Between The Storms

Of the six Autumns I have lived in Northern California, this one, the locals tell me, has been the most normal. I've only known California in drought, so the wet weather that filled the final weeks of October and two November storms are a new experience for me. It's been nice to see the reservoirs fill and the hills turn green. Between the storms, it's given me a chance to meander down to the beach on the weekends and use up film I had loaded in my Olympus OM-4 and Pentax Spotmatic.

Olympus OM-4 with 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko

Olympus OM-4 with 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko

Olympus OM-4 with 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko

Olympus OM-4 with 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko

The shots below were taken with my Pentax Spotmatic on Kodak Tmax 100 film. I was flipping back and forth between my 55mm f/1.8 Super Takumar and the 50mm f/1.4 Super Tak. I also just picked up a minty 55mm f/2.0 Super Takumar.

Less daylight means less weekday photography for me. It's dark when I leave for work in the morning and dark when I get home in the evening. Makes these weekend walks so precious.

Five Dollar Fun

When I wrote a while back about my Pentax Spotmatic camera, fellow blogger and photographer Mike Connealy mentioned in the comments section that I might like adding a close up lens to my Takumar lens kit. Doesn't take much more prodding than that to get me onto eBay looking at photo gear and I was quite surprised to find an OEM Asahi Pentax close up lens for five bucks with free shipping!  

Pentax Spotmatic SP II with Close Up Lens and Case

Pentax Spotmatic SP II with Close Up Lens and Case

My filter arrived on a rainy day, so I took the opportunity to experiment a bit. The Spotmatic was loaded with Eastman 5222 Double-X black and white film which I was shooting at 200 ASA. My cameras are always a favorite photo subject of mine, so I shot my Nikon F2.

And my Dad's Kodak Retina.

Rain drops on my window...

My JCH film canisters, loaded with film for my trip to New York...

The latch on my porch gate...

And a Pentax lens on my desk...

Eastman 5222 is not the best choice for macro photography, but that is what was in the camera, so I went with it. I'm also a bit handicapped right now as I've been shooting with my left eye while I await cataract surgery on my right (shooting) eye, making focusing more difficult for me. It'll be nice to have that right eye back again.

Mike was right! This inexpensive little close up lens is going to be put to good use this winter as the rainy season envelopes the Sonoma Coast. Best five dollars I have ever spent. Thanks Mike!

Classic Cameras

It's taken me about six years of buying and selling and lots of trial and error to final settle in with a collection of classic film cameras that I enjoy using. When the weekend comes, I feel like the wealthy guy who has a garage full of classic cars--"Let's see, which one will I drive today?" My investment in vintage Nikon, Pentax, Canon and even Leica is modest in comparison to classic car collecting, but the hobby gives me priceless pleasure and satisfaction.

One Sunday a few weeks back, I headed up the Northern California coast a bit to Salmon Creek. Word around town was that a fishing boat had washed ashore on the beach there and I thought it might make a good photographic subject. I went to my "camera garage" and pulled out the Nikon F2A and 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor lens. The 1.8 is probably the most common manual focus normal Nikon lens and the least expensive, but I have always found it to be very sharp. Some of my favorite images have been shot with this lens.

The beached fishing boat was just a short walk from the parking lot at Salmon Creek. The day was nice enough, so I slipped off my sneakers and sunk my feet into the warm sand as I scrambled over the dune to the beach.

I'm used to seeing lots of fishing boats like this one at Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay. It was startling to see the sad Verna A II sunk into the sand, listing to port.

Beached Fishing Boat, Salmon Creek, Sonoma Coast

Beached Fishing Boat, Salmon Creek, Sonoma Coast

It was nice day and the beach was crowded. I am sure many of the people who came out to enjoy an early Autumn walk along the coast were surprised to see this boat stuck in the sand. It was hard to get a shot without lots of onlookers in the frame.

The Verna A II, home port Fort Bragg, CA

The Verna A II, home port Fort Bragg, CA

This was the first roll of film I had run through my Nikon F2A since getting her back from a Sover Wong tune-up. I think the F2A's old meter did a pretty good job helping me with my exposures on this slightly hazy day. The afternoon was perfect--a slight breeze and warm sunshine. I wandered down the beach and clicked off a few more frames of Tmax 100.

