My first rangefinder: Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

Zeiss Contessa

Zeiss Contessa

If I were launching a new compact, straight-to-the-point, limited function, but quality camera, I might call it the Contessa.

It’s a sweet name for a well designed, small 35mm camera.

German camera and lens maker Zeiss introduced its Contessa in the early 1960s, and around that time, somebody in the Batavia area bought a unit of this nice tourist camera.

That camera, complete with a US customs sticker from some foreign travel on its leather case, went up for sale in auction at Bontrager’s on Wednesday and I was the fortunate soul who was the highest bidder.

After stopped the camera at Bontrager’s on Monday, I did a little research and figured it would be a bargain at $15, but anything over $90 would be too much. I put a stop-loss-limit on myself of $60.

I won the auction at $55.

Today, I ran through it a roll of generic color film from CVS and had it developed. The results can be viewed below.

While the Contessa was hardly the point-and-shoot of its day, it is as high-end as a good SLR.  The fixed-lens camera has a max shutter speed of 1/500, which makes it hard in many lighting conditions to shoot wide open at f2.8.

It may just be a product of age or something unique to my camera, but it’s not necessarily use to adjust shutter speed and aperture on the camera, and it’s certainly not easy to change the ISO setting.

As for the quality of the pictures, the Zeiss lens certainly is sharp.

Mostly, though, I was just happy my shots turned out.

Besides the cool retro design of the camera — this is going to look great on display — I wanted the camera because I’ve never even held a range finder before.  I was curious to give one a try.

While it’s no Leica, Zeiss has a grand reputation, especially in lenses, so I was happy to get it for that reason, as well.

I’m pleased with the photographic results of some quick-take pictures today on just so-so film.

Canon, Holland Land Office Museum

Canon, Holland Land Office Museum

Louis' Barber Shop

Louis' Barber Shop

Fall Tree Branches

Fall Tree Branches

Graveyard Cross

Graveyard Cross

Center Street Smokehouse sign

Center Street Smokehouse sign

Roll of Color Film 2

No Hunting Genesee Couny Park

No Hunting Genesee Couny Park

For the second time, I’ve run a roll of color film through my Nikkormat.

The film is generic color film from the local CVS drugstore, 400 ISO. The color is not as rich as the Kodak Ektar, but I still like the sharpness and lack of digital artifacts that I’m getting with film.

Most of the roll was shot at Genesee County Park. I think I got eight decent shots from the 24 exposures. I’m publishing two here. I will likely publish more in the coming couple of weeks on vufindr.com.

Birch Branches

Birch Branches

Black and White Roll 4

Rowell Mansion, Batavia, NY

Rowell Mansion, Batavia, NY

This week I completed shooting my fourth roll of black and white film. Again, it’s Kodak BW400CN.

I have five or six shots from the roll worth publishing and will publish them on vufindr.com in the coming couple of weeks.

This photo is of the Rowell Mansion, corner of Richmond Avenue and Ellicott Avenue in Batavia. Rowell owned a box factory, but he’s more famous for getting away with murder. In 1883, Rowell found his wife in bed with another man. The discovery wasn’t a surprise, with a friend supplying a tip, so Rowell showed up with a gun. A jury found him not guilty of murder. The murder was on Bank Street. He built this house for his second wife.

First roll of color film

Pachuco on the Porch with Mums

Pachuco on the Porch with Mums

Once I started shooting film again with my 40+ year old Nikkormat camera I realized something — for all of the years I actively used the camera, I was only shooting black and white. I was shooting black and white because I was shooting for newspapers.

At some point, somewhere I read that one of the advantages of film is that film is inherently sharper (all things considered) than digital.

So a couple of weeks ago I purchased a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 film, 36 exposures, and whenever possible, made pictures with the Nikkormat.

Here are the results — 15 publishable photos.

I do think they are sharper than what I’ve been able to get with digital, though at the resolutions possible through a web browser, that may not be obvious.

