The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Perspective

So I guess there’s this series of books, from Gabi Campanario, the founder of Urban Sketchers, that’s all about inspiration and instruction for people who want to sketch or do already. I learned about the books from this guy, Teoh Yi Chie’s youtube channel. I picked up one of them, called Understanding Perspective: Easy Techniques for Mastering Perspective Drawing on Location by Stephanie Bower to start with. I like it.

Early on in the book it has an excercise suggestion that it compairs to playing the scales on an instrument. It’s about filling pages with lines. I gave it a shot and made some notes. Now I’m gonna sketch every day for like a long-ass time and see if the results of the exercise change over time.

Tiny Dragons

Just a quick couple sketches from a couple pics sent my way by a guy I know. Watercolor’s fun only I don’t have a clue what I’m doing with it. Feel’s like I’m pretending it’s cheap thin acrylic instead of it’s own medium. Gotta work on that.

No Film Resolution

So my resolution for the new year, you know the one that started in April, is no photos. No shows, no running after things in the dark with a camera, no film. Call it a mental-health year. Pocket-phones and their tiny little sensors and bits and bytes and shit are fine, they don’t stir anything up. So my cameras are in boxes and my films are in the freezer this year.

But what’s A Body to do when the daily goes away for a year? Art therapy is a thing I guess so pens and inks and watercolors and maybe that’ll be alright. The sky still puts me on edge though…

Anymore, here’s some rando’s house:

I’ve really got to practice.

The Sky

Everyone likes 2’s, likes things. 2’s are good ’cause it’s easy to go out and snap a shutter if you’re going out to make a photo of a specific thing. No need to worry about Cartier-Bresson’s moments, defining or otherwise. Don’t bother with obscuring anything from yourself or the world with Barthes and his ivory tower punctum and studium. Go out, find a thing, click a shutter. Or don’t even go out, things are everywhere. The sky is a 2.

At least the sky isn’t everywhere.

If you’re going to shoot a 2, it involves planning. Pick the right time, when the light is right. Pick the right film, right for the way you’ll want to process it, right for the way you’ll want to print it. Then pick the camera. The camera you pick is the right one. But when the thing is the sky, or the sky is a second thing, all that’s out the window. There’s only one way to see the sky, the way you do.

I hate the sky. As 2s go, it’s the worst. So when it’s going to be there, I make it what I want it to be. You should build your own sky too.

A lot of people, camera people, people who are capital p photographers or otherwise, make the sky over all the time. Most of them think about it, I assume, they do. And they all seem to want the same thing. Contrast and clouds, always contrast and clouds. Do it with a yellow filter, or an orange filter, or a red. And the white clouds, and the dark sky is this beautiful thing they just love.

I like my sky empty. I like it the high clean sound of an old television; the blindness of a sun. A beautiful nothing that world down here aspires to.

I like it when the bright is thick, when it obscures as much as any darkness. What’s that 2 for you?


I don’t understand religion, but I appreciate it for what it can be for people. For me, religion is as close as anyone who isn’t ill will get to understanding. I don’t think I can explain mental illness to atheists.

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Hill Cumorah Visitors Center Shortsville, NY

It’s like, knowing. Knowing that there’s something the rest of the world doesn’t share. It’s faith.

Faith doesn’t just go away either. It doesn’t die however much edgy dramas and complex fictions pretend it does. There’s no controlling it; it is controling.

Moroni on his plinth, Summit of the Hill Cumorah Shortsville, NY

The thing about it that makes me not try explaining it to atheists, is the imperative. An illness, is like faith, like a fire? No, the metaphor is weak, fire lacks a real, sweeping, urgency—anytime you’re far from the flames.

The angle Moroni, holding the golden plates

See, there’s folk who got religion, and folks who’s got faith. And they take their wafers and their rites when they get the spirit, and I take my meds when I remember. And we all walk around in the world and we all get along and for the most part only want good things for everyone. And we none of us understand.

Adapt-a-Roll 620

The Adapt-a-Roll 620 is a thing. A love it or hate it sort of thing? Take it or leave it? Need it or nope it. Yeah, you either need it or don’t. So, what is it?

Keep in mind it’s available in different sizes, this is all about mine. The Adapt-a-Roll 620 is an adapter to use 620 roll film in a camera that takes slide-in film holders. What kind of camera takes slide in holders? Old press cameras for one, but medium and large format field, technical, and view cameras as well. It even looks like a slide in film holder—with a tumor like winder on one side.