I feel that I am in sort of sweet spot now in my film photography hobby. I have a "garage" full of working vintage cameras, most of which have been restored to as designed functionality. It's fun to pick up a camera I haven't used in a while and get to know it again. While not as thrilling as taking a classic Porsche or an old American muscle car for a Sunday spin, my little collection of old cameras has provided hours of fun.

A Sunday Walk on The Beach

During the nearly three decades I lived in Arizona, it was common each Summer for the multitudes of desert dwellers to make a seasonal trek over to the beaches of Southern California to escape the heat. In San Diego, they even had a name for us--Zonies. Just like the "Snowbirds", those Winter visitors from Minnesota, Illinois and other snowbound states who stream into Arizona around Thanksgiving each year to flee the cold, the Zonies would flock to San Diego, Orange County beaches and Santa Barbara to frolic in California's near perfect Summer weather.

SoCal beaches are packed during the Summer, so it always amazes me when I can take a Sunday stroll on one of the beaches close to my home on the Sonoma Coast and hardly see a soul. Such was the case on a recent Sunday. The sun was out and the temperatures were warm (by Northern California standards). A perfect day for a Sunday walk on the beach.

Pentax Spotmatic SPII with 50mm f/1.4 Super Multi-Coated Takumar

Pentax Spotmatic SPII with 50mm f/1.4 Super Multi-Coated Takumar

I'm still getting to know my Pentax Spotmatic and decided to load it with some Ultrafine 100 black and white film. I bought a stash of this film a few years ago and each time I have used it, the results have not been satisfying. The Ultrafine I bought came in 24 exposure rolls, which I thought would be perfect for a Sunday stroll. And with so many rolls of this stuff staring at me from the refrigerator shelf, it was time to start using it up.

As you can see, I had the beach pretty much to myself...

I've found that a bright day on the beach with sand, water and rocks can mess up some in-camera meters, but the old Spotmatic's TTL meter did a decent job I think.

Some spot metering on the rocks in this next shot would have helped me bring out the detail on the rock faces, but it's not bad as is...

I came across a couple sitting on the beach, letting their little dog play in the waves. I had a good time watching this pup dart in and out of the water, running for his life as the big-to-him waves came slapping back against the shore.

My results this time with Ultrafine were pleasing. There's nice tonality, sharpness and relatively little grain. Perhaps this film just finds it's sweet spot through these Super Takumar lenses. Maybe the light was just right. 

I grabbed one more shot of this guy, contemplating the sea before the sun set.

I've really been thinking a lot that I should find one black and white film and use it exclusively. Really learn how to expose it correctly. Start processing it at home and find a developer that really makes it sing. Just about the time I think that film is Tmax 100 or Acros or Tri-X, I shoot a roll of something else and it makes me pause. I've pretty much settled on Kodak's Portra 400, exposed at half the box speed, as my color film. The clear choice in black and white emulsions in still elusive.

The Spotmatic

There really aren't a lot of advantages to getting older. The "with age comes wisdom" thing is overrated. Your hair thins or turns gray or both. You put weight on more easily. Your knees hurt, your joints ache. You find yourself saying the same things that made you cringe when your father said them..."Things were certainly a lot better, simpler, quieter, easier back in my day."

I suppose one advantage to being around this long and living during the five decades that the world transitioned from analog to digital, is that the expensive cameras that I looked at as a kid through the window of the local camera store or stared for hours at in the pages of photography magazines are now readily available, inexpensive and serviceable. Better yet, the affordability of analog cameras has given me the opportunity to try some that I never would have if they weren't dirt cheap. And several of these have pleasantly surprised me.

One such camera was the Olympus OM-2n that I wrote about a while back. More recently, it's been the Pentax Spotmatic. This is a camera that I have mostly always ignored for its quirky stop down metering and reliance on Mercury batteries. Recently though, I've been reading up on the Spotmatic years at Pentax and the incredible Takumar lenses that they were making for these cameras. I was surprised to learn that Asahi Optical Company (Pentax) was the first camera manufacturer to put through-the-lens (TTL) metering in a 35mm SLR. Now back in 1963, TTL metering was space age stuff! This new method of metering made it simple for photographers to take better pictures more consistently. The Spotmatics sold like hotcakes!

