A Year in Photos

Photography, fiction, and personal essays form my three primary creative outlets. For this blog's first 18 months, I used it primarily for photography. As I've returned to creative writing, I'll use this blog for fiction, too. Sometimes, when reality needs to be discussed more than truth, I write personal essays.

This blog will continue to showcase as many above-average photos as I can muster. Hopefully my written work will be as good or better than the visual. Whichever drew you here -- photographs or fiction, I hope you enjoy both.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Nikon FM2 Review

Nikon FM2 Review and Sample Photos

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Vario Chrome

Imagine with me. Mountain wind, moving up through pine forests in a valley thousands of feet below, channeled by a rocky “V”, smelling strongly of that clean smell that only pine trees make. The wind carries the cold of coming winter, the bite of tonight’s coming flurries, and the sting of dried pine needles carried up from the valley by the millions. A dog shakes his head and his chain collar sounds like tap shoes dancing to frantic and uncoordinated music. And there are friends, brothers, there, too, the wind too loud for you to speak.
Images are stories. Photographs tell us about a scene, a place, a thing or an emotion, and most of all they tell us about the photographer and what the photographer values most.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2, CineStill 800T

I picked up a road warrior FM2, beat and brassed from tables, drops, and doors. And without hesitation, without issue, it worked for dozens of rolls of film over two years in exceptional cold, heat, humidity, snow, morning dew or frost, dust, at two miles elevation and below sea level, sometimes much of that in the same day. Without question, comment, or hesitation it worked reliably and every time it needed to. It sat in luggage and camera bags, was slid under my car seat, bombed with dog drool, knocked against solid granite, and suffered all manner of insults and neglect that would leave most cameras in pieces.
The FM2 is one of those cameras that people go to when they know their gear will take abuse, but still need to work on demand. And yeah, that’s one of the things this camera does – take hits like a masochistic MMA fighter and keep going in for more.

But beyond this camera’ ruggedness, it has a simple, classic interface, the kind that makes it easy to hold it up to your eye, look at a scene, find in it a story and the things you value, and record it to share with others. This camera put the photographer and the subject as close as laces and shoes because it does not interfere, does not get in the middle. The simple, efficient design results in a user experience where the camera itself melts away, becomes nothing more than a red plus, zero, or minus and a quick blackout in the creative process.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Color Negative 200

So let me give you five words to describe the FM2. Obsequious. Simple. Unobtrusive. Intuitive. Reliable. That’s a strong list. Nowhere in a description on the FM2 would words like intimidating, difficult, fragile, obnoxious, or complex reside. The FM2 is a photographer’s camera. And what I mean by that is everything I’ve said already – it’s reliable and does not interfere.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Color Negative 200

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines Genius, in part, saying that it is “great and rare natural ability or skill.” And I would argue that’s a part of it. I like to think of genius as the ability to successfully and with good outcomes connect disparate concepts or thoughts in a creative manner, especially in a previously unconsidered way that is natural and logical once the connection exists. Can a camera be a genius? No, of course not. They’re metal and plastic, batteries and glass. There’s no brain and no thought. Can a camera’s design be genius? Can a camera’s design have a great and rare natural ability to connect a photographer and subject in a way that had previously been unconsidered but that becomes natural and logical once experienced? Yes. Decidedly yes. So does that mean that the FM2’s design is genius?

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Vario Chrome

Imagine with me. A family gathering, warmly lit in the glow of old, tungsten-filament bulbs. Roast turkey hot from the oven, warm and dark brown under tin foil. A kitchen full of sideline cooks, nodding at the steamy, herbed smell of the turkey, chopped bread and celery inside it, giblet gravy slowly bubbling on a back burner, a champagne cork popping in another room. And there, camera, film, a moment, light and color, smell and steam, champagne, reflex and action. So you tell me. Is the FM2’s design genius? I think we would answer that question the same way.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2, CineStill 800T

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2, Kodak Ektar 100

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Negatives in a Trash Can

In December I found a stack of negatives in a trash can. There was a half roll that was the exact-same-boring-shot of a wall. Then a half roll that was mostly ruined by poor developing. And then some other shots. Maybe they belonged in the trash, but here they are.

There was a half roll of this shot. A. Half. Roll.

This is about five stops overexposed.

These two are indicative of the ruined roll -- the negative wasn't loaded in the spiral correctly.

