Photography · Travel

Picture This: Waterfalls, retreating glaciers, and a honeymoon

 

Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls (Juneau, Alaska)
Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls. Shot on Nikon D5300 with 18-55mm kit lens.

 

My wife and I both teach. Consequently, this means we both give up fun things like travel, hobbies, and sleep during the school year.

When we were planning our wedding, we knew it would have to be outside the school year. We also had to do almost all of the planning the summer a year before the wedding, with all the final details taken care of in the month right before it.

Planning any wedding is overwhelming, as many will surely tell you. For us, that we had to plan it in a confined space of time was even more stressful. So when we were thinking about our honeymoon, we chose something that required the least amount of thought on our part: a cruise out of Seattle to Alaska.

I’d never been on a cruise before, and Hannah had only been on one when she was young. Having now been there, done that, I think the description I heard from a fellow passenger best sums up the experience: cruises are “fat farms.” The best free entertainment on board is the endless variety of foods. And boy did we take advantage of that…

So it was always with great relief that we would come to shore and explore the beautiful Alaskan landscape.

When we were in Juneau, we hopped a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls (pictured above). We made a short hike to the falls, which really were beautiful. It’s hard to imagine, but the falls are significantly smaller than the glacier. This is true despite a 1.25 mile retreat since 1929 (wow).

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

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Pacific Northwest · Photography

Picture This: Fog and Waves at Cape Disappointment

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Here’s a shot taken last September at Cape Disappointment. Hannah and I had snuck away from the campsite to explore a little bit one morning. The fog was dense and the waves were wild. I’m not super comfortable shooting in those conditions, but I made a few photos anyway.

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

Photography · Travel

Mourning in Berlin: The night the Brandenburg Gate came to life

Candlelit Vigil

Last summer I traveled to Berlin for a couple weeks for work. It was shortly after the tragic Orlando nightclub shooting, and many of the western world’s cultural monuments were lit in the colors of the rainbow.

I was traveling on my own and had nowhere in particular to be. So on June 18, I wandered out of my AirBnB, onto the subway, and headed toward Berlin’s famous monument.

When I arrived, many folks were already there. Berlin felt like a pride parade and a funeral, all at once. People cried, hugged, laughed, cheered.

As the sun began to set, the crowd broke into a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” At the end of the song, the gate’s sandstone shone with the colors of the rainbow.

It was a powerful moment of solidarity, not soon forgotten.

31 Brandenburger Tor

Photography

Picture This: Denny Hall at the UW

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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.

Camping · Pacific Northwest · Photography

Three days in nature and a refreshed mind

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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…

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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!)

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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.

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

Photography

Picture This: Public Art on University Way

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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

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.