Instead of that bulge turning out to be stuffed with a sock, it’s got a roll of film, and a take up spool. The take up spool is a 620 spool. Kodak put out 620 to try and keep their cameras fed with Kodak film. It’s literally just 120 film and backing paper on a different size spool. The hubs on the spool are flat sheet-metal and they—as well as the shaft of the spool, are a bit narrower than a 120 spool. The slot on the end of the hubs is a bit smaller too. That means you have to use a 620 spool as the take up, but can jam a 120 in as the feed-spool or re-roll a 120 film onto a 620 spool and load that.

Anyway, way back in the day cameras used film holders. they slipped in between ground-glass viewfinders on the back of cameras and held a sheet of film on each side. Pretty much every serious camera used the ground-glass & holder set up. A great many cameras had that ground glass on a board mounted to prints that pulled out a bit from the camera to let the holders slid in then hold it in place, sandwiching the holder between the camera body and the ground glass.

Then roll films got popular. Newer cameras used arrangements that let the ground glass come all the way off. Then any roll holder could lock right on, it didn’t have to fit under the springs. People with spring back cameras had to upgrade—or get an Adapt-a-Roll 620. Why might someone want one today? Speed is one, convince is another. An Adapt-a-Roll 620 means one holder can hold 8-16 frames worth of shots. You could grab a Grafmatic holder and get 6 frames in one holder, but those won’t fit in every spring back camera.

Holder, Adapt-a-Roll, Grafmatic

A wood holder is 13mm thick, a Grafmatic is 22mm, the Adapt-a-Roll is 17mm. Grafmatics will fit in some spring back cameras, but certainly not all and. not without a degree of risk even when it does. The Adapt-a-Roll will pretty much always fit.

Holder, Adapt-a-Roll 620, Grafmatic

So how do you load it? There’s scans of the original manual on the web but they don’t have pictures. There’s plenty of written descriptions of what to do, but well, here’s pictures.


Once it’s loaded to the point as shown above stick the feeder spool onto the pegs and close the holder. Slide the dark slide in not quite all the way, leaving just a tiny slot of an opening.

The frame counter works by registering the rotation of the silver roller the backing paper is pressed against. If it doesn’t count stick a piece of foam in the shallow depression as shown and it will put enough pressure on the roller to engage the counter. Remember the Adapt-a-Roll winds onto the take up spool emulsion side out, so if it seems wrong, it’s probably not.


Developing 2¼ x 3¼ in Daylight Tanks

The best format in the whole of photography is 2¼ x 3¼. Call it 2×3, call it 6×8, call it mini, call it 9 frame 120. 2×3 is perfect. Why is it perfect? How could something that sells at just under $1 for a frame of the cheap stuff, or just over $1.50 for Ilford possibly be perfect?

No. 1: Don’t ever buy it as 2×3. Just don’t. Buy you rolls of 120. Buy you 4×5 or if it’s available 5×7 or even 8×10 and cut it down. A roll of 120 cuts down to 9 sheets easy. A 4×5 cuts down to 2 sheets. A 5×7 cuts down to 4 sheets. An 8×10? 9 sheets. Kodak Porta 160 for $1.6 a frame from 8×10, Kodak Ektar 100 at $0.60 a from 120. They don’t make much in 2×3? Cut it; everything medium format or larger cuts to 2×3.

No. 2: Format. Small enough to contact print wallet size, big enough for 8×10 enlargements without bad grain. That, and 2×3 doesn’t mean you need a 4×5 enlarger. Cheap out and throw it in a 35mm enlarger if you don’t mind a serious crop. Drop it into a 6×6 carrier and crop it square in the enlarger. Cut up a bit of card-stock and make your own 2×3 negative carrier; just about every diffusion enlarger and most condenser enlargers that can do 6×6 can stretch to 2×3 if you got the right lens. Store those negatives in a card binder, a playing card, a sport card, about the size of 2×3, no weird negative sleeves to buy.

No. 3: Process it in daylight tanks. That’s right, daylight tanks. No, not an overpriced Jobo Expert drum, not a dis-continued Combiplan, not a BTZS tube. Not some crazy rare cut film holder for a daylight tank either. You don’t need hangers, you don’t need a darkroom, or trays or anything exotic.

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What you got to do is go out and grab $5 worth of 1½ or 1¼ OD PVC pipe at the hardware. Cut that into 3¼ lengths. Load that film into those tubes, curled, emulsion side in and drop them into your daylight tank in a dark bag. 3 to 6 frames fit in a 120 reel 500ml tank, 6 to 12 in a 1 liter tank. Picck up a Nikor extra film length tank, no one has the reels so those are cheap 800ml gets you 6 to 12 frames.

