Calligraphy in a Millennial world

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I’m teaching Advanced Typography this quarter to students in their 20s.

Part of that course involves studying the origins of letters and letterforms, pen-drawn lettering and constructed lettering.

Calligraphy lettering

I wrote this today with the Copic Wide pen, which uses an alcohol-based ink, and has a fairly stiff bamboo (?) nib. The one I have is called a 110. It’s about .75 inch across.

Today in lab I introduced the students to the Copic wide felt pen, a broad-nib felt-pen that is good for calligraphy on a large scale. We were lettering at about 3.25 inches x-height. I demonstrated the basic strokes of calligraphy, and asked them to take a few swipes at basic lettering with a flat-nib instrument. They did pretty well.

It isn’t often these days that I pick up a pen to put letters on paper. It’s fun, and I am still pretty good at it. A long while ago, I taught calligraphy in the local adult school, something I did for many years. It was in a calligraphy class that I met my future wife. We can both handle a pen pretty well to this day, 35 years later.

My students are enchanted by calligraphy, they love the look of hand lettering, and they show this by the oohs! and aahs! they expressed while watching their classmates work with the wide-nib pens. I enjoyed watching them enjoy themselves so much.

Calligraphy Pens

Two pens – or pencils – tied together can make a lovely calligraphic tool.

I also shared with them a technique for writing with two pens or pencils tied together with a rubber band. I have always enjoyed this, as it’s easy to make very nice lettering without much fuss, and the feel of the pencils is very pleasant. Almost anyone can draw successful calligraphic letters with this technique.

Two Pencils lettering

The secret to calligraphy is to maintain the same pen angle for the entire letter (mostly). I like to start my students at a pen angle of 40 degrees. It matches many of the Oldstyle Roman alphabets they like so much.

With twenty or thirty years of practice, one can get pretty good at this! I hope my students maintain their interest for many years into the future.



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When I was 17 years old I bought my first professional 35mm camera. It was a Nikon F. My high school friend Bill’s dad was a pilot for Braniff Airlines. His schedule took him from San Francisco to Tokyo every other Friday, returning two days later.

Bill’s dad offered to buy camera equipment for me in Tokyo when he made his trips, and I was more than happy to accept his kindness. I had a small printing company in the basement of my family home, so I had a little spending money as a result. One Friday I gave Bill’s dad $300, and the following Monday I had a brand new Nikon F camera body.

Nikon F 22 body

Nikon F serial number 6804136 has been in my possession since 1967. This is not the original lens, but one of the same focal length and aperture that I bought in that era. What a beautiful instrument this is!

A month later I sent him with more money to buy a couple of lenses. It was the deal of a century.

Bill’s dad wasn’t doing anything illegal or unethical. The customs threshold at the time was $600, so anything he purchased in Tokyo under that amount didn’t require duty to be paid to U.S. Customs.

I ended up with a couple of Nikon F bodies and a nice selection of lenses, all the envy of a pro photographer, but at a fraction of the prices charged in the U.S. I suspect that it had to do with rates-of-exchange and the relationship that Nikon had with Ehrenreich Photo Optical company, the U.S. importer of Nikon equipment at the time.

I bought these cameras and lenses to take photos for the high school yearbook, the a newspaper we published at my school, and for outdoor photography I did when hiking and camping. I already owned a Graphic View II 4×5 view camera, and a not-terribly-good Wollensak lens for that camera. I wanted to be the next Ansel Adams, something that I have never come close to accomplishing.

In my spare time I read the Nikon manuals, studied lens designs, and worked in my darkroom, a structure built into the corner of the laundry room in our basement (my parents must have been very patient people). I also read, and learned how to expose and process black and white film using the Minor White method of the Zone System pioneered by Adams (Minor White made it intelligible).

I was a pretty serious teenage photographer, and I made some nice photos. I think I tended toward editorial photography more than beautiful zone-exposed landscapes, but I took it seriously, and I did pretty well.

Over the years I bought additional cameras, changed from 35mm to medium-format, and continued to shoot. I bought, and I sold, and I traded. When the digital revolution arrived, I was there, getting in early with the Nikon D1, and later the D1x. I really liked digital photography, and was working as a consultant for various tech companies at the time, so it was important to stay on top of this new technology.

I sold the Nikon digital (kept one), and most of the Nikon lenses. I sold the Graphic View II (that’s a good story for another blog), and I sold all the medium-format equipment (another interesting story for another day).

But I kept 6804136, my original Nikon F body and an original 50mm f1.4 lens. I had too much emotional attachment to let it fall into anyone else’s hands.

When I started teaching digital photography several years ago, I took it down off the shelf where I have it on display. I take it to class at the beginning of each new quarter, and I open it up and pass it around for the students to hold and to see how a fully mechanical shutter works. There are no batteries in a Nikon F camera.

It’s a wonderful camera, and I am as comfortable with it today as I was in the 1960s when I was first using it.

Blognosticator Mobile

This is the new Blognosticator Mobile Laboratory, a Mercedes diesel van with an RV interior. From this vehicle I will be reporting about campsites in and around my part of the country.

Yesterday, my wife and I took our new Blognosticator Mobile Laboratory out for its maiden campout. It’s a Mercedes diesel van with a camper interior. We bought it in December, picked it up in February, and have been outfitting it with forks, knives and spoons, towels, pancake mix and s’mores makings (though we forgot the coat hangers on this journey). We chose a campground just 30 minutes from home so that if anything went terribly wrong, we could just drive to the store – or drive home.

