What ideas do you have that would change the world for the better?
A: The answer to that is a long one. I'll write about that and place a link here sometime. Until then, let me comment on some ways to make photography easier in the outdoors that society could adopt and would have a positive impact on our lives and health:
A: Currently, I print my photographs on a digital optical printer called the Chromira. Formerly I printed in the darkroom, but since most of my photography is done with slide film that is no longer possible. The paper and chemistry for prints from slides was discontinued early in 2004, so I needed to find another method. While the Cibachrome/Ilfochrome process is still available for these kinds of prints, it is not in common use and has greater environmental concerns owing to the toxicity of the chemicals used in the process. I also looked extensively at inkjet (also called Gicleé) printing, but found that there are too many shortcomings with that process even with the most modern inks and printers. I chose the Chromira because it produces a print using regular photographic paper with well-known archival characteristics, and it does not require my clients to use the special handling and treatment that inkjet photos demand. Chromira prints are real photographs, because they are optically printed on photographic paper. I felt they were the only choice for producing work I can be proud of.
To see more details on the Chromira compared to inkjet printing, click here.
A: Stylistically, I choose subjects in nature that have brilliant color and reveal something unique, unusual, and perhaps even spiritual. It's hard to put my personal choice and interpretation into exact words, and perhaps best that I don't try. Viewing the body of work on this web site as a whole is a good way to get an idea if it has a special appeal for you. I have heard some people describe my work as peaceful and relaxing, even kaleidoscopic. But I also heard a comment recently that it isn't "couch friendly," meaning that it may not blend into every room's decor. It can at times demand attention. I do have many images that have a more subdued color palette, and the number continues to grow. I am always working toward broadening the range of choices to meet the tastes of my clients.
My taste for intense colors works well with my passion for preserving nature because it gives this idea greater influence in our media-saturated society. In today's world we are bombarded by messages of all kinds. Therefore, nature has to compete for our attention or it will lose out. That's the only way it can be protected from the impacts of human technology, population, and the irresponsible behavior of many in government and business who have an important role to play because they are in positions of power and can affect the actions of large numbers of people. The stroke of a pen can just as easily create or destroy precious habitat. For much too long, our tendency has been to destroy. This abuse of our power must end.
If there's a message in my work, it is that humans tend to wait until catastrophic damage is done to the natural world before waking up and taking some corrective action. We have seen this time and again through the damage done by DDT in the 1960's, the destruction of the ozone layer, deforestation, and now with global warming. If I could choose for our species to learn only one thing, it would be for it to act more quickly to recognize and remedy the damage it is doing to global habitat and to other species that are powerless to protect themselves. We make many allowances for our children to protect them from danger; it is a great pity that we cannot apply even a small amount of that consideration to other living things that are even less capable of telling us they need help and therefore so much in need of us to hear them. I seek to capture in my photographs the voice of nature asking for our protection.
Another aspect of my work that has a special significance is that of healing. Many have remarked that certain of my images communicate healing to them. For me, photography has been a way of exploring and moving through a personal healing process. The resulting images are an expression of that process, and in a profound way they also represent the ideal and dream of healing the damage that our species has done to nature. I find it quite moving that there is an intertwining of my own healing and nature's desire for healing its wounds.
Technically, I have an education in engineering and worked for several years in quality control. Now that printing must be done with digital methods, I think this background gives me a special skill in using the equipment that's now necessary to produce an artistic vision on photographic paper. Many in the industry are struggling with the transition to digital methods, and it has been a struggle for me as well. But I view it as an important challenge and something that's necessary to master in order to produce the finest prints possible.
I pay meticulous attention to making sure every last bit of the information on film, the original source material for any image, is accurately recorded in the digital scan and rendered onto the paper. Doing this properly requires a lot of care, custom equipment, high-resolution scanning, special calibration, and other techniques. I have spent years of effort perfecting the process I use to prepare a scan and edit it so that the print is a faithful reproduction of the colors seen on the original slide film, along with any adjustments necessary to correct for lighting at the time of exposure or to produce an artistic interpretation of the scene. A lot of the steps I take can't be found in books. I have learned these processes by talking to other experts, taking workshops from people whose work I admire, and doing my own experiments and refining my technique based on the results of that work. All the equipment I use is tested regularly to be sure it is performing correctly. You can pay a lot more for a print from others in the business and get much lower quality than I deliver. That's not to say that others are cheating you; it's more likely that they don't understand the printing process to the level that I do.
My technical skill also extends to the selection of a scene and lighting, camera placement, control of the exposure, and the great patience I have in the field to get a shot at the right moment. When you look at many of my images, you'll see that they have been crafted through a painstaking process, not just taken by setting up a camera and snapping the shutter. For some photographs, several days of work were involved to reach the point of getting the film to produce the print you see. Sometimes the work extends over several years, because I found a location that was at its best for only a short time and the weather didn't permit getting a good photo so I had to return again another year. There are many photographers who do a lot of travel and shoot lots of film. By the law of averages, they have a lot of nice photographs. I want to have the satisfaction of knowing I saw something I wanted to express and was persistent enough to get the job done, no matter how long it took.
