Photographic Methods & Philosophy
As I mentioned, for me photography is a kind of Zen. I go places, experience things, and in the instances where I find I have an emotional response to what is before me or all around me, I try and capture and communicate a part of it in my images. My instincts are not to start shooting, but to be in the place for a while; enjoy, interact, experience, and try to better understand what is moving me. All the while I am seeing with my photographer's eye (even if I do not have my camera with me). I try and visualize an image that will convey to others what I am feeling, seeing, and experiencing. I take a few shots and move on. (Part of my minimalist philosophy may also have been influenced by the high cost of film back in the day). I do not expect my viewer to experience the same emotion while looking at one of my images that I did at the actual scene. Few people at the event had the same experience. No, our histories and personalities bring about different interpretations and emotions to the same events. What I consider a successful image is if my viewer has an emotional connection to the image in some way. An example may clarify this. Back in the 1980s when I was living in Chicago, I had a couple of visitors from Norway, architectural students. On my wall was a 16X20 image I had taken in 1984 at Wrigley Field (when we lost 3 straight to the Padres!). One student was staring at it for quite a while before turning to me and saying, "You know, I do not understand this baseball, but I look at this image and I can feel what it is like to be at a game."Wrigley FieldCan there be a nicer compliment? While taking fewer shots gives me fewer image choices after the fact, my abilities to get the shot I envision improves with the years. My method also allows me to enjoy the moment, which is more imoprtant than the shot. There have been many times when taking a photograph would spoil the moment. So I didn't. These instances do not appear in my portfolios.
Some Technical Things:
I like to travel light and as unobtrusively as possible. Sometimes this leaves me without the best lens for the job. For example, I traveled through Kenya one summer with my usual kit bag of a Leica M-6 with a 50mm 1.4 lens and a cigarette package sized Olympus XA-II (semi-manual!) which has a fixed 35mm lens (no, I don't smoke). This was great until I found myself on a safari without a telephoto lens. Never one to panic, I looked at different ways to shoot a safari. Sometimes we were close enough to the animals to get a good shot of them with a 50mm lens. Other times I looked for more panoramic scenes, with the animals being just another element in the landscape (and, OK, I sometimes cropped).After all, there are photographers who do nothing but take these shots, I can always purchase one of their books.
During my earliest years (1975-1985) I used a Canon FTb with a Canon FD 50mm 1.4 lens. I have enlarged images from this lens to 48" X 60". As much as I love my Leica, the old Canon FD lenses will go head to head with my Leitz lens any day of the week. I also have a 135mm 2.5 Canon FD lens, which I often used for concerts. I had purchased the Olympus XA-II sometime in the early 1980s, while a student. In late 1985, just before my trip to Latin America, I purchased the Leica M-6, which conveniently came out just a few months before I was to leave (I had just purchased a used M-4P and quickly sold it). In 2005 I went digital. I finally felt I could get a print that matched the quality I could produce myself in the darkroom (for both color and B&W). The images from China and New Zealand are the first two bodies of work I took with my digital Canon Powershot S70, a 7.1 megapixal camera with a 28mm to 105mm zoom lens. You can tell the digital images because they are squarer than the 35mm negative (and, as I have mentioned, I very rarely crop). I exhibited 16" X 20" prints of the China images, and they were gorgeous (technically, anyway). I am not completely satisfied with the Powershot, but the Leica digital M-8 is a bit out of my reach for the moment. That is really about all there is to tell equipment-wise.
[Note inserted in September 2016: below was written 10 years ago, and it may be a little over the top. The jist of it being there was no middle ground in digital camera selections. They were either a DSLR or point & shoot. That is, until the mirrorless sytems came out in about 2010-ish. At this moment I am shooting with a Fuji X-E2 (this came after the Lumix GF-1, discussed below), and love it! Please see my Technotes page to read about it.]
