Photographic Timbre

I should admit, my prose is a bit rusty these days and this whole piece may seem a little out there, so I will try and keep this one short. Have you ever tried to listen to a photograph?

“They” say a photo is worth a thousand words, a statement that I have always considered to be a little silly, most photos simply sit idly with little more than the light they hold on to so dearly and breathe quietly, yet if you place yourself in a space of mental ambiguity you may be able to make out the song a photograph sings. Even if only faintly.

It could be as clear and obvious as a train passing, the busy sounds of city life, or the gentle swaying distortion of wind blowing through an empty landscape but sometimes if you really let yourself dive into the exercise you may find your imagination pull you in deeper. The rustle of fabric, laughter just out of frame, the key of a color, rhythm of a texture, or shallow bellowing drone of an empty field.

I think what most people may discover are connections to their past. Memory defines our perspective on everything so this practice can be a place to center your thoughts for creative writing or simply a means of escape.

This dawned on me recently while looking around on Flickr. If I stopped for more than a couple of seconds to look at a photo I could, to a certain extent, intuit its soundscape, so I started to try and put into words what it could mean; to consider something silent as having an acoustic space around it. What came to mind as I thought of a way to describe it was “Photographic Timbre”, a term that at least vaguely fits the criteria. It seems silly and maybe a little contrived if you’re a bit cynical about art but it’s a fun exercise all the same.

Maybe look at it as a mindful practice, one of reflection, gratitude, and awareness, and see where it takes you. Our life breathes music in every moment of every day so why not extend our perspective in a creative new way? Surely I’m not the only one looking for new or unique pathways to discover moments of peace in these unpredictable times. Maybe you will find a few extra moments of that solace as well.


I have been on a patient hunt for a new every day camera for what feels like forever now. At first I had all but settled on a Sony a7II with a manual Voigtlander lens attached but upon reading more about the latest in the Fuji X100 lineup I was curious if maybe this was a better option for me so I rented it for a week to see if it fit my shooting style. I wont get into all of the details of the camera here, there are plenty of places to get that, this is more a dive into my personal feelings using it.

My attraction to the Sony was of course its full frame sensor in a smallish body, you can pick up the a7II for somewhere around $750 in decent shape. I was also lured by the fast Voigtlander glass available for it. But along came Fuji, stealing my attention away from the Sony by offering an X100 with a re-designed lens, which was what always kept me from loving the older models of the camera, they were far too soft wide open.

I was happy to discover the newly designed lens is pretty remarkable. I love its crisp but smooth rendering and was pleasantly surprised at the depth I could get from it wide open despite it being “only” f/2 and attached to a cropped sensor body.

When I consider the difference between the Fuji and other camera systems, one of the biggest distinctions is its in-body film simulations, the catch of this being that the resulting images are rendered in JPG format and I have no qualms with that fact. While shooting RAW is handy and some see the format as essential in their editing process by utilizing it to dramatically improve and embellish images in post processing, it has never been that important to my approach. The allure of capturing images which are more or less ready to share and enjoy with little to no editing is a huge plus in my book and is a space where the Fuji systems really shine.

Through the week I had with the X100V I slowly started to experiment more and more with what I could accomplish in body and was happy to discover a rich selection of options. Combining these tools with the way they react to the chosen exposure felt natural, charming, and distinct. I loved experimenting with over and under exposing images combined with different simulations and wish that I had more time to really dig deep into the possibilities here. The results have genuine, filmic quality about them.  As a reference for those reading this, I decided not to do any post work to the photos shared here today, everything here was pulled straight from the camera and shared here.

So, where do I stand after this week with the Fuji? I am genuinely in love with the beautifully compact body and lens as well as its ability to mitigate some of my post processing work which is important to me. Time is incredibly valuable to me as of late so I’ll take every second I can spare. Its ability to capture some of the essence of what I love about film photography in digital form is lovely and made using the camera a real joy. The lens, while it doesn’t offer the range of focus that I would prefer, I believe it is enough to use without sacrificing too much of my voice and style.

The only thing tripping me up a little in going all in with the X100V is the allure of the giant depth and rich character of a super fast Voigtlander lens paired with a full frame sensor. It would suit my self defined style of digital shooting using wide apertures as a means of simplifying composition and adding a distinct, sometimes flawed, character to my images which is why I had been looking at it as a solution. I like the idea of having that flexibility in my shooting and fear the Fuji may frustrate me at times when I am unable to get that kind of rendering with subjects further away from the camera.

The tradeoff for achieving this depth is a less inspiring and somewhat larger camera body. The Sonys are nice and all in their utility but they sure feel boring somehow. I want to have a camera that will inspire me to want to keep it out and use it. I don’t want to need a camera bag or case to take care of it. I want it to be there by my side to grab when I need it and the size of the X100V gives me that in spades. I have also glanced at the Leica Q or Q2 but I just can’t see myself raising the money for such a camera and even entertaining it as a viable option feels like a tease.

Since I started sharing photography online, the art form has become mainstream and is full of countless trends and opinions yet my philosophy and approach has long remained the same; Simplify my toolset and seek out ways to get the camera out of my way so I can enjoy the moments I am capturing. The Fuji X100V sure seems like a perfect solution for that mentality.

