The only event that my wife and I pre-planned for our visit to San Francisco was a night tour of Alcatraz! A friend recommended doing the night tour due to the smaller groups of people and the different places they allow you to see. Overall we were very happy with the tour itself and the Park Personnel were absolutely fantastic! Everyone of them knew the history in great detail and were happy to tell you all about it.
There are two reasons photographers would want to do the night tour versus the day tour and it involved two shots. The first is seen above. During the day tour the boats do not circle the island so this photo of Alcatraz with the city behind it is not really possible by day tour. As you can see the sun is just perfect as it is behind you and the time of day gives a wonderful golden glow the the prison system. The only retouching on this show was a bit of contrast and some post crop vignette. This is one of the shots I really wanted to take and the night tour is the only easy way to get it.
The second shot is this sunset shot of the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB). This is one of the most photographed bridges of the world so it is easy to go online and see some different shots of it and pick which you would like to take. There are few compositionally strong shots that have not been taken of it.
Here we have an amazing sunset. For those of you who know me I am not a big sunset photographer. The first 10 are wonderful and after that they all look the same. It seems to be a place all beginning photographers want to be at and. once there you quickly tire of it. Plus it is a lazy photograph. You see the photographer just has to wait for a nice weather system and then put down the beer long enough to shoot the picture. Nothing wrong with beer but lazy photography is not really challenging. But when an iconic item is included, and you have an interesting weather system then by all means take the shot!
This vantage point is only available from the Alcatraz prison. Specifically after the first part of the tour you are taken to where the Warden lived (a shell of a house) and from there you get this view. If you take the first night boat you will walk out about 30 minutes before this sunset. Plenty of time to get set up.
This picture came with danger and as it turned out a price the photographer had to pay. See those wonderful seagulls flying around? Well they are dive-bombers and drop their payload directly on photographers. I got hit.
These were the two images I wanted from Alcatraz and I considered anything else to be a welcome bonus. The images below are of the tour itself and I am thrilled I got them. A little bit of history is nice in any photograph.
There are some cells that are set up as if someone lived in them. I took a few of those but there is something about this shot I liked better. Those cell bars right up front help make the image.
I used a high ISO and did a little shutter trick. What I do is set an exposure compensation at -1.5 stops and shoot in raw. This tells the camera you want a darker shot allowing for a faster shutter speed. I then shoot on aperture priority and set to Auto ISO. This allows me to get less hand shake impact and gives me a similar overall grain. I then boost the exposure in post. This is a trick I tried and learned in the dark cathedrals of Europe.
For a more abstract shot, I went into the dinning rooms where the convicts were fed. The tables are all gone leaving this wonderful textured floor. There are benches to rest on one side giving the tired visitor a chance to sit and rest. This gives you a low shot of the floor with the fading light of day coming through the windows. A nice overall shot and one worth taking.
If you are going to Alcatraz I suggest a slightly longer lens for the GGB shot above. I shot it with a 50mm then changed to a VERY old 90mm lens I have. I ended up using the 50mm lens with a bit of cropping as the 90mm was not up to the task as it is an uncoated lens. Between the flares and lack of contrast it was not fit for use.
This is one of two places in San Francisco that a tele lens is of use. The rest of the shots within the prison you will need a wider angle lens. Prisons are not known for their space. I would suggest at least a 35mm but this is a great place to try out that fisheye that has been collecting dust on your shelf.
I shot with a 90mm (unsuccessfully) 50mm, 35mm, 28mm and 15mm.
So a family member was getting hitched in LA so my wife and I decided to make a trip of it and celebrate the nuptials and then run off to San Francisco for a few days. We went with only a single planned item on the agenda...Alcatraz. Other than this, we went with an open mind, and a deep desire to have some fun.
We stayed in the historic St Francis which was originally opened in 1906 and the lobby is filled with little historical notes. The hotel is a grand dame in all senses of the word. We felt we were living a little bit of history, a bit of the old world charm in a city rapidly changing. The cocktail bar thrilled us with amazing cocktails that took us away from the typical Old Fashioned and into some marvelous adventures through a theme tied to Alice in Wonderland.
