Back to Film, or how to find a good cheap camera.

I was recently asked to help someone sell an extensive camera collection.  The cameras represent consumer photography from the 19 teens through the 1960’s.  Many of them are display pieces and are no longer useful without being sent out to a shop for repair.  Overtime cameras that aren’t used suffer from fungus on the lens, sticky shutters, and overall dust. The old folders are vulnerable to separation of the leather from the metal bodies. The old bakelite plastic gets brittle and is prone to splitting. Most of the cameras have one thing in common, they take medium format film. Back in the day the most common roll film was 120. Kodak, perhaps to push consumers into buying Kodak film, used the same film on a smaller spindle and marketed it as 620.  Kodak 620 film was used in everything from the point and shoot Brownie Hawkeye to their early folding cameras.  The folders are interesting because the same roll of film was used for 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 and 6×11 frames.  In addition to changing the number of pictures a roll of film would hold (12, 10, 8, 7 respectively), the negatives are all huge compared to 35mm film. The smallest medium format film size is 645 (15 frames per roll) which produces a negative 2.5 times larger. From there it only gets better. By better I mean the larger the negative the less it needs to be enlarged to produce a sharp viewable picture. In addition that means that larger prints (above an 8×10) are possible.  Since old cameras can be cheap there is an opportunity to get into higher quality film for a low price. The Argus 40 TLR is one of those finds.


The Twin Lens Reflex camera was made famous by Rollei from Germany. With superior optics, ease of use, and packaged in a small metal frame, the Rollei was a favorite of professional and amatuers for over 50 years. The problem with the Rolleiflex is that even today you will have to spend over $500 for one in good shape. It inspired many knock offs by nearly every camera manufacturer.  Perhaps the most sought after copy is the Yashica 124. Not the same quality of the Rollei but pretty close and nearly bulletproof, it shares the quality glass lens and metal body of the original. I have one and couldn’t be more pleased. With the combination of a large film size and the lack of a mirror to flop up and down and possibly create camera shake. The lens on top is for viewing only with the bottom lens being used to expose the film. TLRs are capable of very sharp pictures.

The Ansco 40 is a very inexpensive copy of this same format.   In addition the Argus is a viewfinder camera meaning the prism does not help the user to focus on the subject. The lens has distance markings for focusing purposes (called zone focusing).  I came across this camera among the boxes of about 100 cameras. It looked very clean as did the leather case it was in and when I shined a light through the lens there was no evidence of fungus.  So I put a roll of black and white film in it.

Take a look. This is right out of the camera. I cleaned up a few spots but that is it. No adjustments from the software. The camera is like new (40-50 years new). For about $100 US a guy (or gal) could play with this piece of history. Ebay, Etsy, or what ever marketplace you like to frequent has these old TLR’s. Of course let the buyer beware-be sure to buy a camera that is in working condition and if it doesn’t work return it.

Some kinda fun, and you won’t know if you “got it” until the film is developed.


Shoot film, shoot digital, or do both. It doesn’t matter.

Until next time.


3000 miles in 10 days AKA 2018 Moto Guzzi National event

Forty one degrees. A great way to start day two of our motorcycle journey to the Pacific
Northwest. When we left the Bay area on Thursday at noon it was warm and sunny with
temperatures in the mid 60’s. The cool Sacramento River seemed to calling us as we stopped at the Sundial Bridge in Redding with the air at 80 degrees.
Not being sure exactly where one needs to stand to use the sundial, we pulled on the cable to make sure the tensions was right, snapped a few photos and on to Shasta Lake, over the border into Oregon and a final stop in Grants Pass at about 10pm. A good day!
Our forty one degree start was rewarded just outside of Corvallis when we spotted a 747 on top of a building in the distance while scooting down a secondary roads on the way to Portland.

Sundial Bridge, Redding, CA
Woodinville, WA

Tempted by the obvious marketing attempt to wrestle some cash out of our pocket, we stumbled into the Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. Bike guys, cars guys, airplane guys, to borrow a phrase from Billy Joel, “It’s still rock and roll to me.” Two and a half hours later we were on our way to Portland just in time for Friday rush hour. On to out campsite in Woodinville, Washington, another 10pm close.
The Cossacks Motorcycle Stunt Team and the National event awaits us for Saturday and
Sunday. Like our little Entourage, you too will have to wait.

Film or Digital-You’re kidding, right?

