Search for the Color There was an evening recently, that I’d made the decision to travel downtown to make images. It was an easy decision: The light was nice and it’d been a while since I’d last photographed. There was something about this trip though …
Seize the Vertical With 35mm film cameras, DSLRs, mirrorless…MOST cameras, it takes some extra maneuvers for the vertical frame. Horizontal photos are easy: You hold the camera, right hand at the right and left hand at the left. For verticals though, do you put right …
If you’re like me, it’s a commitment to venture out and make pictures. It’s a commitment in time, money and resources. We do it because we love the craft and art of it…unless you have a different reason, which you could. For now though, I’m going to assume these reasons are why most individuals love photography. Before venturing out on a photo trip, the process involves this: How much time do I have to photograph? Which camera should I bring? And usually the toughest question: Where will I go? My decision speed all of these categories have become much, much quicker lately. I’ve narrowed down my camera selection to a couple options and for my locations I go to places that are off the beaten path or unfamiliar. Due to COVID-19, I’m steering clear, for the most part, of heavily populated streets and towns.
There are definitely preferred times to photograph; usually it’s based on obtaining the most beautiful light possible. Sometimes though, with the time that is allotted for photographs, nice light refuses to join. Such was the case when I decided to head to Boyne Falls, MI, a small, one blinking-light town a little more than an hour from home. As I was cruising down the road, the light was transforming from cloud-covered sun, to straight, unblocked sun. The sun was already straight up in the sky, but the coveted clouds that were sheltering everything from its contrasty rays were beginning to slide away and out of sight. By the time I arrived to Boyne Falls, it was high, direct sunshine. Ugh.
Don’t Give Up on the Light!
When the light turns unfavorable, don’t give up! It could either change quickly, or you could embrace the light you do have. For my trip to Boyne Falls, it was all about embracing the light that was there. I parked my car and started walking through the small town. There was what looked like an old downtown that probably thrived back in the day. These are great finds and this one was no different. Past the town’s post office building was a blue structure. As I approached, a woman was sitting, smoking, on a stoop there. “Am I in the way,” she asked? I replied,”Not at all,” when the building’s landlord walked out, curious about my picture taking. I explained my interest in the building and she proceeded to tell me its history and all the roles it had played, and continues to play, in the community.
After that, I took interest in the houses and structures around the town. There were a couple people that glanced my way and as they did, I nodded and smiled in response. The buzzing of a lawn mower could be heard a block away while some kids were cruising around on their bicycles. It was a setting of Americana that always permeates my soul. After making the photo decisions mentioned earlier, then come the micro-decisions while walking: where to stand, what to photograph and when to press the shutter, etc. These are all personal choices and part of the beauty of making photos. On this day, I was really appreciating the quiet, small-town feel, so I used that and made images that seemed quiet and reflective of my time spent in Boyne Falls.
My lens on the Leica was the 28mm Elmarit. It’s my favorite and only lens for the camera. It’s absolutely incredible but it does require the photographer using the lens to approach close to the subject. This is why I purchased the lens; when I become closer and more involved with my photos, it’s an overall more rewarding experience.
Back to the light: Do not fret the midday sun. Sure, it’s not the best light but there are always going to be options. If your compositions are strong, then some high sun isn’t going to matter too much. Another tactic, ESPECIALLY with portraits, is to find shade and make it work. Knowledge of photography in the shade is what’ll come in handy on occasions like this.
Boyne Falls was a small town full of photographic possibilities. It was a new place which of course heightens the senses and observances. The town was clean; buildings and homes were well kept. I probably spent between one to two hours walking and photographing. There’s never enough time to take pictures but there is thankfulness for the time and pictures that take place so I definitely was appreciative for the town of Boyne Falls, its history and the light that shone as it chose.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
My camera bag is loaded with rolls of 35mm film and my lodging for LeDuc’s Creekside Motel in Cheboygan, MI is booked; let’s do some street photography. Mackinaw City was my focus on this photo excursion and weekend of village voyaging, but to maximize my …
Look at the palm of your right hand; that’s Michigan, the lower peninsula. Follow your middle finger to the tip and that’s where Mackinaw City is. Now, look at the palm of your left hand, that’s Michigan’s upper peninsula. Connect the tip of your left …
A photographic bowling ball of wisdom fell into my lap and I almost missed it. It was during my first internship as a photographer at a daily newspaper in Michigan. My photojournalism degree obtained, my college days behind me for the time being and a coveted photography internship in my future, I was fresh, ready and excited for what lay ahead. There are many stories to be told and learned from regarding these experiences, but this is about gear. A sturdy, built-like-a-brick camera was handed to me with a couple of lenses, a flash and a black camera bag and I was off to photograph assignments.
While on assignments during those early days, people would ask me,”How many pixels is your camera?” During those early days though, the least of my concerns was pixel count. I had a tool in my hand that captured images and that was it. People, light, story telling—these were my priorities and concerns. Not only was pixel count unimportant to me, pixel count was also unknown by me. I was so busy telling stories in the beautiful communities nearby, I didn’t care or have time to look up how many pixels there were, it could’ve been 1 or 1,000,000. Turns out, the pixel count on that early camera of mine was in the megapixel range of 2.7. So there it was, 2.7 megapixels of information being used to capture all my photos; through near stories and far, through happy stories and sad.
After that, my next camera was at least twice as many megapixels. Then, with each new release of a camera, there were more and more megapixels bursting out of a camera that could do it all with blazing speed. Maximum features and image quality seemed like my only option if I wanted to capture images I cared about. But, here’s the problem: New cameras come out at a ridiculous pace. Old cameras plummet in value at a ridiculous pace; just putting an insane amount of desire and mind power into purchasing the latest camera is completely ridiculous. I was spiraling into a death-spin photo mindset of believing if my photos weren’t good enough, it must be my camera. How wrong I was about it all.
