Friday, May 4, 2018

Nikon D850

Sheryl Crow, 2002 800 ISO 
I used to be an F5 totin’, film speed pushin’, rock & roll photographer. My clients were Guitar World, and Guitar Player Magazines, artists websites, record companies, and I spent two years photographing concerts for RollingStone.com. That was 17 years ago. 

Actually, I think I did my last concert 12 years ago, when I photographed the Sasquatch Music Festival at the Gorge in 2006. That was a riot. I was working as a staff photographer for a magazine that folded after the first issue, and consulting for the firm that handled the press. That wasn’t the riot part. The weather was. It hailed hard for over an hour. A half an inch of water in my camera bag later, I had ten rolls of moist 800 ISO Fuji press film to process, and two rolls that I knew were thrashed. But my F5 and all of my lenses dried out without issue. That camera was built like a tank.

I digress. What I’m writing this about is last October, I got my Nikon D850. See, I’ve been doing gallery stuff for the past few years, and I really wanted a camera with all the promises Nikon made about the D850. I got it and it is a beast! It’s built like the F5, not like the D600 that I had. In fact, I would put it in the same bag as my F5 in a hail storm with the half inch of water. And I wouldn’t have lost any images, as SD cards can get wet.

But that isn’t why I got it. Enlarging macro photographs of calla lilies and photography of the Milky Way to 20x30 and 30x40 and even 40x60 is why I got that camera. It delivers full frame 45.4 megapixel photographs.


I set up a tent with a big translucent on top, and a smaller one on the side. My first Calla Lili plant of the year was the subject. 

I tried out the automatic focus stacking mode of my new camera. At ISO 64, and f/11, I think the shutter speed was four seconds. I focused on the tilting touchscreen that reminded me of a view camera ground glass, all zoomed in to the pixel like a loupe to make sure everything was as sharp as it could possibly be. I pushed start on the touchscreen, and watched it go! It was programmed to make 30 exposures silently, electronically, with no moving shutter. It can handle up to a couple hundred exposures in the focus stacking mode. The lens adjusted focus just a little bit for each exposure. 

Then I put the images in Lightroom, and stacked them in Photoshop. That was an adventure. Photoshop made a few errors. But it was really fun painting focus!

I decided early on, that in order to be completely comfortable with this camera, I needed to test its capabilities. I needed to learn how exactly to use its tools to achieve what ever pre-visualizations I had in my head. And how the capabilities of the software I was using could modify the images more closely to what I imagined in my head.

Luna at 25,600 ISO
I needed to see how well an image could be resized up to 40x60 made at an ISO of 25,600. I took a random, handheld photographs of my dog under light from the TV. When I looked at it at 100% it looked really noisy like the grain of TMax 3200 film pushed a stop. Next, I put it through NIK DFine 2 noise reduction. Just standard, no adjustments. That was the magic trick. Most of the noise seemed to
disappear. Then I resized it with On1 Resize 10. The results were fantastic, grainy and high contrast, but understandably so. The whole image was awful, but a whole lot less awful than I expected. It had the look of TMax 3200 exposed at ISO 800. It had that look, but only at 100%.  See, and that’s the thing about the D850, it’s got the resolution of literally two cameras, 45.4MP.  

It’s very much like if they made TMax 3200 in medium format film....(sigh.) You have to look at the 100%, but what you really have to pay attention to is...(I’m sorry)...the whole picture.
Resized to 40x60"


So, when my step daughter called me and said she volunteered me to photograph a high school play, I jumped at the chance. I set the camera at an ISO of 10,000. The photographs reminded me of the ISO 800 Fuji Press film....when I looked at them at 100%. When put through Nik DFine 2, it looked much better. 

Now, what this is, is obvious. It is the size and depth of the frame. My D600 was 4016x6016 pixels. And it had an ISO from 100 to 6400. The D850 is 5,504x8256, and has an ISO from 64 to 25,600. 
At 100% 10,000 ISO

Everything works that much better together. What I mean by that is, at 100% magnification, noise reduction looks a little like a watercolor filter. And by bringing in more pixels, the watercolor effect is smaller in size, and less apparent, but the noise is still taken out. And the resizing works very well.

What you’ve got here is a camera with 7 frames a second up to, like, 24 exposures before it starts to slow down....think about that. A Hasselblad that has the capability to burn through a full roll of 220 film in three and a half seconds. 

