It is written in many tutorials that in order to photograph successfully, one must photograph during the Hour of Gold. Fear not, fellow photographers, for a beautiful photograph may be captured any time you’re out with your camera, even if that time isn’t the golden …
Choosing the right film camera can be incredibly overwhelming. There are seemingly endless options out there for you to use. But, worry not. If you’re looking for a simple camera that can be found for a reasonable price, the Canon AE-1 gets the job done, …
Portrait photography is one of my favorite genres within the craft. To meet someone and make a portrait of that person, or people, is special.
While working for different newspapers, it was portraits that made up so many daily assignments. The goal was to photograph someone creatively in a way to would tell a story pertaining to the individual.
Admittedly, portraits used to be a type of photography that wasn’t my favorite. My favorite type of photography used to be street photography, or something like it. I still enjoy it tremendously. I’d always envisioned—perhaps like so many other photojournalists—of being the next Cartier-Bresson, walking the streets of a picturesque city while creating compositions within my viewfinder that pleased the eyes of all that would look at my images.
However, over time, I began to truly appreciate the portrait. After seeing some portraits made by Diane Arbus, Arnold Newman and Dan Winters—and even Cartier-Bresson made some gorgeous portraits while staying in his style—I began to find the draw to portraiture.
After photographing more and more people, for assignments and otherwise, my confidence with portrait photography began to grow.
I began to believe in myself and to feel that I care enough about making a quality portrait that I can do it, and do it well.
My portrait photography enjoyment has even reached a point to where I’m enjoying photographing strangers. I should say, my portrait subjects are strangers when we first meet, but varying connections do form throughout the portrait session, so where not strangers by the end of the portrait session.
Portrait sessions can happen quickly and unexpectedly. They’re no telling when, how and/or where you’ll encounter someone that would make a good portrait. This is part of the excitement.
One of my favorite cameras to make portraits with is not a famed portrait camera at all. It’s the Mamiya 7. The Mamiya 7 is a rangefinder camera that uses medium format film. It’s easy to use and the quality of the lenses is superb.
Now, you definitely don’t need a Mamiya 7 camera to make great portraits. You can make a great portrait with any camera.
I only bring up this camera because it’s what taught me some valuable lessons.
The Mamiya 7, especially when using it to make portraits, requires focus (literally and figuratively) and attention. It’s not an easy camera to make portraits with. The viewfinder is such that two images of your subject have to line up in order to be in focus. A small movement forward or backward can render your image blurry.
Another aspect of using the Mamiya 7 that helped me improve my portrait photography is the fact that only ten images can be made on a roll of 120 film. With the cost of film, processing and scanning, that works out to about $3.00 per image made. Since money isn’t growing on a tree outside my window, that’s enough money to make me take my time to make sure my photograph is good.
Also, photo subjects can tell when you’re taking your time and trying your best to make an image. I think that when they see you’re serious, they tend to take the shoot a little more seriously, too.
Of course, there are those who are disciplined and talented enough to be able to capture excellent portrait photos with digital camera equipment. I find that once I photograph with film for a while, I’m able to transfer how I shoot over to digital. After a while though, I tend to get more lax on my practices and I have to go back to film.
Most importantly, you photograph how you want to photograph and using techniques that work best for you. I’m only mentioning what works for me. And, I’m mentioning it because perhaps my techniques will work for you also.
If you’re looking for a fun new experience, try photographing with any type of film camera and see how it goes. I’m confident you’ll enjoy the process of slowing down and the excitement of waiting for your film scans to return.
The creative journey is different for everyone. It can be a slow ascent, then a whiplash-fast descent and everything in-between, and then it can change again. And that’s okay, because it’s all part of that journey. Do not fret fellow creatives. There are ways to …
It was December 24, 2022. Our plan, by way of yearly tradition, was to travel north and visit family for the holidays. Nature’s plan, though, was to make the Michigan roads as undriveable as possible through a weather assault of wind, snow, cold and ice. …
Tell someone you’re going away for a weekend to Saginaw, Michigan to take photos, and you may receive puzzling expressions—I certainly did. The responses of wonderment I received were mostly from the people I encountered in Saginaw, too.
Saginaw is often on lists, but they’re not the types of lists that garner praise or accolades. The lists are usually rankings of dangerous cities in Michigan or the United States. Saginaw is often close to the top in the state and nationally.
So why travel to Saginaw? I went there because even though it’s a city with challenges, poverty and crime, it’s still a city where people live and since it’s a piece of the fabric that makes up the state of Michigan, it deserves to be documented.
Also, there are some incredible aspects to Saginaw. There are some fantastic people there, mind-blowing architecture and the best place to buy a tortilla I’ve ever been. Much more importantly, it’s a city with vast potential and with strong communities, along with a rich history.
I previously created a blog post, here, about working as a photojournalist intern at the Saginaw News in 2005 and returning years later to photograph.
In addition, Saginaw is only about two hours from home so it’s easily traveled to, and from, in a weekend.
My favorite place to stay when heading to Saginaw is the Relax Inn. It’s in a quiet section of country away from the hustle and bustle, the staff is kind and the prices are phenomenal.
On the particular weekend I was there, the weather was to be quite cold, and it sure was. When I woke up on Saturday morning, it had snowed a lot and the wind was creating a wind chill that tested even my Michigan blood.
However, photo weekends are precious and not to be squandered, so once I put my extra vest on and warm gloves and a stocking hat, it was out the door I went.
A film camera, accompanied by my iPhone, was my only rig for this trip. Sometimes I bring a film camera and digital camera, but more equipment tends to make things a hassle and I wanted to keep things simple on this trip.
