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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.

Behind the Shot, Ruins of Cape Romano

Dome House off the Cape Romano coast in Florida is reclaimed by rising oceans and strong hurricanes.

In my professional life I am a technical consultant for a cloud computing company.  I spend most of my day in front of a computer screen and on the phone with customers talking about their enterprise wide computer woes. Whenever I get a chance to follow my passion for photography I take it.

One of the benefits of my day job is I have the opportunity to be sent on business trips to some pretty cool places. For one of these trips I traveled to the Fort Meyers Beach area in Florida for a software conference. I was excited to have the chance to capture some images in a coastal setting during my free time. Being landlocked in my home base of the Rocky Mountains I don’t have a lot of opportunity to photograph on the coast. With my destination scouted via Google Earth I packed up my trusty Mamiya 645 kit and headed to the beach. Ready to capture some sand and surf images.

There were several group entertainment options for this conference. Golf, fishing, karaoke, etc. One of the activities was a short boat ride to Romeo Island for some beach combing. Now I’m not a shell collector but the idea of a boat ride to an island sounded like fun. I thought, “I could take my camera gear and get some nice beach and surf photos while everyone else has their nose in the sand looking for shells”. That was the plan… I couldn’t have expected the surprise that awaited me when I got there.

At the time this photo was made (2012) the Dome House was still on a small island off the shore of Cape Romano.

On the boat ride everyone was dressed for the occasion. Shorts, flip flops and sun glasses. Then there was me, with my photo back pack, tripod strapped to the side looking like I was prepared for a 3 hour cruise. After a short ride we arrived at what the captain called “Romeo Island” and beach landed the boat on the east side of the island. Everyone scattered to stake out their prized beach combing claim, except for me.

I needed to separate myself from everyone else so I wouldn’t bother anyone while I was photographing. I took off across the small sandy island to the west side. Weaving through the palm trees I came out on the other side on the beach. I looked left and then right… and there it was! Some sort of dilapidated building, left behind for the ocean to reclaim. I could hear some of the other people from the cruise making it around the bend on the beach. I hurried to set up my camera.

Constant waves and tidal cycles have destroyed the island this house used to sit on since 2012.

I figured I had about 10 minutes before the beach combers were going to be at my location and all over my newly found subject. I was happy to be able to get a few frames composed and exposed before the rest of the group made it over to the ruins. Cell phone snaps were made and then they all started back along the beach to the boat with their heads down, looking for the next treasure to be found. I thought “Great, I can get a few more shots and head back through the middle and meet them at the boat.”

With my final shots taken I packed up and huffed back to the boat while the rest of the group was loading up. Being the last one back on board, everyone asked how my pictures turned out. I told them all that I shoot with film and wouldn’t know until I processed them when I got home. That started some great photography conversations for the ride back.

Dome house of the Cape Romano coast in Florida is reclaimed by rising oceans and strong hurricanes.
Today, the Dome House sits 100+ yards off the cost of Cape Romano and is almost completely covered by the ocean.

As we headed out, the captain pulled out some old photos of the ruins in its heyday. The photos he shared showed the unique house set back, hidden among the palm trees. Apparently, an oil developer had built the house some time in the early 80’s. When it was built the house was actually part of the mainland, not on an island. Over the years and several hurricanes later, that part of the mainland washed away and became a little sandy island. When I was there the house sat halfway in the water, but today this house sits almost completely underwater and the island is totally gone.

I was so happy that I decided to take the boat to “Romeo Island”. These are some of the most unique coastal images I have ever captured. Photography has taught me to expect nothing but be ready for anything.

Repost – Kodak UltraMax Test

This is a re-post of an article I had on my old blog site. It was a popular one even though it wasn’t about black and white film photography. Whenever I can I like to encourage new photographers to try film and this article is a good example of how to get really good images from some really cheap film. Because this was an older post some of the links to external sites may not work.

I have a few more posts planed around how to shoot, process, print, scan and the whole film workflow in coming posts, so check back soon. Enjoy the re-post.


Disclaimer: This is not a scientific test, my results may be different than yours and results may vary. 

I have ordered some of the new Kodak Portra 400 film and can’t wait to give it a spin. I have seen some posts on a few other blogs that have shown how wide the exposure latitude of the new film is. You can see some good examples over at Twin Lens Life. They are some great film shooters in the Riverside area. I have also seen a test of Fuji X-tra 400 consumer film that showed how much exposure latitude it has over at Figital Revolution. All films are different and behave differently, that’s the beauty of film. Knowing what you want to get right out of the camera and knowing what film will get you there instead of working for hours in photoshop to get there is a great way to work.

