Pinch, Poke and The Mighty Hound

The sun setting behind these Rose-of-Sharon flowers creates a beautiful pallet of haze and flare that helps express the light and the moment.
The sun setting behind these Rose-of-Sharon flowers creates a beautiful pallet of haze and flare that helps express the light and the moment.

I worked outside for a while after walking the dogs last night. We had a very wet spring and summer, so I had let some vines and trees in the back yard get thick and out of control.

Our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken plopped down in the middle of the elm branches and vine clippings. He even tried to eat a Rose-of-Sharon branch. Wow, he is a gorgeous dog.
Our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken plopped down in the middle of the elm branches and vine clippings. He even tried to eat a Rose-of-Sharon branch. Wow, he is a gorgeous dog.
The Fuji X-T10 is shown with the Pentax 50mm f/1.4.
The Fuji X-T10 is shown with the Pentax 50mm f/1.4.

Lately I’ve been very much enjoying my new/used Fuji X-T10 with an ancient and very well-used Pentax 50mm f/1.4 on it. This camera/lens combination creates a look that reminds me of older color slides made with older lenses.

After lopping branches and playing tug-of-war with some very beautiful but tenacious vines, the light started to mature, and, as I often do, I grabbed a camera.

I took a minute to walk over the the Nipps' house to photograph Mike's chickens.
I took a minute to walk over the the Nipps’ house to photograph Mike’s chickens.
These two big roosters took a keen interest in my presence.
These two big roosters took a keen interest in my presence.
The vines I trimmed had these tiny purple berries on them.
The vines I trimmed had these tiny purple berries on them.
The Pentax 50mm f/1.4 shot wide open gives me a very painterly look, which expresses the light and the mood of the evening well.
The Pentax 50mm f/1.4 shot wide open gives me a very painterly look, which expresses the light and the mood of the evening well.
This image shows what a bit of a jungle I have allowed to grow in the back yard.
This image shows what a bit of a jungle I have allowed to grow in the back yard.

Photographic Doings

A tiny green spider hunts atop one of my marigolds in the garden.
A tiny green spider hunts atop one of my marigolds in the garden.

I often ask my photographer friends on the phone, “Hey, what are you doing photographically?”

The idea is to trade ideas, think creatively, and to encourage each other in our efforts to bring more to our photographic games.

I come to this party ahead of the curve, since I am a photojournalist my trade, but I am often trying to get out of that box and make different images, which I hope have some element of fine art to them. Here are a couple of items I shot this week around our patch of green in Oklahoma.

A large grasshopper clings to some of my marigolds in the garden.
A large grasshopper clings to some of my marigolds in the garden.
A tall thistle sways in late afternoon light.
A tall thistle sways in late afternoon light.
Condensation clings to the transparent lid of our coffee maker.
Condensation clings to the transparent lid of our coffee maker.
Tangled morning glory vines reach for late afternoon sunshine.
Tangled morning glory vines reach for late afternoon sunshine.
Dusty power cables cast long shadows in the garage at last light.
Dusty power cables cast long shadows in the garage at last light.
Marigold blossoms stretch to reach sunlight.
Marigold blossoms stretch to reach sunlight.
Mimosa branches are silhouettes against the red summer sun at sunset.
Mimosa branches are silhouettes against the red summer sun at sunset.

Experiments Keep Us Moving Forward

In my last post, I talked about buying a nice used mirrorless camera and some adaptors so I could experiment with older lenses. It got me thinking about some of the very first images, and very first experiments, I tried.

I had a microscope as a kid, and spent a lot of time looking through it at everything from ants to onions. Photographing it with a homemade macro lens yielded very shallow depth of field.
I had a microscope as a kid, and spent a lot of time looking through it at everything from ants to onions. Photographing it with a homemade macro lens yielded very shallow depth of field.

Ignorance is bliss, and some of my most successful early photographic experiments wouldn’t have happened if an expert had told me why they wouldn’t work. One, for example, is one I tried with a garage-sale Exa camera of 1962 vintage. I was drawn to it by it’s beautifully-made all-metal Exacta removable / interchangeable lens. It was the only lens I had for it, but it occured to me as I watched how the focus mechanism moved the lens farther from the film to focus closer that if I could move it ever farther from the film, I could focus even closer.

Using my fingertips to hold the lens on the camera with a piece of cardboard toilet paper core between them required some patience.
Using my fingertips to hold the lens on the camera with a piece of cardboard toilet paper core between them required some patience.

In the world of photographic equipment, this is done with a device called an extension tube, which mounts between the camera and the lens. I didn’t have one, and I was 15, so the only money I had was a few bucks from mowing a few lawns, and my allowance. So I decided to put the cardboard core from a used-up toilet paper roll between the camera and the lens. It worked!

