TECH © www.rt66pix.com
Above: Waiting for the light at a long-abandoned trading post in AZ. The shadow is on crumbling bypassed asphalt of Route 66.
Tech includes both technique and technology--this is a deep-dive into photography. Material of more-general interest is in The Blog. Images appear full size in one or more galleries. Other photographers and websites of interest are listed. Equipment is at the very bottom in the "My Gear" section.
Permission is granted to link. Written material may be reproduced with appropriate credit.
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THE 1957 CHEVY CONUNDRUM
Chevy's first tailfin is 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 during a stay at the Blue Swallow Motel along Rt 66 in Tucumcari NM. Strong directional sunlight penetrating a garage newly-painted with murals offered up BILL'S 57 CHEVY & MOVIE STARS. I moved around a little, composed, and captured it.
The image shows a single white fin against a deep shadow. It's perhaps 2% of the car, but your brain automatically 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 photograph 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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A look at the 57 Chevy's strange road trip to iconic status appears in The Blog.
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"It's as though there's a wonderful secret in a certain place and I can capture it. Only I can do it at this moment, only this moment, and only me." --Walker Evans, 1971
Instant magic sparks and sizzles between two young women in motion, while a young man and I look on unnoticed. In just 1/100th of a second: the eyes lock, the noses meld, the smiles spread, the lips mesh, and the camera clicks.
Although this is spontaneous real life in San Francisco, the arrangement is pure Hollywood. Their eyes create a pattern that repeats in their mouths. And their lips flow together perfectly. Oh so perfectly.
The young man is a sub-plot, and in his own scruffy way he's perfect too. Also perfectly clueless...from his vantage point he cannot see their eye contact or smiles. He adds another dimension, and tension, as he contemplates mankind's oldest and most-vexing question: Veronica or Betty?
How many "takes" would it take to equal this blocking (scene arrangement) with three expensive egotistical actors on a set? Getting the eyes and lips just right while both women are moving would be an exercise in frustration. And unless a freeze-frame locks onto this magical 1/100th and saves it for the audience, the "motion" in motion picture is self-defeating. The hundreds of fragments before and after would all be duds.
And yet with no planning, no budget, no script and no actors, I was in precisely the right place to capture this on the first take...just by taking it.
Only I could do it at that moment, only that moment, and only me.
It's called Street Photography and luck has an awful lot to do with it.
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MONA LISA HATES HER DRIVER'S LICENSE PHOTO
Nothing here has proved more frustrating than getting things to display correctly. Every size monitor does something different with the layout, and there is simply no workaround. Even worse: many monitors also impart their own deviant character to the images.
This can include an improper White Balance, making outdoor images appear lit by fluorescent bulbs--instead of golden sunlight. And then there are people, you perhaps, attempting to view this site on a cellphone with a screen the size of a playing card, and with a grotesque amount of contrast.
Rt66pix was designed on and for a desktop monitor under controlled ambient lighting with proper color balance. In short, a perfect world...and good luck with that! We once approached this standard, but it was centuries ago.
Leonardo da Vinci saw the Mona Lisa only at the size he painted her, 30 x 21 inches (77 x 53 cm), under conditions he controlled--filtered sunlight or perhaps candlelight.
Today's viewers have to contend with all sorts of poor lighting. The Mona Lisa might be just 10% of original size, glowing from a phone in a coffee shop. Not only is the dinky screen a problem, ambient light, brightness and bad color-balance can create garish results.
And some viewers encounter her in really odd places...like while driving a garbage truck through an alley in Laramie WY. But at least he's got a physical print to look at.
Get just slightly off-axis on many viewing devices and images quickly become Halloweenish or (even worse) Department of Motor Vehicleish.
Nobody enlarges and frames their driver's license photo. It's taken with a blinding flash of head-on light intended to penetrate makeup and capture every mole, sag, crevice and crinkle.
Sadly, the Mona Lisa and many other lovely things suffer almost as much from today's technology and viewing habits. This is unfair to everyone involved: you, me, Lenny and Lisa.