For my example I chose to shoot with some Kodak Ultramax 400. It’s easy to get your hands on and I figure that if someone wanted to start shooting film for the first time, or go back to it for kicks, they would be likely to pick some of this up and start shooting. It breaks down to about $2.50 a roll, not expensive and easy on the wallet.


Inexpensive color negative film
Kodak UltraMax 400 4 pack @ 24 Exposures for each roll. Single rolls retail for $2.99 each online today.

What I did on my first roll is to expose the first frame at 50 iso and then move each frame after that up one stop, all the way to 6400 iso. I did this so I could find the “sweet spot” to set my iso on my camera. You might be saying “But the box says 400 iso, don’t you set it at 400?”. The short answer is maybe. Just because the box speed says 400 doesn’t mean that you get the best results at 400. In the other examples from Twin Lens Life and Figital Revolution you can see that the films performed really well at just about all speeds. That’s right, you can shoot those films like you can with digital and move the iso around! The Kodak Ultramax however, doesn’t perform so great at 400 or higher (again these are my results, yours may be different). You can see my examples below.

Test exposers of Kodak UltraMax 400 35mm film
Examples of Kodak UltraMax shot at different exposures to determine the best ISO and settings to use with the film.

As you might be able to see, 400 iso is about the max this film can shoot at. It seems that the film starts to flatten out in contrast and the grain starts to get bigger at 400 iso. If a person didn’t know this and was excited to “try film” and shot this at box speed they might be a bit disappointed and think that all film looks like this. Now that I know how this film behaves with my shooting style and camera system I will be shooting this film at 100 iso not 400. The grain structure, color saturation and the blacks seem to be real nice at 100 iso and it still gives me about 2 stops + or – for error and I will still get a nice exposure. If you want to get into shooting film and you chose this film just for “testing it out” you would probably be better off setting your iso at 100 or 200 to start out. I think you will like your photographs more and it wouldn’t discourage you from shooting some more.

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

Impacting Images from A Small Format

I was lucky enough to be able to take a trip to Buenos Aires and Sydney Australia last January. I was traveling for business and had to pack light. If I had my choice I would have left the suit coat and business attire at home and brought my Mamiya 645 gear with me. Considering the level of meetings I was to attend, that was not an option.

Being selective with what gear I was going to take with me was going to be tough. Considering I had never been to either Buenos Aries or Sydney before I didn’t really know what to expect or what to plan for. Because I was going to have to keep my gear to a limit, I would be packing a 35mm kit to save on size and weight.

SyndeyHarbor2016_605_SMALLDowntown Sydney Australia, Pentax ME Super, 24mm Lens, Arista.EDU 400 ISO film

The smallest 35mm body I have is a Pentax ME super. It is a really compact camera with a great automatic exposure system as well as full manual control. All in a package as small as a Leica. I love to use this camera for street shooting too. Not to mention I just love the sound of the shutter on this little gem. With the decision made of what camera to take I had to whittle down what my lens choices were going to be.

I knew that my opportunities for photography on this trip were going to be limited to late evening or well after dark. I was hoping to be able to shoot some wide cityscapes but I wasn’t sure how close I could get to the subjects that I wanted to photograph. Also, to make sure I was going to get the most out of a small 35mm negative, I knew I had to stick with prime lenses. I couldn’t afford the distortion of a zoom. With all of that in mind I chose to take my 24mm f2.8 wide angle and my 50mm f1.7 prime lenses. Both small and light.

BuenosAries2016_626_ShareDowntown Buenos Aires Argentina, Pentax ME Super, 24mm Lens, Arista.EDU 100 ISO film

For film I wanted to use something that could handle the contrast of night photography and show some texture but not too much grain so I would have enough to work with when enlarging to a big size print. I decided to go with Arista.EDU films, both 100 iso and 400 iso. I really like the classic structure of the image that this film produces. I could have chosen one of the T grain films but thats for another post.

Finally, I had to pick a convenient tripod that would fit in carry on luggage and make sure I had enough batteries, shutter release and any filters I might need.

Between the two cities I was able to expose 6 roles of film. I just happen to be in Sydney for Australia Day (like 4th of July in the U.S.) and got to celebrate with millions of people in downtown Sydney. It was a blast, I just loved the Australian hospitality. Overall I am very pleased with the images I have from the trip. You can see a couple here in this post. It was a great trip and I have several more posts to come with some other images from this trip.

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.