TECH © www.rt66pix.com
This section takes a deep-dive into photography on and off Route 66. Photographic material of more-general interest appears in the Blog.
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THE 1957 CHEVY (AND OTHER PROBLEMS)
Chevy's first tailfin is simply too popular for its own good. 57s appear at every car show and apparently are irresistible for cellphone snapshots.
There's no point in adding to this horrible glut, and certainly no point in taking the 49,863rd best image of anything! But how do you show the 57 in a fresh way? Hasn't it all been done by now?
This conundrum suddenly resolved itself just after dawn one morning at the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari NM. Strong directional sunlight penetrating deep into a garage newly-painted with murals offered up "Bill's 57 Chevy & Movie Stars." I moved around a little, composed, and captured it.
Bill's 57 shows a single white fin against a deep shadow. It's perhaps 2% of the car, but your brain fills in the rest. Strong light and dynamic shadows frame two stars of the "Cars" movies as they smile and view the (largely implied) Chevy in awe. Perhaps, like us, they are just admiring a classic...or perhaps there's a challenge coming to drag race. Trying to decipher this quirky image is part of what makes it work.
This sums up what I am trying to do on this site: offer unique fine art images from Rt 66 and other locations on the American Road. If it's something many people have shot (the 57 Chevy is a perfect example) my concept, composition, lighting etc. should be among the very best--otherwise, why bother?
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BLUE WHALE BLUES
"Be prepared and you will be lucky." --the I Ching
The Blue Whale of Catoosa OK produced nothing but failed images the first half-dozen trips. But they revealed something critically important: only the whale's eye and extreme tip of the smile are necessary. The mind will fill in the rest.
I saw no point in taking yet another "postcard" shot of the Blue Whale: the eastern profile in morning light with nobody around. While lovely in a way, it's also sterile--and odd considering the subject matter. Plus it's been imitated by thousands of tourists on their cellphones, some from a moving vehicle. Instead I wanted to capture two unique scenes:
1) A single unposed tourist walking into the whale's grinning mouth, with their head cut off by the whale's upper lip. This is, after all, the Blue Whale...not the Alamo.
2) A child (or children) somehow engaging with the whale's face. The problem here is one of scale...but there was a way around that.
I stopped by yet again with a wide-angle zoom. The timing must have been lucky. A lone tourist walked into the whale's mouth, and I photographed her, purse swinging, one foot up--and headless--just as planned. (This image leads off the "Fun!" page.)
But good luck was just beginning. The woman's granddaughter was already inside the whale, climbing to the upper deck. She was having a...whale...of a good time, and a tight candid shot taken 46 seconds later shows her in sharp detail with just the whale's eye and smile tip--the result of all those failures. The early afternoon sun (luck again) spotlights the girl and amplifies her by casting a shadow. More luck--her smile, visible only as a tip, matches the whale's. One final piece of luck: the sun catches the very tip of the whale's embossed smile and highlights it.
A longer-view candid shot, the only unplanned one, shows a front view of the whale's head with the girl again peeking out.
All three unique images at this cliched and over-photographed site occurred within an extremely lucky minute...because of failures that turned out to be necessary preparation.
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CHANNELING NORMAN ROCKWELL
He was America's most successful visual artist, best known for four-decades of "Saturday Evening Post" magazine covers. Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was accessible, popular...and pretty much everywhere.
And so, as it turns out, is his raw material.
I cannot draw or paint. But I can mount a camera on a tripod, adjust it for a smooth pan, and watch a parade. Here are two shots from a Lincoln Highway event in Kearney NE:
Painterly effects have been added in Photoshop, and I see the ghost of Norman Rockwell. He might not have used those bright colors, and he might have changed the motorcycle to a fire engine. But those are otherwise Norman Rockwell scenes.
Google "Norman Rockwell Fire Engine Image" and notice how these two impostors slide right in.
Actually, Rockwell staged his scenes with models, had photographs taken, and painted from them. But the spontaneous images are all around us for those who take the time to look. (Very few images here are posed and captioning always notes this.)
"Tucker and Woman" and "Future Biker" were made within minutes of each other. Dozens of others too. They're in the Lincoln Highway galleries.
