I spent a lot of time in Photoshop, but my software skills are limited – and it turned out this wasn’t what I was looking for.

I wanted to create and do it from scratch – which I still do. Now I use old cameras, make my own chemistry, scan the plates and make my own prints. The only thing I do in software now is remove the dust from the plates. I like to control the whole process. Controlling the process is very important to me, as I don’t want to rely on someone else.

Alex inspecting developed wet-plates in the field

Inspecting developed plates in the field

That’s not to say no one else has the skills, but I want a consistent look to my work and the way it is displayed – I even make the frames for my exhibitions. If someone buys one of my pictures, then buys another a few years later and hangs them next to each other, I want to make sure that they have the same look and feel.’

The making of

‘My pictures look like they are done in Photoshop as some of them look impossible to do any other way, but they are all done in-camera. I don’t have the skills to fake a rhino coming off a train, and while there are smartphone apps now that do a convincing job of turning any picture into a ‘wet-plate’ shot, I like my own process. It is possible to do all this with a digital camera, but I like to use old lenses that create a magical atmosphere.’

Photographer Alex Timmermans taking wet-plate photo of ballerina and swan on a lake

As wet-plates come out laterally inverted, Alex’s images often show the scene reversed

Alex gathers props from around the world for his pictures, makes some himself and often has to build parts of sets and supports to create his trickery. Teapots that appear to pour themselves are attached to the tea-cup with aluminium rods covered in silicone to make the rod look like flowing tea; and boats, ballerinas and pianos are set on underwater platforms to make them appear to float.

‘Underwater platforms have to be made the day before the shoot so I can match the water level, and they are always made adjustable so I can rise or lower them should I need to. It’s a lot of effort, but that’s what gives me so much pleasure. Making the props and working on the ideas is almost more fun than making the picture itself. Making the picture takes one to ten seconds, but planning the picture can take years.

‘I was in the pub with some friends discussing my ideas, and asked if someone would help me as I needed someone to look after my camera while I was in the van processing pictures. One of my friends agreed, and has also become the subject of most of my pictures, dressed as the butler or the motorcyclist – not the ballerina though.

Ballerina looking at a swan on a lake

The graceful ballerina isn’t actually balanced on a lily pad – both she and the stuffed swan are on a specially built platform

Most of the time it is just the two of us, but sometimes we are three when I need someone else in the shot or some behind-the-scenes pictures. I had a solo exhibition at Paris Photo in Los Angeles in the Paramount Studios. On the opening night there were lots of movie stars and directors there, and they all asked “How big is your team?” They wanted to know about the staging, makeup, lights and crew, and they couldn’t believe it was just the two of us. They are used to ten or 20 people on set.

‘My two biggest problems are having the idea in the first place and then finding the props. At the moment I’m planning a picture around golf, so I’m looking for old clubs, old outfits, golf knickerbockers (I found these in the UK!). It all takes a long time. It can take two years to finalise the idea in my head, and then the search for props begins.

Black and white photo of person with a boar

To enhance the sense of movement, Alex has allowed the chain to swing

If I would need an assistant it would be just to find props. That would make life much easier. Sometimes I see things that look interesting and then find a way to include them in a picture. I found a puma and then spent a year thinking about how to use it in a picture. It ended up in the front of a canoe on a river.

I had an ostrich in my studio for three years before it found a place in the side car of a motorbike racing through the forest. My studio is full of props. I have a motorcycle outside my door that I bought three months ago, and I’m thinking about how to use it. The rhino in the train picture is just a plastic wall mount, but I had to find an old station, which isn’t easy in the Netherlands, and an old train of course.’

Movement in stills

There is often a real sense of movement in Alex’s pictures, though of course with his long exposures there is rarely any allowed on set. ‘For shots like the motorcyclist with the ostrich I used wires in the scarf to make it fly behind him as though he was zooming towards the camera. It isn’t possible to shoot a moving motorbike with a wet-plate camera, but we can make it look as though it is moving. This was a ten-second exposure, but the swirl of the lens creates its own sense of motion in the picture.

I also tilted the camera back to throw the front wheel and some of the background out-of-focus which adds to the feeling of motion. To emphasise the background swirl of the lens you need a background with small leaves and light coming through them, or a background with lots of detail. In a portrait in the studio against a plain backdrop it doesn’t show.’