Is is film or digital and does it matter?  For some the debate was settled a decade ago. However, if you’ve D7000-w.jpgnoticed film is in a big resurgence.  A casual look on eBay will reveal the prices for film cameras is higher than it has been in 6-7 years.  While the manufacture of film is limited to a couple of companies and emulsions (Fuji and Kodak), amateurs and professionals alike are returning to the unique look and satisfaction of film.  The Film Photography Project, Lomography, and others are introducing a new generation of photographers to the hobby of using old cameras and developing at home.  If you’re still in doubt take a saunter over to YouTube and in the search box pop in “developing black and white film”.

I’m not trying to convince you to ditch the digital camera.  That would be like me trying to convince you to take all the screwdrivers out or your toolbox in favor of only having hammers, or all the mascara out of the cosmetic drawer in favor of lipstick.  How absurd. Each tool has a purpose.  When photography was paying the bills I used digital.  The benefits of instant viewing and the ease of transferring photos from the camera to the lab were all critical.  Film was a luxury I could enjoy alongside my DSLR. These days I have more time to process and submit photos.  Relaxed time constraints allow me to shoot more film. Shooting film isn’t like returning to the past, however.

While there are those who will go retro all the way to the darkroom, I don’t want to give up the powerful tools of Photoshop and Lightroom. I’m not alone either.  Look at the advertising for Kodak Ektar and Porta films. The boxes clearly point out they were developed to be the best scanning film on the market and I appreciate their efforts. I shoot with a variety of film cameras and scan into the digital darkroom. Scanning was always part of the equation. When I was learning to shoot manual film cameras I used Fuji Velvia exclusively.  Velvia is great transparency film for nature and landscape photos and a real challenge to scan.  Its over saturated and vibrant colors make scenes pop. Unfortunately, it seems like I have been chasing the image on that piece of film from day one because Velvia doesn’t scan well. You might be thinking, “If Mamiya Press-w.jpgyou’re going to scan, why not just shoot digitally in the first place?” Different tools for different purposes I say.

First, the number of frames on a roll of film is limited. This means the photographer has to be more selective and careful before pushing the shutter.  No more spray and pray-more craft and vision and less hoping. Second, even when scanned, film has a unique look. The look isn’t about sharpness or grain/noise and after the print has been made you may or may not be able to pick out the difference. But I think you can see it.

Scanning ushers me back into Photoshop where after I have made any adjustments I can print as many copies as I wish. In the old darkroom every print is unique and may take a long time to adjust.  One and done is the beauty of the digital process. DSCN1525.JPG

I’m partial to medium format cameras. I like the larger negative and the feel of the cameras.  I’m not limited by any specific brand either. My camera inventory is in constant flux. Currently the choices include a Mamiya 645 Super, Yashica 124G, and a 1936 Kodak Junior.  Recently I’ve let go of a Fuji GA645, a 6×9 Mamiya Press, and a Rolleicord (1933). I expect to constantly turn over inventory for no other reason than to have the of experience shooting a variety of cameras.

I’ll keep shooting film.  The magic of the image appearing on the plastic strip has a  satisfaction that digital can’t capture. A computer virus isn’t going to wipe out my files forever either. But I’m not selling my DSLR.  And the new Olympus OMD-E10 MII is perfect for the upcoming series of reflections on the Moto-Seattle trip.

Stay tuned.

Santa Cruz Paddle Fest

Since I last wrote we’ve had a bumper crop of rain in California.The last post with the fog lifting off Lexington Reservoir isn’t possible today because that part of the lake is about 10 feet below the surface. Since then I have been developing black and white film.  I enjoy it much more than I thought I would.  In addition to bringing me back to what I love about photography, developing my own film has me focusing more closely on the various aspects of making a picture.

I have set my self a challenge to spend the year using my manual cameras without a light meter.  I’m using the “sunny 16” rule and keeping in mind the latitude of black and white film.  Briefly, it works like this.  In the bright sunshine you set the aperture to 16 and match the shutter speed to the speed of the film (100 speed film: 1/100-1/125 shutter speed, ISO 400: 1/400 or 1/500 shutter speed.)  On a cloudy day reduce the f-stop to 11, shade, reduce to f8, always keeping the shutter speed at the same number as the ISO of the film.

My workflow looks like this: load the film in one of my cameras (a Yashica 124, a Mamiya 645, or on of the two 35mm cameras), go out and shoot, bring the film to the shed to change the film from the camera to the light tight developing tank (all done in the dark).  After developing the film and hanging it to dry, I scan it into Photoshop using either an Epson v700 or taking a picture of the negative with a digital camera.  Adjustment in Photoshop completes the process.