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When you pack it in the tanks remember that you can save a whole lot of trouble buy being smart with your pipe diameters. If you need to squeeze as many frames as you can into a tank, yeah use the 1¼. If you work with cut down sheet film, you might want to stick with 1½ only. Thin films cut down from rolls or real cheap sheets of lith or hard dot are fine in the narrow tubes. Thick slabs of old Kodak Panchromatic XX, not so much. If you’re in a 500ml tank mix and match to your little hearts content.

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Using a 1 liter tank, or a 2 liter monster? It’s better to stick with one size tube ’cause otherwise you’re asking for trouble. The narrow tubes can slip inside the wider and never mind the scratches that’s asking for under development. Slip some rubber bands around the tubes and they won’t slide around in the tank. They won’t shift enough to mention no mater how you agitate. Stack it right and with rubber bands you can use any mix you need.

That’s another thing, what you need. You need to fill the tank. Pack the tubes in there, vertical. Fill it even if you only need to do a couple sheets of C-41. Tubes that fall over, go on there sides, that’s problems; bad agitation and slow draining.


Arista Ortho Litho 3.0

Cheap film abounds boys and girls! It’s just not what you might think. Lithographic film isn’t for photography the way film film is. Lith film is photographically used for masking and copy work. If you want to create a mask so you can block out part of a negative that prints too dark you don’t have to cut out a mask with perfect precision–you just print it to lith and use the lith print as a mask. Or maybe you need to dupe some text, snap a shot either directly to lith film or print a negative of the shot to lith film and you’ll get a perfect transparency–clear film base and solid black text, no grey, no mud.

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Arista Orto Litho 3.0 in Dektol 1:30 no agitation 2 minutes

That’s fine if you want to shoot a grey dog on snow and have a negative that’ll print a black dog on nothing–really. Here’s a black box of the stuff on a black background with it’s white label. With no agitation we get a little bit of a tonal range even though this would be a high-contrast frame on any film, let alone a film that is higher than high contrast. If you want a full tonal range you can use a specialty developer, or use a standard developer crazy dilute. Arista’s Ortho Litho 3.0 is orthochromatic in addition to being lithographic so you can processes it under red light (ortho films are blind to red) and develop to inspection in trays.

test target

So lets give a look to a frame of a boring sort of test target, full color low-res scan of the target above, and the same as a scanned negative made with Arista Ortho Litho 3.0 below.

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Arista Ortho Litho 3.0 in Dektol 1:40 2 minutes

So besides the fact that I haven’t got the patience to bother with soft lighting we can still see a whole lot of contrast. We know stand development knocks down the contrast, and we know dilute developers are the best thing for stand. So if I knocked it down to maybe 1:50/1:60 and/or dropped it into the tray and left it for 4 minutes rather than swishing it about for 2 I might have got more grey separation on the dark side. As it is, there’s not a bad amount of tonal separation, if you consider this stuff was made to do white and black only.

There’s only so much one can do without getting a soft-acting developer, or making a other concessions to convenience. The problem is contrast, there’s plenty of silver density and the grains aren’t huge. Film developers are generally pretty slow, maybe 10 minutes as a basic developing time, so it’s going to take them a long time to get any density in the shadows–too long. By the time the shadows separate the highlights are going to be solid. So dilute it right? dilute it and we can do stand development and the developer around the highlight will get exhausted before they can act on all the silver and we’ll get some tonal range. Problem is, if you dilute a film developer too much you’ll end up making it so week it’ll exhaust around the shadows too, way before you’ve been able to get some range out of stand processing.

With Dektol, or any (very active, 1-2 minutes basic dev. time) paper developer, we can overcome the problem of exhausting the developer before the shadows have a chance to separate with a whole lot of dilution. It’s the same reason people like Bruce Barnbaum recommend using very dilute print developers and looooong slow dev. to inspection in the darkroom. Unlike the film developers because the paper has such a high level of activity it’s going to still work fast enough that the tones will separate before we run out of momentum, so the same strategy that gives Bruce amazing tonal range can turn a with film into a something more like normal film. Wicked contrasty normal film, but when you stop taking the pills your standards are sure to drop!


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Did I mention 100 sheets of this in 4×5 (2 sheets of cut 2-1/4 x 3-1/4) or 5×7 (4 sheets of cut 2-1/4 x 3-1/4) is about $30.00? So $0.30 a sheet if you use it large format and $0.15 or $0.07 a frame if you cut it down depending on the base size. I’ll put up with all kinds of contrast for that price.

When It’s Dark Out

When it’s dark out the light has to come from the inside! The light that got in, it has to be there, it can’t light the darkness if there isn’t anything inside. So when the light gets dim, when all the stuff the doctor prescribes, when it takes away all the things, everything, that makes the world look different STOP TAKInG THE DRUGS! Not forever, not ever forever, that doesn’t work, when you stop forever, for too long, it gets really hard to find the way back.