Now that would freak out my father. He would say, “Why???” I would go through my normal bouncing ball, peak of gravity, and guitarist’s windmill chord argument for multiple exposures in a second, but then I would go into, “Say you’re making a family portrait of 10 people and two dogs. Three of the people are under 4 years old, and one baby. You have set up an outdoor portrait out in their farm backlit by sunset. You have about 30 seconds with which to work.” He would agree he’d been in that situation many times, and this would get him thinking.

So, the camera is very sturdy and well built, with near medium format resolution over every ISO from 64 to 25,600, a focus stacking mode, a 180° tilt-able 3.2 inch touch screen, 7fps that doesn’t slow for 24 frames, and I haven't even put it in video mode yet.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

September 1, 2017

I just ordered a Nikon D850. It’s times like this that I really miss my dad. He would really really enjoy talking about, debating Nikon and Canon, and especially playing with a new camera like that, and comparing it to his Canon 5D Mark II. 

One of the last times we worked at the gallery together, I think it was on a Monday. In Ocean Shores, there were no customers. We tested mirror lenses all day! His Nikkor 1000mm f/11, his Vivitar Series 1 600mm f/8, and my Nikkor 500mm f/8. 

We bought a Nikon PC lens together, an 85mm f/2.8 PC Micro. He wanted to photograph an extreme close up of a sand dollar in sand with it. It’s the lens that I’m using now to do all of my Calla Lili photographs. He would love the way I work, in LiveView, tilting the lens, and zooming in on the screen to focus, like a loupe on a view camera. 

I remember him teaching me about banquet table focusing when I was about 13 or 14. That’s where you tilt your view camera, your film plane, and lens plane in such a way that your focal plane is all along the table. The next day, I believe, I had the Super Cambo 4x5 view camera with a lens that I had no business touching (I can’t remember which lens it was, but it had a lotta glass.) at the foot of the stairs up to his office. He almost got really mad, but I convinced him to look at the Polaroid I had taken. 

He said, “You used a Polaroid??”

“Yes, but look, the banister is really sharp all the way!! And I only used three sheets!” I said.

He looked at the instant print, and sure enough, the banister was very sharp from about a foot from the lens to like twelve feet from the lens. He really couldn’t get that angry, in fact, he was impressed.

“You ought to make it a portrait of yourself, you could string a cable release up there, and stand around the corner, and lean out. I’ll get another couple sheets of Polaroid Film.” He shook his head as he walked away.

He was my father, but since I was twelve and entered my first Professional Photographers of Washington competition, he was also my peer. 

You know, it was good and bad. Having your father honestly critique your prints that you made when you were thirteen. “Well, that looks a pile of shit.” Yep, I was his peer. 

As much as he taught me, he made sure I had other influences than him. And I loved that I saw just a little bit of my influence in his work every great once in awhile.

We would have had a lot of fun with the D850. I’ll smile as I fiddle with tilting the lens plane on the 85mm, and think of him.
December 27, 2016

As far as digital photography goes, My father liked the 4 and 8 GB Compact Flash cards. They would allow him to shoot about 75 to 200 RAW exposures.  They were cheap, and easy to come by, and he had about a million of them.  I love having 32GB SD cards. They bring back memories of the past. See, I have a 24.2 megapixel Nikon D600, and when I put a 32GB card in it, it says I have 590 RAW exposures, but when I get 620 images on one, it still says I have 100 more. So, I could feasibly get 720 images on one 32GB SD card. I know it’s kind of stupid to fill up an SD card, and I have never done it. But, 720 is kind of a magic number for me. We used to travel with 20 rolls of Kodachrome 64 still in the cellophane sleeve they came in. If you multiply 36 exposures by 20…you get 720. My camera case had a film compartment that could take 2 sleeves. 20 rolls of Kodachrome 64, and 20 rolls of Kodachrome 200. 

Of course, we would have to have other film. I would always make sure and take a few rolls of T-Max 3200, because with an ISO of 3200 the X-ray would damage that film and it would force a hand check. And we were all about the hand check. 