This spring of wheat grass grew in the pasture behind our house in Lawton when I lived there in the 1970s.
This spring of wheat grass grew in the pasture behind our house in Lawton when I lived there in the 1970s.

Most lenses aren’t designed to focus close, and neither was the 1960s-era Exacta. The images I got have a dream-like softness about them, and are loaded with vignetting, which is darkening of the edges of the frame. The vignetting was so dominant that my mother called the images “vignettes.”

Experimenting with the creative aspects of photography goes so far beyond camera and lens reviews and specifications. Sometimes I can get better, more interesting, more compelling images with a broken camera, a toy camera, or an ancient camera.

This tiny statue made of corn husks is a representation of my mother and her sister singing together, which was their favorite thing to do.
This tiny statue made of corn husks is a representation of my mother and her sister singing together, which was their favorite thing to do.

The Yard Session

Years after the Nikon D100 digital camera has been retired from my workflow, it's easy to talk about its shortcomings. Despite those, the D100 actually was able to create beautiful images.
Years after the Nikon D100 digital camera has been retired from my workflow, it’s easy to talk about its shortcomings. Despite those, the D100 actually was able to create beautiful images.

My wife Abby and I have made many great photographs of each other over the years, both at our home in the bucolic splendor of Southern Oklahoma, and on our dozens of road trips over the years.

I bought the Nikon Coolpix 885 in the summer of 2002 as a small alternative to the Nikons I was using professionally at the time. By the time Abby and I had been dating a few months, she had made it her own.
I bought the Nikon Coolpix 885 in the summer of 2002 as a small alternative to the Nikons I was using professionally at the time. By the time Abby and I had been dating a few months, she had made it her own.

One session that stands out among them, and always makes me smile to view and remember, is “The Yard Session.” We shot these images on February 26, 2004 (thanks, EXIF data!) It was a warm late afternoon in our friend Michael‘s front yard in Norman, Oklahoma. The light was beautiful, and I’d asked Michael to photograph us with his Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro. His images are great, but the ones that stand out and bring us the fondest reminiscences are the ones we made of each other.

Abby photographed me with our Nikon Coolpix 885, and I photographed her with my Nikon D100 with the manual-focus 85mm f/2.0 lens. Because the D100 lacked an aperture indexing ring, it couldn’t talk to manual-focus lenses, so exposure was based entirely using histogram on the monitor on the back of the camera.

Images like this happen organically, often without  planning or effort, and the result is a very natural, telling, intimate photography session.

Looking back on that moment more than 16 years ago, we were young and in love, engaged to be married, and so very happy. I hope these images show that.

Keep Your Eyes Open

Light from the rising sun strikes the shades in our living room this morning.
Light from the rising sun strikes the shades in our living room this morning.

Sometimes very beautiful photographs happen unexpectedly before our eyes. Such a scene appeared before me last night as my wife Abby and I were watching television before my departure to photograph Friday night basketball.

Sunset lights streaks through the boards on our front porch last night.
Sunset lights streaks through the boards on our front porch last night.
This squirrel's nut isn't lit; it's catching sunset light.
This squirrel’s nut isn’t lit; it’s catching sunset light.

I grabbed a camera, my very old Minolta DiMage 7i of 2002-vintage, that I felt might help express what I was seeing, a rather remarkable moment of purple, pink and orange sky and land just at sunset. I’ve been shooting sunsets with the Minolta since 2002, and despite its obsolescence, I still turn to it for something intangible I like about the images it makes.

The salient point of this post, though, is to remind everyone who wants to make better images to stop the car, mute the tv, put down the phone, and go make the picture.

This is the view from our front porch last night.
This is the view from our front porch last night.
Last light catches the treetops last night in our front yard.
Last light catches the treetops last night in our front yard.

Sweet Suite

This look was made using a preset for Adobe Lightroom Classic called "Red from Left." It's an obvious name and look, but it is a tool in my photographic toolbox.
This look was made using a preset for Adobe Lightroom Classic called “Red from Left.” It’s an obvious name and look, but it is a tool in my photographic toolbox.

Thanks to my relationship with the Pontotoc Technology Center, I have access to all the applications in the Adobe Creative Cloud 2020 suite. This software is super powerful, versatile, and complex. The suite includes applications for photo editing, video and motion production, design and layout, augmented reality and 3D, user experience and user interface, and social media.

I had a recent teaching job that required me to learn some additional video editing skills.
I had a recent teaching job that required me to learn some additional video editing skills.

I am essentially a photographer, photo editor, and writer, and have literally never even opened some of these very powerful programs, though I have a cursory knowledge of Adobe Premiere Pro I made myself learn so I could integrate it into teaching a class.

For day-to-day photo editing, I use an older version of Lightroom Classic at my office every day, which I don’t love, but the newest iteration of Lightroom Classic has become my go-to photo editing application. It’s not the image-altering behemoth that Photoshop has become, but it’s easy to stay organized and work to edit images in it.