Person on a motorbike with an ostrich

The swirl of the lens creates movement

Delightful defects

‘I love this process. Well, it can be love and hate as there are so many variables that can influence the result, including the weather and temperature. If it’s too bright I don’t take pictures because I prefer to have an exposure of 4-6 seconds.

There is no shutter in my camera so I’m just taking the lens cap off and putting it back on again, so it is hard to be accurate. In a long exposure a mistake of half a second matters much less than if the total exposure time was supposed to be just one second.

‘Many people are using wet plate because of the artefacts and the weird errors that can happen, but really the challenge is to make a clean plate. Creating artefacts isn’t hard – you just need a dirty plate-holder. Making a clean-looking plate is the goal though. You can always make a clean shot look dirty later in software, but you can’t make a dirty plate look clean.

Marks around the edges can’t be avoided and are normal – which is why you see lots of old plates with masked edges. Showing defects in your process can sometimes work artistically, but usually it doesn’t. I like to show the whole plate, so I don’t mask mine. But you certainly shouldn’t see defects in the face of a portrait.

Taking the photograph of a man with a boar

The brace on the pole is to keep the man’s head still

‘Depending on the picture, I like to make the most of the faults of the lens – so I shoot in natural environments as much as I can, as this shows them off. Ferns look particularly magical when shot on wet-plate so I often look for locations that have the characteristics that work well with the lens. ‘Collodion reacts to colours in a different way to film. Red will turn black, and light blue will turn white, so I have to make sure I pick the right colours in the props and the clothes to get the effect I want.

Blue eyes come out really light, which can make them look piercing, while brown eyes and freckles will go really dark, which looks unique and magical. Sometimes weird things can happen though – when you shoot a banana and a lemon next to each other the banana will appear bright and the lemon will be as dark as an avocado. Leather is beautiful in wet-plate – it has a special glow.’

Big brass barrels

‘I started with a camera that takes 11in square plate, which is an unusual size. It I could do it again I’d chose 8x8in which would be much easier to find a shutter for. My lenses are too big for shutters. I had the camera made because I needed a portable camera but field cameras aren’t sturdy enough to take the wide-aperture lenses I wanted to use, and studio cameras – which can hold the lenses – aren’t portable.

I picked the lens first, and had the camera made to suit it. ‘I wanted tilt and swivel for the back and for the front to rise and fall. While I’ve hardly used rising front I use tilting back in almost every shot. ‘The camera is made of cherry wood and it weighs 10kg, but a studio camera would have been even heavier. I mount it on a normal aluminium Manfrotto tripod. ‘My lenses are old Petzval models from 1850-1900 – big brass lenses.

Wet-plate print of man sat at a table with typewriter by Alex Timmermans

The Image Maker

I have too many as I collected them, but I realised I was using only two or three, so I sold most of the others – though I still have more than I should. My main lens is a big brass Hermagis from Paris and I have a few Dallmeyer lenses with longer focal lengths. The Dallmeyer lenses are a bit younger – around 1900 – and are made from aluminium so they are a lot lighter. My Dallmeyer 600mm lens only weighs 2kg, which makes it easier to use than the Hermagis lens which weighs about 4kg.

‘In the forest I use the Hermagis as it has a lot of swirl and the aperture starts at f/4.5. My Dallmeyer lenses mostly start at f/6. It doesn’t sound like there’s much difference in the maximum apertures but it really shows in the pictures – f/4.5 gives a much shallower depth of field, which I really like.

I take a few lenses with me and decide when I see the conditions, as the weather plays a big part in my lens choices. When photographing someone in a river or a pond I can use a longer lens and shoot from the shore or a wider lens and move the tripod and camera into the water too, which I do sometimes.

Photographer Alex Timmermans in a van, developing wet-plate prints

‘These are simple lenses, but beautiful. You don’t need lots of fancy stuff. I like the fact that I’m working with a very simple camera and a simple lens – looking at the image on the ground glass is magical. It gives me back the feeling of making something.

‘I have an iPhone app called Pinhole Assist that allows ISO ratings down to zero which I use for metering exposure, but with experience you come to know what the exposure should be. It is more difficult on a bright day as the process is very sensitive to UV light which we don’t see. Then you can only tell from a test plate.

