Friday, February 14, 2020


Paul Caponigro's "Running White Deer"
Available at Photography West, Carmel, CA

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by famed photographer Paul Caponigro.  I am pleased to report that at 87 he is full of energy and spirit!

Paul is of that generation of “no nonsense,” tell-it-like-it-is, if you don't like it that's your problem, master photographers.  They have a solid perspective and heart-felt passion for their art, without being sappy or sentimental.

One important quality all these masters share is a connection to their subjects.  They want to express more than a mere pictorial representation.  They are telling us more about the world than meets the eye.

Paul is an accomplished pianist as well as photographer.  One point that he made in his lecture that rings true (though I never thought of it this way) is how music, through hearing, has a more direct emotional connection.  This is in contrast to our visual perception that must climb through a mountain of intellectual clutter before it can resonate emotionally.  Visually, our heads get in the way with preconceived notions, biases, opinions, and petty obsessions that seem to occupy a good part of our lives.  As visual artists, we must find a way through this clutter.

Think about that. 

(BTW, If you have an opportunity to attend a lecture by one of the masters, DO IT!  You will get insights and ideas that no book, blog, or YouTube video could ever provide.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


"Lonely and Windswept"
from The Lonely Places project

In an earlier post I mentioned the The Shutter Brothers' 3-P's.  Planning. Purpose. Patience.  

This picture is titled "Lonely and Windswept" from The Lonely Places project.  It is high in the mountains near Virginia City, Nevada, in a large and badly abused cemetery south of town.  It has all three ingredients of the 3-P's but especially patience.

When I first visited this place years ago, I had a vision of how I wanted to interpret this particular grave site.  However, I had to return many times over several years before I found the right combination of light, clouds, mountains, and wind to make the image work.  

Making an image that says just want you want can take a lot of patience and discipline.  Finding the right place to stand and the composing the image.  Waiting for the light.  Waiting for the clouds. Waiting for the wind to stop.  And sometimes it all goes away and you don't get the image at all and you have to plan to go back. 

But when you keep at it (and when Nature cooperates) ... well, let's just say it is very satisfying!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Plan

The Shutter Brothers in Bodie, CA
I recently had breakfast with my Shutter Brothers, Tom & Russ. We were discussing how our varied approaches to photography are alike and how they are different. 

Russ does digital photography but began in using film, Tom has been entirely digital, and I am all classical large format film.  All three of us take our work seriously.  Photography is for us more than just snapshots taken as aids to memory.  

Despite our three very different styles, we all share a secret ingredient to our work.  We call it The 3-P’s.  Preparation.  Purpose.  Patience.

Let’s talk about Preparation.

It is common for Russ, Tom, and myself to travel to remote locations in the mountains, desert, forests, plains, and small towns to do our work.  Often these trips are planned weeks or months ahead of time.  We study the terrain, local features, history, special events, where the sun is rising and setting, understanding the distances involved, available accommodations … you get the picture.  The point is we are not going out there willy-nilly, there is a plan at work.

Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say we are on a rigid itinerary. We often get inspiration while on the road and will detour down a side road or discover an interesting feature from the locals once we are on location.  But all three of us find we can do our best work if we have a plan.  You see, a plan allows us to focus on the photography rather than desperately trying to find a place to spend the night.  A plan allows us to make the best use of available light.  And a plan reduces the chances of returning from a trip only to find out we missed out on some great feature or event. 

How about you?  Got a plan?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Taking Note

Many years ago a teacher told me "A bad pencil is better than a good memory any day."  I have found that he was absolutely right!

This past week I was making an entry into my darkroom logbook and noticed Volume 1 sitting there.  The first entry is dated April 15, 1994.  That was the year I moved to California and had just got my West Coast darkroom up and running; that entry captures details about what worked well and what didn't in the new darkroom.

Twenty-five years later I am still at it and up to Volume 7.  Every print I make, every solution I prepare, and every problem overcome in the darkroom I record in the logbook.  I do the same thing in the field with my camera, documenting how I structured the image and how to control it in the darkroom to create what I visualized at that moment.

The whole art of note taking seems to be fading.  That is sad.  We're in too big a hurry.  Maybe we don't understand the value of taking notes.

But I am a firm believer that if you really want to get good at something, you need to record what you are doing.  Getting good (and getting better) in photography is no different.  Writing it down helps you clarify your thoughts, helps you remember the details later, and compels you to pay attention to what you are doing.

I know people who keep a journal every day - and they can't image a day without it.  I feel the same way about photography and my logbooks.

Take Care,

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Where To Buy This Stuff?

People ask me where to buy equipment for darkroom and classical film photography.  Well, you might be surprised how much is available new.  While digital has taken over the general consumer market, film and darkroom are still very much alive and equipment available.

The 4x5 camera, lenses, and film holders
I bought used on eBay.  The tripod (Ries)
was new (and worth every penny).
That said, I buy much of my equipment on (believe it or not) eBay! 

The first question that immediately follows is "how do you know you are not getting screwed?"

Well, the secrets to buying on eBay are 1) doing your homework, and 2) patience.

There is probably a ton of information out there about what you are interested in buying.  Most lens manufacturers have archives of their classical lenses and a search of the internet can yield a lot of information.  There are websites that post old user manuals.  And you can sometimes get tidbits of information from user forums.  Keep a folder in your bookmarks just for photography equipment and start building a library of useful sites.

You might also be surprised how often eBay sellers do not know the value of what they are selling.  With these folks ask simple questions until you are satisfied you know what you are getting.  There are also sellers who really know their photography equipment - they will often provide plenty of information in their ad describing what you are looking for.  Oh! Let's not forget pictures!  Be sure there are pictures of the actual item you plan to buy.  No picture, no deal.

Seller ratings are also useful if taken with a grain of salt.  Often people do not post negative feedback for fear the seller will ding them as well.  On the other hand, don't get hung-up on a seller with "only" a 97% positive rating.  If they have sold 1000 items you are bound to run into some grumpy people when you sell that much stuff.

To bid, or not to bid?  Or more accurately, to bid or to "Buy Now."  I've done both. The key is to decide what YOU think is a reasonable price first.  If the Buy Now price to near that - just buy it.  If there is some distance between what you are willing to pay and the starting price, Bid!  Just don't get caught up in the bidding and pay more than you think is a fair price.

Finally, be patient!  Put several ads of the same item from different sellers on your watch list and track the prices.  Unless the item is really rare, don't jump at the first item listed.   You will get an idea of the condition of available used equipment and what is a reasonable price soon enough.

Of course, do not ignore you local camera store (if you still have one in town), there are camera swap meets, and there is nothing wrong with buying new - sometimes it is preferred.

Happy shopping!

Take Care,

To get you started....

Old Camera Manuals
Large Format Lens Primer
Darkroom Equipment Refurbished