I certainly love the tone and warmth of the colors.

From here, with winter coming on especially, I’ll probably be shooting black and white for a while.

My wish is that I could afford to buy another or two (or find at a really good price) Nikon film cameras, so I can load both black and white and color film (one in each camera) and use the appropriate option for the appropriate shot. Some day.

Yellow leaves at the base of a tree

Yellow leaves at the base of a tree

Fall Leaves on a Mossy Tree

Fall Leaves on a Mossy Tree

Fall Trees in Centenial Park, Batavia, NY

Fall Trees in Centenial Park, Batavia, NY

Fall Leaves, Blue Sky, Centennial Park, Batavia, NY

Fall Leaves, Blue Sky, Centennial Park, Batavia, NY

Tree Branch, Morning Sun

Tree Branch, Morning Sun

Frosted Berries

Frosted Berries

Frosted Green Leaves

Frosted Green Leaves

Frosted Red Leaves

Frosted Red Leaves

Milkweed

Milkweed

Metal Pink Flamingo

Metal Pink Flamingo

Metal Bird House

Metal Bird House

Mums in a Wheel Barrow

Mums in a Wheel Barrow

Pumpkin and Mums

Pumpkin and Mums

Pumpkin on the Porch

Pumpkin on the Porch

Naturialism and photography

Sunset on Gorton Road, Alabama.

When I was 16 I remember arguing with a friend and classmate about the kind of music we would try to make together.

He played bass. I played guitar.

He liked Rush, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes.

I preferred the Sex Pistols, The Clash and the Ramones.

We argued about musical direction and never formed a band. I found prog-rock pretentious. He found punk rock simplistic.

As I grew older, my musical tastes evolved, from rockabilly, to country, to blues, and anything that sounded “authentic” to me.  While I eventually gained a level of appreciation for some of the music I scorned in my youth (I’d even eventually own a Yes CD), my heart and soul has always gravitated toward music, for lack of a better way to describe it, sounds just as good if it’s one guy and his guitar or a whole band.

I’ve also always preferred movies with a gritty realism like Saving Private Ryan over horror films (though, on the non-realist side, I have always loved Star Trek, though that’s far more realist based than, say, Aliens).

I thought of these things after reading Michael Johnston’s blog post at the Online Photographer.

And here’s a curious fact: the more contrived I find a work of art to be, the more difficult it is for me to remember it. I even like naturalism in music recordings: I often respond to records that document a real event. I’d rather listen to a live recording made in a jazz club than a work of art “built” of dozens of tracks, real instruments played in real time rather than synthesized sounds that never existed as vibrations in the air. I like Wes Montgomery’s Full House or Thelonious Monk’s Thelonious in Action and Misterioso* more than Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells or Coil’s Love’s Secret Domain.

Exactly.

Mike’s post made me realize there are dots that connect my tastes in literature, music and, now, photography.

Those who have been following my photography of late know that I never go for the whimsical, nor do I try to create images that can’t be found in a single frame (I’m not even much of a fan of HDR).

The photography that excites me — whether it’s taking pleasure in my own work or studying masters such as Henri Cartier-Bresson or Ansel Adams — is taking a single frame and making it mean something.

It’s not that a photo need to be completely documentary — I love the work, for example, of Cindy Sherman, who sets up elaborately staged shots. It’s that the art is created in-camera.

Photoshop (and Lightroom) are wonderful tools for enhancing a photograph — to make details pop, to draw out color and contrast, to sharpen edges. But I have no interest, other than curiosity, in creating composite photos.

That’s not to say I can’t appreciate the beauty of composite photos created by masters of the art. But it’s not for me.

And this tendency toward naturalism, I think, is why I’ve been so fascinated with film photography of late. Once an exposure is committed to a single frame of film, there’s no second chance to click the shutter. There’s no “trash” button my my Nikkormat. Either I do what I can to get it right in a single click — taking care with exposure and focus, but more, paying close attention to framing, composition and depth of field, knowing what f-stop and shutter speed will produce what results — or I get it wrong. Whatever is captured on that single exposure will either stand or fall on what I make of it in camera.

