Month: July 2018

Why Every Photographer Should Have Mud Boots in Their Car

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Photographers all carry the same basic items with them. Camera, tripod, flash, memory cards/ film, lens cloths. But there is always that one item an individual keeps with them at all times. And it always becomes a habit the same way. A photographer thinks “Man, I wish I had my ___”. And so then on their next outing, the helpful item is situated happily amongst the other essentials. And that’s where it stays. We have all been there. Soon a person will begin to show it off,  proudly announcing “I’ll never leave home without it.”

Mud boots. I never leave home without them. That’s not really an obvious one unless it’s pouring outside. But it has practical applications in both the business and hobbyist realms f photography.  

For example I was hired to photograph a house on two low-lying acres. After a hard rain the yard was like soup. And I was dressed in my professional flats. And I didn’t have mud boots with me. Shooting the yard would have been much simpler with them, but I had to make do with slipping off my shoes,  rolling up my dress slacks and wading around the yard… Barefoot.

On another occasion I was hired to photograph a house, property and a pond.  The pond was was a key selling point, but the property hadn’t been maintained. The only way to get a good a image was to push through the brush and set up my tripod in the shallow water at the edge of the pond. But on this occasion I was prepared. I changed shoes before I shot the exterior. I was spared the annoyance of squishy, swampy shoes.

Sometimes, and I’m sure we have all been here, a photo will just jump out at me. I will be headed somewhere in my casual duds and a pair of flip-flops (that I wear all year long). Then I will spot a photograph in a construction site or other flip-flop hazardous area. For a split second I will weigh my options. Foot safety, or awesome, unexpected photo opportunity… In that situation, my foot safety will always lose. But if I have mud boots in my car I don’t have to choose.

So, I recommend getting a pair and keeping them in your car. For professional reasons and as a personal preference I have simple, utilitarian black boots. But please, express yourself. Girls, you can find some pretty stinkin’ cute patterns out there on boots these days. And guys don’t feel left out. They have boots with everything from monster trucks to sharks available. Even in size 13 men’s.

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Mobile Photography: Rising Star Medium or Mediocre Cop-Out?

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Mobile photography is loosely defined as any photography created with a mobile device other than a camera, i.e smartphone, tablet, etc. Since 2007, when the first iPhone was available with a two megapixel camera, mobile photography began evolving. And that’s when the debate started about whether or not it was an actual artistic medium or a ridiculous cop-out.

In the early days it was pretty easy to tell which images had been created with an honest-to-god camera and which images had been captured using a mobile device. Now, with improvements in technology, the cameras found onboard mobile devices are incredibly high quality. Often producing better images than DSLRs from five years ago.

So is it just the technological advances that have created a medium and a population of mediocre photographers? No, I think not. If you put a $35,000 Hasselblad in the hands of a snapshot shooter, you will get an incredibly expensive snapshot. Now if you put an eight megapixel smartphone camera in the hands of a photographer the image produced will be something worth talking about. It’s all about who is looking through the lens.

How many of you have had this conversation and cringed?
“Wow you take really good photos, your camera must be really nice.”
“Actually I took it with my phone.”
“Oh, well my phone pictures never look that good, it must be a really good phone…”

I usually have to steer the conversation elsewhere at that point. Sure, mobile devices make it easier to shoot more photos, but they won’t improve the quality of the image, composition, light, or angle. The upside is, you will almost always have a camera with you, so photographic regret (not having a camera when you really needed it) is basically a thing of the past.

Like everything else, change brings debate. The old hangers-on versus those embracing the new. This is not unlike the debate that raged in the early 2000s when photographers were making the change from film to digital. And before that, from black and white to color. Or even from radio to television as the top form of home entertainment.

The truth is, no mobile device is going to be able to tell you that the scene unfolding in front of you is an amazing one. It can’t tell you how to frame up your shot, it can’t decided for you how to hold your camera or how to see light and shadows. The only thing it can do is expedite adjusting the settings on the camera. And that is no different than shooting in auto on your great big DSLR.

In general, I think that the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it. Your phone is usually your everyday shooter. Can mobile photography do all the things a DSLR can do? Nope. But for most things when saying “let me go get my camera” isn’t feasible. Your phone is your camera’s pinch hitter.

Is it photography format? Yes, in my opinion. Like digital, medium format or 35mm. Is it a niche? Yep. Just like Holga photography and Polaroid photography, which have developed a loyal fan base. Mobile photography is here to stay, and while it may not be for some people, neither was color photography when it first became available.