A: The debate continues to rage on this question. The answer isn't simple, despite what some people and large camera manufacturers say. As of this writing (February 2004), there are high-end SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras, compatible with standard 35mm format lenses, that can shoot approximately a 14 megapixel image. While this is impressive, and these cameras can produce excellent results, they also have many problems. First of all, an image of that resolution can be enlarged to around 16x20 size respectably. That's fine for many applications, but not for the work I do, where I want to be able to offer larger images. When I work with 4x5 film, I scan at a resolution of around 70 megapixels! What I'm going to talk about is digital capture, the process of recording an image digitally in the field, and not digital printing, which is an entirely different subject.
Before we go any further, I'm sure some digital fans will immediately disagree with me about the quality of enlarging a 14-megapixel image beyond 16x20. The suitability of enlargement depends on many factors, too numerous to go into here. Just a few are the amount of detail in the subject, the noise level, separation of tonality, effects of the angle of incidence of light on the digital sensor, the ability of the sensor to be used under certain lighting conditions, and more. There's also the photographer's taste to consider. Some photographers prefer a softer image appearance, others (like me) want sharpness and detail. Portrait photographers, for instance, like a softer effect because it can hide facial blemishes. When photographing nature, I want the viewer to revel in the detail of the scene and to feel as if they were there. I also want people to be able to come back to an image again and again, and find something new they missed before. Those attributes in my view constitute a classic image. Film vs. digital capture is at some point a religious argument, because people make an expensive investment in either technology and become wedded to their choice through that investment. If you're willing to hear my reasoning for sticking with film for now, then read on.
First, let's begin with an example of the resolution difference, the most hotly debated topic. to open a separate window showing two small portions of the image The Great White Throne. These images will take a while to load.
Since the source material was film, the way I had to create these two samples is to scan at the desired resolution, then enlarge the smaller image digitally so it would be the same size as the higher-resolution one. Without this step, the 14 megapixel image would have been smaller in size and difficult to compare visually. What you are looking at is what you'd see if the entire photo was enlarged to 50 inches wide and 63 inches high. The last thing I did was sharpen each image to the point where it looked best. As you can see, there is a significant difference in the level of detail in these two images. That's the reason I do a lot of photography with 4x5 film, and the reason I work with extremely high resolutions when preparing a photograph. This isn't an easy process. It requires much more care and time spent editing an image because larger resolutions slow down a computer. But you can see the difference in the final print. What's amazing is that even at small sizes of 8x10, a scan of 4x5 film produces a nicer print than a 35mm digital SLR does. I'm still at a loss to understand all the reasons why, but it's true. One reason is that a higher resolution preserves more information about the color and tonal gradations, and when the image is scaled to a smaller size the result is a picture with just a bit more "pop" and natural feeling to it. Another very important reason is that a 4x5 image is composed on a ground glass screen and examined at high magnification with a focusing loupe before exposing the film. This step ensures the image is as sharp as it can be, and can't be duplicated on a digital SLR. A 4x5 photograph is made, not taken.
As more digital cameras come on the market, we are finding that the sensor's claimed resolution does not mean that each pixel records information that's truly distinct from its neighbors. So a manufacturer offering a 14-megapixel sensor may in fact only be providing ten megapixels (or fewer) of real information in the digital capture. The reasons for this discrepancy vary but include the quality of the optics, the arrangement of the red, green, and blue sensor elements on the digital chip, the software used to process the information, filters that protect the sensor from dust or wavelengths of light that are out of the visible range, and processing to remove digital noise from image data. If you are thinking of buying a digital camera, check independent reviews to find out what level of detail the sensor is delivering. It likely is less, sometimes much less, than the quoted resolution.
In all honesty, digital capture resolution in the finest cameras is getting close to the quality of film under some conditions. There are many people who would look at the difference above and not care. While I respect that view, from a practical perspective I don't want to pay upwards of $3000 for a camera in this resolution range which will be obsolete in two years. Beyond that, when using a 4x5 camera I can control focus and perspective in ways that are not possible with a digital SLR. Someday I'll own one, but I'm not ready to make the jump yet, and I'll still use my 4x5 equipment more often. As you can see, the difference between the best digital cameras and a 70 megapixel film scan shows up clearly when you make very big enlargements. I want to be able to offer these, so that's one of the reasons I shoot film.
To choose between film and digital, it helps to look at the entire process in a holistic way. Just as I mentioned focusing with 4x5 can produce a more carefully crafted, sharper image, it's also true that having a well-exposed piece of film offers a different set of options than does a digital capture. While digital fans like to say "I know I got the shot in the field because I can see it without waiting to get processed film back from a lab," I say, not so fast! There are problems that can happen to a digital image in the field that only show up much later in the printing process. While shooting with film does have a measure of uncertainty, digital capture is far from foolproof. I know that scanning and printing technology continues to improve, so my film will produce better prints as technology advances. If I have a digital capture with a problem, it's very much like having a badly exposed piece of film. I probably can't do much with either one to get a better image in the future.
