Golden Hour at White Rock Lake

The end of a two year project, “Golden Hour at White Rock Lake“, is my most recent photo book and now available at Blurb.

It is satisfying to complete a project like this. It was a lot of work and involved many trips trips to the lake. Hundreds of images were photographed and only 73 images chosen to be included.

Sunrise was the most challenging, but the most peaceful. This is the time I photograph from the west side of the lake. Headlamp on my hat, backpack with cameras and lenses on my back, and tripod and stool in my hands. Setup must be early – at least forty-five minutes before sunrise if I know exactly where I will be setting up. (I try to scout potential sights during more sensible hours.) After setting up the tripod and attaching the camera, I sit and wait with a thermos of coffee in hand.

This is the beginning of your of day. Peaceful. Tranquil. As light begins to appear, the birds begin to leave their sleeping spots and fly in groups. Even at this very early hour and in the darkness, many people are out to greet the day – runners and walkers – alone, in groups and with pets.

When the light begins to appear I adjust the camera, and recheck or reset the exposure, and start shooting.

Sundown is very different. Again, I plan to be in position on east side of the lake forty-five minutes before sundown, and arrive a my pre-determined location. Setting up is easier in the light, and coffee isn’t essential. Joggers, walkers, and pets take advantage of the remaining hours of sunlight to unwind and decompress from the day. Birds take to the sky to begin heading home to roost. Lovers come to see see the sunset and take in the beauty of the setting sun. Even workers stop to watch the final minutes of sunlight. But wait! Some of the best light and most spectacular views take place within thirty to forty-five minutes after sunset. Don’t leave too soon!

It is easy to get caught up in the beauty of sunrise and sunset and the spectacular views. But there is more to the experience than natural beauty. The interaction to these events by people and animals is part of the experience too.

I know that Golden Hour at White Rock Lake will not be on the NY Times best seller list, and I know that the price will  discourage many (most) from buying it. But that is OK. This was a personal project from which I derived a lot of personal satisfaction, and I believe it shows some of my best photographic work. I’m a firm believer that photographs should be printed – not just viewed on a computer screen. Self-publishing a print-on-demand photo book is time-consuming, involves multiple drafts and expensive. But I made the decision to print it on high quality paper – and I wanted to have it printed in the USA. Both of these drive up costs. I might be the only customer for this project, but that is fine. I have a printed copy of photographs that I’m proud of and a satisfying project completed.

Note: The price of the printed book is $55 (plus shipping), but an instant download PDF version is available for $8. In addition, you can preview the entire book before committing to buy and this is a great way to see the book online.

See the Golden Hour at White Rock Lake sales page at Blurb for review and sales.

My Name is Steve…and I shoot film

For the February 2022 Monthly Selected Photos I am doing something a little different. I am featuring images shot with film, and adding a new gallery to the website featuring only film images. While most are recently developed, not all of these images are new. I’ve selected them to illustrate different film styles.

I started shooting film more actively in 2014 and thoroughly enjoy the exercise. As much as I like shooting film, it will not replace my digital photography. Neither can replace the other, but digital and film complement each other in many ways.

“But I thought film was dead and film cameras are no longer made,” you are probably saying to yourself. Actually film began making a comeback more than ten years ago, and each year more people are getting back into shooting film. Interestingly, it is younger people in their twenties and thirties that are driving the growth of film. While it is true that very few companies are making new film cameras (a few still do), this has increased the market ($$$) for used cameras. Used cameras and lenses that you could not give away just a few years ago now command a high price at used camera stores and eBay.

There are not as many film stocks today as there were in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but a good selection still exists. I have experimented with many but I find myself now settling in to a few good film stocks that consistently give good results that I like. For black and white I still prefer Kodak Tri-X or Kodak T-Max. For color landscapes, my go to film is Kodak Ektar, a very saturated film with vibrant colors. For general color photography including architecture, portraits, street scenes and occasional landscapes, I really like Kodak Portra. Portra gives more muted, more realistic colors. You may notice all my favorite films are Kodak films, but other manufacturers make some really fine films too. I’ve found that it is best to find what works for you, and then stick with it. By sticking with a smaller selection, you learn how to use that particular film and know what it can do.

