Judgement Upon Us

My social media followers may have noticed that Facebook recently removed one of my posts, saying “It looks like you tried to get likes, follows, shares or video views in a misleading way.”

This post wasn’t an offensive meme or a politically or socially insensitive comment. It was a link to a photo on my newspaper’s, YOUR newspaper’s, website.

I shared this to social, and people were sympathetic, but then I settled down and considered a truth that I have often emphasized when other people tell us that their posts were “censored” by Facebook: social media is not a right.

I know a lot of people who are deaf to this argument, and I kind of understand why: Facebook is a huge, influential, international entity, and pictures and words can carry messages across the globe. But that doesn’t make it a right.

“Yes it does, Richard. I have the right to say anything I want.” I know you do, I do too.  But your right to free speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, not social media and other websites.

If you still disagree with this, suppose you created your own website, maybe “bobsadaopinion.com.” You own it, but you also allow people to contribute to it. Maybe your website is devoted to the opinion that 2+2=4. Then someone posts a comment saying that 2+2=5. Do you have to accept this comment? It’s your website, not theirs, and you won’t accept that 2+2=5. Is this a violation of their free speech if you delete that comment?

No, of course it isn’t. Facebook, Instagram, X, Youtube, Pinterest, and on and on – and I can’t emphasize this enough – don’t belong to you, and aren’t obligated to let you say anything they don’t want you to say.

I’ll say that I thought Facebook was wrong to remove a link to a newspaper’s website because some algorithm thought it was inappropriate, but my newspaper and I weren’t censored.

I think social media in general tends to create a community of incivility, and we should all take it a whole lot less seriously.

This is the scene in question. I'm not entirely sure what Facebook thought was "misleading" about it, but my readers know I would never manipulate or deceive them.
This is the scene in question. I’m not entirely sure what Facebook thought was “misleading” about it, but my readers know I would never manipulate or deceive them.

The Impossible Photo

I love the idea that this beautiful image was made with a camera that someone once described as "the worst DSLR ever."
I love the idea that this beautiful image was made with a camera that someone once described as “the worst DSLR ever.”

If you know me at all, you know how fed up and I with the mythology surrounding photography, and at the center of my frustration is the idea that you can – an should – buy mastery.

Anyone in any art knows that you have to earn mastery. A new piano won’t make you play that etude better, a new red dot sight won’t make you shoot straighter, a new airplane won’t make your approaches safer.

In the photography community, there is a lot of social pressure to “upgrade.” Photography websites often rely on advertising, so they are eager to promote and praise the latest and greatest, and, of course, the most expensive, cameras and lenses. That message goes hand-in-hand with the idea that what you have now, what you bought last year or five years ago, is “outdated,” and by proxy, incapable of making good photographs.

I know it sounds ridiculous to pay $6000 for a camera, then be told by the web, and the photography community, that your camera isn’t good enough because the next $6000 camera is better.

But that is the unambiguous message of the photography community.

I know so many photographers who bought into this thinking, and bought newer, more expensive cameras, yet whose work remained exactly the same.

If you think I am talking about you, I probably am.

I can think of an important exception: my photographer friend Scott AndersEn bought a Nikon 200-500mm and a 35mm f/1.4 a couple of years ago, then – and this is the real reason for buying it – he went to Europe for two weeks. His stuff from Europe was incredible, and I know he enjoyed shooting it with his new cameras. But of course, the real star wasn’t more pixels or sharper lenses, but the things he photographed with them. (See his images here and here.)

But photographers themselves are often the heavy hand of social pressure to spend more money on equipment. I was at a baseball playoff game a few years ago in a media scrum next to the third base dugout when a photographer from another newspaper grinned and rolled her eyes and, with a sarcastic lilt in her voice, said, “So you’re still using the D2H.” Her message was clear: I was an idiot for having an old camera.

What these photographers never do: hand you their credit card.

In the years since then, her newspaper has collapsed under the weight of foolish spending and failure to plan for the future, with wave after wave of layoffs, while my news staff and I do our jobs with what we can afford, and keep going strong. I wonder if she would trade any of her pricey gear to have a few more photographers or reporters at her paper.

So that circles us back to the central idea in photography, the idea that you can’t make great pictures without this lens and that camera. It turns out that last weekend, I actually won an award for Photo of the Year, which I shot with the very camera she scoffed at years ago, the Nikon D2H. There is nothing about this photo that would be improved in any way with a more expensive or newer camera.

It's a shame this photo wasn't shot with a modern mirrorless camera. It's too ... uh, well. You tell me what's wrong with it.
It’s a shame this photo wasn’t shot with a modern mirrorless camera. It’s too … uh, well. You tell me what’s wrong with it.

What’s My Advice to My Younger Photographer Self?

