Thursday, December 31, 2009


A few links for the last post of the year. I hope everyone has a happy and safe New Years Eve.

In 1957, photographer Eugene Smith moved his family into an apartment in downtown New York. This building was a hangout for a majority of the cities jazz movement. He kept a tape recorder running and of course took photographs. A ten part NPR story from WYNC collated from the tapes and photographs can be listened to here.

You have to love television shows where they can get infinite detail out of a $300 video camera. A YouTube clip exploring "enhancement".

Lifehacker is continuing to explore the "best of" posts. Here are "6 kitchen skills you can pick up in a weekend".

How to build a slit type panoramic camera.

Two guys build a light field camera out of a bunch of point and shoots. Plans and software are promised later, though some more info has been published since the original post.

Make Magazine has an article on Macro Photography on a budget.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Digital Killed the Camera Store

Wandering through my local camera store earlier this week, looking for a tripod mounting plate with a 3/8 ths screw instead of the usual 1/4. This is the part that screws into the bottom of the camera, that would mate with the tripod head. The bigger screw is used for heavier cameras than the usual SLR sized bodies that are so prevalent these days. I found the smaller ones, but none of the plates with the bigger screws. Asking a salesperson provided no help and after he disappeared in the back for a few minutes, he came back and told me that the bigger sizes were only used in Europe and it would take a long time to get here. Recognizing a load of spin, I made a not so witty comment and walked out without buying anything.

On the way home, I was thinking about how often I'd been disappointed by this particular store. At one time time they were the type of store where you could walk in and find all sorts of cool things. Usually a clerk who had been there a while would be able to find some obscure item stuck in a back corner. Now, most camera stores you walk into have more in common with Best Buy. They seem to be more interested in selling cameras than the incidentals.

I personally think the advent of cheap digital cameras forced the change. Film cameras lasted a long time and new models were introduced infrequently, sometimes in excess of 8 to 10 years. Compare that to todays 8 month release cycle for a point and shoot, to a 1 year cycle for a mid range camera to somewhat longer timeframe for high end cameras. With this type of release schedule and the accompanying hype that convinces a large proportion of photographers to buy a new camera, the stores can survive by stocking cameras, lenses and the bare minimum of other essentials. They don't have to stock anything else to stay in business. That and tax laws on unsold inventory didn't help either.

It's too bad most of the old style camera stores couldn't survive. The nearest one I know of is Central Camera in downtown Chicago. Since I tend to want what's considered to be more exotic stuff these days, I mainly do mail order. While I usually support local businesses, I'm finding it impossible to do so nowadays.

It's just too bad.....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Matter of Size

Earlier in the week, I was getting ready to take the 4x5 camera out. This involves cleaning it up, making sure the batteries in the handheld light meters still work, and loading film holders.

A film holder, for those that don't know, is a two sided contraption. It holds two pieces of film, one in each side. Loading these is a somewhat slow process for me. It involves getting the canned air out and making sure the dust is blown clear. The dark slides have indicators on them that remind you if the film has been exposed or not, and I have to find a dark room to actually put the film in. This process can take, depending on the number I do, up to an hour or so. It can be a mite tedious, but there is a tactile feedback from doing all this. The can of air getting cold, handling the holder itself and the plasticky feeling of the film in the dark. Trying to find the notches on the edges of the film, so you can tell if it is in the holder the correct way. A feedback loop that merely inserting a memory card in a digital camera lacks.

As I was finishing loading the 20 film holders I was going to take on my outing, I thought about scale. Even though they are double sided, a film holder to me is a single photo. I expose both sides with the same scene to ensure I get the photo. So for a days outing with the large format camera, the most I would photograph is 20 scenes. Now I know that I would probably not get anywhere near 20, if I was lucky, I would get 10 or 12. And that is a good part of a whole days output.

Thinking about it, I realized that with a large format camera, I could get 20 shots in a days sesson. When I take the medium format camera out, I usually go through 2 or 3 rolls of film, which is anywhere from 30 to 90 shots, depending on what film I buy. Yet when I get the digital camera out, I can take several hundred shots or more.

The strange part of it is, I get a higher percentage of "keepers" from the film cameras than I do the digital. Something I'm still pondering.

Monday, December 14, 2009

December Links

It's been busy, it's just that time of year. I've been out with the camera a bit, but really haven't shot a whole lot of stuff I'm overly excited with. So, since I've got some links I've been saving, you get to see those instead. is running a bunch of "best of" posts. Here is the one to the most popular photography hacks of the year.

There is a movement to get an open color standard to replace Pantone.

Light painting using a cold cathode tube.

