Category Archives: Behind the Shot

The story behind the making of a photograph.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Behind the Shot – The St. Louis Arch

In the early spring of 2014, my wife and I took our youngest on a trip to the St. Louis area to tour some colleges and in between stops we planned on visiting the St. Louis Arch. It was a beautiful day when we arrived at the park and the three of us crammed ourselves into the funky little elevator for the ride to the top. I hadn’t ever been to the top until this trip. I have driven past a few times on family road trips when I was a kid, but we never made the stop for the arch.

After we came down and did the museum and store we headed out to the park grounds. Thats when I started to get excited about what I was seeing.

St. Louis Arch
St. Louis Arch reflected in water (Pentax ME Super, 24mm f16 @ 1/4 sec. Kodak T-Max 100 film)

This was not a photo trip so I didn’t pack a ton of gear for what ever situation came my way. I packed up my simple travel kit for this trip. The kit is a Pentax ME Super body and a 24mm, 50mm and 135mm prime lenses. I had a few red and yellow filters, cable release and a little table top tripod. This, along with 5 rolls of T-Max 100 film,  all fits in a nice little single sling pack.

The reflection of the arch was coming into view more and more as I walked along the edge of the reflecting pool.  I made my way around the pool, fending off a goose protecting its partner sitting on their nest, until I came to the spot where I took the photo above.  I chose the 24mm wide angle so I could get the whole scene in the frame. Shooting at ISO 100 with a red filter late in the afternoon meant I needed to use a tripod, but the only tripod I had was the little table top one that fit in my little pack. So, thats what I used. Getting down on my knees I set the camera up on the little tripod, attached my cable release and metered for the shadows.

My in-camera meter told me that at f16 it would be a 1/4 of a second exposure. I knew the red filter would really make the blue sky darken because the sun was to my back and I would get some nice contrast with the white clouds building on the horizon. And the reflection lined up perfectly at the low angle that my camera was sitting. So, with my camera on the little tripod at the edge of the reflecting pool, I bracketed three shots at 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 of a second at f16.

After I took those three shots I finished our stroll around the park and finished off the roll of T-Max. I knew I had some good frames and couldn’t wait to get home and develop the film. I have several really nice abstracts of the arch but this image had the most drama when I printed it.