Street Photography on a Budget

Now I am the first to admit that I am not a very good street photographer. I do enjoy it and I am getting better each time I go out in search of that “decisive moment”. I have read a lot of other “how to” and “best gear” blogs and articles about shooting street photos and there are some really great tips and tricks out there. One thing I have learned over my course of photography experiences is that there is not a hard rule on much of anything in photography. (Except exposure. A bad exposure means a bad photograph no matter what else is going right in the photo.) So I take every “do this” or “use this” tip with a grain of salt.

Many of the things you may find online about street shooting is focused around the gear. It seems that the holy grail of a street shooters bag is a Leica of some sort. I don’t know about you, but I can’t really justifying the cost of a Leica to do some occasional street shooting. Of course many street photographers use their phones, which is a good option, and others use mirrorless systems. It seems that what ever you end up using you must like and be proficient at using it. My point here is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to be able to make great photographs. The best camera is the one between your ears.

Monica's Pizza, one of the best pizza places in the North End of Boston
Monica’s Pizza, one of the best pizza places in the North End of Boston. Shot with Canon AF35ML and Kodak Tri-X 400

I am partial to traditional film photography methods, especially Kodak Tri-X 400 for street photography. So, when I was planning a trip to Boston last year I wanted to find a film based camera that I could use to make some walk around town photographs. I wanted something small, easy to use and cheap. I have a few 35mm cameras I could have used like a Pentax ME Super, or a couple of Nikons and even an Yashica Electro rangefinder. All of those, except the ME Super, are too big and imposing on the streets when you want to photograph strangers on the street. I needed something smaller and less intimidating.

Unfortunately my Olympus XA just bit the dust and quit working on me. I loved that camera. So with that, I decided I was on the hunt for a high quality point and shoot film camera. With this in mind I kept my eyes open anytime I went into a thrift store or an antique shop. In the 80’s and 90’s there were some stellar point and shoot cameras made. Many of them are still highly sought after even today. Cameras like the the Olympus XA, Contax T3, Yashica T5 and others are stellar examples of great point and shoot systems. The fun part about looking for one is that many people think they are out dated and are “no good” any more because of the new digital systems out there, and they just give them away. I found my Olympus XA for $2 at a thrift store because someone gave it away!

Canon AF35ML point and shoot camera for street photography
Canon AF35ML point and shoot camera for street photography

My efforts didn’t turn up a Contax but I did get my hands on a pretty capable camera at a thrift store. I picked up a Canon AF35ML in almost perfect condition for $10 bucks. It fit my requirements perfectly (almost, I will talk about that in a minute). It was cheap, small and was a “full frame” 35mm camera. I could slip it in my pocket and use it whenever I needed. Even better, my family that was traveling with me, didn’t have to put up with the “wait while I get the camera out” moments. I could just pull it out, point, shoot and be on my way.

Now, for some film. I wanted to use a bullet proof black and white film that could handle any funny exposure issues I might run into with this little point and shoot rig. One of my go to films is Kodak Tri-x 400. I knew I didn’t have much control over what the camera was doing so I needed a film that had a lot of exposure latitude. Another film I could have used was Illford HP5. It is very similar to Tri-x.

One International place boston
One International place Boston. Night shooting was no problem for the point and shoot with Kodak Tri-X loaded.

Once I had some film loaded I gave the little camera a spin… The auto focus was fast and smooth and the shutter has a nice quiet “click” when you hit the button. However, the film advance sounded like some sort of electric grinder, “grrr…ick”. So, there was no way I was getting away clean from some street shot of someone walking by me on the street. Bummer. The noise aside, the images this camera produced were fantastic. With a little practice I quickly understood where this camera excelled and where it falls flat on it’s face.

Puddle reflection
Puddle reflection

I still use this camera for street snaps and general travel/walk around shooting. My whole point here is that you don’t need to spend a ton of money to make some great photographs. I spent a total of $10 for the camera and about .20 cents a frame to shoot some fun street images. No Leica needed.

Choosing a Composition

Last January, while is was planning my trip to Australia, I was really looking forward to some great opportunities to photograph the opera house in Sydney. In one of my previous posts about being prepared to photograph while traveling I talked about how I tried to plan and be prepared to photograph the opera house during a fireworks display. Needless to say it didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. I was in luck though, I had a few other ideas in mind for photographing the opera house and a few days to get it done.