Earlier I mentioned that Saginaw has a reputation for being dangerous so I’ll mention here that the same rules apply when in Saginaw as when in any big city: Use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and don’t wander in unfamiliar and unsafe areas at night.
As I began my photo excursion in the city, I began to notice some buildings that had been removed since the last time I’d visited. This is a shame because the buildings were architectural gems. The good news though is that some of the best architectural gems remained.
My travels began near the apartment building on Thompson Street where I once lived. It seemed like a fitting place for a photo outing since it’s one of the first internships I had when I started my photojournalism career.
Across the street from the apartment building was a beautiful green Mercedes Benz car in a church parking lot.
My travels afterward included some fine examples of mid-century modern architecture. It’s abundant there. It was especially important to me to document these buildings now, since one never knows when a building will be torn down.
To me, this is one of the most important reasons to photograph. You’ll find, if you haven’t already, that documenting what you do can become an important historical record. This is especially true as time moves on.
When I wasn’t photographing architecture, I was wandering about Old Saginaw City. There are vignettes, especially in the Old Town area, that speak to the grit and authenticity of the area.
It was fulfilling and so great to be back in Saginaw. Being there for the weekend confirmed what I felt about it: it’s a tough city with some beautiful features.
I can’t wait to return.
These days it’s almost impossible to be interested in photography and equipment and not end up down the rabbit hole that is the camera forum. Talk of DxO scores, sharpness, aberration and, of course, megapixels, dominate the subject matter. None of that matters. My first …
As photographers, we obviously would like to photography when the light is optimum. The golden hour, the blue hour, sunsets, sunrises—these are all times of day when the light can turn gorgeous and can result in exquisite images. But, what do you do when the …
On Assignment for The Wall Street Journal: “How ‘eDNA’ Might Transform the Search for Missing Service Members”
In the span of only a few days, I went from receiving a photo assignment from The Wall Street Journal, to feeling Lake Huron spray hit my face as we sped toward shipwreck Pewabic, trying to beat inclement weather.
As a freelance photographer, when I’m commissioned by someone to make pictures for them, I take every inquiry seriously.
This rings especially true when the assignment comes from The Wall Street Journal. I’ve been fortunate to work with them on a number of assignments, and they’ve all been not only fascinating, but they’ve also held potential for interesting visuals as well.
Last August, my assignment was to meet and travel with a group of researchers and divers as they traveled to the site of a shipwreck. The objective of their excursion, and what I was to document, was their gathering of environmental DNA (eDNA) at the site.
The eDNA is gathered when collection tubes are placed near the shipwreck—it could also be a plane, or any other area of underwater interest—and sediment is collected at the site. Once the sediment is collected, it is transported to a laboratory for analyzing.
After working at some of the shipwrecks in Lake Huron, in Michigan’s northeast, many of the researchers were going to travel to Italy to explore and research a World War II plane that was underwater. It was interesting to hear about how this talented group of researchers was collaborating on a world-wide level.
This was a challenging, but extremely fulfilling assignment. Weather was the ultimate dictator of when, if and how long, anyone was going to travel to the shipwreck site. Since the weather changes so quickly, especially on the Great Lakes, it wasn’t decided whether or not the trip would take place until a couple of hours before the scheduled time.
Fortunately, there was a window of time when we could go.
Typically, there would be a group of divers that setup the equipment and supplies needed for the sediment collection. Then, there would be another group of divers that followed, and they would gather the sediment at the chosen site.
Since the weather was turning windy and wavy, only the first group of divers—they’re the ones who setup the sediment collection tubes at the underwater site—went down.
From a photojournalist’s standpoint, I was mostly thankful that any divers at all were able to go down.
Photographing this was really enjoyable. Everyone was extremely informative, helpful, professional and kind. One of the most difficult aspects of photojournalism, for a photojournalist, is gathering caption information.
If people are in a photo, it’s of utmost importance that their names are not only included in the captions, but spelled correctly.
My habit that has worked the best for me regarding this has been to listen to someone spell their name, and then I show them my notepad after I’ve written it down, so they can correct me if need be. It works really well.
Since most of my photo subjects were in diving gear, I had to make sure to write down who was wearing what, so that I’d have an idea of who was who when I would look at the photos later. A quick description like: ‘diver with red shoes and blue goggles’, can make all the difference.
After returning to shore, the task of toning and captioning photos begins. Fortunately, I was able to have enough time to drive three hours home to do this. Sometimes, the turnaround time is so quick, the photo toning and captioning has to be completed as soon as possible.
I was pleased with how the photos turned out. My attention to what was going on is always really high in the moment and I could walk away from this assignment knowing I had done my best. A technique that I’ve adopted ever since I’ve started with photojournalism, though, is to critique my work and look for areas of improvement.
The final online layout, visible here, was exceptional and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how it came together as a narrative and visually interesting package.
A self-critiquing of my work has always given me pause and helped me find areas that I could do better during future assignments.
To me, photojournalism is the most fulfilling occupation and craft in the world. It allows a person to be creative while still gathering information. This assignment checked all the boxes and I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to photograph it.
If you’re interested in photographing assignments of some kind, find out what interests you and look for outlets or publications that use images like the ones you’re keen on. Keep photographing and building a body of work, then reach out to a photo editor and tell them you’d like to take photos for them.
Don’t be discouraged if your call isn’t well received or even received at all; photo editors and directors of photography are extremely busy. If you’re lucky you may receive a healthy dose of critiquing. I’ve always listened to criticism that came my way and tried to adjust accordingly.
Keep photographing things that are important to you and have fun.
It was a Friday afternoon and we drove north after shortened work days, which are the best work days. We traversed the Straits of Mackinac via the 5-mile long Mackinac Bridge. Our stomachs were rumbling so we decided to stop at the Village Inn in …