Not exactly photography related, but good anyway. Lifehackers most popular DIY projects.

A good podcast on keeping our photography fresh. Photographing the Familiar. Be sure to listen to the companion piece on Shock Treatments for Artists also.

A cute animation about "Thinking outside the box".

An iPhone app that let's you document lighting setups.

A tool from Canon that helps you calculate how many shots you need for a panorama. It's interesting to me that the calculator web page almost looks like a phone. I wonder if they are going to get into the phone app business.

That's it for now. I hope things are going well for you during this busy season.

Friday, December 4, 2009

YANS (Yet another night shoot)

I was downtown this week with two friends of mine looking for Christmas lights. Since sunset is so early this time of year, by the time we met at 5:30, it was effectively dark. We were wanting to get in some time at dusk to photograph, but it didn't happen.

We didn't see a whole lot of lights, but I had adventures anyway. One of the security guards at the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum came up and asked me what I was doing and whether I was a professional. We kind of wanted to go inside the Public Museum also, but they don't allow tripods inside unless you make an appointment. Lastly I got kicked off what looked like a public plaza by a security guard at the Fifth Third building on Monroe. It just wasn't my night to please security guards I guess.

While I didn't get a whole lot of Christmas lights photos, we did spend some time at Calder Plaza photographing "La Grand Vitesse", the iconic Calder sculpture that has come to symbolize Grand Rapids. I've never spent a whole lot of time photographing the sculpture, and never any at night. It's hard to come up with a view of the sculpture that hasn't been published before, hopefully I was able too. I switched to a wider angle lens and went for photos of a subset of the sculpture like the one above, or to photos showing the sculpture sitting alone in an empty plaza. I'll come back to them in a bit and see it I still think they show a different view.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Capturing the Moment

Earlier this month, I was traveling down I280 south os San Francisco, and I drove by a vista turnout. I considered stopping and seeing what the view was, but I was late and I just drove on.
It did set up a train of thought though, that started with wondering how many other photographers had stopped and taken photos and would I just be repeating the same scene ad nauseam. A common saying about photographing popular scenes is you need to place your tripod in the holes left behind by the photographers that have come before you.

While I partially subscribe to that thought, I believe it's a lot more complicated than that. Being a long time Flickr subscriber and a member of the Grand Rapids Flickr group, I see a lot of photos of the same reflections off of buildings downtown, the same bridge shots and the same nighttime photos. I admit, I've contributed the same, since the scenes and the photos were new to me. Later, I've retaken the same photo, but tried to do it a different way or to put a different look to it. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes I'm not.

I really think that if one tries, that a person can find something new to photograph in what some people have come to consider a cliche photograph. It's one reason I continue to go back to the same locations.

Let me know if you agree or disagree, I would like other folks opinions.

Monday, November 2, 2009

New Camera

I ended up buy a new camera, to me that is. I picked up a used Mamiya 645 medium format film camera on Craigslist a couple of weeks ago. I've been looking for a medium format camera for a bit, but the prices were always more than I wanted to pay. Either that, or by the time I got back to the person, it was already sold.

This one popped up on the site, and while the format really wasn't what I wanted, it was too good a deal to pass up. Instead of the square 6x6 format that I had been looking for, this one is a rectangular 4.5x6 cm format.

It sat for a week while I was busy with other stuff, but I got a chance to take it out a week ago. I went through 2 and a half rolls of film and finally got some developed yesterday. I like what I see on the negatives, but I need to learn more about scanning. Either that or set up the darkroom so I can print them the old fashioned way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Senior Smiles

I realized this morning that I haven't posted anything here for quite a while. The usual excuse, I've been busy.

One thing I've been doing is an effort called "Senior Smiles". It was started by someone who was going through an old yearbook and couldn't find photos of a couple of classmates. For a variety of reasons, including lack of funds, they hadn't had one taken. He figured that the problem still exists and probably has gotten worse due to the economy. After rounding up a couple of folks to help, he started contacting the schools and local photographers he knows.

I was one of those photographers. I have to admit, I wasn't interested at first, but after an in-person plea, I signed up. We are starting out small, just some inner city schools and 200 kids out of the 600 the schools identified as being eligible. So far, I've been out twice, with a total of 6 sessions. We've been having the usual start up problems, miscommunication, schedules crossing, that sort of thing. It's been exacerbated by the fact that the effort started late and we are running up against the deadline for photos to get placed in yearbooks.

The kids and the families have been great though, and the other photographers are fun to be around. I'm glad I let myself be talked into this.