What do you think? I know some of you reading have followed along for years now, feel free to chime in. I don’t think this will be the last digital camera I ever pick up but with a tighter budget at this stage in my life, most signs are pointing to this being a logical happy medium.

I’ve dumped a few more photos from my short time with the camera below. I ended up having a busy work week so I had even less time than I had hoped to play with it but I think I had it long enough to get a pretty good idea of what I could expect from life with one by my side.


Voigtlander Glass

Someone reached out to me via a comment on my last post and the more I considered it, the more I thought it would be best to take a quick dive into my camera and lens choices, something that I think deserves more than a “because its cool and takes nice photos” kind of a reply. So, here’s an off the cuff, little bit rambling answer to the following. I’m starting to wonder if I should just jump in and start posting from time to time even if I don’t spend time editing it to some perceived notion of “good enough to post”.

“John, I’ve always enjoyed following your work over the years. Curious, what attracts you to the Voigtlander lens? Any particular reason?” – Will Musgrove

Thanks Will! Why Voigtlander? Good question, one I have thought a long time about in the absence of a digital camera and one that digs way back into my personal history with photography. I’ll start by saying my ideal, daydream camera setup would be a Leica M10 and a Leica M7 with one nice 50mm lens and one nice 35mm lens but, well, that would be a significant loan that I can’t justify. Leica makes a fantastic product but with a price that is wholly unrealistic for most. I have used SLRs for over 20 years now starting with film then moving to digital with the Canon 10D (or was it the 20D?) ages ago but it was a Canon film rangefinder that really shook things up for me years back.

I loved shooting with a rangefinder, the size, focusing, simplicity, all of it. It broke down photography to my favorite aspects, composition and get-out-of-the-way bare bones exposure choices. Because of the cost of Leica digitals I never even considered a digital rangefinder but have often daydreamed of shifting to shooting only film, selling off every piece of camera gear I could, and buying a nice Leica M7 to shoot everything with. Yet this would make 50ft and its desktop/wallpaper centric self much harder to manage.

For a good long while I shot with a Voigtlander Bessa Rangefinder paired with a Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 SC Lens and loved it. I sold it to my brother at some point to get some other gear but always manage to miss having it around. My time with that camera introduced me to the companies products and left a lasting impression because it presented me with a truly solid performance and build quality while maintaining a moderately affordable price range compared to what Leica had to offer.

While I had that body I had experimented with a few other lenses of theirs that I had borrowed from a friend while in Korea. An ultra wide and a super fast 50mm lens, but there was one of their lenses in particular that has long had my attention, their 35mm f/1.2 which is now in its second generation. I have always loved 35mm lenses and the way they allow me to either move in tight for detail or back up a bit and tell a story. Pair this with my long lasting love affair with fast glass and here we are, a sweet spot.

I can’t count the amount of times I have put that lens into the search field of Flickr and drooled over the results others have gotten with it both on film and digital camera bodies but for some reason I have never taken the plunge and picked one up, mostly because the camera bodies I have had around were never too friendly to Leica mount lenses. The prospects of this started to change with the smaller bodied yet full frame Sony cameras which I don’t particularly care for as far as their handling goes but I have started to overlook this once I realized that its abilities outweigh those concerns.

I started looking into it and realized that I could pick up an A7 II in great shape for under $1000 which has a solid resolution and feature set that I would be more than happy with and from the reading I have done, handles Leica mount lenses quite well with a good adapter on hand. The Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 lens came to my attention when I noticed they had a Sony mount version of it available. Based on what I know that 40mm holds a similar performance and style to the 35mm and after doing some digging it does indeed have a similar feeling to the way it renders images. I lean toward to wanting the 35 in a leica mount with adapter because I could see myself pickup up an old M2 or M4 one day in the future and could easily put the lens to use there as well, not to mention, I prefer that tiny bit of extra width in my frame.

This is where your question will actually get an answer. I like the Voigtlander lenses in this speedy prime glass range because I love the way they render color, bokeh, vignetting, all of it. It suits my approach to photography well by allowing me a lot of flexibility but also gives me a familiar depth and loads of personality and that is a key word for me. The personality of a lens is something I feel closely in tune with. The texture of how a lens renders its background and in some cases even its perceived imperfections are ok in my book. I shot with my 35mm f/1.4L Canon for years and years because of exactly this. It held my catalogue of images together aesthetically and added to the story and mythology of Fifty Foot Shadows through the years.

At this projects peak back before the big social media pivot of the web I would find others online comparing other photographers work to my own or even mistaking the work of others for mine which had a similar feeling because of that consistency and that has always been intentional. So in that regard, as much fun as it is to have and shoot with a bunch of different gear and lenses, I have always come back to familiar focal lengths and tried to hold true to that classic style within these pages and I believe this Voigtlander lens will continue that tradition handily.

Paired with a smallish camera hiding a full frame sensor I hope for it to give me as close to my ideal as possible while shooting from day to day; a camera thats small enough to not get in my way but deliver results encompassing my aesthetic standards I have for digital shooting. Something I came close to with the fujifilm line but never quite fully connected with through the years of using it, but thats a discussion for another day. So, unless I end up being off base on its performance, it’s the set up I hope to find myself in possession of once I manage to find a way to make that happen.

