Photography

Picture This: Denny Hall at the UW

DSC_0020

This is the detail on a building’s facade at the University of Washington, Seattle campus. I made the photo with my Nikon D5300 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 lens.

It was still early in the morning when I took this, as I wandered slowly to my office, setting down my coffee to manually adjust the camera and focus the lens. I like the way it turned out, especially the colors.

Workers laid the cornerstone for Denny Hall in 1894, and the building was completed in 1895. When it was completed, Denny Hall became the new home of the UW’s Seattle campus, following a move away from downtown. Over time, good interior design was replaced by functional needs before the campus expanded around Denny, and much of the interior deteriorated from the 1970s forward. This past fall, Denny Hall reopened, newly renovated (read more here).

Picture This is a Daydreams in Analog feature focusing on a single picture.

Advertisements
Camping · Pacific Northwest · Photography

Three days in nature and a refreshed mind

DSC_0012
Max the dog enjoying views of Mount Rainier. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 35mm f/1.8.

Some years ago I read that our brains reset after only three days in nature, disconnected from the hustle and bustle of human civilization.

“On the third day my senses recalibrate—I smell things and hear things I didn’t before,” Strayer says. The early evening sun has saturated the red canyon walls; the group is mellow and hungry in that satisfying, campout way. Strayer, in a rumpled T-shirt and with a slight sunburn, is definitely looking relaxed. “I’m more in tune with nature,” he goes on. “If you can have the experience of being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.”

There’s been some scientific examination of this theory suggesting that this is true. Anecdotally, I know it to be true. For me, anyway.

This weekend, we got away to Alder Lake Park, not far from Mount Rainier National Park. A few tents, grilling, cooking over the campfire, eating and drinking too much, walking and hiking for hours, taking a dip in the lake, jumping over garter snakes…

DSC_0009

It was all very much needed, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

My wife loves her birthday, and I love to celebrate my wife. Two years ago, she marked the day with a pub crawl in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Last year, we escaped to the Olympic National Forest and Victoria, BC. This year, we used her birthday as a reason to take our new camp gear out for a spin.

(Editor’s Note: Hannah’s actual birthday is today. Happy birthday to her!)

DSC_0022

But it also came just as the year of too much to do is wrapping up. I pushed myself way too hard for way too long, but I’ve reached a number of important professional milestones that move me a bit closer to the finish line. Camping this weekend was a chance to reset, to refresh my mind, to take in the stars on clear, beautiful nights.

It was nice setting aside the electronics. Being unable to respond to e-mails. To spend time with my wife and good friends, unencumbered with the responsibilities of home and work. To sip a glass of scotch sitting around a fire pit late into the night. To take a moment and smell the blooming flowers.

DSC_0017

Summer is almost here, and that first taste of it has me aching for more.

Photography

Picture This: Public Art on University Way

DSC_0015
Part of a series of installations on University Way in Seattle’s University District. Shot with Nikon D5300 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 lens.

I nabbed this shot one morning walking from my favorite U District coffee shop to my office. I loved the way the 105mm lens captured the detail in the installation, and the colors are just so pleasing.

Picture This is a Daydreams in Analog feature focusing on a single picture.

Photography

What I learned shooting 35mm film, again

FG_2
Not pictured: this kid immediately after trying to splash the puddles on me. 

When I picked up a 35mm film SLR a month or so ago, I was excited for a lot of reasons. For one, the camera itself is just a joy to use. But beyond that, there was something special about taking photographs and having to wait to see whether anything came of them. That’s something sorely missing in today’s world of iPhone photography.

Well, the wait is finally up and… mostly duds. My romantic vision of amazing, thoughtful photographs came to not a whole lot. I got some photos I like, some I thought I’d like and hate, some that barely came up, and even a whole roll where literally nothing developed. Woops.

So what went wrong and what went right?

What Went Wrong:

FG_1

There were a bunch of things that could have gone better, and here are the few that stand out to me.