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YOU CALL THIS STREET PHOTOGRAPHY?
Actually yes--although it straddles the line and perhaps demonstrates both what the genre is, and is not.
This was taken on a busy sidewalk in the Lower Broadway district of Nashville TN. I don't know anything about the young women, or what prompted the scene. I didn't chat with them or ask them to pose (that would be a Street Portrait, something else entirely). My street technique is that of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand and many others: taking, not talking.
The whole encounter was extremely brief--including this magical 1/125th of a second. I smiled and moved on, leaving them to their fun.
Their spontaneous yet ordered arrangement by distance, exposed skin, and expression combines with ambiguity to make the image. Even their purse straps work, bracketing the action and creating additional diagonals, repeating the pattern of their arms.
But there's plenty missing and we are left to puzzle it out. It's almost like we've heard a punch line and laughter, but missed the joke.
The background of "Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville" plus beer and food signs show this is a dining, drinking and entertainment district.
The two women at left and center are aware of me and influenced by the camera to different degrees.
The one at left is farthest away and has adopted a pose, retreating to just a smile. The camera obviously has halted her actions, and I would consider her image not to be Street Photography. But her formal appearance adds a benchmark, completing the entire scene and making it work.
The one in the middle is influenced by the camera but still continuing her previous actions and expression. Maybe she's playing to the camera, its presence adding a final madcap touch to the improv scene she controls. Her face and hands have motion blur. This is borderline Street Photography.
The one on the right is closest to the camera but appears not to have noticed it. Her expressions are still genuine with quite a bit of motion blur adding both art and realism. This meets my definition of Street Photography:
CAPTURING A SPONTANEOUS AND GENUINE HUMAN SCENE WITHOUT ALTERING OR INTRUDING.
They will always be "The Three Graces"--young and carefree, sharing a private joke on a Friday night in Spring. (Over the centuries, paintings by Botticelli, Raphael and Rubens and a marble sculpture by Canova have used this title and basic theme.)
On balance then, this qualifies as Street Photography. We're left to wonder what prompted the scene--and why it produced such different responses. This is the "beholder's share" and I will let you puzzle it out because I have no idea.
(Some viewers have noticed the similarity to Winogrand's "Laughing Woman With Ice Cream Cone" which is on-line.)
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MANY HAPPY ACCIDENTS
Here's how this late afternoon image from New York's Times Square (and several variants) came to be. The people have arranged themselves by chance--this is Street Photography and nothing involving them is staged.
The big electronic sign is pitching cellphone service in messages that linger a few seconds and repeat within minutes.
The vehicles aren't really going anywhere, and there are thousands more where they came from. So I framed the composition I wanted, and just waited until the sign returned to the three magic words.
I made several images, and this one captures several happy accidents from the one factor outside my control:
. The man at far right with the "My Goodness!" expression and hand gesture (the odd cropping is intentional--he's complete in other versions)
. The woman behind him seemingly in a "I'll have what she's having" moment (odd cropping on the man draws attention to her)
. The recycling bin ad picturing a woman enthralled by the traffic
. The man in the trench coat (probably a local) ignoring everything except e-mail
. Red lights, green lights...it makes absolutely no difference
. The "E Coli Outbreak" scroll at extreme left
And, of course, there's the incredible traffic jam and sadistic message at top: FASTEST NETWORK EVER. That part was planned.
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BLUE WHALE BLUES
"Be prepared and you will be lucky." --the I Ching
The Blue Whale of Catoosa OK, a Route 66 icon, 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 a "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. Turns out the woman's granddaughter was already inside the whale, climbing to the upper deck. She was having a...whale...of a good time, and this 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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1/7,200,000 AT f/5.6
A legendary photographer's career might span just two seconds, when shutter speeds for all their famous images are added together. The observation comes from one of those legends, William Klein.
There is another way to consider shutter speed--to demonstrate how frequently spontaneous photographic moments occur. I was struck by this years ago on first seeing the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, capturing images that had a signature look. Later I discovered others did this too with their own styles and subject matter.
