Equipment Basics

Your choice of camera equipment is very important. Optical quality and mechanical performance are imperative. The optical quality of the lens should be, in my opinion, you first concern. After all, the only thing between your subject and the film is the glass in your lens, therefore quality of glass is extremely important. Mechanical soundness is also very important. There is nothing worse than being somewhere away from civilization, ready to capture that once in a lifetime image, and have a camera malfunction leaving you unable to get the photograph. I know this from personal experience. A back-up camera is always suggested whenever possible. Even the best equipment can malfunction. When considering fine art photography, larger prints are usually desirable, such as 16x20 and 20x24 or larger. For this reason, a larger negative format is better for black and white film. Medium format cameras and large format cameras usually render better quality enlargements because of the larger negative size. My personal choice for shooting landscapes and waterfalls is the Hasselblad 500CM with a 50mm Distagon lens. I usually also pack a 150mm Sonar and an 80mm Planar in case the need arises. The Carl Zeiss lenses are unsurpassed in optical quality. I also have a 4x5 camera available for larger negatives. Since my work is done in the field where I may have to hike several miles over rugged terrain, lighter weight, compact field cameras are a must. I happen to use an old Graflex 4x5 (which is not an elegant camera by any means, but gets the job done quite well) with a Schneider 90mm Super Angulon lens. Here again, the quality of lens is most superb. I rarely shoot 35mm for fine art photography. I used to carry a Nikon FM2N or F3HP for shooting slides for color documentation when shooting film, but these have been replaced with their digital counterparts.

Manual vs. Automatic

It seems in the world today that we want the latest and greatest of everything that makes our lives simpler and easier. If you are into or thinking of getting into any type of art photography or photography on a professional basis, the more manual you go the better. There are those that will disagree, but I would rather think how I want a photograph to look and control the camera, than have the camera to do my thinking and controlling the output of the image. It may work 99% of the time, but there is that one time it will not and you may not get the desired image. Also, if you are using automatic cameras and your batteries die, you are out of commission. Most of the film cameras I use do not even have batteries. I would hate to think that potentially the most important image of my life may rest on a two buck battery. If you are a hobbyist that is looking for nice photographs for your album or on vacation, then automatics are for you. They will make you life easier and render nice pictures.

Digital Cameras

Digital cameras have made great strides in the past few years. The DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras are definitely becoming the alternative for 35mm film. A lot of the higher end DSLR cameras offer the ability to use older lenses you already have, thus have become a huge plus in the world of photography. Digital imaging offers instantaneous viewing for images and quick downloading so you can edit your results within a few minutes of taking the photograph. With the advent of newer technology in printers and specialized inks, digital color images can easily rival the quality and longevity of their film counterparts. However, most consumer grade P&S digital cameras lack the control that most artistic photographers have come to know, but are a great alternative for the person wanting to take photos of family functions, vacations, kids, etc. When choosing a digital camera one must take into consideration the quality of the lens and the megapixels in the output. As with any other type of photography, the quality of the glass in the lens is crucial to good photographs. You cannot expect to take a great camera with average glass and produce high quality photos. The amount of pixels of the camera is also a consideration. In my opinion, it is better to go ahead and spend the extra money and get a higher megapixel camera and shoot on the highest resolution (RAW). There are several storage mediums that are the equivalent of the film that include microdrives, CF cards, SD cards, memory sticks etc. There are many choices and one has to make the best choice for individual needs. I currently use 2 Nikon D300 bodies as back ups with the Nikon D800 as my main. As for cards, I prefer to use smaller capacity cards instead for very large capacity cards. The reason for this is you have a card fail, which will happen at some point, you won't loose everything you have shot especially at a large shoot. I tend to lean toward 32 GIG SD cards in the D800. You can get a bit over 400 RAW images on the card which is usually plenty of space. Card write speed is important when you are shooting rapidly. If your card cannot write fast enough, you will fill the buffer on the camera and will have to wait until the images are written to the card. While B&W digital photography is great, there is nothing in the digital world that I have found that can rival the quality of fine B&W film photography. Here I generally make prints of 20x24 and larger. I have yet to see a printer or plotter than can produce the same quality and luminescence of a fine B&W print on photographic paper, but that is just my opinion. The best of both worlds are available so take advantage of the best. Yes, I still love long nights in the darkroom and the wonderful smell of fixer on my hands. What can I say... once it is in your blood, nothing else comes close.

Buying Equipment

When considering buying camera equipment, you want to get the best value for your dollar. That is why I advocate buying used equipment from a reputable dealer. Shutterbug magazine is a good tool to use when looking for used equipment. Just always keep in mind, you get what you pay for. If you are buying a high quality item, it should be fine if it has been taken care of. You can save money if cosmetics are not a prime factor. A piece of equipment with minor dings or brassing is probably just as good mechanically, just not as pretty and you can get it at a lot less cost. If you can see the piece of equipment, check it out thoroughly. In the case of a camera body, make sure all things function smoothly. Run through all the shutter speeds and make sure they seem good. Make sure the mirror and shutter works properly and smoothly. In the case of a lens, make sure all shutter speeds (medium and large format cameras usually have a shutter in the lens) work smoothly and properly. Make sure the glass is clean and there are no dings or scratches. If the front element has a few minor cleaning marks, it should be fine. Make sure that the rear element is nearly perfect. A good way to check the inside and the glass is to use a pin light and shine it through the rear element while looking through the front element. This will show any flaws and fungus that may be inside the lens. Check the rear element by shinning the light through the front element while looking through the rear. Make sure the focus and aperture rings turn freely without obstruction. Once you are satisfied, make sure they give you a reasonable return policy. Most places will give you at least a week to 10 days.

My Photographic Philosophy

To me, photography is more than just a hobby or a business... it is a part of my soul that I try to convey to others through the photographic image. Each time I try to capture an image, I not only try to convey what I am seeing in my mind, I try to capture the texture, the sounds... the essence of what I am seeing and feeling when I view the subject. Therefore, when I make a photograph, I will spend a lot of time getting "in tune" with the subject. I will feel the texture of the rocks, smell the flowers, listen to the sounds... physically experience all sights, sounds, and feelings of the subject, then try to convert them to photographic film in hopes that others may experience what I am feeling when they view the final print. This is why I like black and white photography so well. Although it is by far the hardest to do correctly, it is photography in it's purest form. As the old masters said, "If you can't make it good, make it red." I highly recommend to anyone getting into photography, take the time to learn purist black and white photography. It will strongly enhance every other type of photographic endeavor you will undertake. It seems that most do not want to take the time and put forth the effort to study, read, and experiment to learn the finely tuned art. It is a very hard, and a lot of times, discouraging road, but the rewards are well worth every disappointing roll and sheet of film and every sleepless night spent in the darkroom. For anyone wanting to get into the art, I strongly suggest reading the book "The Negative" by Ansel Adams, then putting it into practice. It is probably the best book available on black and white photography and the zone system. As a photographer, I feel we must continue to diligently work and strive to fine tune our craft. We must never get complacent. We must always strive forward, unwavering and never tiring. We must never compromise our work, because if it is not perfect, it is wrong. My craft is me and I am my craft... therefore, I love it more than life itself. Thank you for reading my words, my thoughts, and my feelings. Best wishes to all in every endeavor you undertake.