I found a post about the topic of how to advise your younger photographer self on a photography website, and thought I might weigh in.

Okay, class, it's time to learn how to draw a selfie on a chalk board.
Okay, class, it’s time to learn how to draw a selfie on a chalk board.

It’s also worth noting that I am almost 61, older than most professional photographers, and their advice to five-years-ago them will be completely different than my advice to 45-years-ago me.

So what would I tell my fledgeling photographer self?

  • Shoot more film in high school and college. This seems obvious, but in my high school and college days, film was expensive in my Ramen-noodle budget. I made a point to drag a camera along with me almost anywhere I went in college, thinking that I would be ready if the jumbo jet crashed on the South Oval. But since I had almost no money, I was reluctant to use up what little film I could afford. On a trip to New York in 1984, for example, I brought just four 36-exposure rolls of film.
  • Shoot more film early in my career. This also seems like a no-brainer, since the company, not I, was buying the film, but I often faced pressure to scale back and save money for the bottom line, in what I like to call the “editor paradox”: an editor or publisher says something like, “We need more color on the front page,” or “Let’s expand our coverage of such-and-such.” Two weeks later, I’d be sitting in his or her office listening to, “Why are we spending so much money on film and chemicals?” I sometimes wish I’d been the guy who said “that’s too bad,” but I’m not. And as I did in college, I made a point to take cameras everywhere, not just to work, but still didn’t shoot a whole lot.
My photographer buddies and I did some interesting experiments with light back in the day. This is a scan from a 1984 image made late at night.
My photographer buddies and I did some interesting experiments with light back in the day. This is a scan from a 1984 image made late at night.
  • Shoot my heavy primes at or near wide open, like at f/1.4. This is something everyone does today, but with film and lenses in the 1970s and 80s, we all correctly assumed that some lenses needed to be stopped down a couple of stops for them to be decently sharp. The only consistent exception to this rule were the 180mm f/2.8 and the 300mm f/2.8, which were super-expensive so you could shoot them wide open. Even some primes that we count on today to be amazing, like the 50mm f/1.2 I owned for a couple of years, needed to be stopped down a little to be sharp, but renewed interest in things like freelensing are showing me that these lenses always had something to offer, but many of us were too stubborn to try it.
  • Make more time to print. I worked in six different darkrooms over the years, from the grim concrete tomb at Eisenhower High School, to the messy shared one in college, to the three different darkrooms at newspapers.
  • Print everything you can afford to print, and store it safely. One or more versions of the Digital Dark Ages could be around the corner, and you don’t want to be the last one holding the Zip Disc.
  • Figure stuff out for myself. In high school both an advisor and a fellow photographer were sore afraid of film grain and, mysteriously, a phenomena known as “reticulation.” The fear of film grain meant we had to shoot with Kodak’s worst film of the era, Plus-X, and the 125 ISO meant long shutter speeds, large apertures, and, so much of the time, direct flash. It ruined a lot of potential images. The concept of film reticulating said that changes in the temperature from one solution to the next during development would cause the film to expand and contract, creating an alligator-skin look to the image. I tried it a few times in my darkrooms as a adult professional, and could only get the effect using near-boiling water, so a couple of degrees between the developer and the fixer was negligible. They also believed, very incorrectly, that drying negatives with hot air would damage them, so they would hang film in a closet to air dry, adding an hour to their workflow for no reason at all.
  • Come down from my ivory darkroom. I don’t know why, but photographers think they have a better pot to pee in. We called everyone else in the newsroom “word herders.” So many of us did this, but it creates friction that benefits no one.
  • Don’t be afraid of being visually messy. A slightly blurry image might not dazzle with technique, but if it’s the only image and the only way to get it and tell the story, blurry it is.
I admit that early in my career, I might not have shot or kept this image because it's too messy. Sharpness was a goal unto itself in the early years of my photography, but as I write this, getting a sharp photo is very common, even (or especially) with a smart phone camera.
I admit that early in my career, I might not have shot or kept this image because it’s too messy. Sharpness was a goal unto itself in the early years of my photography, but as I write this, getting a sharp photo is very common, even (or especially) with a smart phone camera.
  • Quit obsessing about cleaning gear and keeping it clean. I spent much too much energy using lens caps and canned air to keep my stuff like-new. I abruptly stopped doing this as soon as I started working full-time at a newspaper and saw that my colleagues across the state didn’t give a hoot about cleaning their gear, and I discovered that beat-up cameras equalled great images.
  • Don’t dismiss photo opportunities because I think they aren’t my goal, my strength, or “newsworthy.”
I am so happy with myself when I can make pictures that aren't necessarily for my newspaper, like this morning light streaming in through the front blinds here in my home.
I am so happy with myself when I can make pictures that aren’t necessarily for my newspaper, like this morning light streaming in through the front blinds here in my home.
  • Consider an affordable intro into medium-format film photography. A 6×7 negative, treated right, can give you an edge that helps you discover the next level of photographic artistry. In the 1980s at The Shawnee News-Star, I had access to two twin-lens-reflex (TLR) cameras, but found myself setting them aside when I slid back into my happy work groove. As an aside, after I left the News-Star in 1988, I never saw either of those cameras again, and that newspaper recently moved, so they could be in someone’s garage, or at the bottom of the dump. In the 1990s, I owned a Fujifilm rangefinder medium format camera, which I tried many times to fold into my news and sports workflow, but I should have been more aggressive in figuring out a way to take these cameras where they needed to go.
  • Be friendlier, have more fun, and try not to take it all so seriously.
I made this image in the late winter of 1983, when I was living in the dorms at The University of Oklahoma. Note how clean and lens-capped everything is. Instead of getting them out to dust them off and feel good about myself, I should have been wrecking them making pictures.
I made this image in the late winter of 1983, when I was living in the dorms at The University of Oklahoma. Note how clean and lens-capped everything is. Instead of getting them out to dust them off and feel good about myself, I should have been wrecking them making pictures.

