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

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

from the Opus Rose series
I like to say...

"Success nurtures your ego.  
Failure nurtures your growth."

We need both, but failure (and growth) usually comes first - and that's good because it means you are trying!

Here's to a year of BOTH!


Take Care,

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Congratulations - Now Go Take Pictures!

Congratulations on your new camera!

(Go take pictures! So that when you travel to Death Valley
this winter you are comfortable with your new camera.)
I know there are many of you who received a new digital camera for Christmas.  Maybe it replaced your previous model, maybe it is your first DSLR (digital single lens reflex).

Whatever the circumstances, if this is new to you then you might be feeling a little intimidated. All those buttons, and menus, and features, and strange abbreviations - it can all be rather daunting.

I am often asked for advise on how to take better pictures.  My best first advise to beginners is always this:

Go Take Pictures!

I cannot tell you how many times I've been introduced to someone with a new camera and all they can do is brag about the features - but they have not taken any pictures!

               Go Take Pictures!

The camera is a tool and you have to get comfortable using it. And the only way to do that is...

                               Go Take Pictures!

There is time enough to learn more about the craft of photography.  I want to share hints, tips, and  ideas with you here (I am even putting together a workshop just for beginners).  But until then...

                                             Go Take Pictures!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Let There Be Light


Photography is about light.  Light is the photographer’s lifeblood and without it we are nothing!  It is the fundamental building block for the images we create. 

It is easy to get distracted and think photography starts with the camera, but that is not true.  Photography always starts with the light.  

In Northern California where I live, Winter light has a special quality unlike anywhere else.  A soft, glowing quality that lends itself to crafting photographs on subjects that at any other time of the year would be too harshly illuminated.  I’ll bet where you live the qualities of the light change throughout the seasons, lending itself to particular subjects at different times of the year.

Take Care,

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Drop in the Well of Inspiration

"A photographer seeks intimacy with the world and then endeavors to share it."

From Jerry Lopez's essay Learning to See.*  One of those "required readings" I believe every serious photographer should have in their well of inspiration.  In his essay Lopez shares why he gave up photography.  Interesting insights as to why some of us stay with it.

Take care,

*You can find his essay in both of his books Vintage Lopez and About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Quote of the Month - Burkett

"That's what photography is all about, writing with light."
Christopher Burkett, Newshour Interview, 15 April 2018

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Quote of the Month - Szarkowski

"It is true that the hardest part of photography is finding the right place to stand, but the difference between the wrong place and the right place is likely to be measured in inches rather than miles."
John Szarkowski, from his introduction to Ansel Adams and the Sierra Nevada.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

New In My Darkroom

Last month was one of the months when "you gotta do what you gotta do."  I am speaking of darkroom maintenance.  Mostly cleaning but some fixing too.  About once a year one must pause and do the grunt work.

This time was a little different.  My motivation was installing a new enlarger in the darkroom.  I recently purchased a Saunders LPL 4500ii on Ebay and it is in excellent condition!  Of course there is always the aligning and rearranging the darkroom to accommodate a much bigger enlarger.  And of course, like any tool in the intimate environment of the darkroom, I will need time with it to master its strengths and weaknesses.

For the past 25+ years I have been using a Besseler 23C III and it has served me extremely well.  Its one shortcoming is that it is designed to enlarge medium format negatives - which it did admirably and I have made many fine prints on it.

But here's the rub...  I have been shooting mostly 4x5 and 8x10 for many years.   My preferred printing technique is contact printing and good ol' reliable 23C did a fine job in that arena as well.  However I also realize that an entire show of 4x5 contact prints could be a bit tedious and some enlarged 4x5 negatives are called for.  Hence acquiring the LPL 4500.

Oh I still have my Besseler.  If I had more room in the darkroom I would have set up both enlargers.  Maybe someday.

I expect the LPL will do a fine job on my contact prints (and will likely make the 8x10 negatives a little easier to manage).  But it is time to do a some enlarging and 4x5 negatives await.

Take Care,

(PS: As I side note, I think the current obsession with make the biggest print possible is silly, but that is another discussion.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


"Lonely Grave"
from The Lonely Places project

This picture is titled "Lonely Grave" 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.

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

Take Care,