I've snagged some good shots myself, partly because of the incredible opportunities that appear every day.
This image (TIMES SQUARE #498) lasts 1/125th of a second at f/5.6, a typical enough combination of shutter speed and aperture (lens opening). Now consider what that means. In every minute there are 7,500 such fragments, in every hour 450,000, and in a typical waking day 7,200,000.
The vast majority do not "work" as photographs, of course. But why shouldn't a few be magical, needing only an observant photographer on-scene to comprehend, press the shutter release, and admit the light?
The odds against this New York City image were incredibly steep. Many things had to occur with great precision...but they all came together at the last fraction of a second.
A middle-aged street vendor with a distant, pensive expression endures another day in his dead-end job. He appears to be Mideastern, possibly Arabic, from a region that knows all about war. Unknown to him, a bus pulls up with a huge clothing ad reading "MAKE LOVE NOT WALLS."
Just then, a young father, possibly Jewish, crosses in front of the scene carrying his young son and scanning the urban horizon for potential harm. Together they cover up just enough of the famous (but altered) anti-war slogan to restore the original and complete the image.
Everything else works in harmony: young people in suggestive poses on the clothing ad, a cameo appearance by Adidas, part of a yellow cab, and the food cart offering temporary sustenance: hot dogs, pretzels, water, soda. It's all about living...the dead consume nothing.
This image (and the wider TIMES SQUARE #149) can be read as a reminder of what's to be gained from simple coexistence--a spontaneous plea for peace from a New York sidewalk.
All three people were unaware they were about to make a meaningful photograph. I comprehended the scene and pressed the shutter release. It was 1/7,200,000 of my day at f/5.6.
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BEAUTY IS TRUTH...
...and truth is beauty.
The paraphrase is from John Keats. A concurring opinion comes from Don Imus: "Truth is beauty and beauty is always better if you sprinkle some natural ugly around it." (These images are from the Natchez Trace and San Francisco galleries.)
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Dublin CA, 35 miles (56 km) east of San Francisco, is one of three cities Bill Owens photographed in his delightful 1972 book Suburbia. Owens was from the neighborhood, a photographer for the local paper. Most of his images are sympathetic environmental portraits, posed shots of young couples at home raising little kids and paying down a big mortgage on a new suburban house circa-1970. Think Brady Bunch, polyester clothes, and newspapers, and you're in the right era.
This image of Dublin was taken almost a half-century later through my windshield while waiting, and then waiting some more, for a left-turn signal onto the former Lincoln Highway. I'm not from the neighborhood, and the photograph isn't posed, sympathetic or delightful (although the dog in the minivan is a nice touch). Beside the tidy residential streets that Owens roamed, Dublin has plenty of congested main streets. It's also where the necessary evils called I-580 and I-680 roar, twist and tangle overhead.
My image captures that aspect of suburbia, spinning around the perfectly-named (and framed) "Autopia" which turns out to be a car wash.
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UGLY, GRAINY AND BLURRY? BEAUTIFUL!
The site offers plenty of lovely scenes in sharp detail. Also some that push the envelope in the other direction.
Music has loud and soft, major and minor, complementing and enhancing each other. Art has watercolor that adds a type of grain and blur. Photography can do it all in the original image.
But if your idea of Photography with a capital P comes from the upbeat stuff on calendars, this kind of image is hard to fathom--much less enjoy.
We're two miles north of Detroit MI with winter coming on. A lone younger male wearing a baseball cap braves cold windswept rain to fetch his nutritionally-challenged dinner from a stereotypical low-end burger joint. The streaked wiper, low visibility and harsh lighting combine to blot out most of the strident generic HAMBURGERS sign. You are left with just enough to figure it out.
At far right an oncoming car pierces the darkness of a street. The blurry streaks are dense with information. That rain is starting to thicken up--the freezing point is very near.