The opera house is one of those famous landmarks that is photographed all the time. Thousands of people take photos of it. Because the vantage points available to shoot the opera house are limited, many of the photos look the same. I wanted to capture my vision of the opera house, not just the same photo everyone else had. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of fantastic photos of it, but I wanted to look hard for something different. Something that was mine.

Storm over Sydney Opera House
Storm over Sydney Opera House. Pentax ME Super, 24mm f2.8, Arista.EDU 400 ISO film

With several days to make my photos, I was able to watch how the light moved throughout the day. I could follow the weather to see how it would change the scene. I got a pretty good sense of the rhythm of the harbor while I was there. Armed with my observations I knew a distinct image would come down to composition.

I always edit my composition in the view finder. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Making sure there is nothing in the composition that did not need to be, is always my goal. I loath cropping my images. For a wide angle shot I had to wait for many of the boats to move clear of my composition. Using a long exposure made for an exercise in patience. Composing for simple lines that create a restful image, is another thing I always try to achieve. Thanks to a great coastal line and the fantastic architecture it wasn’t hard to see for the opera house.

Sails of the Sydney Opera House
Sails of the Sydney Opera House. Pentax ME Super, 24mm f2.4, Arista.EDU 400 iso film

Changing up the composition a bit, I wanted to get the pattern and lines of the architecture of the building itself. Almost an abstract view of the opera house. Maybe this isn’t a very original image but the haze in the air made the sky turn to a creamy white that complemented the white rooftops of the opera house. This high key image removes any distraction and lets the viewer focus on the repetitive nature of the lines in the architecture. Repetition in design.

Overall I am really pleased with the images I was able to create from this trip. There were many that didn’t make the cut but a handful of them are real keepers.

Some Images from Buenos Aires

In my last post, about being prepared when doing some travel photography, I talked a little bit about my short time in Sydney, Australia. I will have more to say about Sydney in following posts. In this post I wanted to talk a little bit about the first stop on my trip, Buenos Aires. To be honest, this was the first time I was able to travel out of the country. Unless going to Tijuana for the day counts. I had no idea what to expect.

The Puerto Madero commercial district of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Puerto Madero commercial district of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pentax ME Super, 24mm F2.8, Arista.Edu 400

 

Buenos Aires is a visually inspiring city. Once I made it through the stern faced man in customs I made my to the taxis to get a lift into the city center. With all the windows down the summer heat blowing in all the windows, we made our way down the freeway with the shiny steal and glass buildings of downtown Buenos Aires in the distance. Concrete buildings stacked with balconies covered in drying cloths and satellite dishes whizzed by the window. My photo mind was really stimulated.

Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires
Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires. iPhone

The architecture in the city center is wonderful. From old european looking buildings with narrow stone paved streets to new sparkeling sky scrappers.  I was excited to get some nice black and white photos of the area. I only had a few days to spend in Buenos Aires and I was limited to the area I could get too on foot. Luckily for me I was in a really cool area for photographing. I was staying in the Puerto Madero commercial district, where the famous Puente de la Mujer bridge is.

Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires
Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires. Pentax ME Super, 24mm F2.8, Arista.EDU 400

I was able to get out a few evenings and get some long exposures of the bridge. The weather was great and the area was full of activity with great dining and things to do. Above is one of the final images I made before I left for Sydney.

On Being Prepared (or not)

From my previous post I talked a little bit about a long international trip I took in January. The trip took me to Buenos Aires and Sydney for two weeks of client meetings for my day job. Because I had to pack so light I was limited in how much gear I could take along with me. See my last post on what I took along here.

While planning  my meetings I discovered that I would be in Sydney for the 200th celebration of Australia Day. I had no idea what Australia Day was so I did some research and discovered it is similar to the 4th of July in the U.S. “What luck” I thought, “Maybe I could get a killer night shot of fireworks going off over the Opera House!”. That was my plan…

So I began planning my shot by looking at google maps and satellite views of the area looking for good vantage points. They all had to be within walking distance from my hotel since I would be on foot for the entire duration of my stay in Sydney. There are several vantage points in which I could have chosen to shoot from but I narrowed it down to three. I would scout the area before Australia Day to make my final selection.

