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Gregory Gross

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People Photography

October 23, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Photography, Book Reports

<em>The Great LIFE Photographers</em>
My copy of The Great LIFE Photographers.

In The Great LIFE Photographers, one of my very favorite photography books, the most compelling images for me are those that feature people. Former LIFE photographer John Loengard opened his introduction to the book by writing, “Photographers working for LIFE like to photograph the world around them, especially the people in it and what those people do.”

Alfred Eisenstaedt, who Loengard called “the dean of LIFE photographers, if we had a dean,” famously said, “It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”

In their brief bio that appears with the section on Eisenstaedt’s work in The Great LIFE Photographers, the book’s editors glowingly wrote:

Eisenstaedt never lost his childlike interest in things and people, in what made them what they were. He would put his subjects at ease, then get up close and take a few pictures—he didn’t need roll after roll—then it was on to the next person, the next happening, tirelessly pursuing the heart of the matter that he saw so easily and wanted very much for us to see too.

Eisenstaedt joined LIFE in 1963 as one of the magazine’s four original staff photographers, and he stayed there until 1972. His work is first rate, as one can plainly see in this collection of his photography from Paris in 1963, for example.

What I’ve read about taking pictures of people is by no means limited to The Great LIFE Photographers. I have several books on my shelf that offer tips and advice on how to make candid images of people effectively. Time and again I’ve read how important it is to establish relationships with people in order to win their trust and get good people shots.

I am indeed a great admirer of people photography.

But I have a confession: I’ve never been much of a people person.

Is it possible to have an interest in people photography without being a people person?

Maybe this is a matter of me being an admirer of something I’m not good at. I enjoy listening to beautiful classical piano without being much of a pianist myself. I appreciate a good painting without being anything remotely resembling a fine art painter.

At bottom, though, I’ve always been more comfortable flying under the radar and working behind the scenes.

Does that mean I can’t do meaningful photography involving people? Does that mean that my shyness is something I need to overcome?

I don’t think so. One thing I’ve been doing lately in my street photography is setting people in context of their surroundings, using a variety of techniques to blur out or otherwise obscure their faces, and so forth. I like a lot of photographs I’ve taken along these lines.

The Great LIFE Photographers also has a section on Andreas Feininger, who shot for LIFE magazine as a staff photographer from 1943 to 1962. The book’s editors introduced him this way: “LIFE’s photographers were known for their images of people, but Feininger was a profound exception.” He was “not at all a people-person,” and with a “chilly single-mindedness” he preferred to work “without any interference.” To be sure, he demonstrated a mastery of photography both in a technical and a compositional sense. But he was simply not like most of his colleagues at LIFE.

If the quality of his photography isn’t reason enough, I love Feininger’s work all the more because of his personal character, which I can completely relate with.

<em>The Complete Photographer</em>
My copy of Andreas Feininger’s The Complete Photographer.

In his 1965 book The Complete Photographer, Feininger articulated his own approach to photography (pp. 325-326):

To me, photography is a mirror of life and any photograph worth looking at must be a reflection of life, of reality, of nature, of people, of the work of man, from art to war. I have no use for “arty” pictures nor for pictures that are stilted, posed, or faked. My approach is intellectual rather than emotional and I feel more closely related to the viewpoint of the scientist than to that of the artist. In consequence, I am more interested in facts than feelings, and clarity of rendition is important in my photographs. I have occasionally been criticized (unjustly, I feel) for being unemotional, cerebral, and cold.
Whatever my shortcomings, I have learned to accept them because I have found through experience that it is impossible to change basic traits. Instead, I try to make the best of what I am, to express myself through my pictures as precisely as possible, and to use my camera to give people new insight into some of the endlessly varying aspects of our world.