With a digital camera, the sensor and its software contribute to a rendering of colors that imparts a feel to the image, just as different films have different ways of rendering color, tone, and contrast. In many ways, having a digital camera is a lot like shooting with one kind of film. The best sensors perform like very good film, but they still can't perform as well as particular films that are suited to special situations such as low light, long exposure times, very saturated colors, wide contrast ranges, or infrared imaging. I like to do lots of different kinds of photography, so I like the freedom film offers in choosing the best one to match a subject. Because nature is my subject matter, I encounter many different lighting situations, often unpredictable. If I only shot sports or portraits, I might be more inclined to use a quality digital camera, especially if I worked in a studio where I could control lighting.
Noise is something that can become very objectionable in a digital photograph. I prefer film grain to digital noise, which has a much harsher appearance. If you look at the latest issues of the magazine National Geographic from the last two years, a lot of the photographers are now using digital cameras. Compare the noise level in these photos to those in the magazine from several years ago, when film was exclusively used. I think the image quality has suffered in this magazine, and their photographers shooting digital are using very expensive, pro-level digital cameras. Some of the digital images marred by noise were so beautiful that I wish the photographer had used film instead.
Another problem with digital capture is moiré, where undesirable patterns appear superimposed on top of a textured surface. This issue is caused by the inability of the sensor's pixels to accurately record a textured surface. This happens because every digital sensor's pixels have small gaps between them that are spaced a regular distance apart. Any difference between the spacing of these gaps and the light-to-dark transitions in a texture (most often seen in fabrics) will cause the sensor to record false intensity readings of the texture, causing moiré. This problem is more important for portraiture, product, and fashion work and less trouble for nature or landscape photos, unless the subject is macro pictures of regularly textured surfaces such as a bird's feather or a butterfly wing. Software exists to correct for moiré, but it can be difficult and time-consuming to resolve. Moiré doesn't happen with film because the grains are randomly oriented, so there is no regular pattern of gaps to interact with a texture.
Wide-angle lenses present more difficulties because the light from these lenses strikes the sensor near its edges at a very steep angle. Digital sensors don't record incident light well unless it is perpendicular to the sensor's surface. As a result, wide-angle lenses can create color fringes and dark halos around the edge of a digital sensor. Software can correct for some of this, but beyond a certain point excessive noise is introduced when light readings around the sensor's edge are quite dim. These lenses are very important for landscape photography. Film doesn't suffer from this problem nearly as much since the emulsion responds much better to light striking it at a steep angle.
In the end, it's not fair to debate whether film or digital capture is better. I think they are different things. Both can be used to record images, but what the photographer is striving to achieve will often dictate the best choice for the job. I do think I'll own a digital camera in a few years, but I'm willing to wait a while longer.
A: Photographers hear this question quite a lot, and the answers lie in the difference between the amount of time, money, and effort people think it takes to make a photograph and the actual amount required. Because photography is mass marketed to consumers, nearly everyone takes photos. It seems so simple. Go out and buy a film or digital camera for around $100, take some photos, go to a lab and spend around $10 for prints, buy a frame in the store for $15, and hang it on the wall.
Because of this phenomenon of low-cost marketing, most people have an expectation that prints should sell for around $15-20 for an 8x10 print, and maybe $50 for a 16x20 print. However, the costs of fine-art photography bear little resemblance to the consumer world. First, $100 cameras don't have sufficient quality or resolution to make a large print. To produce large prints, it takes an investment of several thousand dollars in quality camera equipment and lenses. Professional-quality film is also needed, and that costs more (around double the price of consumer film.) The same is true for digital cameras. A digital camera with sufficient resolution to make prints larger than 16x20 costs several thousand dollars!
A high-quality photograph must be crisply focused and correctly exposed. In order to get that perfect piece of film or digital capture, photographers use tripods, filters, special lenses, and hand-held light meters. Not every photographer requires all this equipment, but those of us who work in landscape photography do need it. We also throw away a lot of film, because it's tough to get a picture just right even with the best of intentions.
The paper for fine-art prints is higher quality and more expensive. In order to produce a high-quality print it's necessary to print an image two or more times to get proper color balance and detail in the shadows and highlights. So a lot of paper is wasted, especially for large images. No defects are tolerated, so even a small scratch or dent in the paper ruins a print and it must be thrown out. The mat and backing board for the print must be acid free, requiring additional cost as well. The results of these efforts mean a print that will last for sixty years or more with proper framing, providing lasting beauty and enjoyment.
