I want my TtV

still there
While I periodically go out of my photographic comfort zone, I usually do so in ways that aren’t too different from what I’m used to. I will change cameras or lenses but I tend to avoid techniques which risk overwhelming the photography.

Granted, almost anything photographic can become an exercise in technique over content.* The dangerous ones though are those which are fairly easy to do yet have instantly-recognizable and eye-catching results. As a result, they tend to be used as photographic gimmicks rather than useful tools. It’s hard enough to see differently; throw in a gimmick and it’s even harder to avoid falling for the flickr wow factor.

*This will eventually be a post of its own.

One such gimmick is through-the-viewfinder photography.* I have a Kodak Duaflex II which accompanied another 620 spool purchase for my Brownie Hawkeye Flash. Because the Duaflex doesn’t accommodate 120 as well as the Hawkeye does, I’ve ended up shooting through the viewing lens more than the taking lens. The results end up looking a lot like what Hipstamatic or Instagram do but add some distortion to the edge blurs/effects.

*Another, which I’ve posted about previously and which I have a better handle on in terms of how to use the gimmick rather than be used by it, is shooting with a flipped lens.

My results are not intended to show that I have avoided succumbing to the gimmick. These shots are still very heavily-dependent on the effect rather than what I’m doing with it. I’m just documenting the process of learning how to use a gimmick. Also, I really enjoy taking these.
First, the obligatory shadow self portrait. You can tell from my arms that I’m doing something more than just holding a single camera.

Luck or Skill?

wet wake up
Since I almost always have a camera on me, I’ve become the default family event photographer. This is often a neat position to have but it gets risky when people start assuming that I’ll get the shot.

For general events and parties, this isn’t an issue. There’s never an incident around which the entire event hinges. But some events happen to be based around specific moments which are important to capture. Though I’m at the event to be at the event, not just record it, it’s become my responsibility to get the important shots.

I’ve been both lucky and good so far. In two baptisms I’ve gotten the important shot by waving a camera in auto-everything mode above my head. I’ve also been confident (or stupid) enough to take my digital SLR and its dodgy focus-confirmation system with fully-manual lenses to a number of can’t-miss events such as graduations or even my son’s birth.
Hello World!
I’m much more comfortable just taking candids of friends or family members at an event than I am having to take the photograph. At the same time, I have to admit that I’m probably the most-skilled person for the job so, if I don’t do it, there’s a good chance it doesn’t get done well, if at all. Just don’t ask me to do any weddings…


getting big
Once I started shooting manual glass on my DSLR, I never thought I’d go back to auto-everything glass. While, as I mentioned earlier, the kit lens is really all that I need, I really do prefer zone focusing and the amount of control I get (and am forced to use) with manual glass. Whenever I shoot with either the 18-55mm kit lens or the 35mm AF lens, I find myself doing a lot more spray and pray rather than carefully considering my viewfinder.
Congrats Jessie!
fun times
story time overload...
It was only a matter of time before I decided that my kit lens was actually the perfect lens for what I wanted to do. The more active Wat became, the more I found myself needing the 18mm length rather than the f/1.8. Especially when I’m on duty by myself.
al agua patos!
easter egg hunt!
As a result, I’m finding myself considering an upgrade to my kit lens. This is shocking. I really hate both the idea of a normal zoom and the concept of shooting in idiot mode. Yet I do both each weekend, all weekend. And as much as I enjoy the family photography, I find myself relishing the fully-manual stuff as soon as my weekday starts.

It’s very odd to find myself in the position where I think I should have better gear but I don’t actually covet that gear.


I just spent a week in Vegas. No gambling. No shows. No shopping. No girls. No late nights. Barely any drinking (only with meals). Though I did eat a lot of red meat.

Because of the timing of my conference (6AM to 7PM), I wasn’t expecting to take many photos either. However, I couldn’t help going out for a wander before the conference started each day. There are not many people out and about between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning and Vegas looks a lot different when it’s all empty and half of the neon is inactive.
Until last week, my Vegas experience was limited to a couple layovers at McCarran. While I’ll admit to a certain curiosity about the place, it’s never been a destination whose appeal I ever really understood. When I travel, I use the hotel as a place to sleep and, otherwise, try to stay out of it as much as possible. I just don’t understand the concept of a mega-resort where I’m actively discouraged from leaving the hotel.

So in some ways, it’s probably a good thing I was staying at the Treasure Island with the rest of the employees working the show rather than at the Wynn where the show actually was.

wynntreasure island

At the Wynn, the in-resort mall features a Cartier outlet. The Treasure Island has a store called Bling—Cubic Zirconia. This comparison exemplifies the difference between the two venues. It also pretty much covers what’s wrong with Vegas. You can either spend a ton of money on truly nice items or you can waste your time with gaudy knockoffs of the real thing.

clean waterVenice with clean water.

"mansard"Paris with buildings taller than 20 meters

DSC_0032New York + rollercoasters

And these are just the fake cities. There also are fake castles, pyramids, volcanos, and pirate ships—gimmickry which just doesn’t rub me the right way. Being at the Treasure Island with its silly pirate show and dingy grounds* forced me to go out and wander. At one of the classy/nice resorts like the Wynn, I would indeed be tempted to spend the entire time in the hotel.