Normally I shoot four or five plates per shoot, which I process in the field. I have a van that I use as a darkroom as I have to sensitise the plate directly before making the picture, and I have to process it immediately before it dries. Sometimes I’ll find a fantastic location but I can’t use it if I can’t get my van there. I have too much stuff to carry without the van. ‘I use the Epson 1000XL scanner and an Epson wide format printer to make prints between 11x11in and up to 110cm.’

Tips for the newcomer

‘Book a workshop for one or two days so you can see what you can and can’t do. The process isn’t that difficult, and mixing the chemicals is easy, but you need to practise to get better as lots of small things can go wrong. You’ll be amazed that the images are so detailed.’


Further reading

Large-format magic

Get the retro look with vintage lenses

Photographer gears up to take ‘Mega Mammoth’ wet-plate camera across America

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johnriley1uk’s latest blog : house – the process

johnriley1uk's latest blog : the cameras with the wonderful lenses

House – The Process

18 Aug 2021 2:08PM  
Views : 66
Unique : 57

Sometimes a subject just catches my attention, and whitewashed, clean, precise country cottages and houses are well up there amongst my favourites. Along with Small Buildings. Just entering the grounds of Tewksbury Abbey, on the left is this deliciously fresh looking house. It was obviously fair game, but there was a process of development of the idea in my mind, so just one image would not do.

The first image was as we entered
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I had already visualised this as to be corrected in Photoshop
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The the three-quarter (oblique) shot that does away with the converging verticals and tells us more about the shape of the building. I shot this twice to make sure the composition was as tidy as possible
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Then finally, walking away, and a final glance back showed that the lighting had suddenly transformed. Unfortunately people were there as well, but actually I don’t mind them so much, they do after all give context. Two positions for our little runner to make sure I liked the placement of the figures in the frame.
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6 Ways To Challenge Yourself & Improve Your Photography In The Process

6 Ways To Challenge Yourself & Improve Your Photography In The Process

Flower

 

If you’re looking for a way to improve your photography skills then a challenge is probably right up your street. To give you some inspiration on how you can challenge yourself next time you’re heading out with your camera here are 6 shooting suggestions that’ll get your grey matter working a little harder: 

 

1. Use One Lens /Focal Length

Basically, we want you to select one lens, yes just one, go for a walk, visit a museum etc. and see what images you can capture. Try to make it a lens you’ve not used for a while as this should make your work even harder. 

A lens with a fixed focal length would be our choice for this but if you only have a zoom take that along and pick just one focal length to use. If you don’t, it won’t be much of a challenge!

Before you start snapping away you really need to think about what you’re going to photograph because without a zoom your focal length is limited so rather than relying on the lens to do the work you have to get those grey cells warmed up and your feet moving to find a position/shot that works.
 

2. Limit The Shots You Take

As memory cards are reasonably priced and can hold hundreds if not thousands of images, it’s easy to just click the shutter button continuously and pick the best shots when you’re back home. However, by taking just one shot of each subject you plan on photographing you’ll have to really think about your composition, framing etc. as you don’t have the option of having another shot to correct your mistakes with. If you find this too restricting try setting a shot limit before you head out of the door and make sure you stick to it. By doing so you should be able to improve the quality of the images you take as you’ll be finding the best shots through planning and careful thought. 

 

3. Photograph Just One Colour

Pick a colour, it can be any colour, and stick with it. It can be similar objects or totally different subjects, but their colour must link. You can write down a colour then make a note of possible subjects that fit the theme or just head out and search for potential subjects with your camera in-hand. The final results can give you a great set of images that you can also use in a panel for your wall. 

 

Flower

4. Focus On One Subject 

Instead of taking many photos of a variety of subjects why not spend a day, or longer if you wish, photographing just one subject. Take a tree, for example, you can photograph the whole thing, get in close with a macro lens, capture shots of leaves, stand further back with a wide-angle lens and capture it in its landscape etc. Visit your subject at different times of the year or at different times of the day and pay attention to how the light changes and when it’s at its best. Venture out on foggy mornings, when the clouds are grey or when snow has covered the ground. You’ll end up with lots of images and not all will be great but there will be some gems and they could be from ways you’ve not considered photographing a particular subject before. 

 

5. Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

It’s easy to stick with the familiar but by getting away from what you’re used to, you’ll discover new things and improve as a photographer in the process. So, if you tend to shoot landscapes, why not try photographing portraits instead? You’ll be shooting with different settings, lenses and in different ways, learning as you go and expanding your creativity. You’ll pick up new tips and more than likely learn more about the settings/options your camera has to offer, too. 