See, back in the film days, airport security wanted to send film through the X-ray. They said it wouldn’t hurt anything. And it was true, they got the X-ray high tech enough that one pass wouldn’t really effect normal film much at all. That wasn’t what made us nervous. It was that we might have to go out of the secure area if a connecting flight was in the mix, so film might be subjected to two or three passes through the X-ray on the way back in, and then we had the return trip to worry about. Every time it went under the invisible radiation, past once, it would take a little bit more off the edge of the contrast, the saturation, and the shadow detail. 

So, it was very important to have, first, at least one roll of T-Max 3200. Second, as much of your film still in factory sealed cellophane sleeves, because that would be one object instead of twenty. Third, for any single rolls you might be carrying, keep them in the boxes they came in. 

This is the stuff we loved talking about. Film speeds, X-ray technology, and ways around it.

My father, and Gene Hattori devised taking many Fuji Film translucent plastic 35mm film containers and hot-glueing them together. If two were glued together bottom to bottom, and then several of those were glued together side to side to side, they looked like some sort of ammo clip or something. But the film can be plainly seen through the containers. Dad and I both bought hot glue guns. We made groups of four, six, eight, ten, and twelve. My dad liked the clips of 4, I liked the clips of 8, and Gene, he liked 12. They made it through security great, much faster to hand check than individual rolls.

This was back when it was called Airport Security, not TSA. Back when it was not mandatory to be checked in an hour before the flight.

My dad ran about an hour late on average. I remember trips with my father like Indiana Jones movies. First the was Raiders of the Lost Gate, then there was Airport of Doom, then The Last Convention, and finally the Kingdom of the Nikkor Lens. They all had the same exact plot line, we arrived at the airport five minutes before or five minutes after our plane was supposed to board. We had to have our film hand checked at security, then race to the gate. Honest to God, when I picture my dad moving through the airport, he’s swinging on the rafters from his whip. And honestly, I think if he could have gotten a whip through security, and there were rafters to swing from, and it would have got him to the gate any faster, he would have travelled that way. 

See, I think dad loved the rush of the hurry. Before, 9/11, dad seldom missed flights. Oh, he was always late. Always. I remember once, dad was late making it through security, having his film hand checked. We made it to the gate only to watch the plane back up to take off. He ran up to the gate desk and talked to the gate people. As I remember it, because it was security’s fault that we missed the flight, or that’s how dad put it…unbelievably, the plane returned to the gate to get us. In fact the first time he flew after 2001, and he had to be there, by law, an hour early, I remember him sitting at the gate with a big frown on his face. 

I asked him, “What’s wrong?”

He said, “I don’t understand this at all. What do they expect me to do for an hour, just sit here?

Now, I can’t put a 32GB SD card in my camera without thinking about that time in my life. It makes me smile. Seriously, swinging from his whip…probably yodeling.
December 20, 2016

I don’t remember certain details about the first time I flew the mountain. The date for one. My father, Ken Whitmire, swore it was May 25th, I remember it being May 28th, 1980. I remember it being 10 days after the May 18th eruption of Mt. St. Helens. He was 86 the last time we talked about it, and I’ve since suffered a traumatic brain injury…So it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. 

What I will always remember about that morning, I think, was that we were late, and we still had to drive down to the studio to pick up film. The posted speed limit was 30 MPH, but due to the one and a half to two inches of volcanic ash covering everything in Yakima, the county wide speed limit had been reduced to 25. We were going down Summitview Avenue at around 70 MPH in our brown station wagon. 

I remember looking to the side and seeing this police officer sitting in his car, speed checking everyone. Why we weren’t stopped and ticketed, or more likely thrown in jail, I will never know for sure. I can only speculate that the wake of ash that our station wagon kicked up, hid us from both the cop, and any primitive radar he might of had with him.

The Yakima Airport was closed, so we drove down to The Dalles, Oregon, which was the closest airport that was open. We met a photographer friend of ours from Sunnyside, John Kasinger, and flew out from there.

John and dad had been in contact with National Geographic Magazine. The way it worked then, there were photographers on assignment for the magazine, or for very special events, like erupting volcanoes, tornadoes and such, other photographer’s stuff was sometimes looked at, and seldom excepted. I don’t even think the National Geographic took down their names. But, if they turned in really good stuff, maybe they would look at it. 

The morning air was smooth in the little plane. We flew above the clouds.

