Spring-cleaning and plans on Summer Photography.        

I am such a hoarder.

I knew I had an old tripod mount stashed away somewhere, but when I started searching (unsuccessfully I might add) through years of bits and pieces randomly stockpiled in unmarked containers I came to the conclusion that it might be time to do some spring-cleaning. I’ll call it that because it’s spring here in British Columbia.

No doubt there are other photographers that hold on to all-things-photographic as much as I do, so here are some thoughts that I had that might be helpful. I am sure there are many additions readers can think of, but I am starting with just a couple.

  1. This should be the year to get rid of all that old film camera equipment. I know it is hard to part with favourite old cameras. The pictures they produced were so great, and gosh, they initially cost so much money, but sadly there isn’t much resale value currently. The fact is today’s camera technology has progressed far beyond those old film cameras and most individuals that have embraced the high quality digital world will never return to film. If you haven’t, my recommendation is remove the batteries that are probably leaking, clean the camera up with an old toothbrush, and sell it to someone interested in playing with “retro” equipment or donate the camera to a student still using film in their photography classes. Don’t put it off, film cameras only loose value as time passes and very few ever become valuable collectibles.
  2. Might this be the year to “finally” organize all those old prints and slides? There are many ways to copy photographs and slides. For prints I use my camera, a tripod, and a level. For slides a scanner works best.

Regarding scanners, my recommendation is to do some research, and not purchase too cheap (or to          expensive) of a model. Find out which scanners produce quality resolution scans. A space saving and cost  saving idea would be to share one with other photographers.

  1. A couple years ago my wife and were evacuated as a fire raged down the hills above our home. Linda and I rushed through the house photographing everything before we left. I think spring is a perfect time to make the effort to photographically inventory household goods. I have to admit I am as lax as anyone when it comes to a photographic inventory. Nevertheless, when faced with that fire approaching my door I sloppily needed to do it in a hurry. Its not very hard, and I think worth the time.

I’ll add two spring goals that have nothing to do with photo house cleaning. However, I have made them part of the spring planning process for the summer to come. And anyway, these are way more fun.

  1. There are several of us that meet once a week to talk about photography. It’s not a club, there are no rules, everyone has strong opinions, and this spring we are all filled with energy and photography projects. Joining up with others that have different interests in photography to talk about or accompany on photo outings is fun and always instructive.
  2. It’s time to plan photography a trip. I am planning a July photography excursion down the coast of Washington State for a few days with my friend Dave, his wife Cynthia. I know we’ll be up early with our cameras and, I am sure, still up late talking about our day’s photography.

Those, like me, that that enjoy lists will delight on writing out their spring goals. It’s a good way to begin thinking about photography projects and goals for this year. I have only included a few from my personal list. Some might not get done, but it’s a start. I try to be realistic and I’ll hang my list on the wall next to the calendar I print each month and attempt what I can. That might help me keep it a spring instead of a summer project.

 

 

Shooting infrared on a quiet spring evening.     

This week had one of those nice quiet evenings that are all so common here in British Columbia. By 7:30PM the sun was starting to go down giving the landscape dramatic shadows and a day’s end glowing light.

I’ll admit I was feeling pretty lazy after tearing the tile out of our shower wall so I could fix the tub taps, but there wasn’t anything interesting on the TV so I decided a short drive around my wooded neighbourhood might clear the tile dust out of my eyes and hair.

Over the many years I have been shooting with first, infrared film, and then for the past 10 plus years, a digital camera converted to only capture infrared, I have found that late afternoons give me the most impressive effects.

So, I grabbed my old IR modified Nikon D100, mounted a 24-70mm lens on it and set off along the winding roads that make up the wooded and hilly location I live in.

That old 6MP camera has served me well, I purchased it new when digital cameras were finally making images with enough quality to compete with film. I photographed weddings, scenics and everything else that I once shot with film. Then when Nikon began offering better sensors with more megapixels I sat it aside. For a while I called it my “car-trunk” camera because I just left it in the car all the time.

Then I read about infrared conversions. I had always shot black and white infrared film, but it was such a hassle. Loading and unloading the camera in the dark and even waiting till late in the evening to process it in metal tanks because I worried there might be some stray light creeping into my home photo lab. I sent that camera away and a few hundred bucks, and about a month later I had an infrared camera.

The images I get are a fun change from the colourful pictures or the sharp black and whites I am used to. Infrared is always a crowd pleaser.

I have a book by William Reedy titled, “Impact–Photography for Advertising”. It begins with the words, “To stop the eye… To set the mood… To start the sale…”

Those are great words for any photographer hoping to create visual impact with his or her photography. I think there is no doubt about it that those words ring true when one looks at the surreal effect of an infrared photograph. So I set off on that quite evening with my camera waiting on the empty seat beside me and made stop after stop to create infrared photographs of the rural neighbourhood that I know so well.

