My Story

Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

I have been making photographs for over 40 years. A now-retired Estate Planning and Business Attorney by profession, photography has always been my passion. I shoot primarily outdoor, nature, and “travel” subjects. I use digital editing software liberally to enhance my photographic vision. These days, I take every opportunity I can to travel, and I always have a camera (or two) with me. My Photographic Images can be seen at LightCentric Photography.  Please visit my site and I hope you enjoy the photography.

Beginnings . . .

In 1976, I attended a small, rural college in Vermont for a year. John Knox was one of my favorite professors, as well as my first photographic inspiration. John is a talented and avid photographer who has been published in such sought-after venues as Vermont Life Magazine. John is also the owner of the Facebook Page, Vermont by a Vermonter. I was living in one of nature’s premiere natural “studios” and my interest in the camera and photography was kindled.

Color transparency film was a very “unforgiving” medium

Armed with my dad’s Asahiflex 35 mm camera with 55mm and 135mm screw-mount lenses, an assortment of filters, a General Electric hand held light meter, and some Kodachrome 25 slide film (which, for those old enough to remember, was measured, not in ISO, but ASA), I began what was to become a lifelong passion. Early results were ugly, but this equipment was probably the best tool I could have stumbled on for learning the “mechanics” of photography. The Asahiflex camera was made prior to the Pentax Spotmatic and all its “progeny.” The lens had a ring that you turned wide open so you could see to compose and focus. Then, you turned it back down against the “stop” (I have always thought this is why they are referred to as f- “stops“). If you forgot, you got nice, clear (as in wholly transparent) slides. When I purchased my first “automatic” camera (the only thing “automatic” about them was that they stopped down automatically when you tripped the shutter – oh, and they also had a built-in light meter), I appreciated something technology had done for us, that most of us now take for granted.

I also quickly learned that color transparency film was a very “unforgiving” medium. But that was a good thing, because it taught me how critical correct exposure is. There was just enough “forgiveness” in negative film that you could be sloppy with exposure, and possibly never realize it. Not with transparency film. If I were teaching a serious new photographer today, I would want them to start with an all-manual camera and transparency film (assuming I could find some 🙂 ), just so they could see and appreciate how fundamental getting exposure correct is. I recently read a comment by a pro photographer, lamenting the emphasis today on “gee-whiz” technology, and noting that most photographers today don’t get critical exposure correct. Modern digital sensors are very “forgiving” compared to slide film. And modern digital files and conversion software is amazing in its ability to pull shadows out of images. But that doesn’t mean correct exposure isn’t important. The wonder of digital media is that there is so much to dig out of it, but really only if you get it right in the camera.

He asked me if I wanted him to say nice things; or if I wanted an honest critique?

At the same time, I began to learn a little something about composition, and perhaps more importantly, the outlook that however “good” the photographic result is, there is always something that could have been done to make it “better.” When I finally got a couple slides I was really happy with, I proudly took them to my “professor-mentor” to share my “success” with him. His comment is something that I have never forgotten, and I try to use the same philosophy whenever I ask someone to critically review my work and whenever I review the work of others. He asked me if I wanted him to say nice things, or if I wanted an honest critique? I learned something important about photography (and indeed, life) in that moment. Excellence in any endeavor requires that you have no pride in authorship. Everything you do should be subject to constructive critique and you must be willing to have an open mind. This doesn’t mean that you always have to agree with the critique. That’s the beauty of art. We all have different likes and dislikes. But it does mean you must be open and willing to listen, and perhaps more importantly, learn.

I learned something important about photography in that moment

Moving On . . .

In 1980, I moved back to Michigan and transferred to college there. In 1980 and 1981, I was a staff photographer for my College Newspaper and College Yearbook.  Maybe the best part of that experience was the time I was able to spend in the darkroom. My darkroom experience was limited to B&W.  For years afterward, I dreamed of the day I would have my own color darkroom. Little did I know that when that day finally came around, my color darkroom would be digital, small, and portable!

From 1981 to 1984, I attended Law School in Washington, D.C., and for most of that time, my cameras were sophisticated “door stops.” I got married soon after graduating from law school, and my wife and I spent the next 10 years or so, trying to get traction in our careers, raising two children, and making “home improvements.” The cameras, unfortunately, mostly collected dust in the basement over those years.

