Coming into focus

My portrait project, like many ideas, was a jumbled blob of thought for years. I have struggled to bring that idea into sharp focus in the last few years. There was a small period of time in 2013 when I enjoyed shooting documentary style portraits and those photographs continue to draw my eye.

Some old photos:

I am consciously bringing back the essence of that time that clicked with my style so well. The portraits are unhurried, taken in a comfortable environment, and not posed for any specific expression. In fact, the expressions are natural and genuine which gives room for the viewer to project their own feelings upon the photos.

Two weeks ago I asked Uncle Bill if he would sit for me and he agreed. We took some photos in and around his house. Uncle Bill bought this house a few years ago and is slowly growing into it. I wanted to capture a sense of independence and affirmation.

Uncle Bill, Overcast afternoon
Neck: EV 10 2/3 placed in zone 6
f2.8, 1/250 sec

It rained that afternoon. The light was poor but we made it work. I shot Portra 400 on my Mamiya C220. Outdoors, I exposed the neck in zone 5; indoors, I put the bright side of his face in zone 7 and crossed my fingers. We shot at 1/30 second at times and the photos came out sharp enough. I did miss the focus on two frames.

Uncle Bill, indoor next to a sliding door
Bright side of face  is EV 9 placed in zone 7
f2.8, 1/60 sec

Here are some lessons I learned in no particular order.

  1. I need a proper tripod
  2. I must pay close attention to the lean of the head and position of the arms. Twelve frames are all I have.
  3. I should just ask people to sit for me
  4. I want to shoot 100 speed film, 50 speed if possible. 400 speed has too much grain for my taste
  5. I want to shoot more people in their homes or studios

My portrait idea continues to become less blurry, the edges are coming into focus. If you or someone you know want to sit for me for an hour or so, drop a line.

Showing, not telling

Friday, noon. Four of us were on our way to lunch. Someone asked me if I liked the book he had recommended. Friday lunch is to decompress and we are normally frank with each other. I said, “It wasn’t written well”.

I am no judge of English literature. But it was Friday lunch and I was asked for a judgement. There it was.

A good novelist once invited me to find awareness of the difference between showing and telling. I am a slow reader; my mind frequently wanders around the prose while I gaze between the folds of the pages. Years passed since that invitation and years of reading while aimlessly wandering seems to have helped me spot novels that show versus those that tell.

Below are the beginning lines from two novels. See if you can tell.



The first excerpt paints a beautiful picture that slowly comes into focus. I can’t wait to read further. The second sort of spoils the ending. This chapter continues telling what’s going on with Nicholas’ life. I didn’t read past the first chapter so I don’t know if this was really a spoiler but I don’t feel like finding out.

The first is like sipping a beautiful wine. The second is like chugging lager.

It is not only a matter of taste; it is a question of appetite.

Reading Fiction

A funny thing happened when I started reading fiction last December: I wanted to work with photographs again. Creative pathways came unstuck. Good fiction paints vivid word-pictures much like a photographer builds an image. I started looking through and processing all the photographs from the October's Boston/Shenandoah trip. I sent off six old 35mm rolls to get developed. I started carrying my Nikon FE around.

And then I started getting really into it. I bought the Mamiya C220, a Pentax Digital Spotmeter and started shooting medium format. I am deep into sensitometry in Ansel Adams’ Book 2. I went all academic with this pursuit.

This is how I overthink. I will get impatient soon, then burn out! I’ve done it before with other interests.

Incidentally my enthusiasm to purchase novels far surpasses my conviction to read them all. Ian McEwan’s The Children Act is next in a long queue of unread books. I am one page into it and it is already working.