The food, as you would expect, was expensive and delicious and we had more than our fair share of it. Try the breakfast in the St Francis Oak Room as a great way to start your day! Everything from Italian to French to the new age fusions were amazing.
In terms of photography, I went old school. I took my Leica M10, M6 and the Hasselblad. I left the Hasselblad in the hotel with the exception of a single day when I took it to photography the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB). This structure has long been a photographic goal of mine and it did not disappoint. The structure is awe inspiring but the surrounding area is what really took my breath away. I had rainy days, sunny and everything in between.
The surprising aspect of the trip with China Town. I loved this spot and we spent an entire morning and most of an afternoon just walking up and down its wonderful streets. People did not seem to mind us walking around but they did not want us taking their pictures. I kept my street photography to some hidden shots and to buildings without bothering people. Nice people just private and I can respect that.
Below is my favorite shot of China Town and is a solid street shot. Let me take you through what I like about it and how I shot it.
This was taken with my brand new (first day I was shooting with it) Leica 28mm Elmarit which is a wonderful lens for street or environmental portrait photography. I saw this man singing on the block lighting his cigarette. I stopped with my wife and looked to the left of the image I was taking. Shot a couple of shots of a building (came our very well) and shot two images of this man. Once his cigarette was lit, he got up and left. He had a bit of a limp so I believe he needed to sit to free up his hands to light his cigarette.
I kept the man on the bottom left of the shot with a wide f-stop to ensure that I had a great deal in focus. I wanted to highlight the location he was in, his neighborhood as well as the man. I loved the way he was sitting but had to wait for his hands to drop away from his face.
I converted this to B&W and gave it some contrast and a bit of vignette and called it a day. It is a simple street shot, with some nice gesture in the way the man is sitting, with a wonderful view of a very Chinese street.
Here are a few more I took on the streets of Chinatown.
Ok this last image was not really street photography and more architecture. I still had to take it and loved how it came out.
As you can see most of my shots on the streets of Chinatown were taken with a hunting mentality. I would find an interesting backdrop and wait for someone to walk by. This made it easier to shoot the shy people and did not bother them as much. While no one said anything to me some would hide their face a bit and as soon as they did I would drop my camera so they saw I was not going to press the issue.
On another blog post I will go into some other shots I took around San Francisco including the famous shopping district. The shots on GGB will require a whole other blogpost in order to properly cover. I did a bunch of research before setting out to photograph this icon and I am rather pleased with the shots in spite of the lack of fog.
I highly recommend spending at least a day in Chinatown, eating shopping a photographing. Just remember, tea first, then photography!
There are a few shots where you can use a tripod. Nothing beats that perfectly steady focus that can only be obtained with a tripod, cable release and a mirror lock up. So if you have one take it along! I did not but I had some wonderful light and shot with a fast shutter speed. Not the best but a solid second alternative.
There is no point in going long on these streets. This is a place for street photography so go wide and get close. Shoot from the hip, find a background a lay in wait, pretend to be shooting a building and as you "chimp" take the shot of the people or use whatever trick you have to get some shots of people!
I used a 28mm, 35mm and 50mm. Even the 50mm was a bit long at times.
For those that have been following the blog know, we move around a bit. We are nomads of the modern era! I mean that literally, as we do not travel around for fun, self fulfillment or some new aged philosophy, we travel to find food. Ok, maybe not food but we do move around for work.
The latest move has brought us back to Argentina. This is a wonderful opportunity for us and one that I am really excited about. We have found a house and it has a darkroom in the basement! Again, maybe not a darkroom but it is a dark room and something that I can easily convert over.
This is why we have been absent for so long. During the move I did not feel up to writing anything, all my creative thoughts went into solving problem and I had no interest in looking at anything else.
So what does Argentina have to offer? Beef, wine and a million photographic possibilities. I will continue with my new trend in my shooting and I will continue to play in the darkroom but most of all I will continue to study photography just as I have done in the last six countries we have lived in.
"Every ten years a man should give him self a good kick in the pants."
And so it is time for that kick in the pants. I have been giving some thought into how my photography is changing over the last few years. Small things have been changing and should as we evolve and discover new interests.
When I look back, I went through an HDR phase, where everything was about post processing. I then went to show off the gear, by doing a great deal of shallow depth of field shots. I went from wanting to shoot large buildings to looking for detail shots. And I went from exclusive color to a mix with B&W.