After setting up camp on Saturday, I sat down to clean and polish the Nikon F. I loaded a fresh roll of Tri-X 400 film into it, and I took a half-roll of film. It’s mostly images of the RV, and a few of children playing in the playground. I’ll get it processed commercially this week.

Tri-X Film box

Yes, they still make it! Kodak’s venerable Tri-X black and white film for 35mm cameras was my favorite film in the 1960s. It was cheap in bulk rolls, and I processed it myself. Much of the time I pushed it to 1200 ASA (now ISO), so it was grainy. But the film performs well to this day.

I didn’t take my Weston Master V light meter with me on this journey, instead choosing to calculate exposure in my head. With the Tri-X film in bright sunlight, the correct exposure should be 1/400 sec. at f16. I shot a few frames at that setting, and shot a few at 1/1000 at f8, which is a tiny bit under-exposed. Modern digital cameras have 1/3-stop exposure intervals, but the trusty Nikon F has whole-stop increments. I did shoot a few at half-stop aperture settings. We’ll see when the film comes back.

Today I took a roll of Ektachrome 100 film, loaded that into the Nikon, and shot 24 frames in the campground, and down by the lake. I’ll send that out for processing also, and will see the accuracy of my calculated exposures.

The official exposure formula is more complicated, based on the sensitometric curve, and a series of points measured on that curve where film accepts its initial exposure (inertial resistance to exposure) above “base plus fog” and all the way up to overexposure. But, the rule of thumb for guessing exposure is surprisingly accurate.

I’ll publish a few of my Tri-X frames, and a few of my Ektachrome 100 frames when I get the film back next week.


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The demise of the Big Photo

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I knew when we put it up that the almost 60-foot-long panoramic photo of San Luis Obispo that I call the View from Daniel’s Point – would eventually come down.

John Cleek, the wallpaper expert who put it up, painted a lacquer base color on the wall back in early February. Then he glued the big photo to the wall using water-based wallpaper paste. The idea was that the photo would be removable with little difficulty when the time came.

That time arrived yesterday, the end of the 45-day run of my panoramic photo exhibition SLO PANO.

SLO PANO walk-through 26

Here is Daniel’s Point just a few minutes before we started to tear it off the wall at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. At 58 feet, 7 inches in width, it is almost certainly the largest photo ever exhibited in the city.

I had a small team of volunteers on hand to pull the photo off the wall, and it was not easy. We all approached the wall differently, some pulling the photo from the bottom, some from the top. The laminate came off of some of the photo, leaving bare paper still glued to the wall, and some of us pulled sections off more successfully. Big pieces were removed relatively easily, while other parts resisted removal.

Eventually we figured out a method for removing the troublesome parts. A spray bottle filled with warm water and a little dish soap was used to spray behind the photo paper. This dissolved the adhesive immediately, allowing the paper to be rolled easily off the wall. This worked very well, and with just a few hours more work, the wall was clean.

It looked lonely and naked.

Tearing down big photo 13

Here my young friends and Mikaela and Cruz are forcibly removing sections of the Big Photo. Most of it came off the wall fairly easily. Other parts were more difficult, requiring a spray of water to encourage the adhesive to release the paper from the wall.

But it was great while it lasted. The photos are all down now, and are being distributed here and there. Several of the big photos, and a few of the six-foot panos are being moved to the Arroyo Grande IOOF Hall for a two-month stay there. The pair of historic and modern San Luis Obispo photos are going up at a local business, and the rest have been moved into storage.

Tearing down big photo 04

Pieces of the photo lie on the floor of the museum. These would eventually be crushed into the trash bin in the right center. It was a sad end to a glorious photo.

SLO PANO was a tremendous success. On one day, March 7, there were over 700 people who visited the museum to see the photos.

Thank you to everyone who helped to mount the exhibition, to those who helped to take it down, and to the many, many people who visited during its run.

Tearing down big photo 15

This is the mostly-clean wall at the end of the evening. Just a few obstinate bits of the photo remained for the wall to be ready for the next show, which opens next Friday.

In the past few days I have passed a couple of new milestones. One is that readership of the Blognosticator has now exceeded 70,000, and the other is that I have begun walking without crutches. I can now navigate on my own legs, and that is quite an achievement for me. In January, and several times in between, I was worried that I would never walk again. But physical therapy, perseverance, and exercise have combined to give me mobility again. I can’t get very far on my own two feet yet, but I am pleased with my progress.

I’m going in for a new CAT scan in the coming days, and will get the results of that soon after. It will indicate whether my bones are healing correctly.

Meanwhile I have more physical therapy and more work to get my strength back, and to learn how to walk without a severe limp on my right leg.

Small steps.

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A method for mounting large prints on foam core

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One of the things I learned while making my large photo exhibition was how to mount huge photo prints without getting wrinkles or bubbles.

I am a user of permanent self-adhesive foam core board. I love this stuff. My favorite brands are Elmer’s and Gilman, which I buy from in sheets up to 4 x 8 feet. These boards are 3/16 inch thick, and feature an adhesive so strong, and so permanent that it sticks to anything that touches it instantly. This stuff is unfailing, and occasionally exasperating.