The photographer spends considerable time scouting the site for a print, visiting it at the right time of the day and year, and waiting for weather and other lighting conditions to be right. The costs for time and travel are enormous. Think of what you spend on a vacation. Do you have enough money to do that every month? Few people do. But photographers have to spend money on gas, car repairs, car insurance, air travel, business insurance, food, lodging, film, processing, camera repairs, and other things that can make a trip cost the same or more than a vacation does. We also pay property taxes on the equipment used in the business (at least the honest ones among us do) and they add up. A consumer isn't taxed on the computer they use to check email and store their digital snapshots, but the photographer is. Since nearly all of us are self employed, we pay for our own health insurance and other benefits that a corporation would provide.
There are very few people in the photography business who sell prints for more than it costs to make them and provide for living expenses. Many of my colleagues think my prices are too low for the very high-end work that I do. I try to keep prices reasonable because I think more people should have quality art in their lives. For anyone considering a purchase of fine-art photography and wary of the costs involved, I urge the buyer to start out with a smaller print, see the quality of that artist, and then decide if a larger print is worth the investment. Small prints always have a place in a home or office and make great gifts if one ever tires of them. I say, don't ever put a print in a box in the attic. Hang it to be seen, or give it to someone who will enjoy it. Art is meant to be viewed.
A: Click here to read my views on the subject of color photography vs. black-and-white as an art form.
A: I don't have serious reasons for why I decided against putting the title below a photograph. In the time I have been framing my work I tried the style of placing a title below an image, but the more pictures I make the less I prefer it. Many have asked the question, and I think the reason behind my preference is that I want the image to stand on its own, without placing any ideas in the viewer's first impression. That is, after all, the way we approach nature. There are no titles in the natural world (except at roadside interpretive exhibits--and I don't see those at part of nature!)
The title is on the back of the mat so it is there for historical purposes. I do sign the front of a print, both because the signature is my guarantee of pride in my craft, and a sign of authenticity. I don't think my signature places any limits on the viewer's impression of the print; it's not legible enough to read!
A: All photographers face this problem, improving our "batting average". I could write a book on this topic alone, but here is the short version. Many of our rejected photos fall into the following main categories: improper exposure, bad composition, out of focus, or an uninteresting subject. I'll briefly address each of these. Go through your images and see if these reasons apply to you, or if there are others. Examining our failures is the key to reducing them.
Improper Exposure: Getting the right exposure depends on a number of things. First, learn how to use your camera's light meter. If you can afford it, get a camera with at least a built-in spot meter, and even better, one that uses an evaluative meter that looks at several parts of the frame. Know under what circumstances your camera's meter gives misleading results. No metering system is perfect. If your camera consistently makes pictures that are light or dark, have the meter checked at a good camera repair shop. It may need adjustment.
There is one rule most beginning photographers don't know that will give dramatically better exposures. Overexpose for light subjects, and underexpose for dark subjects. This may seem like a mistake, but it's true. Most people assume an "automatic" camera can measure the light and figure out the correct exposure. This is partly true, but there are serious limitations in all automatic metering systems. Light meters don't know what color the subject is, so they all make an assumption that the color is gray. You can buy a "gray card" from most camera shops that illustrates the color light meters are adjusted for. Try this experiment. Take the card and place it against a white wall. Using your camera's spot meter, get a reading from the gray card, then take a picture with the card and the wall in the same frame. Then take a reading off the white wall, and take another photo using that reading. Use slide film for this experiment, as photo labs will adjust prints from negative film and you won't get accurate results. Note the frame number for each slide and after you get them back, which one has the white wall? It will be the one where you measured the gray card. The slide where you measured the white wall with the spot meter will be underexposed and will have a gray colored wall, and the gray card will look black.
In practice, knowing how much to adjust the exposure will come with experience. A simple rule of thumb is that very bright subjects like sunlit snow or a beach at noon will require almost two f-stops of overexposure to turn out right, and very dark objects in shadow may require one f-stop of underexposure. However, look at these as limits and take several shots between what the light meter recommends and these limits.
Another factor affecting exposure is the range of light in the scene. If the range between the lightest and darkest tones you want to capture is too great, the photo won't turn out. Negative (print) films have a greater exposure latitude (range of tonality) than slide films. So if you are planning to photograph in bright sun a negative film is likely to give better results. Slide films work best in softer light conditions. Know what you plan to photograph and use the best film for the subject. You'll get better pictures as a result.
Bad Composition: Look all around the viewfinder before you shoot and think about the following. Is the frame level? Are the objects in the frame arranged in a pleasing way? Are there parts of the frame that are boring, or distracting from the main subject? How is the image going to change when the lens stops down? Am I too close or too far from the subject to express the vision I am seeking? Can I do anything to improve the composition and make it more interesting?