Naked fluorescent tubes are actually mood-lighting, and with the reflections they create film noir. The mood is stark, somber and definitely low-rent. Even the one festive touch, the painted Christmas wreath at middle right, gets sucked into the gloom.
Glistening darkness is a threat, it begins just beyond the building and surrounds everything.
Our Hero's motion, compounded by my car's headlights, turns him into a blurry silhouette against stark white panels. His face does not matter, his slumped posture says it all. Maybe he changes oil for a living...and always will. Tonight, like most nights, he hits this grease pit for dinner. He is everyman trapped by circumstance in an utterly indifferent universe.
Hardly an uplifting photograph captured at a decisive and glorious moment, it will never be featured above a month, not even lowly February. Nor will it ever be used to sell expensive camera lenses. (Or wiper blades.)
It's ugly and depressing. It's also 100% real Street Photography, a slice of American life telling a compelling story.
Grain and blur are present here, but as secondary elements that help amplify the mood. This second image, however, has both.
This is classic Street Photography from New York City. Distorted by his motion and especially mine on a sidewalk, it looks like something glimpsed out of the corner of an eye for a fraction of second in passing. In fact, that's exactly what it is.
His cigarette is in place, his matchbook is out, a single match is in his right hand. He's preparing to belch fire and smoke just like the monster on his T-shirt!
Extreme cropping adds to the grain, and the unusual composition adds to the oddity. In reality, I didn't get all of his face.
Had I stopped and asked him to pose like that, I could have taken a perfectly sharp static image from eye-level with his entire face, easily-legible captioning next to Godzilla, and no grain. But it would be very different--a Street Portrait done with the subject's help--not something from real life.
Motion blur is a secondary factor adding to the "beholder's share" of the image--forcing viewers to look for clues: the cigarette, match and matchbook, T-shirt art and partial name below.
Some people won't bother of course, but they're unlikely to be reading this. Those making the effort will comprehend the image and will see that captioning for the Japanese monster is in French, adding a madcap touch.
Speaking of motion blur (and madcap)...
Glad I was on the sidewalk when these fireworks went off!
Right place, right time...outside a packed Larimer Square sports bar in Denver. To update Weegee's famous quote: "Autofocus and BE THERE!"
The gesture was over just after I pressed the shutter, a Fourth of July display in an animated conversation between two young women at the bar while young men, carefully avoiding these young women, watched sports on TV. (In a perfect world, a very loud jukebox would be playing John Anderson's country classic "Straight Tequila Night.")
Without a camera to preserve it, you would wonder: "Did I see that?"
Blur, helped by grain, dramatic lighting, and a couple panes of glass, make a complex dream-like image that pushes the envelope. It forces viewer involvement and doesn't make everything obvious and pretty, as in typical advertising photography...or calendars.
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WHAT? NO VIDEOS?
This site offers so-called "still" photographs, not videos. Many travelers have posted their Route 66 trips on YouTube, Vimeo etc. and there are commercial travelogs available on DVD. The same is true to a lesser extent of the other main subjects here.
I cannot recommend any videos because I have sampled only a few. I would however recommend old images, still or moving. That world is gone and cannot be photographed today.
Watching videos, I've frequently paused the "action" to stay on the better frames. Unless every second is compelling, most action is simply the camera moving around, perhaps glimpsing a peak experience for a moment then immediately exchanging it for something inferior.
By contrast, still photographs can lock onto peak scenes and frequently motion too. You could watch a ten-second video clip of this pedicab operator moving down the street, largely obstructed by cars, or enjoy this "Decisive Moment" artistically capturing the peak, and linger as long as you want.
Stills allow you to explore at your own pace and really get into a scene to pick up nuances--something you cannot do with a moving image. You can also go back to see something again, then go forward as you please, perhaps skipping around. Explore, enjoy, learn and understand.
You're not in the grips of a narrator, a tour guide, or someone shooting hand-held home video and trying to sound coherent at the same time.