A nice article came out about the effort in the Grand Rapids Press in the past week. They got some facts wrong, especially the role the GR Flickr group played and leaving the camera club out of it. I would have liked a link for other photogs to join up also, but any publicity is better than none at all. The article is here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just Another Day

As usual, I've been busy lately. Too busy to do much here unfortunately.

I do have a couple of posts planned. One thing I'm planning on doing is to start reviewing equipment I buy and either use or don't use. I have a start of one review at the moment and hopefully you will see that soon.

I would like to talk about ArtPrize for a bit. For those of you that don't know, Rick Devos, grandson of one of the founders of Amway, started an art competition. First prize was a cool quarter of a million dollars and the top ten got at least $7,000.

There was a lot of talk about the voting rules. The public got to vote each piece up or down using their cell phones or on-line. A voter had to register in person with a government ID. This was to prevent someone from rigging the voting. When it was first announced, a lot of people, me included, derided it as American Idol for the arts. The local art community was even more vocal. How could the unwashed public be expected to pick a good piece of art? They wanted it changed to a juried art show with artists in charge of picking the winner.

An area of downtown was picked, any building or open area could become a venue for the artists to display their work. The artist paid a fee to participate in the show and then had to find a venue. Starting a few weeks before the competition opened, art started to show up. The most noticeable were the sculptures. Especially the huge table and chairs spanning the top of the walking bridge over the river downtown. You can still see that from the freeway as you drive by.

By the time the show opened, downtown was full of art. The competition turned out to be a big hit, bringing record crowds to downtown and business to downtown Grand Rapids overall. Grand Rapids also got a lot of good press out of the show. Something the area and Michigan overall needed.

I had the bad fortune to pick that time to take vacation out of the area. I only made it downtown during the competition for a few hours. It was a Thursday afternoon and I was surprised how busy things were. As usual, some of the art I liked, some I didn't and some I didn't understand. But it was a good experience.

I really expected one of the performance events or the big sculptures to win the prize. The public surprised a lot of people by picking a painting of ocean waves as the winner. I had seen the piece, but overlooked it. Since it will be in the local art museum for the next 3 months, I'm going to have to go take a second look.

There were some lessons learned. All the winners seemed to be picked from the central downtown area, a few really good pieces seemed to have been overlooked by the public because they were on the outskirts. The shuttle buses didn't run everywhere and there was some griping. But for the first year of the event, I think it went smoother than a lot of people expected. There are already plans to hold the event again next year, and I think it will be even bigger. Thanks to Rick Devos and everyone who worked on this so hard to make this a worthwhile event for the Grand Rapids area.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nighttime Chicago

In Chicago again for the weekend and I managed to get out Saturday evening with the camera. It was rainy and a little chilly, but that just gave me some opportunities I usually don't take advantage of. I know Millennium Park is somewhat of a Chicago cliche, but I love the organic feel of the bean against the buildings. Even though it was rainy, there were still plenty of people about. But I missed some spots I had wanted to photograph and I'll have to remember those next time and ignore the park.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Electric Tether

It used to be that when you traveled with a camera, you didn't need much more than a supply of film. Batteries for light meters and such used to last 6 months to a year and if you remembered the Sunny 16 rule, you could get by without that. If you ran out of film, everyone used to carry it, even the local drugstore on the corner. If you needed something special, there was usually a camera store someplace around that carried it.

Now when you travel, especially for more than a day or two, you need an outlet nearby. The camera batteries need to be recharged, the laptop needs to be plugged in and batteries for other electronic devices need to get topped off also. Plus, since each device uses a different way to charge, you need to carry a lot of different chargers also.

I'm not sure this is really a great advance at times....

Monday, September 28, 2009


I'm on the road again, this time in the Upper Peninsula. I had some vacation I needed to use, so I grabbed my cameras and went.

I've seen some wildlife, Bald Eagles, the deer running across the road for me to dodge and the pointy end of a Porcupine. The Porcupine startled me as I was walking down a path, he was in the bushes to the side and all I saw was the pointy end. I waited around a bit to see if he would come out, but no such luck. I also saw a Bald Eagle flying over the river in downtown Houghton, so I have hope that one day we may see that in Grand Rapids.

I've visited plenty of waterfalls, the names are starting to run together. All beautiful, and I still can't get a photo of one I really like.

Of course I had to visit lighthouses, I've seen a few and got some good photos.

I've also tried long exposure photos with light painting. That is where you use a light, usually a flashlight to bring out detail in dark objects. The photo above is one such shot. Taken about a hour and some time after sunset, it has an exposure time of about 6 minutes. During the time I was using a flashlight on the foreground rock and also the one in the back. The rock in the back had a small bush on the top and I wanted to bring it out. I only used the flashlight on the foreground rock for about 15 seconds, the rest of the time I'm trying to light up the other rock. No such luck, the flashlight I had was too small.