A common mistake I make is getting too close to the subject. We all want a beautiful subject to appear as detailed and large as possible, but this can cause a problem. If the subject is too close to the edge of the frame, or even worse, cut off, nothing can correct for it later on. If there is a little extra distance between the subject and the edge of the frame, the print can be cropped to give a pleasing result, with only a slight loss in detail created by enlarging the smaller image for printing. Know how your camera's viewfinder relates to the image on film. Most cameras show a smaller part of the scene through the viewfinder, and record a little extra of the scene on film to compensate for this problem. However, each camera model varies. Be sure you know what your camera does, and if in doubt, allow a little extra space around the edges to ensure you get the shot. This is doubly important for cameras that don't have through-the-lens viewing, because in these cameras closer objects will be shifted to the left or to the right, and possibly up or down as well depending on how you hold the camera. Here too, it doesn't hurt to take a few shots, each with a slightly different position.
I'll spend some more time on how the image changes when the lens stops down. When looking through the viewfinder, most cameras show the image with the lens aperture set to the widest setting. In this position, the depth of field, or range of distances that are in focus, is the smallest. When the photo is taken, the aperture closes to the value we set (or in an automatic camera, the value the exposure program chooses.) The depth of field of the image on film will be larger than what we saw in the viewfinder. Sometimes the results can be surprising. We may see unsightly objects in front of or behind the main subject that were not visible in the viewfinder. Or there may be so much more detail in the scene that the emphasis on the main subject is lost.
Your camera may have an "aperture preview" button that will close the aperture to the value that will be used during exposure. Try this to get a better idea of what the shot will look like. The image seen in the viewfinder will get darker while previewing, but the depth of field change should still be visible enough to catch most problems before they develop. If your camera does not have this feature, take your eye away from the viewfinder and look in front of and behind the subject to see with your eye, which has much more depth of field than the camera lens. If your eye sees anything that could be a distraction, choose a larger aperture (smaller f-number) or reframe the subject. Try several shots at different aperture settings if you're not sure of the result.
Out of Focus: Images that appear out of focus can be improved in several ways. One is to use a smaller aperture (larger f-number) to get greater depth of field. Another is to use your camera's autofocus system if so equipped. Trying several shots at different focus settings can help as well, but is less useful if you're trying to capture a fleeting expression or action shot.
The smaller the camera's aperture is set, the longer the shutter speed becomes. At longer speeds camera shake becomes a problem. So you may need to use faster film to get the desired results. Faster films will be more grainy, so try to choose a film that's just as fast as you need but not a lot faster. A simple rule is to not use a shutter speed that is slower than 1/(the lens' focal length). So a 35 mm lens should not be used at speeds slower than 1/30 of a second, and a 200 mm telephoto should not be used at slower than 1/250 of a second. This rule can be broken with good technique and the right equipment.
Images with motion blur are the result of camera shake, not the lens being out of focus. To remedy this, learn to hold your camera steady. Use a tripod and cable release if possible. In a pinch, use the camera's self timer to avoid the small jitter that happens when pressing the shutter release. When photographing distant objects with telephoto lenses, watch carefully for vibration problems. You may be able to remedy them by steadying the lens with a second tripod or special bracket that holds the lens more securely. Many photographers rest a hand on the lens near the tripod mount to damp out vibrations. Finally, there are new lenses on the market from most of the leading camera manufactures with image stabilizing optics that can reduce camera shake.
Uninteresting Subject: We've all seen prints some time after a vacation or event and asked "Why did I take that?" I still believe that it's better to take a photo and throw it away later than to not take a shot and wish later on that I had done it. But in the interest of making good images, think about what you're shooting and ask, "Is this going to be worth keeping?" Strive for having something interesting in every shot. It might be unusual colors, a landscape that excites our senses, a special facial expression, something about a person that communicates their mood, or a historic moment. Some things are better kept simply as memories, while others are worth recording on film. Constantly refine your ability to see the difference and you'll be taking better pictures.
Some specifics on including a subject in a photo: Every picture should have one (and sometimes more than one) subject. In some cases, especially for landscapes, the entire scene is the subject, but there should still be an object of interest in the scene that draws the eye into it. After choosing a subject, think about including elements in the picture that draw the eye to other parts of the frame. These could be things such as a pleasing background, interesting play of light and shadow, colors that create interest, or a relationship between the subject and other parts of the scene that create thought and a desire to look deeper into the image.
In most cases the subject should be focused clearly, and should be brighter than other parts of the frame. For dark subjects, such as a black dog, this may not be possible. With darker subjects, it is important to correctly expose the film so that details of a dark subject will be captured. It is also helpful to make a dark subject larger in the frame than would be needed for a lighter-colored subject.
A: I think they are a valuable addition to the photographer's bag of tricks. I have a computer background and my first experience that got me hooked on them was a graphics system my cousin was working on at his college. We shared the same interest and both ended up in the computer business.
That was almost thirty years ago. Since then technology has done unbelievable things to the process of digital image editing and publishing. It's still one of my keen interests. The era of making darkroom prints from slides is now over, and it's no longer possible to make these prints without a costly investment in equipment and chemistry to do Cibachrome printing, and the environmental impact connected with it.