My long lenses and extremely wide lenses are all matched to my Nikon digital cameras so any surfing photos I take are done with the digital equipment.  At this year’s paddlefest I had both Nikon digital and my Yashica film camera with me.  A funny thing about long telephoto lenses is that sometimes the photos are better than what you can see with your eyes and this is the case for the photo below.  I had a 300 lens on the camera and then cropped in Photoshop to get these pictures.  The thrust you see in the photo is certainly more than we saw from the cliff at Steamer Lane.

The black and white photos are later in the day after we watched the pros do amazing things in the surf.  They were taken on the Santa Cruz warf.

A last note about developing my own film.  After purchasing all the equipment (canister, chemicals, measuring cups and thermometer) I feel like I am developing the film free.  It cost me $100 total but I expect to use the chemicals for over a year.  I’m already on roll 8 or 9 (between 35mm and 120mm) and hardly see a dent in my chemicals.  It’s almost like developing for free.  Contrast this with a consistent $6-8 per roll and having complete control over the process.


Winter Opportunities

It’s winter so I naturally want to jump in the car and find snow.  In my case I would have to drive about three hours to find something truly worth a wintery scene.  Winter offers other opportunities to take advantage of the cold mornings besides just snow.  One good way to improve your photography skills is to find a place close by your house you can return to at different times of the day and different seasons.  Not only will you be familiar with the area, it allows you to track your progress as a photographer over time.  This post will address both aspects, cold mornings and one of my favorite places.

One of my favorite places to go in San Jose is Lexington Reservoir.  Lexington has two bonuses in addition to being close to the house, first, a local rowing company operates on the reservoir providing a never-ending opportunity to play with sculls with one to six people pulling on the oars.  Second, the surface of the water gives me a chance to play with light and reflection.  Recen
tly, I returned to the reservoir to capture sunrise and the fog created when the early morning temperature of the water is warmerthan the ambient air temperature.

My first challenge was to find the correct exposure to reveal the fog coming off the water.  Going into the session I had two choices, put the camera on aperture priority and use the exposure compensation or use complete manual and measure the scene to get the contrast correct between the emerging sun and shade created by hill. In each case my most important technical tool was the histogram on the camera’s screen.  I know I can’t trust the video display because it is not calibrated and it will appear different as the ambient light changes with the sunrise.  I’m not a huge fan of HDR and I know that if I shoot in RAW format Lightroom and Photoshop RAW will help me pull out some detail in the shadows.  My tack in the field in 32 degrees is to expose to the right of the histogram making sure I don’t overexpose the highlights.  It’s not possible to bring back too bright highlights (blown out) but it is possible to bring back shadow detail.

You will see in the first image I overexposed just a little on the left.  I did it on purpose to draw the view’s eye to the fog and then let it move into the picture.  lexington-fog-sunrise-wSecond, I waited for the sun to peak over the top of the hill.  In this case the fog was not so important as the lens flare-star of the rising sun.
I had to clean up a few spots in post-production to get a clean foreground.  In the second picture, I have blue skies, a hint of blue water and leading lines to the sunrise along with that beautiful star created by the camera lens.

The last thing I did was take a picture specifically to convert into black and white.  As I have written before, my go-to program for black and white is Silver Effex Pro (SFX) (currently available as a free download from Google).  Lines and contrast are by tools in black and white so I wanted to make sure I have a hint of a sunrise to backlight the hill.  The shade of grey on the water needed to be less than the silhouette of the hill and I knew I wanted the mirror reflection of the water.  My plan was to expose to the right for the sun, wait for the water to be still and create the mi
rror I was looking for, and make sureI could use the fog on the water to create a separation _dwp9711sfx-wbetween the water and the hill’s silhouette.  Lastly, knowing I was going to play with a digital filter to fine tune the final image, I shot in color and converted later in Photoshop/SFX.

I hope I’ve encouraged you to find a place you can return to and play with new aspects to perfect your photo taking craft.  If you have other techniques of questions be sure to leave me a comment.


Fall time is color time


It’s officially fall.  To some that may mean the return or everything pumpkin or pumpkin spice.  To others it’s the beginning of the countdown.  It seems as though once All Hallows Eve is done the end of the year is upon us like the Jonestown Flood.  In some parts of the country fall means bright yellow, orange, fiery red, and other colored leaves that transform the landscape into Vincent Van Gogh’s palate.  To some you have to go to or be in Vermont to see the fall color.  If you ask around at work and other places you visit about where to go to see the beautiful colors of fall it’s likely you will get one answer over and over…not in California.  I’m here to tell you they are mistaken.  California has fall.