Adobe struggled with their naming conventions when advancing the suite, so Lightroom is Lightroom “web,” and Lightroom Classic is the real thing. Yeah, lame, I know.

One thing I like about Lightroom is the ability to add “looks,” in the form of presets, which are available both for purchase and for free. I can also build my own “look” presets and save them… honestly, I expect that will be how I end up using presets in Lightroom Classic.

My bigger goal, though, is to learn, learn, learn. I want to learn how to use more of these software applications, but also how they can improve my storytelling narrative. Great things are ahead!

Adobe Photoshop has certainly come a long way since I first started using version 5 in 1998 on my beige Apple Macintosh G3 computer.
Adobe Photoshop has certainly come a long way since I first started using version 5 in 1998 on my beige Apple Macintosh G3 computer.

Always Be Ready to Make the Picture

The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a wide angle lens.
The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a wide angle lens.

Anticipating an early voter turnout Tuesday, I drove directly from our home in Byng to Konawa to cover the school bond issue election. It was just after seven in the morning, and the sun was still below the horizon. I immediately noticed that farm ponds had fog above them and anticipated that the Canadian River, which I would shortly cross, would as well.

I drove across the U.S. 377 bridge, parked in a safe spot, put on my highway safety vest, grabbed three cameras and walked to the center of the bridge over the river. For the record, I don’t recommend this, and I did it as a journalist. I know, I know — do as I say, not as I do, but drivers can get distracted in a moment, and it’s not always easy to see in early morning light.

The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 70mm lens.
The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 70mm lens.

Sunlight caught the rising fog exactly as I had anticipated, and the scene did not disappoint. I shot it with all three cameras — one with a 300mm lens, one with an 80-200mm lens,and one with a wide angle. All three scenes expressed something slightly different about the scene, and I was glad I lugged all the hardware with me.

How many times has someone come up to me with their phone in hand and started telling me, “I didn’t have my camera with me, but…” They then show me an image they made with their phone that tells only part of the story. Despite constantly improving technology in smartphones, they lack something. Maybe they lack the attitude of a camera.

The lesson is: Always have your camera with you. I know this is easy to say if you’re like me and have had cameras within arm’s reach since I was in high school, but it can really pay off.

The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 300mm lens.
The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 300mm lens.

The Sweet Morning Fog

I shot this on my way to work this morning, fortuitous that my first assignment required a different route to work than I usually take. I jumped out of my car and half-ran across a mostly-empty four-lane highway to get into position.

Steam billows over a farm pond between Byng and Ada, Oklahoma Saturday morning, March 16; shot with the Nikon D300S and the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8.
Steam billows over a farm pond between Byng and Ada, Oklahoma Saturday morning, March 16; shot with the Nikon D300S and the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8.

And the Moon Shall Become as Blood

I have a revelation for you: the night of January 20 into the very early parts of January 21, all of North America that has clear weather will be able to see, and photograph, a total lunar eclipse. I hope to photograph it myself, as does my wife Abby.

The moon takes on various shades of amber during the September 2015 total lunar eclipse. The dim, red light is created by sunlight refracting through earth's atmosphere.
The moon takes on various shades of amber during the September 2015 total lunar eclipse. The dim, red light is created by sunlight refracting through earth’s atmosphere.

Here are a few tips and tricks…

  • Longer is better. If you have a telephoto lens, consider that despite its impressive appearance in the sky, the moon is actually quite small, about 0.5 degrees, smaller in apparent size than your fingernail held at arm’s length. To fill up the frame with the moon, you need as much telephoto as you can get. If you have a 300mm, you will probably be disappointed at how small the moon is in the frame. Adding a teleconverter can help, but a cheap teleconverter can rob so much sharpness, the image ends up much worse.

    As formidable as this combination of the Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 and its TC-14 teleconverter looks, it's still not really long enough for photographing objects the size of the sun and moon.
    As formidable as this combination of the Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 and its TC-14 teleconverter looks, it’s still not really long enough for photographing objects the size of the sun and moon.
  • If there is an astronomy club near you, consider joining. You will have shared access to real astronomical telescopes that eclipse (pun intended) photographic lenses.
  • The moon moves surprisingly fast across the sky. Exposures of more that a few seconds will likely result in the moon appearing as an oval blur instead of an amber disc. Larger apertures and higher ISO settings are your friend, but the next level is to put your camera on a telescope with a drive mechanism that tracks objects across the sky, leaving you free to use lower ISOs and longer shutter speeds for maximum sharpness.
  • It’s January. It will probably be cold outside. Bundle up. You’ll probably spend some time standing around waiting unless you’re lucky to live in a dark area…
  • Find a dark area. The full moon is quite bright, but by the time it’s in full eclipse, it might be dim enough that you have trouble locating it; I did a couple of times three years ago. If you are in the city, it might be difficult to get around all the light pollution.
  • Don’t believe the absurd things you hear about eclipses and other stellar phenomena. Eclipses aren’t omens. Mars will never look as big as the moon. Asteroids are not going to crash into the earth. There are no space ships hiding behind comets. The world is not flat… eclipses are obvious proof of that. Before you spread bad memes, learn some good science. And have fun photographing the eclipse next month.
This is an assembled composite from seven images made at 20-minute intervals of the Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, lunar eclipse.
This is an assembled composite from seven images made at 20-minute intervals of the Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, lunar eclipse.