And sampling old images of this scene (Larimer Square on the Lincoln Highway in Denver CO) would show it used to be skid row! This was Denver's original retail zone in the late 1800s, but it went into a long decline and barely survived urban renewal in the 1960s.
It has since become the centerpiece of a vibrant downtown, bringing other good things with it--including nightlife, festive lighting, and pedicab rides.
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Also worth noting: Buying a violin makes you a violin owner, not necessarily a violinist. Buying a camera makes you a camera owner, not necessarily a photographer, videographer or cinematographer.
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THE DECISIVE MOMENT...OR NOT
"Those French have a different word for EVERYTHING!" --Steve Martin
In French, "grapefruit juice" becomes "jus de pamplemousse." Another bizarre English to French disconnect occurs in what may be the world's most famous photography book: Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment.
That title came from his US publisher Simon & Shuster. Richard Simon (Carly's dad) was an amateur photographer and wrote a brief Afterword.
But Cartier-Bresson's own title in his native French is Images a la Sauvette, and it was used for the 1952 Paris edition. This has multiple translations--Photographs on the Sly, Surreptitious Images, Photography in Haste, or Unauthorized Photographs. But not The Decisive Moment...not even close.
Cartier-Bresson mentions the "decisive moment" in the book, and it accurately summarizes his sense of timing, but not his style.
Perhaps marketing was behind the English title change. "Decisive" likely is better than "Sly" at moving books. But what's on the cover in big letters frames how the photos inside are perceived. It mischaracterizes and I believe distorts what Cartier-Bresson was really doing most of the time. In his own words from this book:
"It is essential...to approach the subject on tiptoe...."
"A velvet hand, a hawk's eye, these we should all have...."
"You wait and wait, and then finally you press the button...."
Generally, he operated in stealth, capturing scenes as a spectator--without intruding or being noticed. That's the key point. Cartier-Bresson was an ordinary looking man with a deceptively small camera and normal lens, but with an exceptional eye and, of course, great timing.
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HOW TO (MAYBE, POSSIBLY) READ A PHOTOGRAPH
"Tell all the truth but tell it slant...." --Emily Dickinson
This image is simple yet profound, and tells at least one story: Forever 21. Other meanings are up to you. Here's what I get from repeated viewings.
Our protagonist is the onrushing unstoppable force in the middle--the Young Man With A Plan. We don't know his name or life story, but he bursts onto this cluttered Times Square stage and takes control. The image is centered on his chest between his medallion and belt loop. This is his scene on his turf.
The camera captures just 1/250th of a second on his busy spring day. This is plenty fast enough for a perfect exposure in bright sunshine...but not fast enough to completely freeze him!
Without breaking an expansive macho stride, he greets and passes the vendor with "Hey man whazzupp?" or something similar. His style is unique with no visible tattoos or piercings. He relies on his youth, smile, lean muscularity and restrained urban bling to set him apart.
Perhaps he's heading to work, eager to parlay whatever he does now, in faded jeans with an orange jacket slung over his shoulder, into something better--to get ahead in life. He sure makes it look that way.
His split-second of fame takes place against a backdrop of strident signs. In sequence they tell of rapid motion (Express), childhood (Disney), and now young adulthood (Forever 21). They amplify and explain action on the stage below.
Our hero has quickly moved out of childhood to where it seems he will be "Forever 21." But while the camera captures and preserves him right at the 1/250th of his physical peak--full of testosterone, piss and vinegar--real human bodies fade like they run on cheap alkaline batteries.
Parts of the image tilt oddly, making flat Times Square look like it's falling off a ledge. That's my contribution! Wide-angle lens distortion, like motion blur, helps propel this story. Plausibly 21 and in robust health, life is easy...like walking downhill in sneakers on a sunny spring day.
A crosswalk furnishes the white stripes at lower right. For story-telling purposes they could be lines on a scratchpad marking off the years or decades to come. He's got lots of time, but he won't always feel on top of the world.
His pace will be much different at 31, 41, 51 and 61. And unless he has, or gets, a good education, entry-level jobs will take their toll, breaking his stride, mood, and perhaps his will.