That was fun. Anyone else have any questions?

Flickr Nostalgia

Read with this in mind, there are exceptions to everything I mention here, I don’t speak from everyones point of view, only my own perspective, I mostly wanted to open up a dialogue and while I started to write the basic ideas mentioned below on Twitter I quickly realized how hard it is to be nuanced on that platform, so without further digression…

I have been thinking lately about how much I have missed the sense of community and open conversation found in the “good old days” of Flickr before modern social media platforms took off and changed everything. Instagram snuck in as more and more cameras attached to mobile phones started to muddy the photography waters and eventually even those shooting on DSLRs and film cameras started to jump ship to “where the audience was”.

But Instagram has one glaring problem for photography enthusiasts in that the whole service is now centered around the concept of personal celebrity rather than community. I realize there are some who somehow manage to jerry-rig the service into something that connects people but it sure is counterintuitive. A hashtag is not a conversation. A hashtag is a well you throw your work into, bottomless voids you hope to get noticed in.

(Heres the bit that my come across a little cynical, I’m not trying to be but I could see how it could be read that way, bear with me here and remember I write this from the perspective of a photography enthusiast, not an average user.) The idea of community in the Instagram age is reduced to posturing and fighting upstream through trends to make your way to the top. It’s fine for casual fun, but feels poisonous to the photographic community as a whole. Central popular figureheads and a hyper casual style of browsing photographs devalue photographic work and lead to an unbalanced, trend forward form of inspiration. Not to mention there are so many ads now it’s hard to tell if what I’m looking at is something a friend posted or if I’m being sold to. Commercial interests reach out with sly hands in attempts to influence groups of users and it’s more or less up to the integrity of those who get offered such opportunities to let in that kind of influence or not.

This is in stark contrast to the groups and forums of Flickr which more often than not, encourage contributors to learn, experiment, collaborate, and grow as photographers. I still think its amazing that my wife, YoungDoo, noticed the potential of this community early on (way back in 2006!) and created a group called “Flickr In Seoul” that drew hundreds of contributors and she helped start meet ups in different areas of Seoul where photographers could meet up and geek out in person and continue the conversations started within the online community. It lead photographers to engage with each other and learn, experiment and grow. She met countless lifelong friends around the world through her time running the group. It was a nurturing community, unlike most that I stumble into on instagram which sort of turns everyone into a wallflower, hiding in the shadows hoping one of the cool kids will notice them.

Instagram was never meant to be what it has become. It worked fine as an intermediary between friends using their iPhones to snap photos and share them with each other but through time it has become nefarious in the photography world because at the heart of its functionality it is a broken platform for connecting with a wider community in meaningful ways. Using it as a pseudo “portfolio” sometimes works as a marketing tool but it has long felt like it has too many shortcomings to be a good place to connect with others in meaningful ways.

Taking a step away from Instagram, there are places to connect with other photographers such as Reddit or other photography centric web forums like but there is something special about Flickr and the way it combines a place built first and foremost as somewhere to share our photographic work with easily accessible, interest specific forums.

I feel as though comment sections will never be able to replace a well moderated community forum. Hashtags only have algorithms to help propagate quality content and separate it from those trying to abuse a tag for personal gain, searches become messy and wildly inconsistent. I have tried to follow hashtags a couple of times but often end up with a stream of content not often related at all to the topic.

Flickr also uses tags, and has since I can remember, but a key difference is they are usually used more as a utility to share details about any given photograph such as locations or lens, camera, and film details. The substantial feature that sets Flickr apart as a platform for sharing though, is their groups feature. I have always enjoyed surfing through groups to find communities of like minded photographers to share with. There are people who try to abuse groups just as much as there are those who lay down 50 or so hashtags in Instagram, relevant or not to what they were sharing, but groups often have rules and moderators to help guide them along. While no system may be perfect, at least with Flickr there is more of a structure to help facilitate curated sustainability.

Here is an example of how I have used and loved groups in the past. Imagine, you’re interested in a camera, lens, or system, old or new. I hop on Flickr and do a search through groups to find users of nearly every camera type, system or lens you could imagine. Small or sometime large pools of users all happy and eager to share what they have been capturing with their favorite camera or film lay in wait to help share opinions good and bad. I am able to ask questions to users and explore the different types of results people are getting from them by browsing photos in the group. While there are indeed less active users today as there were in the past, it has been a truly fantastic resource for anyone in the market for a new camera or for anyone wanting to connect with other users to talk shop, collaborate, or learn tips from others using similar equipment.

This extends to artistic sub-genres as well. I remember submitting images to tightly curated groups that would focus on collecting images for zines, or groups of specific moods, locations, and concepts. It was great fun finding others who were interested in like minded shooting styles and feed off of each other’s creativity. I often miss this the most, especially when I’m feeling I could use a little inspiration.

All this is not to say Flickr is a perfect platform for everyone with a camera. I find it is best for those who are honestly excited about using their cameras, professional, amateur, or otherwise but I do hope that the platform continues to evolve and possibly grow under its latest management and change of ownership (Yahoo always felt like a weird fit). I hope to see improvements in the app they offer for smartphones and update it for smoother browsing and searching as well as smoother, more encouraged access to in their groups and communities. I would also love to see them bring user profiles back into more of a prevalent position within said browsing as a means to offer users a place to tell some about themselves, link to other places to find them on the web, and to act as a central bouncing off point to discover others with a like minded style, set of interests, or similar gear even.