This was also a time when Japanese camera and lens manufacturers were striving for high quality. Asahi Pentax was set on outdoing Leica and the story goes that the 50 and 55mm Super Takumars cost more to make than the company could competitively sell them for. The more I read, the more I wanted to try some of this great Pentax glass. And what better platform to shoot them on than the cameras they were designed for.

It took me a while to find a decent Spotmatic. While there are lots and lots of them for sale on eBay, many of them have been used hard and not stored properly. The first one I bought for $24 arrived with corrosion around the lens mount which was not evident on the photos and not disclosed by the seller. The second one I bought seemed to work ok at first, then the mirror locked up. Once I got it unstuck, oodles and oodles of black specks of mirror foam and other nasties came pouring out of the camera. In addition, upon close inspection, the battery chamber had some corrosion which had crept deep into the camera body. I'm only $32 out of pocket at this point, so I decide to try another route. 

Sometimes, the best place to buy an old camera is from the few people left out there who are servicing them. I found Eric Hendrickson on the Web. Eric specializes in restoring Pentax film cameras and I wrote and asked him if he had any Spotmatics for sale that have been CLAd. A few emails back and forth and a freshly restored Spotmatic SP was waiting for me at the Post Office! 

The camera I received from Eric worked as designed. I also picked up a 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar on eBay. The Super Tak I bought is one of the "radioactive" Pentax lenses. Lens manufacturers were using the radioactive element Thorium on lens elements in those days. It's what causes the yellowing you see on lots of old Takumars. I don't know what effect the yellowing has on photographs. I imagine it acts as a mild yellow filter in black and white photography and perhaps adds a yellowish cast to color photos. I'm not sure. I haven't shot any color film in my Spotmatic yet, only some expired Kodak Plus-X. Here's a shot of a really expensive bottle of wine I decided to open one night. The Pentax lens gave this a buttery, dreamy feeling.

One of the issues I have with lots of cameras is the ability to focus correctly with my eyesight. I wear +1.75 readers and on my Nikon cameras I use a +0.5 diopter. Some of my cameras, like the Nikon F4, Contax RX and Olympus OM-4 have built in adjustable diopters. The Spotmatics don't and without having a split-image focusing aid in the viewfinder, I had some difficulty knowing if my shots were in focus. I've since picked up a little +1.00 diopter lens that slides over the Pentax viewfinder and presto--clear focusing! Out on my deck, I snapped a shot of a fishing buoy that I found on the beach. I hung the buoy up and I like looking at it, wondering where it's been. I think the old metering cell in the Spotmatic did a good job here.

The Spotmatic arrived a few days before a planned trip to Yosemite. I tossed it into my bag along with the Nikon FM2n (loaded with Portra 400) and the Olympus OM-2n (loaded with Tmax 100). I thought it might be fun to shoot some vintage Plus-X in the park.

The porch light outside my room at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

And one of a million shots I took of Half Dome.

I found the Spotmatic to be a pleasant camera to use. I liked it a lot more than I expected. The stop down metering is a bit awkward at first, but after a while it becomes second nature. This is a camera that can teach beginners quite a bit about the fundamentals of photography: exposure and depth-of-field. It also turns out that the 1.35v Mercury battery thing is a non-issue. The Spotmatic has metering circuitry that works just fine with 1.5v button cell batteries. The Mercury cells were a little larger than the 1.5v versions, but Batteries+ sells one with a rubber grommet attached and it works just great! Once I got my hands on a Spotmatic that was working properly, I found myself wanting to shoot it more and more. I have quite a few rolls of film yet to develop. 

I went looking for another Super Takumar lens that didn't have the yellowish tint and that lens came attached to a Spotmatic SPII. I also picked up the last in the Spotmatic line, the ESII. ES stands for Electro-Spotmatic. This final camera in the series features aperture-priority automation and open-aperture metering. I also bought a 28mm Super Tak on eBay and that lens came with the H3v body, which is the father of the Spotmatic series. This entire Pentax adventure has cost me less than one of my Nikon F2 bodies.

