Carnegie Hall

The old joke is “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice…”

So much of what we do in life are skills; learned behaviors.  Some come easier than others.  And some we even have a natural “talent” that makes them exceptionally easy or we’re intuitively competent at a high level.

When we’re good at something and want to continue, whether it be natural ability or practiced or a combination, we need to practice.

I can’t now recall the exact wording, and believe or not I can’t find the quote via Google (how odd is that, eh?), but Liberace said “If I miss one day of practice no one really notices, if I miss two days of practice I can tell, and if I miss 3 days of practice my audience notices.”  And that’s from one of the most gifted keyboardist.  True professionals practice constantly.  Throughout the week during the NFL season we get news reports of items related to the ongoing practices.  Baseball has an entire month dedicated to intense practice before the season, combined with daily fielding and batting practice.  Musicians constantly practice for hours a day.  Performers rehearse over and over.

And we as artists need to practice as well.  Sketchers need to sketch every day.  Painters need to paint.  And photographers need to photograph.

But, just slinging stuff in the air, while good from time to time, isn’t necessarily beneficial to developing the talents to meet our goals and desires.

Another proverbial saying is, “practice makes perfect.”  I had a coach that augmented that to be, “perfect practice makes perfect.”  If you continue to practice poor behaviors or methods then you entrench yourself in them.  Practice is about growing and refining.

As photographers we need to practice our technical as well as creative skills.  And some days it’s just hard to motivate to produce anything.  The muse is not upon us, right?  However, doing something, anything, can kickstart that muse.

It’s good to know where your weaknesses lie, and then you can specifically pursue practice to develop and enhance that weakness to become a strength.  Or to take an ordinary technique and find the unique or surreal use of it.

Have trouble with composition?  Then pick a single subject and challenge yourself to do 4 ordinary or typical shots followed by 8 that are new and unusual.

We’ll be covering some straight forward items over the next few months, most if not all are perfect for a base to practice to develop new understanding and hone techniques.

In the meantime: practice, practice, practice!




Working in the dark

As in a darkroom.

I had my first darkroom when I was about 13yo or so.  Nothing fancy by any stretch.  My dad provided the space and a tad of buildout and I paid for and created the rest.

I guess today I’d have to call it the Harry Potter Darkroom.  As it was underneath the stair case in our split level ranch.  Dad put in a door and roughed in some electricity, and I had the remnant end of a remnant piece of  carpeting they used in the dining room to cover my floor.  My water source was the half bath across the hall.  My “running water” was me running from the darkroom over to the bath and back.

I saved up for the basic darkroom equipment, trays / tongs / stainless tank, etc. along with a Bogen 35 enlarger.  A couple of years later I was able to buy a Bogen 67 so I could do 120 film in addition to 35mm.  The column on the enlarger worked well with the stairs.  Since it slopes toward the front of the enlarger, I could push the unit all the way back under the overhead stair case and still have full extension.

After that it was hit or miss on a happenstance type of darkroom as life and career took over.  Finally, about 5-6 years ago I was able to convert a closet sized bath in to a dark room.  I also found that I could do a lot of the film stuff in a changing bag (which I never had until I purchased a large format camera).  Except for loading the tank, all my film processing is done in daylight.

Last Winter I was able to create a highly feasible, though still temporary, darkroom with running water and tons of space for work and storage.  Oh, what a pleasure!  Being able to handle film without the constraints of a changing bag to load and unload film, along with making real gelatin prints!  And that smell…I imagine it takes a real photography geek to savor that smell of stop baths and fixers and toners.

Then in May I had to disassemble that darkroom.  But, now I had the fever.  Plans are in place for the real final (ok, maybe next to last) darkroom.  But that’s going to take some time to do all the building and plumbing, etc.  By July I had found space for another decent, though temporary again, darkroom.  It wasn’t walk in ready like the prior one, I had to do some plumbing to get the water/drain from the adjacent bathroom.  Which was no easy task.  I’m not a huge fan of having to do plumbing to begin with, and add to that that I live in a 150+year old house…the pipes and fittings in place aren’t always today’s standards and I do quite a bit of McGyver-ing to make new things work.  But, with the help of the guys at F.W. Webb I found good solutions.

My sink is just a basic cheapo utility sink from Home Depot.  My print/work sink is a folding party ice table I found on Amazon.  I’ve acquired a nice stainless set of sinks from someone closing out a restaurant for the real darkroom.  But for now, these work amazingly well.  I have another stainless  set of floor shelving I use for dry work and some storage, along with 2 basic folding tables for the enlargers and Jobo processor.

