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.

What the Journal Brings Forth

I was leafing through one of my old journals recently, looking for notes about a friend of mine who died in November. The journal was from February 1992, when I was frequently driving to Oklahoma City to hang out with some fellow photographers, and occasionally pick up a few bucks making pictures for the Associated Press.

David Duke speaks at a press conference in early 1992. I think this image has a very old-fashioned news photo look to it.
David Duke speaks at a press conference in early 1992. I think this image has a very old-fashioned news photo look to it.

On Monday, February 24, 1992, I note in my journal, “David Duke presser, very weird.”

A “presser” is slang for a press conference.

I honestly had no idea I had photographed this guy. But curiosity got me to pull the negatives from that day, and sure enough, I had.

David Duke, for those who might have forgotten, is a “white supremacist, antisemitic conspiracy theorist, and former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”

At the time I photographed him, he was apparently trying to clean up his image, but by the late 1990s, he had abandoned those efforts, and was again espousing neo-Nazi ideology. More recently, he was permanently suspended from Twitter in 2020 for “for violating its rules regarding hateful conduct.”

Another point I’d like to make about being a journalist is that despite characters like this having objectionable politics and beliefs, we can’t really pick and choose who to photograph and quote. That’s not how journalism works. Good journalists cover events and people starting from a blank page, and, if we’re doing it right, let those events and people reveal themselves.

A lawyer’s maxim is “res ipsa loquitur,” which means “the thing speaks for itself.”

So, yeah, wow. I photographed David Duke, which I had completely forgotten, but thanks to the journal, I preserved it. That’s the most important message I have for you today: consider writing in a journal of some kind. The story of your life is incredibly complicated, and if you don’t write it down, it’s too easy to forget those thousands of little things that add up to it all.

I also think it’s at least as important to record the negative things in your life as well as the positive, since we often learn and grow more from our mistakes.

David Duke looks up in this slightly tighter view. I have no recollection of the location or content of the press conference.
David Duke looks up in this slightly tighter view. I have no recollection of the location or content of the press conference.

Shaking the Tree

Part of my job is to capture and illustrate the action of sports. As I write this, it’s mostly basketball, but we have a very sports-rich community, so there are sports to cover all year long.

Richard R. Barron | The Ada News -- This photo won the Oklahoma Press Association's monthly photo contest for October -- East Central’s Claudia Garcia (16) and Abbie Morris (10) battle with a pair of Oklahoma Baptist defenders for the ball in action earlier this year at Tiger Field.
Richard R. Barron | The Ada News — This photo won the Oklahoma Press Association’s monthly photo contest for October — East Central’s Claudia Garcia (16) and Abbie Morris (10) battle with a pair of Oklahoma Baptist defenders for the ball in action earlier this year at Tiger Field.

“What you’re doing here is you’re giving us the opportunity to shake the tree and create chaos.” ~Sicario

Chaos is definitely at the core of good, engaging sports action photos. In the news biz, we like to say we are striving to capture the moments of conflict, and the moments of maximum exertion.

Pairing these concepts in a community newspaper can be a bit tricky. On more than one occasion, I’ve had parents complain that my photos of their kids aren’t flattering.

But I’m not making fashion photos or Glamour Shots (which is still a thing, by the way). The best journalism is always the boldest, hardest-hitting, and thereby the most compelling storytelling.

So when you see my images, my hope is that the word “wow” might be the first out of your mouth. That’s what shaking the tree and creating chaos can do for photography.

I thought about chaos in front of my camera as I shot basketball action last week. Some of the games got pretty physical, and they all made good pictures. This is an unused image that I thought looked very chaotic.
I thought about chaos in front of my camera as I shot basketball action last week. Some of the games got pretty physical, and they all made good pictures. This is an unused image that I thought looked very chaotic.

The Next Big, Dark Thing: AI

Much of the photography press is on fire this week about the various iterations of AI, Artificial Intelligence, and its effect on photography and culture in general.

Getty Images announced an AI image generator for stock photos, a company that was starting to manufacture a product called “AI Pin,” a tiny lapel camera, is already laying off staff members, and there is even talk of an AI version of Taylor Swift causing problems.

The biggest problem for me, though, came when a photographer friend on social media discovered that his images were being stolen by someone on the dark web somewhere, changed slightly using AI, then  put up for sale. That’s the worst of it, really: that our labor, be it writing, music, photography, painting, sculpture, design, and even just the hard work we all do, can be so easily stolen and sold back to us. It really points out the worst of human nature, that we will do anything for money. Anything.