I have written about infrared photography before, so I’ll just end this by repeating myself, “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

Photography lessons with Black And White Film 

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I have recently been talking with many photographers that are very interested in the process of black and white film photography. Most had their introduction to photography in high school using film and although they moved forward to iPhones and digital cameras, they were pulled back to film by memories of the unique “hands-on” experience they had with film.

With all that interest I thought I would revisit an article I wrote in June 2014,  “What I Learned About Photography by Shooting with Black /White Film”.

I began using black and white film because it was cheap and it’s what we used in my first college photography class. After I began to understand the medium as being creative instead of just a way to records things, I grew to like B&W and for years refused to shoot with anything else.

With film, once the camera’s shutter was released what one got was, well, what one got was-what-one-got. There were no second chances as enjoyed today. Photographers were left with only a memory of that moment until the film was printed.

We used a term called “Previsualization”. Previsualization is attributed to photographer and educator Minor White. While studying their subject a photographer predetermines how the final image would be processed and printed. Ansel Adam referred to that as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”.

There was also the Zone System. American photographers Fred Archer and Ansel Adams collaborated on the technique for determining optimal film exposure and development for a method to precisely define the relationship between the way one visualized the subject and the final results.

Those techniques helped us determine how the final print could look. Colour film had to be printed in an almost lightless room, whereas labs for printing B&W were quite bright allowing us to see the image and control an image as it was printed.

With B&W film I learned to previsualize, and as I selected my subject I would think about how I would process the film and make the final print. I could alter the exposure rating, as with the Zone system, and depending on which chemicals I planned on using, how I would develop the film. I would select different papers and chemicals to change contrast or tonal values in the final print.

Shooting with black and white film taught me to think about tonal shifts from black, to mid grey, and finally, to white with detail. Managing the process of developing and printing taught me that the camera and film (now the sensor) are just the starting point to making a photograph match my personal vision, and my personal vision is much more important than the camera’s.

A B&W photograph is a matter for the eye of the beholder, the intuition, and finally the intellect. Of course colour is all that, but much of the time it seems photographers are overwhelmed by colour, rarely seeing anything of importance in a scene other than the colours.

Because black and white images don’t attract with a play of colours, they seem subtle and demand close attention to composition, lighting, perspective, and the context the image is shot in as important factors.

 

Looking Forward to Another Vancouver Camera Swap Meet          

 

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“Hi John! I have been waiting for your call. The swap meet tables are completely sold out, and I have been holding a table for you.”

Those were the words I received when I finally got around to calling Tonchi Matinic, the organizer of this year’s (2017) Vancouver Camera Swap Meet. I had received his email reminder about the April’s swap meet, but the warm, wet weather of April seems so distant from the cold, snowing weather of February, that I just put it out of my mind.

I immediately sent in my table registration so now I can start getting excited about one of my favourite events of the year. As I put down the phone after talking to Tonchi (actually we talked for a while) Linda remarked that she could tell I was happy.

It isn’t just that I like selling camera equipment. Of course it’s fun matching an excited buyer with a new treasure, not to mention making a buck or two, but there is so much more that is involved with it.

In my opinion it doesn’t get much better than spending the day surrounded by a huge selection of cameras and other photography equipment. And it’s a great chance to talk with other photographers from all over British Columbia about their different interests. Gosh, it is just so invigorating. And, even after all these years I always learn something.

I have been attending the Vancouver Camera Swap meet since the 1980s, and I have written in my past articles that one may find photographers of every age group; from experienced elders to young people accompanied by their patient parents. This assemblage is a diverse fellowship that includes all kinds of lifestyles, interests, and photographic specialties. An observer will find there are those that are dedicated to film and vintage cameras, and processes of the past, walking alongside others carrying, and looking for, the latest and greatest in modern photographic technology.

Other than actually photographing some inspiring subject, a gathering like the Vancouver Swap is a superb way to meet and exchange information with other photographers, and to look at and check out the many kinds of photographic equipment that would not be so easily available anywhere else.

Yep, I am already thinking about how much fun Linda and I will have before, during, and after that event. We usually go down the day before so we can search out some fun dining experience that evening. There was a time when we partied late, but these days I want to be back before midnight so I will be raring to go for the early start-up.

