Film Cameras     

Film Photography

I was a bit surprised this past week when a couple loudly told me they preferred using film and doubted they would ever bother with digital. They smiled knowingly while pronouncing digital as an in inferior way of doing photography, and that those that used digital cameras couldn’t make good pictures without a computer. Of course, I told them I disagreed, but I also had to say that they should use whatever makes them comfortable. I like black and white film and mentioned that also.

I find that many photographers who use film cameras instead of digital constantly make sure others know their choice, and like to offer a rationale for using film with statements as they did, and saying, “This camera has always taken very good pictures why would I change”. I can’t argue with what seems to me a reasonable statement, however, in my opinion, the difference between digital and film is like driving a 1970’s car and the latest 2015 model car across Canada.

As with film, I really liked those old fuel-guzzling, muscle cars, but the smooth, inexpensive performance, the stylish comfort and the myriad of options available for the operator of the 2015 model car will make the experience safer and more relaxing and than the 1970 version, just like using a digital camera does.

This couple were so emphatic about how great the pictures were that their film cameras produced pictures that I naturally assumed they do their own darkroom work. But no, they take their film into a lab that processes it, then scans it to a computer, then with predetermined settings determined by a computer set up by some technician they get their prints. Hmmm…., not much photographer input there, and a lot more “digital technology” then I cared to mention. Oh well, at least they are taking pictures.

Later I as I contemplated about when I used to shoot film I thought, there was something to be said about the permanence, and how it demanded we get it right the first time. There were no second chances, and if more than 36 exposures of some subject were needed there was that “dead in the water” moment while changing film unless I had a second camera hanging around my neck. Forethought was a required option; and with regard to multiple cameras I can remember packing a bag with one body loaded with black and white film, another with colour film, and a third with slide film.

When referring to the time when we both earned a living as photographers using film, my friend Alex commented, “Oh, the days of click and pray.” As I wrote, there are no second chances. Especially for a photographer that relies on a lab for processing and printing that roll of film.

I will say that shooting film certainly slows one down. Shooting a roll of film every now and then might be a good idea. One can easily pick up an old film camera and put a roll of film in it for less than a $100. Relying on a lab for colour processing might lift the cost much, but I have no doubt with a bit of searching we all could find someone with a home dark room to process a roll of black and white film. I don’t know if that is getting back to basics, as a photographer that I met called shooting film, nevertheless, it would be fun to use one of those heavy, old, shiny, metal cameras again. And who knows, using film might become a regular way to, hmmm….get back to the basics of a time gone by.

What Inspired or Inspires you to do Photography     

Inspiring Viewpoint 2

Palouse river canyon 2




A member of a photography site I frequented some time ago posed the question, “What inspired you?”

I took that to mean what inspired you as a photographer?

One would think that a question on a photographer’s website page would be a great opportunity for photographers to talk about those that encouraged, influenced, or affected their development in this exciting medium.

Anticipating discussions on celebrated photographers who had inspired others on that forum to get into photography I looked forward to reading members replies. However, I was surprised and disappointed with how few took the time to respond, and those that did seemed silly by only naming long gone painters like Rembrandt. Rembrandt? Not one member on that photographer’s forum mentioned another photographer.

Unable to contain myself I wrote, “I was inspired to do photography by photographers not painters. Those I admired and inspired me at different times include Man Ray, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Arnold Neuman, Gregory Heisler, Sarah Moon, Sheila Metzner and Annie Leibovitz. I must also mention scenic photographers like Elliott Porter, Ansel Adams, Edward Steichen and Edward Weston.”

Today I sent a friend a picture I had taken of him and several other friends in the early 1970s. I remembered at that time I was rarely without a camera, and how frustrating that was to some that just got tired of my constant picture taking. That’s when I recalled the preceding post on inspiration and my response.

I suppose there are painters and sculptors I like, but do they inspire my photography? No not really – I look to photographers for that. The first photographer and artist that inspired me all those years ago was Man Ray. It was after viewing his fascinating pictures that I began to study photography.

However, it is the second photographer on my inspiration list, Richard Avedon that I’ll quote here, “I think many photographers create in order to survive, both emotionally as well as financially. For a photographer, taking a photo is just as important as breathing”.

Sometimes when I see a photograph that I like I get excited. I might not be able to go to the location or find the subject of that picture, but it still makes me want to grab my camera and begin searching for something. I could say that photograph inspired me to create one of my own in my own personal way.