So what can we do besides complain about it?

Firstly, we can get our work into print, and, by extension, read what’s in print, like real newspapers, magazines, and books, and make an effort to enjoy real things in our lives, like watching our children grow up with our eyes (not on a screen), listening to live music, visiting art galleries and artist’s shows.

Secondly, be honest. This one is less easy to define, and harder to accomplish, since honesty itself is so elusive. And honesty starts and ends in the mirror, not in counting likes on a social media page.

Thirdly, we need to educate ourselves, not by cheering when we hear something online that tells us what we want to hear, but by asking intelligent, sometimes difficult questions.

Physicist Richard Feynman once said, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

It will be interesting to see how the AI revolution will develop. In the mean time, and until I am gone, I promise I will be as honest as I can, and keep looking in the mirror.

My photographer friend Robert made this image of me January 1. I hope it makes me look honest.
My photographer friend Robert made this image of me January 1. I hope it makes me look honest.

A Day on the Trail

This is me trying to look epic as I photograph the top of Mount Scott.
This is me trying to look epic as I photograph the top of Mount Scott.

For New Year’s Day this year, I met up with a photographer buddy named Robert. He and I met in college 40 years ago.

Wow. Let me say that again: 40 years ago.

That’s right, my photographer buddy Robert, and our mutual photographer friend Scott, met at OU in the spring of 1984, where we shared a crowded Journalism School darkroom.

Robert and I decided a month ago that New Year’s Day would be a great opportunity to hit the trail, make tons of pictures, and maybe grab a nice meal on the road.

We met at the entrance to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma at 9 a.m. It was cloudy and cold for our first trail, Elk Mountain, but we were undaunted.

As we hiked, we talked about photography, philosophy, jobs, family, and much, much more.

I’ve got a ton of images to edit and post on my travel blog, but for now, here are a few fun ones.

Among some of the great things we saw and photographed on New Year's Day was water flowing briskly over the Buford Lake Dam. According to refuge authorities, the lake was "built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps but was never added to the official maps of the refuge. Over time it was lost to history ... and was rediscovered after the wildfires of 2011."
Among some of the great things we saw and photographed on New Year’s Day was water flowing briskly over the Buford Lake Dam. According to refuge authorities, the lake was “built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps but was never added to the official maps of the refuge. Over time it was lost to history … and was rediscovered after the wildfires of 2011.”

My kit and my workflow when I am hiking and exploring are very different than when I am shooting news and sports. Since I make pictures for a living, wilderness photography is actually time off from photography, and as such I follow a couple of rules: carry less, keep it simple, and stop worrying about competing with other photographers.

And sure, my job is fun, but hiking, climbing, and exploring are fun in a very different way. The photography I do in the wild is meant to be zero-pressure, relaxing, something I don’t have to worry about.

By the end of the day, we’d watched the sun set from Mount Scott, and grabbed dinner at the Healthy Hippie (at Courtney Morehead’s recommendation) in Medicine Park. It was another great adventure.

I feel at home in the midst of the ancient granite of the Wichita Mountains, which I have been visiting since I was seven.
I feel at home in the midst of the ancient granite of the Wichita Mountains, which I have been visiting since I was seven.

Comparing Myself to Other Photojournalists

Four photographers make four different images.
Four photographers make four different images.

A wise person once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Periodically photojournalists around the country post their content to social media. I see their work in their timelines and inevitably compare my work to theirs.

It’s unfair to both them and me.

First, it’s completely futile to look at the work of others as a threat to my ego.

Secondly, they are in different communities with different newspapers.

Thirdly, all I have to do is browse some of my own images to realize I am producing my own great work.

The real trick in the current photography ecosystem is to let go, completely, of the idea that you want to make the same pictures as other photographers. Sometimes I hear people say of my own work, “Wow, I want to make that picture. Where was that?”

Don’t even go there. If you do, you aren’t an artist or a photographer, but a stenographer, dutifully copying another’s work.

Instead, try to look at the images you like as inspiration. Sure, you might want to photograph the Grand Canyon the way that I did, but I already did that. So did, for that matter, about 10,000 photographers that day.

It’s okay to get inspired by the photography of others, but copying it is boring. I won’t expound on ideas about how to get inspired by photographs, other than to say that the central idea is to understand how you feel about a photograph.