I really miss the traditional print process, because I don't think digital technology has had all the kinks worked out of it yet. I think we're at least five years away from having software and hardware that provides true equivalence to darkroom processing productivity (that is, in 2008). For some prints I would prefer to do traditional darkroom processing and for others to work in digital. The decision depends largely on if I believe the image will benefit from the advantages of each method and differences in productivity. Despite all the hype surrounding digital techniques, it can take much longer to edit an image digitally to produce the result a darkroom print can yield in just a couple of hours of work. In other cases, digital prints are the better choice.
Wildhorse Lake is an example. I struggled with this image in the darkroom and spent well over one hundred dollars before I gave up. The range of contrast and the complexity of the patterns of light and shadow make it impossible to print with simple dodging and burning. If I did not have access to a computer I would have tried contrast masking next, but I believe this still would not produce the result I got from digital. That's because digital lets me adjust contrast, color balance, and tone independently on different parts of the image. But the image took over two weeks of work on the computer to get right.
I make an effort to be faithful to the original scene when I make a digital print. Since my goal is to communicate nature's beauty through photography, I don't believe in putting things in the print that weren't there to begin with. That is not to say I don't value the work of people who do that. Artistic expression is the artist's decision, and no one else's. Traditional photographic techniques manipulate images just as digital ones do. Computers in my view offer a refinement of traditional techniques because we can go beyond the capabilities of chemistry. The photographer can also localize digital effects in the image with great precision.
What I want to do is show people what I saw when I was taking the shot. The human eye is far more adaptable to light than film, so there is a continual challenge to represent one's vision on paper. Digital imaging offers me another way to express my vision with greater clarity.Q: I'm interested in taking better pictures. What advice do you have?
A: So am I! We can all improve our photography. A lot of what I know I learned from many avenues. So the first step for anyone is explore by reading books, studying the work of great photographers, take courses at your local art school, and go to workshops offered by photographers whom you respect. Originality has value so try to refine a personal style. I don't recommend trying to copy others' work, except as a means of learning how to improve your technique.
On a practical level, use a tripod. That is one of the first steps to better images. Even a cheap tripod is better than none at all. But expensive tripods are worth it. Another often-overlooked tip is to use a cable release. It's usually cheaper than a tripod and can reduce camera shake a great deal. Buying both of these items used will save a lot of money and if in good condition, work just as well as something new.
Use good film. Professional film costs more but is worth it for any photos you plan to exhibit. The same is true for lenses, especially in smaller film formats. The smaller the film, the greater the importance of having a good lens. That's because small film needs more enlargement to make a print, and image imperfections from the lens are magnified more as a result. Anyone working in 35mm should have the best lenses they can afford; it's better to buy a used professional lens than to buy a new consumer-grade one. If you have any doubts, ask for ability to return the lens in 24 hours, and take it to a camera repair shop. They can inspect the lens for you and offer an honest opinion as to whether it is worth the money or not. Never trust the sales person if you are not skilled at evaluating a lens' quality.
If you shoot in color try slides. They are not out of style! Slide (chrome) films offer greater color accuracy and are easier to evaluate than color negatives. They are more challenging to expose but the challenge is a great teacher of judging proper exposure. Most of the great color photographers shoot slide film. If you shoot portraits negative films are popular so I'm not saying this is a hard-and-fast rule.
Film choice is one of the photographer's key tools in getting the best possible image from a scene. There is no single film that works best for all subjects. Recently I have started to shoot some color negative films for scenes with high contrast or a wide range of light to improve the ability to capture details in highlight and shadow. However, I still use slides for the majority of my work. In the end it all boils down to getting the best image. Each situation will have a film that provides the best result for the photo I am trying to capture. Learn how to choose film properly and your photography will benefit.
Photograph in good light. Buying a spot meter will help greatly in evaluating the lighting in a scene. Cameras with built-in spot meters help a lot too but a separate spot meter is often a better tool. The rules of photographing at sunrise and sunset are good but not as important as knowing how to measure light. If the light is good, why waste time waiting? To learn more about light, read about The Zone System, originally devised by Ansel Adams.
Experiment with image composition. Good composition is a personal matter and one way to develop a style. Take the same scene from several perspectives, even if one looks the best at the time.
As far as digital cameras go, I still prefer to use film, then scan the film instead of using a digital camera. Digital scanning, editing, and printing are much further advanced and more cost-effective than digital cameras are today. The best quality digital cameras still cost a lot of money, money that is better spent on a good scanner or computer for editing. The camera comes lowest on my list of how to improve one's images. Choose a camera manufacturer that has a good range of lenses as the lens directly affects the light that will end up on film. It's been said that a camera is nothing more than a black box to hold film. I agree. Digital cameras put more expensive electronics into the black box, making it a greater portion of one's investment, in my mind a questionable one. The real pros use digital camera backs that keep all the electronics in a separate box that can be interchanged from one camera to another. That's a much smarter investment, but still very costly.