Photography is changing quickly. Just in the past week we’ve seen advances in focus control and anti-camera shake software. Within a few years it will be impossible to take a photograph that is technically imperfect. The person who clicks a shutter will be able to pay little attention attention to focus, exposure or shutter speed. The camera and post-production software will be able to correct any technical flaw.

I’m not sure what that will mean for photography. There may come a time when a photographer won’t came create stunning works of art in post-production — instead of in camera — won’t be valued.

The photo naturalist may be a doomed breed.

But I would like to think that there will always be a place for the photographer who take some time with composition and subject matter to create an image that is visually interesting. I guess we’ll find out.

But for me, I can’t imagine taking any other approach to photography than I’ve already mapped out. I just hope there are always a few people around who appreciate the images I publish and that somehow I can find a way to get better at capturing interesting images.

Revolutionary War re-enactor from the Seneca Nation

Bidders visit a vacant building in Batavia, NY

Black and White Film, Roll 3

Old White House

Old White Farm House, Judge Road, Alabama, NY

As part of my ongoing experiment/playing with film, here’s the third roll of black and white I’ve shot recently. This was shot with my old Nikkromat. My goal was to have 12 publishable shots from the 24 exposure roll. I’m publishing eight. Currently, I have a roll of Kodak color film in the camera — 36 exposures and I’ve shot about five so far.

Tree Branches

Tree Branches, in my back yard on Morton Avenue, Batavia.

Dewitt

The lake at DeWitt Park, Batavia, NY.

Corn Stalks

Corn Stalks, with a red brick wall as background on Center Street, Batavia, NY

Bill Kauffman in Centennial Park

My friend, writer Bill Kauffman, in Centennial Park, Batavia, NY

Grave stone top

Grave stone top, Springvale Cemetery, Elba, NY

Adam Miller Holloween Witch

A Halloween Witch outside Adam Miller Toy and Bicycles, Batavia NY

Leaves and Rocks

Leaves and Rocks, Iroquois Wildlife Refuge, Alabama, NY

Photography: Finding order in chaos

Over the past couple of years I’ve been more than pleased, thrilled even, with the praise I’ve gotten from a wide range of people — friends, colleagues, family, readers, etc. — for my photography.

Often times, the individual photos that are praised are the well composed shots. By that, I mean, generally, there was conscious effort on my part, some creative thinking, or just making sure all the factors aligned properly. I love it that such pictures, pictures I’ve taken care or effort in creating get praise.

But there is another kind of picture I like to make that rarely seems to get much feedback. Maybe I overvalue these photos, or maybe people just don’t know what to make of them. Perhaps, I think, the “art” I see in them is more subtle than today’s “glance at the web” culture misses. And I don’t mean that to be as pretentious as it sounds. I’m just really wondering if people see what I see, or if it’s just missed, or if it’s not there in the first place and I’m just delusional.

The shots I’m thinking about are what I think of as finding order in chaos. The situation is fast moving, there are multiple elements that are out of sync, but as the photographer, I sense there is something here — if I keep peeping through the view finder, perhaps I’ll spot some order and make a picture at the right time, or with a continues shutter fluttering, perhaps a pattern will emerge after I import the photos into Lightroom. In all of these shots, there’s a bit of what I recognize in the view finder as a possibility and a happy accident.

Take the photo above. It was taken, of all places, in a photography studio. When I lifted my camera, I just sensed an order of people I wanted to capture, but as soon as I lifted my camera, the two people in front struck a pose. Still, as I clicked, I felt good there was a possible composition in the frame and not just chaos. When I chimped (looked at my LCD screen) I could see I had horrible blownout areas (over exposure) in the frame. So I dialed down my flash and snapped again — fearing, even knowing, the composition was falling apart — but I had over exposed areas again. I took several more pictures, seven total, each stopping down more and more trying to rescue the situation. Later, I would figured out that in this photography studio where the action was taking place, my flash was triggering the strobe in the light box to my left. But here’s the happy accident: My instincts about the composition of the first picture were right. The composition isn’t perfect, but the people do make an attractive pattern, and the overexposed areas actually — to me at least — help the composition.