 

6. Enter A Photography Competition

If you’re out taking photos that are specifically for a competition you’ll probably think that bit longer about composition, lighting etc.to improve your chances of getting your hands on the top prize. It’s also a good way to find new subject inspiration for your shots as a vast number of themes are used in competitions right across the web as well as in magazines.

 

You’ve read the technique now share your related photos for the chance to win prizes: Daily Forum Competition

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Surreal Photo Series Developed with the Unusual Mordançage Process

Surreal Photo Series Developed with the Unusual Mordançage Process

Surreal Photo Series Developed with the Unusual Mordançage Process 8

A photographer has documented the disappearing American West using a unique alternative photographic process called Mordançage which gives the finished images a surreal and ethereal look.

When J. Jason Lazarus, an Alaska-based photographer and educator, first started showing his work at a local gallery space about 15 years ago, he realized that the effort he puts into his darkroom printing is not always recognized. People browsing his work would often presume that his silver-based prints were digital black and white images, not hand-printed by the photographer in a darkroom.

Lazarus tells PetaPixel that, although he enjoys shooting and printing digitally when he creates work in the darkroom, he wants that element of the image to be called forward.

“Even though the processes I use are rarely intertwined with the actual concept behind the work, I enjoy getting my hands dirty and like it when some of that workmanship shines through,” Lazarus says.

“Whether that’s the brush strokes on the edge of a Cyanotype print, the handmade texture of the watercolor paper peeking through, or the accidental thumbprint left behind on a Lumen print, those imperfections are a bit of the artist in the final print and a great story for a client that may want to know more about the image and process.”

His interest in alternative processes began when he started pursuing his MFA in Photography through the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and Lazarus started challenging himself to learn these antiquarian processes. He spent time teaching a few of the processes himself, as well as relied on the university’s alt-pro courses to learn others, and also began a mentorship under Christina Z. Anderson. The latter, Lazarus reveals, completely changed his perspective and understanding of “the hidden complexities behind truly mastering some of these processes.”

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The idea of the project, titled “The Westward Consumption,” arose naturally during the hands-on process. Whilst waiting in the darkroom for images to expose or for prints to process, there is a lot of time that can be spent on thinking, brainstorming, and processing ideas and thoughts. Combined with Lazarus shooting new material in the American Southwest, it gave him a reason to pursue this project.

“You start thinking about what sort of imagery works best with the process, how you can use and manipulate the process to encourage a story or theme, and then, if it’s something you’re keen on developing, your passion for the subject matter fills in the rest of the blanks,” he explains how his projects originate. Although any planning prior doesn’t completely eliminate “misfires, failures, and restarts.” In fact, Lazarus welcomes them as an important part of the learning process as well as that of creative exploration.

The initial traces of the project started around four years ago, when Lazarus shot infrared (IR) film with his medium format cameras and enjoyed the unique, alien-looking landscapes that it created. He created a selection of IR landscapes — although without an underlying concept or theme at the time — and shelved them for a couple of years. This body of work was later resurrected in 2019 when he had to test out some Mordançage chemistry for a workshop. Simultaneously, he realized that the black skies in his IR landscape shots gave him the necessary tones to start experimenting with the fragile veils that the Mordançage process creates.

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The fragile veils produced using Mordançage chemistry

The way this technique begins is with a bleaching process. The darkest areas of the print’s emulsion lift, creating very fragile veils that can be moved and manipulated with paintbrushes and the gentle flow of water. The print is then washed thoroughly, reprocessed through developer and fixer, and then washed thoroughly again. While transferring to each of the separate baths, utmost care must be employed, as the veils tend to carry a lot of water between them and the print’s paper backing, making them heavy and easily spoiled.

An image isn’t ruined if one rips — in fact, a lot of photographers rip them on purpose for a creative result. However, photographers have to be willing to change the intended outcome of the image drastically if they are careless or rushed. Lazarus also employed this unique characteristic of the process by allowing the veils to burst — which adds an additional dimension to each print — as it creates an impression that the landscape is “quite literally falling apart.” After working on this process for some time, Lazarus realized that perhaps this is something special to continue working on for his project.

Each individual Mordançage print takes him about five hours to create, from loading up the negative in the enlarger to final print. He only spends about one hour on his initial black and white print, one-hour processing it through the various chemicals and washes, and two to three hours manipulating the veils in the final rinse.

