Drive and Direction

Every second or third Thursday, I go and see my therapist. I’ve been seeing him on and off for the past year and a half. He’s been absolutely instrumental in helping me with my direction, my personal issues, and life in general. He inspired this blog post, so, thank you Jeff.

Almost every person you meet along your way in life, has a passion of some sort. Some people have a passion for sewing, maybe painting. No matter the craft, bringing an idea into fruition is one of the most validating and rewarding things you can do. Holding something tangible, something real, that you made, it’s pure bliss.

At this very moment, I’m surrounded by different cameras, film I have developed myself, and photos I made are hanging on the wall. It’s clear to me that this is my passion. I love learning about the world around me, but this is the one thing that I have always come back to. It’s one of the few consistent things in my life (Miah of course is one), and sometimes that consistency provides solace in this hectic world of ours.

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn this passion that I have into a career, something I can do day after day, and still be happy.

Jeff explained the situation as this (not exactly):

Passion is the engine, the fuel that makes the car go. People have the fuel, the energy, but they don’t always have the ability to direct themselves where they want to go. The steering wheel is that direction, it’s how you channel that passion.


The artist’s dilemma, how do I make this my reality? When you’re starting at the bottom, you won’t just fall into success. You have to sit down, figure out a plan, and execute it. I’ve been slowly piecing together this steering wheel, so I can finally drive the car with the roaring engine, where I want. It’s slow, there’s lots of friction, it’s frustrating, but I’m figuring it out.

I applied for a part time job, making more money hourly, but will be working much fewer hours in total. In this particular situation, getting a new job and no longer working at my full-time gig is the catalyst that will kick my ass into the next step. It’s motivation to keep pressing forward; motivation to make my dreams a reality.

I’m on the right road, at least I think I am. Wherever it takes me, I’m excited to see where it goes.

Enjoying *Most* of the Process

There are multiple reasons I started shooting film again, but the biggest reason is that it slows me down and makes me more present in the moment. Shooting film is inherently a slow process, and since I started developing and scanning at home, it has become even slower. I’m learning to set aside an hour or two a week to develop film that has been sitting idly by for sometimes two months before I get to it.

Shooting is obviously my favorite part of the whole experience. Developing only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, hanging to dry takes about two hours. I find the process of developing very therapeutic; I am fully engulfed in the moment, and it feels like my own form of meditation.

After the film has dried, I get to cutting it up into scannable sections to hopefully make it a little more efficient.

BUT, scanning is awful. It’s painfully slow, the software is buggy and reminiscent of early 2000’s Internet Explorer. It’s like someone designed the software back in ‘01 and failed to ever update the interface. Trying to edit within the scanning software feels like walking through the woods on an unknown trail, blindfolded. You take one step off the trail, kick a rock, trip and fall into a ditch. I’m only being slightly dramatic. Pull up the histogram to edit the blacks, mid-tones, and highlights, and what you see happening to your photo doesn’t make any sense compared to what you’re doing to the histogram. It’s incredibly inaccurate and doesn’t loan much confidence in the scanning program.

Epson V750 - Nothing PRO about it.

Epson V750 - Nothing PRO about it.

Another issue I had with scanning was the inability to leave the computer and software to run and go do something else. If you didn't keep clicking on the screen between every photo, it would stop. How incredibly efficient. After digging through a couple pages of Google results, I actually found out there is a solution to this stop-go issue I was having. I had to download another file which was separate from the main program, restart the whole software, and then it would scan continuously like it’s supposed to. I have no clue as to why they chose to keep those things separate instead of just including it in an update. But again, early 2000’s design.

Scanning does go quite a bit faster now, but it’s still the worst part of shooting film. If I have a professional lab do the scanning, I have to pay at least $20 a roll, and that adds up quickly with how much I shoot. Scanning at home is the more economic option, but my $300 scanner doesn’t quite give the quality that the professional lab’s $15,000 scanner is capable of.

If I try to push the scans too much while editing afterwards, they get some gnarly lines going up and down the frame. Everyone loves seeing lines going across the frame and spending 30+ minutes trying to edit them out right?