Above, however, is a case where I have no idea what I’ve snapped until I’m working in Lightroom. This photo was taken just six or seven hours ago, and what got me thinking a little more on this topic. This is not a good sports photo. The real action is the two players back of frame — one carrying a ball and one about to make an unsuccessful tackle. To please a sports editor, this picture should tell more of a story, but the actual story of the shot is confused. The kid carrying the ball is about to score, but the real action of the photo is one of his would-be blockers getting knocked on his ass while the guy who should have been blocked, and should NOW be involved in tackling the runner is moving away from the play. None of what happening in the frame, however, is important to me. I just like the symmetry of the shot. It feels more like street photography than sports photography.

Here’s a case of three men at a public event. I’m just trying to capture an interesting composition. The man in the middle is moving around a lot. The photo I have in my mind to try and capture — the three men in parallel profiles is being thwarted by his movement. I decide to go ahead and snap a couple of frames while he’s moving forward. What emerges is not a formal portrait, but rather something that has a feeling of action, spontaneity and still some symmetry.

Sometimes you just snap the shutter, and snap and snap and snap, and hope for the best. I took 20 frames of this kid throwing balls at the Elba dunking tank. This was the only one worth keeping. The lines aren’t obvious at all, but everything seems to line up so beautifully — it’s pure chaos, but a compositional whole, I think.

Here’s a case of what I got isn’t what I was after. When I snapped I was just interested in the kid on the horse. The chaos and symmetry comes from the other clear figures in the picture, most notably from the clown, who struck an inexplicable forlorn pose just as I clicked. These are actors of independent notions forming a compositional whole. A triangle is formed from boy on horse to clown to man on the right who is also looking down, giving the frame some unplanned symmetry.

Curves are great compositional devices. When I took this shot, I could see through the view finder that the lead singer struck a pose that could potentially give the photo great energy. It’s one of those rare cases where I knew instantly that chaos had been given order.  What I saw later was how the singer’s curve creates a yin to the guitar player’s yang as he stoops forward. Nobody has ever commented on this photo, but I always find something new in it every time I look at it.

This is a case of taking several frames of action hoping one shot will work. When I opened this frame up in Lightroom, I was immediately struck by the classic “newspaper wild art” feeling of the shot. I’m sure community newspapers across the country have run this same exact photo hundreds of times over the years, which is why I like it so much. But the emergence of lines forming a triangle in pretty much the final frame of the series is what turns a chaotic situation into symmetry.

So, I’m making no claim to great photography here, just expressing some thoughts on interesting compositions arising from fast moving situations and wondering if anybody else — especially accomplished photographers — see what I see.

BW roll with my Nikkormat

Norton Road Barn

Norton Road Barn, Elba, N.Y.

As I mentioned previously, I was going to try a roll of Kodak BW400cn in my old Nikkormat.  This post is about the results.

Most of my shots are not worth sharing.  I spent a good 12 shots playing with stops and focus on nothing I intended to publish.  Some of my shots were over exposed.  Some of the shots were out of focus (pure manual focus here).

For the shots that were properly exposed, I’m sharing with you all but three of them.  Those three shots were failures in previsualization where what I imagined is not what I got, and what I got wasn’t very interesting.

Earlier today, I read an interesting post on five advantages of film, and I found myself agreeing with the key points (unfortunately I didn’t book mark the post and can’t find it now).  Here’s one an observation of advantage of digital: Greater dynamic range.

Compare the photo above with the one below (which I converted to BW for the purpose of comparison).