Clouds had covered the volcano since the May 18th eruption, due to condensation around all the warm ash in the air. But as our Cessna 172, single engine plane approached the red zone, a mile wide federally restricted no-fly zone, the clouds cleared and we were among the first to see the mountain as it is today. We were shocked.

John told the pilot to fly closer, so we headed in.  

Soon, the radar guy came on the radio, “You are flying in a restricted area, unless you turn around now, your pilots license will be revoked.”

The pilot banked the plane around.

Dad put his hand on the pilot’s shoulder, “Tell them we’re from the National Geographic.”

There was a pause, then, “You’ve been cleared to fly wherever you want.”

Hearing that the pilot turned the plane around, and we made our first run. We got really close to the mountain and soon it began its eruption that rained mud on Portland. We were flying dangerously close. There was a lot of turbulence, because air temperatures and pressures fluctuated wildly. 

The wind direction changed, which sent the plume of ash and pumice directly in our direction. The pilot dove the plane straight down, in what seemed like a thousand foot drop.  

Below us, I saw trees laid down and floating on Spirit Lake like a box of spilled tooth picks.

Soon the pilot recovered from the dive, and the plane flew back about a half a mile, giving us the space we needed to get the whole mountain in the frame. Dad captured images of a Chinook helicopter flying very close to the North side crater. The double bladed copter probably had the photographer assigned by the National Geographic in it, but it gave the photographs a kind of size relation.

We flew back to The Dalles and had breakfast at Sambo’s. Certain things. I can still remember the taste of those syrup soaked pancakes.

Then we drove back to Yakima, and dad had some film processed. We went down to the Herald Republic newspaper. He sold an image of the previously hidden volcano to the UPI, a news and photo agency, and had it in every newspaper across the country. 

Although, we weren’t “From the National Geographic,” as dad had said, one of his photographs was excepted for the Mt. St. Helens issue of the Magazine. The image was of a dead bird, covered in ash on the sidewalk outside the studio, and I think it’s one of the most dramatic images in the peice.

Quite an exciting morning for a thirteen year old.

In, I think, 2005 or 2006 there was some heating under a glacier on Mt. Rainier. I read about some flooding of a river because of it. And Mt. Rainier was under a pretty special geologic volcano watch for about a month. I remember calling my dad. 

He said, “Wanna fly another mountain?”

I replied, “Damn straight, dad.”

We both giggled.
December 18, 2016

Another story about my father....We were heading North on the Oregon coast in our dark gold '61 Ford pick-up with a camper. I always thought of it as sparkly brown. 

I think we had been on a trip to San Fransisco or somewhere like that, maybe it was somewhere on the coast of Oregon. I don’t know. I can’t remember and for this, it’s not important. We were on our way back from somewhere South, and on the coast. I think it was late spring. Just my parents and me. I think I was about ten. I don't know maybe I was younger.  I remember riding in the bed over the truck cab. I liked looking out the front window and pretending I was an airplane or Superman. I remember as I got older, I liked the rhythm of the painted stripes on the road, as they disappeared beneath the truck. My siblings were older. My brother, Ward, and Linda, my sister, were still in school. I was too, but it’s easier to leave 16 and 19 year olds at home than a 10 year old. I don’t know, as you’ve probably guessed I’m kind of sketchy on the details. 

We were obviously on Highway 101. I remember the sea on my left, land on my right. It was a nice day.

Traveling was different for us. We were not going from here to there. We almost never did that. We traveled from here to where ever the light was good, or there were interesting mailboxes, or God forbid, a seagull, or a lighthouse. 

Years later, there was a Maxwell House commercial, where a photographer and his dog were photographing a lighthouse, and were invited in for a cup of coffee by the old lighthouse owner and his grandson.

“So, you’re photographing Maine.” said the old man, while his wife poured the coffee.

The photographer replied sipping his cup of Maxwell House, “The whole country, really.”

Towards the end of the commercial the wife said, “Looks like you’ve got time for another cup.” She motioned toward the little boy and the dog sound asleep in front of the fire in the fireplace.

“Looks like I do.”

To this my sister added, “One thing they don't show, is down the road about a half a mile, that photographer’s family is sitting in a parked car….just waiting.”

Anyway, that day traveling North on 101, my father saw a scene of sheep grazing on tall grass in the foreground, a lighthouse with the surf crashing against it in the background. He pulled the truck over. Before the camper was finished swaying back and forth because of the quick stop, dad was getting his camera, and camera bag. I think he had a Pentax 6x7, and some quite serious lenses. Then he climbed over the fence to the field with the sheep.