As always, I plan to have an enjoyable time, busy for sure, but I enjoy every minute. I remember at the last swap that I forgot lunch until a friend stopped by and asked me if I was hungry. I told him I’d worry about food later, but handing me one of his sandwiches, he said “ya gotta have this then”.
This year’s show will be on Sunday, April 2nd. I hope to see long time friends, and those readers that are close enough should come down and get excited about photo-trinkets you have been searching for. Photography events where one can spend the day wandering, touching, handling, buying and, of course, talking with other photographers will leave anyone with new finds, friends, and lasting memories.

 

 

 

 

 

November 2016 Vancouver Camera Swap meet  

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Last weekend my wife and I again ventured over British Columbia’s coastal mountains, this time to attend a camera swap meet. This was the last camera swap meet of the year. And I had a blast!

The event has been taken over by a new coordinator and moved closer to a more central location for photographers that live in Vancouver. There was more parking available for the swap meet, and we were able to find a reasonably priced hotel that was located nearby (only about five minutes drive away.) And for folks like us from out-of-town, the new location offered better access to a variety of restaurants.

The new venue was smaller, but the tables were less spread out and had an intimate atmosphere that I really enjoyed. Our day started at 9am with the long line-up of photography enthusiasts rushing in as fast as they could.

Vancouver is a large multicultural city and for those of us living in smaller communities in the BC interior, the sudden barrage of dialects and different languages being spoken takes a moment to get used to. However, everyone there spoke “Photography”, and that made for a fun and friendly day of showing, demonstrating, explaining, and, of course, bargaining with savvy photographers of all kinds.

I was pleased to find that I had a table next to my long time friend Brian Wilson. That was a treat, Brian is the guy that got me into this business 20 plus years ago and there is no doubt his knowledge on cameras and their history is second to none.

The place was packed and there were many bargains, and I doubt anyone that had rented a table had much time to themselves until things slowed down for a short time around lunch. After splitting a great big deli sandwich with Brian I decided to take advantage of the lull to have a quick walk around to see what was for sale and take a few pictures for this article.

I’ll sum up my walk-about in one word, Wow!   The variety of equipment was exciting. I felt like the little kids I sometime see safely tucked in a shopping cart going down the grocery store candy or cookie aisle, hands reaching out pleading with their mother for the goodies on the shelves. It was all I could do to keep myself from reaching in my pocket for the proceeds of the morning sales ready to buy. Nevertheless I touched everything I could before safely returning to my table to be out of temptation’s grip.

I talked to lots of people, renewed some long-time friendships, made new friends, sold a few cameras and lenses, and had a good time. Oh, and like icing on the cake, I was able to find a neat 1960s Twin Lens Yashica camera for myself.

As usual, the Vancouver Swap meet was exhilarating, and even though the day was tiring and after packing up what I had left from the show, Linda and I ignored the comfort of our quite hotel room and headed to downtown Vancouver to spend the evening in a pleasant Broadway bar for a meal of fish and chips with locally crafted beer, all in all, a perfect way to end the day.

 

 

 

 

 

The Final Photographic Performance   

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This week I wrote to photographer and blogger David Lockwood (https://davidalockwoodphotography.com) about why he seemed to be returning to film. His replied, “The whole process of using film, gives me a feeling of accomplishment; probably like the painter putting on the last brush stroke. Film gives me a feeling of control over the final image.” And regarding film vs. digital he wrote, “The question of film or digital shouldn’t really be asked, it’s a bit like asking why does one paint with oils, and the other watercolours. Both can produce an image, but both give a totally different sensation to the mind eye.”

During the time I taught photography in the 1980s and 1990s for the University College of the Cariboo (now Thompson River University) my students used film. In my initial lectures I would tell them that as well as learning to acquire skills using a camera, they would need to learn how to become proficient in negative development and printing. I would emphasize that those serious enough to strive for a perfect final photograph would come to realize that what they did with the camera was only the beginning, and that their final print would set them apart as photographers. I would quote famous photographer Ansel Adams who said, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance…”

Film has now been set aside by many of those serious about photography, although I expect artists will use film creatively for years, nevertheless, even with advancing photographic digital technology Adams’ words from the past are still significant.

I intend to spend time discussing Mr. Lockwood’s insightful thoughts about film photography later, but first I want to say a few words about digital image making.

The digital camera doesn’t make a picture in the sense of light permanently imprinting itself with different intensities on a chemically sensitized surface like film. Instead there are sensors and in-camera computers processing light from thousands of photosites that we transfer to our computers as data files for conversion into countless pictorial possibilities.

I once attended a photography workshop during which one of the speakers said in the past he would get up early and drive to some scenic location hoping to capture an exotic sunrise, after which he would package up his film and send it to the lab and leave all decisions to some technician’s personal vision. However, now he transfers his image files to his computer and he alone controls how his photograph will be processed for viewing and finally printing.