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I supply information for images, but agree it can be a distraction. Titles, locations and captions are essential to those exploring travel opportunities or preservation, but others are interested only in the photography. Fortunately both groups can be accommodated.
In the galleries, photographs can be viewed several ways. Clicking on the individual image produces a larger version minus the verbiage. The photograph then appears on a near-black background. Using the control on the right margin you can advance through that gallery, completely caption-free. To revisit previous images, use the control on the left margin. The "X" in the upper right corner restores captioning.
In full-screen Slideshow mode, information is in a box that can be switched off after reading--it covers up part of the image. It can also be eliminated entirely. For either, you click on the little comic-style thought balloon at right bottom. The slideshow runs automatically, but can be stopped with the Pause control (two thick vertical lines) at left bottom. In Pause mode, a forward wedge appears in that spot, and clicking on that restores the automatic sequencing.
Why the site's off-black background? Unlike a picture mat or mount which generally has a non-reflective surface, a white computer screen glows--creating glare. For conventional framing of the actual prints, I still generally use and recommend an off-white mat.
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BEWARE OF PHOTO "CONTESTS," "EXHIBITS" AND PHOTO-SHARING SITES
Always Always Always ALWAYS read the contract terms BEFORE entering any contest or exhibit--or even uploading images onto a sharing site. You may be automatically giving up your rights. It's hard to believe but true.
In the 2013 Joplin MO Route 66 Festival "Photography Exhibit" contest, for example, all entries (winning and losing) can now be exploited by the organizers for "unlimited marketing and promotional purposes" without any payment to the photographer.
But your copyright is only good for bragging if you allow someone else "unlimited marketing and promotional" rights to your image. You lose all control and will not be paid. Some folks who entered this actually lost twice.
Instagram tried to impose similar terms on all users, without a contest, in 2012. Snapchat followed them in 2015. Much more info is available on-line by Googling "photo contest scam."
You worked hard and spent money to get that great shot. Don't let the words " Sharing," "Contest" or "Exhibit" fool you into turning over rights to it.
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SHORT ATTENTION SPANS
During Spring 2011 I photographed along old US-80 through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. I took the scenic route to a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta where some 300 of his images were on display.
Cartier-Bresson is the Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Mozart of photography. He was famous for shooting at "The Decisive Moment" when a scene was at its peak. How long would you think an art museum patron would stay engaged with his images?
I was shocked...SHOCKED!
Exhibit-goers paid good money, $18 in my case, or were already museum members. This was a self-selecting group of upscale adults who had plenty of other options on a beautiful Saturday morning...and (importantly) no time pressures.
At one point, I sat for half-an-hour on a bench observing dozens of people engaged with two of Cartier-Bresson's best-known images:
. (Kissing the ring of) Cardinal Pacelli at Montmartre, Paris, 1938
. Gymnastics in a refugee camp at Kurukshetra, Punjab, India, 1948
The time an average museum-goer spent with either image was just three seconds, and that includes the captioning. THREE SECONDS! The maximum time anybody spent was five seconds. It was just a quick glance and they were on to something else.
I know how long I spend looking at my own photographs, but the subject matter is obviously of personal interest, along with exposure and other technical factors. I also enjoy seeing the work of many others, and can spend several minutes exploring and enjoying nuances of a well-done image.
But that's not normal. A quick peek IS. Cartier-Bresson's images don't jump, twitch and jiggle. And his greatest, including the two above, are merely black and white--just like an old TV set.
We really have been overloaded with visual images, especially the moving kind, these last several decades. And it shows. For art museum patrons in Atlanta that morning, their personal "decisive moment" came after just three-seconds. And then they required new stimuli.
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FAVORITE IMAGES OF FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHERS
Nobody asked, but here are my picks (pix?) for the single best images by the five photographers I most admire.
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WALKER EVANS: Best-known for his portraits of Depression-era sharecroppers, Evans also had an eye for vernacular signs, and kept making these images through much of his long career. He had a talent for extracting a beautiful fragment from often-banal surroundings. A particular favorite is "Roadside Gas Sign (1929)" which simply reads "gas A" in sloppy paint over what appears to be a billboard ad. Evans would have loved today's Route 66, especially the Cadillac and VW Bug Ranches. I think the Rt 66 images "Drive Fast, Take Chances," "Jesus on Under-Carriage," "Gas C" and "Stop, FAKE!" follow in his footsteps. He would certainly have taken them--only better.