Unedited scan from an unnamed lab in Arizona. Notice the vertical lines across the entire image.

Unedited scan from an unnamed lab in Arizona. Notice the vertical lines across the entire image.

Any attempt to make the scanner do what it’s designed to do, and it’ll wreak havoc on the scans. I tried to apply the “Digital ICE” function to this picture to have the dust, scratches and other blobs removed from the photo. It didn’t work in the least bit, and honestly I think it made the entire scan worse than if I had kept it off like usual. These scans were a cluster from the beginning, as the lab I went to in Arizona mailed back the negatives on top of one another, which in the film world is a huge no-no. They stuck together, ready to rip off the emulsion from the negatives.

Thing is, just because there’s one awful part to shooting film, doesn’t mean I’ll stop anytime soon. The majority of the process is a blast, scanning just sucks. I leave the negatives under books for a couple days to help flatten them out anyways, and I’ve found myself doing that more often now that I’m scanning at home. Maybe one day I’ll be able to invest in a $15,000 scanner, but that ain’t happening for a long, long time. Until then, I’ll keep dealing with this crap shoot of a system.

The Case for an Expensive Tripod

Tripods, like cameras, lenses, and everything else in the world, come in a wide array of choices. Variety is the spice of life, but when it comes to anything photography related, things get quite blurred quickly. There are options ranging from the $25 Amazon Basics tripod, to a $1500 Really Right Stuff tripod. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. With tripods, that statement rings true in every single way.

I paid 80 dollars for my first tripod and head, and they worked the way I needed them to. As my gear collection and skill set expanded, I outgrew my tripod head. It couldn’t handle the weight of my larger lenses, nor could it spin horizontally like I needed when I got into panoramas. I ended up buying a new tripod head to mount onto the legs, spending another $100. That head worked great the last three years with the gear I had, but as my dive into medium format grew deeper and deeper (think holding two bricks worth of a camera), that tripod set up could no longer support my needs or my gear.

Size doesn’t always equate to increased stability, in this case it does.

Size doesn’t always equate to increased stability, in this case it does.

Every time I put my camera on that tripod and locked it up, the legs would bend, the ball head would slowly adjust itself, and my composition I worked so hard to get would end up shifting into whatever the tripod felt most comfortable with. Long exposure shots would get blurred because the tripod would blow and bend with the breeze. I can’t even begin to count the number of shots that got ruined because my gear was too much for the tripod.

Both tripods extended to max height.

Both tripods extended to max height.

With my trip coming up, I knew I needed something sturdier if I wanted my shots to turn out. It was painful, but I ended up shelling out around $800 total for Oben carbon fiber legs and an RRS ball head. The difference between the two set ups was clear the first time I set them up next to each other. I put my camera on the new set, locked it in, and proceeded to push down on the top of it to see what would happen. I couldn’t believe what happened; Not. A. Damn. Thing. It didn’t shift or bow, I was blown away.

Six pounds of metal on top of another five pounds of metal.

Six pounds of metal on top of another five pounds of metal.

Not only was the whole thing sturdier, it was friendlier to use. It’s quicker and easier to set up and take down. It’s weighs a whole lot more than my other tripod and head, but with more weight comes more security. I’m not saying to go spend $800 like I did, because honestly I’m kind of insane, but please spend more than you think you need to, because it will help in the long run as your needs grow.

“Your shots are only as sharp as your tripod allows them to be.” - No idea who said it but it’s a solid quote.

Whether or Not to Social Media

I’ve been going back and forth with myself for months on this months. Countless articles are posted on websites like Petapixel, Fstoppers, and Phoblographer every month regarding the benefits and cons of social media. The information is there, and sometimes it’s quite overwhelming. It sucks up all your creativity! It’s free advertising! Trying to garner appreciation from the masses is mentally exhausting! Think of how many people could see your work!

These things are all correct, which doesn’t make the decision any easier to make. Ask anyone who posts consistently to Instagram about why they do it, and most of them will have a different reason. Some are trying to beat Instagram’s supposed algorithm. Others are trying to keep their online audience engaged. Personally, I was trying to gain followers, so more people could see my work.