It is absolutely true that I have taken a ton of pictures at Utah’s Delicate Arch, and that there are always dozens or even hundreds of photographers there every day, but I have a special claim to it: I got married there. This image is of Abby and me at Delicate Arch on our sixth anniversary in 2010.
It is absolutely true that I have taken a ton of pictures at Utah’s Delicate Arch, and that there are always dozens or even hundreds of photographers there every day, but I have a special claim to it: I got married there. This image is of Abby and me at Delicate Arch on our sixth anniversary in 2010.

More Thoughts about the Fujifilm GW670III

I was tapping away at this and that on my laptop recently. I listen to my Apple Music on shuffle most of the time. As I worked, I came across the song Silo Lullaby by Toad the Wet Sprocket, originally offered as a “hidden bonus track” on the CD Coil in 1997.

When I first got Coil, I used my made-from-scraps Windows 3.1 386-processor desktop computer to unhide the track, and played it many times. Later, in 1999, I went on a photo trip to New Mexico, called Villanueva, the tiny hamlet where I borrow a friend’s cabin, and still listened to Toad all the time. So, as can happen with music and the way it leads places in our imaginations, Silo Lullaby became something of an anthem, at least between my own ears, for that week in the desert.

That week in New Mexico was inspired by the beginnings of the move from printing film to scanning film at my newspaper, which meant I was suddenly in possession of rather a lot of orphaned black-and-white film and paper. What to do with it? Head west!

The Villanueva trip was a great opportunity to use my Fujifilm 6×7 GW670III, a rangefinder camera with a fixed 90mm f/3.5 lens, which was very sharp. The 6×7 negatives that came out of that camera were full of an amazing amount of detail.

The flaws of the Fuji in my workflow in New Mexico, however, remained as obvious as they had all those times I tried to use it in the newsroom: too slow to focus, plasticky controls, and because it was a rangefinder and used a mechanical parallax compensation system in the viewfinder, it was never really possible to take full advantage of the much larger area of the 6×7 cm frame size because something always ended up getting cropped in or out.

I was, and still am, pretty good with a rangefinder, since my first camera, a Yashica Electro 35 GSN I got for Christmas when I was 13, used a rangefinder. I had more time and less film in those days, so I spent a lot of time practicing with the rangefinder.

I don’t want to say my Fuji 6×7 was a failed purchase, but it certainly didn’t revolutionize my fine art photography.

In the end, I have built a career on discovering what does and doesn’t work for my photography styles; news, sports, illustration, fine art, travel, and on and on; and though I wish it had, the Fuji 6×7 just never worked for me.

Your humble host poses for a snapshot at White Sands National Monument on a sunny morning in September 2000. Hanging from my neck is the camera in question, the Fuji GW670III Professional 6x7, wearing a B+W deep orange filter.
Your humble host poses for a snapshot at White Sands National Monument on a sunny morning in September 2000. Hanging from my neck is the camera in question, the Fuji GW670III Professional 6×7, wearing a B+W deep orange filter.

I Love a Parade!

It’s one of my worst kept secrets: I love a parade. It’s also no secret that my favorite parade of all time is the Pat Taylor Memorial Parade of Lights every December here in Ada.

The Parade of Lights has gotten easier to photograph as technology has improved, both in terms of cameras, and the lights on display.
The Parade of Lights has gotten easier to photograph as technology has improved, both in terms of cameras, and the lights on display.

My strategy for photographing nighttime parades is pretty straightforward: sky-high ISO settings and large aperture lenses. I usually use my 180mm f/2.8 and my 20mm f/2.8, both older designs, but very capable.

Digital imaging has made a difference, but incrementally. In the early 2000s, for example, my digital cameras were the Nikon D1H and the Kodak DCS720x, at the top of the low-light game in their day, but definitely left behind by one generation after another of better and better digital cameras.

In the film days, there was Kodak T-Max P3200, a high-ISO black-and-white film I used for sports. But a Christmas parade is often very colorful, and that left shooting films like Fujicolor 1600, which was okay.

This is a scan of one of my Parade of Lights images from 1995. Made with Kodak T-Max P3200 film, you can see it is pretty grainy. Still, I got an image, and sometimes that's what counts the most in photojournalism.
This is a scan of one of my Parade of Lights images from 1995. Made with Kodak T-Max P3200 film, you can see it is pretty grainy. Still, I got an image, and sometimes that’s what counts the most in photojournalism.