Find out when and where to photograph the next lunar eclipse here (link). 

An Odd Move for Kodak

While it's certainly true that I made many great images on Kodak's P3200 film, and that it was head and shoulders above Tri-X for low-light venues, I have absolutely no desire to go back to using it.
While it’s certainly true that I made many great images on Kodak’s P3200 film, and that it was head and shoulders above Tri-X for low-light venues, I have absolutely no desire to go back to using it.

Kodak Alaris, the film and paper division of the bankrupt Great Yellow Father, Kodak, announced recently the reintroduction of Kodak P3200 35mm film. I consider this an odd move – and probably a mistake – because this film, first introduced in the 1980s, was a solution to the problem that existing films weren’t adequate for very low light situations.

Even half a stop of underexposure in the shadows of a P3200 negative creates a very muddy image that's hard to fix.
Even half a stop of underexposure in the shadows of a P3200 negative creates a very muddy image that’s hard to fix.

In 1985, I was working for the Associated Press and, by November, a newspaper, and with the inherent need to cover sports in very low light – football, basketball, volleyball – found myself trying to figure out all the schemes my fellow news shooters and I were using to get existing films to act with more sensitivity to low light. We shot Kodak’s Tri-X, a great film in the 1960s and 1970s, but long in the tooth by the 1980s. We used all sorts of tricks and schemes to get more sensitivity out of Tri-X, from snake oil products like Crone-C developer additive, to relatively obscure chemistry like Accu-Fine and Diafine, to time and temperature experiments with possibly my favorite black-and-white developer, HC-110. None of it got Tri-X above about ISO 2000.

Technology needed to step in, and Kodak needed to bring it.

Enter Kodak T-Max P3200, a very high speed film that could be “push processed” into the ISO stratosphere, which I did all the time. I used Kodak’s T-Max developer and regularly exposed this film at ISO 6400. It was a game-changer. For more than a decade, I relied on this film for imaging, especially sports, in all manner of low-light, almost-no-light venues.

Ada High School Couganns greet their team in the Ada Junior High gym in 1998, near the end of the film era. It's a usable Kodak P3200 image, but compared to digital, it is grainy, contrasty, dusty, and expensive.
Ada High School Couganns greet their team in the Ada Junior High gym in 1998, near the end of the film era. It’s a usable Kodak P3200 image, but compared to digital, it is grainy, contrasty, dusty, and expensive.

Then in 2001, my newspaper bought my first digital camera, a Nikon D1H. From almost exactly that day, my use of P3200 stopped. Color film lingered a while longer, but by the end of 2004, I was done with film.

My wife Abby likes to tell me that her photography was reinvented by digital, and she could finally express herself without the hassle of film – processing, printing, archiving, and especially paying for film and prints.

I, too, was very happy when I could leave film behind and shoot my low-light stuff digitally. Digital solved every problem with film: toxic silver-based chemicals, grainy images, time-consuming printing and/or scanning, and, possibly most significantly, a very limited number of frames.

Calvin basketball fans clamor for their kids at the state tournament in Oklahoma City in 1994. Kodak P3200 was a problem-solver then, but a solution looking for a problem today.
Calvin basketball fans clamor for their kids at the state tournament in Oklahoma City in 1994. Kodak P3200 was a problem-solver then, but a solution looking for a problem today.

Sure, a good print or scan from a P3200 negative is good, but the same shot with a modern DSLR is amazing by comparison.

Also, think about what almost always happens to a film frame in the latter day: it gets scanned to make it digital, and from there makes its way to a print, a publication, or a web site. It does not get printed onto photographic paper using an enlarger, which, in the end, is the only true path to analog photography. Adding film to a digital workflow is like recording your phonograph albums to 8-track tape then ripping those tapes to MP3.

I can almost get interested in a super-low-ISO, super-fine-grained film for fine art, but on the grainy end? Did we not just spend a trillion dollars to get rid of grain and noise?

Also, if you thought dust on your digital sensor was a problem in the early 2000s, you are in for an unpleasant surprise: the cleanest negatives from the cleanest darkrooms have a ton of dust on them, and every speck shows up when you scan.