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Surreal Photo Series Developed with the Unusual Mordançage Process 13

As this type of process uses a traditional fiber-based darkroom print that is then bleached in a fairly toxic mixture of chemicals, Lazarus urges anyone interested in this technique to first attend a workshop to learn in a safe environment. If the chemicals are mixed incorrectly, the process can create chlorine gas. It is important to follow safety procedures and to wear appropriate gear to enable safe handling of the chemicals, which, Lazarus points out, can and will eat through metal.

Overall, anyone who tries their hand at delicate processes like these has to be prepared and willing to go where the process takes them, with any imperfections that may arise. “The more you make this creative process a conversation between you and what the process is willing to grant you, the more successful you will be,” explains Lazarus. “If you’re used to controlling every variable, Mordançage might not be for you — although if you can relinquish some control, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Having said that, Lazarus recommends all artists get their hands dirty and try alternative and historical photographic processes hands-on. Immersing oneself in a different way of creating can provide a different perspective on the process, especially for those who have grown up familiar only with digital work.

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As complex as the technique is, the shooting stage hasn’t always been easy either. Working with IR requires strong sunlight for maximum effect, which means overcast days are out of the question. Lazarus is also required to shoot through an R72 filter — that decreases the light striking the film by five stops — and needs to shift his focus slightly, too.

As for the imagery present in the project, most of the early work was captured on or around Route 66 with the initial project focused on this “disappearing slice of Americana.” The more he traveled around the American West, and the more he explored its history, Lazarus realized that the neglect on the Route 66 was “just part of a much greater problem of land misuse throughout the region.”

This was the moment when Lazarus shifted the focus of his series away from just documenting Route 66 to photographing the scenes that define this continued development of the land and what is in danger. “Whether nuclear dump sites, failed power stations, ceaseless urban sprawl, toxic mining remnants, they all represent failed experiments toward progress that now taint this once pristine landscape — and what hasn’t been touched is under increasing danger from fires and floods caused by climate change,” says Lazarus.

“Iconic historical photographs of the region have defined it as an unspoiled paradise, so vast that crowding, pollution, and overuse are unfathomable. These early images, along with the ideals surrounding ‘Manifest Destiny’ encouraged each successive generation to reap the benefits of the land without regard, leaving hundreds of years of detritus littering this vast region — while saying all of it was done in the name of ‘progress.’”

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The resulting body of work is intended not just to challenge what the people define the American West as, but to also show where this neglect of it has lead to.

“Much like the Mordançage processes’ veils suggest, the American West is going up in flames, crumbling at our feet, and disappearing in the wind,” he says.

More of Lazarus’ photography, including a variety of projects using alternative processes, can be viewed on his website and Instagram.


Image credits: All images by J. Jason Lazarus and used with permission.

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This Sharpness-Boosting Process is Used by Hubble Telescope Editors

This Sharpness-Boosting Process is Used by Hubble Telescope Editors

Picture Instruments, a Germany-based software company known best for its plugins for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Classic, has released a new plugin that promises to create clean, detailed, ultra-sharp images with incredible depth by employing a technique used by the Hubble Space Telescope team.

As astrophotographers will attest, sharpening deep sky images can be very challenging and highly complex. The finest details have to be emphasized without increasing the image noise or artifacts. To achieve this, a method called Absolute Point of Focus (APF-R) was created, and is now available as a plugin.

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Picture Instruments says the superiority of its plugin lies in the method at its core, which was developed by Christoph Kaltseis who had spent years researching methods in Photoshop to bring out even the most minor of details in his images. Kaltseis developed a complex image-sharpening process in Photoshop that not only added sharpness but also improved its apparent depth. This technique is now regularly used by the Hubble Space Telescope team when processing its images.

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The company says the method’s viability is illustrated by images processed by Kaltseis, which have been selected as NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” multiple times. Additionally, the APF-R process developed from this proves its performance through its use in the offices of the Hubble Space Telescope it is an integral part of the image editing process.

“I gave APF-R a go on an HST mosaic and it works around 30% better fine-tuned than our other techniques to sharpen mid-tone to shadows,” Mahdi Zamani, a member of the ESA Hubble Space Telescope team, says. “Which might not sound like too much but on the contrary is a big leap.”