It is an understatement that I no longer have to rely on such limitations.

Additionally, the lights themselves have transitioned to Light Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, and are brighter and less yellow-red.

So, fast forward to this year’s Parade of Lights: I shot it all at ISO 12,800, knowing that I could fall back on photography’s newest secret weapon: Lightroom’s AI-based noise reduction feature.

I know it sounds like cheating, or even skirting the edge of ethics, because AI has the potential to damage photojournalistic credibility, but I am always up front about how I use it: never alter content.

Even with the stratospheric ISO and f/2.8 lenses, I was still down to 1/30th of a second shutter speeds sometimes, so I just had to accept that many of my images would be throw-aways.

So if you made it to the Parade this year, and I’m guessing from the hundreds and hundreds of people there that you did, you would have seen me prowling around, having the time of my life, making tons of pictures. I love a parade!

Kids wave at passing floats in this year's Parade of Lights.
Kids wave at passing floats in this year’s Parade of Lights.

A Solution without a Problem

For a long time, Sony was mostly known for their consumer electronics, like the Walkman, the Discman, DVD and MiniDisc players, televisions and more. In fact, my first television was a 13-inch Sony Trinitron.
For a long time, Sony was mostly known for their consumer electronics, like the Walkman, the Discman, DVD and MiniDisc players, televisions and more. In fact, my first television was a 13-inch Sony Trinitron.

The biggest news in photography in recent weeks has been Sony’s announcement of their release of the Sony A9 III, a $6000 mirrorless camera that is equipped with the first-ever global shutter.

Do a web search for “why is global shutter a big deal?” and you will find no shortage of articles and videos explaining why. At the top of all these lists are “rolling shutter” and “flash sync speed.”

As I read and watched these items this week, I kept coming back to this: I know what these problems are, but when do I experience them? The answer kept coming back again and again: never.

So what are the possibilities? Am I somehow divorced from the technology because of my age and experience? Am I cynical about endless technological developments as needless, pointless corporate money grabs? Am I somehow missing the point?

It’s not easy to write off my answers, since I make pictures for a living, sometimes thousands in a week, and I really don’t run into these problems.

Last week another photographer, a Sony shooter, echoed my sentiment: what does global shutter do for us? Are these actual problems that need to be solved, or is this just another technology to buy to “keep up with the Joneses?”

Let me also say that I don’t want to be that old guy shouting, “Back in my day, all our film was ASA 25. You kids and your damn contraptions! Get off my lawn!”

Here is a strange gift from Sony: as the sensor on my well-used Cybershot F828 started to malfunction and generated this this pattern for me, which reminds me of the tesseract from Intergalactic.
Here is a strange gift from Sony: as the sensor on my well-used Cybershot F828 started to malfunction and generated this this pattern for me, which reminds me of the tesseract from Intergalactic.

Okay, the final elephant in the room: video. This might be the obvious answer to the question of why global shutter is so significant. I don’t shoot a lot of video, and aside from a few people in my area who work in media relations, I don’t see a lot of “produced” video, just start-and-stop video from smartphones posted to social media.

Video in the last few years has become so self-referential, it’s hard to remain interested. There are so many videos on how good camera are at making video, but very little actual content produced from those cameras. “See what the new (brand) can do! Isn’t it amazing?”

So, is global shutter a solution in making videos? If it is, I’m not really seeing it. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place. Do you have a video that you have produced that benefits from global shutter?

Another angle: digital camera sales have been way down as they compete with the cameras built into smartphones, even to the point that a lot of my photography students are pulling camera out of their bags that they neglected, telling me that want to learn to use it, “but I’ve mostly been shooting with my phone.”

How can they compete? The only way is to produce cameras with more features, with faster this and that, sharper this and that, cooler this and that. Global shutter is one of those things. And you can’t make cameras slower and heavier, even if you are trying to make it more affordable, because no one says, “You saved money? Cool!”

What do you think? Is this a solution to a problem, or a solution looking for a problem?

I dug through my photo junk, and this, the Cybershot F828, is the only Sony camera I own.
I dug through my photo junk, and this, the Cybershot F828, is the only Sony camera I own.

Thoughts from the Trail

I hope everyone had a great fall break week. I took advantage of the slight slowdown in my work to take a trip out west, my first since before my wife died. Many of the spots and attractions reminded me of her, but not at all bitterly; I was reminded of all the great times we had.