Is film expensive? Yes, it is. As of February 2022 my favorite Kodak films average about $10-15 a roll with discounts for multiple rolls purchased. That price just gets you a blank roll to load into the camera. Developing costs aren’t cheap. I use a large developing company in California that has good quality development and scans, and pretty good turnaround times. For about $15 a roll, I get negatives, scans and the ability to download the images while the negatives are in the mail back to me. Simple math shows that buying and having film developed and associated shipping costs can reach over $30 a roll. For a 36 exposure roll that means you are paying almost $1 per image. And not every image is a keeper…

To keep some sanity in this pricing, I usually develop my own 35mm black and white films, and then scan them myself. That cuts the expense in half. Black and white film is pretty easy to develop, but color film is not. I don’t have the equipment, darkroom, or patience to develop color film so I always send color film out for development.

With film, you learn patience. I recently sent four rolls off for development not knowing what was on them nor when and where the photos were taken. Getting the images back from the developer is a lot like Christmas for a four-year-old.

Photographing with film is expensive, inconvenient, requires patience and incurs risk when a roll is accidentally exposed to light. So why bother with film when digital cameras are soooo gooood. It is not easy to explain. There is something satisfying about the process. There is a unique character to film photos – at least I think there is. With film, you have to WORK to make that image, and you don’t always succeed. When you realize that it costs you $1 every time you press the shutter button, you give more thought to the photo. You look for the right composition. You wait for the right moment. In this age of fast digital cameras and mobile phones it is the standard to take a snapshot and five seconds later move on. Film slows you down and that is a good thing. It makes you think and observe rather than just react. You have to anticipate – be in the right place at the right time and recognize a composition or watch facial expressions. Watch interesting people and see what they do.

Most of my photographs today are made with a digital camera, but I frequently apply principles I adopt using film. Slow down. Look for that decisive moment as Cartier-Bresson would say, or spend time developing a composition in a landscape shot just as Ansel Adams did. Find an interesting architectural feature and think about how to frame it. I frequently spend a lot of time on landscape composition to get a shot just right with my digital camera because I approach making the photo as I would with film. And when I’m using film, I won’t know if the shot was successful until much later. No way to take a quick glance at screen to see if it is a keeper when using film. This has trained me not to “chimp” the rear screen on a digital camera. (Auto-review is turn OFF on my digital cameras.) I usually won’t know if I had a good picture until I’ve transferred the images to the computer.

Of course today most film photos are scanned into digital files for post-processing, printing and distribution. Instead of creating a final version to print using the dodging, burning and cropping in the dark room of years past, we now do the same thing in Photoshop and Lightroom. I find it very interesting, and very ironic, that Photoshop presets are sold to make digital photos look like film photos. You can apply a preset to make a digital file look like Kodak Tri-X, Ilford HP-5, Kodak Ektar, Portra and many other existing or discontinued films. I don’t think the presets can ever really give the digital file the true character of the film, but maybe I just don’t see what others see. For me, I’d rather use the real thing.

 

 

 

 

Ones and Zeroes Don’t Last…

I have two shoeboxes stuffed with “love” letters between my grandmother and grandfather (my mother’s parents) before they married in 1916. The letters aren’t really romantic, but they provide insight into the lives of two people who lived hundreds of miles apart in the years prior to their marriage. This is a record of their thoughts, hopes, plans and opinions. Handwritten in pencil or ink on now faded paper, the letters provide a link to the past. As I read these letters, I know I hold in my hands the record they created over one hundred years ago. People wrote letters back then. Letters on paper that you can hold.

My other grandmother, my father’s mother, was an artist of sorts. Her mother taught art, and my grandmother inherited the ability to put paint on canvas. Her paintings still hang on the walls of our family. As I was growing up and until she gave up housekeeping, she kept an old Kodak Brownie camera on the shelf loaded with film. Often she would retrieve that camera and say “let me make a picture.” Everyone else would say “take a picture” but she would make a picture. She wasn’t taking anything; she was creating something to print and that would last into the future. People printed photos back then. Even the bad photos were usually kept.

Today more photographs are taken than ever before. Billions and billions are taken on cell phones, stored on the phone, uploaded to Instagram and Facebook, and maybe copied to a hard disk. Viewed once or twice, but frequently never looked at again. Eventually they are discarded, deleted. That moment, that historical record or remembrance is gone and won’t be passed on. These digital records are nothing more than ones and zeroes that don’t last, and aren’t preserved.

