Photos on a 75 year old camera

March 27, 2013 Published by . Leave your thoughts

As you may recall, earlier this month I planned to load a 75-ish year old camera with film and take it out for a spin.  I have two vintage Kodak Brownie cameras to play with (a small, but growing collection) and decided to run a roll of black and white film through “Mr. Black,” a Kodak Brownie Six-20 manufactured between 1933 and 1941; and a color roll of film I re-spooled myself (moment of pride) through “Mr. Brown,” a Kodak Brownie Bulls-Eye manufactured between 1954 and 1960.  “Mr. Brown” I scored for $2 at a thrift shop.

However, “Mr. Black” is a little more special than a cheap thrift store find… “Mr. Black” was my father’s camera when he was a wee lad growing up in Brooklyn.  I should mention (because my dad will be upset if I didn’t) that although the camera was manufactured between 1933 and 1941, my dad was not.  The camera was a hand-me-down and at least 10 or so years older than my dad.

But the greatest part of having this old camera in the family for so long means that we can compare photos taken on the camera about 50 or so years apart.  Behold!  Here is a photo of my father taken on “Mr. Black” at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 to 60 years ago:

My dad, taken on “Mr. Black” about 55-60 years ago

Please note: he is wearing a pair of high-top Keds, NOT Converse Chuck Taylors.  He says only the cool kids wore Keds and believes it is super important to make this distinction.  However, he grew up to be a mechanical engineer and reads Consumer Reports on a weekly basis.  With this data, I believe high-top Keds might have been the dorky shoes of the era.  I’m just saying.

And now for my next trick, I present to you, two photos taken on “Mr. Black” earlier this month… THE VERY SAME CAMERA:

Taken on “Mr. Black,” March, 2013

Taken on “Mr. Black,” March, 2013

And of course, to let “Mr. Brown” have some fun too, here’s a photo he took this month.  Note the better framing… it’s easier to frame a photo better when the camera has a viewfinder.  I’m glad Kodak got the memo somewhere between 1941 and 1954 and started putting viewfinders on their cameras…

Taken on “Mr. Brown,” March, 2013

My next mission is to recreate the photo of my dad in his high-top Keds with the same camera, half a century after the first photo was taken.  It’s going to take a little persuasion to get him into a pair of white shorts though… But I’m persistent.  I will win.

MacGyver would be proud

March 25, 2013 Published by . Leave your thoughts

A friend of mine is selling her engagement ring and asked me to take some photos of it for the ad- figuring she would get a better price for it if the photos looked really nice.  So I wanted the photos of this ring to look like they came right out of a diamond catalog where only awesome people shop to buy awesome things and to pay top dollar for them.

I had a specific image in my mind of those ring catalog photos where you always see the ring kind of balancing on an all-white surface using only the power of magic.  I know jewelry photographers use a kind of tacky prop wax to get things like that to stay in place, then remove the tiny bead of wax in Photoshop afterward.  But I didn’t want to buy something I probably wouldn’t use again for a while.

So I used what any photographer would use in a situation where he/she needs something to do something he/she wants and doesn’t have the proper tool to make that happen: gaff tape!  (Definition: “Gaff tape” or “Gaffer’s tape” is a strong but surface-safe tape used in many lighting and photo or filmmaking applications that usually comes in a matte black color, but can also be found in gray, white, and other colors.  Named after who uses the tape the most in the industry: gaffers on film sets, who handle all of the lighting set ups for motion pictures, it’s like the duct tape of the photo world.  End of fun fact.)

organic headshots

I took a small piece of white gaff tape and folded it over so the sticky side was up, and balanced the ring onto the tape.  Obviously it wasn’t going to stand upright for long since there was nothing holding it on the sides, so knowing it was going to fall over while I was taking the photo, I made a MacGyver move and crossed my fingers, set the ring, ran to the tripod, and snapped photos of the ring as it fell over.  So the photo you see here was actually taken while the ring was in mid-fall.

I removed the tape in Photoshop afterward, and viola!  A pretty photo for a pretty ring for sale.  And I’m back to the office of the Phoenix Foundation to file paperwork until Murdock suddenly appears for vengeance.  (End of MacGyver reference.)

A client you should know

March 21, 2013 Published by . Leave your thoughts
After several years in private practice and government law, recent Organic Headshots visitor Michele Casey is launching her own legal  Horray for entrepreneurship!  One of her main focuses as an attorney is mediation and alternative dispute resolution.


What is mediation or alternative dispute resolution? Have you ever had a disagreement with your condo board, or a fellow condo member and it was bad enough that someone threatened to get the courts involved somehow? Or maybe you own your own business and just got hit with a lawsuit. Mediation can help!


Here’s how it works: Michele is an attorney who sits down with folks before they head to court so that they can try to solve their problems without, well… hiring attorneys and metaphorically punching each other in court… which is stressful and expensive. So think about giving her a call before you and your neighbor whose dog NEVER stops barking end up in fisticuffs in the courthouse. Visit her website to contact her, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Are you in a comedy or a horror film?

March 11, 2013 Published by . Leave your thoughts

When I take someone’s headshot I like to take into account the quality of light that I’m using and how to use it to achieve the “ultimate headshot.”  (Which is not a technical term.  But it should be.)  Everyone’s face shape is different and I find myself moving my key light around and angling my subjects’ faces a lot during a session to find the most flattering angles and shadows as the light hits their features.