In my list to that forum I forgot to include the famous Canadian nature photographer and author, Freeman Patterson. I think any photographer interested in photographing gardens or landscapes will find inspiration in his photographs and his writing. Patterson wrote,  “Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

There are many things and people that inspire me, too many to write down here, but the original post was on a photographer’s forum, so it’s photographers not painters that I thought about. There are many photographers past and present whose images are worth searching for, looking at, learning from, and of course, gaining inspiration from that will surely affect one’s own photography.

I always enjoy everyone’s comments. Please don’t hesitate if you have a moment.

Thanks, John

Will New Cameras Make Better Photographers?   

A new camera?

Will a different camera and more megapixels make a difference?

I received an email the other day from a photographer who is trying to earn some money at photography. She had been submitting prints to companies that purchase stock photography, but has not had any luck. Discouraged, she wondered if her problem might be that her camera wasn’t making high enough quality images, and thought purchasing a new camera with more megapixels might be the answer.

I began by saying that she should keep on submitting photography and suggested she take a look at her style and preferences in photography and to determine if there is a niche market that fits her subjects.

I suppose any excuse is a good enough to get a new camera. I am OK with that, however, I am not sure that “more megapixels” is the answer.

As long as I have been in photography photographers have blamed their failures on their cameras. It used to be that photographers wanting to become professional, would discard their 35mm and buy a medium format camera because they believed it was necessary to take professional pictures. Then they would decide their pictures still weren’t good enough, so they would sell their Mamiya to buy a Hasselblad, thinking that would really allow them to take professional pictures.

That attitude and rational about cameras hasn’t changed, only now instead of medium format cameras the answer is a bigger sensor with more pixels, and, of course, the belief that one camera company might be better than the other.

Will different camera models and more megapixels make a difference to the image quality? Well, maybe. Perhaps it could depend upon what an image buyer wants and how large the final image file needs to be. Research into that means pages of confusing charts and hours of reading other photographer’s opinions.

I believe we need to be comfortable with our cameras and learn how to make them perform the best. I taught photography for many years and I was always amazed at how much money students spent on camera equipment in order to achieve an A grade, when all they needed to do was learn better techniques.

I am not saying that one shouldn’t get the newest and best photographic equipment available. My advice is to make the choice the depending on the kind of photography one likes to do. However, the camera isn’t going to make a person become a better photographer.

As I write this I am beginning to wonder about that last statement. If a photographer purchases a new camera, they get really excited and go out and shoot, and shoot. More shooting equals more practice and when all is said and done more practice is what actually makes for a better photographer.

With that rationale we could say if a person bought a new camera every six or eight months (that seems about how fast new models are appearing) then that means a person would be improving at least twice a year. Gosh, in two years a person would be four times better than when he/she started!

Hmm… with that reasoning I should tell that photographer to go ahead and buy herself a new camera with as many pixels as she can afford.

Nevertheless, if after her hours of research she can’t make a decision on which new camera to spend her money my advice will be to study the work of successful photographers in her subject area, and spend lots of time experimenting and practicing with the camera she has.

What Influenced My Photography of Landscapes?  


Along the back road 2

Bales along the road 2

River view

Lake view


Memories of roadside photography.


My interest in photography began in the early 1970s. I had grown up with cameras, but until that time they were no more than a simple boxy device with which to document family and friends. When I look at my tattered old albums packed with fading pictures taped to construction paper pages, I see lots of poorly composed and poorly exposed images, partly due to the inadequate technology of the day and my ignorance in using it.

When I did decide the medium of photography was worth using for more than documenting friends and family my first progression was into arty, creative images. I have mentioned before that the great photographer, Man Ray, was my first inspiration, but now thinking about my photography of those days I am amused at my youth, and contemplate how far I have progressed and of course how far the technology has come.

I think my influence with the photography of landscapes and other subjects in nature may have begun with the early advertisements by the American Automobile Association. That organization was the best place to get maps for road trips in North America. They sent their employees out, with cameras and mapping instruments, across the continent finding the best and most scenic routes. I remember seeing pictures of big, four-door International vehicles with people poised on platforms on top with camera and binoculars in hand on a dirt road in the middle of “no-where North America”. It all looked very exciting.

Then I was introduced to the writings and photography of Ansel Adams, and saw pictures of him standing on a platform on top of a vehicle very much like those used by the American Automobile Association with his large format camera making wonderful photographs any scenic photographer would admire. So, I saved my dollars, sold my jaunty little MG Midget, that was so easy to get around in on the streets of Los Angeles, and bought a bright yellow International Scout 4×4. Underpowered, poor turning capability, uncomfortable on long trips with back seats that were only accessed by climbing over a metal barrier behind the front seats; it was perfect in my young mind and meant that I, like Ansel Adams and the folks from the AAA, could travel the back roads in a cool looking vehicle with my camera gleefully capturing the natural world on film.