The Print

It is important to make prints of your photos. No, not every photo needs to be printed of course, but every photo that you care about and has some lasting value should be printed on paper and should be shared. You can print on your home printer (use good photo paper) to share with family members or friends. You can print photo albums and photo books through a variety of services. Print only one photo book for your personal records, or print multiple copies to share with friends and family. You can print a copy of a special photo and hang it on your wall. Putting photographs on paper adds permanence. You can touch it. You can share it. And you have it as long as you preserve it. 

Note: In addition to links to my monthly selected photos, I will occasionally provide a link to obtain prints of some of my photos. If you see a photo in any of my galleries or monthly selections that is not available in my Inprint Store, let me know and I’ll upload it to make it available.  And I’ll provide a discount code for your effort.

 

Goodbye Canon. It’s been fun. No regrets.

Way back in the 1980’s I enjoyed taking photos with a film camera, a Minolta Hi-Matic F rangefinder camera with a fixed lens. It was a great camera — a simple camera. You set your aperture, speed and set the film speed when you loaded the film. You advanced the film with the advance lever, focused, and took a picture. Simple to use, but sadly it broke. I put it in the drawer hoping to get it fixed one day, but that day never came. Digital cameras started replacing film, and I didn’t pursue photography because I was too busy at work and too busy with family.

My interest in photography was rekindled in 2007, and I bought a Canon DSLR camera. The camera was smart. It had lot of preset settings for landscapes, sports, close-ups, portraits, and other stuff. You didn’t need to learn about aperture, or shutter speed, or film speed, or how to expose for backlights. The camera was designed to do all of the thinking for you. (well, not really.) The camera did WAY more than I wanted it to do and I had the feeling that the camera wanted to control me instead of me controlling the camera. Nevertheless I stuck with the Canon format. After few years I bought a used digital full-frame Canon 5D when the Canon 5D Mark II was introduced. I really could not afford to get the latest model, but the old model was more than enough for me. It had even more advanced features – but they were features I didn’t use, didn’t want  and frequently could not find in a complicated menu system. Although I took some great photographs with it, I sometimes felt that I was “not one with the camera.” Even though I typically shot photos in manual mode, and occasionally in Aperture Priority mode, I still felt that the camera was in charge, not me. (I can swear that since 2009 I have NEVER touched a single automated setting on the settings dial for any special functions.)

While I continued to use my excellent digital Canon, I longed for the simplicity of that film rangefinder Minolta Hi-Matic I had in the 1980s. This got me back into film using the really, really old Pentax Spotmatic. That was a simple camera and a joy to use. Good lenses too. Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble with the cameras breaking down. I had acquired over time some good lenses, but those lenses seemed to spend more time on my digital cameras (with adapter) than on the film cameras they were designed for. In frustration I finally decided to abandon the older Pentax cameras. Others have had excellent luck with them. I did not.

The Leica M6..and the Voigtlander Bessa R4M

I wanted a quality film camera, but Leica was not on my radar. They are pricey – very pricey. But over time I decided that through savings and selling off seldom used gear I could probably someday afford a used Leica M6 Classic film camera. The M6 was introduced in 1984 and discontinued in 1998, and had an excellent reputation as a very high quality piece of gear that if kept properly serviced would last a lifetime. The fact that this was the camera of choice of all the Kool Kids and hipsters had no bearing on my decision. (I’ve never been identified as a Kool Kid or a hipster.) So I sold off gear and saved money…only to find after two years that the popularity of the M6 had moved it even farther outside my price range. A twenty year old film camera now selling for far more more than its 1980’s price.

Frustrating. The Leica offered what I wanted in a film camera, but I wasn’t going to spend that kind of money. That’s when the Voigtlander Bessa R4M came into view. This is a Leica clone that actually offers a few more features than the Leica M6. Better yet, it was much newer. Brand new in fact. The Bessa R4M was introduced in 2006 and discontinued in 2015. I came across a new, old stock copy in 2020. This camera has been in languishing in a warehouse somewhere for five years – new, unused, unopened, unloved. The person who was selling it had bought some unsold warehouse items, and this being a film camera he assumed it wasn’t worth much. I pounced and got it for a price I feel guilty about. (well, not TOO guilty)

 

I love the Bessa R4M. It is a simple, fully manual rangefinder camera (I love rangerfinders) and the Voigtlander lenses I’ve acquired over the past few years work natively with the Leica M-mount system also used by Voigtlander. Simplicity.