*The hallways smell of stale margarita mix and cigarettes. And abandoned martini or high-ball glasses stay out on tables all night long.

Besides my early morning excursions, I did also go out at night. Fewer photos though since it’s more crowded and I was only carrying the kit lens.
golden arch

Time Capsules

I originally wrote this for our private, family-based blog but it’s relevant here as well.

One of the supposed disadvantages to shooting film is how it doesn’t mesh with the instant-gratification, instant-upload nature of the rest of our online lives. When everyone else can share photos within a day of taking them, waiting weeks or months to finish the roll, get it developed, and then scanned is an unnecessary amount of work.

This, however, is a large part of what I enjoy about shooting film. Especially when it comes to family/kid photos. It’s too easy to get caught up in the now and the new—just spending our time documenting and sharing each new development as it occurs. The time-delay of film forces me to remember and reflect.

From my most-recent roll.

jean jacket Wearing the jean jacket he got from his Grandma for Christmas
Santa Clara
February 2011

runrunrun Enjoying the sunny day
Santa Clara
February 2011

cabinetsBusy busy busy
Santa Clara
February 2011

cage boy Hoover Park
Redwood City
March 2011

cage boy Hoover Park
Redwood City
March 2011

With each of these, I’m forced to remember when I took it and figure out what was going on. There’s no EXIF information to help me. No time stamps or geotag information to give me hints. Part of the joy with looking through family photo albums is telling the stories that accompany the photos. Shooting film forces me to open that time capsule each time I finish a roll.

Corporate tool

The company I work for was running a photo contest. There was even a decent prize for the winner: $1000 and the photograph would be displayed on the building.

Placeholder photo showing where the contest winner would displayed

I didn’t enter.

I didn’t even seriously consider entering.

Yet when the finalists were announced today, my reaction was disappointment followed by incredulity.

“Is that the best we can do?”

“I can totally do better than 60% of those”

But I don’t regret not entering. I’m just trying to articulate why I stayed out. I also suspect that I’m not the only photographer at the company who abstained and I wouldn’t be surprised if the others did so for similar reasons.

  1. Rights grab. Even entering the contest required me to surrender all rights to my photo.
  2. I have not yet drunk enough of the corporate kool aid to do things just for recognition from my coworkers or management.
  3. It was patently obvious what kind of photos the company wanted. This wasn’t truly a “submit your best shot” contest. Everyone knew that bright, colorful, and exciting images were going to win. Especially because we specialize in color printing and want to show off that technology.
  4. Designer integrity. Given the requirements, this amounted to a design-on-spec job. I refuse those on principle.
  5. Artistic integrity. Sure, I could have selected a generic sunrise/sunset photo whose rights I don’t care about and see what happened. But anything worth publishing is something I want to actually care about.

Also, I’m too much of a wise ass. For a corporate contest, I’d be unable to refrain from submitting something taken at work. Granted, I have plenty of nice, colorful, examples from work.
morning in foster city
full moonrise
However, when I saw the contest, one photo immediately came to mind. And it was perfect. Except it was completely not going to win.

So why bother surrendering the rights to it?
misty lot
Yup, a black and white photo of the company parking lot.

And yes, I know that properly printing black and white using full-color inks is as hard (if not harder) than printing nice color. But that’s not what we’re selling.

Photo drives


Thanks to Gohlke, I’m thinking about instances when I’ve tried to photograph something that caught my attention while I’m driving or riding in a car. It’s an interesting exercise. Things always look different from a car and it’s often difficult to capture the way that movement and speed change my perspective.

In the rare instance when I’m not driving, I can practice actually shooting from the car. This is good practice (and yay for digital) for figuring out what works and what doesn’t and how movement at 70mph translates into static images.
pacheco pass
The expected workflow though is to recreate from the sidewalk what struck me from the road. Sometimes I’ll make a special trip to a location I’ve been noticing for months. In these cases, I don’t always know if what I’ll find is what I see when I’m driving. I just know that I’ve noticed something interesting on a drive and it deserves further exploration. In these cases, the drive is merely scouting for the photography.
western motel
motel capri
Othertimes I actually go out driving with the intent of photographing things which I see from the road. I’ve only really taken photodrives when I’m already traveling. This is distinct from stopping the car and exploring on foot. These are photos where I explore by car and hop out when I see something interesting.
O'Keeffe country
Finally, there are the times I see something during regular everyday driving which is so compelling that I immediately pull over and get out my camera. I’m trying to force myself to do this more often. But it’s hard. Driving is typically about the destination, not the journey—commuting or errands even moreso in this department. Delaying my arrival is always a difficult decision.
Everything must go.
cold sunrise
trash day
The last two scenarios are interesting as they force my brain to work really fast. It’s not enough to notice something interesting. I have to be able to figure out exactly what caught my eye and determine if it’s worth stopping the car before I’ve driven too far past it.

San Francisco Bay

Something I’ve been doing for over a year. And I haven’t quite realized the extent of it until today. It’s one thing to take photos of the San Francisco Bay when there’s an obvious subject. Maybe the view is fantastic. Or maybe the light is spectacular. Or there are cool clouds. Or the geometry of the bridge (or anything) adds a nice focal point. There’s usually something obvious to take the picture of.

It’s when there’s no obvious subject that I find I like the bay best. I’ve been taking these for myself. I suspect I’m not the only one who likes them.
high tide