The book American Photographs surveys his long and varied career, and Walker Evans Signs is also valuable.
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EDWARD WESTON: It's hard to pass over his iconic images of peppers and shells which command high prices today, but my favorite individual work would be "Wheels and Hill, San Juan 1934." Two weathered wagon wheels appear beautifully framed against the backdrop of a hillside in perfect light. Weston also photographed clouds, artistic ruins, graffiti, even the sensuous curves of his toilet--while living the life of a starving artist just one rung above a professional poet. Once his peppers were photographed, they had to be cut up and eaten.
Many books survey Weston's long career and it's hard to recommend a particular one. (There seems to be a general agreement however on which of his images are the best.) The Daybooks of Edward Weston, a condensation of his diaries, is also worthwhile but depressing.
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HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON: His "Untitled, 1956" is not a very good title--but the image is a stunner. A young man in laborer's clothing stands with his back to us. His lovely wife holds up a beaming chubby baby who is making eye contact with the father. Grandma and two family dogs complete the image--which (although spontaneous) is perfectly posed and captured at the decisive moment. And it all happens on a riverboat, framed by the dock. His images are simply packed with humanity and the joy of living.
The best survey book of his long career is his own The Decisive Moment. A favorite that is not well known is Henri Cartier-Bresson Mexican Notebooks which shows his skill in creating signature images in a society very different from his native France.
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GRACIELLA ITURBIDE: The image "Mujer angel (Angel woman), Sonora Desert, 1979" is one of her better-known and appears in the book Images of the Spirit. It shows, from the back, a veiled Mexican Indian woman in flowing garments climbing a desert hillside...while clutching a boombox. This is a fascinating view of several cultures clashing and melding on the border between civilizations.
Iturbide's ongoing work, largely in her native Mexico, would appear to have little to do with Rt 66...except that it does. Clashing and melding occur as shiny finned Cadillacs become scrap metal, and full-service gas stations where they filled up become artistic ruins along bypassed concrete. Like "Mujer angel" they speak to us of the past, while trapped and out-of-context in the present.
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ROBERT FRANK: Many others would probably make the same choice I have. It comes from his landmark 1959 book The Americans (which has recently been reprinted) and is titled "Trolley--New Orleans." In this single image, Frank captured the 1950s in the segregated south (and, in a different way, the north). Each window of the trolley frames and imprisons a segment of that rigidly stratified society at a telling moment. In capturing such "ordinary" scenes nationwide, he creates a mosaic of American life at a time when Route 66 was the only way to go.
The entire book is simply packed with great images captured in a style that was revolutionary (and condemned) in its day. The critics, who preferred sunsets and puppies, were dead wrong. The Americans changed the history of American photography.
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Other influential photographers include Aaron Siskind, William Eggleston, Harry Callahan, William Klein and Weegee. Work of all ten can be sampled on-line.
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PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITES Many have useful links. Some have this site's subject matter interpreted by others.
ERIE CANAL: www.eriecanalway.org/gallery.php
LINCOLN HIGHWAY: www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/info/
NATIONAL (CUMBERLAND) ROAD: www.cumberlandroadproject.com/photo-gallery-index.php
NEWS: www.reuters.com/news/pictures/slideshow Photographic feature stories and Blogs
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There's a reason this is the last entry. It's boring and highly-detailed. But it may be worthwhile for those considering a camera purchase and/or eager to go beyond snapshots.
These are educated opinions--not endorsements--covering general travel and street photography. If you intend to shoot surfing, basketball, hummingbirds or polar bears this will be of almost no use. Everything was purchased at retail, not supplied or discounted by manufacturers.
I have no experience with smartphones although they are an increasingly viable option. Camera models will change over time (mine are two generations behind) but this should still provide a useful framework.