Greenfield clouds, Elk 02

Two of the very large prints in my photo exhibition SLO PANO, on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art through March 30. I printed and mounted these two by myself, and I got away with it. Doing the work with two friends makes it much easier. The print on the right is 14 feet long, and about 37 inches tall.

It’s usually human error that makes the adhesive exasperating. The foam core is just a benign material that – seemingly – grabs onto anything in its vicinity, and it will never let go.

Mounting small posters and sheets – up to about 32 x 40 inches (one of the standard sizes) is easy. It’s a one-person job. I usually arm myself with Big Blue – my five foot extruded aluminum cutting ruler, and Alvin, my 3 x 4 foot self-healing cutting mat. I also have an 1950s era Kodak hard rubber roller with a big cast iron handle. This is used to roll material down onto the smaller foam core boards.

For larger sheets, the job becomes a two-person or three-person project. And, it becomes a lot more difficult.

There are very nice laminating and mounting machines available to the wide-format industry. These, typically, cost about $20,000, and they are worth the investment I am sure. But, my operation is in my home, and I have no room for such a machine. And, my need to mount very large projects is limited. I did a lot of this while preparing my exhibition, but now that it’s up, I haven’t made a big print since.

For the low-budget crowd, those without a laminating machine, my friend Catherine and I came up with a great solution to the problem that involves nothing more than a large table, a long 3-inch roll core, and two to three people (three is best).


Here, the Dopëlganger twins prepare to roll a huge print onto a large sheet of self-adhesive foam core board. The third person (not shown) peels the release paper away just in front of the two as they press the photo paper to the adhesive in a continuous motion from one end to the other.

Having a long table is helpful, but it is possible to make do with a shorter table, and shift the work as you go.

Put the foam core on the table, with the adhesive side up.

Roll your large print out on top of the foam core to be sure it will fit on the sheet you have. Once it’s on the table put three strips of painter’s masking tape on the end of the photo paper, exposing half of the tape facing upward. To this you will affix the long cardboard core. Be sure the tape sticks, then wind the print very tightly around the core, image-inward. When it’s rolled all the way to the end, take it to the end of the foam core sheet and have one or two people hold the photo tight on the roll.

At the end of the foam core, pry up the silicone release paper, and fold-back a one-inch flap, exposing the adhesive. Crease this sharply with your fingernail.

With your two friends holding the tightly-wound roll of photo paper, CAREFULLY position the edge of the photo paper near the exposed adhesive. Then move it over the adhesive, and touch the center of the photo to adhere it to the center of the board. Then push with one finger from that center point toward each edge. This establishes the beginning of the mounted photo.

Tacking the start of the roll

Tacking the photo paper at the head end of the roll is critically important. Start in the middle, and smooth the paper out to the edges. This must be done perfectly to prevent a wrinkle that will ruin the print, so be careful to start it right.

Being sure that the photo is tightly wound on the roll, move around to the edge ahead of your two friends, and have them set the roll of photo material down on the adhesive where you tacked the start. They should push downward while maintaining tension on the print.

Then, pull the silicone release paper away from the adhesive, while your friends roll the print down onto the adhesive. Go slowly, and stay ahead of them only by an inch or two. They will continue to unroll the print while pushing it down onto the foam core. You get only one chance.

When you get to the other end, remove the masking tape, and finish the roll-out. Your work should be perfect.

My team of volunteer helpers and I did this successfully five times while preparing the huge prints for my exhibition, and it worked perfectly every time. In the absence of an expensive laminating machine, this does the trick, and the result is the same.


Posted in Mistakes you can avoid, Panoramic Photography, Photography, Printing and Printing Processes | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

My solar system goes live

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As you might have read in my earlier blogs on the subject, I installed solar panels on my roof in the fall, finishing in late November. I bought the panels, racking and hardware and did the rooftop installation myself. This was a way to save a little money, and also I like projects like this. It was an educational adventure and a home improvement project, and I love both.

Installation was reasonably easy. I installed two permanent stainless steel roof anchors on my roof, I bought an OSHA-approved safety harness system to prevent falls, and I climbed up there and put in the brackets and flashing and the rails. Then I installed the inverters (my system uses individual inverters) and the cabling, and finally I installed the panels themselves.

Northwest panels 1

These five panels face southwest. Five panels and inverters line my long roof.

I enjoyed the process of making precise working drawings to give to the city to get my building permit. I enjoyed the work on the roof, and I did it all myself. When it came time to lift the panels to the roof I engaged the help of my friend Eric Johnson who lent a hand to get the panels hoisted up and then in place on the racking. Solar panels are not heavy (about 40 lbs. each), but they are awkward (about 40 x 60 inches in size).

Southeast panels 5

Three additional panels face southeast, catching the morning sun. You can see the roof jack on the right, where the electrical wiring goes down through the roof to the garage, and eventually to the load center.

In January I hired an electrical contractor to make the run through the roof and down the outside wall and into the garage, where he and I pushed through the wall into the back of the electric load center. There, my contractor friend installed a 20-amp breaker, then we pulled wire from the box to the upper roof, and he completed the wiring of the panels there.

Solar panels from apartment 01

Not an eyesore: the panels, as seen from the neighboring apartment building. The slope of the roof, and the altitude of the roof make the panels all but invisible to my neighbors.