I crawled out of the bed and went to the door, "Dad, what about those signs?" There were "No Trespassing" signs posted just about every six to twelve feet. It seemed like the owner of the land really didn't like people.

My father said, and I quote..."Oh, those signs are just for amateurs!"

So, naturally, I followed him over the fence. I was no amateur kid. We went down a hill, dad stopping to take photographs almost constantly.

The sheep were loving the tall grass. The waves crashed against the rocks in front of the lighthouse. It was beautiful. We spent about twenty minutes hiking, and photographing. 

Suddenly, we heard an unmistakable sound, “SHUNK-SHUNK!!" A shotgun being cocked. Dad and I looked up the hill to find a farmer at the top with his gun pointed at us.

"Can't you READ?!?” the farmer screamed.

I blocked the next part, the part where he led us back to our truck at gun point, out of my memory for the longest time. I think I had my hands up.  

The last thing I remember was the old farmer sitting on the bumper of the Ford, while my mom handed him a cup of coffee that she had just brewed in the camper. 

As the farmer complimented my mom, “Good coffee.” dad promised to send him an 8x10. 

And the song plays, “It couldn’t be anything, but Maxwell House.”
December 15, 2016

I remember many things from my trips with my family. I’ve tried to separate one trip from the others, but who knows. Some details in this story might be slight exaggerations. I stand by it anyway.

My father didn’t see any humor in the movie Vacation at all. This might be why. When I was 13, we were headed to a Professional Photographers of America convention in Las Vegas in a green Dodge station wagon. It had the wood grain decal siding that was just starting to peel, four hub caps and an old, bright yellow trailer that had been in my family since, I think, the late fifties filled with crates of prints, and easels. It was my parents, Jigger Schmidt the studio manager, and me. 

Jigger and I shared the backseat, mom and dad were up front. When we slept, I took the floor and Jigger laid down on the seat. Really, he thought he got the better deal, but I could feel the vibrations of the road…Score!

We had a bit of a time schedule crunch, as dad was speaking at the convention, so it didn’t help when we left Yakima a day late. No time to stop for photography, we had to drive straight through. 

I remember a trip to Reno, along the same route a few years earlier where we had scheduled at least 200 miles a day. On the second day, somewhere in Idaho, out of the corner of his eye dad saw a spot of yellow, that sort of looked like a hay bale. We stopped. Turned out to be two or three lambs in the hay. We spent all day there, and only made 15 miles that day.

When we made it to Reno about 12 hours late (I think) we went into a restaurant, and I gave my dad a nickel to put into a slot machine. I think I was about eight. He warned me, that the slot machine was going to eat my nickel. It got real serious then. I told him to go ahead. He stuck the coin in, and pulled the lever.

He said, “See?”

The first wheel stopped on a bell.

He faced me and said, “You had a nickel.”

Second wheel stopped on a bell.

“And now, you don’t.”

Third bell. And now I had twenty dollars worth of nickels that poured out of the little machine, and had screwed up the lesson he was trying to teach me.

Back to the story about the trip to Vegas. We got through Idaho without making a stop. And we were doing great through Utah…until the universal joint in the Dodge gave out, about 50 miles outside of Salt Lake City. Dad hitchhiked into the city and got a tow truck. 

The truck took both the station wagon and the trailer to a garage fairly close to the Mormon Tabernacle. I can’t remember, I think that might have taken two trips. Yes, I think Jigger stayed with the trailer. Anyway, two or three hours later, we left the garage. We left the city, and headed on our way. Until, like, fifty miles outside of Salt Lake, the universal joint bounced down the road.

Dad hitchhiked back to the same garage, and got the same tow truck. Again they fixed the universal joint….While we napped on the grass outside the Tabernacle. I think some further investigation by the mechanic discovered that the problem was the bearings in the wheels of the old trailer.  

When it was fixed, we left again. This time we made it to Nevada. Jigger and my mom had both taken turns driving. They were both sleeping. My dad was driving, but I could tell he was beginning to nod off.

He said, “Brent, it’s time for you to drive.”

“But dad, I’m thirteen!” I said.

“Doesn’t matter, I’m falling asleep.”

