Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Look Up

I recently scanned nearly 2,000 of my travel photos from 35 mm slides.  Needless to say, I hadn't seen many of them in decades.

I quickly realized that, as an amateur photographer and professional architect, I tend to take a lot of pictures that correlate with the AIA's current public awareness campaign - Look Up.  I think in my case, I take these kinds of pictures because they aren't the kind you see in guidebooks or history of architecture textbooks.  They do however provide a perspective that is just as important as the 'money shot' taken from afar - the perspective from street level.  This perspective has always intrigued me. As an added bonus, these shots are normally free of pesky pedestrians.

So I offer this perspective.  Maybe you've visited these buildings yourself and these shots may remind you of how it felt to be with the building as opposed to viewing the building.  There is something about how a building engages the sky.

Borromini's Sant'Ivo
The Cathedral & Campanile in Florence 
Gaudi's Casa Mila
Peter Behrens' AEG Turbine Factory
A very dirty Cologne Cathedral
Centre Georges Pompidou - Rogers & Piano
FLW's Kentuck Knob

FLW's Pope-Leighey
FLW's Robie House
Alexandria, Virginia
Stehli Silk Mill, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, Estes Park, Colorado (during a snow storm)
Fonthill Castle (Mercer Museum), Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Portland Building by Michael Graves
It struck me how similar some of these shots were to one another, as they spanned over 20 years.  The stark contrast between Casa Mila and AEG, both with a tree framing the view.  The way both Kentuck Knob and Pope-Leighey have a punctuated roof to filter the view to the sky. The similarities between the churches and temples, as they all seem to carry the passerby 'up'. While this is not a polished 90 second TV spot, perhaps it will inspire fellow travelers to take a moment to record how it felt to be with the building at ground level, and how that building engages the sky.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Unlocking Travel Photos from 35 mm Slides

I don't think my dilemma was uncommon.  I had stacks of 35 mm slides tucked in a closet. Mine only spanned about 8 years, which for many with my problem, is a short time.  None the less, I had close to 2000 travel slides, starting with my 1995 semester in Italy, to our third trip to Italy in 2002. Shortly thereafter I finally purchased a Pentax D*ist digital SLR.  It replaced my Pentax K1000 and subsequent Pentax ZX auto-focus 35 mm.

For years I had wanted to get the slides digitized.  But the equipment to do it was very expensive and slow.  Services are out there to do it, but even at $0.25 each image that would have cost hundreds of dollars.

Some of the 1,725 35 mm slides I have scanned so far.
As a frugal guy, I looked into alternatives.  I read some articles about scanning with a high quality digital camera, which I know owned in my Pentax K50.  So, as you can see below, I set up an LED light table, rigged with a straightedge ledge and black paper mask, along with my camera on a tripod with a remote shutter release.  I also had already in my possession, three macro lens filters that screw on to my standard 18-70 lens.

My scanner without a scanner set up.  Total nerd-shot.
This did just an ok job.  It was also very slow.  It took some time to get the focus right, and honestly, after staring into the light table for a while, my focus went wonky at times because of my eyes.  I also shot in RAW, which took an extreme amount of memory.  Then I would have to crop and fool with the contrast and colors in Photoshop.  But I was able to pull several of my more memorable slides out of the backlog to enjoy anew.

Here are a couple examples from this process:

Trevi at Night.

Uncropped Sistine Chapel
Then I began seeing some alternatives I could afford.  Epson has a slide, negative and photo scanner in the V600 which I was able to pick up for just over $200.00.  It had good reviews along with the on board imaging program.  I fine tuned my process in Professional Mode over time, and ended up using 16,000 resolution.  This produces an image that I couldn't really make out any imperfections over higher resolutions and each file was in the neighborhood of just 2 MB.  you can do four slides at a time, and make adjustments to color, back lighting, contrast, etc. for each individual slide, then run all four at once.  It takes about 7-10 minutes at this setting for all four jpgs to finalize, and I was saving all the files to a thumb drive.  I have since backed them all out on the cloud storage we have.

Over four months, doing a few sleeves a weekend on average, I was able to scan 1,725 images that previously had been dormant.  Not only the memorable shots that I would pull out from the masses, but the more subtle slides that may not have looked as desirable from just holding the slide up to the light.  Because I scanned all my slides, my efforts revealed some images I may have never really seen again.  And of course, those slides I used my contraption to scan were improved by the use of the Epson.

Improved Trevi at Night Scan.  Much sharper focus.
Improved Sistine Scan.  Much improved color rendering.  I am hoping the new Pope will forgive me for snapping this.

While in Pisa, this is not the typical shot, but I think this one turned out really well.

Not exactly a shot for over the fireplace, but I like it none the less.
It may seem like an obvious statement, but architects tend to take photos of buildings.  And boy did I. But after sorting through all those photos, some of my favorites are of people.  Some I knew, others, like the cobblestone guy, I did not.

Artichoke Man is one of my favorites.
A couple of classmates of ours, resting in front of Santa Croce in Florence.
I had a lot wrapped into my slides.  And as time went on, they became a record of the travels with my wife and our friends.  Though it was a lot of work, I feel extremely accomplished in getting all these into a format that is useful.  It will be a lot easier to do a slide show in PowerPoint than changing out all those slide carousels for a projector show...