On January 11, the building inspector checked our work and signed-off on the permit, declaring it to be complete. This signed building permit was submitted to our electric utility, along with a long Net Metering application form. Normally, I was told, this takes just a week or two. The electric company installs (or modifies) the electric meter, making it capable of going both directions. Then the electric utility sends a Permit to Operate, which allows you to turn the system on. If you turn it on before receiving permission, it can potentially put utility workers are risk. In my case, it took two months.

Despite their public exhortations, our public utility is not keen to have citizen power generators. They tolerate us, but they are not happy about it. Every kilowatt-hour of electricity I make with my solar panels takes money out of their pockets, and that does not please them. It’s not that they don’t want the power, they do. But, they are in the business of making money by selling electricity. They provide the wires and the poles and the transformers, and it’s anathema to them to have citizens making their own electricity (and not paying as much for that infrastructure as their neighbors do).

I am of the opinion that electricity should be generated where it is used, especially in areas like mine where the sun shines all the time. Rooftop solar systems are the perfect solution to power shortages and brown-outs. The socialist in me says that all new construction in southern California should be required to have rooftop solar panels, and all major remodeling projects should require some solar to be installed. If every house in my city had eight solar modules on the roof, as I do, the local electric bills would drop very significantly.

Which wouldn’t please Pacific Gas & Electric Company.

In the first day of operation, my system saved me $3.997. That’s a tremendous amount of money. Most homeowners wouldn’t get the same savings because they are not in the electrical tier that I am (our home office uses a lot of electricity, pushing us into the fourth tier of electric usage charges). But even at the low tier, the average homeowner in my city could save about $1.54 every sunny day with just eight panels.

What if just half the houses in my city (pop. 44,000) had eight solar panels on the roof? Let’s guess that there are 20,000 residential structures in San Luis Obispo. If 10,000 of them had rooftop solar power, the savings would be about 117,000 kWh of power every day. This, at the lowest residential rate of 13.2 cents per kWh, would save $15,444 per day.

Which wouldn’t please Pacific Gas & Electric Company.

But, it’s 117,000 kWh of electricity available when it’s sunny and hot, when air conditioners are turned on, and when the threat of brown-outs and rolling black-outs looms over the region. It would allow PG&E to sell that much energy to other communities in the state.

Brian flips the switch 01

Here I was at the moment of truth: 10:40 a.m. Friday morning, I flipped the switch to activate my solar system. What a thrill! Notice the red and yellow warning stickers on the electrical box; they tell interested parties that the system is energized from both sides.

This last Friday, at 10:35 a.m., I finally received my Permit to Operate. Five minutes later, in a small but very impressive ceremony at the load center on the wall of my garage, I flipped the circuit breaker to the on position, and my system started generating electricity.

In the months since it was ready to operate and that day, I could have generated about $240 worth of electricity. What a shame!


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Planning and preparation pay off

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How do you explain to students, children, associates, business partners – anyone – how important it is to plan?

I am a pretty good planner, and I was especially careful to plan my photo exhibition that opened last Friday at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

I started 18 months ago with a written list of objectives, and then I expanded that to include details of how I would promote the event, invite guests, teach seminars, print photos, mount photos, order foam core, mount photos of foam core, and much much more. I followed the list line by line, checking it several times every day to ensure that I hadn’t missed any opportunities or deadlines. I used color to indicate the status of a topic: black for planned, green for a project begun, magenta for a project completed.


This is an illustration I drew to show the overview of my exhibition of panoramic images at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. This was draft 2 of that plan; the first one hadn’t left enough room for people to see the big photo.

Let me tell you about self-adhesive foam core. It can be purchased in stock sizes up to 4 x 8 feet, and it ships from Chicago. Arranging to purchase enough of it to make it worthwhile to ship here was a concern. I thought I needed only ten full size sheets, plus two cases of 40 x 60 inch, and two cases of 32 x 40 inch material. I ordered it all at once, and it arrived on a huge pallet in a big truck. I live in a small house on a one-way street, and needless to say, I don’t have a fork lift. I arranged to borrow a pick-up truck, and I drove it to the trucking company warehouse where the nice folks there helped me to cut the straps and load it off of the pallet and into the truck.

I used up all the big sheets, and because I spoiled two of the largest photos in the show, I needed to order another ten sheets of the same material. This time the pick-up wasn’t available, so I loaded it onto the roof of my station wagon, tied it down, then drove it home – very carefully.

Another challenge with foam core is humidity. Several years ago I ordered a case of 32 x 40 foam core from the same supplier in Chicago. It arrived, and I mounted photos on it. A few days later, those photos bent into arcs which were impossible to flatten. It seems that the humidity on one end of the journey was different enough from the other end of the journey that the moisture escaped, but was trapped on the adhesive side. It wasn’t a disaster, but I did learn a lesson – let the foam core acclimate before applying a photo to it.


This was my precise floor plan of the museum. I went to the museum twice with tape measure and clipboard in hand to get the measurements, and then I went back to double-check my work. This paid off, because everything fit exactly as I had planned.

I worked with various suppliers to have enough paper and ink on-hand to make all the prints I needed. I never ran out (except once when I ran out of paper for a day due to a shipping error). There were nights when I was printing my huge 58-foot long panorama when I changed ink cartridges in my Epson 9600 two or three times. I always had extras on the shelf. There was just too much to lose if anything went wrong to take chances, so I ordered extra ink and paper.