Sign is in focus. They must not have been speeding.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ocean Wildlife

Two days ago I shared a number of cemetery photos. Well, I also had the opportunity to take a number of nature photos the same day. Here are some of them. Tomorrow we'll finish off the Point Arena blog entries with some foggy hike photos I took the day before these.

The night of the 4th my girlfriend saw this heron hanging out by the lighthouse. The morning of the 5th it was still there, so I grabbed my 400mm lens. 

It's a simply stunning bird and, unfortunately, I missed all the shots of it grabbing fish.

There were also harbor seals. And they noticed me and many looked up at me the first time I pointed the camera at them.

I was stunned and thrilled. Seals, in the wild. This was fantastic and amazing and such a rare thing, right?

Nope. Totally the most common seal around. And they hang out on these rocks all the time. People go there to photograph seals.

That afternoon my girlfriend and I hiked down to bowling ball beach. The bowling ball concretions were all underwater, but the tide had delivered a dead seal to the beach. Three turkey vultures feasted on it when I approached, but two had flown off before I was close enough to take good photos. The third hung around and didn't fly off until I was about thirty feet away.

When he did, he flew low and I managed a few shots in flight. I had an old manual focus Vivitar 135mm lens on my K3 so I didn't expect much of my tracking. But the bird flew in a fairly straight and predictable trajectory, so I managed a few good shots.

Having a camera that takes more than eight shots per second helped a lot.

Eventually it landed on a cliff overhead with three other turkey vultures. The seal had no head, which one of the local shop owners told me was very bad news for surfers.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday -- Ten PHONEtography Apps

Sometimes, I think, people assume that because I use DSLRs and film cameras that I'm necessarily against phonetography. That's no true at all, though I see phonetography as more for fun than for serious and creative photography. But, in an effort to change my views on that, I started researching good and creative phonetography apps on my Galaxy SIII. Here are ten phonetography apps I like.

10- Aviary

Aviary is a fun app and my favorite of the photography apps. It allows some editing (enhancements) to correct lighting and colors. These features are, in my mind, well laid out and pretty good for a phonetography app.

Aviary also features stock filters (effects), image frames (frames), and stamps (stickers). Note that some of the frames and stickers kits cost a couple bucks, so even though the base app is free some of the add-ons add up quickly.

Aviary has tons of features and to keep reciting them would make for a long list. In short, this is probably the best phonetography app out there and is definitely worth the free price tag for the basic features.

9- Otaku Camera

Another free app, this fun app adds manga-type borders to your photos. As an added bonus, the add-on frames, as of this writing, are free. This app is a close second in my mind to Aviary and serves an entirely different market. Were I to remove all my phonetography apps except two, I would keep Otaku as one of them.

8- Cymera

This may be the most expansive app I've used. This has a LOT of features and capabilities for improving photos. As an added bonus, the app doesn't, by default, like some, have garish filters as the default. Cymera is a legitimately useful and usable app.

7- Clone Camera

Clone camera requires that the user take two photos that line up nearly perfectly next to each other. On the plus side, you can put different foreground objects in each. It's a clever idea but a flawed implementation. It seems to work by taking a photo with a small portion of the sensor. Instead, it should take the full photo and then take it again and blend out the things that are the same. If you can master this app, it has a lot of potential for fun.

6- One Man with a Camera

This is a fun app that lets you select the toy camera you'd like the app to imitate. It then takes a photo with a filter that simulates the camera you selected. And it does it well, having seen actual photos from many of the toy cameras that the app imitates. It's free, but you can remove ads for a buck.


$3.99 app as of this writing. There's a free version limited to 3.2 megapixels and with reduced capacity. And ads. Nope; an app maker that releases a limited-capacity free version is not interested in having me as a full-version customer. I uninstalled this one.

4- Multi-lens Camera

This is a nifty action sampler app. It benefits, compared to most action samplers, from having different frame shapes. It's definitely a fun and creative way to get your action sampler phoneography fix. If you're an action sampler fan, this is definitely worth checking out.

3- Smooth Camera

This app advertises that it makes people's faces look smoother. In my experience, everything just looked like it went through Photoshop's pallet brush filter. Also, this app inundates you with full-page ads whenever you change screens and has banners on each page. Ads at startup, at close-down, and at EVERY other opportunity possible. I couldn't make it work and the sheer ad volume was highly off putting. I'd suggest skipping this one.