I had never fundamentally understood why a “metered” photo of a silver-roofed barn on a bright, snowy, sunny day often came out underexposed!

New Beginnings

In the early 1990’s, the spirit re-awakened, and it was time for something “new.” I traded in all the old gear, bought my first “auto-everything” SLR, a Nikon N6006, and began anew my self-study in photography. Almost twenty years prior, I had started my exploration of “serious” photography. During that time, I picked up a little knowledge here and a little there; and was able create some reasonably nice photographs. But I didn’t realize how much “luck” was involved. While I understood the basic relationship of f-stops and shutter speed and ISO speeds of film, I really didn’t understand how achieve proper exposure of a scene every time. And I didn’t really understand depth of field. The concept of hyperfocal distance was a new discovery. Other than the old, hackneyed idea of “keep the sun over your shoulder,” I didn’t really understand the concept of lighting. While many of my exposures were reasonably good, I really didn’t understand why my shot, for example, of a silver barn on a sunny, snowy day in Vermont often came out underexposed. There was certainly plenty of sunlight. Using resource materials like the Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure,” and Nature Photography, books by Arthur Morris and Larry West, and materials from the New York Institute of Photography, I began to learn the basic fundamentals of photography in a much more in-depth way. I also read books by Ansel Adams and began to see some of the nuances of exposure. These resources taught me about the benefit of early and late day light, and about the direction of light and how it affects the textures and colors in a photograph. They taught me the benefit of using flash (who would ever think that one of the most effective uses of flash is in broad daylight, often in bright, sunny conditions). They taught me techniques to isolate my subject and ways to ensure that the important parts of the photograph were properly exposed. And, keep in mind, we didn’t have you-Tube and similar on-line resources back then. Most of the work on my LightCentricPhotography website (for a number of reasons) comes from this later “era” of photography. I did have some “successes” in prior years and some of those may appear there in the future as I find the time and inclination to work them into my “digital darkroom” workflow.

The Cameras unfortunately mostly collected dust in the basement during those years

The Digital Age . . .

In the early 1990s, along with every other consumer and most serious photographers, I became aware of digital media. I still could not justify the expense of a chemical “darkroom.” At the same time, the “personal computer revolution” was in full swing and both my wife and I used them daily in our careers. Digital camera bodies that were the equivalent of the 35mm SLR cameras most of us used, cost several thousand dollars at that time. At first, Kodak was the company marketing and selling them (Using primarily Nikon and Canon body parts and adding the electronic digital components). Those first bodies were mammoth in physical size but were only in the 1-2 megapixel range! Eventually Nikon came out with its D1 and Canon, its own counterpart. At $5,000, they were still out-of-my range, expensive. I had been “married” to Nikon since the 1980’s and have followed their branding more closely. This is not a vote for Nikon or against Canon (or any other brand). It was just a matter of investment in accessories, and of familiarity. In my view, Nikon and Canon were “Ford” and “Chevy” and it was hard to go wrong with either one. Because the cost of a “DSLR” was so prohibitive, most of us hobby shooters dismissed them as a nice dream.

The real digital revolution sneaked up on all of us in the form of consumer digital cameras.  My wife and I bought our first digital point and shoot; a Canon with less than 2 megapixel capacity.

When I purchased a film-based camera body, I knew that If I took good care of it, it would retain a fairly high resale value. I also knew that a 20-year-old body in good condition, would still be able to use all the new varieties of film and lenses, and render the same images from those films as the top “flagship” film body from any manufacturer. We were unfortunately soon to learn that, like the personal computer, the same could not be said for digital cameras. What consumer point and shoot cameras did was continually and inexorably upgrade and eventually, made the “pro-style” 35 mm bodies (in film, “SLR” and now in digital “DSLR”) “affordable” for us hobbyists. But what it also did was made those expensive DSLR bodies we buy become nearly obsolete every few years or so.

Of course, the industry has made huge strides since those early days, with archival inks and papers, and today, I have the capability, in my home, of affordably printing 13 x 19 (or larger) prints which rival the quality of any traditional photographic print I ever had.  And Photoshop has come from its “rudimentary” (amazing that I can say that, since even the first version of Photoshop contained so much mind-boggling magic that I doubt any one person could ever take full advantage of what is in the program) beginnings to become an incredible and full-featured tool for photographers.

