Jump Out of the Box

April 14, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Autumn reflections Lamprey River Durham New HampshireImpressionisticFallen leaves floating on the surface of the Lamprey River, their movement captured with a long exposure, combine with reflections of autumn color along the shoreline to create an impressionistic scene. (Near Durham, New Hampshire)
Back in the pre-digital days I used Kodak E-6 Professional Ektachrome transparency film. The photograph above (impressionistic reflections in the Lamprey River near Durham, New Hampshire) was shot with Ektachrome and is still one of my all-time favorites. 

There were constraints with film, many of which weren't issues at the time - it was just the way film worked. For example, the inability to switch ISO between images; if the film's speed was ASA100 Daylight, you were going to shoot at 100 for all 36 shots. Also, you had to be mindful about the rate at which you were going through film. Once you ran out of the rolls you had on-hand that was it for the day.

There was no such thing as immediate feedback. No histogram. No ability to review what was just captured.

And of course there was the continued expense of film and processing.

I'm glad I cut my SLR teeth on film, though. It encouraged thoughtfulness. Unless you wanted to expose dozens of rolls with nothing to show for it, you needed to learn and master the mechanics of photography - and of your camera - as quickly as possible. Early on, I carried a notebook in which I recorded the settings used for each image so I could better understand when I got them back from the lab what had worked, what hadn't, and why. I was careful about composition; what you shot was what you were going to get.

I worked hard to avoid making careless mistakes. Sure, I could make another exposure if I knew I'd gotten something wrong - but that reduced the available "click inventory." Worse were mistakes that went unrealized until the transparency came back, when it was too late.

During my transition period between film and digital, the lab got to be crazy expensive. It cost $40 per image to use their drum scanners to convert transparencies to high resolution digital files. As far as learning how to be ruthless about editing your own work, there was no better training than knowing you'd have to pony up 40 bucks a pop for an image that could be used on the computer.

While I appreciated my training in film, there's no denying the many advantages of digital. That said, one of them - the extraordinary capacity in terms of the number of images which can be exposed - was a sea change and took time to get used to. Old habits die hard! In the pre-digital days, especially when I was just starting out, I limited what I shot with the "big" camera. Most of the time it was landscapes, and most of those images were for specific projects. Now I had to remind myself that the river of cash flowing to the lab had - thankfully - dried up, and I had the capacity to shoot exponentially more photos.

In addition to project and assignment work, I could also shoot for me. It took a while to learn to jump out of the box I'd created for myself, but once I did it was liberating.

Nature photography is still my first love, main priority, and what I spend most of my time on. But with my new mindset I expanded how I define "landscapes." This created many additional opportunities in terms of subject matter.

Then I began photographing a variety of other things, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with nature. One of those "things" is professional tennis - something I'm pretty passionate about. And weirdly, though I had no intention of doing anything with the images I'd been making at various tournaments, it led to a project involving some large tennis clubs. A happy accident. 

Long ShadowsLong ShadowsLate-day shadows enhance the beauty of the service motion. (Rafael Nadal on the practice courts at the US Open - Flushing, New York)
Whenever I'm working with photographers just starting out, I suggest they shoot the things that most interest them - whatever that might be. Avoid arbitrary restrictions. Avoid "the box." There's something to be learned regardless of the subject matter. Shooting what you like probably means you'll end up being more creative. You'll shoot more often. And in the end, you never know where those images might lead.

In other news

While it's been unusually cold in this neck of the woods (including some scattered snowfall yesterday), spring is still on the way - which means the local parks are getting ready to open!

The west entrance is scheduled to open tomorrow at 8am.
East entrance - May 7
South entrance - May 14
Via Beartooth Highway - May 28

Grand Teton
The Inner Loop Road will open to vehicles on the first of May.
The Jenny Lake shuttle to the Cascade Canyon trailhead is scheduled to begin running in mid-May.

There's also some really good news this year regarding campgrounds in Grand Teton NP. For the first time, you can make reservations. No more sitting in line for hours at the crack of dawn on your arrival day hoping for a slot. Progress! Gros Ventre opens first, at the end of this month. (Be advised: campsites for many dates all the way through summer and into autumn are already in very short supply.)


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