Finally, don't be afraid to experiment. Film is cheap compared to travel and equipment costs. Bracket exposures liberally. Take duplicates of a scene. I am surprised how much film I have with one shot of an image that later was damaged. I wish I had extra copies of those precious shots. Change focus slightly if you have time, especially if you have an autofocus camera. It isn't always possible to trust what we see in the viewfinder as being in the best focus. I now change f-stop more than I do the shutter speed in the interest of getting the right depth of field for a photo.
A: Yes. I do occasional digital retouching of an image. However, I always document the fact that an image has been altered from the scene recorded on film so viewers and buyers know. Retouching has been a part of photography long before digital techniques; it is an accepted practice, for instance, to do print spotting. This involves using a small brush and dyes to remove spots such as dust specks in the sky. Many people are not aware that the fine-art prints they purchase have been spotted to remove distracting defects that were on the film or paper. It enhances the look of the print and is something the industry views as a minor cosmetic alteration in the interest of making the art a finished piece.
When an image is digitally produced there are usually defects on the film that appear on the scan and are removed as a normal part of the production process. Scanners are more sensitive than the optical enlargers in a darkroom and they show defects such as dust and scratches much more readily. These defects were not part of the scene being photographed, so there is little reason to mention it. Besides, almost 100 percent of scans have been processed to remove these defects.
Since one of the principles I believe in is to depict the beauty of nature through photography, I do not want to use extensive retouching unless I see a good artistic reason for it that is true to the spirit of the scene being photographed. I could change the color of a flower or the sky, or use the sky from a different image along with the foreground from another, but those are not true to the vision I'm trying to achieve. There are other artists out there that do this and are far better at it than I am anyway! The most extensively retouched photo on the site is Painted Lady on Cosmos. See it for an example of a situation where I thought retouching was worthwhile.
A common trick done long before digital photography is to place the moon into a scene by making a double exposure. This relies on taking a picture of the subject and noting the location where the moon is desired (usually in the sky). Then, one waits until after dark and photographs the moon on the same frame of film, placing it in the desired location. The photographer doesn't even need to stay in the same place; it's possible to wait several days until the moon is full and do the second exposure from one's back yard! This technique works because the sky around the moon is dark enough to not change the image recorded in the previous exposure. While these photos can be captivating they are completely fabricated. In some instances, there is no physical way that the moon can appear at the location recorded in the image. It's also possible to use a telephoto lens for the moon exposure to make it appear much larger than it would be in reality. Today, with digital editing tools it is very common for photographers to remove jet contrails from the sky or replace a distant building with forest in order to hide another trace of human impact on the landscape.
Because transparency films have high contrast and limited exposure latitude another situation where retouching is valuable is in capturing the range of tonality in a scene or varying shutter speed when moving objects are involved. This technique relies on taking two or more photos of the same scene at different exposures, scanning each one, and then combining parts of each into a final image. I will do this for some shots where my film would not render all the shadows and highlights present in the scene unless I made separate exposures optimized to show these things. You can see an example of this technique in the image Fountain of LIfe.
A: I only have one limited edition series, Oregon Wildflowers. Originally I planned on having more limited editions, but it just felt wrong to me for some reason. As time passed, I decided against it for several reasons. When I looked at others doing limited editions it became clear that it is a way to boost the prices for one's photography. I don't want to artificially inflate my prices by limiting the distribution of my work. The main reason is that since I'm a nature photographer interested in furthering conservation, limiting the number of people who can see my photographs doesn't make sense. I want the largest possible number of people to see these places so that they are inspired to protect them. Photographers that limit the number of copies of a picture may get a higher price, but at the same time they are reducing the number of people who might be persuaded to protect the natural world in exchange for the extra profit. I find it interesting that the deeper one looks, every decision seems to carry a price. In this case it wasn't obvious until several years after I became reluctant to offer limited editions. I'm glad I followed my feelings even though I did not know the reasons behind them. Just as I don't believe in limiting access to recreation areas through user fees that discriminate against those of lesser means, I do not believe in limiting access to my work by using schemes that allow me to charge more for it.
Another reason is that we are now in a digital imaging era. It is much harder to destroy an image in the digital age. With film, I could destroy the transparency and no more prints could be made. Today I would have to destroy the film, the scan, all the backup media with copies of the scan and prints, ask clients who used it as stock photography to return all copies of the image, and so on. It has become impractical. I could do it, but the task would involve much effort and I wouldn't always be certain the image is truly gone. An interesting question that arose when I examined my intentions more deeply is that my work and reward is in the process of creating an image and bringing it to life, and showing it to others for their enjoyment. A limited edition by its nature restricts that process and the directions it could take. If by some stroke of luck, or maybe talent, I create something truly beautiful I do not want to place limits on its enjoyment. The miracle of photography is that the photographer's enjoyment can be multiplied among the many who view a picture. Why put the brakes on that?
If someone wants a one-of-a-kind piece, the best way to do it is to commission the work and I'll gladly quote a fee for the service. Limited editions make some sense for photographers doing portraiture, studio work, architecture, still life, journalistic, or street photography, but the conservation ethic in my work precludes them.