All images until 2010 were shot on a manual-focus Nikon from the 1970s, using slow Fuji or Kodak negative film--either 100 or 200 ASA. I used three lenses about equally, 24mm and 28mm Nikon primes, and a 35-70 zoom. I also carried and generally used a lightweight modified Quantaray tripod. (Film images appear on photo information as "Plustek" which is actually the negative scanner, an OpticFilm 7200i.)
The opening slideshow image "Miata Sunset" was shot with this equipment in the summer of 2010. This image and many others on the site are simply not possible to make--film or digital--without a tripod. So get one! This is the biggest insight I have, and certainly the most cost-effective at $25+ from Walmart etc., so perhaps you want to stop reading now before it gets expensive.
I continued shooting film so late because of its incredible detail. I already owned all the equipment I needed and my shooting methods worked just fine. Going digital would cost thousands simply to equal the quality, would make my existing equipment obsolete, and would change my work habits.
Experimenting with a loaned digital camera, I discovered limitations...and possibilities. A a few of these images are here, including one of the gallery thumbnails--"Support Group."
My subsequent digital purchases turned out well. I settled on a pair of Nikons, continuing my nearly 30-year relationship with the brand. There's some loyalty involved, but Nikon (which abandoned film camera manufacture years ago) simply had what I wanted in digital:
. Coolpix S8100, purchased largely for its size, a US-style cigarette pack. This fits in a small padded case on my belt but packs over 12 MP and will store 1100 or so JPEG images in highest resolution. Limitations include a lens that only widens to the film equivalent of 30mm, no viewfinder, and no RAW. Still, the S8100 is awesome for its size, and whenever I leave rt66pix.com World Headquarters, it comes with me. To test it out, all the glowing neon on the site from Rt 66 in Tucumcari and Santa Rosa NM was shot on this little camera, tripod-mounted. The technically challenging "Bill's 57 and Movie Stars" was hand-held.
The lack of a viewfinder helps at times by encouraging spontaneous, even frivolous shooting. The image is not composed but captured, and sometimes those shots actually work. Plus the many failures don't cost 50 cents apiece as they did on film. (For this reason alone, film cameras are not worth considering.) This apparent "snapshot" camera is also useful in situations where big equipment would be too obvious.
RECOMMENDATION: A 12 MP point-and-shoot like the Nikon Coolpix S8100 or something similar is all the camera most people will ever need--or be able to master. It's great for snapshots and good for most artistic images, assuming a tripod is used and care is taken in composition. DSLRs, even entry-level, are heavier, costlier, filled with buttons, dials and programs, and require regular use to gain and maintain competency.
. D7000 with Nikon 16-85 VR lens. (The current model is the D7200.) The lens decision came first, the camera choice followed. As mentioned, I used a 24mm prime lens for about one-third of my film work, and was not willing to abandon that range in going digital. Problem is, most digital zooms only widen to 18 (the film equivalent of 27mm). The Nikon 16-85 VR has an effective range of 24-127mm. That deceptively small difference at the wide end makes a huge difference when composing an image.
The D7000 was purchased body-only. This DSLR packs over 16 MP, shoots RAW plus JPEG, has dual card-slots and a titanium-alloy housing. The Vibration Reduction feature on the lens allows infinitely greater low-light flexibility and capability than I had before. With slow-speed film and a tripod you were limited by the resolving power of your lens. With the big sensor and a VR lens, plus a tripod where needed, the limiting factor now is...(ulp) ME!
A competing model from Canon etc. would do about as well. I consider the photographer and lens far more important than the recording device, although the D7000 is intuitive and well designed. Some images displayed here would have been failures with a lesser camera.
Sensor size, like engine size in a car, is only one determinant of performance. 16 MP provides plenty of sharpness and detail in cropped images. A tripod helps greatly.
The D7000 became my primary camera in 2011. Technically challenging images to date include "Pole Position" and "USA Steel and Rust" both tripod-mounted, and "Wheeling Suspension Bridge-Sunset" which was hand-held leaning over a railing. Other images include the Blue Whale of Catoosa and Smiley-Face Water Tower shots from Indiana.
The 16-85 VR is, and will likely continue to be, my only lens for the D7000. In film work, I never felt the need for anything wider. And I simply don't work at the extreme telephoto end. A UV filter and lens hood stay on for lens and flare protection. A Hoya ND8 replaces the UV for work in bright sun...there's plenty of that on Rt 66.