1. User Error

This one’s a doozy, and it’s the hardest one to swallow. In a lot of cases, I just missed the focus. I’m still learning how to use the FG’s K2 focusing screen to nail that critical focus. It has a little microprism screen that splits an unfocused image in two, and when the two images come together you’ve got a focused image.

But I didn’t trust it.

Sometimes, when I’d align the images in the microprism, it seemed like it was out of focus everywhere else. So, I somewhat consistently focused in front of my subjects.

I also used a lens hood that was too big and often left shadows on the edges of photos. And sometimes I failed to adjust properly for exposure, relying too heavily on the FG’s mostly very good metering system.

FG_4

2. Film, development, and scanning matter – a lot

This is the part where I deflect the blame for any photographic mishaps.

I shot entirely on Fuji Superia 400 because, well, it’s cheap. And indeed, it’s a pretty nice film, all said and done. Certainly a better film could have helped achieve better images (where I nailed focus, anyway), but I won’t put too much blame there.

I used a mail order film processing lab, but here too I cheaped out. They did an okay job, but not great. I’m not convinced their chemical processes are top notch – cheap 400 film is grainy, but not this grainy – and most certainly there were a lot of issues with the (kinda expensive!) scans I bought. In one case, for example, two images show up at the same time on a scan. In several others, scanning anomalies appear in the photographs, making them useless for sharing or printing.

Lessons learned, and all that good stuff.

What Went Right:

FG_8

1. I loved every minute shooting

This one’s huge, and it makes all the difference. At the end of the day, whether any of the photos are any good, I had fun. I had lots of fun.

There was just something relaxing about taking photos with the Nikon FG. The fact that there was no screen I could resort to and make sure I made good pictures was actually a calming experience. Perfection was out of my hands. Mistakes would be made, and I’d deal with them later.

This meant that I could focus more on making photographs that I enjoyed making, and focus less on making photographs that others might enjoy when I post them online.

2. I learned more about who I am as an amateur photographer

It turns out I love manual and near-manual photography. Most of the time I like to set the camera to aperture priority mode, but I love the tactile experience of clicking the aperture ring on the lens, of adjusting the exposure compensation, of focusing the image.

When I started looking at lenses for my DSLR, I poo-pooed the idea of manual focus lenses. That’s too bad, because I’d love a super wide-angle lens, and unless you go with manual focus they will cost you an arm and a leg.

But the truth is, I’ve never actually shot photography with lenses that were meant to be focused manually. Sure, I’ve manually focused imaged when necessary, but using lenses intended to be automatically focused. This was an entirely new experience to me, and it turns out I like it a whole lot.

FG_5

Will I continue to shoot film?

I recently, kinda accidentally, picked up a 1950s German mechanical camera (Zeiss Ikon Continamatic III). I shot a roll of film on it, but haven’t had it developed yet. While the light meter seems still to be accurate, I’m not sure if the shutter is (though it sounds like it is). I’m looking forward to seeing how these zone focused images turn out.

I also have already loaded another roll of film into the FG.

The biggest downside of shooting film is the cost of the film and its development. On the other hand, you can get great 35mm gear on the cheap these days, and there’s a whole level of joy involved with handling these analog machines (also, they’re fun to read about: for some of my favorite reviews, check out Casual Photophile and Down the Road).

So I’m definitely going to continue experimenting with film, though the DSLR isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This has just been too much fun.

Pacific Northwest · Photography · Seattle

Vintage lenses, modern cameras, and a sunny Seattle day

DSC_0009
The view from Seward Park, overlooking Lake Washington onto Mount Rainier. Shot with Nikon D5300 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 (PC, AI) vintage lens.

The sun is finally out. No, seriously. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Seattle broke a 122 year old record for rain this year. We’ve only been recording rainfall in the area for… 122 years.

In a recent post, I talked about the need to have things to do outside work. Things that are completely removed from work. For me, that’s meant revisiting the things I’ve always liked but haven’t always made time for.

In fact, that’s the raison d’être for this blog. I’ve been making lots of photographs, but the stories go lost on Flickr and other social media.