While the Hubble Space Telescope editors don’t necessarily use Picture Instruments’ plugin, they do use the process on which the plugin is based. The downside of the APF-R method was its complexity. To address this, Picture Instruments worked together with Kaltseis to simplify the complex calculation processes and created a plugin that promises to enable the user to apply the time-consuming process, even without prior understanding or knowledge of how APF-R works.

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The company says that the APF-R plugin allows photographers to apply Kaltseis’s method with just a single click, which saves the tedious headache of performing the up to 50 steps in Photoshop and repeatedly calculating radii manually. Instead, the plugin promises to automatically generate the first result after a few seconds. Even comparing different layer configurations — a method Kaltseis established over several years and was previously a manual process — is done at the push of a button. According to the Picture Instruments, thanks to the “simple and fast use of the plugin, it is now possible for amateurs as well as for professionals to apply the APF-R method to all images.”

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The APF-R Plugin for Photoshop is available for $29 (plus any applicable taxes) and can be installed directly through the marketplace in the Adobe Creative Cloud Desktop App. According to the company website, the plugin will work seamlessly with Photoshop version 22 on both Windows and macOS, and PetaPixel confirmed that it also loads properly on the M1-optimized version of the application.

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Timelapse Shows Enthralling Process of a Growing Shiitake Mushroom

Timelapse Shows Enthralling Process of a Growing Shiitake Mushroom

A photographer, fascinated by the fungi world, has recorded a creative timelapse of a growing shiitake mushroom, which shows the fascinating progress up-close.

Photographer and YouTube creator Jens Heidler, who has previously shared his innovative approach to documenting macro and timelapse work of various objects and the natural world with PetaPixel, like the 10-day cracking egg timelapse, has released a new video on his channel Another Perspective, where he recorded a timelapse of a growing shiitake mushroom.

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As a self-proclaimed “mushroom fan,” Heidler plans to record timelapse videos of as many mushrooms as possible, while currently working with a variety of mushrooms, such as king oyster, lion’s mane, poplar mushroom, parasol mushroom, and king Stropharia. The latter will see recorded footage released in near future to follow this most recent shiitake mushroom video.

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Heidler says that he has always been fascinated with great timelapse video in the past and was curious how to record video footage like that himself, which is why he entered the macro and timelapse world. He explains that one of the main things that bring excitement when shooting timelapse is that irrespective of a prepared plan, it’s likely that the creator will discover something new and interesting as the recording unfolds.

When he started out shooting this type of work, he used a simple GoPro and has since upgraded to two entry-level cameras, Sony Alpha a6000 and a6300, and the full-frame Sony a7R IV. For his lenses, he uses Venus Laowa 60mm f/2.8 Ultra Macro and Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro, which the photographer also uses to take photos from a longer distance at f/16 and f/22.

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The two entry-level Sony cameras support apps that allow Heidler to take one image every five minutes, with no limitations, whereas Sony a7R IV doesn’t and the photographer needs to use an additional timelapse remote controller with it. Besides his cameras and lenses, his setup also includes a tripod, a dummy battery, and a simple softbox.

Heidler recommends other creatives to start out in the macro and timelapse world with something simple at first. For example, recording cress can give satisfying results because it grows very fast. After that, photographers and videographers can begin to plan the next steps by adjusting the light source, perhaps adding a rotation table or even a star tracker to mount the camera on, or a manual focus rail to add movement.

Although Heidler is currently preoccupied with recording the fungi world, he says that if he discovers other opportunities that would make an interesting timelapse, “the mushrooms will have to wait.”


Image credits: All images by Jens Heidler and used with permission.

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The Process of Restoring a Leica Film Camera

The Process of Restoring a Leica Film Camera

As a film photographer, the need for camera repair and restoration is not a new one. Watch as someone goes through the step by step process they went through to obtain the camera, details the camera’s history, and the restoration of the camera. 

In this video, Max from Analog Insights is gifted a family heirloom — a Leica IIIa which was later upgraded to a IIIf. This camera had been in his family for many decades and at the time he received it, in a state of disrepair. Max walks us through the journey the camera has taken starting in Germany in the 30s, and the restoration which a friend of his did for him. 

While I have never personally attempted to restore a camera to its former glory (much less a Leica!), I have repaired lesser expensive film SLR cameras. This process typically involves cannibalizing another broken version of the camera for parts. Among film cameras which are generally pretty aged and can be heavily used, it is not uncommon for a camera to not work or have a severe impairment which limits the functionality. While there are repair services out there, some better than others, these services can be time-consuming and depending on the repair shop, can take a long time just to get through the queue. The finite supply of film cameras and the limited offerings for repair services can act as a bottleneck for getting into film. 

