Category Archives: Creativity

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.

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.

Black and White Photography As a Visual Art Form

I love black and white photographs as an art form. I think there are few strong reasons a monochrome photograph can be considered more “artistic” than a color photograph. I’m not saying that a color photograph is not artistic, compared to black and white photographs. There are a lot of amazing color photographs that I would love to hang in my home but there are a few things that black and white photography does easily that color can not.

Abstract
From the time a photographer trips the sutter release (if he/she is shooting BW film or a monochrome digital camera) the image is already an abstraction of the reality the photographer was photographing. Changing a scene or portrait from color to shades of gray makes our mind think differently about the image before us. It is an image of reality, a real thing we are familiar with, but its not real at the same time, because the color is stripped away.

Jack-O-Lanterns waiting to scare the spirits way on all hallows eve.
Jack-O-Lanterns waiting to scare the spirits way on all hallows eve. Mamiya 645 80mm f2.8, Kodak T-Max 100

We don’t see the real world in black and white so subconsciously our mind is telling us its not real, but something representing reality. Much like an impressionistic painting or a loose sculpture that makes our brain fill in the spaces, a black and white photograph makes us imagine what is missing.

Timeless
You may hear others, that are passionate about black and white photography, comment on how black and white photos have a “timeless” quality to them. By removing the color from the image it also removes the visual queue that our minds use to give us a reference in time. Colors used in fashion and home decorating change every year. A good monochrome image will remove all of the distractions that color introduces letting the viewer focus on the subject rather than on all of the other items a color image would present.

Custom Motorcycle in black and white
A motorcyclist races by on a vintage machine. Nikon FG, 50mm 1.4, Kodak Tri-X 400.

In this image of the motorcycle rider passing by at speed you really can’t tell if it was shot last week or 40 years ago. With the rider wearing pretty basic riding gear and no other frame of reference to when it was taken gives it a timeless quality.

It’s Only About The Light
Unlike color photographs, a monochrome photographer can control what the light is doing in the final image. In a color image if you burn down an area too much it just looks like that part if the image is under exposed. In a black and white photograph burning and dodging bring up the high lights and ads shadows where there were none. It really gives the artist tools to add drama to a monochrome image that is really hard to achieve with a color image.

pine tree in the Rockies
A young pine tree gets a start among the larger lodgepole pines of the Rocky Mountains. Yashica-12 TLR, 80mm f3.5, Kodak T-Max 100.

In the image Among Giants, I saw an opportunity to capture a scene that had pretty flat light but I could manipulate the image in the dark room while I printed it, making it appear as if a ray of light was highlighting this little tree among the larger ones in the forest. This allowed me to have a vision for the the final print that takes it beyond a reproduction of the reality in front of the lens.