The trip was built around a visit to Las Vegas with my sister Nicole and cousin Lori, and their husbands Tracey and Bill. Nicole always wanted to see Barry Manilow in concert, and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, which it was.

Scott holds a camera at the Boynton Canyon trail head near Sedona, Arizona.
Scott holds a camera at the Boynton Canyon trail head near Sedona, Arizona.

Earlier in the week, I met and hiked with long-time friend Scott AndersEn, who wanted to hike a trail near Sedona, Arizona that neither of us had ever seen. It was a great trail.

Scott has been making short videos for social media called, “Thoughts from the Trail.” On this occasion, he invited me to be his guest speaker from the trail, so I happily contributed what I hope was wisdom.

The topic for the morning on the trail was “The Creative Process.”

“It’s a process I endeavor to master every day,” I posited.

“The creative process is always with you,” I added, “and the most important thing is: don’t be afraid of the creative process. There is a way to keep the creative process fresh, and that’s by setting aside the things you are afraid of.”

Scott then recorded the two of us in a Q&A moment.

“What are some of the ways you inspire yourself and get your juices flowing so that you can get the creative process started?” Scott asked.

“I like to set the technology aside,” I answered. “I especially like to set television and music aside, and let it be quiet. I often get that from walking my dogs. So I just switch modes, getting away from the laptop, getting away from the phone, and just being more organic. You know what that also includes? Pen or pencil and paper.”

We had an amazing hike, and at the end back at the cars, he made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

So, what helps YOU with the creative process? I would love to hear.

Scott made this image of me at the Boynton Canyon trail head in the Coconino National Forest west of Sedona, Arizona.
Scott made this image of me at the Boynton Canyon trail head in the Coconino National Forest west of Sedona, Arizona.

 

Why Do They Do That?

This is Nikon's Nikkor 50mm f/1.8, the cheapest version of this lens. As you can see, it doesn't say "E" or "Series E" anywhere on it, but it does say "Nikkor," meaning it is definitely NOT a Series E lens.
This is Nikon’s Nikkor 50mm f/1.8, the cheapest version of this lens. As you can see, it doesn’t say “E” or “Series E” anywhere on it, but it does say “Nikkor,” meaning it is definitely NOT a Series E lens.

I recently saw a critical comment on this blog. It was from someone named Alex who pointed out, “you miss mentioning that you’re using the 50mm ‘E’ lens.”

The problem is that not only is this untrue, but why would you bother in the first place? I’ve said it so many times, in so many ways: too many times, trying to look smart makes us look dumber.

And sure, I could school this guy about why he was wrong, with pictures and references and so on, but that never works, usually eliciting  a terse reply in the area the always-popular ad hominem attack: “You’re not even a very good photographer,” or maybe, “I’ll have you know that I worked in a camera store for 75 years!”

Another guy asked me if was “being facetious” because I liked the sharpness I got from a 500mm lens. Do people even know what “facetious” means?

It also frustrates me that the photography world has to talk in marketing terms. A good example is “megapixel,” as if one megapixel was one thing. Of course it’s not. Mega means million, so a megapixel is a million pixels.

Another example is calling an entire class of cameras a name based on what it’s not: mirrorless. All that says is that it doesn’t use a mirror in the viewfinder. It’s just as true to call my car diesel-less, since it doesn’t use diesel fuel, but that doesn’t actually describe my car.

I’ve also been trying to break myself of the habit of using “Google” as a verb. Instead of “why don’t you Google it,” I’m trying to say, “do a web search for it,” the idea being that I’m going to single-handedly bring down the web’s biggest super-monopoly.

One way you can tell a Nikkor from a Nikon Series E lens is by the aperture ring, which is at the top of this image. Nikkors like this one have the "double diamond" pattern, while Series E lenses have a single-row pattern on the ring.
One way you can tell a Nikkor from a Nikon Series E lens is by the aperture ring, which is at the top of this image. Nikkors like this one have the “double diamond” pattern, while Series E lenses have a single-row pattern on the ring.

Bokeh Wars

The second I heard Nikon introduced a new $2500 lens that "made great bokeh," I stepped out into my front yard and created this "bokeh" with a $5 Minolta 58mm f/1.4 lens.
The second I heard Nikon introduced a new $2500 lens that “made great bokeh,” I stepped out into my front yard and created this “bokeh” with a $5 Minolta 58mm f/1.4 lens.

I hope my readers forgive me if I seem a little cynical about this topic: bokeh.