Later (p. 330), Feininger wrote:

The artistic growth of any creative person follows a definite pattern which is based upon his character, temperament, interest, sensitivity, and taste. To fine one’s own pattern is the first step in becoming an original photographer.
Originality is the sum total of one’s traits. These traits must be consciously recognized, accepted, and utilized to best advantage. They cannot be changed, although they can be suppressed. One must try to make the best of his abilities.

Feininger advised his reader not to join a stylistic movement or a school of thought. You can be influenced by others, but don’t give up your right to say what you want to say through your photography. Instead, develop whatever style distinguishes your work from that of others. “A personal style evolves from the photographer’s personality. A man who is very orderly [a man like Feininger himself?] will express this orderliness in the form of precision in his pictures.”

When I first read all this, I took it to heart immediately. It was a crystalizing moment for me, actually.

Rather than act like someone I’m not, a more constructive and effective thing for me to do is to embrace my personality traits in a positive way and to use those traits to say something original through my photography.

Picnic tables
I shot this image back in January 2023 on a dreary day that seemed to match the lonely mood of the scene. Nikon F with Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 lens, Rollei RPX 100 film, 1/125 sec., f/2.

I believe there is a deepening sense of loneliness that characterizes modern life. Rather than help cultivate a sense of connectedness, we’ve allowed social media in particular to intensify our disconnection with each other.

Part of what I like to reflect candidly and at a distance in my photography is that increasing sense of disconnection. Time and again I’ve read that one needs to get close to his subject in order to be an effective people photographer. This may be true for a given purpose. But the sense of distance I typically maintain in my photography is a very intentional element.

I still love revisiting the superb people photography that’s in The Great LIFE Photographers, and I am continuously drawn to the work of more modern photographers who have mastered a genre that I myself am not temperamentally well suited to pursue.

But when I am out and about with my camera, the images I tend to make are those that are true to my own personality and that express my own experience. What I pursue, in other words, is a very different kind of people photography than the type that I often admire.

Annular Solar Eclipse of October 14, 2023

October 14, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Solar Astronomy, Astronomy, Astrophotography, Photography

WARNING: When observing the Sun, be sure to use only equipment designed specifically for that purpose and produced by reputable manufacturers. Follow their directions closely. Do not improvise your own filter material for solar observing. If you are careless, you risk instant and permanent injury and/or vision loss.

One of the things I have grown to love about astronomy in general is the sheer luck that sometimes comes out of it.

Although I had been eagerly awaiting the annular solar eclipse that swept over my little corner of the Pacific Northwest today, forecasts had been pointing to cloudy conditions that threatened to scuttle the entire event.

But today was my lucky day. A clearing in our cloud cover happened just in time for the eclipse. Although I didn't see its very beginning and very end, I saw the part that mattered most.

Annular Eclipse of October 14, 2023
Collage of the fifteen keeper images I took during today’s annular solar eclipse.

At the very least, the eclipse reminded me of the sheer joy I get out of being able to observe something as awesomely powerful as our Sun.

Check out more details and pictures from the eclipse in this fuller-length article.

The Nikon Z f

September 26, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Camera Gear, Photography

About a week ago, Nikon announced something that had been widely rumored and that I had eagerly been waiting for: the Nikon Z f, a full-frame mirrorless camera with styling reminiscent of the company’s FM2 film camera of the 1980s.

The articles on DP Review soon flowed forth: first their preview article, then their first-look video, then their pre-production sample image gallery, and finally their hands-on slideshow.

When the Nikon Z fc came out two years ago, I was immediately smitten by its styling, and I thought the camera body would look great connected to my Questar telescope. My growing interest in film photography only added fuel to the fire.

But rather than jump in and buy one, my reluctance to plow hundreds of dollars into what felt like a redundancy—I already had a cropped-sensor camera in my Canon EOS M50, and I found it hard to justify getting yet another cropped-sensor camera—I held off. I also felt that I would feel foolish if I bought the Nikon Z fc when what I really wanted was a full-frame version of that camera.