So you have to do it right. You have to tell the doctor. She gets mad if you stop without telling her, she isn’t happy about it, but at least when she knows she’s not mad like she’d be if she had to find out later from the emergency doctors, from the police. So STOP! Informed stop. But stop.

Then you can go out at night again. When you stop you get to where it isn’t any safer night or day and you get the fear, the real fear, all the time, so it doesn’t mater night or day. When you feel it, when you know they’re out there, the Minotaurs, GO AND SEE THEM! Show them, watch them pretend they don’t see. Then hit the shutter, Hit the shutter and leave it open, hold it or lock it, or hit it again and again and again. Expose over and over without motion, without concern.

Do it. Do it until even the Minotaurs can’t pretend they don’t see. Scare them. If we can’t scar them yet at least we run them off. This is what happens now. Say it, and push the release. This is what happens now, shutter.

When It's Dark Out

Neutral Density Filters

If you want to shoot with really long exposure, like maybe you want to make a photograph where the water flowing along in the little spillway up the road looks like flowing smoke instead of broken glass, or you want to make people disappear, you’ll need either a really slow film, a really small aperture, or a filter.

The above options work because you need a longer exposure to get the right exposure on the film, so that’s the story. Long exposure times make fleeting presences go away and moving things blur.

Slow film requires a long exposure, particularly in low light. A small aperture will do the same, require a longer exposure time, but maybe your camera only stops down to f-32. If it’s sunny out and you’ve loaded up some 100 ISO film you might still need to use a shutter speed of 1/500th.

What ND Filters Do

An ND filter will drop the quantity of light that gets to the film in a given period of time, good ones do it without any tint or image degradation–they absorb full spectrum light. Any filter is basically lowering the speed of the film you have in your camera. For color filters they’re slowing down only light of their own color, effectively raising the speed on the opposite wavelength.

You can use your ND filter to make your 100 ISO film work like it’s 50 ISO, 25 ISO, 12.5 ISO, 6.25 ISO or even less! They work across the board, they’re color neutral. ND filters are sold with different descriptions of their power, ND2, 1 Stop, Filter Factor 2, 2X, .5%, 1/2, or .3 are some examples, and those all mean the same thing. Like all things camera, they change in halves up or down the line, that is things move in stops. So if an ND1 lets by all of some quantity of light, an ND2 lets by one full stop less. That’s half the light that an ND1 does, and an ND4 lets by two full stops less or one quarter the light an ND1.

That means using an ND2 filter let’s you double the length of time your shutters open. If you needed 1/60th with no filter you’ll need 1/30th with an ND2 and 1/15th with an ND4. If you want to think about that in terms of film speed an ND2 turns your 400 ISO film into 200 ISO film and ND4 turn’s that 400 ISO film into 100 ISO. Thinking about it in terms of f-stop means you’ll get the same exposure time (but the resulting depth of field characteristics) using no filter and f-16 as you’ll get with an ND2 filter and f-8. So you could shoot wide open on a sunny day and get a nice soft background if you have a heavy enough ND filter in front of the lens.

Stacking Filters

There’s a big range of ND filters out there, from very minor ones that knock out a third of a stop (or even less) to ones that are almost opaque and cut ten stops or more. No one needs to buy every ND filter, you can get by with a few and just stack those to drop more stops of light as needed. Stacking works the way you’d think, an ND2 which takes one stop stacked with an ND8 which drops light by three stops, all together blocks four stops.

So how that works with math is 2×8=16. 16/2=8, 8/2=4, 4/2=2, 2/2=1. We had to divide by two four times to get to unity, so an ND2 stacked with an ND8 cuts the light by four whole stops. A 2x4x8 stack gives you sixty four which takes six steps of division by two to get to unity–so would cut the light by six stops. Don’t go thinking an ND2 with an ND4 equals an ND6, now you know better.

If you’re going to do any stacking always put your lightest ND filter farthest from the lens and the darkest closest. Darker filters have to block more light, heat up more, and as a result will degrade faster if they’re not great quality. Even if they’re top of the line that heat stress can do some damage so just believe it, alright? I also suspect that particularly with darker filters they’re less truly neutral in density.

What’s Your Exposure?

You got some 100 ISO film loaded up and you’ve stopped your aperture way down to f-32. You’re exposure meter gives you a shutter speed of 1/60th. Drop in an ND2 filter and you can now shoot at half that, 1/30th. Drop in another filter, maybe the next one from your set, ND4, and you can now shoot two stops slower than that, 1/8th. Drop in the next filter from your set so you now have three all in a line, ND2-ND4-ND8 and you get four more stops of exposure time for a 2 second exposure. Easy peasy.