Hannah and I invested in a camera last year before our wedding, with the help of generous gifts from friends and family. It would be good to memorialize all the year’s big events, to take on our honeymoon, and to document the beginning of our married lives. Plus, I have wanted a DSLR for a decade, at least.

But while I fantasized about a DSLR for years, I cut my teeth on a good old 35mm point and shoot. I remember trying to talk my godmother out of her extra cash at the big box store to buy me a camera when I was too young to know much about them, other than that I liked to document the things I saw. One day when we were at a garage sale, I found a camera on a table. “Go ask them how much it costs,” my godmother urged me. So I did. “25 cents,” the lady at the garage sale told me.

And so it started.

I cycled through a number of point and shoots and disposable cameras in the years that followed (although that 25 cent camera is still at my parents’!), but when I took a photo class in high school my dad let me borrow his 35mm Canon Rebel. I remember when he was saving up for the camera. We’d stop at the store on the weekends to add some more cash to the layaway, until finally he was able to bring it home. He documented the early years of my little sister’s life with that film SLR, and by the time I was using it, though we all had transitioned to digital cameras, it was still an advanced, automated camera that took great photos.

Learn to Fly
That’s the kid sister (except she’s not a kid anymore!). Shot with my dad’s Canon Rebel and kit lens on Ilford HP5 400. Developed and printed in a high school darkroom.

Fast forward to 2017, and we have a neat, advanced DSLR. The Nikon D5300 does a lot great, and paired with the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 I picked up last year, it can help to produce some really nice photos.

About a month before my birthday, though, I started to wonder again about film. The DSLR can do just about everything I ask of it, but in some ways it can do too much. I stumbled across a good deal on a 1980s Nikon FG with an E-series 50mm f/1.8 lens (you can read about the FG here at Casual Photophile). I’m still waiting on the first four rolls of film to return, but I was hooked pretty quickly. The camera has everything you need, and no more. Plus, the tactile response of the all-manual lens – something I’ve never experienced even when I was shooting a film SLR – just felt right.

So I made the impulsive decision to buy another classic, all-manual lens. I justified it to myself because – thank Nikon! – these vintage lenses still work on the modern DSLR. But it wasn’t just any lens. Nope, it was the classic Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 (you can read about it here at Casual Photophile), the legendary lens used by Steve McCurry (in one of its variations, anyway) for the modern Mona Lisa, “Afghan Girl.”

The lens is a joy to shoot with. It’s sharp, renders beautiful color and bokeh (the out-of-focus area), and resolves detail really impressively. And my copy is from the early 1970s, right after the first major redesign of the lens’ elements and groupings.

When I get those rolls of film back, I’ll have more to share. I finally had the chance this weekend to take the 105mm out attached to the DSLR, and I’m really impressed with the lens. It’s fun to handle, easy to focus, and helps me achieve the photos I want to take.

DSC_0017

What the lens is really famous for is portrait photography. I haven’t had the chance to shoot any human subjects, but I have shot some non-humans. The lens really does have a character of its own that it brings to bear on the images I make. And I like that a whole lot.

DSC_0003DSC_0017

Camping · Pacific Northwest · Photography · Seattle

Escaping the city in the Pacific Northwest

DSC_0221
Cape Disappointment Light House. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G.

I love living in Seattle. It’s a great city, with lots of great stuff to do, tasty food, and mostly wonderful people. Sure, the drivers are pretty bad, but that’s okay.

But sometimes you need to get outside of the city. To breathe in fresh air and take in the views.

My wife and I have invested in some quality camp gear that we’re taking out for the first time in a couple weeks. She wasn’t sure if she’d like sleeping in a tent – she’s still not really sure. But last September, we roughed it at Cape Disappointment.

When we drove cross country to move to Seattle, we hit a number of wonderful and beautiful places. But as we passed through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho the land started to flatten out. We saw the rust of Washington’s eastern urban center Spokane and the trees started disappearing. When we did see trees, they were covered in thick smoke in the distance, in the middle of summer’s wildfire season.