Channel Your Inner MacGyver- DIY 2×3 Sheet Film Processing

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Lately I have been shooting a lot of film, mainly 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 ( 2×3) large format. I bought a Speed Graphic Mini camera (circa 1947) in excellent condition off Ebay. I

Film tank, adjustable spool, beading wire, and small jewelry tools are used to convert 35MM processing gear.

practically live there when I experience severe bouts of G.A.S (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Look it up, it’s a thing…. Maybe.

When my Mini came in It came with three negative plates, which carry two shots a piece. In total I had six shots which didn’t leave much room for error. Kind of like a gunslinger in Dodge City. It didn’t occur to me until after I had exposed all six shots that had no way to process the images.

Frantically, I the internet for a tank which processed 2×3. Most sheet film tanks had a minimum size of 4×5. Apparently 2×3 is an endangered species, hard to come by and harder still to find proper tools to process it. Brand new the tanks I located had poor reviews and cost upward of $75.  I found one tank on Alas, before it shipped the seller refunded me stating she had found a crack when she was wrapping it for packing. So I searched for alternative processing options. I found one called taco-ing, but it seemed dicey, especially after having painstakingly composing these images.

Undeterred, I sat down with the items I had available to me for film processing; three round spool tanks and six adjustable plastic film spools. I opened up one spool to the widest setting which is the 120 setting. The film fit in height but needed needed a clip of some sort to secure it in the spool. I will spare you the details of all the failed attempts. I finally ended up with wax coated beading wire from the jewelry department found in the jewelry department at Walmart.

Below are instructions to convert your adjustable 35mm film spool into a spool which will hold two 2×3 negatives. Essentially, if you can process 35mm film at home you can process 2×3 with a few adjustments.

What you will Need:

  • Adjustable 35mm – 120 Film Spool
  • Spool Processing Tank
  • Narrow Gauge Beading Wire
  • Small Needle Nose Pliers / Jewelry Pliers
  • Small Tin Snips / Jewelry Snips

Step 1: Extend The spools to widest opening by turn the spool halves away from each other and pulling gently. Once fully extended lock in place by turning halves toward each other.


Step 2: Insert narrow gauge beading wire from the top to the bottom.


Step 3: Move the wire over two rings, insert and thread from bottom to top.

Step 4: Fasten wire together to make a loop. To do this I tied the ends together, cut off excess wire, then twisted the remaining tails around each other. Don’t over tighten. Just so that the its closed.*

Step 5: Make three more loops on film spool as described in steps 2-4.


To use, simply slip one end of the negative into loop and the other through the loop on the other end.

One spool set up this way can hold two 2×3 negatives. So each standard tank will process two negatives. I have three tanks and I have converted three spools so I have enough tanks and spools to process all six of my shots from one outing unless I purchase more negative plates. In which case I will need more tanks and spools. See… G.A.S.

I recommend trying to load a dummy negative first in a black room or changing bag. It’s worth sacrificing a negative to practice with. I think this process is easier than trying to spool 35mm film but you should still get comfortable with it before attempting on film you worked so hard to expose.

*Over tightening the wire will add pressure to the top and bottom making it hard to slip the negative into the wire loop. If you have to force it, you might accidentally scratch the negative, which will be very noticeable later. This is another reason to try with a dummy negative first, so you can see if there is too much tension in the spool. If it’s too tight you can restring the loop. Better to find out on a dummy negative than when you are up to your elbows in a changing bag.


4 Things to Remember When Shooting Mobile Photography

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Not here to debate whether or not mobile photography is or is not a kind of photography today. That’s another post here. Today we are just going to go over a few things that I think make my mobile photos better. These ideas aren’t necessarily original to me. But they work and I try to apply them whenever I can.

I wanted the figure in shadow so there would a bit of mystery. I had to try a couple of times since the phone wanted to lighten the shadows.


  1. Hoof It! – The zoom feature is horrible on camera phone. ANY CAMERA PHONE. INLCUDING YOURS. It doesn’t actually zoom. It crops the image to make your subject appear larger. So like any overly cropped image, the final result will appear pixelated. So use your feet and get
    Photo with high dynamic range. I exposed for the sunset, and brought the shadows up just a bit in Photoshop Express.

    closer. Think of it like a prime lens on your super expensive DSLR.

