All About Photography
Well, a little bit, anyway... I first picked up a camera in my mid-twenties, borrowing my brother-in-law’s Pentax Spotmatic screw-mount 35mm SLR outfit for a c. 1977 vacation. This ignited a passion that has never cooled. After a few missteps early-on purchasing my own cameras (notably, the unremarkable Argus C3 35mm Rangefinder), I finally gravitated toward the Nikon F, building an extensive system over the course of fifteen years around its formidable frame. While I used a variety of cameras throughout the eighties and early nineties, from Pentax Auto 110 to Polaroid SX-70 to 4x5 view camera, the  SLR format, using 35mm film, for its high versatility, fast response, and relative small size, rapidly became my favorite. And the justly acclaimed Nikkor lenses, notably the 105mm f2.5 and the 20mm f4, to name a couple, performed flawlessly and reliably, delivering beautiful sharp pictures consistently. Another factor in these results, apart from the lenses, was the film I used. Whenever I could get away with it, I used Kodachrome 25 slide film, simply the finest-grain, color-truest film of that, or probably any, time period.
Regrettably, I lost my Nikon outfit, along with virtually everything else, in a 1993 fire (read about The Pyrometagraph, to discover the blessing coming from this disaster). This fire, along with other circumstances in my life, effectively ended my photographic pursuits for some time: no commercial shooting, no art. Gradually, in the late nineties, I began rebuilding my outfit; this time I chose the Olympus OM System. Thanks to Ebay, I was able to put together another beautiful outfit for a few thousand bucks. Favorite lenses in the Zuiko line for me are the 90mm f2 Macro (sweet!), the 18mm f3.5, and the 300mm f4.5. The Olympus OM is a top-notch system which, when it first hit the marketplace, revolutionized an industry. Olympus proved that size does matter... in this case, small size. And I continued to use Kodachrome 25 until, alas, it ceased production a couple years ago. Now, when shooting film, I use Kodak E100G, which, I must say, is a worthy successor to Kodachrome.
Of course another revolution, this one of even greater magnitude, has overtaken the photographic industry, among many others: digital technology. I joined the revolution about two years ago. After getting started with a couple “prosumer” digital cameras, starting with the Nikon 8400, plus more pocketable models, I finally bit the bullet and got yet another SLR outfit, this time based on the Canon EOS 5D platform. It’s fabulous. Get me started and I won’t stop gushing. I also carry with me everywhere, “just in case”, the pocketable 10mpx Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2, which, despite its small size is a virtually pro-grade camera, with wonderful power, flexibility, and ease-of-use. Still, I do love film, and consider it as yet superior to digital, even though the margin is getting smaller. I even have a couple 35mm film bodies to go with the 5D outfit, notably an EOS-1v. So I still shoot film, then scan it on my Nikon Super Coolscan 8000 ED scanner. I also keep telling myself that I’ll break out my Linhof Super Technika IV medium-format camera for very nice-size images. That would create incredible scans. But lately, I’ve been very happy to explore what the 5D can do. And at least up to 16x24, it makes very nice prints.
Shooting is one thing, printing another. Viewing photos on a computer is fine; but for me, it’s the printed image that matters. My overriding objective is to create the best possible prints. Again, digital to the rescue. Whether using a scanned film file, or a digital camera image, I no longer rely on a lab to do my printing. As with film, I don’t consider the traditional photographic print obsolete; but it’s now a separate medium, one with a significant competitor. Digital printing, which is at least comparable in quality to its lab counterpart, can be done from home with relatively inexpensive equipment. While there still are labs fully capable of producing very fine conventional or digital prints, I still prefer having that ultimate control that comes only from producing all my own photos. I see the results immediately, and can continue to work an image until it is just right.
I rarely print an image without first making corrections in the computer. Digital technology once again provides remarkable control, unheard-of in the traditional darkroom. When shooting digital, I generally start with RAW images, which provide much greater latitude in the editing process. If using film, I usually shoot slides, which I then scan to TIFFs. For editing, I’ve always used Macs; I have three generations of iBooks, all of which I still use; the workhorse is my MacBook Pro 17”. The image-editing software I primarily use is Apple’s Aperture; I also frequently use Adobe’s Lightroom; both provide control across an incredible range of parameters. The degree, and specificity, of creative control available through these programs is such that image-editing is virtually a separate medium from the image-taking. (Actually, referring to a traditional photographic process known as the zone system, famed Yosemite photographer Ansel Adams, who was also a concert pianist, made a similar observation, likening the taking of a photograph to the composing of a musical score, and the production of a finished print to the performance. In other words, the same composition, at the hand of different performers, can vary widely. Analogously, one can take any digital image and, by varying the parameters, produce vastly different yet equally compelling finished prints).
For difficult or extensive corrections to RAW files (high-contrast or backlit images, resetting color-balance, exposure-value shifts, to name a few), I find that Photoshop CS2 (now since upgraded by Adobe to CS3) does a superior job through its Camera RAW plug-in. In that case, I make basic corrections in CS2, save the file as a TIFF, then make final adjustments in Aperture or Lightroom; I generally make test-prints along the way, as you can only get so far using a computer monitor. I’ve always used Epson printers, and usually, Epson papers as well. My primary paper is Premium Photo Paper Glossy, and I also use the wonderful Ultra Premium Glossy (currently only available in 4x6” and 8.5x11”). Matte and luster finishes are good for certain applications, but I usually prefer glossy for photography, in its capacity to render detail and contrast. Having said that, I have more recently discovered 100% rag photographic papers, such as Schoellershammer Velvet: this rich and beautiful matte surface lends a soft quality to an image, vastly different from glossy finishes, but equally pleasing. It has the added virtue of effectively doubling the print life, to perhaps two centuries. My two photo printers, capable of accommodating all these various media, are an Epson Stylus Photo R1800, which prints up to 13x19”, and a Stylus Pro 7800, which permits me to print as big as 24x36”. Nice!
As to photographic aesthetics, while there are no firm rules, I have a few personal standards or guidelines. I usually do little in the way of cropping or digital manipulation after-the-fact. I want to show what the camera captured, without trickery; shoot straight, as it were. This even if the image-taking itself is of a more experimental sort. If working from a slide, I usually seek to render prints as close to the original as possible, though not invariably; digital is a bit more challenging, as there is no separate original to compare against. With digital, I usually shoot with camera color balance set to daylight, rather than auto, so better to capture the original tones accurately. Once on my computer, I rely upon my photo-editing software to adjust the image so that it prints true to the slide, or its digital equivalent. That at least is the ideal I aim at; sometimes this is not possible, or practical. Thus, while it might be said that my default standard is to make an interesting image with the camera, whether on film or digitally, and then to render that image as accurately as possible as a print, it is the final print after all that matters. That’s where creative latitude, and judgement, come in. So I may deviate from my stated rule, of “trueness” of a literal sort, if I can create a print that evokes a higher truth. Once accomplished, it just looks right, self-evident. That’s my final aesthetic.
LInhof Super Technika IV
Pentax Spotmatic
Nikon Ftn
Canon 5D
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