Today I mostly wanted to write about what I have always admired about Flickr. If you find value in Instagram, as I do, then by all means, keep contributing there. It is great for broad social networking because it has such a large user pool. My goal here today is to encourage more photographers to rediscover what makes Flickr so great and I’m only scratching the surface here really. I am, perhaps, also hopeful that as Instagram gets weirder as Facebook continues to subtly manipulate it, those wanting to engage, share, and collaborate with other photographers will give Flickr a try either again or for the fist time. Why put photographs you are proud of on a platform that will bury them in selfies, jokes, memes, and ads then use every possible ounce of data and information about you to not only manipulate your use of the application but also use it to scrape together enough money in ads to keep the doors open?

One last question, just to toss one more log onto the fire, would you pay for instagram? If you could have a more focused feed, free of ads, with more control over what you see and how you experience the platform with less privacy concerns, would you? I Think I would, but I know that most likely will never happen. It’s just not how Facebook does buisness, their currency is people and the more they can sway to join up or use the service the better it is for their motivations. So why not try an alternative that isn’t so manipulative?

In my opinion, it’s well worth the cost of entry to support, browse, and be part of a community of other photographers without fighting through ads and the noise of everyone throwing wishes in a well.
At any rate, thanks for tuning in. Maybe I just I miss the genuine connections as we shared our craft with each other before passive browsing became so commonplace. from the chatter I have heard here and there online, I’m not the only one with opinions like these and I really hope to see more of you back over there among the conversation as well. See you soon!

XS Computation

Oh, hello! How about we take a moment today to talk about the state of mobile photography as it pertains to the iPhone XS because it seems like its on the tip of everyones tongue as of late. Advances in computational, machine learning, super HDR, photography have certainly been blowing a lot of smoke as Apple and other mobile phone companies are trying to mimic, lets call them, full bodied, cameras using technology to overcome very clear and obvious limitations in size and physical ability.

First off, it’s worth noting, as of this writing I have only had a few days behind this camera, though what I’m going to discuss here I feel confident in my initial takes on the tech, I did want to mention this. Also, let me say up front, it’s nothing short of incredible how far these tiny sensored cameras have come through the years. Using technology and tricks to mimic and in some cases enhance the behavior and capabilities of full bodied cameras is brilliant and one can take truly delightful photographs with an iPhone, yet, and heres a key point I’m poking my head in today to address, under the right conditions.

After finally jumping in with the rest of you lot and moving to an iPhone with two lenses I am able to try and see what all this fuss is about.

I knew what to expect going in and figured I could simply take a few straightforward portraits right off the bat just to see how things faired with this selective virtual “aperture” post photo, so while at the park with my daughter I set off with my natural instincts behind a camera and went to work as though I had a 5D in hand. This is where things quickly fell apart and I had a firm realization that I had maybe slightly overestimated its abilities.

As we approached the playground little Milla was super excited to head straight for the swing and as luck would have it the afternoon sun was giving us its last several minutes of lovely golden backlight, my favorite! I knelt down low to capture the first scattered fallen leaves of the fall as she darted across to the swing set and upon an initial cursory glance at the results I thought to myself, cool! This could be pretty fun.

Next up she was loaded up on her swing and was kind of patient enough for me to snap a couple of shots before it was time to start pushing her along so I popped the phone into portrait mode and had at it. Again, at first glance, results seemed kind of nice but quickly I realized what felt so off about the shot, the chains in the swing had vanished into the backgrounds emulated blur. This and the lovely lens flare I chose to try and incorporate into the shot was totally lost to the effect.

At this point I gave her a push or two and purposefully pushed my luck trying to capture her in portrait mode while she was in motion swinging but that was far and away beyond possible. The phone made some weird attempts at capturing something but it automatically cropped it in strange ways to make the best of what I was trying to push it into and I quickly decided to give up forcing portrait mode to work with a moving subject.

A short while later she had made her way up to the top of the slide platform, another chance to have a little creative fun by framing her face using the safety bars around the top of the slide but again was quickly denied as my attempts and curiosity lead to a confused and messy algorithmic mask attempt, even with a relatively still subject, because of the shots vaguely complex nature. (See photos above and notice the confusing “focus” on the bars.)

I did this because I was curious if I could use objects in the foreground to frame my subject but because the technology is simply masking out what it thinks is in the foreground I was left in the cold as the bars and Milla’s face were sort of awkwardly stitched together into what it thought was the subject.

So then I figured I would move on to more of a softball shot, she was at the top of the slide hanging about, being as cute as ever, and i simply snapped a few shots that I figured it could handle easily. Still again the masking attempts were confused by the busy leafy green background and the bars which left a number of weird looking spots the mask didn’t quite cut out properly (on the right below). This was compounded by the failure of this tech to fully measure the distance from the camera lens to different parts of the frame leaving bits of the playground bars in and out of focus in seemingly random fashion (also seen above) as the software simply made its beat guess at what it should do. There was also one shot that left strange artifacts on her face from what I assume was mismatched layers from the auto HDR attempt (on the left).