Years have passed and technology has changed and so have I. There are still lots of back roads to explore and photograph, but the days of climbing on my car roof are long gone. The American Automobile Association no longer explores the country and today I check maps on my iPhone. I don’t need a large 8×10 view camera like Ansel Adams used with the accompanying long hours working in a chemical darkroom to make good enlargements and certainly don’t want to drive around in that uncomfortable, gas guzzling International anymore.

I thought about all this as I was heading towards the city of Kelowna last week. My wife and I left early so we could stop for some pictures and still be there for a 5PM appointment. My car of choice is now a Honda Accord. Comfortable, fuel-efficient and if I drop the back seat down I can carry lots of equipment. As I drove I mentally made photographic compositions of the countryside and thought about how nice the day was for photography.

I reminisced about the many times I have made this same drive over the years, and the different photographic equipment I have used to photograph many of the subjects and scenes I was driving past, and the different vehicles I have used, and we talked about how easy it is to make pictures today. As the cameras get better and better, and equipment like tripods and lenses get lighter, and our vehicles are more fuel efficient, the life of roadside photographers like me is just great.





Viewing Scenic Photographs   


seagulls and boat 2

Falis Pond 2

Wolf ranch

I enjoy looking at photographs that seem to have been made with the goal of saying something about a moment in time or place. Sometimes I even get a sense of the struggle the photographer had while trying capture a particular mood and how hard it was to convey that mood to the viewer. I think creativity takes a lot of effort.

This week I thumbed through a hard cover book I have had for years by one of my favorite landscape photographers, Eliot Porter. The book, entitled Intimate Landscapes, is from an exhibition of fifty-five color photographs by Eliot Porter, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I enjoy how he eliminates those elements that add nothing to the composition and selects those that add meaning to his visual statement. He had an amazing awareness of how colors create mood. A review I read went on to say that his photographs, “reflect the standards of excellence that are Eliot Porter’s greatest contribution to the field of color photography. Upon seeing these photographs, the viewer is immediately struck by the artist’s distinctly individual and intimate interpretation of the natural world.” His photographs are different and specific, and have a personality that I think come from the experiences of the photographer.

When I finally put down the book I thought about how many of the scenic photographs that populate photography forums I currently read are mostly documentary type photographs, and I wonder if the photographers believe that any vista with lots of space and colour is worthy of photographing. They might be of the opinion that all it takes is a wide-angle lens to miraculously convey the feeling and emotional reaction they personally felt at that moment. Perhaps that is why the viewers’ responses they get are sometimes limited to, “nice sky and good composition”.

My long-time friend, Bob Clark, used to critically suggest that all one needs for people to like your landscape or scenic photo was to have a “National-Geographic-sky”, a magazine that was filled with pretty pictures of places from around the world with blue skies and billowy white clouds.

I prefer scenics that make an impression on me and convey a mood. I want to look at a photograph that allows me to find a story in it; or at least be able to search for one, and hope for a photograph that I can respond to on some level. A photograph should try to accomplish something, and should have a strong sense of self-expression. Photographers should look for something in the landscape that is unique, and that will set their photograph apart. As photographers we should try to express our personal viewpoints and hope to summon an emotional response from those who view our photographs.

Photographing People   


Dave Monsees

By John 001





This week a friend asked me what my favourite photography subject is. After our talk I decided to post this rewrite of an article I wrote some time ago.

I enjoy photographing just about anything. Nevertheless, I’d have to answer that I probably take pleasure in photographing people the most.

I’ve been employed doing many types of photography since I began earning my living as a photographer in the 1970’s. I have done different kinds of photographic work for all types of organizations; however, I have found myself photographing people most of the time.

That’s not that unique; I think most photography is really about people. We take pictures of our family, friends, and people at celebrations and other events.

When I taught photography in the 1980s I would ask the question about a favourite subject of my students and “people” was a rare response. However, since the introduction of digital cameras and the relaxed point and shoot style many employ today, I’ll bet people photography ranks near the top as a reply.

If indeed, as I confessed to my friend, my favourite subject is people, I suppose I might put together a few tips for him and my readers on my favourite subject.

I quickly jotted down 10 suggestions to help readers be successful when photographing people.