Let’s not also forget that we did some things very right as we grew more adult, with one of them being photographing my wife a lot, and keeping track of, and not accidentally deleting, my digital archives.

A buddy of mine said he would advise his 20-something to focus more on storytelling.

Another friend sort of sidestepped the question, saying he’d tell his tiny grasshopper to go into real estate. And sure, it might be super-dope to go back in time and give stock tips to yourself, but that dilutes the idea of photography as the creative goal of a lifetime, and makes it into the chase for more money. I have known some photographers who showed promise, but left the craft when their first opportunity to grab their parents’ fortune, so that answer almost sounds like a sellout.

I also acknowledge that I have been both smart and lucky to get on board with my newspaper, for which I have worked since 1988. The lucky part comes from the fact that we are still in business, and the smart part was that I waited out a dozen or more bad choices, bad decisions, and bad co-workers (disclaimer: not you) to stay in this community, and at least for the moment, I feel like my staff and I are still making a great product, and are doing good journalism.

What would I tell this kid about photography? Do it every day.
What would I tell this kid about photography? Do it every day.

f/8 and Be There? The Value of Access

With graduations behind me, I’d like to thank my readers for welcoming me and having me at as many of these ceremonies as I was able to attend.

It got me thinking about some of the rules of photography that I practice, and why these ideas stay with me.

  1. Access is everything. The title of this post, “f/8 and be there,” comes from the film days when shooting news (usually) outdoors, whether it is a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hospital or a train derailment. F/8 was really just a suggestion, but almost all lenses are sharp at f/8, and using f/8 maintains some depth-of-field. It’s great advice to new photographer, or reporters who don’t usually take pictures. The more important part of this advice is “be there.”
  2. Never be “that guy.” I’ve made a point throughout my career of being polite and cooperative with everyone I encounter. No one likes it when a photojournalist is being a jackass, and why would you even want to be that guy? And yes, I’ve known my share of “that guy” over the years.
  3. My relationship with the community is valuable. I feel like I make better pictures when I am welcome, and I usually try to work in the shadows and spaces. The less visible I am at upbeat events like graduations and parades, the more likely I am to make more candid, less-posed images, and the less visible I am at tragic events, the less likely I will be to become part of that tragedy.
  4. Try to avoid the clichés. When I photographed the tornado damage in Sulphur last month, I made every effort to be respectful and sympathetic, and I tried to avoid any notion of self-importance. Sure, our readers deserved to see what happened, but never, ever at the expense of making someone’s bad day worse. One person I briefly interviewed thanked me for not asking her how it felt to lose her business in the tornado. “How do you think I felt?” she said about some television crew who asked.
  5. Always, and this is the biggest and best one, always have fun.

So, f/8 be there, be respectful, and have fun!

Heather Power was making pictures with a Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 instant camera at Thursday's Stonewall commencement, so I asked her to make this photo of me.
Heather Power was making pictures with a Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 instant camera at Thursday’s Stonewall commencement, so I asked her to make this photo of me.

Can Old Lenses Learn New Tricks?

Last week I talked a little about my 200mm vs my 180mm, both from a previous era of photography.

This is me holding my ancient Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 on my also-ancient Nikon D3. It turns out that the three of us are a great combination.
This is me holding my ancient Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 on my also-ancient Nikon D3. It turns out that the three of us are a great combination.

Today I’d like to take a look at my 40-year-old Nikkor 400mm f/3.5. This lens was the envy of all of us in 1985. I saw them all the time, at press events and big games like OU and OSU football.