Barn, Norton Road, Elba

Barn, Norton Road, Elba

Regardless of the results, I feel like I’m getting what  I want out of my experiments in film photography — thinking through my shots, not relying on machine-gunning a shot, and not relying on the LCD screen to see if I got it right.  I do believe working in film more will make me a better photographer.

Below, the remainder of the shots from this roll I have to share.

White kitty in Black and White

White kitty in Black and White

Single Flower in Black and White

Single Flower in Black and White

Walnuts

Walnuts

Clothesline tied to a tree

Clothesline tied to a tree

Rocks and tree trunk in Elba

Rocks and tree trunk in Elba

Pachuco in black and white

Pachuco in black and white

Photographing Marty Stuart

Marty Stuart backstage

Marty Stuart backstage

As a music fan, I enjoy taking pictures of musicians.  Thankfully, Batavia has a fairly vibrant music scene and there are plenty of local bands I can go out and see and shoot.  But ever since taking up a camera in a serious way two years ago, I’ve wanted to go to a big show — a show with lights and featuring an act that I’ve long enjoyed, whose music I own and I admire enough I would like to meet.

Last night, I finally got that chance — Marty Stuart played a campground in Le Roy known as Frost Ridge.  Ironically, the owners, Dave and Greg, are fellow San Diego expatriates.

Normally I’m not an autograph hound.  In fact, I’ve long lived by a philosophy of thanking and praising celebrities I meet, not bugging them to sign their name on some piece of paper or article of clothing.  If it’s somebody I admire, I figure they’ve given me enough just with whatever they’ve done. I don’t need an autograph. I enjoy the memory of meeting cool people.

Friday was a little different, though.  Dave and Greg made up a cool press pass – specific to the event with a picture of Marty and his band on it, plus my mug shot and name in the lower right.  This, I thought, I have to get Marty to sign, and he did. That’s a keeper.

I shot the show with my D90 and D7000, using just the 35mm and 55mm prime lenses — and I shot them wide open, f1.8.  That made focus critically important and in low light I couldn’t see all that well.  I was just shooting and praying that everything would turn out.  The D90s ISO was 1600 and the D7000 was 1000.  When I processed the pictures, I was pleased both with how many were in focus and how little noise I had to deal with.

I did try some flash shots, but wasn’t pleased with the results, so went back to shooting natural light.

It was a great show, too. Marty and his bandmates are fabulous musicians and Marty is the consummate showman.  And as Greg and Dave told me, the acoustics at Frost Ridge are perfect.

Marty Stuart Backstage

Marty Stuart Backstage

Marty Stuart on stage

Marty Stuart on stage

The boots of Paul Martin

The boots of Paul Martin

Paul Martin

Paul Martin

Kenny Vaughn

Kenny Vaughn

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives

Marty Stuart

Marty Stuart

Marty Stuart on stage.

Marty Stuart on stage.

A first roll of black and white film in nearly 20 years

Oakta Creek Bridge and Le Roy Church

Oatka Creek, lookinging toward Le Roy's Main Street bridge and St. Mark's Luthern Church.


The last roll of film I shot was probably in 1992, when I left the Daily Californian in El Cajon, Calif. After that, I put away my Nikkormat and I can’t remember touching a camera again until about 2002 when I got my first digital camera.

The Nikkormat is the camera you see in the header of this blog. My brother Don gave it to me in 1995, when I was co-publisher of The Beacon, covering Ocean Beach and Point Loma. Even with training from a local photographer, Pierce Harris (RIP), I wasn’t much more — I realize now — than a point-and-shot photographer. The one difference, my partner and I, Keith Finley, developed our own prints (and that was mostly Keith.

In 2005/06, I was a big advocate for every reporter carrying a point-and-shoot camera. I still think they should, but one thing I learned pretty quickly after taking over The Batavian — when you don’t have a well-armed staff photograph, there’s a lot of photos you simply can’t capture with a P&S. Try, for example, shooting sports with a Casio, or getting in close on that cop searching for a robbery suspect way down the railroad tracks.