I knew when the photos had to be moved from my home to the museum, and I knew when the Panodomes needed to be finished. It all had to come together at the same time, and there was little room for error (none for the largest prints because I didn’t have time to reprint those).


This is one wall of the museum from my scale model. It includes sight-lines, dimensions, and scale illustrations of each item I wanted on the wall, exactly as I wanted it placed.

I printed a large exhibition catalog and poster, and ordered cardboard tubes for the posters. A pallet of printing showed up in a big truck, and the driver kindly cut the straps and unloaded the pallet from his truck to my driveway. I moved all of it inside that evening. Floor space was at a premium in my living room. The downstairs bedroom was filled with boxes of folded catalogs and huge sheets of foam core.

With just 15 days left before moving day, I packed my saddle bags on my bike with cameras and tripod and strobe flash equipment, and I pulled on my jacket, and put on my gloves, and checked my helmet, and rode off to school. The day was to be filled with event photography of International Printing Week, and I am the “official” photographer for that event.

People look at big pano 06

This is the big photo – 58 feet, 7 inches in width – across the long wall of the museum. In this photo you see people examining the detailed photo and looking for their homes, offices, schools – and three images of Megan (she’s over on the right).

About a mile from my home, as I rode through a busy intersection in the bicycle lane, I was struck from the side by a pick-up truck. Moments later I was on the ground, fully aware that I had been severely injured by the collision. I froze. All sorts of crazy thoughts went through my head: how would I get the photos out of the house? Was my back broken? Could I still open the exhibition on time? Could I move my toes? What was that pain in my right hip? It was fascinating, and very frightening.

I heard sirens, and I knew they were coming for me.

That event changed everything. I spent three days in the hospital, then three days in a friend’s home, then four days on the first floor of my home (I couldn’t get up or down stairs). Eventually I made it upstairs by sitting on one stair, and scooting my butt to the next stair, and so on. Standing with a walker on either end was stunningly painful, but I managed. A friend of a friend I didn’t even know brought a ramp to my house and installed it at my kitchen door. That ramp allowed me to shuffle up and down from the driveway so I could get to my physical therapy sessions.

I was getting a little bit better every day. And, the show deadline was fast approaching.

I had organized a team of volunteer helpers to get the photos out of my house and to the museum, and had concocted a scheme to hand-carry the photos to the museum because there was no truck readily available of a size to transport them to the museum. That scheme turned out to be folly because it was raining just two days before the move date. Rain would ruin anything it touched, and I couldn’t risk that, so the museum rented a 16-foot truck for the transport.

It didn’t rain on moving day.

My friend Catherine Trujillo came over one day and announced that she would simply take over the event – lock, stock, foam core and barrel. And she did a spectacular job of it. Though I still had some minor responsibilities, the exhibition shifted from being entirely on my shoulders to being entirely on her shoulders. She ran, she planned, she organized the teams and the truck and the deadlines, and everything worked.

Visitors look at Camp SLO 01

In this photo you see a couple studying the two photos of Camp San Luis Obispo on the wall. To their right is one of my Panodomes, containing a spherical image taken from the top of 1,559-foot Bishop Peak on the edge of the city. People stand inside the domes to enjoy the view from the top of the mountain, or the image of an oak forest.

Mounting the photos on the museum walls was taken over by the museum staff who worked from my detailed drawings. These came from a scale model I made last fall, and from the floor plan I made last summer. Though I was not able to help, I showed up in a wheelchair and I observed their work. It was expertly done!

On opening night I got dressed in my new suit (purchased in Hong Kong, and described in another blog), and my wife delivered me in my wheelchair to the gallery of the museum. The crowds gathered, I made my introductory comments, and we had a successful launch. It was more successful than I would ever have imagined.

This allowed me to put the sound of sirens behind me and enjoy the excitement of seeing my panoramic photos printed on huge sheets of foam core, mounted on the walls of the museum.

It all came off as planned.

Except for the unplanned part, and despite that, it still came off as planned because I had a plan.


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My alma matercopter

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I was visiting the Warbirds museum at the Paso Robles Airport early last month with my friend Jim. This museum has a collection of old airplanes, trucks, and other items related to the military from the 20th century. It’s an all-volunteer organization.

As we got out of Jim’s car and I started to look around, I noticed the hulk of a Coast Guard helicopter that looked familiar to me. I once served in such a machine, as a photographer while I was in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. It was interesting seeing one again. I walked over toward it, and I took a couple of photos.

USCG Helicopter 1395

There were some men and women standing by the nose of the helicopter talking about it, discussing the fact that this model featured a boat-shaped hull at the base of the fuselage. Yes, I said, they could float in water, but it was the last thing on Earth a Coast Guard pilot would do with his craft. If they ever went into the water (I never saw that happen) they would have to be completely overhauled before being put back into service.

I walked around the right side, and read on side by the sliding door SAN FRANCISCO. What a coincidence! This was not just any Coast Guard helicopter; this was one of two machines I served in as an enlisted man in that service! I once sat in that open door, shooting photos of waterfront facilities on the San Francisco Bay, listening to the pilots talk to air traffic controllers and to each other.