“Well, okay.”

There was a 30 to 50 mile an hour side wind, and I was driving a large station wagon with a trailer, so naturally as a thirteen year old, I started overcorrecting. After awhile, I was partially going into the oncoming lane, making the oncoming traffic go halfway into their shoulder. They honked. Then I went into my own shoulder. Then all the way into the oncoming lane. People were honking at me and driving into the shoulder, but no one in the car woke up. Finally, when we left the road…And yes, we did leave the road…I lost all four hub caps, and caught between one to two feet of air into the dunes of Nevada. 

Jigger broke the slow motion for me when he woke up and screamed, “Holy shit!!”

I can’t remember how we got out of the sand, but I do remember that I woke everyone up and they were all ready to drive.

We made it into Las Vegas about six or seven hours late, my dad’s program had to be rescheduled for the following day. The next day we realized the hotel made a mistake and scheduled my dad’s program on the same stage, at the same time as a dance production was going to rehearse. After some discussion with the management, they decided to split the stage, My dad could give his speech in front of the curtain, they would rehearse behind the curtain.

Dad was leading the movement among photographers to make the portraits larger, and tell a story with all of the space. He explained that this wasn’t a new thing, painters had been creating paintings on six or seven foot canvases, and telling stories, well, really since before Christ. He brought many portraits to show what he meant…If you remember, there was a brief moment where the bright yellow trailer full of portraits was flying through the air, with nothing but dunes in the background.

Jigger and I helped set up, and I hung out back stage for the first part of the program. I wasn’t sure what kind of dancers they were. I had heard something about the word “topless,” but this turned out to be unfounded. Apparently, it was a “Headline” show. I didn’t have any idea what this meant. 

The dancers danced and the technicians were testing green laser beams that were aimed at mirrors and then shot around the stage. I was really into lasers then, I dreamed of the day I could actually order a pen-sized laser from Edmond Scientific in the ads in the back of Scientific American and Science Digest. I was a bit of a nerd then, I had subscriptions to both.

Just then a woman walked up in a big mink coat, and said something to me. 

I can’t remember what she said for the life of me, but I replied, “Neat lasers!”

She said, “Thanks.” and as I walked away, I tripped over a thick cable on the stage side, and realized I had just introduced myself to Lynda Carter of Wonder Woman fame, with the words, ‘Neat lasers.’ 

Over the next couple days, we unhitched the trailer, and went to the Grand Canyon for photography. While photographing the Canyon, a Japanese couple approached my father with their own camera. Speaking only Japanese, they motioned for him to take their photograph with the canyon in the background. As they moved into position, a little too close to the edge for dad’s comfort he said Jigger’s favorite sentence to ever come out of his mouth.

Dad raised the camera to his eye, and focused it, “You know what Smokey the Bear says,” He clicked the shutter, “Don’t fall off the cliff!” The couple smiled and nodded, understanding not a word.

On the way home I told Jigger all about the lasers used in the dance show, and about Lynda Carter. He told me that a band he photographed, RUSH, also used lasers. In fact, lasers were in use in many rock shows. It was this discussion that had my curiosity peaked about rock and roll music. 

Our trips, seldom actual vacations, were all much funnier than film. Maybe that’s the reason he could find no humor in Vacation, but the rest of the family could.

Anyway, on the idea of a book, I’m thinking about a fictionalized three act screenplay…Or you never can tell, maybe a trilogy.
December 3, 2016 

I think I’ve told this story before. It didn’t mean near the same thing then, and in retelling it, I may accentuate certain facts. Not that much though, he was really that special.

When I was a senior in high school, I was in yearbook class and photography class. I was at home in the darkroom, and stayed in there as much as possible. If I ventured out of the darkroom, I risked being given a job or assignment that was totally unrelated to my aim of not doing anything. 

There were four little bathroom stall-sized film developing rooms inside the printing darkroom with the big sink and the enlargers. Each had sinks. There were, I think, four 35mm enlargers. And one Chromega 4x5” enlarger with a color diffusion head. This was exactly the enlarger I trained on in the dark room at my father’s studio. I knew all about it. It had cyan, yellow, and magenta filters that you could dial in. The cyan filter didn’t do anything for black and white, but the yellow and magenta acted as contrast filters…that you could dial in how much you wanted. It became my enlarger. And it was moved into one of the developing rooms. I don’t know, maybe the teacher was going to try some color printing or something.  Anyway, that became my little darkroom.

