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Me and Photography

Brief historical summary

My writings on photography

Down with JPEG, up with raw!

The wonders of sharpening: resolution doubling

When I was between 12-15 years old, my friend Morten Schou-Nilsen and I made some 8mm films — melodramatic superhero & horror movies, sort of, quite primitive and dreadful, of course, but still — we had a lot of fun with it! I have one of these films on DVD now, and while I cringe when I watch it, I must admit we youngsters had a lot of balls — in our youthful ignorance. Ignorance is sometimes bliss!

At the same time I also attended some optional courses in photography at my school, learning the basics about developing film and prints.

Then, at the age of 18, I bought myself my first real camera: a used Nikon 35mm SLR (I forget the model) — my purpose was "learning more about composition" for my drawing and painting. I may have learned something about that, eventually, but I was more immediately drawn into the technical aspects of photography — it appealed to the inventor in me. I fairly rapidly began to buy various darkroom equipment, first for developing and printing black & white film, and then — not knowing any better — I started fooling around with color prints, too. I even tried developing Ektrachrome transparencies — an elaborate, error-prone mess! Among the various print processes I worked with were Cibachrome color prints, which were expensive but long-lasting prints from positives (slides, transparencies), and "ordinary" C-prints, color prints made from negatives.

I kept on taking photos, often using my sister Line as a model, as she was quite photogenic and loved to "ham it up" in front of a camera. My parents still have some of those Cibachrome prints of Line on their walls, and they have kept their colors remarkably well, even after almost 30 years. Good "hand-made" stuff!

By my early 20s I had amassed an advanced darkroom, which also included a huge stat camera (they don't exist anymore, they were killed off by the digital pre-press revolution). My beloved Eskofot 5060 stat camera — which had a 50x70cm copystand and could make 50x60cm negatives and positives — was a necessity for my commercial work, as I did a lot of paste-up and mechanicals for advertising agencies and publishers, but I also used it for all kinds of esoteric photographic experiments. It would take thousands of words to adequately describe the arcane processes and techniques I tried out and invented. Suffice to say that, among other things, I was — at the age of 22 — almost certainly Norway's second leading expert on reprographic halftone screening techniques. (Brief explanation: "halftone screens " are the "dots" you see in newspaper photos — no, these are not pixels.) The man whom I acknowledged as The Master was a Rumanian murder convict (!) named Vladimir Rovniev, who at the time — late 70s & early 80s — was famous in the Norwegian printing business for his radical screening technology, which he called "crystal screening". This was, roughly, a photo-mechanical precursor to what is now called "stochastic screening" (but you knew that already, right?) I never met Rovniev, alas, as I was rather shy in those days about meeting people — too bad .

In addition to two Nikons and various lenses, portable flashes, studio strobes and halogen lights I also acquired a monorail view camera, a 4x5"/5x7" Cambo, also with several lenses. I loved all the advanced movements — perspective and depth-of-field adjustments — which one can make with view cameras. These amazing adjustments are quite impossible to quickly explain here, suffice to say that the Scheimpflug principle is a wonderful optical law, and one which no razzle-dazzle, super-modern SLR digital camera can ever touch (unless you add a high-end digital back to your view camera, like the stunning Phase One 16 Mpx and 22 Mpx backs — which cost $18,000 and $30,000!).

Now, did I make any great photos with all this technology and knowledge? Nah.

Now, did I make any great photos with all this technology and knowledge? No, I can't claim that. I usually got so carried away by the technical stuff that I paid too little attention to the kind of photos I made (though later on I did occasionally shoot some fine photos of various girlfriends). But I sure learned a lot about photographic techniques — and, eventually, even something about composition.

Later in my career, when I worked as an Art Director in advertising and publishing, my extensive technical knowledge served me well when I art directed photographers in photo shoots — very few Art Directors can spell "Scheimpflug" (or anything else, really.)

And now it's the 21st century . . .

. . . so how am I doing now?

In my late 'twenties (mid-1980s) I eventually stopped almost completely working with photography, owing to developing other expensive, time-consuming interests. I sold off some of my equipment and put the rest in the attic. No more cameras, no more darkroom. End of story?

Not quite. For in the fall of 1998 I bought myself a Nikon 950 digicam, which produced then-whopping 2 megapixel images. It was a pretty decent camera, with a 3x optical zoom, and I still use it now and then, but on the whole it feels too much like using a Mickey Mouse camera — even though it is a Nikon. And for someone who was used to studio view cameras with huge, high-resolution films, the image quality was never satisfying. It was barely adequate for shooting holiday snaps — which I never did much, anyway.

But now it's seven years later, 2005 — an eternity in our brave digital world. And the recent emergence of high-quality digital cameras has revived my old love for photography. In particular, my great spring 2005 vacation in New Hampshire, where I took some occasional photos with my generous friend Lewis Schnapp's Sony digicam, has awakened me from my slumbers — even though Lewis's 5 Mpx Sony is also a Mickey Mouse model (sorry, Lewis!).

What's so great now is that I simply don't need dusty darkrooms and noxious chemicals to work my magic: I have powerful Komputers and I am an expert with tons of graphics software, including, of course, the Glorious God Photoshop. I also have a staggeringly great Epson Stylus Pro 4000 printer, which can make 17" wide and looooong color and B&W prints — prints which are far more predictable in quality, with even better longevity than Cibachromes, than I could ever produce in my old darkroom.

Goodbye darkroom, hello lightroom!

So right now — summer of 2005 — I am again reading a lot about photographic equipment and techniques, all for free on the marvelous web. And I am dying to get myself a really first-rate digital camera (within the limits of my modest budget, alas). Sometime in the fall of 2005 I expect I will make up my mind and take the full digicam plunge — and this time around, I intend to not just concentrate on the technology, but to use these means toward a meaningful end: creating really great photographs.

So there are exciting times ahead — please stay tuned for further, ahem, developments.