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An Artist’s Detailed Process of Turning the Concept of ‘Writing’ into a Photo

An Artist's Detailed Process of Turning the Concept of 'Writing' into a Photo

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Photographer Alper Yesiltas has shared a detailed breakdown of how he came up with and executed a photo idea that embodied the idea of both “to read” and “to write.” While “to read” came to him quickly, “to write” took considerably more time and effort.

You may remember Yesiltas as the Turkish photographer who PetaPixel featured in 2018 for photo project that captured the same window for 12 years. This time, he challenged himself to make visible the idea of reading and writing.

His first image titled “To Read,” Yesiltas interpreted the idea through a burning newspaper, and the “facial expression behind burning lines” of words.

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To complete his project of dual images though, Yesiltas next needed to put the idea of writing into an image.

“Reading is one of the simplest actions because you always read what others wrote,” he said. “I wanted to interpret ‘Writing,’ but it wasn’t that easy.”

Yesiltas decided that making this second image would be a lot more complicated. “In order to explain how to write, I decided that I had to create some mechanisms and use them.”

He decided that the photo he envisioned would require both light and darkness.

“In order to emphasize the illumination of writers to its surroundings in historical scale is the most important initiative in the process that leads people from darkness to light, I thought of placing black and white, that is dark and light, as a main symbol to the photograph,” he said.

To do this, Yesiltas used a friend’s studio. This photo is the first test images he shot to see if the space would work for his idea:

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To convey the “writing” aspect of the image, Yesiltas decided that he would need a table, a typewriter, and a large number of books.

“The problem was that in order to capture the image in my mind, the frame of the photograph had to be kept a little wide, so the table had to be preferably larger than the size of the frame,” Yesiltas said.

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“The outside of the frame in the photograph I was going to shoot would be as busy as the interior. I was fortunate to find a proper piece wood that I could use as a tabletop in the clutter of a carpenter in the same street.”

The next step was to acquire an iron pip frame setup that would have the most important role in the image he was creating, which Yesiltas cut and put together in a workshop.

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“The task of the giant iron setup was to create a ceiling with a depth that could be used to hang a lot of books in several places, so they could be suspended in the air,” he explained.

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“The photograph would be the depiction of an abstract moment in the author’s mind.”

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To create this illusion, Yesiltas used a mixture of fishing line, safety pins, and buttons to hang the books from the iron and mesh frame down over the table. The final photo also hung an exploded view of the typewriter on the right side of the frame, also suspended from the frame. The final result, titled “To Write,” was certainly worth the work:

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You can see more of Yesiltas’s work on his Behance and Instagram.


Image Credits: Alper Yesiltas and used with permission.

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My Process for Creating Insect Portraits with Macro Photography

My Process for Creating Insect Portraits with Macro Photography

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Each print that I create is a composite of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of individual photos digitally stitched together. Using a method of macro photography called “photo stacking” it’s possible to create images with an incredible amount of detail, even when printed on a very large scale.

To show you the amount of work involved—often reaching 10 to 20 hours per image or more—I’ll walk you through my process using a giant stag beetle (Cyclommattus metallifer finae) from Indonesia. It is time-intensive and tedious, but worth it. Let’s get to it.

1. Order the Insects from a Sustainable Source

The first of many questions that I usually get is where do I get all of these bugs to photograph? The short answer is I buy them online. And no, I don’t mean the dark web. Selling insects online is a legitimate full-time business for some people just like anything else.

I’d like to point out that all of the insects I photograph are raised from ethical and sustainable sources. This means different things to different people, and I’ve written a separate blog post about it if that interests you. My most common sources at this time include Insect Art, Bic Bugs, and BizzareBugs.

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My first box when starting my collection.

2. Clean Them Without Breaking Them

If people aren’t already concerned about my mental health when I tell them I buy dead insects online, this next step usually does it. The insects arrive tightly wrapped to small cards using cellophane, and I carefully remove the packaging to inspect them. They usually look fairly clean to the naked eye, but if you were to scale them up to 40 times their actual size (which I do), you’d see that’s the farthest thing from the truth.

