I've resisted creating a Blog as well as participating in many of the so-called social networks, with the exception of my Circle on Google+. My reasoning has been simply that to create an interesting blog requires a fair amount of time that takes away from other activities such as photography and operating my gallery. And I've also felt blogs as attached to a retail or commercial activity to be a bit self-serving.
But I've decided to start a blog as a result of visitors to my gallery who frequently ask the same questions:
Where are you traveling next? Do you offer photography seminars? Why do your images have such color and sharpness?
The frequency of those questions led me to reconsider a blog and attaching it to my website. So, I'm starting my blog by responding to these frequently asked questions.
I usually make one or two major trips per year for photographic purposes, traveling outside of the southwest. The rest of the year I spend in the southwest (Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico) and surrounding states pursuing photographic opportunities that I feel attracted to and which serve to highlight the need for preservation of wilderness areas that offer beauty worth preserving.
My major trip this year will be to the south island of New Zealand and Tahiti. Two extremely different locales and each offering unique photography opportunities. Over the next several weeks while in those locations I will be posting on a regular/irregular basis both experiences and documentary photographs.
I have not offered photo seminars but as I tell visitors, I am happy to share my knowledge on a one to one basis. If you have a technical question about photography or a particular aspect of it, simply drop me an email or if you live in the St. George, Utah area, stop by my gallery for a chat. For what it's worth, as I post I'll also offer photographic tips that may assist you in improving your own photographic skills. One's photographic skills and technique continue to improve with time. Learning is an ongoing experience.
MY PURSUIT OF HIGH IMAGE QUALITY
I started pursuing landscape and nature/travel photography in the late 80s, after an interruption of about 20 years. Acting on the recommendation of a photo sales person, I purchased an Olympus ZLR 35mm film camera with an integral zoom. It was somewhat of a hybrid cross between an SLR and a very sophisticated point and shoot. It was a wonderful, affordable camera in it's time but my time with it was short-lived as it was stolen on a trip to the Caribbean.
My next camera was a step up, a Canon EOS A2E and some entry level lenses by Tamron and Sigma. At the time I lived in Park City, Utah and when I visited the IMAGES OF NATURE gallery of Tom Mangelsen in Park City, I knew that besides his skills as a photographer, his equipment was enabling him to achieve a level of clarity in detail and color that I was not achieving with my 35mm system.
I was still very much into an initial 'learning' phase. Fortunately, I met two experienced photographers. Francis 'Smitty' Smith, who was/is a civil engineer in real life and a talented photographer as a result of his photographic training in the US Air Force, was a mentor who provided lots of experience and insight. The other was Clark Partridge, a high-end photographic equipment dealer and extremely experienced as a large format landscape photographer, who operated his business out of his home in Salt Lake City. Clark represented Pentax, Schneider Optics, Wisner, Ries, among other brands in the medium and large format photographic industry.
I sometimes read comments from other photographers who were influenced in landscape/nature photography by Adams, Weston, and others. My photography was influenced in the early years by Smitty and Clark. Clark, sadly now deceased, steered me into medium and large format film, where I finally started to achieve the look I still strive to create to this day. In more recent times, photographer and publisher Laurent Martres and I have become good friends and have made a number of photographic trips together in both the US and South America. In addition to providing lots of knowledge regarding photography, image processing and computers, Laurent once helped me immensely when I became deathly ill in Bolivia as a result of some bad food...but that is a story for another time.
When I moved into medium format film, on the advice of Clark Partridge, I started with a Pentax 67 (6x7cm format) camera. The Pentax 67 is like a 35mm SLR but on a massive injection of steroids. It is large, heavy, clunky and ugly but it does deliver superb image quality as a medium format film camera. After several years with the 67 I decided I wanted a camera that was a bit lighter, more responsive and in general, easier to deal with. Carrying both the 67 and a 4x5 view camera in a backpack was simply a bit too much!