The real digital revolution sneaked up on us in the form of consumer digital cameras

In early 2002, Nikon announced its first “prosumer” DSLR Body, the D100.  By December, 2002, I had, with some trepidation (I knew that I would be “compromising” my quality-built and fun to handle, F100 film body, because the new D100 body was clearly not an F100 body with digital parts), packaged up my F100 and my Coolpix for trade in on the D100. Two years later, I upgraded to the Nikon D200. When first introduced, cameras like the D1, D100 and competitor brands only offered the APS-C sensor. APS-C was a digital sensor surface significantly smaller than the rectangle of 35mm film exposed by 35mm cameras. A few years later, the camera manufacturers offered a so-called, “full frame” sensor that was essentially the equivalent of the 35mm rectangle. I subsequently “upgraded” my DSLR camera three more times: to a D700 “FX” (“full frame” sensor) body and a Nikon D7000 “DX” (APS sensor) body, and finally to a Nikon D800 FX body.

The “Next Big Thing”; Mirrorless . . .

Each time that I have “upgraded” to a new technology, I have had some misgivings. But after having done so, in most cases, I haven’t looked back. In that spirit, I boxed up all of my “backup gear” (keeping my Nikon D800 and lenses), and traded them for the then relatively new Sony NEX-6 “mirrorless” interchangeable lens camera. What attracted me was the NEX’s small size, combined with, with interchangeable lenses, and the very same, very good “DX” sensor that was in my D7000 (perhaps one of Nikon’s best ever “DX” camera sensors). The NEX series (later renamed to the 6xxxx series) used an electronic viewfinder (EVF). That was not a new concept and I had experienced them with a series of point and shoot style Nikons and Canons I had owned. But they weren’t the pleasant experience the through-the-lens SLR and DSLR systems gave. Using their own lens (rather than through-the-lens), the first ones were black and white and very grainy. By the time of the NEX, they had vastly improved, and I couldn’t see much difference between them and my DSLR viewfinder. And, they had some additional advantages, being separately controllable. And of course, the lack of a mirror mechanism meant smaller size and more agility. I thought it would make a good backup and travel camera. And it had the ability to use my Nikon lenses with an adapter, in manual focus mode (so it also could serve as an emergency backup). The convenience, size and fun of carrying and shooting the small Sony grew on me quickly and shortly, I was even using a Carl Zeiss prime lens on it, which made some very memorable images.

Shortly after my move to the NEX as a backup and travel camera, Sony announced its (the first to market) “full frame,” mirrorless A7 and A7r bodies. For me, the draw was the promised, much smaller, but still somewhat traditional 35mm-like body (largely because of the lack of the mirror mechanism), on a “full frame” interchangeable lens camera. These “mirrorless” cameras became known as MILS (or mirrorless interchangeable lens) cameras. I was shooting “full frame” with my Nikon D800 at the time. I loved it, but sometimes felt like I needed a sherpa to haul around the heavy body, and two “pro” zooms, along with a large tripod and other accessories. Likewise, travel was a challenge. I have never checked a camera body or lens (though I have taken the chance with tripods and some other accessories), so I had to carry-on that gear, plus whatever else I carried-on (laptop computer, other small items). As airlines got stingier with space and costs, the challenge mounted. So, when Sony announced the a7 series, I was enthusiastic – if not just a bit naive. I disappointedly watched Nikon’s lukewarm reaction to this whole mirrorless direction (while I hadn’t been a Canon shooter for years, I noted that they weren’t enthusiastically going down that road, either). It did not appear that either of the “bigs” had any near-term plans to offer serious mirrorless cameras (APS-C or “full-frame”). But I was ready to move and unwilling to wait that long.

What I (and I think a lot of other shooters) hadn’t considered, was the lens part of the package