The Spotmatic is a well made, minimalist camera that mates with very a impressive arsenal of fine optics. There are also lots of M42 Pentax screw mount lenses from other manufacturers that work on the Spotmatic. I'm looking forward to trying some of those as well.

I need to get to know this camera system better, but for right's a keeper!



My Continuing Adventures with the 55mm Micro-Nikkor

I've gotten more use out of and had more fun with my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens than any other piece of photographic equipment I own.

Nikon F2AS with 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor Lens

Nikon F2AS with 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor Lens

As I've been sorting and archiving some of my photography to back up cloud storage, I am realizing how many pleasing images I have made with this lens. Mostly just shooting around the house on an otherwise boring and unproductive day. Here are some of my favorites.

Prices on these lenses go up and down. I've seen them as cheap as a buck a millimeter and as high as $200. They are readily available. Since the front element is recessed, the glass on these is usually scratch free. And the 55 Micro-Nikkor is from the metal and glass Nikon lens era, so they're virtually indestructible. If you shoot Nikon F mount, this is a fun macro lens that you can also use as your walk around normal.

Rainy day selfie, Nikon F2AS, 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Rainy day selfie, Nikon F2AS, 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Reel to Real

When it comes to developing my own film, I've never become proficient at loading film on to stainless steel reels. I tried it 40 years ago and fumbled around in the dark so much that I ended up buying the Paterson ratchet-load plastic reels and tanks and have used them ever since. They're easy...super easy to load.

That doesn't keep me from admiring and buying a few stainless steel tank sets every now and again. I use one on my desk to hold odds and ends. And over the years, they've become favorite subjects of mine for close up photography.

Nikon F2 with 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Nikon F2 with 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Nikon F2 with 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Nikon F2 with 55mm Micro-Nikkor

iPhone 5s

iPhone 5s

A few shots from a Sunday stroll...

Each time I load a roll of Kodak Plus-X 125 into one of my cameras, the importance of the moment is not lost on me. I'm down to just a handful of rolls of this iconic film. Yeah, I's just film...but Plus-X, along with venerable Tri-X, were the films I cut my photographic teeth on. I like shooting it, both for the nostalgic pleasure and the satisfying results it provides.

Spooling some Plus-X into the early 1960s vintage Leica M2 with same vintage Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM lens and I've got a retro and fun kit for a beach stroll. It was a Sunday afternoon and the sun began burning through the marine layer, so I headed out. Here are some shadows on my deck...

Some foam on the beach...

As is typical along the Sonoma Coast, the marine layer obscured the sun not long after I started walking the beach. Not a great day for a slower film like Plus-X, but still okay...

Of course, by the time I returned home, the sun was again poking through the gray. Here's a closer shot of shadows and light on my patio furniture.

The Leica M2 is my favorite M body. It's simple, small, feels great in your hand and I think it has the most satisfying shutter sound of any Leica. I just love using it! The Canon 50mm f/1.4 is a mate to my Canon P rangefinder, but with the M to LTM Leica adapter, the screw mount Canon lens mounts nicely to the M2 and brings up the 50mm frame lines perfectly. And I think this vintage lens renders nicely on Plus-X.



My photography life is sort of a trilogy.

1970s -- I started dabbling in photography when I was 13 or so. A friend had an Argus C-3 and developed film in his basement darkroom. I thought that was cool. I borrowed my Dad's Kodak Retina 35mm rangefinder and started shooting lots of Plus-X and Tri-X. As a teen, photography kept me out of trouble...mostly.

The Nikon N90s with vertical grip.

The Nikon N90s with vertical grip.