But it looks like he has A Plan For That. Let's hope so. Perhaps his energy and drive will bring personal rewards with the onrushing years. Maybe a solid career and nice car like the one at the edge.
That's just one interpretation and your results may vary. The image is TIMES SQUARE #118 (Lincoln Highway New York). It appears in several galleries.
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A brief postscript: Our Hero peaked on April 28, 2017. "Forever 21" the clothing store chain went bankrupt.
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CAPTIONS AND MISC.
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.
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. Why the site's off-black background? There are two answers. One: It's distinctive and memorable. Two: 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.
. Every monitor does something different with the images. Many grossly exaggerate brightness and contrast. And moving even slightly off-axis will create distortion. The site should be viewed on a properly-adjusted desktop or laptop, not a glorified phone.
. The Opening Page Slideshow will repeat after the 30-minute loop, and some viewers like to leave it running. But it's really designed to promote exploration of individual galleries.
. A worthy image left on a memory card has zero value. (The next two points follow from this one.)
. Reactions to photographs are highly subjective. Where multiple images of a scene are offered, one will generally not eclipse the others in viewing or sales.
. The cost to print, mat and frame a physical image are up-front. But for website display, preparation is almost free. Printing etc. comes later in response to orders. This means more images can be offered, along with alternate croppings and compositions.
. I only shoot digitally and in color. Any film images are from 2011 or earlier. (Equipment is discussed at the very bottom of this page.)
. A handful of photographs have been converted to black-and-white.
. Some images have traditional artistic effects added--such as watercolor, oil paint or linen postcard.
. Solarization and other wild effects, including distortion, have been added to a handful of photographs--generally motorcycles, hot rods, and silly shots for children.
. These images are captured on a camera, not concocted on a computer. Most are cropped and adjusted for exposure etc. But other than the few exceptions just noted they accurately represent real life scenes.
. I never use models and do not pose anybody. All "Street Snaps" are momentary glimpses of real life legally photographed in public settings.
. I do not shoot videos or HDR images.
. The site is officially www.rt66pix.com but entering it as www.route66pix.com will redirect here.
. The copyright watermark and website logo are applied automatically. They are more strident on some images because of contrast and other factors. This protection is necessary to permit viewing at large size--something most photography sites do not allow.
. There is no Facebook or Instagram page, or other social media component. There is no provision on the site for commenting.
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SHORT ATTENTION SPANS
During Spring 2011 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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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. (The original French title is very different as explained above.) 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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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 site's 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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WILLIAM KLEIN: He had an art background and a camera, but no photographic training, so he went onto New York sidewalks and winged it. Klein captured so many innovative and unusual images, he overlooked some for decades, including my favorite "Blacks + Pepsi, Harlem 1955." Full of life, every kind of blur, and improvisation by both photographer and subject, this captures the chaos that is the streets...and would become his style. Generations later, Klein's black-and-white work from the 1950s is still cutting edge.
Klein's first book was also his best, a manic romp and stomp through his hometown titled Life is Good and Good For You In New York Trance Witness Revels. Unfortunately, the current Errata edition is poor. (Page flips through his later book New York are on-line and show some, not all, of the images in greater size and vastly better detail.)
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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 beautifully 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 photographing such "ordinary" scenes nationwide, he creates a mosaic of American life at a time when Route 66 was the way to go.
The entire book is simply packed with great images 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 (in no order) Aaron Siskind, William Eggleston, Harry Callahan, Graciella Iturbide, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Martin Parr, Jeff Mermelstein, Joel Meyerowitz and Weegee. Their work 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
STREET PHOTOGRAPHY: www.erickimphotography.com
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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 smartphones and 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.
Unlike some sites, this is completely unbiased--I don't receive commissions or payments. Everything was purchased at retail, not supplied or discounted by manufacturers. I don't test equipment, but others do and a couple of websites are noted above.
