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,

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Quote of the Month - Chitwood

"What you notice becomes your life."
Michael Chitwood from his book The Weave Room

Friday, May 25, 2018


I have been considering failure as of late.  Not in a negative sense (which is how most people immediately react to the word), but in a positive context.

Failure is an important part of the creative process.  Or, as Bram Stoker correctly observed: we learn from failure, not from success.

Do not be afraid of examining your failures.  It might be a composition that didn't work quite right.  Or maybe it was the "photographer's dance" of exposure, shutter speed, aperture, filtering, sensitivity, developer, film, or one of a myriad of other elements that fell short of the harmony you thought the image was crafted with.  Film, darkroom printing, large format cameras - they are not typically forgiving tools to work with.  But stopping and examining my unsatisfactory images, looking at my notes, and thinking back to when I made the image is how I continue learn and grow toward further mastering the craft.

Draft prints that still come up short.
The problem (a balance between the tree bark and leaves)
is very subtle.
Permission to fail is also a vital component when you are learning a new technique or trying something different.  Expecting perfection at the beginning is foolishness.  Embrace those mistakes and learn from them.  I recently started working with Amidol, a paper developer of old that can produce incredibly subtle images tones but is notoriously difficult to work with.  It has lived up to its reputation!  Even with 30 years experience in the darkroom my first attempts are disasters.  But I am learning a lot.  Stay tuned.

Classical photography demands learning from your mistakes because each image is such an investment of time and energy.

Digital photography can also provide such learnings, but it is incumbent on the photographer to make the extra effort to do so.  Making pictures with a digital camera requires so little effort and it is easy to make a flood of mages.  It is just too tempting to rush through a palithra of pictures, jump over the ones you do not like, and focus only on the ones that you think look good.  But what have you learned?  Damn little I might venture to guess.  Do not get caught in this trap!  I have seen it ruin many a fine photographer.

Take your time.  Learn from your mistakes.  They are gifts that will make you a better photographer!

Take Care,

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Using the Tool

Autumn shoot in the Eastern Sierra

Al Weber (a well known photographer, teacher, and important mentor for me) once wrote:

 "Never allow some tool to get between you and your work."

One reason I generally shun clubs and gatherings of photographers is that the conversation is rarely about photography - it's about their cameras.  Endless babble about specifications, and features, and one up-manship about how wonderful their toys are.


The camera is a tool.  As such it has strengths and weakness that influence how you approach your work.  But in the end, the important thing is your work.  What you create and why you create it - that is what interests me.  Let's talk about that!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Quote of the Month - Christopher Burkett

"The whole point of doing it (photography) is not to just present a pretty picture but to present something that shows people something that maybe that haven't seen or experienced and something really worthwhile."
Christopher Burkett, PBS Newshour Interview, 15 April 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

True Colors

Classical black and white photography is my passion.  Not only do I strive to practice it as an art, but I am an avid collector as well.  To be in my collection the print must be made on film and hand printed by the artist in their darkroom.  Not only does this yield  the unique quality of the traditional print, but also a special connection to the artist.

There is, however, one color photographer in my collection.  He works in film and prints on the last of the Cibachrome in his darkroom.  His name is Christopher Burkett.  I would go so far as to say that you really haven't seen a brilliant color photograph until you've seen Cibachrome print.  And you have not seen the ultimate manifestation of color until you've seen a print by Christopher.

Recently, the PBS Newshour Weekend Edition did a fine interview with Christopher.  Here is a link:

Not only does the article highlight Christopher's achievements, it also offers the viewer insights into the painstaking process the artist must master to produce fine prints in the darkroom; the iterative process to achieve the expression the artist is striving for, the precision of the dodging and burning, and the craftsmanship necessary to achieve a masterful work of art.

There are those who say traditional photography is a dying art.  This is complete rubbish, especially for black and white!  But they do not make Cibachrome anymore and this unique form of photographic expression will no longer be accessible to photographic artists.  I find myself grateful that the last of this wonderful paper is in the hands of a truly great artist.

This is a splendid interview with Christopher.  He shares his perspective on the art of photography and the traditional expressions of the fine art print.  I agree with him entirely - could not have said it better myself.

I hope you enjoy the interview!  Better still, if you have an opportunity to see first hand Christopher's work I whole heartedly encourage you to seize the moment.  You will be amazed!

Here is a link to Christopher Burkett's website where you can see much of his work:

Take Care,

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Into the Valley

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a few days in and around Death Valley.  A badly need break from the daily grind and the chance to craft images in one of my favorite forums - the desert.
Panamint Range, Death Valley
photo credit : Kim

All deserts are exercises in contrasts. The hot and cold extremes, low contrast landscapes in high contrast light, muted colors accented by tiny bits of brilliant color.  Ferociously difficult to photograph in black & white but immensely satisfying to do so with the proper subject. What's not to like, right? 

Working on an image at the Beehives
photo credit: Kim
Each desert has its own personality.  Death Valley is a particular gem because the visitor can access with relative ease extraordinary examples of geological wonders, sublime desert offerings, and see the remains of the extreme efforts that man has exerted to try and exploit this harsh place. But make no mistake, off the paved paths this place can offer even more incredible sights and experiences - but it can also do you in.  Death Valley is a place to be greeted with awe and treated with respect.