  1. When you take pictures of people look at them and pay attention to their appearance so you ensure they look their best for the photograph. Don’t just rapidly snap away and realize later that you should have had your subject adjust something, e.g., a necklace, glasses, or especially that tie.
  2. Choose interesting and flattering angles or points of view. Also try three-quarter poses of single subjects. By that I mean that the person turns their body so that they view the camera from over their shoulder.
  3. Focus on the subject’s eyes. When we talk to people we make eye contact. There is a greater chance of your subject liking the photo if their eyes are sharp and not closed or looking away. Ensure that subjects smile or at least have a pleasant look. In my experience when subjects say they want a serious photo without a smile they appear sour or unhappy in the final photo. Do one of each as a compromise.
  4. I don’t like lenses shorter than 85mm. My favourite is 105mm. (Although recently I have been choosing my 70-200mm.) Longer focal length lenses always create a flattering perspective.
  5. For photographing one or two people an aperture of f/4 or wider will soften the background and make your subject stand out, but for group photos use an aperture of at least f/8 or smaller to increase the depth of field.
  6. Pay attention to your subject’s background especially when doing outdoor portraitures. You don’t want the photo to appear to have something growing out of a person’s head (e.g. like a stop sign), or have objects in your photograph that are distracting.
  7. Watch out for uncomplimentary shadows created by the sun, your flash, or other light sources.
  8. Get things ready first. Contemplate the poses before you photograph your subject. The best way to bore people and loose the moment is to make them wait.
  9. Tighten up the shot. Again, get rid of unwanted elements in the photograph that do nothing for it. If there is more than one person make them get close together.
  1. Talk to your subjects. The most successful portrait photographers are those who talk to and interact with their subjects. We are dealing with people and we communicate by talking. Don’t hide behind the camera.

And as always be positive about the photograph you are about to make. Get excited. Your excitement will be contagious and affect those around you.

Why is Photography so good    

Story at the Seawall

A story at the sea wall.

%22I rode my bicycle pat your window last night%22

” I rode my bicycle past your window last night”

%22I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell%22

“I was thinking this could be heaven or it could be hell”


Some time ago I wrote a column titled, “What is a good photograph?” At that time I said, “A good photograph is one that makes us have a connection with, or think about, the subject…it could help us understand what the photographer feels about that subject; and can, if successful, evoke some kind of mood, whether good or bad.”

While having coffee with some friends this week one raised the thought, “Just what is good photography?” He wasn’t referring to the nuts and bolts of the technology, but what is it about photography that makes it a good medium to so many.

I like the statement made by famous scenic photographer Ansel Adams said, “Photography, as a medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.” Simply put, I think it is all about making a picture of something and visually explaining that to others. The creative medium of photography is much different than other artistic endeavours.

Another celebrity in the world of photography, Edward Steichen said, “ Every other artist begins with a blank canvas, a piece of paper… the photographer begins with the finished product.” (For readers’ information, Steichen was married to the famous southwestern painter, Georgia O’Keefe.) I am sure he believed creative art is something attained because of the artist, not the medium.

I’ll expand my friend’s thought with the question, what is photography? Internationally known photographer, Elliott Erwitt wrote, “ To me, photography is an art of observance. It’s about something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

I am always interested in talking to photographers about what they were trying to do (or say) when they took a picture. Any two photographers in the same location will provide two very different interpretations.

Sometimes we look at a photographer’s work and realize there is more to the image than just what we saw at first glance. It is as if the photographer is challenging us to catch a glimpse of something deeper in meaning. Speaking to that, controversial photographer Diane Arbus exclaimed, “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”

That is certainly my impression of some photographs I look at. The photographer might just say, “Oh, I just saw it and pushed the shutter”, but if pressed I usually get a lot more about what he or she was feeling when they pushed the shutter.

Another great quote by the innovative Duane Michals wrote “Photography deals exquisitely with appearances, but nothing is what it appears to be.”

Recently I looked at a photograph made by a friend in an old abandoned house. The view was at floor level with decaying furniture and windblown leaves looming in the foreground. At first the low angle was inviting with light coming in from uncovered windows. Then I noticed not so focused stuff like toys, and a bookshelf with books in the background, and a textured story of more than just a simple picture through an open door emerged.


Photography has become more popular than ever before, and the ease with which modern technology makes holding a camera, releasing the shutter, and making a sharp, colourful picture is also easier than ever before, and I look forward to every new aspect of this exciting medium that develops, and I enjoy getting into these types of philosophical moods regularly; I like all things photographic and enjoy the opportunity to discuss photographers, photographs, and what photography as a medium is to photographers.


I am sure most of the allure of photography is how one can capture a moment of a subject’s time and show that moment to others. And what makes it such a good medium might be as Ansel Adams who said, “My last word is that it all depends on what you visualize.”