So what might Kodak be hoping with this move? To light a fire under a previously unknown revenue stream? To be the next big retro thing? To pander to the 1% of millennials who both regard film as edgy and retro and are actually willing to use it? Kodak certainly showed us how to navigate a corporate juggernaut right into the ground, and this idea seems like more of that same thinking.

I pulled a sleeve out of a file box from basketball I covered in March 1994, and found myself thinking about how slow and messy the film process is compared to digital.
I pulled a sleeve out of a file box from basketball I covered in March 1994, and found myself thinking about how slow and messy the film process is compared to digital.

More Stars, More Stripes, More Fun

Motorcyclists and police officers line up to escort runners in the 50th Annual Fireball Classic half-marathon, 10k , and 5k race Tuesday morning, July 4, 2017 in Wintersmith Park. This image was on the front page of the July 6 Ada News.
Motorcyclists and police officers line up to escort runners in the 50th Annual Fireball Classic half-marathon, 10k , and 5k race Tuesday morning, July 4, 2017 in Wintersmith Park. This image was on the front page of the July 6 Ada News.

On a couple of occasions before, I have described how much fun I have covering Ada’s Independence Day celebrations in historic Wintersmith Park. Our community goes all-out, starting with the Fireball Classic half-marathon, 10k, and 5k races (this year was the 50th), followed by kids games, then grown-up games, then fireworks at dark over Wintersmith Lake.

I dug around in the morgue and found this page, my first opportunity to cover Ada's July 4 fun, 1989. "PYAT" in the headline refers to the long-defunct group Proud Young Americans for Truth.
I dug around in the morgue and found this page, my first opportunity to cover Ada’s July 4 fun, 1989. “PYAT” in the headline refers to the long-defunct group Proud Young Americans for Truth.

Having shot this event year after year has been more than a pleasure, it’s been a privilege to offer my view of this historic family-friendly piece of Americana.

A happy coincidence of ads and free space let us use a nice package of my images in color on pages 5 and 6 Thursday. It is my hope that everyone enjoyed the images, and that they spend many years tacked to bulletin boards and stuck on refrigerator doors.
A happy coincidence of ads and free space let us use a nice package of my images in color on pages 5 and 6 Thursday. It is my hope that everyone enjoyed the images, and that they spend many years tacked to bulletin boards and stuck on refrigerator doors.

Learning the Trade: College

Robert Stinson poses under a streetlamp on the South Oval at Oklahoma University in January 1984. We were both photographers at OU back then, and remain friends to this day. I shot it with my Nikon FM2 on a tripod, with my 28mm f/2.8 Nikkor, and Plus-X Pan Film.
Robert Stinson poses under a streetlamp on the South Oval at Oklahoma University in January 1984. We were both photographers at OU back then, and remain friends to this day. I shot it with my Nikon FM2 on a tripod, with my 28mm f/2.8 Nikkor, and Plus-X Pan Film.
I cheated a little to make this image of a 1984 snowball fight: I asked my sister's roommate to pose for it. I made this with my 105mm on Plus-X Pan Film.
I cheated a little to make this image of a 1984 snowball fight: I asked my sister’s roommate to pose for it. I made this with my 105mm on Plus-X Pan Film.

My young friend Mackenzee Crosby was just accepted to Oklahoma University and intends to go to journalism school. These events left me reminiscing about my own experiences at OU in the early 1980s.

My educational experiences as an instructor have reenforced what I have always believed, that education is very learner-defined, meaning that it depends very much on how motivated the student is to absorb what the instructor is offering.

College, by extension, isn’t as valuable as it could be because many people get through it just to get through it. On the occasions when I taught college, students were all over the place: lazy, excited, cynical, fun, bored, motivated, selfish, ambitious.

I will add that as the years have passed, a college degree is worth less. For a while the mantra was “you need a master’s degree,” and now it is, “you need a doctorate.”

I made this portrait of my friend Anna Maria in 1983. Shot on Kodak Panatomic-X film, ISO 32, with my 105mm. The light is a two-flash setup, one bounced off the wall to my left, and the other behind her. I thought she was beautiful in 1983, and I was not wrong.
I made this portrait of my friend Anna Maria in 1983. Shot on Kodak Panatomic-X film, ISO 32, with my 105mm. The light is a two-flash setup, one bounced off the wall to my left, and the other behind her. I thought she was beautiful in 1983, and I was not wrong.
Using a red filter and Tri-X Pan Film, this is one of my earliest "fine art" attempts.
Using a red filter and Tri-X Pan Film, this is one of my earliest “fine art” attempts.

In any case, I learned very little of my actual tradecraft from classes I took. The overwhelming majority of my skills came from my motivation to be a journalist: shooting, working in the darkroom, getting published in the yearbook and the student newspaper, and getting work from various media. I couldn’t wait until a journalism class was over so I could go do some journalism.