Sydney Opera House
My chosen vantage point for the fireworks show. iPhone

Now, when I arrived I was able to get to my selected sites and asked some colleagues where the fireworks would be set off from. Turns out this was billed as the largest fireworks display in the world, ever. So I got pretty excited. The plan was for barges to be towed around the whole peninsula that the Opera House sits on in Sydney Harbor. Now I knew what spot I was going to shoot from.

Australia Day arrived and the whole harbor and downtown areas were packed with people celebrating. Wall to wall people, eating, drinking and shopping the temporary craft and art stands that popped up all over. Street performers, corn cob stands and all sorts of carnival type food could be seen every where. The parade of boats in the harbor was so neat to watch. There were tall ships sailing by, followed by fire fighter tug boats spouting water and all sorts of people waving from their boats to everyone on the harbor walk.

Tall Ship motors by on Australia Day boat parade
Tall Ship motors by on Australia Day boat parade. iPhone

With all of the people and commotion going on I thought I had better get my spot staked out well before others get there to get the spot for a shot of there own. So, I gathered my gear up and headed out to a little spot close to the ferry station, across a little stretch of water where I had a clear shot of the Opera House.

Performers entertain crowds during Australia Day
Performers entertain crowds during Australia Day. iPhone

I have had several experiences photographing fireworks in the U.S. So I sort of had this image preconceived in my mind. With that goal in mind I chose my 24mm wide angle lens. This would give me enough coverage to get the reflections of the fire works in the water and the fireworks streaking across the night sky. The weird thing was, the closer it got time for the fireworks  the less people there were. Just before the fireworks were supposed to go off I looked around and there was hardly anyone around. Just me and some folks from Georgia. Who knew!

I was ready. Camera on the tripod all set to capture the blossoms of fireworks as they went off one by one. Except… in Australia they set all of them off almost at once! OMG, I was blinded with fireworks filling my view finder! Wow. So, I had to scramble and adjust what I thought would be a good exposure time and start guessing at what I should set my shutter speed to. I got six frames off. Thats it. 6. The fireworks were over.

The only shot that even looked close to what I wanted to capture. Pentax ME Super, 24mm f2.8, Arista.edu 400
The only shot that even looked close to what I wanted to capture. Pentax ME Super, 24mm f2.8, Arista.edu 400

Needless to say, I didn’t get any thing like I was hopping for. All the preparation I put into it and zip. But you know what? I had a blast doing it. Sometimes that is how it goes with photography. I am so glad I got to be there and share with the Australians in their celebration no matter if I got my shot or not. Photography can be more about experiences than about the capture.

Getting Ready for The Show

I have been busy planning my solo exhibit at the Fuzzy Antler in Louisville, CO. on December, 5th. If you are looking for something to do on a Saturday night then you found it! Come on by have some wine, visit with me and take a look at some of my new work and grab some dinner at one of the great Louisville restaraunts.

Post Cards
The post cards are ready to go out to all the “cool kids” I can think of.

If you are looking for a unique holiday gift, one of my black and white photographs may be the perfect fit for a friend or family member. I hope you can make some time to come out and say hi.

Keep it Simple

I am excited to announce that I will be having a solo show during the Louisville, CO Friday night art walk. I will be showing some of my prints at the Fuzzy Antler on Friday December 2nd. I hope you all of my readers will be able to come and hang out, drink some wine and look at some of my prints. While I was going through my images to choose the ones I will include in the show I came across an negative that I put on the back burner and then forgot about.

Restful Waters
Point Loma CA on the horizon with Coronado Island beach in the foreground

The reason this image jumped out at me recently is because it is so simple. The amazing thing about black and white photography is how images get more powerful the simpler they become. When you start striping away all of the unnecessary pieces that fall into your viewfinder the more exciting it gets. Then, once you have only the pieces you want and nothing more is when that magic happens and the shutter is tripped. Stripping an image down to its bare essentials, keeping it simple, will always result in a powerful image. Give it a try.

Behind the Shot: Eldorado Canyon State Park

I had a chance to burn a couple of hours and a couple of rolls of film last week. It was late in the afternoon on a Sunday and I needed to take my dog for a walk and I thought “why not take her out to Eldorado before the sun goes down?” I already had my gear all packed up from my previous trip to Arizona when I shot the SFX 200. All I needed to do was grab a couple of rolls of film, the dogs leash and we were off.