This evolution seems to follow patterns as I see other photographers going through the same phases. Perhaps this is driven by social media, or perhaps it is a natural evolution of the pursuit of that hobby. When I really adopted photography as a hobby, back in 2009, I assumed that the digital revolution was over. Now I realize that what I have been witnessing has been the evolution of digital photography. I have also seen the resurrection of film and enjoyed the rediscovery of the analog methods.
I have been seeing myself use social media platforms such as Instagram a lot more these days. Initially I viewed it as another obligation to keep up to date with friends. It is only recently that I have begun to see it as a way to show my work to others and see what different parts of the world are working on. It represents the fashion magazines of the 1950's and 60's.
From a gear perspective, I have been looking at smaller, lighter and simpler. This is in line with my change of artistic interests. The curious aspect is that it has gone up the price chain with Leica's now replacing Nikons as my digital camera of choice. The change stems from a workflow adjustment in that now I want to spend 30 seconds on an image in post, and spend 30 minutes figuring out how to shoot it. I want fewer images and more hits. I want more shots of people and less of isolated buildings.
The interesting part of this discovery is that these changes came about in isolation of one another...or so I thought. Today I realized that what I was viewing as a series of steps in the progression of this hobby, was in fact a seismic shift in photography philosophy and one deserving of more contemplation.
So the next few posts, I will export these changes and what it means to how, what and why I shoot. I wonder if, like the choice of subjects, this is also a non-unique step in a photography evolution.
"This is my camera. There are many like it, but this one is mine". I was recently watching a YouTube channel that I really love, created by Eduardo Pavez Goye (see it HERE) where he shares the sad story of the death of his Leica M8 and he un-recommends buying it. While I agree with him that the Leica M8 is a bit too old and early in the development to recommend buying, I do believe that it is worth telling of my own experience with the Leica ME.
I bought this camera in 2016 used in London. The camera was made in 2015 and had 200 shutter actuations. The M240 had been out for a long time and the M10 was coming out. So this was three generations back, and was designed around 2009 technology. All very good reasons to pass it by. But I liked my film Leica and wanted to give digital a try. So I bought it without any plans of upgrading.
The wonderful thing about the ME is that it is basic. Nothing fancy just a digital camera with aperture priority as the most advanced function. The bad is that the camera is slow and can only take memory cards up to 32GB. It is built like a tank and the LCD screen is about as useful as a hole in the head.
But here is the thing, I LOVE to shoot this camera. I have more "keepers" then I get with my Nikon D800. The system is smaller so it makes it easy to carry. It is a silent camera so I can run around all day without drawing too much attention. The high ISO performance is roughly the same as film, so it does not match modern digital cameras, but I love film so the limitation is normal for me.
I did indeed buy the Leica M10, this was a 20th wedding anniversary gift from my wife. I love the M10 however it is a massive investment and I would not have done it without a wedding anniversary as an excuse. The ME gives me 18mp compared the the M10 24mp (roughly the same). The only improvement on the M10 is the ISO performance and the ability to transfer images via WIFI. Aside from that they function the same way.
So as I travel to the rough an tumble streets of Buenos Aires, going to shoot in high crime locations, I do not want to risk the M10. I will risk my trusty ME, and I love the images it delivers. Slap on a 7Artisan 35mm lens and you have a trusty companion that can outshoot most photographers.
Would I recommend this camera? Yes. Here is why. This camera was built around 2009 technology and I still love it. On Nikon you would have had four or five generations of cameras out by now and the desire to upgrade is there. I do not develop a relationship with digital SLR, they are consumable. The Leica is not. So if you like the Leica feel, then this camera will serve you well with one warning, get one with a new sensor to reduce the corrosion risk.
Do you run risks with older digital technology? Yes. A solid film camera is a better investment. But if you want digital then you are buying into this risk. So a brand new Nikon, Sony, Cannon or Fuji will set you back a similar amount of money, will wind up in the trash in three years time (or sold for peanuts) while the ME should still be relevant and shooting great images. If you do not care for the Leica "feel" then by all means spend your money on something else. There are a great deal of good quality, technologically advanced cameras out there.