  2. Keep the lens clean!- Smudges and crud will gunk up any lens, including your phone’s. You might not notice a little bit of gunk best to keep things tidy because a lot of dirt or gunk will ruin your photos. Even if you can’t see any dirt particle in your photos, dust and and other things can create a layer that will mute colors and make it harder to expose properly. When you think about it, just wipe the lens off with a lens cloth or if you are in a pinch use a your shirt if its soft. That way your phone is always ready to go.
  3. Watch the Highlights!- The camera on your phone will allow you to adjust the exposure manually. Expose for the sky. Especially if you are shooting at sunrise or sunset. If you shoot the images and your highlights are blown out, then the details there are just gone. A lot like with a regular camera. It is easier to bring up the shadows when editing then to lower the highlights and recreate the colors that were lost. Granted this can be done with a laptop and a good ‘ol raw file but, who the heck is going to do that on their phone?
  4. Download the Photoshop Express App!- Its free! Of course there are features that have to be purchased to unlock, but in my experience, I have never needed to make that purchase. This app gives the option to apply filters (gross) or manually adjust clarity, exposure, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, temperature, vibrance and saturation. There are others but the ones I listed are the ones I always double check when I use my phone. This app will let you bring back some details in your highlights that might have been lost and raise your shadows a bit. You can crop and straighten here as well. Crop unrestrained or to specifications for popular social media feeds.  

    Because of the wide angle of the phone lens, I am practically in the weeds shooting. Zooming would have caused significant pixelation.
  5. BONUS!- You can set a watermark in your Photoshop app, so there will be no doubt about who took that fantastic photo everyone has been sharing on Facebook.

This will get you started. It’s nowhere near a comprehensive look at mobile photography. If it was you’d forget 90% of it anyway. I know I would. I did actually….

Shake Up Your Photography, Shoot Film Now and Then

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I enjoy photographing a wide range of subjects. One afternoon I will be photographing a home for a realtor, and the next morning before sunrise I might find myself down at Reelfoot lake to shoot the sunrise, and later that afternoon I might be setting up for some portraits. But even with that kind of diverse subject matter I still find myself in the dreaded creative rut. The leading suggestion to spark creativity in your photography is to try something new. Well that’s a great idea, except that is about as specific as Chinese buffet fortune cookie.


So what I suggest is trying to shoot a roll of film… or five. I know most photographers are dedicated digital shooters these days. You almost 

Film photography increases thoughtful composition and can shake loose creativity.

have to be if your business is photography. But film will do a few things for you as far as developing your photography. Number one, you will be more deliberate in what you shoot. There will be a nagging feeling in the back of your head telling you that there are only 36 exposures on that roll of film. Make them count. This tiny itch in your brain will lead to the second thing that will happen.


You will have fewer wasted images. You will think about the composition in your photo. Instead of shooting twenty images of the same subject like a photographer would do in the digital world, you might fire off two, three if the subject really strikes your fancy. But you will spend more time using you eyes to check that the horizon is level, the shadow is where you want it, your angle is perfect, etc. Waste not, want not.


Recently, to get out of a digital funk, I learned to shoot a Speed Graphic mini (think 1940’s era press photographer camera)which shoots an obscure sheet film. The film is 2.25×3.25 and extremely limited in production. This camera jewel is very time consuming to shoot. The image is composed on a ground glass back. Think 19th century photographer focusing under a blanket. With this camera I have six shots. That’s it. I have spent all day out and about with this camera trying to find the perfect six shots. I don’t get six awesome shots every time, obviously. But when I nail one, I get that warm fuzzy feeling. I’m sure you know the one. I wouldn’t recommend this camera for film beginners. And knowing I did it with film makes it even more rewarding.

Multiple exposure shot with 2×3 sheet film. ISO 400 pushed to 800.

If you have no experience with film, get a 35mm camera. They can be point and shoot cameras or SLR rigs.These cameras can be found in a junk stores, antique shops and on ebay for less than $20. If you don’t want to spend the cash, I don’t blame you. It’s very likely that you know someone with a film camera that they want to part with. People don’t want to throw out a camera so they give them away. I acquired several Mostly through well meaning “donations”. Kind of like an animal shelter. People can’t keep these cameras for different reasons and want to see them go to good homes. Put a call out on your Facebook page. Ask if anyone wants to get rid of a film camera. You’ll find one, probably in less than 24 hours and if your not picky, it will be just what you need for a creative experiment.


A roll of film and some unique props should boost your creativity.

Color film can still be purchased at Walmart. Color and black and white film can be purchased online, from places like Amazon, Adorama, B&H and The Film Photography Project. I process my own film at home, but there are some good labs out there that can develop and scan your negatives for you. The Darkroom is a great lab, I recommend them if you need your film processed for you. Many digital shooters have worked with Mpix for photography products but they also offer film processing services.  If you aren’t too worried about precision processing, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS will still send your film out and do a reasonably good job.


It really doesn’t matter what you shoot, walk around on Main Street and photograph people hurrying to and fro.. Go to a park and try shooting landscapes or wildflowers. Call a friend and do a photoshoot. Set up some still lifes. But whatever you do, leave your digital camera behind. You don’t want a crutch for this excursion. And your digital camera will still be there waiting for you to come back refreshed and ready.

Categories: Film Inspiration