In 2013 – 2014, after a happy 30 years as a dedicated Nikon shooter, I “liquidated” my entire inventory (including the NEX) in favor of the new Sony A7r full frame (I have since, traded a couple times, but always within the a7 series). I mentioned “naive” above. What I (and I think a lot of other shooters) hadn’t considered, was the lens part of the package. Camera Manufacturers (and in particular, today’s “big three”: Canon, Sony and Nikon) have done some amazing engineering of camera bodies. Not having to design around the mirror in front of the sensor and behind the lens, gave them significant “headroom” for shrinking these bodies. The original a7 and a7r were actually quite small (reminiscent of early Nikkormat and Canon TX bodies). I expected that with technology newer iterations would continue to shrink. Not so. Indeed, the opposite. Every new iteration of the a7 series has grown slightly larger, and slightly heavier. The current “flagship” isn’t really much smaller or lighter than my D800 was. 😦 Technology does continue to allow things to get smaller. But it also involves adding things to the mix. Perhaps the biggest “size” determiner today is the addition of in-body-image-stabilization (IBIS). The “gyro” type mechanism that accomplishes this is basically a sophisticated cage around the sensor which in large part, substitutes for the old mirror mechanism. But the real misconception was still probably the most important part of the system: the glass. The “full frame” rectangle is the same, whether put into a very small body, or a large body. So, the rear-element “coverage” of a given lens has to be more or less the same to “cover” 35mm. And in order to make “pro” quality lenses (traditionally meaning very fast aperture – f2.8 or larger) lenses at all focal lengths, the front element and the “in-between” glass has to be large. It is a law of physics and try as they might, to date, engineers have been unable to make these appreciably smaller. They have been able (as they traditionally have) to make less “fast” (less wide apertures) glass smaller. With the quantum improvements in sensor technology and the ability to shoot very fast ISO speeds, the light emitting part of the equation has become somewhat lessened. But the nice bokeh which is imparted by the very wide-open apertures is another story. I have carried one or more of the a7 series and a medium range zoom with a constant f4 aperture for some years now. For my work, it performs admirably. But any thoughts of relief from size and weight? That has only been nominal. As I get older, and as travel parameters change (I fly to Europe for 2 weeks at a time with a carry-on sized bag, and a small additional carry-on these days), the motivation to schlep that gear wanes. Enough so, that I have made numerous trips (including a week in Japan) without it. Have I missed it? At times, you bet. But on the whole, the convenience of “smaller” has certainly persuaded me. For serious, dedicated photography (including trips dedicated to photography), my Sony A7r 46mp camera and a few lenses remains my workhorse.

But Now I Travel . . . 

Finding carrying larger and heavier gear on long trips that were not specifically planned for serious photography became tiresome. On that note, I started thinking about alternatives where I wanted to take some serious images but knew there would be a lot of other things in the mix. On a typical trip with family or friends, while I am always carrying a camera (most of my last few trips have yielded between 1000 – 2000 images brought home), the photography aspect of the trip is well under 50%. We are usually on the move. I am usually part of a group and often am the only one with a camera other than a smart phone. I have to be mobile. And, equally important, I have to be able to fit the camera gear in with other travel items suitable for the particular trip.

In 2015, I bought a new Sony “point & shoot” camera; the RX100 (RX100vi). This little pocket camera makes some amazing images and is really a “pro” camera packaged in a very small box. It is fully controllable, like my other Sony cameras, allowing me to use fully manual controls, or use it like a Point & Shoot, and everything in between. It supports raw image format and has a viewfinder (both absolute requirements for me). At about 50% larger than a deck of cards, it is pretty packable. It has a tripod socket and supports both wired and wireless remote. I have used it for night shooting as well as handheld shooting. My version has a Zeiss-designed lens, with a range of from 28mm to 200mm. I like this little power-packed tool a lot. So much that for a time it was my sole camera on several out-of-country trips. It is very freeing to carry (and pack) for travel.

But it does have some negatives. As much as it has all the “bells and whistles” in its control setup, it still doesn’t handle, or have the feel of my more “serious” a7rii. Whenever I would get my Sony DSLR-style camera in hand, I would realize how much I missed its familiar feel. And as good as the image quality is for what it is, the RX100 is still not really comparable to a larger sensor camera. It has a 1-inch sensor and 20megapixels. While I have made nice 13 x 19 prints with it, I do see it break down in detail from time to time. This is particularly true in low light and nighttime images, where noise really does begin to appear Also, the small sensor limits any substantial crop images. And for those very few times when you might want it, the small lens circle means that any “bokeh” shots are essentially non-existent.