I purchased a Pentax 645N in 1998. I still own this camera and the associated lenses that go with it. For the last 14 years it has been absolutely reliable and has traveled the world with me in planes and backpacks. Another classic but somewhat exotic camera that I enjoyed using immensely was a Fuji G617 medium format panorama camera. The G617 delivered images on 120/220 roll film nearly 7 inches wide that are for all practical purposes about half the frame size of a 5x7 view camera frame and properly scanned and printed, can deliver wall sized prints 9-10 feet wide with outstanding sharpness. Many of the panorama images I display in my gallery, such as my Monument Valley Totem Sunrise, were shot with a G617.
Not wanting to be left behind in evolving technologies and having a technical background in my other careers, early on I purchased a digital Nikon CoolPix point and shoot camera. It had a sensor all of 2 megs in size but it made created very nice 5x7 prints, was great for family snapshots and that type of thing. Later the CoolPix went on to one of my nieces and was replaced by a 5 meg Olympus C5050, definitely a step up in quality and capable of nice 8x10 prints. I still offer for sale an image that I captured with the Olympus and it holds up well when I don't push the size limitations of the file.
By 2004 I decided to take a baby step into more serious digital photography with an early 8 megapixel Canon Rebel XT along with some Canon L series professional lenses. I knew bodies were going to change and evolve rapidly but lenses far less, so I felt comfortable investing in expensive lenses rather than expensive bodies. The opposite approach is a mistake many photographers continue to make...while the camera body is important, the lenses can be the critical element in capturing a stunning image. Over the last few years I've owned various Canon consumer and professional bodies. The XT, then an XTi and then a 40D followed by an XSi and 5DmkIl. Each step brought incremental improvements, particularly so with the 5Dmkll.
But I still was not achieving the medium/large format film look I was searching for, although there were occasions when I stitched multiple frames together to create a larger image size with detail and clarity that started to rival the film look. In spite of digital limitations, I found the ease of shooting digital, especially under conditions of rapidly changing light, very compelling. I was able to see the results almost instantly and adjust settings. No more bracketing multiple shots on film. My wife was also pleased I wasn't spending over $5,000 a year on film and processing.
DIGITAL MEDIUM FORMAT
Holding on to my Pentax 645N film camera and all of it's lenses turned out to be a fortuitous decision. Several years ago Pentax announced it would produce a medium format digital successor to the 645 series of film bodies. The first announced Pentax medium format digital camera was to be a 22 meg body but rapid changes in sensor design and well as a change of Pentax ownership delayed introduction.
In fact, most Pentax owners had all but given up hope of a digital medium format body ever really becoming reality but for whatever reason, I kept the faith that it might materialize.
In late 2010 to industry surprise and the delight of many, Pentax announced the availability of the 645D, a 40 megapixel medium format body that not only resembled the well-respected 645N in terms of ergonomics and ease of use but also accepting all of the prior Pentax legacy medium format lenses. A good friend and fellow photographer, Laurent Martres, who like me, was shooting with a Canon 5DmkII at the time, purchased a 645D and a couple of lenses. In well-controlled side by side test shots, a comparison revealed the 645D to be a quantum leap forward in critical aspects of image quality. The 645D represented an affordable medium format digital system that delivered image quality comparable to Hasselblad and Phase/Mamiya systems, and one that was a logical decision for me in view of the number of Pentax 645 system lenses that I owned. The 645D enables me to capture and create 30"x40" images from a single frame that equal what I was achieving with 645 film. Stitching several 645D frames allows me to surpass the quality of a single 4x5 sheet film frame.
The 645D, and medium and larger formats in general, tend to slow me down. I contemplate more before I hit the shutter release. But there are situations requiring a more traditional smaller format approach. For those purposes I shoot with a Pentax K-5, which is arguably the physically smallest professional bodied DSLR available, making it attractive as a backup system to my 645D. Coupled with the right lenses, it delivers image quality from a smaller format sensor that is outstanding for images up to 20"x30" in size. I also particularly like the fact the menu structure is very similar to that of the 645D, making the switch back and forth between the two bodies very easy in terms of not having to re-think steps in the picture taking process.
NEXT TIME....Paraphrasing Ansel Adams: "The capture is the score, the print is the performance."