Almost all the photos I took from this helicopter and her sister ship were turned over to the Coast Guard when I landed after each mission, so I don’t have much “evidence” of my service in these wonderful craft. But, I do have a strip of six frames of Tri-X black and white film that I somehow took with me one day in 1973.

These frames are not related to the shoreside documentation project. Instead they document a rescue we performed while we were out that day when a private pilot made an emergency landing on a beach near Pescadero, California. The Coast Guard was alerted by the Highway Patrol, and since we were already aloft, working along the Bay on the south of San Francisco Airport, we diverted to Pescadero and landed on the beach to investigate the problem.

USCG Helo at Pescadero

This was our Coast Guard helicopter on the beach at Pescadero, California. In the background you can see the small plane also on the beach, surrounded by people who came out to see what was happening. The pilot of our helicopter never shut down the engine, leaving the rotors turning the entire time we were on the beach. This was a routine measure to prevent a problem starting the engine with onboard batteries.

The emergency landing was forced by a problem that occurs occasionally in small planes – the pilot ran out of fuel. He had claimed engine failure on the radio, but when we arrived, the man was begging for some aviation gas so he could take off and fly back home. Probably not engine failure!

The Coast Guard did not routinely carry AvGas. Sikorskis run on Jet A, which is similar to kerosine and diesel fuel. A second Coast Guard helicopter was summoned with five gallons of AvGas, and it arrived shortly after we did. Soon, the pilot of the small plane was making efforts to have people push his aircraft to the hard-packed sand to attempt a take-off from the beach.

The copilot of my helicopter walked over to talk the pilot out of this folly, suggesting instead that he have the plane towed across the sand to the nearby paved highway, and attempt the take off from there.

At that point, both Coast Guard helicopters returned to our regular duties, all of us wondering how the event on the beach would end. I never read about it in the newspaper, so I must assume that the careless pilot must have successfully gotten his plane to the road, or perhaps he had it disassembled and trucked back to his home airport. That would have been the sensible thing to do.

It was fun to see “my” old helicopter. It made me slightly nostalgic, and I confess to being rather surprised at how primitive it looks compared to the sleek Jay Hawk helicopters used by the Coast Guard today. This was a trusty machine, and it served us well. It’s nice to know it now lives in my county.


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The largest panoramic photo in city history

Blognosticator Head

SLO PANO opens on Friday evening.

Almost a year ago I finally found the best location for taking a photo of San Luis Obispo. I had been climbing the local mountains seeking the perfect spot. I scoured available historic photos to see what other photographers had done. Three times I hiked up the side of Cerro San Luis Obispo, making GigaPan images. The view from that mountain is really hard to beat.

The other problem I had was a lack of rain. We have been suffering from a drought for several years here, and what little green we had last spring wouldn’t last. I knew I had to get the photo as soon as possible or the mountains would turn golden brown. But the green is so much nicer, I wanted to get the photo with green hills in the background.

John Cleek mounts pano

Wallpaper genius John Cleek puts up a panel in my photo entitled Daniel’s Point. He’s working on panel 8 here (out of 17). He would finish the next day.

Finally, on April 13th, the magical combination of clear skies, green grass, and the availability of my friend Megan occurred. I loaded my GigaPan onto my back pack, grabbed two charged batteries for the camera, assembled my gear and hiked up the side of the mountain to my secret spot. I was ready!

Megan’s part in the operation was to appear in the photo. I purchased a Wenda costume from the Where’s Waldo web site (Wenda is Waldo’s girlfriend), and I gave that to Megan. On this day she rode her bicycle to the first spot we had agreed on, and stood there until the GigaPan swept past. “Sweeping” is an exaggeration here, as the GigaPan doesn’t go very fast. I needed over 1,500 photos to complete this image, and it was going to take more than an hour to get them. I think the count of images in each row was 95.

Megan with Megan

Here is Megan holding Megan. The stand-up foam core version of her will be in the corner of the museum inviting patrons to find her in the big photo.

After the first image with Megan in it, she moved to the second location and I captured her there. But the third location was problematic because it was in the same horizontal row as the second. Megan pedaled across town to the third location while I paused the GigaPan in anticipation of her arrival. When she got there I started it again, and got her in the final location. Then she went home and I kept shooting for another 45 minutes.

This image turned out well. It is my signature photo for the exhibition, and it appears on the long wall at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art 58 feet 7 inches long. It’s ten feet tall. I printed this image in 17 vertical sections, each 44 inches wide. If you look back into my December blogs you will see several dealing with the large file limitations of Photoshop and of the Epson printer. You will also see how I solved the problem by purchasing a commercial driver for the Epson printer that overrules all limitations (that product is called Mirage).

When the 17 panels were printed, I had them laminated with a very thin polyethylene gloss laminate material. This was to prevent the ink from being dissolved by the water-based wallpaper paste used to mount the images on the wall.

On Tuesday morning, my friend John Cleek arrived with his associate Rob to do the installation. He had spent part of Monday coating the wall with a lacquer-based paint that acts as a resist to the water-based adhesive. This will allow us to remove the photo at the end of March when the show is over.

John and Rob slowly and methodically coated each of the panels, then applied them to the wall. I stopped by a couple of times to check on their progress. By Wednesday afternoon the photo was fully installed, and it’s really, really large!

Removing photos from house

Several of the 14-foot photos emerge from my front door and out over the bannister. From there they were loaded into a box truck for the short trip to the museum.