What does this have to do with Canon?

At this point, I had three good but old Canon digital SLRs. Except for landscapes and macro photography, I wasn’t using them a lot and I was still frustrated with the over-design of digital cameras that now focus heavily on video. Then I found a Leica CL digital camera at a used camera dealer. The Leica CL was practically new, but the price was low because a new version is expected any time now. It was in outstanding condition – low shutter count and not a scratch on it. The used camera dealer offered me more than I expected trade-in on two of my Canon cameras. I bit and the Leica CL arrived in the mail a few days later. The Leica CL adopts Leica’s philosophy of simplicity. They know their audience and don’t try to provide every feature every other manufacturer provides. The system is simple. The body resembles classic film Leica cameras.

I sold almost all of my existing Canon lenses to fund more modern lenses for the Leica CL. They won’t be Leica lenses since those are WAY to expensive. Sigma and Voigtlander will provide the lenses I need. I will retain one Canon camera as a backup, but clearly my days as an on-going Canon customer are at an end.

Canon is a great company with outstanding cameras, and for the majority of photographers I highly recommend them. But being an old fuddy-duddy longing for a simpler camera experience, I’m moving in a different direction. Goodbye Canon. It’s been fun, and I have no regrets.

Why I No Longer Post Photos to Facebook and Instagram

There is no denying the popularity of Facebook and Instagram. They are great social services that allow us to keep in touch with friends and family, and I enjoy seeing what my friends are up to. However, I find that these great social platforms are not-so-great when distributing my photographs (other than the occasional family picture or interesting snapshot.) Let me explain…

For those of you who know me well, you know that photography has been a passionate hobby for at least the last fifteen years. I enjoy taking both digital and film photographs, and I have put a lot of time, effort, and $$$ into making photographs. I like to share my work with others who enjoy photography as an art form or creative outlet. Because of this I have shared my photography using Facebook and Instagram (and sometimes Twitter.)

Facebook and Instagram are great social platforms, but they aren’t great services for distributing my photos. I’m not interested in “likes” based on a one or two second preview of an image I have posted. I take my photography more seriously than that. I also note that the same friends frequently “like” a photo, but there are also an increasing number of “likes” from people I have never heard of. The algorithms of Facebook and Instagram distribute my photos to others who glance at my photo and “like it” and follow me hoping I will like and follow them. It has become a game that I am not interested in playing. For some this becomes a vicious circle of getting “likes” to build an audience, with the temptation to provide similar photos based on what the audience likes. I’m not willing to play that game. I’m not in this to make money or establish a reputation as a popular photographer. I am retired and make the kind of photographs that I want to see — and I share these with others. Some will like a photo and some will not. Constructive criticism is ALWAYS appreciated and will be considered when I respect the source of that criticism – but I won’t make and share photos trying to please a large crowd. I would rather have ten people I know and respect spend ten seconds looking at my photograph than one thousand unknowns “liking” my photo and hoping I will reciprocate.

This is not a blanket condemnation of Instagram and Facebook. For what they are, they provide a good medium for social interaction (when people don’t go nuts on their beliefs or try to use it as a political platform!)

Other than the occasional snapshot of family, friends, or item of general interest, I will no longer post my “SteveMuncyPhoto” photographs on Facebook and Instagram. Instead, I will be posting photos to my website every month or so, and will notify friends who want to see them by an email when new photos have been posted. I hope that friends who like to see these photos will respond to a link in an email, visit the site and spend five or ten minutes looking over the newly posted photos. I’d love to hear comments and criticism, but that isn’t required. If you don’t want to visit the site, just trash the email and consider the next one you receive. If you don’t want to get the email notifications, just let me know and I’ll drop you from the list.

Use the “Contact Me” form on the website to provide your name and email address and just say “subscribe” in the message section to start getting email notifications.

 

Steve