As time went on, I grew to appreciate the virtues of my Canon EOS M50, and I began to doubt whether or not I really wanted a full-frame version of the Nikon Z fc.

When it finally materialized in the form of the Nikon Z f, the price tag that I feared would be very high was indeed very high: $2000 for the body alone.

Ouch. At that price, I’m not sure I would even be comfortable taking it out of the house and into the wild.

But more importantly, if the price is not the thing that would hold be back from buying a Nikon Z f for myself, the real thing that would do so would be a more philosophical objection. The seeds of that objection appeared in my opening post in this DP Review discussion thread, where I wrote:

If I’m going to shoot digital..., shouldn’t I just use a modern digital camera in its modern native form, boring as it may be, rather than a digital camera that tries to mimic a film camera? If I want that fully manual film experience, shouldn’t I just go for the real thing and stick with the Nikon F I already own and love using?

I still feel this way. In fact, I feel this way more and more.

What really killed my interest in going down the Nikon full-frame route, though, was the only thing that should matter at the end of the day: image quality. I downloaded Nikon’s NX Studio, the company’s free software for editing raw image files generated by Nikon cameras. In a nutshell, I was completely nonplussed after I had a chance to play with some sample raw image data I downloaded from DP Review’s sample image galleries for various Nikon mirrorless cameras. I felt NX Studio’s capabilities paled in comparison to Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, a piece of software I could already use with my images I produce with my Canon mirrorless cameras.

I’m not sure if I should feel disappointed about this or if I should feel thankful that I avoided spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on something I might ultimately come to dislike.

No, I’m am sure. I feel thankful.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind down the road. But at this stage, I have arrived at the realization that I’m kind of a Canon guy.

In spite of the appeal of Voigtlander’s manual-focus lenses for Nikon Z-mount cameras, Canon’s Toyota Camry-like product design aesthetic, and Canon’s refusal to open up its R mount system to third-party lens manufacturers, I just like the image quality I get out of my Canon cameras. After all, modern cameras are meant to produce images, not be imitations of the camera gear of the past.

Shooting a Local Event on Film

September 13, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Local Events, Out and About, Film Photography, Photography

Having seen that a local youth group was planning on converging on the center of town to call for climate change-related reforms, I immediately thought the event would be a great way to practice my film photography as a photojournalist of sorts. The Nikon F, after all, was largely synonymous with photojournalism in the 1960s. I’ve used my Nikon F to photograph local protests in the past, and I’ve found that shooting faster-paced events like this on film can be an exciting challenge.

Although the event was a little on the quiet side, I still found decent subject matter to photograph.

Local protest event
Nikon F with Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 lens, Ilford FP4 Plus 125 film.
Local protest event
Nikon F with Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 lens, Ilford FP4 Plus 125 film.

Part of seeing an event like this is the way that professional photojournalists circulate among the crowd. To document that experience, I often find myself drawn to photographing the photographers.

Local protest event
Nikon F with Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 lens, Ilford FP4 Plus 125 film.
Local protest event
Nikon F with Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 lens, Ilford FP4 Plus 125 film.

After having shot only one roll of film—I never loaded the spare roll I had in my pocket—I thought to myself at the end of the event I didn’t get many keepers. I was delighted to discover upon scanning the roll that there were indeed several that I quite liked. I was also very pleased with the image quality that I got from Ilford FP4 Plus, and I’m encouraged to shoot more on that film stock.

Magnum Contact Sheets

September 1, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Photography, Book Reports

A few days ago thanks to, of all things, an article on the Apple News app—it never ceases to amaze me how much garbage I find there, but I still navigate to it (I don’t know why)—I discovered a book entitled Magnum Contact Sheets.

In a roundabout way, I ended up also discovering that the book was available in its entirety for checkout on, a virtual online library. Paging through it on my iPad, I was struck and somehow comforted by how many stinker images photographers often captured on the roll of film that contained the one good keeper image that was the center of discussion for each contact sheet. Many of those keeper images were iconic ones in the history of photography.