So I gave up taking photos and simply enjoyed taking orders from a giggling Milla as she pushed me down a slide I was way to big for and left the shots to check back on later.

Using the new camera in portrait mode during this short time in a park was a pretty quick and clear reminder that while it’s a cool idea at its heart, it is a marketing gimmick and in a way a more advanced set of the same concepts brought on since the dawn of apps being on the app store which layered effects and post processing onto photos to hide and enhance the shortcomings of the cameras physical limitations. I also tried to use a couple of simple objects on my desk at work, again to see what I could accomplish with this mode or not and if you look at the corners of the book and the area around the glasses you may notice what I would call a failure. Close… but not really.

All that said, I don’t honestly think there is anything at all wrong with these results. It’s a ton of fun to shoot with the device you always have in your pocket and the more tricks they add to make it more enjoyable the better. It’s just that, like with any camera and lens ever made, there are compromises to be made in the way they can be used to the best of their ability and in this case there are a few takeaways I have from my early experience shooting with this camera that I will leave you with today as well as a few more of my attempts at finding ways to utilize the portrait mode in ways that weren’t as jarringly meh.

In general, I think its best to stick with the standard photo mode using one lens or the other, you won’t get to play with that aperture placebo slider but you will have a more stable image to work with in post work. On their own, depending on the distance from the focused subject, etcetera, there is some genuine potential for taking great photos with this alone. The way I see it (and a lot of others out there from what I’ve seen online), the smart HDR features really are the most clever and useful part of the newest advancements, not the portrait mode. Also, Live Photo’s after the fact are a really charming way to go back and revisit passing memories.

The portrait mode is really quite fun but to use the effect in a natural, realistic way its best to use it in places where the subject is in fact the singular visual focus of the photograph meaning, don’t place anything between the subject and the camera and keep a good healthy distance from the background of the subject as well for the best results. Minimizing other details and objects surrounding your subject helps quite a bit too and it’s also worth noting that the more visual contrast between your focus point and the background the better. If you have a light object or light edge on your subject and the background is also white or brightly lit, chances are that masking algorithm is going to get confused. Contrast is key here. In essence, put your subject front at center without anything else to distract at the closest distance away from the camera before the phone starts bugging you to back off and snap away.

Coming from years behind the prime lenses this technique emulates, it’s pretty easy to spot impossible depth added into photos using this kind of faked approach by looking at surrounding objects such as tables, chairs and the like but, does that really matter? Sometimes, when its really obviously wrong but usually its just a side effect that most will never notice is off. I do wonder though why they bothered to try and label the depth effect as aperture settings because its so far from being anywhere close to accurate, why not just have a slider with “more” on one end and “less” on the other?

Last but not least, it’s important to remember which mode suits the circumstance best! Don’t miss a great opportunity for a shot fiddling with portrait mode! Keep that ready for when its best use case scenarios line up and the modes namesake need is in play, a simple, well lit portrait.

Was I expecting the iPhone XS to match a full bodied camera? No, of course not, but even still, I was hopeful it could be used in quick, fun, creative ways while out and about in day to day life. Their marketing hyperbole would love you to believe otherwise but as I have been reminded here today, no matter which camera you shoot with there will always be compromises to be made and the value you extract from your camera of choice will depend on the balance between fitting your needs and the cameras ability to embody them.

I have a feeling that down the line, after a couple more years of this tech developing, we will start to see smarter and smarter realization of the portrait masking concept and the lines between full bodied cameras and mobile ones will continue to (pardon my pun) blur. For now, I for one know that I’m going to have a lot of fun playing around with a new set of tricks available but keep my full bodied cameras close for when I really want to dig in and take full control of a scene.

Also worth noting, all of the above photos were shot on an iPhone XS and edited with the built in photos app which I have never actually used much for editing on iOS and while it’s a little fiddly and limited can generate some nice, quick edits and is worth playing around with if you have not dug into it already. Can come in handy for simple little tonal adjustments on a snapshot. I look forward to seeing what else I can capture with the camera down the line and if your curious to see more mobile photo shots, my instagram feed is usually only fed with images from the iPhone. See you there!


Don’t Forget To Remember This

Does a photograph always need to tell a story? Are the only truly great photographs ones which change the world, record a decisive moment, or leave you with a sense of technical accomplishment? Is the practice and art of photography really so tightly defined that we must seek a deeper truth either in the philosophical understanding of its history or the urgency of its continued relevance in face of a seemingly larger audience?

There are some who would have you believe that the only moments worth capturing are those which make a statement, tell a story, or bear some variety of emotional weight. This, of course, is only partially true. Photography has grown bigger than its heritage. Every photograph has potential value if you are able to convince others of its worth. Its subjectivity is its biggest ally as it continues to grow exponentially.

Photography has no rules or boundaries, what bores one onlooker may fascinate another. Up until the past few years, the core concepts of capturing a photograph were based on its technical limitations. This has quickly changed in the digital world and so has the way many people view photography in general.