Where would that be, you ask.  Here is a site that can get you in the right direction (to the east),  This site is volunteer run and will help you plan your fall trip to the Eastern Sierra Nevada’s.  Color starts up around 10,000’ and from the end of September through the first of November works its way down.  Two of my favorite places are Lundy Canyon and June Lake.  The aspens turn a bright yellow and since aspens always grow in large groups in the wild they are easy to spot.  You can take a fancy camera to capture your memories but if you are looking for some new screen wall paper your phone will do just fine.  Here are a few tips to help you capture California’s wonderful fall colors.

First, be sure you plan your day to take advantage of the soft light.  The Golden Hour is the time just after the sun rises and before it sets.  It isn’t really an hour but about two hours on each end of the day.   Because of the angle of the sun all those bright oranges, yellows, and reds will more saturated, something your camera sensor will like.  When you plan your trip be sure to account for the shadows thrown by the Sierra Nevada range.  If you take a DSLR I strongly recommend you pick up a polarizer.  It does for your camera what your polarized sun glasses do.  Because the polarizer bends the light it will saturate the colors even more and help eliminate glare.  You operate it by turning the front.  As you turn it you will see the colors go from subdued to saturated.  Pick the level you like the best.  If you want crisp leaves on those trees use a high shutter speed, something above 1/500.  If you like the somewhat fuzzy look that communicates a windy day dropping to 1/250 or below works well.  If you want a watercolor type look drop your shutter speed below 1/60 but beware, you’ll need a tripod.

If you done have time to go all the way to the Eastern Sierras we have color locally in the Santa Cruz mountains.  I strongly recommend you do not touch the poison ivy that grows naturally in the hills, however, I strongly recommend that you look for its fiery red color when taking pictures.  The red poison ivy contrasts nicely with the brown leaves falling off the trees laying on the ground and the evergreens that are all over the hills.

Lastly, there are come parks in the area that have been planted with trees with fall in mind.  My favorite is Vasona Park.  As an added bonus the pond in the park acts as a mirror of the colors.

Don’t fret if you can’t afford the time or money to go to Vermont this fall.  All you need to do is plan a weekend, or even a day right here in California.

This fall pictures brought to you from Lundy Canyon, California.

Sea Otters and Such



I don’t think there is a bad place to have your camera. I sell pictures but I don’t think every picture I take has to be for sale.  In fact, some of the pictures on my wall will never be sold.  I take pictures of surfers and motorcycles that I put on slide shows, wall paper for electronic devices, and to frame and put in my office.  They serve as inspiration and motivation._dwp0098b-w

Recently I have been focusing on bringing back photos from my Saturday morning paddle in the Monterey Bay.  I have a Nikon AW100 submersible camera I bought for a Hawaii vacation and I bring out my old Nikon D200.  The AW100 is specifically designed to go swimming.  It has a mode for underwater pictures and is waterproof to about 100 feet.  Of special interest to me is the video function of the camera.  I don’t do video currently and using this camera I get to practice without worrying about studio lights and all the equipment.  Since I have no plans to become a videographer I get to play with this small point and shoot camera.  Sometimes it helps me remember why I started taking photos in the first place.  It’s fun.  I also mount it on the faring of my motorcycle and occasionally relive moments speeding along twisty mountain roads.

The D200 has a very inexpensive Quantaray 70-300mm lens attached to it.  The lens isn’t on anyone’s list to use for high quality photos.  It is, in fact, the very definition of a consumer lens.  It was cheap, it’s light because the casing is plastic (if I dropped it I’m sure it would break) and the optics are so-so.  Together the outfit is worth about $200 on Craigslist so if it joins Davey Jones Locker because I flipped the boat or dropped it when I was trying to put it back in the dry bag on the deck I wouldn’t cry too much and since it’s old outdated equipment I wouldn’t feel any pressure to replace it.  But it gives me a chance to practice my craft and capture some nice images for my wall of the sea animals I get to visit on Saturday morning.  Recently I’ve been pointing the lens toward the otters in the kelp.  I consider everything I do with this rig practice and when I think I am able to capture photos I think are worthy of someone else’s wall or public relations piece I’ll take the chance and bring out the new, expensive, I-hope-I-don’t-loose-this-camera-and-lens equipment.  _dwp0091b-w

With the D200 rig I get to struggle with making sure I look for the direction of the light right, figure out how to paddle, keep an eye on the ocean conditions and incoming swells, choose the correct aperture and depth of field, and hold the thing steady enough to allow the auto focus to work correctly and not jump around between the kelp and the otter I am intending to capture.  If it sounds like a lot of work you’ve correctly interpreted my words.  Did I mention that if I see a pod of dolphins have to guess where they’re going to be in 5 minutes because I can’t keep up (I’m too slow), I have to take the camera out of the dry bag, and set up to focus on where they will surface next?  Maybe this sounds like too much trouble.

