When I first started photographing power lines and pylons, it was mainly as an excuse to take photos of clouds and sunsets while keeping something else interesting in the frame. It’s since become an exercise of its own as I’ve come to realize that no “nice” sky is even needed if the power lines are interesting enough.
Eventually, it’s become an exercise in just the pure black on white graphics of the lines themselves.
Although it never hurts to return to my roots (so to speak) and use the powerlines as a way to break up what would normally be a very empty sky.
Probably the area of photography where I’ve grown the most. Also quite possibly the single area of photography where I actually know how better gear would improve my results (slow manual-focus lenses only allow for so much). Granted, I’m not sure I want to be a better bird photographer since I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.
When I first started shooting birds, I was taking photos in a purely documentary way. See bird, shoot bird, identify bird—repeat with each new bird. I even tended to avoid “common” birds like gulls and ducks. Now, having been able to ID every species I see during my lunch breaks, I find myself bringing a bird lens infrequently. And using it less and less when I do bring it.
Documentary shooting only goes so far and only means something when everything is new to the shooter (the root cause of much of the inanity of travel photography). Now when I go birding, I’m trying to capture the bird doing something. Whether it’s something as commonplace as flying—giving me the technical challenge of being able to hit it in-flight—or even more interesting behavior. Or at the very least, the bird should be in an interesting location.
It’s not like I wasn’t looking for those types of shots before. However, now that that’s all I’m looking for, I find that I’m carrying that long lens around and not using it a whole bunch.
Part of me feels like this is wussing out and optimizing for quantity instead of quality. However, since I generally only have my lunch hour to take photos, it’s a tough call. I wouldn’t mind birding for a day and coming back with only a few images. But when I have less than an hour to shoot? I find I optimize my photowalks toward exercises where I think I’ll actually expect to take a few decent frames.
Another Keeble and Shuchat $5 box find I came across in December was a Kodak Pony 135 Model C. This camera is from the mid-late 1950s and is mostly exciting because it’s red-brown bakelite. Camera itself is in excellent condition and everything seems to be working as well as could be. I can even get 27 frames out of a 24-exposure roll.
It’s in the middle of the photo (next to the black, much more common, Brownie Hawkeye Flash). One of these days I’ll take proper gear-porn photos. Shootingwise, it’s pretty fun. Scale and guestimating focus is kind of tough on cloudy winter days. It will be a lot easier to work with in the summer. This guy is also just asking for some Plus-X to get run through it rather than the crappy Max 800 I used as a test roll.
Multiple exposures are another fun thing to play with. Since this camera is a really simple design where the film-advance, shutter-cocking, and frame counter are all operated independently, multiple-exposures are ridiculously simple to do.
All in all, this find looks like something I’ll continue to shoot. Although it will also most likely be confined to summer-camera duty unless I feel a special urge to make horrible puns about shooting my pony.
Toward the end of December, I picked up a Kodak Retina I in the famous Keeble and Shuchat $5 bargain box. Internet research suggests it’s type 141 (has a Kodak Anastigmat Ektar 5cm f/3.5 lens) and dates to between 1937 and 1939. Camera condition seemed kind of gummy (and T and B speeds are busted) but I just can’t pass up something that looks like this.
At the very least, I have a nice-looking museum piece. But since this takes 35mm film, I had to try it out—that includes a shadow self portrait since I try and take one of these with every test roll.
Conclusions? Probably not a good winter camera as it seems more likely to jam up when the it’s cold. I’m a bit curious how it will look with better film (this is expired Kodak Max 800) but I don’t really expect to be using this all that much. The Retina IIa is quite similar and much nicer to use.
It took a couple trips to the Central Valley for me to finally articulate why something has been catching my eye. Watching the farmland roll by while I stared out the window (that I got to be a passenger for the first time in years undoubtedly helped here), I realized that it’s not the repeated forms that have been drawing my attention but rather the actual domesticated plant life that I find interesting.
As a native of the Santa Clara Valley, I’m old enough to remember orchards along El Camino Real and greenhouses along Central Expressway. Neither of those exist anymore. We have different trees planted in the same kinds of patterns now.
After a weekend of taking and editing family photos, I need to recalibrate my photography toward more-considered shots. While I haven’t been able to go out shooting much yet, I’m very glad to have had a roll of 120 waiting to be scanned.
I’m even more glad that it turns out to have a good percentage of keepers.