When I arrived at the canyon parking lot most of the visitors were leaving for the day. I knew that would make things easier if I wanted a shot without people in it. The sun had gone over the ridge top of the canyon and only the top 1/4 of the canyon walls really had much direct sunlight on them. That left the bottom of the canyon with wonderful soft even light blanketing the rocks and trees. “Perfect”, I thought to myself.

Eldorado Canyon
Looking up South Boulder Creek at the bridge in Eldorado Canyon. Mamiya 645, 45mm f2.8, Kodak T-Max 100, Red Filter

I was hoping to get some soft water shots of the Boulder Creek and the soft light and 100 iso film was going to work out great. I found a spot a few yards downstream from the foot bridge that had a good view upstream of the bridge. After setting up the camera and convincing my dog that this spot was a good spot to stop for a while I took a reading with my light meter. With the soft even light there was not a whole lot of contrast so I threw on a red filter to add a little  pop to the negative. I dialed in the f stop at f16 and based on my meter and compensation for the red filter started to bracket at  1/2 of a second.

Eldorado Canyon
South Boulder Creek at the bridge in Eldorado Canyon. Mamiya 645, 45mm f2.8, Kodak T-Max 100, Red Filter

Once I was satisfied I had what I needed at the first stop I picked up the gear and followed my dog up the trail a to a closer vantage spot of the bridge over the creek. I pretty much repeated what I did at the first stop but had to compensate for loosing the sunlight as it kept getting darker as it set over the mountains. From there we trekked on up the creekside trail to a few other really nice spots. All in all I got a good handful of images from that little trip to walk the dog.

Behind the Shot: Shooting Infrared with Ilford SFX 200

I have been shooting black and white film for a long time. I am most familiar with regular with films like Tri-X, T-Max, Ilford Delta films and many others like that. In all of my film shooting years I have never shot infrared film. Kodak HIE is long gone and I am kicking myself for not taking the chance to shoot with it. We still have a handful of great infrared films to use and I intend on trying them all. My first experiment with infrared film is with the Ilford SFX 200.

Ilford’s SFX film is not a true infrared film, it is much more sensitive to infrared wavelengths but it’s not truly infrared. It is supposed to be shot at 200 iso but that is if you want to have a pretty normal looking black and white image. It has some more contrast than most film at 200 ISO but nothing like an infrared image. But, Ilford calls this film Special Effects, SFX for short. So, with the extended infrared sensitivity you can achieve infrared like effects with this film!

Shell Station in Elgin
Shot with Illford SFX 200, an abandoned old time Shell gas station still stands in the high country dessert in southern Arizona.

The key to getting an infrared look are two things. The first is to over expose the film. When I say over expose I mean OVER EXPOSE! Like, start shooting this stuff at 6 iso or slower. When SFX is over exposed it turns the the blue sky darker black and all of the green foliage starts to go white because of the extended infrared sensitivity. The image above was shot at mid day, at f16 for 8 seconds.

The second key to getting an infrared look with SFX is to use an infrared filter. It is like a red filter except it filters all light except the infrared wavelength to the film. I used a R72 filter on my Mamiya 645 with a wide angle lens. When you have this filter on the lens you can’t see anything in the view finder because it is so dark. I had to compose without the filter, then attach it to the lens before I made the exposure.

Arizona Windmill
Shot with Ilford SFX 200, a windmill in the desert of Arizona pumps water for grazing cattle.

I will defiantly shoot this film again. The great thing about using this film is that it loves mid day sun. So, if you don’t have a good window of time to shoot in the early morning or late afternoon it’s a great film to use in the middle of the day when the sun is really shining. I will give it another try somewhere with very green vegetation so I can get the most out of the contrast when the greens go white.

Film is Still Alive: Montana State University Bookstore

A couple of weeks ago I was able to take some time off and take my youngest son to college to start his freshman year at Montana State University in Bozeman. He is going to study film and photography (apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). As we were getting all of his books for his classes at the MSU bookstore we came across the art supply section. Low and behold… the film photography supply shelves! It was so refreshing to see several flavors of black and white film,  in everything from 35mm to 4×5.

Montana State University BW film supplies
The Montana State University bookstore stocks some pretty great BW photography materials for the students. From 35mm, 120 and large format film to a variety of papers and supplies.