There are some photography assignments that simply require a DSLR and glass sufficient to the task.

So when you’re the only cameraman, you better get yourself a good camera.

In the fall of 2009, I bought a Nikon D90.

It didn’t take long to learn that readers of The Batavian really loved my photos, especially landscapes of Genesee County, especially pictures of barns. To this day, I continue to get high praise from readers for the photos I publish on The Batavian.

With this encouragement, I’ve been fully immersing myself in working to become a better photographer — reading books, following photography blogs, shooting pictures every day. And I think I’ve gotten better.

All of this interest in photography eventually led to a purchase at an auction a few weeks ago of four old cameras, including a Pentax that is in really good shape (except the light meter doesn’t work and the cap won’t open on the batter compartment). Holding this camera in my hands gave me the itch to shoot some film, so I bought a role of 400 ISO BW negative film.

After the past few weeks, I shot off 24 exposures, starting with the mud races in East Pembroke. It was in the middle of this even that I realized I should use my digital camera as my light meter. I over exposed about seven frames before I started using this little trick.

Yesterday, I took the roll to CVS to be developed. About an hour later a clerk called back and said they couldn’t process BW film. I said I would pick up the roll later, but didn’t get back in until today. I was pleasantly surprised that the film had been developed. I was given my prints and a CD of my images. A kid there named Jeremy knew how to process it, and today, he figured out how — for future reference — to save my digital files as TIFF rather than JPEG (for better editing in PhotoShop).

So with that success — and a good deal of properly exposed shots — I plan on shooting more film.

And here’s the thing — I’m going back to the Nikkormat. For some reason, I was thinking it wouldn’t work any longer, but it seems to be working, including the light meter. The best part of the Nikkormat is the glass — a 28mm f3.5, a 55mm f1.2 and a 135mm f2.8. All three lens where top-end glass back in the day. I’ve got another roll of BW in the camera and if that comes out well, I’ll try color (I’ve NEVER shot color with the Nikkormat).

Below are the rest of the shots taken with the Pentax.

Grass bank, Oatka Creek

Grass bank, Oatka Creek

Clay Street Bridge, Oatka Creek

Clay Street Bridge, Oatka Creek

Adam Miller Toy and Bicyles, Center Street, Batavia, N.Y.

Adam Miller Toy and Bicyles, Center Street, Batavia, N.Y.



29 Summit Street, Le Roy

29 Summit Street, Le Roy

Boy at East Pembroke Fire Department Mud Races

Boy at East Pembroke Fire Department Mud Races

Introducing VuFindr.com

I’ve always been interested in photography, but when I had a good SLR I couldn’t afford much in the way of film or developing.  Then, when digital came along, I couldn’t afford, nor justify, anything but a point-and-shot camera.

In running The Batavian, I realized that with no photography staff, the "reporter armed with nothing more than a point-and-shot" just wouldn’t cut it.  There are some photo assignments that can only be handled by a quality SLR camera.

So I bought a Nikon D90.

This immediately led to an improvement in my photography, which led to a lot of positive reader feedback, which encouraged me even more to take photography more seriously.

I’m very pleased the the ongoing positive feedback I get from friends, family and readers for the pictures I’ve been taking.

I don’t know where a serious interest in photography will take me, but I keep pursuing it.

This has led me to set up a photoblog: VuFindr.com.

Telling the story of community in photos

Some of you will remember that my first online endeavor was to launch an online news site in eastern San Diego County called East County Online. That was in 1995.

Some time ago I did a tweet suggesting that somebody should start an online site that told the story of a local community not with the written word, but almost entirely with photos.

I thought it would be an interesting experiment.

I doubt whomever started EastCountyNews.net knows anything about me or ever saw that tweet, but it is, in fact, a community news photo site. And the publishers took it a step further. it’s also in print.

That’s pretty cool.