Feels Like Summer To Me

It’s hot outside and inside there is a constant drone from the air conditioner. I’m waiting for the next bit of inspiration to come to me and at the same time wondering why I’m not rich and famous yet. I’m sure there are lots of good reasons but I can’t think of any at the moment. I suppose it’s all a numbers game and I got no numbers. No hits, no views, nothing. Since I’m free of all (any) expectations I guess I can happily continue to do my own thing and have a good time. Celebrities don’t seem to be any happier than I am, so there.

Meanwhile the camera batteries are charging and the memory cards have been formatted. There is film in the film camera du jour (a Sawyer’s Nomad). I could go to Chicago on the weekend and take photos of tourists taking photos or just wander downtown waiting for something interesting to happen. I could stay at home and sleep late… Where is that Muse when I need her? I’ll think about it at work today and see if I can come up with a plan.

All Thumbs Today

Photography Rules of Thumb – Dennis

Introduction: I’m not sure why rules of thumb are called rules of thumb. I do know that if you are an Eskimo who is building a kayak then you would use the length of your arm from your elbow to your fingertips as the measurement for the deck opening. So maybe thumbs were once used as some kind of anthropomorphic measuring stick for short things. For our purposes a rule of thumb is a technique or procedure based on experience and or common sense that is accepted as a broad standard that is generally correct but not bound to absolute scientific standards. In short, rules of thumb are mostly true most of the time.

I know several people who are “all thumbs” when it comes to photography and I can show you photos with their thumbs sticking in the frame to prove my point. So based on the concept that people who are all thumbs have ten of them, here are the Ten Photography Rules of Thumb.

1. Rule of Thumb: Shutter speed can affect the sharpness of hand held shots, especially when using longer focal length lenses. The safest minimum shutter speed should be reciprocal to the focal length of the lens in use, 1/200 second for a 200mm lens or 1/60 second for a 50mm lens. Better yet use a tripod whenever possible.

2. Rule of Thumb: A polarizing filter will almost always improve the color saturation of water and foliage in addition to cutting glare on glass and metallic surfaces. The affect is strongest when the filter is at a 90-degree angle to the sun. Using polarizing lenses on extreme wide-angle lenses can cause the color of the sky to look uneven. That is because the polarizing affect varies with the angle to the light source and a wide-angle lens covers more area of the sky.

3. Rule of Thumb: Landscape photos can often be more dramatic when shot in vertical format. It is often a good approach to make at least one exposure of an interesting subject in both orientations because people will want both. It’s not a bad idea to make a few in camera “duplicates” at the same time in case a negative or slide gets damaged. I like vertically framed shots in order to include a section of clear blue sky when there is haze near the horizon.

4. Rule of Thumb: When you include far and near subjects within the same image choose a small aperture to increase depth of field. Then remember to focus on a point about a third of the way between the nearest and furthest details. The range of focus is typically 2/3 more behind the point of focus than in front of it, so by focusing on the near or far details you are actually wasting a lot of the area of sharp focus. You may want to consider buying a camera with a depth of field preview feature.

5. Rule of Thumb: Try to frame photos of people and wildlife against simple backgrounds that do not detract from the main subject. Look for interesting backgrounds that include contrasting colors or shoot against a saturated blue sky. Watch out for bright highlights or distracting objects protruding in along the edges of the frame. Use large apertures to throw the background out of focus and make the sharpest area of focus on the eyes. Watch out for shadows falling on the subject unless it is for effect. Remember that film cannot see as wide a range of contrast as your eyes.

6. Rule of Thumb: Shoot at different times of the day. Beat the tourist crowds by getting up early and maximizing your shooting day. Have a long break at noon and then scout out locations for your evening photo shoot. Continue shooting until then sun goes down. Twilight is a great time for architectural shots because the light from the sky will be at about the same intensity as the light coming from inside the buildings, and you will still be able to see the outlines of the buildings against the sky.

7. When shooting sunsets it is best to aim the camera just above or to the side of the brightest part of the sky to exclude the sun from your meter reading. It is also a good idea to bracket your exposures in 1/3 stops for slide film and whole stops for print film. Try framing the shot so the sun is partially hidden behind another object and use a small aperture to create a diffraction star. Remember to keep shooting after the sun goes down.

8. Rule of Thumb: When taking photos of landscapes reflected in water it is best to use a ND graduated filter over the top half of the frame to equalize the contrast of the scene. I usually use my polarizing filter in conjunction with the graduated filter for maximum control. When using filters in combination it is always best to use a tripod for maximum support and effective composition.

9. Rule of Thumb: The major drawback of shooting photos with available light is extreme contrast. You can minimize contrast by selecting views that are framed to exclude the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows. Remember to selectively use fill flash if your camera has this feature, but use caution because too much flash can create an unflattering effect.