There was more than film on those shelves too. Grey cards, film sleeves, and paper. Lots and lots of darkroom paper. MSU has such a nice darkroom facility I just about fell over when I toured it. So all this nice paper will go to use for sure.

With so many high school photography departments abandoning traditional film photography it is so important for the higher educational institutions to carry on with all of the different photographic processes, including digital.

I was just drooling when I got to see the facility and equipment my son will be able to use. If you want to shoot 8×10, super 16mm, Red, or wet plate, no problem. They have it all.

Behind the Shot: An Experiment in Color

It is a little ironic that this post follows one where I talk about how much I think a black and white photograph is more artistic than a color photograph. Like I said before, I like color photographs too, and this post proves it. I live in an area that has a lot of “Open Space” land. Open Space is where a local government acquires land and sets it aside as recreation or wildlife habitat or both. So, lucky for me I have hundreds of shooting locations to pick from, all within 15 miles of my house.

I have been wanting to try an experiment using color film for awhile now. I wanted to see how slow of a shutter speed I could get in a full sun situation. I needed some clouds and water to get the long exposure look I wanted, and I knew of an open space that was five minutes from my house with a cool pond that has a little island in the middle.

An island in this pond hosts four nests of Blue Herons keeping them safe from preditors and photographers.
An island in this pond hosts four nests of Blue Herons keeping them safe from preditors and photographers. Mamiya 645 1000s, 45mm f2.8, Kodak E100vs.

One Sunday a few weeks ago around 3:00 I found myself with a couple of hours to burn. So I took the opportunity to get out to this location and try my experiment of long (ish) exposure in full sun. I gathered up my gear, this time it was my Mamiya 645 1000s and a 45mm wide angle lens. For film stock, I had some Kodak E100vs in the deep freeze just screaming to get out. When I shoot color film I love to shoot transparencies (slides). I mean nothing beats a perfectly exposed chrome.

Transparencies held up to the light drip with color. Kodak E100vs
Transparencies held up to the light drip with color. Kodak E100vs

Now, to slow the shutter speed down, I was starting at ISO 100 with my film. Except the film was expired in 2008, so using an ISO of 50 gets me closer to a true film speed. That helps, but not enough. I knew I wanted to use a polarizer filter, and I had a 3 stop ND filter that would stack together. That adds about 4 stops of exposure. Now it’s getting closer to what I need for an exposure around 1 sec in full sun.  To keep the sky in check I will add a ND grad filter and I had a nifty graduated warming filter to add some drama to the sky. Why not, I don’t shoot color that often.

With my gear packed up and a couple of rolls of film thawed out I headed over to the location. After parking the car and pulling out the gear I had about a 1/4 walk to the pond. I entered through the gate and started off. I was immediately met with a herd of cattle. The whole heard was on my path, standing there starring at me. Like cows do.  So I stopped and tried to waive them off. They didn’t move. Now that I had all of their attention they got curious and started to move in and surround me. They must have thought I had a bail of hay in my pocket. Before I was totally surrounded I headed off across the pasture and gave up on the path.

Curious Cows
Curious cows follow me as I head out to a location in their pasture to photograph.

Once I got to the location it was clear that I would need all the tools I brought to get the shutter speed down. I set up next to the pond but made sure I kept my distance. There are about 4 or 5 blue heron nests on this little island and I didn’t want to spook them. Lucky for me I was able to hop a crude barbed wire fence that keeps the cows out of the water. That kept them out of my camera bag while I was shooting.

The set up with the cows close behind wondering what I was doing.
The set up with the cows close behind wondering what I was doing.

So there I was all set up. My Mamiya on a tripod, loaded with Kodak E100vs rated at ISO 50, Polarizer, ND filter, ND Grad filter, and a graduated warming filter to top it off. I bracketed exposures to make sure I was going to get what I wanted.

In the end the shot that turned out like I had envisioned was shot at 1 second @ f/22. To the naked eye the water had a little wave action due to some slight wind and the clouds were hung in a clear blue sky with lots of sun. The long exposure was able to flatten out the water so it has a mirror like surface and the clouds have just a little movement in the image to add some drama to the sky. One thing to note is that this image is not digitally altered. I always strive to get everything I want in camera. Overall I was pretty happy with how the final image turned out.

My passion is for Black and White photography but sometimes I have to branch out and play around with some color.

Film Shooters Have More Fun