One photographer of the era called it a “sweet piece of glass.”

When this lens was new, most photographers couldn’t afford to buy it, so most of the 400mm through 600mm lenses I saw in the field belonged to their employers, like the Dallas Morning News or the Associated Press.

Last month a much younger photographer and I were talking shop, and he kind of scoffed at the idea that I still own, and still use, older camera gear. After all, every time a new camera is announced, one of the selling points is how fast and accurate the autofocus is.

I’m willing to bet that this younger photographer has been using autofocus lenses his whole career, and manual focus is just a novelty. I could hear in his voice the doubts that he had when I told him I was still pretty good at focussing manually. And why wouldn’t I be? I spent the first 20 years of my career with manual-focus lenses.

Flash forward to last week. I was at my last baseball game of the season, Latta vs Cashion. Because of a rain delay, I arrived at Shawnee High School a little early, in time for me to make a few frames of the end of the previous game, Wister vs Preston.

I decided earlier in the day that I wanted to shoot this game with my 400mm, though I couldn’t really say why. Maybe part of it was that I didn’t need to generate dozens of images, since this was the last game of the season.

Preston baseball teams members and coaches go wild after a single and an error allowed them to score the winning run in a first-round playoff game last week in Shawnee.
Preston baseball teams members and coaches go wild after a single and an error allowed them to score the winning run in a first-round playoff game last week in Shawnee.

The game was tied, so I assumed it would be a while before my local team got on the field, but just as I set up, Preston hit a grounder, but Wister bobbled the ball, allowing Preston to score, winning the game.

Before my eyes and in my viewfinder, I captured celebration and dejection through my 400mm. And, it turns out, I can still focus, fast and accurately, and this lens, a relic from 1985, was still “a sweet piece of glass.”

I always feel bad for the kids who lose in the playoffs, like these Wister baseball players last week.
I always feel bad for the kids who lose in the playoffs, like these Wister baseball players last week.

How Can Two Very Different Lenses Be the Same?

Once in a while, when I am going through my gear and trying (usually unsuccessfully) to get better organized, I pull out one of my oldest, most prized lenses, a Nikkor 200mm f/2.0, and set it aside with the notion that I am going to insert it into my workflow in some way.

This lens is from a period in photography known for build quality, an era in which cameras were made by hand, often in Japan or Germany, and when you take a camera or lens from that era in hand, the phrase “they don’t build them like they used to” leaps to mind.

This 200mm is no exception. It is big, heavy, smooth, and quiet, and handles like a scientific instrument.

That period of photography lasted for much of the 20th century, and I have nothing but admiration for those products.

But that era was about to collide with the next: an increase in computer aided design and manufacturing, married to a period of increasing outsourcing to countries with cheaper labor around the Pacific rim, and an increased use of plastic, which saved both weight and cost.

So how does this add up? My beloved 200mm f/2.0 is an art object, but decidedly optically inferior to modern lenses.

The obvious replacement for a lens like this is a modern 70-200mm zoom, and yes, I have one. It is optically unimpeachable, sharp and fast to focus, completely reliable, but, sometimes, just a little boring. We all have one. We all make the same photos with them.

My wild card in the deck is a lens from between these two eras, the AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8. I love this lens, both because it is super-sharp, even wide open (f/2.8), but also that it has it’s roots in the same build era as the 200mm.

Comparing them, though, is one reason I make so few pictures with the 200mm. The 180mm does pretty much everything as well as the 200mm, and the reason is a little unexpected: the 200mm isn’t very sharp when used wide open, at f/2.0. To get sharp results, I really need to stop down two-thirds of an f/stop, which is true for a lot of lenses. The 180mm, though, is absolutely great wide open. So the choice really becomes: do I shoot with the 200mm at f/2.5, or shoot with the 180mm, which is five times lighter, at f/2.8.

Everyone likes lighter cameras when we have to carry them, and I am no exception. I’ve been lugging gear from press conferences to house fires to ball games since college in 1981, and it adds up.

In conclusion, no, I am not interested in selling my giant 200mm f/2.0, but I doubt I will use it all that much. It’s a beautiful relic from the past that I can just admire and play with once in a while.

My AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 and my Nikkor 200mm f/2.0 sit on my kitchen table recently.
My AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 and my Nikkor 200mm f/2.0 sit on my kitchen table recently.

Is the Internet Dying? Is It Killing Us?

I know I owe my readers an uplifting and helpful look at something in their photographic lives, and I also know that I may be starting to sound like a broken record when I warn about the perils of threats to the truths of our lives like “fake news” and, quite recently, AI, or Artificial Intelligence.