After buying cameras and seeing their worth drop significantly, I became ready for a change. The days of not knowing what my camera’s limitations were had been gone for too long and I was ready to have them back. I missed the image making process and the art of it all. I missed it when the only important action was to press my shutter button at the right time, not care about what type of electronics were under that shutter button.
Make Images with your Heart and Soul
The purpose of this valuable blog post is to tell you that it’s all about the act of making images, and the image itself, instead of the camera. It’s the process of capturing what you like and practicing that process over and over to improve. When you’re making photos, think about anything else other than the camera you’re using. It doesn’t matter if it’s a camera with 100 megapixels or an oatmeal box with a pinhole and a negative inside (what I used in an eighth-grade photo art class), it’s all about the image, the art, and/or the practice of photography.
The way that I started to achieve my mindset of photo zen was by picking up a 35mm camera and making images with it. I was slowing down, enjoying the process and, most importantly, having fun. Sure, images with a large-format camera would be eye-popping at insanely-large sizes, but I don’t have such a camera nor does mastering every camera style interest me.
I’ve read that 35mm is too small, too this or too that. I thought,” Thirty-five millimeter film is absolutely gorgeous and I’ve encountered masterful works using the medium.” If anything, 35mm is too beautiful. I’ve blown up 35mm negatives and they’re stunning. Give me that grain and gutter-low detail and whatever else and it’ll be perfect, for me. I’ve enlarged 2.67 megapixel images and they’re beautiful too. What’s important here though, is that my 35mm could be your iPhone, or your Holga, etc. I love hearing about photographers that primarily use cell phones, or that have used them on big shoots, like Luisa Dörr. The important camera truly is whatever you have with you and enjoy using.
Some of those images I made during my first photo internship are some of my favorite to this day. When my photos improve, it’s not because my camera was anything, it’s because the image was simply better and my instincts to capture the image were improved. If it’s not abundantly clear already, the bottom line is that you simply make images. Don’t live outside your means to purchase a new camera. Make images that are important to you and create art and images that speak to you, you’ll be happy you did. The bottom line is: Don’t focus so much on the gear that you lose sight of the process and image.
Smallest Post Office in the U.S. Situated between Naples, FL and Miami, FL is a 7 foot by 8 foot structure in Ochopee (pronounced O-Chop-ee), FL. It’s small but visible as its white color stands out from the surrounding southern-Florida greenery. Driving past it for …
Hemingway Fished Here The first time I remember hearing the word ‘Seney’ was in the late 1990s or early 2000s when a friend and I were helping a buddy move back to college in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A road on our helpful journey we were …
At a first glance, you’d think you were in a small fishing village along the East Coast. White and grey seagulls hover close as fishing boats chug into port. Vessels of all types moored in Harbor. Waves from Lake Superior lapping or crashing—depending on the minute—onto shore. These are only some of the characteristics that make Grand Marais, MI, unique. It’s situated on the easternmost edge of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, so if it’s natural beauty you’re seeking, this is your spot.
Grand Marais was at its most populous in the late 1800s, when logging took a foothold. Lumber mills were built, saloons were staggered out of and the town was bustling. Once the landscape was depleted with the precious trees, logging operations ceased and people moved away. The town went from thousands to maybe a few hundred in the span of weeks. Times were slow until the declaration of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the 1960s. Now, Grand Marais has slowly found itself as an increasingly popular tourist destination.
To see Grand Marais as you’re driving through it is quick. They say, “blink and you’ll miss it.” Sometimes that’s an exaggeration but in Grand Marais it’s not much of one. It’s probably 11 blinks from the start of town to the finish. Plus, you won’t want to miss it. This isn’t the kind of town one passes through, this is a town where one stops. A Grand Marais history guide, sold at local shops, explain history and information that correspond to numbered posts visible throughout the town. Some structures burned down, some were moved and surprisingly, many are in the same locations they’ve always been.
Traveling into the town, no matter what direction it’s entered from, is to pass small streets and many historical houses. The downtown pops into view and is the center of commerce, of course, with restaurants, hotels and a number of shops. If you’re standing in town and can’t see the magnificent harbor, it usually only takes a couple steps in any direction before it’s visible.
Whenever I’m in a place like this, I like to walk with my camera to get a better feel for the town. As I was walking, time slowed, an occasional person or people would stroll past and campers would stop for supplies at the gas station. There were fishing boats, old and new, in many yards. Some of the older boats looked like they’d been used to haul in many a fish and were now relegated to their retirement—or possibly a future fixer-upper project.
There were many pastimes here: walking the beaches; sitting and listening to small-town and harbor sounds; and exploring the history were only some of the favorites. A week felt like a perfect amount of time to see it all and learn about what Grand Marais was all about. Kayaking the harbor on a calm morning presented us with an incredible number of underwater sightings like old logs, sunken structures and pilings. Kayak excursion finished, we made it back to our launching beach and saw an old, pristine El Camino.
There’s an understanding in Grand Marais. It requires some traveling to arrive there but when, if, you exchange glances with passersby or chat with a local resident, there’s an unspoken connection of what brought people to this place in the past and in the present—it’s simply beautiful.
Tech Notes: All photos, with the exception of the El Camino, were made with a Mamiya 7 film camera. The El Camino was captured with an iPhone 7.
House photography can be extremely rewarding and fun. When I’m scrolling through the rabbit hole that is Instagram, I find myself stopping quite often at pictures that are the homes of others. Some are mid-century modern, others are of the extremely banal variety. Some have …