2- Vintage Camera

This is your standard-outta-the-box take-an-image-and-apply-filters app. It's nothing revolutionary, though I admit I like the interface.

1- Pinhole Camera Calculator

Technically, this doesn't take photos. That said, it's one of the most useful apps for me since I enjoy pinhole photography. If you'd like to make your own pinhole cameras or if you have a kit one and want to use it reliably, this app is a must-have. In addition, the information in it will help you learn more about pinhole photography and analog photography in general. This is a well designed and useful app with a good interface. I will not ever uninstall it.

Other important Phoneography apps:
- Massive Development Chart

- The Photographer's Ephemeris

Sunday, March 2, 2014


This week I'll wrap up my Point Arena images. The other week I had a sunset time-lapse followed by a cloud trails composite image. Those were, obviously, taken at the same time. The other two photos in the second post were also taken on the same day. Well, all the images from Point Arena that I share this week were also taken that same day. In short, it was a good day for photography.

On a whim, I stopped into a cemetery to take photos. At the exact same moment I stopped in, so did another guy. He had in tow two medium-format digital Hasselblads and lenses. In sum, the gear he had in his car was worth more than my entire camera collection. Stands to reason, he was tooling around in a decked-out Carrera. If I'd known being a professional photographer paid that well, I may have made different choices in college.

Anyway, I started with some establishing-type shots to simply get to know the place and get comfortable.

A number of the graves had stone borders or designs. Many also had raised dirt, fresh or not. I liked that. When I die, I want to be buried with bottled water, a flashlight, and a shotgun with lots of ammo. Why? Because when the dead rise from the grave that's zombies. I want to be well hydrated and capable of defending myself.

Many of the newer graves had concrete borders. I supposed that's for visitors.

This statue was next to a pastor's grave.

The pastor may have been a golfer.

Another statue in the cemetery. There were a number of statues, all about 18 inches tall or so. Many of them from different eras and clearly with different intents. This was my favorite of them.

Many of the graves has silk flowers. But some had come loose in time and littered the cemetery. Also, most of them were severely sun-faded, which actually made me sadder than the graves. It meant that no one had been by in a long time to tend to the graves.

This was a particularly sad grave -- a child who died after 57 days.

At one section, a number of children's graves were grouped together. Many had stuffed animals and toys adorning them. The adornments showed a lot of weathering and fading.

I almost didn't take photos of the children's graves as I was debating if it was disrespectful. In the end, I decided to do it because I wouldn't show any respect for the kids' short lives by simply walking past.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Found Photos Friday -- Car Show

A bit of a nonsequitor from the rest of the lot, these images appeared at the end. All were underexposed by four or so stops, which made the digitization and post-work challenging.

My brother had a Hot Wheels that looked exactly like this. I coveted that Hot Wheels more than anything else, until it one day got a chip on the nose.

Pooh Bear. Curious choice.

These last five weeks have had some interesting images and an interesting mix. In March we'll have a bunch of found photos that I picked out of a trash can -- the negatives were mostly unusable, so I can see why whomever took them pitched them, but some returned images.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rothschild Giraffes. NBD.

Yesterday I shared some antelope, kudu, and zebra photos. The giraffes are definitely the tour's high point for most people. I loved the giraffes, and petting a couple of them, but for me, the Greater Kudu were the high point. That doesn't change how amazing the giraffes are. 

They're amazingly gentle animals and were just fine pulling sweet potato out of peoples' mouths.

But who knows what they're really thinking.

A second later that giraffe was playing tonsil hockey with my girlfriend.

The other people on our tour. They had as much fun as we did.

The giraffes had short fur, coarse and stuff. And they moved carefully and gently around us.

She learned after the first time that it's better to play coy. Wait.. Why'd she need another kiss? Am I missing something?

At the last stop, the giraffes reach right out over you. We stopped here because, in their pen, they were fairly uninterested in us (except one of them.) Here we had better luck.

Because they could all see we had food.

I don't understand why anyone would want to hunt such a gentle, beautiful, and critically endangered animal. It it a distinct possibility that in my lifetime these will be extinct in the wild due to the poaching and poor land management. Basically, it boils down to this: humanity is forged in greed and rich hunters pay a lot of money for escorted hunts for endangered animals. Ultimately, the check will come due for our poor management of this planet's resources and, when it does, humanity won't enjoy having to pay.

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