As in the days when I processed negatives in special chemicals and manipulated prints by adding and subtracting light, I now use computer programs to process my RAW images in my quest to perfect my vision.

I say the same thing to modern photographers as I did to my students, that what they do with the camera is only the beginning,

The image on exposed on film, although now a RAW image file, is only the “score” to the “final performance” – the photographic print.

A young photographer came into my shop announcing, with some kind of misplaced pride, that he would never use PhotoShop on any of his pictures because he was only into true reality. Although I didn’t comment, I thought about the manufacturer presets that were applied in-camera to his image files and the limited colour spaces his inadequate JPG files gave him, and his confused notion of photographic reality.

If he really wanted to step away from the unreality of computerized image making he should talk to David Lockwood who wrote, “The camera, light meter, film, paper and chemicals all go towards producing a single and unique image. That does not happen with digital; from the moment the shutter is pressed, the whole thing becomes a cloning process from which endless exact copies can be produced.” However, as Lockwood also says, “The question of film or digital shouldn’t really be asked… Both can produce an image…that give a totally different sensation to the mind eye.”

 

 

My First Cameras   

 

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One of my first little 127 camera’s pictures secured in albums.

Instamatic 1

Even after swimming my little Kodak Brownie camera worked for a picture of a friend photographing a wet model in my car.

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The sticky corners failed so I just taped the pictures from my Kodak Instamatic to the pages.     Note my early “selfie” wearing a gas mask.

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I tried glue, but it wasn’t that successful.

Petri V6

Masking tap sort of worked, but my early attempts in the darkrooom processing film from my Petri V6 weren’t always very successful.

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A favourable outcome using the Spotmatic and processing the film at the “Free Venice” festival.  The pictures still fell out of the self-adhesive album.

 

This week a photographer stopped by to talk about the article I wrote last week about the popularity of 1970s cameras. We discussed cameras we had used over the years and eventually got around to the question, “What was your first camera?”

The very first cameras that I likely used to make snapshots of family and friends were probably 127 Kodak cameras made of dark brown Bakelite plastic and I remember little (I think 3×6) prints with wavy edges coming back from the department store lab.

My father had the more serious 120 format folding bellows camera and usually posed us with the sun behind his back with the resulting squinting and pained smiles on our young faces.

I snapped pictures for years with cameras that had little or no control over exposure or focal length. I glued the pictures into photograph albums with little sticky corners. Of course, the self stick holders didn’t last long, and the pictures fell out, so I glued the pictures directly to the pages, but the glue’s chemical reaction discoloured the images and eventually those that weren’t lost by falling off and out of the album just faded away.

My first serious camera was purchased in 1967 while I was in the US Army. I purchased it from the Army PX (post exchange) while stationed overseas. The location was visually spectacular and different from anything I had ever experienced and I wanted to have photographs for memories.

I looked at the limited selection in my price range and purchased a Petri V6 with two lenses, a 58mm and a 135mm.

When I got the Petri, I was so excited because it had an attachable light meter, used slide film and I purchased the 135mm lens because I was advised it was the perfect lens to take portraits of people.

My next camera was a loaner from a friend’s father so I could take a photography class in 1969 at Santa Monica College; the previous Petri had seen better days.  That neat Pentax H3V camera had a clip-on meter and came with only a 55mm lens, but my instructor said it would be perfect for his class.

Shortly there after, in 1971, a fellow student who worked for United Airlines purchased a camera for me during a trip he took to Japan. The photo magazines were talking about a new camera with “multi-coated” lenses, and an amazing through-the-lens spot meter. I then became the proud owner of a SLR Pentax Spotmatic II.

Although I used colour film for events like parties and Christmas I absolutely believed serious photographers only used black and white film. I added another lens, a Vivitar 35mm. Wow, a wide-angle lens! Then I got a 200mm. Gosh, I had everything I needed.

Those first three SLR cameras wetted my interest in photography. They were complex enough that I read magazines, books, and took classes to learn how to operate them effectively. In addition, I searched for opportunities to meet other photographers and talk about cameras, lenses, enlargers, photographic paper, and all sorts of picture making.

Before the Petri and two Pentax cameras, photography was only about documenting events around me, not creating a personal vision of the things that interested me. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to start making images with those three SLRs I expect my photography would never have advanced from anything more than just snap shots.

I am sure readers that used cameras before the digital onslaught remember their first camera(s) that helped their enthusiasm for photography grow and might even have great memories on prints or slides packed away in boxes.

I made fun of those old film camera wondering about the nostalgia some feel for them. I remarked that I personally wouldn’t want to return to film. But gosh, it was nice it was to hold those old metal cameras that were constructed so tight with shutters that clunked solidly instead of the high-pitched clatter most make today.