Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lido Sunflower

August 1999

My first autofocus camera was the Pentax ZX-5n which I got in the summer of 1999.  I remember I was able to afford it because the newspaper I was working for at the time had finally cut me a check for the assignments I'd done during the previous three months.  (They really hated paying freelancers.)

One of the neat features of this camera was the 'panorama drop-in', which was a mask that blacked-out the top and bottom thirds of a single frame, to create a panorama effect.  I say 'effect', because a true panorama camera would expose the image across two, three and sometimes four entire frames of a film roll, using either a wide-angle lens or a rolling slit-shutter.  But those cameras cost thousands and required elaborate tripods, so for about the $350 that the Pentax cost, I was happy with the drop-in mask.

Of course, I could have just cropped the top and bottom of the image in the enlarger when I printed them, but my technique at the time was 'shooting for the full frame', that is, I never cropped any pictures that I printed.  I used an oversized carrier in my enlarger that let me print the border of the negative as a frame around the image. Without a masked negative I wouldn't have a black border all around, only on the sides.

There was an inherent problem with this, however.  Minilabs at the time were programmed to automatically print negatives shot with the mask  as pano prints, which cost a dollar each (or more, depending on the lab), so if I used color film, having a roll processed and printed could wind up costing a fortune.  And since the prints were basically just super-enlargements, if you used 400 speed film, you could wind up with grainy, expensive, unusable prints.  I had to remember to write 'print all frames as 4x6' in capital letters in the special instruction box when I had color film printed.

That said, this picture works well as a pano, since the area of interest is in the center, and having more sky and road on the top and bottom would just detract from it.  This was shot looking west along Lido Boulevard across from the beach clubs back in August of 1999.  I'd been driving past this spot all summer, and I really liked the sunflowers that one of the homeowners on Marginal Road (the street to the right) had planted on the narrow median between the streets.  I finally took my bicycle out that way to get some shots.

Here's why I think this composition works: on the left you have the empty, open road, angling into half of a vanishing point. On the right a busy scene with trees, houses and cars, the sunflower in the foreground, and barely discernable, the other half of the vanishing point, running behind the flower and pole to join with the left side somewhere off in the distant trees.

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