Boy is it fun when I get home and see a couple of frames that actually worked out!  Here are a couple of examples from a recent Saturday.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.  The point of all this is that if you like to take pictures, either for personal use of for profit, you need to continue to refine your craft.  Putting yourself in an unfamiliar place with all the challenges it will present is a good way to expand your skill set.

_dwp0099b-wIf you would like to see more of the marine life that has stopped in front of my lens you can go to and


The Rule of Thirds-Make Stronger Compositions

I have offered some tips on using your iPhone as your vacation camera in the past.  One of the suggestions I made was to turn on the grid to help you with the composition of your picture.  Why would you want to do this?  Moving the subject off center creates interest.  We have a tendency to place the subject of our photo in the center, like the bull’s eye of a rifle scope.  The problem with doing a bull’s eye is that it tends to make the photo boring.  To help tell a story and create more interest in your picture use the rule of thirds.  The grid looks like diagram on the left.  By choosing one of the intersecting points for your subject in your frame the picture will lead the viewer’s eye to the open part of the frame.  Why would you want to do this?  Consider this beach photo.  By placing the surfer on the left portion of the picture, your eye is led to look at the wave he is examining as he enters the water.  Can you sense his anticipation?  Hold up a piece of paper to this image and make it a bullseye (position the surfer in the center).  See what I mean?  Using the rule of thirds will help you tell a story with your pictures.

Endless Summer Pose-w

Okay, now it’s your turn to go out and practice. It’s okay to use you phone if you want.

Taking Pictures of Fireworks

It’s almost Independence Day and you’re thinking about BBQ, friends and family, and fireworks. A great ‘ol American celebration.  Here’s the $95,000 dollar question, how do I take pictures of fireworks?  Of course there are many options, some easy and some hard. Let’s start with easy (if you’re pressed for time you can stop after this.) Check your owner’s manual to see if you have a special mode for fireworks. If you are using a point and shoot camera I can almost guarantee you do.  Make the selection and fire away (nice pun don’t you think?)

If you have a DSLR and want a bigger challenge or you want bragging rights you took killer pictures by yourself, put the camera on manual mode.  Before we get to settings we need to remember two things: first, left alone your camera will meter the dark night sky and overexpose the picture, and second, you want to catch the light trails of the black powder explosion to capture the grandeur and colors of those beautiful fireworks. Okay, here we go.

Fireworks light up the night sky so we need to expose for that light.  We also want everything nice and sharp in the frame. You get to play with this a little as the exhibition goes on by examining the back display and making small adjustments but let’s start with f8 and ISO 200. This will keep the light trails sharp and the black sky black (without spotty noise). Our next setting is the one that give you bragging rights; set the shutter speed to 1/30 or 1/15th of a second. If you can’t hold the camera still use a tripod. The longer the shutter speed the larger the fireworks will be in the frame.  Follow the lighted path of the firework with the camera up and hit the shutter when it explodes.  Sounds easy doesn’t it?  You will want to take several pictures during the show making little adjustments to shutter speed and position to get a few different options when you view the pictures later.

If you are feeling artsy and creative use the lighted sky to silhouette items in the foreground. You’ll get bonus points and many oohs and ahhs.

If this all seems like too much trouble you can always take out your phone, set to video and enjoy the show!

I choose to include the bowsprit from the HMS Surprise (from the movie Master and Commander) in these pictures in 2013.  I especially liked the red fireworks because it reminds me of the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem.

Happy Independence Day!.


Nik Software now FREE

I just received my update from Red River Paper about their new Canvas paper.  In the body of the blog was an announcement that Google, who owns Snapseed, my favorite app for tuning up photos on my tablet is giving away my favorite Black and White program.  Not only are they giving away SilverEFX Pro, they are giving away their whole suite of software plugins.  So if you would like to shorten up or post production time, or want to play with black and white, color enhancement, HDR, or sharpening RUN over to and download the plugin before they either change their mind or stop making it available.  They have tutorials on the web site to help you learn the program also.

Keep looking here and I’ll be posting some more about why SilverEFX Pro is my go to program for black and white.  Let me leave this with you, when I look at a scene and know I want to display it in black and white, I shoot color and do the post processing using SilverEFX Pro.

Alright, if you are a Photoshop or Photoshop Elements user, go over and get that program suite!