For example, when I’m not getting a pretty little catchlight in someone’s eyes it can make their eyes seem dull and lifeless.  So I’ll position the light around more to make sure it’s reflected in their eyes.  (This can especially happen when they smile and their eye lids hide part of their eyes.)  I’m not going to think, “oh well, I guess that person just doesn’t get a catchlight in their eyes.  Sucks for them.”  That would make me a lousy photographer.  And kind of a lousy human.  Instead, I’m going to move the light around and coach them into new poses that gets the desired effect.

We all deserve good photos of ourselves- it’s a basic human right.  (But don’t call the UN and ask about this; or if you do, don’t quote me on it.)

One of the most basic decisions made in any type of photography is harsh light or soft light.  Harsh light is usually unfiltered and creates a lot of shadows, while soft light is diffused and spreads everywhere- filling in all the shadows.  A sunny day vs. a cloudy day is a good example of this- on a cloudless day, the sun shines as a big spotlight onto everything and makes harsh shadows under trees and buildings, and allows for sundials to function properly.  While a cloudy day has fewer shadows around things because the clouds don’t block the sun’s light- but rather they diffuse it so it scatters everywhere.  That’s why cloudy days are actually better for outdoor portrait photography than sunny days- clouds are like nature’s softboxes.

An even better example, though, would be a comedy vs. a horror film.  In a horror film, the light is generally lower and lots of shadows are hiding parts of a room or obscuring parts of peoples’ faces, making them look evil or sinister.  While comedic films are generally really bright with soft light so you can see everything and know that nothing is lurking in the shadows.  So you feel safe enough to laugh and no one’s going to jump out of a shadow and stab you in the neck.

For a headshot, (yes, I’m going to relate this back to headshots- there’s a point, I swear) different qualities of light can portray different emotions or compliment different face shapes.  Harsher light can be used to show more depth in character by obscuring parts of the face or making the person’s expressions look more intense.  Softer light tends to fill in lines and shadows to smooth out the skin and can make people look more youthful and happy.  More shadows can also bring out a man’s features more and make him look more masculine by sculpting the cheekbones and jawlines more.  I tend to use more shadows with men who have rounder faces for example, because it adds a little more shape.  And I tend to use softer light for women who don’t want their wrinkles to show as much.

Operation: play with super old camera

March 5, 2013 Published by . 1 Comment

Today is a snow day!  It’s been snowing all day.  I’ve been editing photos and catching up on work.  And avoiding shoveling.  So I thought today might be a good day to take a look at an old camera my dad found lying around his house recently and unloaded on me.  I saw it on his desk and said, “what on earth is that old box camera thing?”  He said, “it’s the camera I had as a kid.”  I burst out laughing.

“Shut up,” he says, “it was a hand-me-down when I got it.  I’m not THAT old.”  But he has had the same haircut since Nixon was in office, so the jury’s still out.

Allow me to introduce you to my new camera.  I will name him “Mr. Black.”  As you may recall, I took “Mr. Brown” on a little excursion last spring- a Kodak Brownie Bulls-eye camera I found for $2 at a thrift shop.  That model was manufactured between 1954 and 1960 and eats 120 film rolled onto a 620 spool.

Mr. Black is a Kodak Brownie Six-20 US model camera, manufactured between 1933 and 1941.  Making it only marginally older than my AARP-card-carrying father who’s had the same haircut since Nixon.  After I post this I know I’m going to get a phone call where my dad will very calmly remind me that he changed his hair once, for 2 weeks, in the mid 1980’s.

Anyway… today I cleaned Mr. Black’s lenses as best I could and took a look at his inner workings.  This camera model was still relatively new in the home camera industry, so the features are really minimal.  The shutter speed and f/stop are fixed at somewhere around 1/30 and f-26.  I think.  There’s no way to focus it since it’s focused to infinity… unless you push the tiny lever on the front of the camera to the side, which changes the settings from its default 10 feet – infinity, to 5 – 10 feet.  It just moves the diway lens out of the way to reveal the bare shutter.  Oooo, technology.  (note sarcasm)

When home cameras first started with the Kodak #1 (yes, that’s what it was called) in 1888, the camera was essentially a little black box with one little lens on the front and no viewfinder.  You took photos with it, then mailed the whole box back to Kodak, who unloaded the film, developed it, loaded it again and sent it back to you to take more photos. The photos were called “snapshots” after a hunting term meaning to shoot without aiming.  Because these cameras didn’t have viewfinders, you were essentially taking photos without really aiming the camera- just pointing it and crossing your fingers.

Mr. Black was a new model home use camera that you could load with film yourself.  It has 2 viewfinders- one on the top and one on the side- for vertical and horizontal viewing.  But if you look through them you don’t see much… Actually, they’re designed for waist-level viewing so you do see what you’re aiming the camera at if you hold the camera at your waist and squint one of your eyes shut until you look like Popeye.  If you push your eyeball right up against the viewfinder you see absolutely nothing.

I’ve got film for Mr. Black and am ready to take some questionable-viewfinder snapshots, and he hasn’t taken any photos in probably about 50 years or so, so he’s ready to get back in business.  Now I just have to wait for it to stop snowing so I can take it outside without drenching it…

Oh, and for those of you who have been thinking throughout this post, “holy crap!  That camera is 70-something years old, it must be worth a fortune!”  You’re wrong.  Brownies of all models are prolific and mostly just used by people as decoration on shelves and conversation pieces.  You can find your own Mr. Black for like $20 on Ebay.