I ended up buying a copy of the book. It’s nice to have access to some books online, but sometimes it’s worth the expense that it takes to get the actual physical paper in my hands.

Magnum Contact Sheets
Magnum Contact Sheets

Perusing through the book, I began thinking about how I could create my own contact sheets both for my digital and film photography. After a bit more contemplation, I remembered that the Windows print dialog for images includes an option to print a contact sheet for a collection of image files. I poked around Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, which I use to edit all my raw image files and to generate JPEGs, and I discovered that it, too, has a feature for printing contact sheets with a much more robust set of options than what the Windows photo print dialog offers.

What a great way to capture a complete chronological record of images I may take in a given session. I may not want images that are clearly not keepers to consume significant disk space, but I’d like to maintain a record of what I shot from end to end, if anything, to preserve the train of thought I had when I was working a subject.

When I went out and about today, a welcomingly wet and cloudy day considering that we’ve been dealing with wildfire smoke for the past few weeks, I shot photos on my walk with the intent to save everything I shot on a digital contact sheet. I ended up saving only a handful of images from that photo shoot, and I rated an even smaller number as being worthy of any regard. But I now have an end-to-end record of my walk and an indication of how many images I often shoot in order to get a handful of keeper images.

Smoky Moon

August 25, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Lunar Astronomy, Astronomy, Astrophotography, Photography

This year, wildfire smoke hadn’t been too much of an issue until recently. But rather than get bummed out about it, I decided to make lemons out of lemonade.

With my Canon EOS M200 mirrorless camera attached to my trusty 1962 Questar, I took this image of the Moon as it appeared in our smoke-laden skies:

Smoky moon
Smoky Moon on August 25, 2023. Canon EOS M200 with 3.5-inch Questar telescope, ISO 6400, 1/15 sec., f/16.

A bit more than a year ago, I took this series of three images as the Moon set:

Smoky moon
Smoky moon
Smoky moon
Smoky Moon on August 4, 2022. Canon EOS M200 with 3.5-inch Questar telescope, ISO 400, 1 sec., f/16 (left) and ISO 6400, 1/6 sec., f/16 (middle and right).

As I noted in this post on Cloudy Nights the next day, the effect was kind of like that of a total lunar eclipse. As the Moon set, it sank lower into the smoke haze, and its reddish tone grew more intense.

New (to Me) Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 Lens

August 21, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Out and About, Film Photography, Photography, Camera Gear

Today was the first time I got out with my new (to me) Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens. The one I had worked well enough. But the perfectionist in me frowned upon the dry and scratchy focus action. It’s a good user lens, but I wanted something nicer.

My new (to me) Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens
My new (to me) Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Having resolved to myself to buy not one more lens unless I can evaluate it in person, I found that something nicer at National Camera Exchange in Minneapolis. I’ve done business with them in the past, and I trust them. That’s something I can’t say about many of the sellers I encounter on eBay.

The example I got was in exceptionally good condition. Its focus action almost feels like it was recently lubricated. The aperture ring has nice and firm clickiness, for lack of a better way to describe it, the glass is clean, and the lens body’s finish has few if any blemishes or other signs of use.

It was an added bonus that the lens was on sale. I was prepared to spend twice as much for a good example as what I spent on this. And I don’t think I could have found anything nicer.

There’s a nice stretch of sidewalk near my house that always makes for a great photograph. I captured this image with my new (to me) and first-rate 50mm Nikkor:

Neighborhood sidewalk
Neighborhood sidewalk. Nikon F with Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 lens, Ilford FP4 Plus 125 film, 1/125 sec., f/2.8.

Pushing Myself to Get Out

August 17, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Out and About, Film Photography, Photography

I felt like going out with my camera today... but I kind of didn’t, too.