Memory cards include a pair of SanDisk 16GB SDHCs for the S8100 and six Lexar 32GB Platinum II SDHCs for the D7000. These are Nikon-approved and have been trouble-free. Each card holds about 1000 images (highest-quality JPEGs in the S8100, RAW in the D7000.)
I modified the supplied camera strap, covering the yellow Nikon lettering with solid-black nylon. This helps in street photography and perhaps increases my personal safety.
I still carry the lightweight Quantaray tripod for critical daytime work such as chrome details. Modifications include a strap-handle, ordinary "pipe wrap" on the aluminum legs, a bag hook, and a Velcro tie-strap that transforms it into a monopod. Nicely equipped, it weighs 1 lb 10 oz (725 g)--just slightly more than a loaf of bread! (Both "Norman Rockwell" images above exist because of it.)
An 8+ pound (3.7 kg) all-aluminum tripod combo (the Manfrotto 055xProB with 808RC4 3-way head) is always in the car trunk for night work, light-painting, and time exposures. I need all that weight in perpetually windy places like the Cadillac Ranch. I added a Velcro monopod tie-strap and a carrying handle. The built-in bag hook is too small (the only complaint), so I hook together a pair of 8mm carabiners, one on the tripod's handle attachment, the other on the bag handle.
Both tripods are stored in their own carrying cases.
And finally, a homemade bean-bag the size of a softball (made from a sock and styrofoam beads) has braced the camera a dozen times right on the pavement of 66, the car roof and so on.
Other significant gear includes a lightweight knee-pad for low angles, and a folding metal step-stool (kept in the trunk) that lets me be 8-feet (2.4 m) tall when needed...like for some of the "Cold Beer" shots and "Stop Littering Your Desert." The stool has been modified with a rubber mount on top that accepts either tripod configured as a monopod.
I don't travel with a laptop. Instead, a simple memo pad and mechanical pencil (ballpoints dry up) allow for location notes.
A small cosmetics brush in a vinyl zip-pouch removes inevitable dust and specks from the glass on both cameras. It's much handier than lens paper. One brush and pouch stays with the D7000 and the other is kept in the center armrest of my car, mainly for the S8100.
A Cobra rechargeable 18-LED light, slave flash, and ordinary 6V lantern (along with a vinyl shower-cap for a diffuser!) are used in light painting, time exposures and the like. A 2-AA Maglite can be focused to pick out highlights, such as the grille and chrome on "'66 GTO at Pops." And my car's headlights have been used a time or two. I almost never use on-camera flash or related attachments. And I've taken a pass so far on colored gels.
The camera, filters and other essentials are kept in a nylon shoulder bag purchased more than a decade ago from Ritz Camera. There's no recommendation on this essential item because models constantly change. Bag construction, suitability, size and weight can only be judged through in-store inspection and comparison. I added a Tenba accessory shoulder pad that has been worth whatever it cost.
When traveling by car, this over-the-shoulder bag containing the D7000 and other gear is kept in a large Coleman beverage cooler, modified with several inches of foam rubber. This is padded outside with carpet and secured to trunk-mounts with heavy Velcro straps, providing a great deal of thermal and shock protection. The camera is in a controlled environment, but closer to ambient air temperature than it would be in the passenger compartment, generally eliminating condensation problems.
This cooler also has color-coded vinyl pouches for the battery chargers on both cameras, plus the Cobra 18-LED. They are kept in individual zip-lock bags. Another pouch carries lighting gear listed above.
Non-camera equipment is from Lowe's and Walmart, modification gear from Lowe's, the Cobra light from a truck stop.
For post-production I use Photoshop Elements. Some images are cropped to various degrees. All are adjusted for exposure and sharpness.
The hosting service is Zenfolio and I have customized one of their templates. The off-black background is unexpected and memorable. In addition a white computer screen glows--creating glare.
Years ago, in the film era, equipment and technical notes from the late Galen Rowell helped me greatly, although our subject matter never overlapped. His stunning "adventure photography" images live on at www.mountainlight.com.
I hope these notes prove useful and carry on his tradition of sharing.