There is any number of ways to clean the insects, and different insects take better to different methods. In my arsenal of tools I have some paint brushes, tweezers, cotton swabs, soap, alcohol, and even an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. I often start with a test photo of the bug to get an understanding of what I’m working with and go from there. Crazy? Probably. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started this.

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See for yourself. Though, they’re usually not this dirty.

3. Rehydrate the Insect for Flexibility

In the hobby, this is what’s referred to as a “relaxation chamber”. It’s basically any container with high humidity that’s used to rehydrate the insects. When the insects arrive they are dry, very brittle, break easily, and impossible to adjust into a more desirable position. Hydration solves this problem (though they’re still extremely delicate).

I use an old sushi take-out tray. I put damp paper towels in the bottom, some tupperware lids as stands, and rest some thick card stock on top. This way I can place the insects on the card stock in the container without having them come into contact with water, and simply let them sit for one to a few days until they’re “relaxed”. Sometimes this step can be avoided if the insect was cleaned using water and is already flexible.

4. Get the Insect into Position Using “Pinning”

Positioning the insect uses a process that entomologists call pinning or spreading. While the bug is hydrated and malleable, it is laid on a styrofoam block and small pins are strategically placed around it to hold the arms, legs, and other body parts in a desirable position. For these types of prints, trying to make the insect look as symmetrical as possible is important. Then it’s time to let them dry for a couple of days in preparation for the photo shoot.

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Usually somewhere between 15 and 20 pins is enough to get the job done.

5. Take a Whole Bunch of Photos

One of the great things about macro photography is that it doesn’t have to take up a ton of space. I live in a studio apartment and my entire setup fits along my kitchen bar top. The challenge, though, is that when taking photographs at such close distances, only a little slice of each photo is actually in focus. Since I want the entire bug to be in focus, I use a technique I call “micro panoramas”.

The objective is to walk away with a sharp photo of every nook and cranny of the insect. This means dividing the insect into several sections to photograph, and taking dozens of photos of each section to ensure every detail is in focus. Afterward, I’ll combine them all together to have one large, sharp image. This print contained a total of 635 photos.

Note: If you’re curious about my equipment and setup, make sure to check out this article.

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6. Combine the Images with Photo Stacking Software

How do I go about combining hundreds of photos? Thankfully it’s not a manual process, and there are several programs that help automate this. I can’t imagine how long something like this would take otherwise, if it would even be possible. I’ve found that the stacking software works great 98% of the time, but there are still manual tweaks and revisions that will be needed in post-processing.

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Notice that very little of this image is in focus.
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The composite of 47 images is entirely in focus.

7. Clean and Adjust the Insect (Again) Digitally

This step is where things really get tedious (in case you didn’t think this was tedious enough already). It’s also the most time-consuming part of the process. If everything has gone according to plan, we now have a large, detailed, and in-focus image. I’ll usually start by making any final adjustments to body part positions to make it as symmetrical as possible.

This step also reveals a whole new level of dirt and dust! At this point, we have no choice but to open Photoshop and meticulously remove thousands of individual particles one at a time. It’s a crucial step as you can see by looking at our giant stag beetle’s mandibles below. With all of the dirt, dust, and oil stains out of the way, the entire focus of the photo can now be on the natural beauty of the insect.

Here is a comparison of the beetle in his original condition compared to the completed image. With all of the dirt, dust, and oil stains out of the way, the entire focus of the photo can now be on the natural beauty of the insect.

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Original
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Completed

Look at the difference a nice digital scrub can make.

Here’s the final image compared to the beetle’s first unpacking. What a transformation.

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To truly appreciate the details of these insects, it really helps to look at a larger image. I uploaded a higher-resolution version of the final beetle for you to see his full detail.

8. Send it to the Printer!

That sums up the “making of” portion of these prints. The entire process to this point may take anywhere from 10 to 20 hours per specimen. That doesn’t include the countless hours I spent researching and learning, with plenty of failed attempts along the way (I easily took tens of thousands of photos before arriving at my first image I finally thought was good enough to print).


P.S. I hope that in seeing these images, you’re as blown away by these magnificent creatures as I am. I would love to share these insects with the world and sell prints in boutiques, or even display them in a gallery someday, so please let me know if you know of anybody that might be interested.

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About the author: Adam Mann is a macro photography enthusiast and nature lover based in Phoenix, Arizona. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Mann’s work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.

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