In the photographic press just this week is an article from a reliable source indicating there have been 15.47 billion images created by AI as of August 2023, and presently there are about 34 million new AI images being created each day.

The most obvious solution is to simply unplug. But there certainly is a lot more to it. Even if you unplug yourself, get a library card and start borrowing books, millions of people around us are still ingesting artificial content, and, among other things, they vote, and they vote with their dollars.

At this point, AI is still relatively easy to spot and call out, at least for us among the visually literate. But compared to just 18-months ago, when AI was cranking out people with 11 fingers on each hand and four-foot-tall hair, AI is improving by leaps and bounds.

The next question that troubles me isn’t that AI can fool us, but why would it want to? I get that entities that want to make money will have no problem making money with AI, but the issue goes deeper. Will humanity actually go dow this road, in which every photograph they see is a fake? What would be the over-arching consequence of this? Will it be “The Matrix” mixed with “1984”?

And finally, I am feeling very nostalgic for the “golden age” of the Internet, when it was new, fun, and held so much promise. Even without AI, the internet is so much less interesting and inviting than it was at the end of the 1990s. Don’t believe me? Do a web search for something you really like, then count how many results – probably page after page – are not information about that thing, but entities selling it to you.

In a world of fakes, a real shadow looks like a fake.
In a world of fakes, a real shadow looks like a fake.

Monochrome Challenge: In the Dark

The power was out at home this morning, so I opened up all the shades and curtains. The light was extraordinary, so I reached for my Fujifilm X-T10, set it to a black-and-white film simulation mode, and made some pictures.

This could also be called Monochrome Challenge: Powerless.

Living room
Living room
Light fixture in the living room
Light fixture in the living room
Hallway and back bedroom
Hallway and back bedroom
Dining table
Dining table
Middle bedroom
Middle bedroom
Dressing room selfie
Dressing room selfie
Back bathroom selfie
Back bathroom selfie

The Higher We Climb, the Lower We Stoop

A couple of headlines in the photography and videography press caught my eye this week:

Blackmagic Teases Groundbreaking 17K Large-Format Cinema Camera

Old Movies Are Being Enhanced With AI Tools and Not Everyone is Happy

Okay, the first one. “17K” refers to a newer, higher-resolution imaging sensor, in which a mind-boggling amount of videographic data is recorded and stored every second.

Sadly, these cameras are mostly used for two types of photography: the “oh, look at how good my footage is,” and the “this movie has a lot of special effects.”

Even the 2023 Picture of the Year, Oppenheimer, a flashy, visually-rich biopic about the creator of the atomic bomb, was disappointing to me. I haven’t finished my review of it, but when I do, one of the things I plan to call out about it is that the bomb that the plot spends so much time discussing and designing, wasn’t the bomb, or even the same design, as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

Don’t believe me? Look it up.

This may be the least popular thingI say all year, but I think entertainment is at it’s all-time lowest value.

What do I mean by “value?”

To drive home my thoughts on this matter, as I wrote this, I cancelled my only remaining streaming service, Netflix. As the years have gone by, more and more products from this, or any other streaming service, have gotten less and less interesting, and, especially, less enlightening than ever before. I am not only bored, I am annoyed at an entertainment culture that continues to give us petaflops of shallow eye candy.

On the second point, about AI, I know I’ve weighed in on this before, but it merits saying again and again: AI is leading us down a dangerous, ingenuine, and ultimately destructive path. Think about the goal of AI: create something fake out of something real. No matter how you feel about “fake news,” fake reality is worse on every level.

I look at the world around us and think of how many people are unhappy, and wonder why we are pushing harder and harder for this unhappiness. We spout off about how disappointing the world around us is, while at the same time devoting our lives to watching, and buying, the worst of it. Who among my readers is naive enough to imagine, for example, any of our leaders on either side of the spectrum won’t use AI to manipulate us?

What, Richard, will you do without streaming, cable, or television? If you know me, you know how much I love reading, writing, photography, flying, travel, working outside, taking care of my dogs, and on and on. No, canceling my last streaming subscription won’t be difficult. In fact, it already feels like one of the best moves I’ve made lately.

The diffraction grating filter was a popular screw-on special effect filter in the 1970s and 1980s, but they have mostly fallen out of favor. I made this image not with a screw-in filter, but through a pair of paper glasses I got at an attraction in Las Vegas last year, and hung on to them in hopes of using them to illustrate something. Does this image look fake? In most ways, it definitely is.
The diffraction grating filter was a popular screw-on special effect filter in the 1970s and 1980s, but they have mostly fallen out of favor. I made this image not with a screw-in filter, but through a pair of paper glasses I got at an attraction in Las Vegas last year, and hung on to them in hopes of using them to illustrate something. Does this image look fake? In most ways, it definitely is.