This week’s big photographic news is Nikon’s introduction of a new lens called “Plena,” a 135mm f/1.8 lens that promises, according to early releases, “beautiful, well-rounded bokeh,” among other things.

It is a reminder that this one word, “bokeh,” has taken photography to a place that resembles a fetish.  Photographers, mostly the photographers who make a living talking about photography rather than actually being photographers, can’t shut up about “bokeh.”

They trot out terms like “bokeh balls”, “buttery bokeh”, “creamy bokeh”, “dreamy bokeh”, even “insane bokeh”, and on and on. Almost all of their photography consists of making pictures to show which lenses make better bokeh, or how to make bokeh itself, which, if you understand the term, isn’t even a real thing.

What offends me so much about this is the idea that it creates a culture of buying creativity, which anyone with a soul knows is ideologically impossible and socially poisonous.

Here is the bottom line, one the YouTubers and camera makers don’t want to hear: once you have figured out how to use selective focus and bokeh, you can put those skills into your toolbox and stop talking about them. I figured out these techniques very early in my career, and use them when I need them, ignore them when I don’t need them, and never, ever worry about what I should buy to, well, make me a better person.

Yeah, bokeh. Too easy, too overdone. And before you ask, this "bokeh" was generated using a 35-year-old Nikkor 85mm f/2.0.
Yeah, bokeh. Too easy, too overdone. And before you ask, this “bokeh” was generated using a 35-year-old Nikkor 85mm f/2.0.

Some Truly Amazing News in Photography

This week Fujifilm announced their newest camera in the “medium format” digital market, the GFX100 II. I am very excited by this camera, for several reasons.

Fujifilm announced their new medium format digital camera, the GFX100 II, this week. One of Fuji's marketing taglines for this line of cameras is "More than full frame."
Fujifilm announced their new medium format digital camera, the GFX100 II, this week. One of Fuji’s marketing taglines for this line of cameras is “More than full frame.”
  1. Fujifilm has always been a favorite brand for me. My first single lens reflex (SLR) camera was a Fujifilm ST-605n, which I bought in the summer of 1978.
  2. Fujifilm has been developing one of the most interesting lines of camera and lenses on the market today.
  3. Fujifilm understands that the idea of “full frame” for digital imaging has always been a compromise, as in, “full frame” is a full frame of what? 35mm film, a format that was the most popular film size in history, but which was never the film format that resulted in the best image quality.
  4. As a result, Fujifilm has developed two successful lines, one smaller-format, APS-C sensors, the other a larger format, in this case a 43.8mm×32.9mm sensor, about the size of a Post-It note.

The specs on this new camera include the ability to shoot 8K video, but in a world of 100-million-dollar action movies, more video resolution might be a selling point, but as it increases by leaps, my interest plunges by leaps. Imagine, for example, how much better your videos might be if you went to filmmaking school with the money you’d use to buy all the cameras you think you need to make films.

At the heart of any digital camera, from your smartphone to the biggest, most-expensive digital camera, is the imaging sensor. This is one I took out of a dead Nikon D100.
At the heart of any digital camera, from your smartphone to the biggest, most-expensive digital camera, is the imaging sensor. This is one I took out of a dead Nikon D100.

Of course new, this camera’s price is high, though not as high as cameras in this class once were. If I were constructing a camera system from the bottom up, and image quality, especially in terms of maximum resolution for high-end photographic applications like portraiture, advertising, product and food, or fine art are concerned, this camera might be the cornerstone of that system.

But honestly, how many pictures made with incredibly powerful digital cameras end up on social media and nowhere else? Does it make sense to make images at resolutions like 12,000 x 9000 pixels, only to have it instantly reduced to 2048 × 1371 by Facebook? And does it make sense to spend $7000 so your friends will ooo and ahh at you on Instagram?

In a way, this feels like a call to photographic artists to resolve to do more – much more – with their images. Think about how much more satisfying, and long-lasting, it would be to have some of these super-resolution images printed really big and displayed in our homes, in galleries, or for sale to the public? How great would it be to spread out a dozen of your best images, all printed the size of posters, for sale on the Plaza in Santa Fe?

I have been to Santa Fe, New Mexico many times over the years, and I have always loved it's artsiness, and have often daydreamed that someday I might like to sell my images there.
I have been to Santa Fe, New Mexico many times over the years, and I have always loved it’s artsiness, and have often daydreamed that someday I might like to sell my images there.