If you look closely you can start to see legions form, all of which make attempts to put a cap on what it takes to be a real photographer. There are the gear heads, addicted to an imaginary technical perfection; those who shoot their lives with purpose as they hold onto photography as a fine art; the film pushers, hanging on for dear life; the minimalists that shoot only with their iPhones out of principle, or because they are burnt out after years behind “expensive, cumbersome” cameras; and of course others who fancy their approach to be the one true path to photographic enlightenment.

I hope you realize I am making over-generalizations on purpose. Each is noble in its own right and no matter which part of the pie chart you squeeze into the fact remains that the core of photography is simple, immediate, and the same for all of us. No mater what our personal aspirations or beliefs are, we all share something in common, a way of life lead by the allure of capturing its beauty one frame at a time.


If your camera is a weight on your shoulder that causes you to miss the truly great moments of your life while hiding behind a viewfinder, you may have some priorities to reconsider, or maybe your taste in gear at least.

For many of us, life and photography are not mutually exclusive, but this isn’t true for everyone, some people get mixed up with fancy cameras because they think they need one which will make their photographs look on par with that of a professional. This can be a successful venture if the person buying in is able to creatively use the full capabilities of a camera without it getting in the way of actually taking photos.

This assumed need is a symptom of wider issues at work, partially due to the marketing of early affordable DSLR bodies before we all had such great cameras in our mobile phones and partially because of the DIY revelations that so many of us collectively had when digital cameras started to flood our daily lives.

It all happened so quickly, and with such sweeping force that it left us in a world where the skills needed to be competent with photography have become increasingly ambiguous and the pressure to take photos that appear “professional” has left many spending nonsensical amounts of money on gear that they don’t particularly need or fully understand.

Photography is a privilege we are lucky to have, but it should never get in the way of our happiness, it should pull us toward it like a magnetic force. The secret to great photography has nothing to do with your philosophy, your choice of format, or your pedigree. Let your camera be your compass. Live first, then shoot.

If there is one thing I can thank my photography addiction for, it’s the wonderful experiences and places it has taken me in the spirit of capturing my life on film. A camera is always going to be just that, a camera. Be it an iPhone, DSLR, Leica, or a point and shoot plastic lomo camera. The best camera is the one that leads you to happiness. If having a camera in your life is a burden, it will continue to be one no matter the size or format.


The challenges present in photography today are not in the devices we use to capture, it’s not in our approach, skill level, or what we think we need to create good photos; the problem today is in social pressure. Photography has quickly evolved in its short lifespan from revolutionary, to useful, to ubiquitous and full of expectation.

Like the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, or the houses we live in, our photographs are another vehicle to which the world judges us because the world expects to see proof of our beautiful, happy lives and we have grown to crave that attention. In this light, photography has grown vain in its old age.

We shoot, we shoot, and we shoot… and then we share. Sometimes to prove our good taste or creative ability, but also, in many cases, as a means to feel alive because we have generated this need to prove something to others and to ourselves.

It’s not quite vanity because it’s not as simple as that. It’s something entirely new to humanity that we are still trying to define and understand and it has fundamentally changed photography as we once knew it. So how do those of us still holding onto photography as an art form handle such pressures and threats of irrelevance?

Our theoretical perspective or personal vision is what separates us from every one else with a camera in their hands at any given moment. What happens then, when every photo of an apple starts to look like every other photo taken of an apple? They pile higher and higher until the very concept of photographing it becomes insignificant. Who gives two shits about your apple, or mine?

We have long passed the point of no return in this regard. The saturation of our visually recorded modern lives is unbearable at times. A smile is a smile, a tree is a tree, drama is drama. No matter the staggering beauty, cultural relevance, or technical prowess of a photograph, most eyes will only glance at our hard work for but a few short seconds unless there is something else to connect them to what they see such as a story, memory, or legend. A trend which foreshadowed the growing popularity and creation of photo essay platforms to combine writing with photography.

Our ability to appreciate beauty is being commodified, vacuum sealed, and turned into a competition. I have discussed this among these pages before. Our attention spans are delicate.

I imagine us as a flock of birds drifting through the sky. Thousands focused and flying in the same direction, then, without warning, a sudden and collaborative shift sends us soaring in a different direction as though we are all collectively lost and fighting just to keep up with everyone else in fear of being left behind. By breaking away from the flock we risk being left behind so more often than not we find ourselves soaring right back into line.

A quote from a fictitious newscast on the show ‘Louie’ just came to mind, “A small bird died today due to sadness. He was six years old.”

The solution here is obvious and most of us are already well aware of this tune, don’t shoot to share, shoot because you love what your shooting. Shoot to remember. Make your photographs in your own image and personality. Use photography to tell the story of you.

If it’s so easy then why is it so hard to break away from the flock? When you create something you are proud of you want to plaster it on the moon for the world to see. The validation a “like” gets us is a good old fashioned addiction. Deny it all you want, you know you love it, as do I. It’s validation, fuel for future fires.

Art evolves, always, as do we, so its important to adapt and create a mental space where you can challenge yourself to be great at what you do. Not by anyone else’s standards, but by your own. Make photography more about you and less about everyone else that may be watching.

Don’t forget what makes photography so great, the joyfulness it can bring and the vitality it gives those who get lost in the process.

Though we are faced with the odds stacked against us any time we pull out a camera, I still believe that there is room to use photography to better our lives and the lives of others. I only dig deep into the criticisms and fears of photography today as a means to pull it all to the surface so its easier to brush away.