10. Rule of Thumb: The typical problem of using camera-mounted flash units is caused by the drop off in light intensity the further the light travels from the flash. To avoid underexposed backgrounds make certain that the distance from the camera to the subject is at least five times more than the distance from the subject to the background. Because we are accustomed to light coming from overhead it is often preferable to bounce the flash off the ceiling or a wall when it is practical.

Way Back When

Way back in 2001 I created a little interview for a webpage called 35millimeter.net that was designed by James and won an e-commerce award here in St. Louis. Here is the interview.

Getting To Know The Photographer

35mm: What was your first memory of taking photographs?

Dennis – The first camera I remember using was one of those plastic Diana roll film cameras with the three-zone focus system (mountain, people, flower). I think it may have had aperture settings with a sun and cloud as well. We lived in a subdivision and most of my photos where taken in our back yard because I did not have a flash to work indoors. My mother would always let me take the birthday and holiday photos because I was the only person in the family who was able to get pictures of people without cropping off the top of their heads. One year for my birthday I got a Kodak instamatic camera that used drop in film cartridges and flash-cubes. It took square format photos on 35mm film. It was basically a box camera.

35mm: When did you become serious about photography?

Dennis – I always wanted to record the big family events. I guess those Kodak commercials really worked. I bought my first decent camera because of my interest in backpacking. Back then a lot of backpackers bought Minox rangefinders because they were the smallest lightest 35mm cameras you could buy at that time. I ended up with a little Minolta camera that I took around with me everywhere I went. When I became more interested in the technical aspect of photography, one of my friends loaned me a 35mm SLR and I was hooked for life.

35mm: Do you have any photographic heroes?

Dennis – I guess Galen Rowell is one of my heroes because of his photographic style and the things he has written about photography. He helped me to understand the difference in the way film sees things and the way the human eye perceives the same subject. I also think his ideas helped me to be a little less haphazard in the way I went about taking photographs.

35mm: Who do you think has influenced you the most?

Dennis – It’s hard to say because I have had many influences that I was not consciously aware of for a long time. I would see photos in magazines and books without giving much thought to the person or process that had made them. It took a long time for me to realize there were some people consistently putting out good photographs. I was reading a book about Walker Evans one day and realized that we had some of the same interests, and that he had lived in St. Louis, like me. I think we are constantly being influenced in good and bad ways.

35mm: How would you describe your photographic style?

Dennis – In my mind style revolves around composition. I tend to look at the balance and interaction of objects within the frame. I am very fond of vertical framing with 35mm film. I love natural light and yet I seem to be drawn to neon signs. I am usually forced to work much faster than I would like to, because I am on the way to somewhere else.

35mm: How do you approach photographs of man-made objects as opposed to the natural landscape?

Dennis – I think that man made objects have a story to tell and they are usually easier to work with than actual people. Landscapes tend to aspire towards inspiration, while man-made objects usually speak of past accomplishments or vain ambitions. I prefer to shoot man made objects in the same manner as I would shoot a landscape, but it’s a much different environment and often harder to concentrate on the photography.

35mm: How do you choose your subject matter?

Dennis – I guess the short answer would be that the subject chooses me. I usually have a loose idea of what I want to do, but I always try to allow for the unexpected. Sometimes you have to follow the light where it leads you. I seem to return to the same subjects over time, hoping to learn something new.

35mm: What are your thoughts on digital photography and printing?

Dennis – I am excited about the projects we have done so far using digital printing. No one medium can ever hope to convey all the thoughts and subjects that are available to photographers. What makes a photograph good or bad? Not the cameras film or prints. Some people look at a photo and wonder what kind of camera was used to take it. I look at a photo and wonder what the photographer is trying to say to me.

35mm: Is there any subject that does not interest you as a photographer?

Dennis – Cats.

35mm: What is more important to you, showing reality or conveying an idea or abstract concept?

Dennis – I suppose that depends on whether you believe there is anything “real” about photography. One of my favorite quotes says, “The real skill of photography is organized visual lying.”
Terence Donovan (b. 1936), British photographer. Guardian (London, 19 Nov. 1983).

35mm: Do you have any future plans or unrealized ambitions?

Dennis – I love to photograph and travel because both activities inspire me. I gave up a lot of my ambitions in life for the freedom to move around and observe things with a camera in hand. I like to take quick trips on the spur of the moment and make up plans as I go. In photography a lot of things have been done and overdone. Some are just poorly done. Most of what I do is for my own enjoyment and I hope it stays that way in the future.

Me And My Monkey

I had a request to use this image on a blog today. I appreciate it when people take the time to ask permission first. This is a photo of me at my Grandparents house in Macon, Missouri.

December 1957