There’s nothing like working in the dark…


Anticipating Autumn 2019

Autumn is just around the corner.  Cool nights, warm(ish) days, and the onset of the gorgeous colors across the landscape.

My home state of Maine offers an excellent service of reporting on the color change progression.

You can see the reports and graphics at:
Website: Maine Foliage
Facebook:  Maine Foliage Facebook

They also have the option to submit your photo for their possible use on the site(s).

It’s an excellent way to keep track of what’s going on in the areas you plan to visit.
Thorough research is the key to making great images.

This is especially true for Fall in Maine since most of our trees are conifers.  Maybe that’s why we’re known as the Pine Tree State in addition to Vacationland!  Finding extensive stands of deciduous trees can be a challenge, particularly on the islands (such as where I live) and the Down East area.

Tune back in throughout October/November for pictures of this year’s colors and sights!

The Art Of Seeing Pt 1

Photon:  a particle representing a quantum of light or other electromagnetic radiation.
Smith:  denoting a person skilled in creating something with a specified material.

I’ve had a passion about photography for almost all my life.  When I was 7 or 8 I sometimes had the privilege of using my parents camera, just a plastic snapshot camera using 127 cartridges.  And then I’d flip through the Sears and Penny’s catalogs drooling over the little darkroom kit they sold (which I now giggle over).

Every facet grasped my mind.  Finding great shots, finding the right angle for a portrait, highlights versus shadows, how to get those amazing shallow depth-of-field shots, along with the scientific components in the darkroom.

Every time I received my finished prints and negatives from the drug store lab, I pore over them.  Compare them to the amazing images in any periodical that had pictures, especially National Geographic and the photography magazines of the day.  What did that photographer see and how did he use it?  How do I make my pictures look closer to that?

Once I had my own camera and my father built me a tiny darkroom under the stairway I worked almost solely in black and white.  I took pictures.  I got a bulk film loader and then I took A LOT of pictures.  I reached the point where I could look at a scene and “see” it in B&W.

I’m sure it happened gradually, but it felt like overnight I was able to look around me and visualize final prints of a particular subject and not just from where I was standing.  I’d stand there and say, “well, if I went 20 paces left and got on belly then it’d look like this, or I could come back in 3 hours and climb those stairs…”  Sometimes I didn’t get it right, but mostly I did.  I just took it for granted, in fact I sometimes had a tough time understanding how someone standing next to me didn’t see what I saw.

Throughout the many endeavors in my life I’ve always enjoyed “teaching.”  That’s in quotes because I don’t like teaching teaching, I like helping someone grow however that takes form.  But I’ve never had the interest in teaching anyone “photography 101.”  And especially now with thousands of online videos showing you how to use the functions of your camera, I have no desire to talk dials and buttons.  I’ll talk at length on f/stops in practice, but how do you turn the dial to change them…not me.

This past summer something different happened.

A friend approached me wanting lessons.  I cringed.  “I don’t do intro to photography type stuff…”  He replied, “Good.   I want to see like you see.”

WOW.  The hair on my neck stood up.  And then my brain went in to freeze mode.  How do I articulate what I merely just do as a practice?  I told him I was interested but had to think about how to do it.

After some discussions I gave him an assignment to go shoot 2 or 3 locations.  Afterwards we went on a few walk-abouts to stand in a certain place and describe what each of us saw and how we might approach capturing it.  At the end of that first walk, he saw something I didn’t and went home with a truly captivating image.

We all see the world around us differently, through our own experiences and beliefs.  And that is what makes art.

Worldwide Photowalk 2018 – Swan’s Island Edition

This past Saturday was the Worldwide Photowalk for 2018.

Each year Scott Kelby organizes an international photography event on the first Saturday of October.  It’s a fun way to spend the day with other photographers and “seeing” new places.  There’s also some t-shirts and the like that you can buy, with all the profits going to a charity.

I organized and lead a walk this year, see the info here, and had a sweet couple from Massachusetts, Becky and Chris, come over to participate.

Here are a few of my shots from the day.

Heavy Darkness

Tonight we are having what I call “heavy darkness.”

This is when it seems darker than it should be.  This is usually brought on by foul weather.  Currently we have a low ceiling with a deep cloud cover, combined with light precipitation.  There is no light coming from the night sky and little to no errant light pollution from the nearby town and cities.

Even the headlights don’t seem to illuminate as well as they normally do.

I’ve used this new term as the opportunity to add a static Vocabulary page to the site.  It’s currently in a rudimentary stage; given that it has just one entry – lol, and I want to make it easy to navigate.  But, for now, click here to check it out.  (Also, feel free to request additions or to contribute your own terminology.)