The concept is so basic for so many people. Most people travel with a maximum of one camera, but for a photographer, this is a massive challenge. Changing cameras opens up the artistic possibilities. You can move from digital to film, color to b&w or from a medium format to 35mm. These changes alter how you see the world, what you photograph and the very story you tell.
So to limit myself to a single is not a small challenge. Consider that a single camera would eliminate film or digital. I prefer film for the color shots but love the B&W that film gives me. To simplify that even further, would be to limit myself to a single camera and a single lens. But what would that look like and how would it impact my view of the location?
I recently was asked to shoot the grand opening of a base during a work trip. I had to travel light as we had a full week planned. I ended up taking my Leica M10 and took the Zeiss 50, 35 and Voigtlander 15mm. I had been shooting almost exclusively on the 50mm and was sure that this would be the lens I used during the base opening.
While there I quickly switched to 35mm and was so grateful I had it with me. I needed to get closer to the subjects and get a large number of people into the frame. The 35mm gave me that. I used the Leica app to transfer some images to my phone and get some early shots processed on Lightroom CC.
The combination turned out to be perfect. The 35mm gave me the angle of view and the wifi file transfer allowed me to work on some early examples that ended up being published on various forums online.
This got me thinking that a one camera solution might just work. The challenge is film and how to balance my love for both mediums. Right now the best I can do is to take a single digital camera with a few lenses and a film camera with a single 50mm lens. The Leica M10 and the M6 give me the ability to share the lenses between the two however when shooting a rangefinder I prefer to have a SLR enjoy both camera forms.
So this is the best I can do. A single camera in each medium. At the end of the day, it is me who has to carry the stuff around, and I am willing to carry a few more pounds for the sake of medium flexibility.
Here I shot a wonderful environmental portrait of a shop owner. Her colorful clothing, wonderful expression and contagious smile in front of the background of her little shop make this a nice image. It was shot on a Nikon D800, with a 24-70mm lens. I did not add any vignette but also did not correct for what the lens gave me.
I did a great deal of detailed work on the contrast to make sure the image popped properly. This accentuated the vignette a bit. I shot it at ISO800 which is high for the D800 yet I did not reduce the grain at all. I kept the image with all of its imperfections, because in an image, as in a person, the character is hidden in the imperfections.
How many times do you go to a party and find yourself speaking to the cookie cutter suburban homeowner? How many times have you longed for the imperfect person who took far too many wrong turns? The person who jumped off the fashion train and is marching to the beat of their own drums?
You should look at your images the same way. Why have the perfect lens? Why not shoot with a lens that is imperfect and full of character? Why not leave your image with those small distractions we are taught to cut out? In this example I have a white string tied to the shelf on the right of the image. It is bright, distracts and does not contribute to the image. Cookie cutter photo editing would tell you to remove it, or at the very least darken it a bit.
But in that little piece of string, you have a story. A story of a little shop that is held together by hundreds of little strings just like that. The woman is smiling through cataract filled eyes, missing teeth and a wrinkled face yet she tells a wonderful story too. That story needs to be told as it is. To whitewash, dodge, burn and surgically alter the storyline is to tell a different story. One that does not exist, never did exist and never will exist. That is fantasy which has little place in a environmental portrait.
Two conflicting messages which further proves this world is more about content then about having a true belief. YouTube has become one of the most popular places to share and enjoy hobbies and pursuits. It is filled with wonderful tutorials, reviews and open discussions. But the modern YouTube creator has to come with something more, as good, reliable information is no longer enough to garner the subscribers desired. Which brings me to my blog post today....
A common message that has been going around photography circles for decades is that the camera is not important. It is the creative attention and knowledge possessed by the photographer that makes the difference. This is an important message for two key reasons, the first is that it highlights that a wonderful camera will not make you a wonderful photographer and second, that if you do not have the money for top gear, you can still be a wonderful photographer. I have heard some YouTubers compare a camera with an oven. You see a professional oven at the hands of an amateur baker will not produce mouthwatering results however a professional baker with a poor oven can.
I can understand, and somewhat, agree with that philosophy. If you ascribe to it, gear acquisition is not longer important and your goal is to expose yourself to more photographic opportunities and learn as much as you can. I can see the benefit of this approach.