The Eclipse by the Numbers

As I continue my plans to see and photograph the April 8 solar eclipse, I felt like it might be useful to share of few numbers I discovered when I photographed the August 2017 Great American Eclipse.

I used Adobe Photoshop to create this illustration to help viewers picture what is happening during a solar eclipse, showing what it would look like if you could see both the moon and the sun's corona. The image of the moon is from a lunar eclipse in September 2015, and the stellar corona is from the August 2017 Great American Eclipse.
I used Adobe Photoshop to create this illustration to help viewers picture what is happening during a solar eclipse, showing what it would look like if you could see both the moon and the sun’s corona. The image of the moon is from a lunar eclipse in September 2015, and the stellar corona is from the August 2017 Great American Eclipse.

But first, a note about attitude: the coming eclipse has the potential to be a truly amazing experience, but it also might turn into a disappointment or even a fiasco for many trying to see it.

  1. It is entirely possible that there could be cloud cover where you are.
  2. It is also possible that traffic will be heavy, and you might not get where you want to be. Therefore…
  3. Try not to take any of it too seriously. Viewing and photographing a solar eclipse is a ton of fun, but it’s definitely not worth getting into conflicts with other eclipse viewers, authorities, or even family and friends.
  4. Remember that this eclipse traverses a huge swath of Mexico, the United States, and Canada, so there will be literally millions of people seeing, trying to see it, and photographing it. So…
  5. Set aside any notion that what you are doing is important. If it’s not fun and lighthearted, it’s not worth doing.
  6. Don’t speed or drive recklessly. Stay off your phone. Leave early and be patient. Crowds and traffic can make driving more dangerous, and can delay the time for help to arrive if something goes wrong.
  7. And if you get stuck in traffic or it’s cloudy, have a “pact of acceptance” (as my sister and I will), such that you can smile, relax, and have fun anyway.

So, some numbers. When I photographed the August 2017 event, I hadn’t photographed an eclipse before, so I was deciding on settings as the event happened.

Retired East Central University Physicist Dr. Carl Rutledge discusses the mechanics of solar eclipses Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 at a meeting of Ada Sunrise Rotary at the Aldridge Hotel.
Retired East Central University Physicist Dr. Carl Rutledge discusses the mechanics of solar eclipses Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 at a meeting of Ada Sunrise Rotary at the Aldridge Hotel.

I used my 400mm f/3.5 Nikkor lens with a 1.4x teleconverter on it, creating an effective 560mm f/5 lens, on a sturdy tripod. I’ll probably be using this same setup again.

My first exposures of the totality were a guess at f/8 at 1/160th at ISO 200, and was a little too dark to capture much of the corona, the white, feathery part of the sun you can only see during an eclipse (or with an expensive astronomical device called a coronagraph). For my main photos of this phenomenon, I shot at f/8, 1/80th, ISO 640.

I used f/8 because many lenses are sharper if you “stop down” (use a smaller aperture) a value or two, and I know this lens/converter combo would be sharp at f/8.

My most recent eclipse experience occurred last October.

This is a frame just as totality occurred during the October 2023 annular solar eclipse. During such events, the moon doesn't completely block the sun because the moon's orbit isn't a perfect circle, so it is slightly farther away than during a total eclipse.
This is a frame just as totality occurred during the October 2023 annular solar eclipse. During such events, the moon doesn’t completely block the sun because the moon’s orbit isn’t a perfect circle, so it is slightly farther away than during a total eclipse.

On my drive back home from a trip to Las Vegas, I drove north from Gallup, New Mexico, knowing it would take me into the path of the annular solar eclipse. As I drove north, I saw more and more people on the side of the road, at wide spots, in turnouts and parking lots. I picked one group at random, and everyone was glad to see me. A nice lady from Oregon is gave me a homemade “celebratory cookie” when it was over.

So have fun, be safe, and have a cookie.

My Travel Photography Kit

I made this image on the trail at the western portion of Saguaro National Park. Shot with the Nikon D5500 and the AF-S Nikkor 18-135mm f/4.5-5.6, it has a lot of detail, and just a bit of flare and ghosting.
I made this image on the trail at the western portion of Saguaro National Park. Shot with the Nikon D5500 and the AF-S Nikkor 18-135mm f/4.5-5.6, it has a lot of detail, and just a bit of flare and ghosting.

My readers might recall that I spent spring break in Arizona, hiking and exploring. One result of this was that I missed covering one of the biggest news events of the year in Ada, a huge hailstorm.

Nevertheless, I had an amazing time. I visited Chiricahua National Monument, both halves of Saguaro National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Montezuma Castle National Monument, The Pima Air and Space Museum, San Xavier del Bac Mission, and Biosphere 2, and had several out-of-the-way drives through Arizona and New Mexico.