OK, after shooting a bit more with my Canon Powershot, I have this to say: I am not pleased with the selection of digital rangefinder cameras. There is no real professional quality equivalent to my Leica (nor even to my Olympus). I do not like to carry around an SLR (digital or film). They are too big, conspicuous and a pain to carry around all the time (well, Leica does have a beautiful camera, the M-9 that will take my lens, but it costs $7,000.00. Maybe one day...). I am not real picky, but I would like a camera with the exposure options and RAW image capabilities that my Powershot has, as well as the wide-angle lense (28mm) (kudos for that), but I am not pleased with the rangefinder, it only shows about 80% of the live area. It is virtually useless, and shooting with one's arms outstretched is not very steady. Also, one cannot really see what is in the display on a sunny day. The shutter lag is also a problem, but I have heard that things have improved. Worse than the shutter lag is the time it takes to process the image, it is simply too long. Finally, the zoom control is so inexact that at times I am infuriated trying to set it. It does not stop on a dime, to put it mildly. It glides to a stop, leaving very little exact control. I have never owned a zoom lense before, now I am forced to have one that is imprecise. Are these few features too much to ask for? I don't think so. OK, enough of my ranting. Maybe the next Canon G series camera (a G11) will have some of these improvements. By then I should have some $$ saved to look for something new. But, as I have told my students, it is not the camera that makes a good image, it is the photographer. Repeat.
Thanks for letting me vent.
The day I received my tax refund in April of 2010 I purchased a Lumix GF1. It has answered most of my issues with digital cameras and as I write this in August, 2010, I have only joy and wonderment to say about it (OK, there are a few issues, but that's to be expected). It has a processor several times larger than the point and shoots, nearly as large as a digital SLR. It is a "4/3" sensor, and has a nicer rectangular dimensions than that on my Canon Powershot. It is also 12 megapixals, has an interchangeable lens system (with a hand zoom motion, not an electronic one that does not stop when you let go) and... has an electronic viewfinder that attaches onto the hotshoe which gives you a 100% live view of what you are shooting. Now I can fully compose an image using the entire frame, and I can hold the camera up against my body, as I was trained to do, not holding it with my arms extended! The shutter/focus lapses are nearly non-existent, and the metering is killer fast as well, as is the processing time. Of course there are manual overides, etc. A few problems is that it is a small body and one's hand can easily press buttons by accident (at least I have figured out what I press now, and can fix it). They should, perhaps make them a bit harder to activate. I wish it could show a light meter like an old-fashioned 35mm. Now, even on manual, until you depress the shutter 1/2-way, you do not know if the setting is off or not. Why? Finally, of the four buttons on the back, it allows you to set one. The other three are not what I want quick access to, why not make them all changable? Ok, these are relatively minor issues and perhaps they will be improved upon with later models. Overall, it has brought the joy back into shooting, and the prints are exquisite, even at 30 inches wide! Some of the images from this camera are in the "National Gallery of Art" and the "Decisive Moments" portfolios. The dimensions of the image are more rectangular, similar to a 35mm size, unlike the Powershot images (and point and shoot images in general) which are nearly square. Thus you must assess carefully whether they are scans or born digital. Many more to come.
[July 2011 - a quick note: Panasonic recently released the GF2, the "improved" GF1 that I have. Instead of improving it, they made it smaller and dumbed it down. What are they thinking? Who is their market target? I am very, very disappointed.]
[September 2016: In 2014 Panasonic came out with a new GX7, which was a true update of the GF1. I was about to buy it when I discovered the Fuji mirrorless systems with APS-C processors, camera bodies with a shutter speed dial, and lenses with f-stops!!!! See my Technotes page for more details.]
As mentioned I had access to a Nikon Coolscan 9000 during the fall of 2008. I scanned like a madman. 4000 dpi! The files are 135 megatbytes each, I scanned over 4,000 negatives. The images of the Eiffel Tower are from these scans. Shooting that spring in Paris also, as it turned out, was the last time I shot film. To read about this there is a note page on the Eiffel Tower page. The majority of the images on the Natural Wonders portfolio are from the Nikon Coolscan project. The exceptions are digital images from New Zealand and Australia. Others from scans were done over the years with various scanners. Some were with fairly high quality machines, but that was 10+ years ago. They look fine on the web, but a few I wanted to enlarge had to be re-scanned at higher resolutions on newer equipment. Images of Argentina are from some of these earlier scans. The Nicaragua images were from a low-grade scan, but I recently finished re-doing them, adding many more and replacing the original images with the those from the higher quality Nikon scanner. I have put up a comparison between the old and new images. Look for links on the portfolio pages to read more about those particular images, both technical stuff and information about the images themselves.