More later.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The WTD Book is Out!

If you're a photographer and never read What the Duck, go look at it now. Don't read any more, just go.

An irreverent look at photography and artists in general, this comic hits the mark more than it misses.

Wandering through my local bookstore yesterday, I noticed the new What the Duck book is out. So I made sure I picked it up. It's going to be the photography book I read this week.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fortuitous Photography

I was out with a group at the Grand Haven pier last night. While I was out on the pier taking a long exposure shot, a gentleman walked by and commented on the "fortuitous photo" I had just taken. Since a kid had just ridden by on a bike with a blinking light, I agreed and kept on taking photographs.

The bicycle photo didn't turn out, but later on in the evening I was taking a long exposure photo of a motorbike and a couple pickups backed up behind it. This left some light trails that help separate the bike from the background. While the jury is still out on the photograph itself, the happenstance helps illustrate this post.

Fortuitous has a couple meanings, somewhat related. One is occurring by chance. The other, which I think is somewhat more related to photography is lucky or fortunate.

Thinking about the comment the rest of the evening, I realize that while I try to plan what I'm going to do with the camera, a lot of photography is dependent on fortuitous circumstances. Is the light right, how about the weather, or is someone doing something interesting? While a portrait photographer can set up the scene and take a photo, do they make a connection with the subject or is the subject even in the right mood? Did I recognize that a good scene was unfolding and was I ready to capture it?

I used to have a boss that said he would rather be lucky than good. While he was mostly joking and people tend to make their own luck, I realized early on that circumstances and happenstance happen all the time. You just have to try to recognize what is happening and be quick enough, or lucky enough to photograph it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I've been collecting links for a bit, so it's time to publish them.

A Lightroom 2 workflow that is a good overview of how one person does it.

Bruce Percy, who still uses film and a medium format camera is running his own version of how he made 40 photographs.

A Lifehacker article about Swingvine. A web site that tracks trending topics. If you were doing micro stock photography and wanted to try to figure out what's hot, it might be a good site to keep on top of.

The start of an Open Source camera from Stanford University.

I've had trouble getting filters off the front of the camera lens before. I'm wondering if these watch case balls would work better than the wimpy filter removers they sell.

Glamour Magazine run a photo of a normal person rather than the normal model body type they usually do. The photo and a blog post about the positive response of readers that surprised them.

If you are doing a lot of flash photography work and want to diagram the setup, here is an interesting piece of software that will help you do it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

London - More Photos

Walking around Sunday, I came across 3 white Rolls Royce cars decorated for a wedding. I took a few photos, and waited around a bit for the bride to appear. I overheard one of the drivers say that the ceremony was over and that the reception had started and didn't stay any longer.

I ran into a BBC film crew working on a science documentary and this couple were two of the actors. Though I had to admit, they really didn't let each other go, even when filming was on break. The women in the background on the bench was also part of the show.

The host of the show walking backward and talking to the camera.

The film crew and onlookers. The couple, the scooter were part of the show, along with the camera crew.

Yes, another door.

This is the end of my photos from London. I want to go back and spend some more time though, there was much more of the city to photograph.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sky Flowers

The annual Celebration on the Grand festival is happening this weekend. The Friday evening fireworks are always a treat and for some reason are usually better than the ones put on during the Fourth.

Of course, I had to go down and do photos of the sky show. We got downtown an hour early to stake out a place on one of the bridges. It was already starting to fill up and by the time the show actually started, you could barely move. After the fireworks were over, we wandered over to Rosa Parks Circle to see the Jimmy Stagger band. A local blues band, I always enjoy them. We were only able to stay about 20 minutes though, Dorothy was tired and not feeling well so we pulled up stakes.

We both did enjoy the fireworks though, and I like the photos I got.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Camera Choices

I tend to do a lot of what I would consider street photography. Some other people might not, but the definition works for me. I normally use my DSLR. Since I tend to like big cameras, since they fit my hands better, it's pretty obvious when I take a photo. Especially since I tend to be obvious about it. There are times when I want the eye contact, though other times I prefer to be more voyeuristic and just record the scene as it unfolds.

Usually people do not object to having their photo taken in a public place, though there have been a couple. When I was in London, out on my own to just take photos, I dragged along my DSLR. I would take it in a bag, since I didn't want to advertise that I had it as I rode the subway. But this had it's downside. Every time I wanted to use it, I would have to open the bag, get it out and turn it on. While not a long amount of time, it takes away from the spontaneity if street photography. Plus some areas of London were very crowded this time of year. It was holiday time in Europe and a lot of different nationalities were wandering the same streets I was.

