Out of Massachusetts: Exploring Pittsburgh’s Strip District

As one might gather from the photos I posted a few months ago about our trip to Philly, one of our favorite things about traveling is trying the local food. So when the time came for us to try and decide what we wanted to do during the few hours we spent in city of Pittsburgh in June, a small amount of research quickly pointed us toward the Strip District. My brother Patick was to be our ride and our guide, though he isn’t 100% familiar with Pittsburgh either since he lives about an hour outside of it. I took that as a good thing though — we’d all be experiencing something new.

Now, I’ll be real here: we did have one stop of our tour in mind already as a must-eat for the trip, and that was Primanti Brothers. The Travel Channel and Food Network sold us on it a long time ago. When we looked a little closer at the surrounding neighborhood, we figured it’d be a good starting point to see the rest of the Strip District. I opted for the vegetarian option in hopes that it’d keep some space available in my stomach for the next food stop, and if I’m being totally honest, I wish I didn’t. All that meat looked and smelled completely unreal, and I was very conspicuously ogling Brian’s brisket sandwich the whole time.

   
One of our food stops included this kabob stand (you really can’t hold us back from food trucks), which we first noticed because of the bearded man who was painting a massive bird on it. Patrick, being a novice to our travel style and not having stomachs like ours, skipped this and watched on while Brian and I indulged in a kabob and a couple spring rolls. 
   
We also passed by a couple street musicians in our travels through the Strip District. They weren’t exactly Brian or Patrick’s cup of tea, but reminded me of Ghost Mice a little bit, so I took their picture. I always love when singers seem to use their whole face or whole body to express their vocals. Look at that dude’s neck. Damn.

 

Camping (again) in Tolland State Forest

As I’ve already posted at least twice before, I love when we go camping. We’ve always gone together to Tolland State Forest in Otis, MA for one-night stays. My favorite thing has always been the quiet and the peace, and Tolland State Forest is the perfect spot for when we want to get out of the neighborhood and really relax. I always bring an analogue camera and do my best to keep my phone off and away to really take it all in. This time I brought my current favorite, my Mamiya m645, loaded up with my favorite film, Kodak Portra 400.

This time, I had just taught Brian how to play backgammon, and since we haven’t bought our own board yet, he used what we had access to and made a board for us to play while dinner cooked in the fire.

   
    
  
   

 

Sunday morning breakfast à la Brian

I absolutely love it when Brian cooks breakfast.

He’s got that magic touch when it comes to the skillet and the stovetop. (Basically, what I have with my slow cooker meals, he has with his breakfasts, and I’m all about it.) We love having breakfast together whenever we can, but with our conflicting work schedules, it only happens maybe once a month, twice if we luck out and have corresponding days off. It’s an event of sorts, and it’s one of the things we do together that I look forward to the most.

Sandwich construction

In addition to loving it when he cooks, I also love simply watching him cook. Because we don’t have very much at-home meal time together and we both have stressful jobs, we like to do little things for each other whenever we can to make any anxiety disappear once we walk in the front door — even things as little as setting up the coffeemaker to have a pot ready when the other person wakes up. On this particular Sunday, I was coming off of an overtime-heavy week, and my brain had all but turned to mush. Brian concocted some seriously baller egg and cheese sandwiches, and insisted that I relax and let him take care of everything, from the coffee to the meal to the dishes. Naturally, I had to get off the couch and snap a few shots of him.

Brian making breakfast

I’ve always thought of spending mealtimes together to be utterly romantic, and nobody ever said you can’t be in your pajamas with bedhead and morning breath to achieve the same level of romance as a candle-lit dinner. In fact, our Valentine’s Day gifts to each other this year consisted of breakfast in bed twice: I got home from work at 8 a.m. and brought him a bunch of Dunkin Donuts, and when I woke up for work at 9 p.m. he had cooked eggs, homefries and sausage. He even stuck some gorgeous flowers in a little vase and put it on the tray. In my book, it doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

I'm not sure where that blue flare came from, but it showed up on a few other shots on the same roll. Weirdly, I like the way it looks.