1990s -- After high school, I hardly took a picture at all for the next couple of decades. Even after I got married and had kids, those little drugstore disposable cameras seem to be what I used the most, especially on family vacations to Disneyland. One day, I happened to be sitting in a doctor's office and picked up a copy of Popular Photography. Flipping through the pages, looking at the camera ads, I got wispy-eyed and realized how long it had been since I had taken a serious photograph and how much I missed that. I had a few bucks at this point and decided I needed a hobby. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of someday owning a Nikon F2. By the mid-90s, Nikon's newest offering was the N90s, an electronic, matrix-metering, auto-focus, motor-driven marvel. I saved for few months, pulled some money out of the bank, headed down to Lewis Camera Exchange in Scottsdale, AZ and bought myself the N90s with the add on vertical grip and a 50mm f/1.8 AF-D lens. As I recall, all in for this kit was about $1400. More money than I had ever spent on any hobby, ever. The N90s was a truly fabulous camera and it got me back into photography in a big way. I even built my dream darkroom in my suburban Phoenix home. But, as someone once said to me, life is a silly old bird and as the flat gray paint was barely dry on the walls of my new darkroom, my marriage began falling apart. The N90s, the cool and very large Omega Pro-Lab enlarger, print washer, tanks, trays and all my photography stuff was sold for pennies on the dollar to help pay for divorce lawyers.

2016 -- It took a decade for me to clean up and pay for my divorce. Ten years of mostly just survival. After relocating to California in 2010, the photography bug bit again. A Nikon FE2 I picked up on eBay started me on the third part of my photography journey. I'm enjoying this one the most. Digital photography has made once expensive and unaffordable cameras affordable.

This week, I dropped off a few rolls of Portra 400 for processing at my local camera shop. When I am there, I always check their used camera case. Sitting there on the top shelf, I saw an old friend -- a decent looking Nikon N90s with 50mm AF-D lens and vertical grip. Sale tag: $39.95. My what a difference 20 years make.

Out of my comfort zone: Street photography with the Leica M.

As a hobbyist photographer, I take pictures and fiddle with various cameras because it gives me pleasure, relieves stress, relaxes me, provides a creative release and is fun. Because I enjoy it, because it is fun, I do it often. The benefit of doing something often is that you get better at doing it. Your understanding of it and your skill at doing it improves. It's like exercise. If you enjoy walking and walk every day, your health will improve...unintended or not.

I think my technical skills have improved over the last six and half years. I'm getting better at seeing, composing, exposing. I'm feeling more confident in my ability to use the equipment properly. But I've mostly limited myself to a solitary pursuit of subject matter. I shoot landscapes, buildings, relics, interesting patterns, objects. And I take a lot of photos of my cameras and related accessories. I've avoided most photography which requires interaction with other people. The type of photography I've done so far is that which I find the most enjoyable, fun and...comfortable. And while there's nothing wrong with that, there is a part of me that admires photographers who can take great portraits or who are good at street photography. Because I've never found people photography or street photography fun, I've avoided it and have never grown my skills.

I wrote in an earlier post, that I bought my Leica M9-P as a learning tool. A digital platform to give me faster access to my images so that I could grow as a photographer. It occurred to me several weeks ago that the M camera and my 35mm Summicron was the perfect kit to venture out and try some street photography. Maybe I could practice some of the street photography skills I have read about and conquer my fear of photographing around people. 

The Leica M system really shines for this kind of photography. The small, light rangefinder would be easy to carry and the 35mm lens is the perfect focal length for shooting on the streets. I wanted my images to be in black and white and the M9 provides a very cool feature that allows you to create a black and white JPEG and a raw (DNG) color file at the same time.

I live just an hour from one of the great street photography cities of the world, San Francisco. So last weekend, I headed to the city, M9 in hand, a fresh SD card in the slot and an extra battery in my pocket to push myself out of my comfort zone. I cranked the ISO up to 1000 so I could shoot most everything at f/11 or 16. I used zone focusing for all of the shots in this gallery, making good use of the well marked depth-of-field scale on the top of the Summicron lens.

My hotel was in Union Square, so it was a short walk to Chinatown. At first, I settled into my old habit of avoiding people.

I became aware of a few things while shooting the Leica on the streets. First, there really is an advantage to using a rangefinder for this type of photography as you watch the world move into and out of your frame lines. In a way, the camera sort of becomes invisible, more an extension of your own seeing. I never feel this way shooting one of my 35mm SLRs. With my Nikon F2, for instance, I feel much more like I am looking at the world through a tube. There is also a bit more connection with what I am shooting using a rangefinder. I suppose it is because you are looking directly through the viewfinder at your subject rather than at an image reflected off the mirror of an SLR. Lastly, my vintage looking digital Leica rangefinder did not seem to intimidate anyone at all. I've tried this type of photography with my Nikons and my Contax RX SLRs and it seemed people were far more aware of those cameras. Or at least, that is how I perceived it. With a bit more confidence, I started shooting some people.