I made this image of a pie-in-the-face event for the Sooner Yearbook in 1984. This was the day I met Scott Andersen, who was shooting it for the Oklahoma Daily student newspaper. It was shot on Kodak Plus-X Film with my 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor.
I made this image of a pie-in-the-face event for the Sooner Yearbook in 1984. This was the day I met Scott Andersen, who was shooting it for the Oklahoma Daily student newspaper. It was shot on Kodak Plus-X Film with my 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor.
This is my official "candid" self-portrait for the colophon of the 1985 Sooner Yearbook. I am holding a Nikon FM2 with my 105mm f/2.5.
This is my official “candid” self-portrait for the colophon of the 1985 Sooner Yearbook. I am holding a Nikon FM2 with my 105mm f/2.5.

I had in mind during my college years that yearbook and magazine represented better quality than newspaper, so much of the time, I tried to get the sharpest and finest quality from my work, and preferred to sell it to glossy publications instead of dailies. Having been a newspaper intern in the summers of 1982 and 1983, I knew that newspaper photography was, as a fellow photographer said to me at the time, “meatball photography.”

I got to know several of my fellow student photographers well, but none more than Scott AndersEn and Robert Stinson, who remain close friends and respected fellow photographers to this day.

It seemed like a big deal at the time to have a sideline pass to photograph Oklahoma football.
It seemed like a big deal at the time to have a sideline pass to photograph Oklahoma football.
A young lady I was courting at the time holds my then-new Nikon FE2 with the 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor. She was a twirler for the band at rival Oklahoma State.
A young lady I was courting at the time holds my then-new Nikon FE2 with the 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor. She was a twirler for the band at rival Oklahoma State.

My film of choice was usually Kodak Tri-X rated at about ISO 250, souped in Kodak Microdol-X, using the 1:3 dilution, 75 degrees for 13 minutes, thought at the time to produce better grain and sharpness. I experimented with all kinds of products, but came back to those again and again.

I had three camera bodies, a Nikon FM, which I bought in January 1982, a Nikon FM2, which I got in 1983, and a Nikon FE2, bought in 1984 when a friend suggested it instead of another FM2. All of them had the MD-12 motor drive.

I had four lenses in my basic bag through college, a 28mm f/2.8 Nikkor, a 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor, a 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor, and a 200mm f/4 Nikkor. The 105mm was my go-to favorite, since it was sharp, light, bright, and easy to use. Near the end of my college life I got a 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor.

This is the Nikon FE2 at the end of its life in 2003, right before I sold it.
This is the Nikon FE2 at the end of its life in 2003, right before I sold it.
One of my roommates, Matthew Hyubich, poses for an illustration of students falling asleep while studying, which I made for the Sooner Yearbook with my 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor.
One of my roommates, Matthew Hyubich, poses for an illustration of students falling asleep while studying, which I made for the Sooner Yearbook with my 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor.

I used the darkroom in Copeland Hall, which was shared by newspaper and yearbook students, and which was often quite a mess. Most photographers and dilettantes never understood that the chemicals – developer, fixer, stop bath, wetting agent – were anything other than water, and tended to spill them, contaminate them, use them up and not replace them. I became the de facto manager of the darkroom, and cleaned it all the time.

Oklahoma University tried to do a "Hands Across OU" thing while Hands Across America was going on, but it came up short, as in this image I shot with my 200mm f/4 Nikkor on Tri-X Pan Film.
Oklahoma University tried to do a “Hands Across OU” thing while Hands Across America was going on, but it came up short, as in this image I shot with my 200mm f/4 Nikkor on Tri-X Pan Film.

I had a crush on at least four of our Sooner Yearbook staffers, but no one on the Oklahoma Daily staff. I never dated any of them, though I certainly tried, and was mostly alone for my time in college.

I shot this from the parking garage above the ticket office at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium before an OU football game. A few seconds later I dropped clip-on metal lens hood from my 105mm Nikkor lens to the ground below. Fortunately, it didn't hit anyone.
I shot this from the parking garage above the ticket office at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium before an OU football game. A few seconds later I dropped clip-on metal lens hood from my 105mm Nikkor lens to the ground below. Fortunately, it didn’t hit anyone.
Robert lived in a basement apartment for a while during that period, and installed this chair by hanging it from some pipes.
Robert lived in a basement apartment for a while during that period, and installed this chair by hanging it from some pipes.

I used all my own darkroom gear, including tanks, reels, and chemicals, since I could almost guarantee the other photographers would compromise the supplies in the darkroom. During finals week in an art class in 1983, I souped some slide film in the chemistry they provided, which had been contaminated, and which ruined my film, forcing an urgent reshoot.

Once, when I was walking home with my backpack stuffed with photo gear, I heard some frat turds yelling at me, “Hey, nurd!” Yeah, frat guys in college: a topic for another day.