Tumbleweeds. I remember seeing tumbleweeds and not much else for a couple hours, at least.

But then we hit the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountains. We parked the car and ate our lunch overlooking the massive river and taking in the miles of mountains. From there, the landscape only got greener, even as we approached Seattle. Think of Dorothy approaching the Emerald City and you’ve got a pretty decent idea of what we experienced.

For the most part, when we head out into the wonders of the Pacific Northwest, it’s just a day trip. We’ll park the car and go hiking, or hang out along the water. But it’s never enough, really.

My friend, Chris, and I left a day early for Cape Disappointment this past September. We decided we’d set up camp and relax while my wife and our other friend finished up the work week.

DSC_0204

The camp is right on the Pacific Ocean, approximately where Lewis and Clark ended their expedition across the Louisiana Purchase. That first day, the weather was incredible. We watched the sun set over the Pacific, walked the beach playing fetch with my buddy’s dog under the midnight moonlight, and kicked back with hotdogs on sticks the next afternoon. Plus beer.

Waking up that first morning reminded me why I love camping so much. The crickets and birds chirped, the dew covered the tents and grass, and it all felt right.

DSC_0021
The sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

We were less lucky by the time the others joined us. The sun had already set, and rather than the camp being lit by the full moon, cloud cover came in. Just as the car pulled up, the clouds released a light rain. Not enough to distinguish the camp fire, but enough to make us all cold and wet to the bones.

The rain barely gave over the next 36 hours. The tent that arrived with the two latecomers was missing a rainflap, and we tried to make do by covering it in plastic. Poor Kevin woke up wet and cold and relocated to the backseat of the car. Good thing, too, as the tent collapsed in the course of the night.

Hannah and I were luckier. We were dry and warm inside the tent, if nothing else. And after two nights sleeping on the ground by the Pacific Ocean, Hannah had not yet given up on the idea that maybe, just maybe, a tent of our own was a good idea.

Maisy · Photography · Seattle

Putting life’s puzzle pieces together

MaisyPuzzle_Square
This is Maisy, and she likes to steal puzzle pieces. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 35mm f/1.8.

When my wife and I first moved in together after a year long distance, she made eminently clear her most important demand: as soon as possible, we would get a cat. I assured her that as soon as possible, we’d get a cat.

But Seattle rents stymied our plans.

There’s something really cool about living in a growing city. There is life everywhere. Old, vacant, dilapidated buildings are transformed overnight.

This is a sea change for me. Don’t get me wrong; when I go home to Buffalo now, things are very different from before, and mostly in a good way. But Buffalo’s “renaissance” really picked up speed after I had mostly left. Growing up, Buffalo was mostly in decline. People were leaving, rapidly. Beautiful old buildings were being torn down. Entire neighborhoods were razed, with no new development to take their place.

But there’s a dark side to this type of fast-paced development. When we first moved into our dinky apartment, we considered purchasing a small home. But in the fewer than three years that we’ve lived in South Seattle, even 600 square foot homes have doubled in price and now hang well above the quarter million mark. Yikes.

Apartment hunting has been, in some ways, even worse. We were excited when new apartment complexes started popping up in Columbia City, our little corner of the city. But when Hannah called to inquire after prices, we learned that studio apartments started at around $2,000.

 

MaisyPuzzle2BW
When we finally put the puzzle away, Maisy stood atop her conquered territory. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G.

 

So we buckled down in our little apartment, waiting for the right moment. Some time later, and maybe at a time when we weren’t really ready, Maisy entered our life.

She’s had a storied seven year life. But when exigent circumstances lead friends of ours to seek a new home for their beautiful, friendly, and very much loved cat, we offered to take her in on a trial run.

In retrospect, there was nothing trial about it. As soon as Maisy claimed the chair in our living room as her own, we knew she was staying for good. And truly, she has made our lives fuller. We now have a bratty, furry, and funny fuzzball demanding our attention. All the time. And we are happier for it.

Even when she tears apart Hannah’s puzzles and slaps the pieces all over the floor.