The trip exceeded my expectations, and I feel it was a complete success.

Of course, photography is at the top of the list for trips like this, but when I travel, I am definitely not the same photographer I am for my newspaper. Key among these differences is that when I travel, I travel light, and my photographic kit is light and simple as well.

One reason I can do this is because I am not shooting sports and news, which often requires big, heavy, high-performance cameras and lenses, and travel photography requires high image quality, but doesn’t usually require high frame rates, high-ISO settings, or large apertures.

My kits have shifted some over the years, but here is what I used for my most recent trip: the Nikon D7100, the Nikon D5500, the AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, the AF-S Nikkor 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6, the AF-S Nikkor 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6, the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8, and the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8.

I love the combination of the D7100 and the 18-200mm, but together they are kind of heavy, so I worked more this trip with the D5500 and the 18-135mm, which is much lighter, so that’s my news favorite combination for those long hikes.

Some photographers might note that I don’t have any super-telephoto lenses in this lineup, but since I have no interest in photographing wildlife, I’ve never really needed one.

Traveling light means having more fun, and being able to go deeper into the backcountry. It definitely works for me.

Pictured from left to right are the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, the AF-S Nikkor 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 on the Nikon D5500, the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8, the Nikkor AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 on the Nikon D7100, and the AF-S Nikkor 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6.
Pictured from left to right are the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, the AF-S Nikkor 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 on the Nikon D5500, the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8, the AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 on the Nikon D7100, and the AF-S Nikkor 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6.

What’s in a Picture?

Here is a great film memory: me in my darkroom at The Ada News in about 1993.

This is the photo of today's discussion. I love how an image like this car preserve so much history. And before you ask me why I am not smiling, I will go with my father's answer, "I AM smiling!"
This is the photo of today’s discussion. I love how an image like this car preserve so much history. And before you ask me why I am not smiling, I will go with my father’s answer, “I AM smiling!”

I got to looking closely at this image and my photos on the walls at the time, and I realized I know a bunch of these people. Carey Johnson, Stephanie West, that Romanian baby, Denise Kreuger, those models we hired in Chicago, Darlene from college, Scott Andersen x3, that clown we photographed at the State Fair, Debbie Mociolek, Trish Jordan, Anne Roberts, Billie Floyd, Starla from Vanoss, David and Brenda Wheelock, Robert Cote, Michael Zeiler.

I remember those enlargers, that blue LowePro camera bag, the trays in the sink, the chemistry on the shelves, that shirt, slacks, belt, shoes. Everything.

In 1990, our newspaper got the equipment needed to make color separations in-house, so we bought me a Fujimoto enlarger, visible to my right. It was compact and very full-featured, with a color head. The baseboard had a timer built in, along with a sensor and three knobs on the baseboard, cyan, magenta, and yellow, to balance color.

On the far right of the image, there are free/complimentary Fujifilm towels with metal clips, on the light switches. Those towels were a gift if you bought a certain number of rolls of Fujifilm 35mm film.

The “Nursery Viewing Hours” sign was a gift from the old Valley View Hospital on Arlington, which I spotted and asked for while I made photos of the place to go with a story about tearing it down.

Just as a quick aside, it actually does say, “Nursery Viewing Hours 2:15 pm to 3:15 pm, and 7:15 pm to 8:15 pm.” How much have the rules changed on hospital visitation in my lifetime?

It’s also worth noting that my stepdaughter Dawna “Chele” Milligan was born in that maternity ward.

At least one frame on the wall was one I made from inside a hot air balloon over Ada, that people thought looked like an architectural drawing except for the oil spots a the parking lot.

There is a frame of the Vanoss Lady Wolves celebrating the 1992 State Championship in basketball.

There is a frame of some power lines at sunset, just north of Ken Lance on old highway 3, a photo that editors hated but readers, and contest, loved.

There are photos from my 1990 hiking trip to Mount Evans Wilderness and the 1985 trip to the east coast.

There is a card on the face of the police scanner to hide the display so it wouldn’t fog film or paper. I had installed yellow bulbs in the built-in safelights in the overhang so they would be “extra” safe and not get as hot. The built-in safelights were not just a luxury, but something I never saw in any other darkroom.

And here is a piece of trivia my readers might not have known, but photographers do: black-and-white darkroom safelights are not usually red, but amber. Kodak called those filters “Safelight filter, OC light amber.”

There are red filters, and even green ones, for various specialty uses, but I never used them, and if you see a darkroom in fiction, like in movies or television, they usually get that wrong.

This is the Science Hall at East Central University in Ada, which was brand new on the day I made this image from a hot air balloon. People thought it looked like an architectural drawing until I pointed out the oil spots in the parking lot.
This is the Science Hall at East Central University in Ada, which was brand new on the day I made this image from a hot air balloon. People thought it looked like an architectural drawing until I pointed out the oil spots in the parking lot.