At one point I dropped by The Tulsa World and showed some of my stuff to the managing editor, who kept asking, “You’re a student?”

In the fall of 1985, I got a call from The Shawnee News-Star, and started my career as a news photographer.

This was one of my favorite images from the era, of the bonfire prior to the 1984 OU-Texas game, shot with my 105mm f/2.5.
This was one of my favorite images from the era, of the bonfire prior to the 1984 OU-Texas game, shot with my 105mm f/2.5.

Why Canyonlands?

The author stands at the edge of a 1200-foot cliff face at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah in April 2011.
The author stands at the edge of a 1200-foot cliff face at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah in April 2011.

Many people seem amazed and delighted when I tell them, or show them pictures, of our wedding at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. It is an amazing, beautiful spot, and the morning we got married there we had beautiful blue skies, abundant sunshine, and few visitors. But it’s not always like that.

Storm clouds brood over the Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District at Canyonlands National Park in the spring of 2013. Even the trail circling the campground in this park is spectacular.
Storm clouds brood over the Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District at Canyonlands National Park in the spring of 2013. Even the trail circling the campground in this park is spectacular.
Our small wedding party conducts our ceremony in brilliant morning sunshine at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, October 12, 2004.
Our small wedding party conducts our ceremony in brilliant morning sunshine at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, October 12, 2004.

The trouble is that Arches has, like so many once-wild places, been “discovered.” By that I mean that a combination of the internet and digital photography, huge numbers of people have decided to make sites like Delicate Arch their destination. They see gorgeous images of scenes like that and want a piece of it themselves.

The flaw in that kind of thinking is that at this point in digital history, places like Delicate Arch don’t have as much to offer because of the very discovery that made them popular. We’ve all seen these images too many times. I’ll grant you that there is some photographic potential yet to be cultivated there, but you have to take more steps toward the unusual to do it. Sunrise. In the snow. With the Milky Way behind it. And so on.

This paragraph shows Delicate Arch and its more or less continuous entourage of photographers on an afternoon in April 2013.
This paragraph shows Delicate Arch and its more or less continuous entourage of photographers on an afternoon in April 2013.
Though it is increasingly crowded, my wife and I still hold a special place in our hearts for Arches National Park and its signature feature, Delicate Arch, which we last visited and photographed in October 2014.
Though it is increasingly crowded, my wife and I still hold a special place in our hearts for Arches National Park and its signature feature, Delicate Arch, which we last visited and photographed in October 2014.

But we still see droves of self-important-looking photographers gathered on the approaches to Delicate Arch or in The Windows Section, with their $6000 cameras on their $1200 tripods, squinting joylessly at the target, making the same picture I made the first time, and every time, I go there.

It’s played out. It has become one of the “windshield tourism” National Parks. Even though my wife Abby and I have something of a special claim to the place, when we go there, we don’t take very much equipment, and we don’t take very many pictures.

But there is hope. Canyonlands.

Evening sun strikes sandstone pillars in Monument Basic, a dominant feature at Canyonlands National Park.
Evening sun strikes sandstone pillars in Monument Basic, a dominant feature at Canyonlands National Park.
The author hikes on the Chocolate Drops trail in The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park in May 2012. On the entire three-day excursion to this area, I only saw about five other people.
The author hikes on the Chocolate Drops trail in The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park in May 2012. On the entire three-day excursion to this area, I only saw about five other people.

There are parts of Canyonlands National Park that see only a handful of visitors every year. In The Maze District, for example, the rangers will warn you when you check in at the Hans Flat Ranger Station that, “You must be capable of self-sustenance and self-rescue.” Presumably this means they can’t come rescue you if you have a flat tire or a heart attack, or that it will cost thousands of dollars and will disturb the other visitors. When Dennis Udink and I visited The Maze in 2012, though, we only saw five other people during our three-day stay.

The Needles District at Canyonlands is, like the other districts, labyrinthian, as in this November 2002 image.
The Needles District at Canyonlands is, like the other districts, labyrinthian, as in this November 2002 image.
This biggest obstacle to most visitors in The Maze District at Canyonlands is the "road," seen here in 2012.
This biggest obstacle to most visitors in The Maze District at Canyonlands is the “road,” seen here in 2012.

Even in the easier-to-access sections of Canyonlands, there are only a handful of roadside turnouts. The rest of the park is scattered trail heads and many miles of trails, most of which I have hiked, but many of which, unlike the trails in Arches, remain on my to-do list. Some of the Canyonlands trails are long enough and difficult enough to require multi-day backpacking trips to make it from one end to the other.

I was able to introduce my wife Abby to Canyonlands in 2010, in the Island in the Sky District.
I was able to introduce my wife Abby to Canyonlands in 2010, in the Island in the Sky District.