On Tuesday morning a team of friends arrived at my house to help me get the photos out of the house. I had been printing and mounting them since November, and I had filled the living and dining rooms completely with photos. Several of these are 14 feet long, others only six. What part of the room was not occupied by my huge photos was taken by the printed poster and catalog I had printed for the exhibition. My wife and I spared two spots at the table where we could have breakfast.

I confess it had never occurred to me how to get the prints out of the house. It just wasn’t on my list. I was completely absorbed by printing and mounting. Transport? What transport? Fortunately my team of volunteer friends rallied and figured out a way out, over the bannister on the front landing, and out to the driveway. The group packed everything in foam core, wrapped it up in kraft paper, and built special foam core corner protectors to ensure that the fragile photos would not get dinged on their way out of the house, or into the museum.

Cate with Daniel's Point photo

This is my friend Cate standing next to the 58-foot Daniel’s Point panorama. It’s great to see it printed and installed. Prior to this, I had seen it on my computer display only; I have never attempted to print it before this.

A photographer from our local paper came over to document the move, which as a photo subject didn’t push the needle very far on the excitement scale. And, the museum provided a rental truck long enough to accommodate the long foam core mounted photos. I was out on the street, observing from my wheelchair. My dear friend Cate Trujillo had taken over responsibility for the show, and I was genuinely grateful for her help. In my condition I am in no condition to accomplish much, and moving the photos would have been very difficult for me to coordinate.

They loaded me and my wheelchair into a car and we drove the dozen blocks to the museum. By the time we got there, and got me out, the photos were all inside the building. There was hardly anything left for me to do. The mounting of the images is being handled by the museum staff.

Brian outside Museum

…and here I am outside the museum by the sign advertising my exhibition. It has been 18 months in the making. I’m excited about the opening; I doubt that I’ll sleep much tonight.

And, as I wrote in yesterday’s blog, the panodomes were assembled and installed with special steel brackets that attach them to pairs of ceiling beams in the building.

I am quite confident that my 58-foot photo is the largest in the history of the city, and I am even more certain that the Panodomes are the first anywhere. The whole exhibition is coming together nicely. I just hope that they have really good cheese and crackers at the reception tomorrow evening!


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SLO PANO opens tomorrow

I’m slowly recovering from my bicycle mishap with a pick-up truck. I go to physical therapy three days each week, and I have graduated from a walker to crutches. Here is the latest on my work to open a panoramic photo exhibition at the local Museum of Art:

In one of the last scenes of The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya and Wesley are framed in the window of Prince Humperdinck’s castle, about to leap to freedom. Inigo looks at Wesley and says, “I’ve been in the revenge business so long I don’t know what to do next.”

And Wesley replies, “Have you considered piracy?”

Yesterday I found myself thinking something similar while looking at my 58-foot panoramic photo in San Luis Obispo’s Museum of Art. I’ve been in the panoramic photo business so long I don’t know what to do next.

SLO PANO Title lettering

The exhibition opens tomorrow, Friday, February 14, at 6:00 p.m.

It was on a windy Saturday in August, 2012 that I made my first sketch of this event. Within a week I was pitching my proposal using my iPad to the museum staff. It would be a show of panoramic photos, with fencing, murder, capture by pirates, and even a photo or two. My proposal was accepted, and I was told that the museum had a full calendar for nearly two years – they would let me know.

Panotube sketch

This was my iPad sketch of the Panotube, a cylinder inside of which an image would be printed. The tube evolved into a dome, and the photo evolved from a cylinder evolved into a spherical panorama printed inside a hemisphere.

Within weeks my exhibition was on that calendar, a mere 17 months in the future. So I started assembling the photos to exhibit, and I started taking new photos to include in the exhibit. I made a Master Plan, and I added everything to that plan that I could imagine: whom to invite, when to do publicity, when to get a banner printed, what color the walls should be, and much more.

At first the collection was all pixels in folders. I climbed the local mountains with my camera and my GigaPan rig. I scoured the collection at our local History Center, looking for historic images that I could replicate. I talked quietly among history buff friends to learn of the existence of old photos. I had seen a few here and there, and I knew that I could locate them if I kept at it.

In June of 2013 I began in earnest to gather the photos and other materials that would be in the exhibition. My Master Plan began changing color from black (planned) to green (completed but not mounted) to magenta (completely ready). I wrote copy, I designed a logo for the exhibition. I had bookmarks printed with the dates, and started handing them out. I was shameless! When I was in the hospital three weeks ago, I handed these bookmarks out to the nurses and X-ray technicians who were hustling me around the building. I didn’t hand any out in the ambulance, but I assure you it was only because I didn’t have them with me.

Last year I began work on a component of the show that I had originally conceived as a cylinder suspended from the ceiling. These cylinders would have panoramic photos printed on the inside. Though I had seen one permanent installation of a panorama inside a cylindrical structure, I had never seen one like those I envisioned. These would be soft panoramas, printed on Spandex fabric and suspended inside a tensile structure of tent poles. I drew sketches and dimensions, and I made a paper mock-up of such a photo.

Cut Lycra sheets on floor

This was the Spandex fabric for the prototype Panodome laid on the floor so we could figure out which panel was sewn to what other panel.