More by happenstance than anything else, in in 2022, I became acquainted with the Olympus m4/3 cameras. I had always been aware of Olympus as a top-end camera manufacturer. But other than to look at them back in the nostalgic days when you could walk into an actual camera shop, I really had never considered them. I had, of course, gravitated toward the larger, 35mm-equivalent (“full frame”) sensors, and the m4/3 didn’t really interest me. But I was lately always thinking about smaller, lighter alternatives. I happened upon one of the Olympus cameras, and almost immediately fell in love with its “retro” look and feel. Not only did that appeal to me, but it felt pretty good in the hands, and after some “playing,” I realized was (for an old school guy like me) intuitive and ergonomic. It offers the ability to interchange lenses. And lenses designed for the M4/3 sensor are a magnitude smaller and lighter. But most impressive? It is small!  I was hooked. These days, for travel, I carry the smallest available Olympus OMD digital body with a viewfinder and interchangeable lens capability – The OMD-EM10 iv. The MFT sensor is substantially larger than the 1-inch sensor of the RX100. And the body only nominally larger than the RX100. I have carried an older version on 4 extended, out of country trips now. I moved to the “mark iv” version only because of an upgraded sensor (the only thing I noticed to dent my enthusiasm slightly was more noise than I like in low light images, which I am expecting to improve with the newest sensor). With this very small, DSLR-like body, I carry an approximately 3″ x 2″ ultra-light 14-150mm (80-300 35mm equivalent) and 2″ x 2″ 9-18mm zoom. I also have a “pancake” 14-24mm (28-48mm at 35mm equivalent) for those times when I want to go ultra small and light. Again, this setup is very freeing for travel and for packing. I am able to get the camera and all three lenses in a small (8’x6’x1.5′) Travelon packing cube. I put all the other stuff (batteries, charger, memory cards, mounting brackets, spare caps and small tools) in another, even smaller, similar cube. It all fits comfortably in my airline carry-on. I have used the camera enough to know I really, really like its handling and the images look very good. The RX100 also goes in my bag, if nothing more than as in insurance policy.

One other note. The “smart phone.” I have had them all, from the physically attached “car phone,” to a bag phone, to Motorola’s first StarTac “flip” phone, to the early Palm Pilot “converged” phones, to the original iPhone, to the Blackberry. Today I carry a modern-generation Samsung S21 “smartphone.” I don’t think the phone aspect of these gadgets has changed much in the last 10 years. The real competitive field today is the cameras. That is what sells between the biggest players and what is primarily advertised. The biggest technical downside is that the sensors are still tiny (a magnitude smaller than even the 1″ sensor on my RX100). It has historically been a truism that the smaller the sensor, the lower the IQ (all other things being equal). But technology has progressed by seeming “lightyears” in just the past few years. The cameras in these phones just keep getting better and better. The highest end phones now have multiple lenses with software capable of sorting them out. The image quality for sensors (of all sizes) just keeps getting better and better. I cannot predict how long it will be, but it will be faster than my best prediction: the phone camera will eventually eclipse all but the most specialized of cameras. It has already done so – in my view – for the old “point & shoot” camera market. Those sales have all but disappeared. I am very impressed at the quality of image my own phone camera produces. It is not yet good enough to replace any of my other three setups. But it is closing in.

I will still keep the A7 and lenses for trips dedicated solely to shooting, and for more “serious” endeavors. But the little cam is the wave of the future.

Yes, I “Photoshopped” it! . . .

I have used Photoshop almost exclusively since its earliest iteration and have read thousands of “how to” pages. And I still have only scratched the surface on what can be done with the program. There are, of course, alternatives to Photoshop.

I have recently taken a turn back to B&W imagery, all through digital, post processing.  At the same time, I have begun to experiment with the “art” side of photography, using “painting” and “sketching” and combinations of these and B&W and color to make images.  It is fascinating.

I look forward to continuing to learn about digital imagery through study, practice in the field, and work in the digital darkroom.

My photographic inspirations in addition to John Knox include Bryan Petersen, from whom I have learned so much without ever meeting him; the late James Moore, a friend and mentor and skilled teacher and photographer in his own right, and the late, Arnold John Kaplan, who at 97 plus before his death, was still going strong, writing and shooting and inspiring me to live and photograph!

The LightCentric Galleries are-and will probably always be, a work in progress. My more recent re-organization has organized my photos by U.S. and non-U.S. geographic locations. But I have also included galleries for Fine Art, Landscape and outdoors, Black and White, Animals and Flowers. You can purchase my images there. Images can also be purchased directly from me in electronic format, or such other manner as we may agree.