Canyonlands is four and a half times larger than Arches, but receives about two and a half times fewer visitors. The most difficult marked trail at Arches is the Primitive Loop trail, so named, I expect, to at least somewhat discourage non-hikers from attempting the hike, which is 7.2 miles long and crosses varied terrain. Still, nearly every trail at Canyonlands is more difficult and primitive than the Primitive Loop.

Land of Lakes?
In November 2007, a park ranger told me that in the early 1960s, the director of the Park Service and the director of the Bureau of Reclamations each wanted to use the area that is now Canyonlands. It’s discouraging to imagine anyone ever considering covering this amazing area in water behind a dam, and I am glad and grateful the Park Service director got his way.

By the time you get more than a few hundred yards down the trails at Canyonlands, the only people you will see are fit, well-equipped, determined hikers. Not only are the trails more challenging at Canyonlands, they’re more fun, pass through more varied and beautiful terrain, and make better pictures.

I made this image, deep in the heart of The Needles District of Canyonlands, in November 2002. It took most of a day to hike to this spot.`
I made this image, deep in the heart of The Needles District of Canyonlands, in November 2002. It took most of a day to hike to this spot.
Spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone, the most common formation at Canyonlands, stand tall on the Devil's Pocket Trail in The Needles District of Canyonlands in March 2010. I hiked nearly an entire day over 12 miles, and saw fewer than a dozen people.
Spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone, the most common formation at Canyonlands, stand tall on the Devil’s Pocket Trail in The Needles District of Canyonlands in March 2010. I hiked nearly an entire day over 12 miles, and saw fewer than a dozen people.

At the most fundamental level of my outdoorism is, I believe, my desire to get as far away from civilization as I can, and the farther I get, the smaller and more humble I feel, and the more I feel like I am really accomplishing something amazing and unique. Canyonlands is one place where I can do that.

To my eye, Canyonlands is even more breathtaking than The Grand Canyon. I made this image from there Grand View Point at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands in April 2011.
To my eye, Canyonlands is even more breathtaking than The Grand Canyon. I made this image from there Grand View Point at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands in April 2011.

Summer Breeze

Carolyn Ross and her daughter Gracie Ross play the Banana Eating Game during the kid's games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
Carolyn Ross and her daughter Gracie Ross play the Banana Eating Game during the kid’s games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
This is Zach Gray, who was making pictures of his July 4 experience with a mint condition Mamiya C220 twin lens reflect film camera. I'll have more to say about that later.
This is Zach Gray, who was making pictures of his July 4 experience with a mint condition Mamiya C220 twin lens reflect film camera. I’ll have more to say about that later.

The public might not realize that news photographers live a life of feast or famine. At the first of March, we spend twelve hour days darting between basketball playoffs, car crashes, assignments for special sections, and baseball team photo days.

Then when school’s out, editors impatiently tap their feet as we can only give them a photo of a kid in the splash park or somebody running a weed eater.

Then, July 4 happens. In Ada, it’s a huge deal. It starts in Wintersmith Park at 7 am with the Fireball Classic 10k/5k race, Oklahoma’s oldest such event. That’s followed by kid’s games in the park in the morning, then grow-up’s games in the afternoon. Finally, Wintersmith Lake is surrounded by spectators for the traditional Independence Day fireworks display.

For me, it is one of the busiest days of the year, and one of the funnest. It always makes great photos, everyone is always glad to see me, and I always have a great time.

Kids scamper down Scenic Street in Ada's Wintersmith Park during the kid's race at the annual Fireball Classic 10k/5k run.
Kids scamper down Scenic Street in Ada’s Wintersmith Park during the kid’s race at the annual Fireball Classic 10k/5k run.
Children participate in "giant" turtle race during the kid's games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
Children participate in “giant” turtle race during the kid’s games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
Lana Glover hula-hoops covered in colored powder during the kid's games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
Lana Glover hula-hoops covered in colored powder during the kid’s games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
One of the teams in the "Water War" takes aim at a plastic barrel mounted on a cable. They and their opponents try to push the barrel to the opposite end.
One of the teams in the “Water War” takes aim at a plastic barrel mounted on a cable. They and their opponents try to push the barrel to the opposite end.
A woman uses a phone to record the fireworks display in Wintersmith Park.
A woman uses a phone to record the fireworks display in Wintersmith Park.
As I was photographing fireworks, I saw a drone above Wintermith Lake. This morning, I had a CD from the operator, Tony Matthews, with some of his photos from the drone, including this one.
As I was photographing fireworks, I saw a drone above Wintermith Lake. This morning, I had a CD from the operator, Tony Matthews, with some of his photos from the drone, including this one.
Loud, bright and colorful, fireworks burst over Wintersmith Lake. I always enjoy them, both photographically and as the kid inside.
Loud, bright and colorful, fireworks burst over Wintersmith Lake. I always enjoy them, both photographically and as the kid inside.