I’m not sure where that blue flare came from, but it showed up on a few other shots on the same roll. Weirdly, I like the way it looks.

Scanning negatives like a big girl: troubleshooting and proper flatbed scanners

As I posted before, I recently got into scanning my own 120 negatives. I was gifted a sweet photo scanner-printer combo, which I considered to be a step up from the clunky desktop 35mm negative scanner that I’d been using for over a year, which was on the cheap side and always left my scans with bright green corners that I constantly struggled to edit out. I felt that I was due for an upgrade, and in my excitement, I totally thought my new Epson XP-310 would get the job done sufficiently without me having to drop dime on something extravagantly pricey.

But I was so new to negative scanning using a flatbed that I didn’t know what to look for in a scanner if I was going to get the clear, pristine results I craved. In retrospect, at the time I didn’t even know that any scanner anywhere in the world had these few parts, or that they existed in any way.

What follows is a semi-embarrassing account of my reaching out online for an issue that I didn’t realize was relatively minor and easy to solve.

Whenever I’m having a technical issue that I need to troubleshoot, my first step is almost always Googling the problem and looking for a reliable forum with a few responses. I’ve had the most luck with Flickr group discussions since there are a lot of professionals who use Flickr and contribute to discussions and help hobbyist film photographers like me fix the problems they’re having. I find it really cool that communities exist where longtime photogs actively and constructively reach out to people who are just getting started and can explain things in basic terms. So I logged onto Flickr and started a discussion in one of the medium format-related groups I’d joined.

Within a day there were multiple responses detailing what my problem was and a few options on how to fix it.

Let’s dial it back a minute, though, so I can tell you what the problem was. I originally posted looking for a reason that (and a solution for) my photos would come out, at best, like this:

Brian shuffling cards, scanned on the XP-310

Lines! Lines lines lines, brightness minimal clarity and lines! I couldn’t edit it out, and though I’d found a tutorial in another Flickr discussion that looked like it gave good results, I didn’t want to wind up spending so much time on every single negative just to make it look the way it should if it was done with the proper scanner with no editing needed.

The XP-310, though a great photo printer that has consistently given me high-quality prints of my work, is very basic as far as scanners go. It’s meant for documents and photographs, not negatives. This is one of the first things my responders pointed out to me in the discussion. One responder told me that the better, more expensive film scanners have a part called an illuminator inside the scanner’s cover that moves with the bottom scanning mechanism and provides clear images. To be totally real, I felt like a moron for not figuring that part out on my own, but I was still glad to have the help and more of an explanation provided.

That same responder suggested a few other Epson scanners, one of which happened to be right within my budget. My free trial of Prime was still in effect, so I ordered an Epson V550 and got it the next day. It was less than $200 on Amazon and to me, has been worth every penny. It made me enthusiastic and excited to be shooting again, and it came with scanning masks for both 120 and 35mm film. All problems solved.

This is how my photos come out on the V550 (without sufficiently cleaning the glass first … my bad):

Brian shuffling cards, scanned on the V550

Needless to say, I’m totally satisfied and extremely happy. Online forums can be a great resource, especially when you know there are professionals reading your posts and taking the time to help you out. It makes it so much easier to hone your craft when you can find a community, real or online, that’s welcoming and constructive and doesn’t bully or mock those who are new to what the discussion is about.

First shots on my Mamiya m645

I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about scanning a roll of film before. About two weeks ago, I got my first big-girl medium format camera, a Mamiya m645 1000s, off eBay. I promptly ordered the 120 version of my favorite film: Kodak Portra 400. That first roll was meant to simply get me adjusted to the new camera and film format, so mostly I just shot around the house. These are my first few scans of many more to come. I’m stoked to spend my weekend shooting more with this camera. (If anyone has any tips on how to avoid the lines cutting across my photographs, please comment or send me a message!)