What then about motivation? It would be impossible to know where to start without inspiration from other photographers we admire. It’s good to trace the steps of those who captured their lives before us on film, fleeting and unknowing of the impact they may hold on the next generation of photographers. Understand their motives, learn from their goals, and find ways to use their creative spirit to explore your own. Learning the roots of this field is indispensable. Having a working knowledge of what makes a camera tick and what worked and didn’t work for others in the past is vital in any field and it’s no different here.

Your tool of choice is your choice. Spend money on a camera, or not, but don’t do it to feel more confident or to fit in. Buy a camera that suits your lifestyle. If you can spare the space at your side to carry an SLR and you feel this will help you somehow then go for it. If you have your hands full with diaper bags and toys then your iPhone may be all you could ever need. Personally, my go to suggestion these days are in the land of mirrorless cameras or for the more adventurous, a film body like an Olympus Om-2.

I chose some older film shots to go along with these opinions because I thought they were telling of the vein of thought I have been stuck in, one where format or approach is irrelevant in the long run, it all adds up into a greater narrative over time. The format and approach I have taken through the years has varied a fair amount but has always been a big part of defining the feelings I carried while shooting. I shot film when I feel a deeper connection to what I am shooting, I shoot digital when I simply want to remember. My compositions and developing have similar fingerprints in that they tell me a lot about how I felt when I made the photographs. Every click of the shutter for me is a moment worth remembering and it’s the memories that make photography so gratifying for me. I find so much to be thankful for when I look back through the images I have captured through the years.

Alright, well, enough for today. I started writing this a couple of weeks back after listening to a podcast about photography and it turned into a state of the union essay of sorts on how I see the art of photography these days. Part of me, in the back of my mind, thought I could nurse this into a small book but I’m not quite to that comfort level with my writing just yet and I feel so many of the ideas worth debating in this space have been discussed and directed to death and often wonder if I have enough fresh ideas to add to the conversation. So, till next time, may the wonder of photography to continue to take you places you never imagined. Get out there and shoot.




For years now one of my biggest inspirations to start working on more print projects has been the enduring and creative output of Phil Elverum through his P.W. Elverum & Sun record label/shop. Most know him through his work as either Mount Eerie or The Microphones as he creates music that straddles calm frozen landscapes and roaring oceans. I saw him perform years ago at a free show in the lawn of a university and after casually picking up a cd that night I was hooked. His music and philosophy sunk into the emotional mess that I was at that time in my life and pushed me along in surprising ways.

I followed along as he broke away from K Records to pursue his own independent label through which he has released a number of albums of his own music and others. They are often paired with photography and art inside books, on oversized prints, or through other creative printing techniques. I have often looked on with a fond admiration that has left me with a number of ideas for projects that I am still patiently waiting to have time and resources to get off the ground.

Dust Inside

His most recent release is a book of photographs called Dust. Inside you will find a loose yet cohesive collection of images taken all over the world, no doubt during his travels as a musician. In the rear of the book you will find a list of the locations for each photograph as well as an addendum in the form of a smaller softcover book also full of photographs.

To describe his photographic work I feel the best place to start would be by examining his music and the emotions he explores therein. He has long examined loneliness and the joy of being found by getting lost and coming to terms with the ghosts that surround us from day to day. The beauty of his vision of the world is not always seen through rays of sunlight but through foggy landscapes where nature and man collide.

The photos in this collection are dark and seem to stray away from current trends in photography and processing offering a viewpoint all their own in a delicate way thats hard to put into words. Both candid yet well considered he explores dusk and the fine line between light and darkness. The places he explores seem nearly forgotten and un-noticed by most that pass them by with exception of a handful of beautiful landscape photos of mountains lost among the clouds and moments stolen with friends.

It’s a wonderful book that I’m excited to have in my collection. The cover is bound in a semi-course linen on which the cover and spine graphic were pressed with a somewhat rubberized texture using a process I have not come across yet as far as I can remember. The printing is gorgeous considering the challenges involved in printing these photographs, many of which are dark and low in contrast, a tricky combination to get right.

I can easily recommend that any fans of Phil’s other work not even think twice about picking up a copy and anyone who loves independently printed and distributed work as much as I do have a closer look. It’s a beautiful collection well worth your support. For more information and to order this book (and a few records while you’re at it)  visit his online shop here.

Dust Inside Dust Inside Dust Inside Dust Addendum



Well, mostly Rockport. Late last year YoungDoo and I took a road trip north during which our friend Stephanie took us from Boston to her hometown Rockport, MA for a day. It’s a beautiful little town on an island that I would have loved to have a little more time to explore. It was a chilly afternoon when we visited so our time walking around town was brief but I did manage to find a few shots I thought my underused Hasselblad would be perfect for.

I only recently had these developed because we realized that we had a small stockpile of undeveloped film tucked away in various corners of our apartment that were long overdue for their chemical bath. After noticing slowly declining quality from our local film lab we decided to give Richard Photo Lab a shot after seeing the endless praise they seem to get in all corners of the film loving internet and we were not disappointed. While color film has officially broken that threshold of being modestly affordable to shoot too casually, I still feel its worth the investment. These days I reserve my film use for either paid jobs or while I am traveling. My day to day shooting has been narrowed down to being 95% digital which is why you have not seen as much film work out of me lately.