The Panodome idea was born. I had taken a spherical panoramic photo earlier in the year at Montgomery Woods in Mendocino County. That image started at the sky and continued to the Bracken ferns at my feet. How cool would it be to transform the cylinder into a hemisphere with a spherical panorama printed on the inside? This had to be the solution to a problem no one had ever had before.

At an event called Pecha Kucha, held last April, we had a speaker who made a presentation about his career designing tents and backpacks for North Face, among others. This was my new best friend! I introduced myself, and soon he and I were in the early stages of making a prototype of my immersive domes.

By last June I had the first photo for the Panodome figured out. It is an interesting concatenation of a cylinder with a Mercator-projected cap. I carefully calculated how to get a panorama to behave like a globe, I studied Mercator projections, and I designed a template in Adobe Illustrator that would fit both the required format and my panoramic photos.

John marking tubes

John Cutter in his laboratory. This is a wonderful environment where tents, bicycles and back packs are designed and built. Our Panodome project was the perfect fit for our combined talents and interests.

The tent designer is John Cutter, and we have a lot in common. We’re both bicyclists, both love to build things, both interested in Mercedes Sprinter trucks, and many other common topics which we discussed while we were cutting, bending, pinning and serging (a special sewing technique). I leaned on my friends at Voler, a maker of Lycra Spandex athletic clothing in Grover Beach, California. They have the technology for making dye-sublimation prints on Spandex, and I engaged them to make the first prototype dome. It probably didn’t make much sense to the workers at Voler to see these huge panels of trees and blue sky coming out of their machines last summer.

Meanwhile, I continued to gather and prepare to print the rest of the images in the exhibition. I built a precise scale model of the building and populated it with foam core walls. I made 1:24 scale miniature photos of my panoramas and glued it all together to get an idea how the exhibition would look. On several occasions you would have seen me crawling on the floor of the museum pushing a long yellow measuring tape between two surfaces, scratching notes on my clipboard.

The largest of the photos would be 16 feet long, and about six feet tall. Several others would be 14 feet long, a few more would be about 13 feet long. I had to develop a method for splicing foam core together to accommodate a 14-foot print. I ordered and received a pallet of 4 x 8 foot self-adhesive foam core. It arrived by truck one day. The driver didn’t know he was delivering to a residential address. Without a fork lift we couldn’t unload the material, so he took it to his company’s loading dick and I picked it up later with a borrowed pick-up truck.

In November, working to my grand plan, I began to print the images for the show, ticking them off the list as I went along. I printed all the 60 and 72-inch prints first because I could print and mount those by myself on our dining room table. After coming up with a solution for putting two (or three) sections of foam core together, I tried my hand at one of the 14-footers. The first was a complete success.

My living room started to be filled with these prints, and we lost the use of most of our downstairs living area while I made my exhibition.

John on serger

Here, John serges a seam into the prototype Panodome. The serger is a four-thread sewing machine that makes a stretch seam while simultaneously shearing the waste off the edge of that seam. These machines are used on all sorts of stretch fabrics, and they are handy because they don’t use bobbins.

Also in November, John Cutter and I finished the first Panodome, and we stood outside it and admired it. Then we climbed inside it and admired it. After a few adjustments, we modified our patterns, and I prepared the final two images for printing. These two were off to Voler in mid-December. On the fourth of January I picked up a long roll of printed fabric, brought it home, and began the process of cutting the Mercator shapes.

Panodome showing inside

John Cutter with our completed prototype Panodome. A few small changes were made, then we began in earnest to complete the final two domes.

My living room filled. A pallet of catalogs and posters arrived from the printer. I filled our guest bedroom with boxes of printing. This was a room already bursting with 4 x 8 sheets of self-adhesive foam core standing on-end.

My wife and I were down to two places at the dining room table where we could eat. These rest of the house was taken up with photographs.

Everything was going according to plan when I was hit by a truck on my way to work at the university on my bicycle. Lying on the pavement, I thought about approaching sirens, my deadlines and my panodomes, and the excruciating pain coming from my mid-section. Was my hand broken? How would I get the 14-foot prints to the museum? I never lost consciousness, but I was worried that I might lose my mind.

But the show had to go on! I was hospitalized, so my dear friend and collaborator on many projects, Catherine Trujillo stepped forward and said, “I’ll take over the show. You just get better.” I agreed.

Feet in Panodome

Just like the original sketch of the Panodomes, visitors’ feet are visible at the bottom of the dome at the Museum. This is one of the two final Panodomes in the exhibition. Images will be mounted on the adjacent walls today.

More on SLO PANO tomorrow!


Posted in Adventures, Art, New technology, Panoramic Photography, People, Photography, Photoshop techniques, Printing and Printing Processes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A bit of pavement hugging

Blognosticator Head

Greetings, Blognosticator readers,

I was involved in a collision between me on my bicycle and a pick-up truck on Monday morning. I am now starting my healing and recovery. I made some new friends from the local Fire Department, I got to ride in an ambulance, and I got to see the inside of a CAT scanner several times.

I spent three days in the local hospital, was released to the care of friends who own a one-story home, and now am at least able to use a computer again.

I can type, but I can’t walk.

I’ll be working on that in the coming weeks and months.

And, expect more of my usual fare on the Blognosticator soon. I am doing my best to return to a “normal” life as soon as possible.

Best wishes to you all,


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