I had spent the entire summer in Harborview Brain and Spinal Injury Rehab Unit, and was ready to give normalcy a try. That’s a completely different story that I’m already telling on Facebook twice a year, so stay tuned. But I just want it known that this was not an average year. I was very slow, really clumsy, and overly cautious. 

One day, I was avoiding work, as I always did. A friend of mine, Ron, and I were in the darkroom, going through the negative dryer. If the teacher became suspicious, he might check what we were doing. We weren’t looking for anything that was ours, or anything good, we were just looking for something to put in my enlarger to look like we were printing. Towards the back of the dryer I found a roll that was of particular interest to me. It was poorly exposed, underdeveloped, but the subject matter was what fascinated me.

I was very good at reading negatives. And this was a roll of nudes. Not very interesting nudes, but naked ladies in a high school darkroom are naked ladies in a high school darkroom. We did what any 16 or 17 year old, heterosexual, high school boys in a photography class would do, we printed the living shit out of these awful photographs. 

They were of no one we knew, and the photographer wasn’t apparent. It looked to be a girl in her mid twenties. They were poorly lit, unimaginative photographs of a girl sitting on a bed. Some reading a Playboy magazine, a few with a cat, but all had an amateurish, “not supposed to do this” look to them. 

At the end of class we had like 20 to 25 prints.  I had a stack of about 18 aluminum bulk film containers sitting behind the enlarger on a shelf. I hid the negatives in the sixth one from the bottom. Ron hid the prints in the locker next to his, because he thought that the girl was absent. She wasn’t absent. She found the prints, and threw them away. Then, the custodian found them in the trash and brought them to the principal. The principal noticed they were on photographic paper, and brought them to the photography teacher. He searched my darkroom and found the negatives. 

I was sick the next day, and honestly had forgotten about the whole thing. Remember, I had barely recovered from a coma inducing brain injury.  While I was watching All My Children, the phone rang.

It was the photography teacher. He said I should come to school right now, and he would meet me in the principal’s office. 

I said, “I’m sick.”

He said, “We found the negatives!”

I asked, “What negatives?”

“The NUDE negatives!!”

BING!! I remembered.

“Okay, I’ll be right there.”

So, I called my friend Brett, who I knew was also skipping school, and he gave me a ride in. 

I walked into the principal’s office. The principal was leaning back in his chair, looking angry and menacing. The photography teacher met me at the door.

He said, “Mr. Whitmire, you shouldn’t be doing this kind of photography, and you CAN'T do it at school!! Do you realize we could expel you for this?? This is truly an expellable offense!!”

I said, “They aren’t my photographs. I just found them in the negative dryer. The reason we were printing them is to try and find out who took them.”

“Are you kidding me? We know you are the only one in that class with the connections to do this type of photography!”

“Well, thank you for your confidence in my contacts, but if I had taken them, they would be art. I wouldn't use bulk 35mm film, I would use 4x5” Tri-X. And I wouldn’t process them at school, I would use the studio darkroom where they have thermometers!”

Just then, in walked my father. I said under my breath…but a little too loud…”Oh f***.”

The principal perked up at that, as the photography teacher said to my dad, “Mr. Whitmire, we’ve found some nude negatives in your son’s possession, and we think he took them.”

Now, I knew my father was a damn good photographer, a great teacher, a pretty good speaker, and quite a nice guy, but I never ever thought of him as a comic genius. He kind of had that “Dad” sense of humor. But in the absolute perfect comic timing, he asked with some importance, “Well, are they good?”

The principal started to laugh. I told my dad, that no, they were horrible. And the photography teacher stood there, I think kind of stunned.

I was kicked out of the school darkroom for a quarter, but since I was using the studio darkroom, my grade improved. 

I will share more memories of my father in the next couple of weeks.
My father passed away on November 19, 2016. The following entries were originally FaceBook posts. If you've never met my father, Ken Whitmire, I don't know what to tell you, he was one of a kind. 

