A Look at the Nikon Z30

Several friends of mine recently took the dive into Nikon “mirrorless” digital camera photography. Two of these photographers, Robert and Scott, hail from Tulsa. The three of us met at the University of Oklahoma forty years ago.

I used the Nikon Z30 mirrorless camera to make this image at sunrise recently. It's a solid image, but I could have made it with any number of cameras, old or new.
I used the Nikon Z30 mirrorless camera to make this image at sunrise recently. It’s a solid image, but I could have made it with any number of cameras, old or new.

In 1984, we photographers had only the vaguest idea about digital photography, and I recall quite clearly imagining that newspapers would merge with or form partnerships with television stations. I had in mind that all photographers would shoot video for tv and newspapers would use screen captures for their print editions.

Robert bought a Nikon Z5 a couple of years ago, while Scott bought a Nikon Z30 and last year, then just a few months later, a Nikon Z8. With the Z8 easily overshadowing the Z30 for Scott’s wildlife and wilderness photography, he mostly stopped using his Z30, and recently offered to send it to me to test it out and see how it fit into my workflow.

The Nikon Z30 sits in my home studio recently.
The Nikon Z30 sits in my home studio recently.

The short answer was: it didn’t really fit.

The Nikon Z30 is a very capable camera. It is lightweight and fast, makes clean images, and is made and marketed as the kind of camera you might use if you were a videographer or vlogger. And that’s the rub for me: it’s a great camera for someone else.

The Z30’s biggest deficit for me is the lack of a viewfinder. It is set up to be used the same way you might use a smartphone, by holding it at arms-length, and looking at the monitor on the back of the camera, or, in the case of many cameras in this class, with the monitor flipped up, down, or to the side.

I own a couple of mirrorless cameras that more-or-less fill the same role at the Z30. From left to right are the Fujifilm X-T10, the Nikon Z30, and the Lumix GH2, each wearing similar "kit" lenses.
I own a couple of mirrorless cameras that more-or-less fill the same role at the Z30. From left to right are the Fujifilm X-T10, the Nikon Z30, and the Lumix GH2, each wearing similar “kit” lenses.

I’ve been throwing this camera into my news and sports workflow, and over and over I have put the camera up to my eye, only to remind myself to hold it away so I can see the monitor.

The Nikon Z series is an impressive lineup or cameras. Scott has been posting images made with his Z8, and they are amazing, but I am inclined to say it’s because of his constant journeys into the mountains above his home near Provo, Utah. A great camera can certainly help make images there, but the real end game is what’s in front of his camera, not inside it.

Robert brings his Nikon Z5 mirrorless down when he visits, and I’ve shot some with it. It does have an electronic viewfinder, so I am more at home with it in my hands and at my eye.

A fellow photographer friend in California, Nic Coury, mostly shoots as a freelancer for news organizations and magazines, and a couple of years ago bought a Nikon Z9, the current top-of-the-line Nikon mirrorless. He makes great images with that camera, but again, the camera is only one link in his photography chain. For Nic, especially, I’d say that his biggest asset is his understanding of light.

Photographer Nic Coury is based in Monterey, California, so he has the opportunity to photograph the state's Wine Country. He made this with the Nikon Z9.
Photographer Nic Coury is based in Monterey, California, so he has the opportunity to photograph the state’s Wine Country. He made this with the Nikon Z9.

Scott didn’t place any kind of deadline on returning this camera to him, so I’ll keep shooting it for a bit. I’m grateful both for his trust and his generosity.

The bottom line seems to me to be this: the current mirrorless cameras are great machines, and when it comes time to replace aged-out cameras, that’s the way for many to go. But they aren’t the game-changers everyone seems to think they are. In fact, if you have a new mirrorless camera, my challenge for you is to show me – not just tell me – how great these cameras are and what they allowed you to do that you couldn’t do before.

I used the Nikon Z30 to photograph fireworks in Ada's Wintersmith Park July 5.
I used the Nikon Z30 to photograph fireworks in Ada’s Wintersmith Park July 5.

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.

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.

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.

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.