While I was taking a photo of the area I was in, just to document the crowds, the young couple in the photo above announced very loudly that they did not want their photo taken. By the time what they said registered, they had walked past. Since the UK/EU privacy laws are different than the US, I've blurred their faces.

I'm somewhat sure that if I would have been using a smaller camera or a point & shoot, that they would not have even noticed. But a big DSLR tends to be equated with professional photographers nowadays and it got their attention.

That, in a roundabout way gets me to the point of this rambling. Traveling with a big DSLR nowadays is no fun. Airport security sometimes insists that I take it out of the bag, so it can be x-rayed separately, it's too obvious to use and it's too heavy to carry around a big city for a day.

With the advent of the micro 4/3rds cameras and the new digital rangefinders being released, sooner or later a smaller camera will come along that will be more comfortable to use, but gives me the responsiveness of the DSLR. I may have to either switch camera makers or add another camera to my bag.

The reason I'm thinking about this, besides my trip, is the new Leica is supposed to be released today. While it's reported to be a nice camera, I'm sure it's out of my price range, especially when you factor in the shorter life span of digital gear. I may have to switch full time back to film, but that has it's own problems traveling....

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


A break from the London photos, though there will be a few more coming. I was able to get out a bit on Monday and wandered around Saugatuck Dunes State Park. While I couldn't stay long, I did get some nice shots of some fungi. Lake Michigan was nice also, though there was a good bit of haze. The mosquitos were out and the acorns were falling from the trees.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

London - Random Photos

Some more photos from London.

The Millenium Bridge across the Thames. Built in 2000, it is the first new bridge in 100 years. It is a walking bridge only, this is the ramp from the ground. The church in the background across the river is St. Paul's.

Yet another evening shot of Big Ben.

The white coat caught my eye. It turns out he worked at a meat plant and was taking a smoking break.

I was kind of surprised to find a bit of beach on the Thames in the middle of London. I was really more surprised that people could get to it and use it. There was a stretch of sand sculptures with blankets set out for people to throw contributions down. The beach was about 15 feet below the walkway. There were a lot of street artists out, and this was just another one.

The remains of an old dock. I would have liked to get lower, but there was a somewhat modern looking ship anchored off the end of it. Part of me wondered how old it was and what history it had seen.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

London Skate Park

I tried to take in all of London that I could in a little over two days. Of course I failed magnificently. I did see some pretty cool stuff though. Sunday, while I was walking along the Thames, between the London Eye and the Tower Bridge, I came across a skate park. Converted from a overhang of a building, I believe it was the Science Museum, the area had been covered in graffiti and was an obvious hangout. The kids riding the bikes were pretty good, but I really didn't see much good skateboarding. It was such an amazing looking area, I ended up spending almost an hour there watching.

Friday, September 4, 2009

London Eye

The London Eye is a big ferris wheel built by BAA across the Thames from Big Ben and the Parliment building. Rides cost 17 pounds, about $30 US, and last for 30 minutes.

A early evening photo. Taken at high iso and hand held. Looking at the original, there is a lot of noise in the photo. I really need to come up with a solution so I can carry a tripod when I travel.

A few day shots. The sky was a dull solid gray, so I felt they looked better in black and white.

As usual, there are some more photos posted at

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I'm a sucker for an interesting doorway. I'm not sure why, but I like them anyway. I found a bunch the first day I was out in London. A few are below.

I ended up getting turned around and while I was walking, I came across the one above. It was down a little side street, and next to the ones below. The sun was out and while I was waiting for good light, I got a couple strange looks from people walking by.

While I was waiting, a lady asked me what I was waiting for. Once I told her, she explained that this building had been a childrens hospital that had been converted to flats. They kept the original decorations.

A close up of one of the doorway decorations.

The other.

There are a bunch of old churches in the city, all with interesting, to me at least, details.

Another doorway at St. James.

More later. I hope you are enjoying these.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hyde Park

Some photos from the trip. Just the very start. These are from the first day I went into London. They are all near the Hyde Park/Buckingham Palace area.

The ubiquitous phone booth.

The London Hard Rock Cafe.

People enjoying the day in Green Park, across the street from Buckingham Palace.

A guard at Buckingham Palace. The queen was not in town, spending the summer holiday at Windsor Castle about 45 miles from London.

More photos on my Flickr photostream. Many more to come yet also.