The posts are dated when they were written.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Fine Art Milky Way Photography

My wife and I were in Bellevue Square one day, and I wanted to see what Tall's Camera had in the line of wide angle lenses.  They had a 14-24mm f2.8 Nikkor lens that would fit my Nikon D600.  I asked to see it, and they fastened it on a D610 and handed it to me.  The widest lens I had used before was an 18mm.  I had a 20mm that I had bought in 1997 with my F5.  Before looking through the new zoom, I set it to 20mm.  And on peering through the lens, I saw an ultra-wide frame of reference that I was used to.  Then I went wider, and I couldn't believe how much more area got in the viewfinder.  When I went all the way to 14mm, I had between a third and a half more in my frame than when it was set on 20mm.  I had to have one.  Right then, I got a $200 gift card to Tall's.  Over the next year I stopped by Tall's and visited my lens.  I played with it, and increased my gift card month by month, until I had the full price of the lens.

In that time I Googled the lens, and looked at photographs taken with it.  There were hundreds of them.  A few of them were of the milky way, so I narrowed my search to include that, and came up with hundreds of photographs taken with my lens of the starry night.  

I did some research, and found the exposure to start with for photographs of the milky way was ISO 3200, f2.8 at 30 seconds.  And if I varied the exposure, I could do an HDR (High Dynamic Range) photograph, so I could get foreground also.  Thinking about this, I realized I had the perfect place to experiment with this.  The jetty in Ocean Shores.  



I thought about it a lot.  Remember I had a year to work with.  There was much to cover.  Was there any light pollution?  How about the tungsten light coming from Westport across the bay?  How would the tide look?  Was there any chance of maybe catching the International Space Station in my photograph?

I researched software too.  I knew that I needed the latest Lightroom and Photoshop that there were, and I did a little research on noise reduction and HDR software.  I decided on NIK.  NIK was a company purchased by Google a few months earlier.  I had their Snapseed app on my iPhone, and I liked the way it worked.  

So, I got the lens, and the software.  My wife and I took a week long trip to Ocean shores in July of 2014.  



I went out Monday the 21st at about 10:30 at night, was on the beach by 10:45, and taking photographs by 11:00PM.  It was pitch black, the moon wasn't out....luckily.  I was really hesitant to get too low on the beach, because although I had checked and it was low tide, the waves were a little close for me to be comfortable in total darkness.  The Milky Way was very visible.  It was directly south.  I shot about 30 exposures all at f2.8 at 30 seconds, five or six at a time.  I would set up, estimate the focus, shoot one, recompose, and refocus if necessary, then shoot one at ISO 6400, 3200, 1600, 1200, and 800.  By 11:45 I was back in the car.

I imported them in Lightroom that night.



I messed around with exposures on a couple, let my selections soak in the NIK noise reduction plug-in, and finally dipped them in HDR.

It was a little tricky, I had to first select all the exposures I wanted in the HDR image.  Next, I went over to file, on the menu bar, hovered over Export With Preset, and chose HDR Efex Pro 2.

That brought me to the Ghost reference window.  This chose which image would be used for things that were not alike in all the exposures, stuff that was in motion.  Basically for my milky way photograph, I wanted the image with the best exposure in the sky.

Now I got a list of about 26 different options, like different contrast levels for paper.  I chose Dark, to get that ominous sky.



Then I lowered the color temperature to -20, and raised the saturation to about 30%.  Very similar to toning a black & white photograph.  



Next I set the Graduated Neutral Density filter to -1/2 of a stop for the top of the image, for that deep space look.  It was like printing in the top.



I was done.  I was satisfied.  Really, I was amazed.  




I noticed two diagonal lines in my image.  Right in the center of the Milky Way.  What ever they were, they had traveled quite a ways in thirty seconds.  They were in the perfect spot.  I checked with NASA, who verified they were the International Space Station, and the Progress 54p un-manned resupply ship, on it's way to hook up with the station.  I let that sink in for awhile.  I hadn't checked their website to see if and when it would be visible.  I was just stupid lucky.



I talked to a friend and found out about resizing plug-ins.  He suggested Perfect Resize 8, so I got it and installed it into Photoshop.  Then I made a 20"x30" Canvased Wrapped print.  I thought it was good enough to sell.



So,  we are going to spend a little time traveling the Northwest, maybe go down to Mexico, maybe California, looking for interesting beaches to photograph at night.  I will need 12 to 15 images to make a series.  I'll say this, doing HDRs is the closest thing to being in the darkroom. Fun.