I watched this woman gazing at the food through this shop window for some time before she moved to the left side of the frame, which I thought made an interesting shot.

Just down the street, a busy fish market.

I lost my nerve while photographing in this alley. Just to the left, out of frame, three guys were huddled doing who knows what. The saw me with my camera and gave me a look that I read as "back off." I did, but grabbed this shot of some cool urban art before disappearing with my Leica in the crowd.

There was a parade of some sort. Too many people to get anything really good here. I clicked off several shots and liked this one best.

I am fascinated with the dark alleys and back spaces off the main streets in San Francisco. I'd love to come back and spend just a day shooting in these places.

I stopped and watched this woman folding old cardboard boxes neatly into the back of a truck for recycling I suppose. I tried to get a good shot of her, then a shot of her and the Transamerica Tower in the background and then a shot of her and her helper on the ground. It never worked out for me and towards the end, she noticed me and started waving me off. My only negative interaction of the day.

I made my way out of Chinatown, back towards Union Square. Couldn't resist stopping at the Leica Store and picking up a soft shutter release. In typical Leica fashion, it set me back $75. There were plenty of people milling about Union Square and along Powell Street as I made my way towards Market.

The sun was starting to set as I crossed Market to make my way back up Powell to Union Square. I clicked off this shot which like a lot.

I like the way the M9 renders in black and white mode and even at a high ISO setting, I don't think the images got grainy or gritty looking. And even if they did, for urban street photography, this might be just fine. Zone focusing, especially with the 35mm lens, worked just like I read it would, freeing up my attention to getting a good shot rather than worrying if I was in focus. With practice, this might even be faster than autofocus, at least on the AF cameras I have used. I can see why so many accomplished street photographers, past and present, use the Leica M. It's just a perfect tool for this kind of shooting. Most importantly, I had fun this day which grew my confidence level. 

On the way out of town, crossing the Golden Gate into Marin County, I looked up and the bridge towers were, as is so often the case, disappearing into the fog. When traffic slowed to a stop, I grabbed the M and shot this through the condensation of the front window of the car. It was a good day of photography.

Nikon's FUN Lens

I've probably had more fun using this lens than any other lens I own. It's also the lens I've made some of my most personally satisfying photographs with.

Around 1979, Nikon introduced the manual focus 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor Ais lens. It was an instant hit. In the Nikon world, "micro" and "macro" mean the same thing. This is a lens which serves double duty as a reasonably fast normal lens with the added benefit of being able to focus down to about nine inches. These lenses were being built by Nikon at the very pinnacle of their manual focus lens manufacturing process. Focus is smooth and sure, f/stops click into place perfectly. The 55 Micro-Nikkor is very, very sharp at most every aperture. It's so good, it was considered a benchmark lens at the time. There was even an autofocus version of this lens in later years.

This lens lives on my Nikon FM2n body most of the time and I feel confident taking it out for a day of photography without worrying about carrying another lens. F/2.8 is fast enough for most everything I do and if I happen upon a flower, spider web or some detail worth getting up close to, this lens does an amazing job. One of my favorite things to do is spool up a roll of film and shoot things around the house. Here are the keys on my Royal Quiet DeLuxe typewriter...

I bought an old 8mm movie camera at a flea market. Didn't realize it still had film in it. I should have checked first. Might have been interesting to see what was on it...

I found this buoy walking on the beach...

My Brownie Hawkeye...

A reflected selfie from my kitchen sink faucet...

My favorite whiskey. Obviously :-)

Rain on the window...

A classic camera...

Memories of some wines I've enjoyed...

My images would be even sharper if I mounted my camera on a tripod. All of these were shot handheld and sometimes with shutter speeds as low as 1/30th of a second. At some point, I really should put the camera on sticks and give this lens the opportunity to show what it can do. Honestly though, it's just so much fun grabbing the Nikon at the spur of the moment and shooting an ordinary household object up close. I'm always very satisfied when my shots come back from the lab.