There were a number of things that pushed me to get out, namely a desire to add one more roll of film to the two that I had ready for developing. And I just wanted to go for a walk.

But the weather is still hot, albeit cloudier and somewhat cooler than the 100+ degree temps we’ve had this week. Maybe it was the heat or maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t feeling 100% inspired to be photographing things, but I was just in kind of a foul mood as I walked around today. It’s not the best way to wander around with a camera.

I stopped into a few shops while I was in town today. But I didn’t really see any shots in most of those shops, in all honesty.

I’m trying to look for subject matter that I haven’t shot yet—I’m getting tired of taking the same shots over and over again—and I succeeded to a certain degree today.

The best shot I took was one that I think demonstrates the beautiful range of greytones I get from Ilford FP4 Plus:

Fire escape
Fire escape. Nikon F with Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 lens, Ilford FP4 Plus 125 film, 1/250 sec., f/11.

On a positive note, I did get stopped by a gentleman who noticed my Nikon F. It turns out he was a military news photographer and owned several Nikons over the years. We chatted cameras for a bit. I do like it when I can engage with people like that. The encounter made the trip out today worth it.

After a while, though, I felt like I wasn’t having a good day, and I wandered home.

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

August 14, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Travel, Film Photography, Photography

With high temperatures forecasted to reach well into the 100s, it seemed like a good idea to go on a daytrip to see the redwoods on the far northern California coast. I shot the trip on the one and only remaining roll of Fuji-made Fujifilm Fujicolor 200 I had left from a three-pack I found at a local drug store some time ago.

It was still quite warm when we finally made it to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, unexpectedly so, in fact. I fumbled around with my Nikon FM10 camera for a good hour and a half or so. I swear it felt more like a half hour. The mosquitos were quite bad, again unexpectedly so. But it was nice to experience the sheer size of those trees in person.

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Nikon FM10 with Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.5-4.8 zoom lens with Fujifilm 200 film. 1/60 sec. at f/5.6 (left) and 1/125 sec. at f/8 (right).

Camera and Lens Ponderings

August 12, 2023

Permalink  |  Tags: Out and About, Camera Gear, Photography

Yesterday after I came back from my photo walk, I took the time (or made the mistake?) to write what ended up being a rather lengthy opening post for a DP Review discussion thread in which I asked a question: is the Nikon Z fc the right camera for me? The nub of the issue boiled down to whether the benefits of a $600 on-sale refurbished example of that camera and a used $329 example of Voigtlander’s 35mm f/1.2 lens—benefits including a manual-focus lens that communicates with the camera body and a camera/lens combo that just looks cool—warranted the cost.

With that question still in mind, I pondered which camera and lens to grab for my walk today. Feeling the heat set in—we’re due for a heat wave this coming week, and it’s already getting hot today—I didn’t really want to carry around my heavy Nikon F. I also wanted some hands-on time with my Canon EOS M50 and my one and only modern autofocus lens, if anything, as a gut check to see whether I ought to buy for a better lens for that camera, namely Sigma’s 30mm f/1.4 lens. What better camera to grab than my Canon? I used some masking tape to mark the exact point of the 30mm focal length on my zoom lens, and out I went.

I walked around town shooting various compositions that are familiar to me.

Neighborhood sidewalk
Neighborhood sidewalk. Canon EOS M50 with Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM zoom lens, ISO 100, 1/125 sec., f/5.6.

It slowly dawned on me that having a fully modern camera with auto-everything adds the most to my arsenal of camera gear. Sometimes I love the fully manual experience while other times I just want to point and shoot and let the camera take care of everything. Film and digital are complementary, after all.

I came back from that walk thinking that the cheapest option, the Sigma lens at $290, may be the best option. I said so later in that DP Review discussion thread, and I’ll say it here: I like my Canon EOS M50. It’s been a great camera, and I’m reluctant to give it up or even push it aside for a sexier camera that may very well fail to give me much more than what I already have.

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