I tried a number of different things; posting every day, every other day, every three days, once or twice a week, running ads, numerous hashtags, popular hashtags, targeted hashtags, and lastly, themes. I saw few benefits or changes between these different strategies. People would follow me, and then unfollow me the next day. My followers have hovered right around 650 for the last six months. So, six months of carefully curated posts, paid advertising, finding the “right” hashtags, and nothing to show for it.

I was trying all the right things, so why wasn’t my audience growing? I don’t know, and honestly, I’ve stopped caring. The last few weeks, I’ve slowly posted less and less, not because I didn’t have content, but because there’s more important things to deal with than posting images to social media.

I’ve taken breaks from social media before, usually just a couple week stints. It’s a mental release, and a refocus for me. Trying to manage a social media page is not something I enjoy. The likes and comments are temporary ego boosts, and then lead to disappointment since they couldn’t get more.

This past Wednesday, I deleted Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat after having a really stressful week. It’s insane how much time is freed up when I’m not constantly scrolling over feeds and sending snaps back and forth. I’ve had a lot of work to catch up on since getting back from my trip, and I’ve finally had the “time” to do it. Developing and scanning film are time intensive tasks, followed by the editing, and storage of negatives and saving of the digital files. I haven’t even started editing photos, and I still have a ton of scanning to do.

Once I get them all edited, I can start adding them to my portfolio, sending certain ones off to get drum scanned, and adding those to my store to be purchased. It’ll honestly take a few weeks with my busy schedule, and it would take even longer if I was still snapping and posting away.

This social media break might not end anytime soon, so if you’d like to follow along with my work, you can always check in on my website here, or join in my mailing list (once I figure out how it even works) and emails should go out with updates to things! I’m going to try and blog a little bit more too in my new free time.

So, until next time everyone, thanks for reading if you made it all this way.

I'm a failure

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Photography, like life, is full of failures. And like life, our growth depends on our reaction to those failures. Failed shots often get thrown to the wayside to make way for the successful shots that were taken. The thing is, if you don’t try and understand why those shots failed, you’ll never figure out how to prevent those failures from happening in the first place.

People tend to dwell on the failures in life, no matter how small. The thing that surprises me with photography, is how easy it is to ignore the failed shots and go straight for the keepers. Files are deleted, negatives thrown away, never to be looked at, or learned from.

This issue seems more common place in 35mm film where there are an abundance of exposures to pick from. When shooting medium format, you only get 15 shots max, and the failures tend to hit a lot harder. About a month and a half ago, I spent two weekends going on lots of trips. In the span of those weekends, I shot 4 rolls of slide film, which are $10-12 each. Of those four rolls, I got 4 or 5 usable shots. It hurt, a lot.

Overexposed Velvia 50, Lanesboro

Overexposed Velvia 50, Lanesboro

I spent the weekends in Lanesboro, the cities, and on the North Shore, and had nothing to show for it. After I was done feeling disappointed of myself, I sat back and asked what went wrong. Once I had my head on straight, I did some research, and found out just how little wiggle room you have with slide film. Half a stop overexposed and you get a shot like the one above. One whole stop and you lose any and all remnants of detail in the snow like the one below.

Overexposed Provia 100, at least I got the focus right… Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Overexposed Provia 100, at least I got the focus right… Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Since I had shot so much negative film (Color and B&W) I was going off of the same rules, but to a lesser degree. Come to find out, I should have been doing the exact opposite with the slide film. Negative films have a greater latitude, meaning they have objectively more room for error, and deal very well with overexposure. Slide film on the other hand, typically requires a slight underexposure to prevent any brighter areas from losing detail.

I was doing what I was taught, and in the same vein, I taught myself even more about film. One $45 photography lesson later and, underexpose slide film, meter for the highlights, don’t do that again.

Overexposed Provia 100, Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Overexposed Provia 100, Whitetail Woods Regional Park

I’ve spent a lot of the past two years, learning to take my failures in stride, look at them as objectively as possible, and take away what lessons I can. This mentality has helped me grow as a person, and as a photographer.

So, here’s to screwing up everything, and hopefully learning from it. Just make sure you keep pushing on.