The Purpose of Travel Photography

As I write this, I am staring at this headline: “Will AI Ruin Travel Photography?”

Abby sits on a stone as she photographs Monument Valley in October 2006.
Abby sits on a stone as she photographs Monument Valley in October 2006.

For a few seconds, I just stared at it, like a cave man with a smart phone, slowly asking myself, “how could AI effect travel photography?”

I didn’t understand that at all, since travel photography is about preserving and sharing memories, and, to a lesser extent, planning our next adventures.

But wait. What is travel photography? If travel photography is about winning clicks and likes, and if it is about outdoing other photographers, and if it is about cheating audiences into thinking you and your photography are something they are not to sell your images, them I’m not a travel photographer.

Abby made this image of Monument Valley on our second anniversary vacation in October 2006.
Abby made this image of Monument Valley on our second anniversary vacation in October 2006.

As it happened, right around this same time, a friend on social posted a 1999 photo of Monument Valley, and since I’ve been through there a few times, I looked in my files to find similar images, and, as looking at my photo files can do, I started thinking about one particular time I was there.

It was October 2006, and my wife Abby and I were in southern Utah for our second anniversary vacation. On the second full day, we drove to Monument Valley to take a Navajo guided tour. I remember that morning like it was yesterday. It was sunny but very cold. Our first stop was on the north end of the valley, still in Utah, looking at the expanse of the area down the mostly-straight U.S. 163, at a spot that would eventually be “discovered” as Forrest Gump Point, the spot where the main character in the movie decides to stop running.

I remembered all the things we did and saw that day: the sun, the cold, the traditional chant the Navajo tour guide sang to us on the tour, the beef barley soup I bought for Abby at the end of the day. We even saw and photographed people flying overhead in paragliders.

As I looked at all of our photos, hers and mine, from that week, I realized I was grinning from ear to ear, so happy to have these memories.

THAT is travel photography in it purest form, and nothing can ruin it.

Abby photographed me at a formation called Ear of the Wind in Monument Valley.
Abby photographed me at a formation called Ear of the Wind in Monument Valley.

Is This Really Film?

Social media has been up to its old tricks lately; ignoring what it wants, or the truth, and being outraged by minutia. While browsing this lackluster scene this week, a video by a young photographer shuffled past my web crawling called “2024 Will Ruin Film?”

Here are a couple of black-and-white prints I made years ago at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. The process of shooting them on film, then printing them on light-sensitive paper, was a lot of fun.
Here are a couple of black-and-white prints I made years ago at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. The process of shooting them on film, then printing them on light-sensitive paper, was a lot of fun.

Film is already dead, and here’s why: it is actually digital photography.

Wait, what Richard? Film photography is digital photography? I know it sounds crazy (which I agree 20% of everything I say sounds crazy), but talk to anyone who is into film photography, and included in that conversation will be the words, “I can’t wait to get my scans back.”

Scans? So let me get this straight. You want to make pictures on film using a film camera, then have your images converted into digital images?

I am also amused and a little annoyed when social medianites say stuff like, “Film is making a comeback.” Yeah? By the late 1990s, I was shooting something on the order of 3000 film frames a week, and I wasn’t alone. The public and the profession were shooting millions of rolls of film every day. That was the time to be a film photographer.

The same video that pondered if 2024 would bring the death of film also expressed excitement about some of the camera makers creating new film cameras, and I know that’s foolish, since I presently have a dozen or more working film cameras that I never use. I recently even tried to give one away, but I found no takers.

The video guy even went so far as to say, “I think now more than ever, film photography is at the most popular that it’s been.” When I heard him say that, I realized that many young people have no idea what the world was like just a generation ago.

Also, despite what young photographers might assert about shooting film, the small-production, niche film market produces mediocre emulsions at best, and film will never be as good as it was at it’s peak in, say, 1995.

The only person I know who really does do film photography is Mackenzee Crosby, who has a Fujifilm Instax instant film camera. She shoots and shares, and it stays as film instead of tripping back into digital land.

So instead of pining for film stock and showing everyone how moody your photos can be, here is a much better film-related project: go grab that shoebox full of snapshots from your parents or grandparents hall closet, and set out to scan, share and print some of the literally billions of film photographs that otherwise will simply vanish.

This is my setup for digitizing my negatives at home. I haven't had access to a real film enlarger since about 2005, so this setup is the only way for me to preserve and share many of my older images.
This is my setup for digitizing my negatives at home. I haven’t had access to a real film enlarger since about 2005, so this setup is the only way for me to preserve and share many of my older images.