They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
Paul Simon; 1973
I started shooting again in 1996. In earlier years, I fell in love with the realism produced by color slide films, and Kodachrome 25 quickly became my film of choice. When I started serious shooting in the late 70’s, there were really only two or three choices: Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64, some Kodak Ektachromes and a couple of Agfa emulsions (I am sure there were others, but these were what I seemed to find in the camera stores). There was something about K25 that just hooked me. Ektachrome was a slide film that could be “home” developed and often local shops had the processing equipment to do so. But to me it seemed washed out and kind of “bluish.” The Kodachrome films involved a complex development process that required expensive equipment. It ensured that rolls of film were going to be sent in and you were going to generally wait a week or so for the results. It took me a while to work up to the Nikon camera :-), but by the time we reached the ’90’s I was a confirmed “Black Hatter.” And in my closet, I had an old, cracked, brown leatherette bag stashed with 2 Nikkormat bodies and an assortment of “eh” third party glass. My only Nikkor lens was the 50mm lens.
By 1996, a lot had changed in the industry. And yet nothing had really changed
By 1996, a lot had changed in the industry. And yet nothing had really changed (the real change came in the late 1990s – early 2000s with the advent of the consumer-affordable digital capture DSLR). My first Asahiflex SLR camera had a focal plane, horizontal, fabric shutter. The lenses screwed into the body and there were no mechanical linkages. “Stopping the lens down” to the selected aperture (in all but one case — wide-open) was done manually with a ring on the lens barrel. Focusing and composing was done by using a waist-level viewfinder. My second SLR, a Canon TX, incorporated radical changes :-). It had a pentaprism viewfinder, bayonet mounting lenses, and on the mount, a little lever that “automatically” stopped down the lens, when the shutter was tripped (that was first meaning of “automatic” with reference to SLR cameras). While those were hugely convenient new touches for me, I was mildly surprised to realize they did not improve the quality of my images :-). This was my first inkling of the idea that “its all just gear.” My third SLR was my first Nikon. There were really only minor differences and I quickly assimilated to it. All of those cameras had to be fed film and mine were nurtured with virtually 100% Kodachrome 25 when shooting for myself (the Nikon ran through a fair amount of B&W Tri-X as a college student staff shooter). But in the end, the cameras were all functionally identical; a light-tight box that accepted various lenses and allowed us to adjust shutter speed and aperture, and to variably focus the lenses.
The one constant was the most important one; film
There was also a “new automatic.” While I was “sleeping” during the 1980’s, Nikon, Pentax led the charge, first with integrated motor drives and then with “autofocus.” In 1985, along came Minolta and put what was perhaps the first programming function into their Maxxum line of cameras. I remember keeping up and reading from time to time and was very enamored with the idea. I have always been a “gadget-guy” and I think that intrigued me. Today, I yearn for a simpler body that has just the features I find useful. Every camera I have owned since I moved up to modern SLR cameras have had “program” functions. I have never used one of them and consider them bloatware on the cameras. Anyway, the newer bodies all had auto-focus, integrated motor-drives, and in Nikon’s case, some pretty impressive flash technology. But as I said. Nothing had really changed. Don’t get me wrong. These were often fun and convenient features. But they really did nothing to change the essence of the camera (again, a light-tight, interchangeable lens camera). Getting caught up in the “gear” thing, I traded that cracked brown bag, and the gear in it, for my first “all-automatic” Nikon; a N6006. I eventually acquired an old manual F2 as a backup and moved my main body up to an N90s. The N90s was probably my favorite camera body if all time and was the last SLR I owned before moving to digital.
But the one constant was the most important one; film. And because of its nature, you either had to shoot the entire roll, figure out how to wind it up into the canister and then fish it back out again, or use multiple camera bodies (something many of us ultimately did do). I carried 2 bodies in the field most of the time, usually loaded with different films. Film really changed a lot during that period. Fuji began making its Velvia emulsion which was vibrant and contrasty and especially favored by nature photographers. Kodak eventually caught up with some of its Elite Chrome (Ektachrome) emulsions and it was a time for experimentation on my part. As the Fuji and Kodak (all new development for them was in Ektachrome films) films got better and better, I essentially would leave K25 behind. Newer films were rated at much higher ISO ratings (Kodak Elite Chrome II for example, was 100 compared to Kodachrome’s 25 or 64 — isn’t there a Chicago song in there somewhere 🙂 ?–and could be push processed to 200).
My primary interest in those days was so-called “nature photography.” By this time I was a little older and a little smarter, and realized that what I did not know about photography was an awful lot more than what I did know. I began to read. The best book I have ever read on the subject was (still available) a book by pro, Bryan Peterson, called “Understanding Exposure.” It was, for me, an eye opener. I followed up by reading other books he has written. His were the best resources I had (and still have). I also read wildlife shooters Moose Peterson, John Shaw, and the late Larry West (a premiere birding photographer, whose “How To Photograph Birds” remains, in my view, the best succinct handbook on this subject), and many others as well.
Flower shots are often one of the first love’s of new shooters. They are cooperative. They are colorful. They are easy to find and can be shot in a variety of conditions and setups (natural and man-made). I was no exception and began photographing flowers. Lots of them. Too many of them. But I did learn a lot about lighting and depth of field. As you can see from some of the images here, soft lighting and harsh lighting can have very different effects on a subject. I also began experimenting with flash to control the image background and/or to fill shadows in contrasty image conditions. These images are also illustrative of the need for critical focus. They are often shot with very shallow depth of field and critical focus on some part of the image is pretty important. It is ok (even desirable in many cases) to have parts of an image out of focus, but the shooter needs to be able to see and control that (unfortunately there is sometimes a certain softness introduced by the film to digital scanning process).
I also began shooting wildlife shots. I immediately learned that there really are some areas where “gear” matters. And this is especially true with birds. Unless your name is Grizzly Adams, it is pretty unlikely that you will get close enough to make wildlife portraits with a 50mm (or even a 135mm) lens. Many of the “consumer” zoom lenses of that day has some serious shortcomings. In addition to the fact that the best light occurs most often in early morning or evening, those also tend to be the times when certain wildlife are most active. Most consumer zooms were variable aperture, with f5.6 often being the best you could hope for at the long end. This makes capturing wildlife, who are rarely still, a challenge. I purchased a Tokina “prosumer” 80-400 zoom lens. While Tokina produced some very fine glass at prices roughly 1/2 the cost of good Nikon or Canon glass, this particular model was a bit on the soft side, as the wildlife images here demonstrate. In later years, for a time, I owned a 300mm f2.8 prime lens, which was great for wildlife and sports, but also required a virtual caisson to move around and to mount. The image of the deer was one my most frustrating and disappointing moments. It highlights the limits of f5.6and really not very good quality glass, as well as the further negative of a teleconverter (only in the late 2000’s did Nikon finally produce a sharp teleconverter – up to that time, all the commentators agreed that all teleconverters were going to produce some image degradation on long glass). At a distance, a significant crop with those variables was — as can be seen — hopeless. Yet the setting and the pose was really nice. I wasn’t going to get any closer to this guy who was all the way across a cornfield. While slightly better, you can also see that the Great Blue Heron shot lacks the nice detail (partly due to harsh lighting) we would like to see on bird feathers, and lacks the “razor-sharpness” bird photographers demand from their best work. But heck, I was shooting. And I was having fun!
Filed under: MUSINGS, PHOTOGRAPHY | Tagged: Andy Richards, color, depth of field, ektachrome, exposure, flash, flowers, Fuji Velvia, kodachrome, Light, LightCentric Photography, lighting, Michigan, PHOTOGRAPHY, Photoshop |