Then I see the same photographers who preach this, spending a great deal of time discussing why they changed from one camera system to another. If the camera does not matter then why spend the time giving these explanations? Perhaps it is a question of finding some content to display? I see plenty of YouTube creators who just seem to copy what others are doing. There is little creative content and perhaps they need something to discuss. How many times can you talk about the relationship between aperture and shutter speed?
If this is a case of content starved creators, then I completely understand. If this is a case of people dishing out philosophy who do not really believe it then I do have an issue with it. New photographers are trying to learn from them, they are portraying themselves as knowledgeable teachers so they should be held accountable for what they preach.
I had long heard that Tokyo was the Mecca of film camera stores and always dreamt of going. So when I discovered a need to travel to Japan for work, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to see if I could find some time to check out the famous stores.
I did not have too much time to prepare, so I went to Japan Camera Hunter and found a map with a ton of stores around Tokyo. I downloaded this to my iPhone and off I went. I arrived on a Saturday night and had the full day on Sunday to walk around and check out the stores.
Below are the lessons I learned, and some recommendations to help you get the most out of any shopping trip in Tokyo.
For those curious about what I bought....I finally got my hands on a wonderful Nikon S2. I was going to leave it at that but at the last minutes I decided to pick up a Nikon F3T. I have the Nikon F3 but always dreamt of the F3 Professional and the F3 Titanium. I found a mint F3T for about USD 550. Like I said, not a steal but given the condition of the camera, a very respectable price. I will share pictures soon!
I ran across the photography above while doing a history "string" search. This is what I call it when I find something interesting and begin searching for more information than is readily available. This takes me from one person or event to another, as I trace back the "strings" that link all events and people together.
In this particular case, I was searching for the "Ross Sisters" and act of three very talented sisters that became popular in the late 1940's. This is one of the sisters after her performance life had ended with her husband. This picture really struck me because it is a perfect travel portrait of the 1950's as we see the airliner in the background, the couple is dressed up and all smiles.
This got me thinking about today's travel portraits, so I went on Unsplash to see how modern photographers interpret the concept of travel.
So how has travel and travel portraits changed over the years? This seems to be a topic fit for a dissertation and something that could never be properly covered in a blog post. But I still believe it is worth looking into, however superficially it might be.
Travel photography has changed, because our notions of travel has changed. In the 1940's the world was at war. People were focused on helping the war effort, or surviving it. As the 1940's came to a close, a booming economy developed as the world rebuilt itself. As the 1950's came, people had money and wanted to travel to see the world. Aviation had gained considerable ground during and after the war so people took to the skies.
Airliners competed to offer a more opulent experience, catering to upper class people by promising luxury. Flight attendants and pilots were viewed as people embracing the modern era. These were the jobs of the future. People, focused more on the travel and less on the destination.
We see this approach to travel throughout the 1950's, 60's and into the 70's and then things begin to change. In the 1980's the goal was to bring travel to the mass population. Competition from rival airline companies was making it impossible to only focus on the upper class. If they wanted to grow, they had to find a way to make it affordable.
Cheaper fares meant putting more people on board the airplanes, this meant less room and less time for service. Airports needed to find faster ways to move people around, tarmac boarding of planes took too long. Skybridges were created, separating you from the mode of transport you were using.
As we enter the 1990's we see the transformation accelerate and as airplane flights became more economical it lost the social status it once had. Airplane safety became a concern with hijackings and accidents. Entering airports became less of a runway to show off new fashion and became a security process. In short, people began to hate travel. And so we focused on the destination.
And so our notion of travel changed and we began reconsidering the destination and reason for travel. A concept began being perpetuated that travel means personal growth. Young people finishing high school began traveling before university. This began extending to young people looking for ways to continually travel.
YouTube today is filled with "van life" concepts or "making money while traveling". The goal of travel is no longer about a destination it has become a way of life. The social pressure is not about buying a house, having kids or even getting a good job. Social pressures are about how to avoid all of those things for as long as possible.
As travel changed, so too has our approach to travel and our images of it as well. So the next time you look at an image of a young person living out of a van, or finding themselves in some small isolated town, hut or mountain, you know the history of how they got there. My only question is where will they go next?
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.