Having just completed developing the trip's negatives I can say that I am pleased.  Some potentially fine material to add to The Lonely Places project.

Take Care,


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Michael Miner's Opening at Photography West

St. Patrick's Day weekend was celebrated in fine form with a visit to Photography West to see Michael Miner's photography opening.  As with all of the photographers at Photography West (arguably the West Coast mecca for classical fine art photography), Michael's work is rooted in large format negatives printed in the darkroom on silver gelatin papers.  His technique is excellent and eye superb.  This show is comprised of his large prints, 16x20" in paper size  - that's huge and a significant feat in the darkroom.

Michael Miner's Aspen Study, Part II
This is his image and his copyright.
(Michael - hope you don't mind me using it, thanks)  

I enjoy Michael's work not only for their content and excellent execution but also because it is such a dramatic contrast to my own work that is currently built upon contact printing 4x5 and 8x10 negatives.

It is worth the trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea to enjoy his exhibit.  But hurry, the show ends April 15th, 2018.

When you see Julia (the gallery directory), tell her Jeff sent you!

Take Care,

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Happy Birthday, Edward

Nautilus (1927) by Edward Weston
copied from Wikipedia

Today (March 24th) is Edward Weston's birthday.  Born in 1886, he can rightly be called one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.

If you know who Edward Weston is ... enough said.

If you don't know who Edward Weston is, well, it would be difficult to lay claim to being a serious photographer and not know his work.

Fortunately, and wonderfully, there is a wealth of information out there.  And unlike most artists, you can build up your own understanding of the man and his work through his own writings (letters and daybooks), many biographies, and even a book by his young wife Charis Wilson.  But most important is the work itself!

So if you don't know Edward Weston, go forth and seek him out.  He is already in your work and in the way we see photographs.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


I was reading the old issue of B&W magazine and came across a photographer named Lisa Elmaleh whose work had immediate appeal.  Maybe it is her subject matter - remote and fragile places.  Maybe it is her technique - she does 8x10 wet plate photographs using a darkroom on the back of her truck.  Both are sources for a connection.

In the article written by George Slade, I found two phrases I so often used to describe my own work: "slow" and "deliberate."  It is something people just don't seem to understand, how the tools and techniques you use are so integral to how you relate, understand, and interpret your subject.

Lisa understands.  When you must invest real effort to make a photograph, you go slower and become more intimate with your surroundings.  And with that comes a connection and an understanding.

Visit her website: 

Lisa Elmaleh and her 1996 Toyota Tacoma "Harriet."
Note the darkroom in the back of the truck.
(LE, Hope you don't mind me using your photograph - thanks!)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Happy Birthday, Margrethe

Florence Deshon (1921) by Margrethe Mather
from Wikimedia Commons

Today would have been Margrethe Mather's 132nd birthday.  She died in obscurity on Christmas Day, 1952.  Her contributions to photography, however, should not be obscured by the passage of time.  Not only was she a truly creative, free thinking photographer, her influence on Edward Weston (arguably one of the most important photographers of the 20th century) was profound.  Weston called her "the first important person in my life."

If you have never heard of Margrethe Mather, I highly recommend reading Beth Warren's Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration.

Even if we do not realize it, Margrethe and Edward's influence is in our photography today!

Take Care!

Monday, February 26, 2018

First Date

Working with a negative in my darkroom.

The three images on the left have subtle changes for
comparison.  The two images on the right are step tables
for comparing darkroom conditions on different days -
think of it as "quality control" for the darkroom. Very
useful when it can take several days (or weeks) to
complete a final print.
When you take a negative into the darkroom to print it for the first time, it is very much like going on a first date with someone you think you already know.

I know what I pre-visualized when I created the negative and so it is not a total stranger to me.  But printing a negative is not a simple, prescribed exercise.  Rather, it is the next step in the creative process - the bringing to life the image in your mind and in the negative.

The first steps are tentative.  A test strip to start understanding how the developer, paper, and other variable are going to manifest themselves in the print.  Overall exposure and contrast must be determined first.  And because the dynamic range of the negative is larger than the silver paper, there will be areas (sometime quite small) that must be dodged (lightened) and burned (darkened). 

The initial steps are broad strokes of the brush and can go quickly.  It is the interpretation of the subtle parts of the image that take time, care, and craft.  Little things matter (a lot!) and it can take many hours to make all the parts come together in perfect harmony.

I like to work on a negative for a little while, then stop, let it dry, and examine it in different light the following day.  Carefully working on the relationship until I am satisfied I have achieved the interpretation and emotional impact that I want.  The process can take days or even weeks.  It is part of what makes hand crafted images in the darkroom special.

Take Care,

Monday, February 19, 2018


Yes, I know it is almost March, and it seems a little late to talk about looking forward to 2018 when a sixth of the year already gone.  But it has been a very busy year so far.

The big project was updating the website to be platform responsive.  In the other words, so you can view it on a desktop, iPhone, iPad or whatever with equal ease.  (The old website gave some pretty strange results on a smartphone.)  That is finally done.  And with it a new look to the website AND (most important) new images!  I hope you like it.

Oh, BTW, the picture is from a trip to the Eastern Sierra this past October.  It was a strange Fall in 2017 and I arrived late in the Fall Color season - but that is actually a good time for a B&W photographer.  Just now started printing the negatives in the darkroom.

Take Care!