I often hear people say things like "if I was stranded on a desert island with only one camera or one lens, this would be it." I don't want to be stranded on a desert island and it wouldn't be that much fun to shoot just one lens the rest of my life, but if I had to do it, I could probably keep myself occupied with the 55 Micro-Nikkor, an f-body that didn't depend on batteries and a big stash of TMax or Tri-X. If you shoot Nikon and want a versatile lens, get one of these. It's Nikon's FUN lens!

Knowing a place

Four decades ago, sitting in the public library in Endicott, New York, flipping pages in an Ansel Adams book of images from Yosemite, I remember wondering how a man could spend so much time in one place. Photographing one place. The concept of returning to a place over and over, during different seasons, of setting up a camera and waiting for the light to be just right, of maybe not even taking the photograph at all, packing up your gear and coming back again another day...these were all concepts I just could not get my head around. Not as a teenager. And only now am I beginning to understand "knowing a place."

Lake Tahoe had been on my bucket list of places to visit and photograph for as long as I can remember. When I lived in Arizona, I had a subscription to Sunset magazine. Every once in a while, they'd do a spread on Tahoe and I'd be fascinated with the images of the blue alpine lake with snow covered mountains in the background. After relocating to Northern California in 2010, Tahoe was closer, but I kept putting it off for another day. It wasn't until the HR director at work called to remind me of the alarming amount of unused personal holiday hours (I work too much) that were stacking up, that made me decide that I should take a long weekend and do something. Tahoe! I went online and found a hotel, packed an overnight bag, grabbed my Leica and headed up into the Sierras.

Climbing up I-80, I was excited about seeing a place for the first time and in making some satisfying photographs. I have been in somewhat of a creative slump recently and was convinced that this little trip would snap me out of that. A new place. Fresh air. Take lots of photos. As the road tumbled out of the trees and my car wound around the first curve that revealed the lake, I got that same feeling that one gets when a roller coaster hurtles you about a loop-de-loop. I felt it in my gut then head to toe. Lake Tahoe simply took my breath away!

For the next 24 hours, I was so splendidly amazed by the scenery that all I could to was just soak it in. Be part of it. Let it wash over me. And all I could take were...snapshots. Yes, snapshots. The kind of photos you take while vacationing with the family in WallyWorld. Here is my first one at the lake, taken from the beach, in front of my hotel.

It was too windy for lake activities that day. No kayak rentals. So I snapped the stacked up kayaks.

No one using the SeaDoos either...

As you might imagine, Lake Tahoe is a busy place on the weekends. The road around the lake was packed with cars, bikers and gawkers. There was some sort of marathon going on too, requiring me to watch carefully for runners on the road as I navigated my way from Incline Village to South Lake Tahoe. Cars, bikers, runners, a twisty two lane road all competing with amazing vistas. Visual overload! I stopped where I could, pulled over and took more snapshots.

Around the other side of the lake, Emerald Bay was supposed to be amazing. This section of the road requires 100% attention to the wheel--no shoulders and drop offs that could send you over a cliff. Most every available overlook was packed with parked cars. The few places I found to pull off the road didn't provide good places to see the bay or take a proper photograph. More snapshots, but they still reveal the majesty of the place.

I knew Squaw Valley ski area was not far away and on my way home, so I decided to stop there. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. A resort has grown up around the original Olympic Village.

There's a gondola that takes you from the Valley floor up to the top. It costs $44. That's a lot, but from where I was standing, it looked pretty awesome up there. It was and I am glad I spent the $44. I spent a few hours at the top, breathing the thin air at 8500 feet and clicking off some of my better shots of the weekend.

The entire Lake Tahoe area was simply gorgeous and my images really don't do the area justice. It was just too grand for me to take in all at once. The amount of visual data was overwhelming. I kept spinning around and shooting because I just wanted to photograph...everything.

Upon returning home, popping the memory card into the reader and scrolling through my images, I was disappointed in myself. I was hoping to make some great photograph in the Sierras and all I had were a bunch of vacation snapshots. Then I thought about Adams in Yosemite and I started to get it.  To make great photographs of a place like Tahoe or Yosemite or Yellowstone, you have to take your time and get to know a place. Go back. Again and again. Lake Tahoe was that amazing. Next time, I'll grab an extra day or two.