Richard Photo Lab is unique among many labs in that they take extra care in the scanning process to be sure you get the highest quality available from your negatives after developing. Their scanning work lends itself to a slightly over exposed negative or high-key style of shooting because of their tendency to treat the darkest point in each frame as a dark grey rather than absolute black.  This leaves any noise in the film to be amplified  in areas you may have underexposed but leaves you with that now classic “film look” that many of us love so much.

Their tale tell colors and tone have been popularized by a number of different photographers, primarily in the wedding/portrait market, and they also offer a service that allows you to tailor your scan results to fit your needs. For an exhaustive look into the company and their scanning have a look here at this thorough piece by Johnny Patience.

3 4 5 6 7 8


Instax 90 Fuji Neo Classic

I have had a soft spot for polaroids for a long time yet never invested a lot into the art of shooting with them. Years back I shot around with an old clunker of a Polaroid Impulse on which I had to tape the flash off to keep it from mucking up too many photos. It worked well enough but what I always thought I would end up with was an old foldable SX-70. Once Polaroid closed up shop I gave up on the idea and moved on with other film cameras instead.

I tried using an old Polaroid Land Camera for a while and still shoot with it from time to time but it’s far too bulky to be practical most of the time. I eventually bought into a Hasselblad system which I really love and was excited to discover had polaroid backs available. I took it on its first big adventure when I traveled through India with it and a Voigtlander R3M. While traveling I often pulled the polaroid back out not only for fun but as a means to give something back to those who I was photographing. Many children or shop owners looked at me and my strange looking cameras with a confused sideways glance because I was unable to show them the photos immediately after shooting. The polaroid enabled me to not only share a photo with them but leave a copy of one as well so even at times when there was an obvious language barrier I was able to show my good intention by sharing something in return for their time.

I also took the chemical covered side of the pull apart instant film and made crude image transfers into the journal I was carrying with me on the trip. Looking back on these I found that even when the transfers were only partially successful I was still left with a fuzzy stamp of the moment I captured there in my journal so despite giving away the photo I was still left with a memento which, like the idea of memory itself, is a slightly distorted view of the original but plenty to remember the moment later on.

Some of you may recognize the idea of sharing polaroids like this from photographer favorite, Zach Arias who recently took along a Fuji Neo Classic 90 on a trip to Morocco and used it as a means to break the ice with people he would meet and photograph. I bring all this up because after holding out as long as I could manage, I finally went ahead and bought one of these handy little Instax cameras myself.

I avoided Fuji’s Instax cameras for a long time because I always thought they were too goofy looking and all to clunky to drag around with me in my camera bag. This conception quickly changed when I noticed the little Neo Classic 90 come onto the market. They did away with all the goofiness of their previous models and made something that would fit right in with my day to day shooting habits.


I was surprised to discover just how small the camera is. While I can’t shove it into my pants pocket, it easily slides into a jacket pocket or into the corner of a camera bag. While it is made from plastic the construction is sturdy in a way that you feel you can trust it. The design of the body seems well considered in that they included two shutter release buttons depending on how you want to shoot. The film itself lends itself to shooting a portrait composition but an additional button was added to make it easy to shoot landscaped as well.

While it is a fully automatic camera in regards to exposure there are a handful of shooting modes to help you get the most out of it including multiple exposure mode and one for bulb exposures. It also allows for basic exposure compensation by allowing you to choose one of four different settings, dark, standard, light, and extra light. I love this ability because while I love the bright annoying pop of a built in flash at times, it lets me have enough control over the exposure to shoot creatively without the flash getting in my way.

Sample One

Sample Two

The photos I have taken with it so far have been well balanced tonally and sharp though they do have that hazy instant film look which I realize not everyone is into. Having a collection of these little prints around is a charming way to look back through memories. There really is nothing quite like using real instant film in both the joy of watching it appear in front of you and having these singular prints around to enjoy. No amount of digital emulation will give you quite the same feeling as using actual film which by now most of us already know.

As long as interest holds strong I have hope that the cost of film won’t soar too much any time soon. At around $14USD for 20 exposures (or less depending on how much you buy at once) it’s more than reasonable unless you’re a particularly trigger happy kind of shooter.

I bought this for YoungDoo and I to share but its quickly becoming obvious that we will end up with two of these around because I am having way too much fun shooting with this joy of a camera. I can easily recommend one of these to just about anyone who enjoys making photographs, digitally or otherwise. If you have any questions about it I would be happy to answer them below.

To whom it may concern,



• Enjoy the images! It’s a labor of love, thanks for your support!
• Share with friends.
• Send me a quick mail if you are interested in using an image for commercial or personal use other than wallpaper.


• Post desktops elsewhere online.
• Share links directly to images.
• Pass them around in mass.
• Make prints.
• Use images for web banners or graphics. (send a quick email to ask, I’m pretty easy going about this with permission.)
• Use them in commercial work.

If you help me out with these I will be able to keep doing what I love to do. Thanks again, really, for your support and understanding. -J


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Use your best judgement and we will get along just fine.

Thank you for your understanding and support!

John Carey (curator, owner)