A: There's a lot to consider in choosing a camera. Some important questions are: New or used? What film format? Digital or film? Which manufacturer? In my experience, I've found used equipment to be an excellent savings if it can be purchased with a good warranty, it's fairly modern so that it's easier to repair, and a used camera can allow the photographer to have better quality equipment than if they bought something new. Of course, if you need something right away or need the very latest technology used equipment may not be the choice for you.
The choice of film format depends on several things: cost, availability of film, weight, your personality, and resolution. Cost is important because larger film costs more to buy and more to process. A 35mm slide costs around 50 cents to buy the film and pay for processing; a 4x5 chrome costs around five dollars! Larger film formats have fewer choices of film speed and film type, and may not be available in all locations. They are also bulkier and heavier to transport and with the recent emphasis on security consciousness, they are harder to travel with as well. Larger format cameras and lenses weigh more. Before you purchase, put all the gear you are likely to carry into a pack and heft it. I can get my 35mm setup down to a few pounds if I don't take many lenses, but a 4x5 outfit can weigh 25 pounds--or more.
Your personality comes into play because larger film formats involve longer setup time. A 35mm photographer with an SLR camera with motor drive can shoot five frames per second and spend only a few seconds composing a picture. Most medium-format photos take several minutes to compose and shoot, and large format photos can take at least ten minutes, and sometimes over a half hour. In a practical sense, this means that with large format you will only get one series of bracketed exposures of a sunset or sunrise per day. There won't be enough time to move the camera or change to a different lens. Also, many of your shots will require advance scouting time the day before. With 35mm or medium format it is possible to try different angles or change lenses before losing critical light.
Shutter speeds are also longer on larger film formats. Because of this, a 35mm shooter might take a photo at 1/60 second while a 4x5 shooter might need 1/15 second. If the wind is moving something in the scene, the 35mm photo could be taken right away while it may take many minutes, even hours, for the wind to die down enough to get a 4x5 shot. If you are not a patient type, stick with 35mm. Resolution is a critical factor in choosing a film format, as the film size determines how large a print you can make. 35mm prints can be enlarged to about 16x20 with good quality film and lenses. Medium format film can enlarge up to 30x40, and large format film even larger. Even on a smaller print there is a noticeable difference in the resolution and detail using larger film formats.
Because metering and focus are manual with large format, there is a greater technical challenge compared to 35mm and medium format. That challenge is a blessing and a curse, as learning the manual techniques can improve one's photography on smaller formats, as well as try one's patience. More can go wrong with large format shooting, both due to errors in focus and metering, and the nature of the equipment leads to the chance of problems such as light leaks, double exposures, jammed or sticky shutters, or unexposed film.We hear a lot of talk these days that digital cameras are here and there's no reason to buy film. My opinion is that much of this talk is still hype. Film has many, many years left before it becomes obsolete. New and better films are being developed that extend the quality of film to keep pace with digital technology. Because digital technology is rapidly evolving, prices continue to drop and quality is improving quickly. If you buy a digital camera this year it's likely that in two years there will be something much better for a lower price. Digital camera users may not pay for film, but they will pay for other technology in the form of frequent upgrades to equipment, computer accessories, software, and data storage. Affordable digital cameras are limited in how large a print you can make, most that cost under $1000 can only produce sharp images up to 8x10 or 11x14. By contrast, for $1000 you can buy a used medium-format camera that can produce 30-inch wide images.
When you make prints, archival-quality digital prints cost more than traditional darkroom prints in terms of both time and money. Some people may not agree with this statement, but it's been my experience in the area of producing fine-art images. There are expenses related to color management, proofing, digital archiving, and production time.
I do think digital cameras have a place, though. They are well suited to point-and-shoot photography, sharing images online, and in learning digital image manipulation. Digital has another advantage that if you buy a sophisticated enough camera (currently one that costs at least $1500 for the camera body) you will know in the field that a shot was successful rather than having to deal with the uncertainty of not seeing the final image until the film is processed. If you are willing to spend even more, beyond $20,000, then truly beautiful digital images are possible. In summary, my advice is to try out digital if you are so inclined, but don't spend a lot of money on it yet unless you are a very serious (and wealthy) photographer.
The camera manufacturer is as much a personal choice as your brand of car. There are many good cameras and lenses being made today. Think about the cost needed to build a complete outfit before you get started; don't be limited by being unable to afford what's needed to take the photos that excite you! Do some research, talk to photographers at a local camera club, read some books, look at the work of photographers you admire and see what gear they use before deciding. Just a few of the best camera companies on the market are Nikon, Canon, and Minolta in 35mm format, Mamiya, Pentax, Hasselblad, and Bronica in medium format, and in large format Sinar, Linhof, Zone VI, Ebony, Tachihara, Canham, Wista, and Wisner. This is not an exhaustive list.