I prefer to buy high-quality equipment, gain competence with it, and continue using it until there's a paradigm shift--such as film to digital--or a highly-significant upgrade.
Models will change over time so this offers a framework for thinking about equipment, not a listing of TEN EXPENSIVE CAMERAS AND BIG LONG LENSES YOU MUST BUY NOW!
Smartphones are good enough for most people. Some phones can take wonderful pictures, but are awkward to use as cameras and have few controls--just a big white button. A basic point-and-shoot camera will equal or exceed that quality, while giving you much more flexibility and perhaps better results. (I have taken many snapshots for others with their smartphones but I don't own one.)
RECOMMENDATION: IF a smartphone is not enough, a 12+MP point-and-shoot is all the camera most people need. Most are simple to use, great for snapshots and good for most artistic images. This assumes a tripod is used when needed, care is taken in composition, and you have basic familiarity with controls and settings.
Regardless of the recording device, almost any image should be tweaked on a computer. Some basic tools to crop borders and adjust light levels are available free on-line and may be enough. Photoshop Elements is a solid program which I use, and there are others.
Many images are simply not possible to make without a tripod. So get one! Hand-holding any device for extreme close-ups or distant scenery is difficult to impossible. This is the biggest insight I have, and certainly the most cost-effective at $25 for a light, basic tripod from Amazon, Walmart etc., so perhaps you want to stop reading now before it gets expensive. (If you are determined to go beyond a point-and-shoot you will need a better, heavier tripod.)
DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras) are bigger, heavier, and much more expensive. They are filled with buttons, dials and programs, and require regular use to gain and maintain competency. If you are still thinking about one, I would suggest first determining the lens or lenses you need, and only then considering the camera.
Nikon and Canon have the most extensive lens offerings (and aftermarket lenses made for their mounts), reason enough to limit your selection to these long-time dominant players. Buying a "kit" with a standard zoom isn't necessarily a good idea. Some kit lenses are inferior, and the range may not be ideal for your needs. My camera and lens were purchased separately:
. NIKON D7200 with optional NIKON 16-85 VR lens. (The current camera, the D7500, has compromises and downgrades making it unsuitable for my needs.) The D7200 packs over 24 MP, shoots RAW plus JPEG, has dual card-slots and a magnesium alloy housing. (An earlier version, the D7000, took many images on the site.)
Earlier, in my Film Era, I used a Nikon 24mm manual-focus lens for about one-third of my 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.
A competing camera and lens from Canon etc. would probably do about as well. I consider the photographer and lens far more important than the recording device, although the D7200 is intuitive and well designed. Some images displayed here would have been failures with lesser equipment.
24 MP provides plenty of sharpness and detail in cropped images. Sensor size, like engine size in a car, is only one determinant of performance. A good tripod (described below) is essential, especially in low-light situations.
The 16-85 VR is, and will likely continue to be, my only lens for the D7200. After a decade of shooting for this site, I've yet to need anything wider. And I simply don't work at the telephoto end. (But adding a normal-to-telephoto range zoom would cover nearly everything with just two lenses.) A UV filter and lens hood stay on for lens and flare protection. A Hoya ND8 replaces the UV for work in bright sun.
Memory cards include six Lexar 32GB Platinum II SDHCs and three SanDisk 64GB SDXCs. These are Nikon-approved and have been trouble-free. With the dual slots, I've never exhausted the memory even in a day of intensive street photography.
I also purchased an extra battery. A full day of shooting or extensive time exposures at night will largely deplete a fully-charged battery. I've never actually run out of power or had degraded performance, because I can swap. And if an actual battery failure ever occurs I can still function.
I modified the supplied camera strap, covering Nikon's bright yellow lettering and stripes with sewn-on black nylon. This helps in street photography and perhaps increases my personal safety. I also added heavy button thread stitching to securely attach the strap ends. Adjustable plastic buckles could slip or break. I also added a neck pad, taken off a luggage strap of the same width.
I no longer consider film cameras a valid option. The main reason for going digital in 2011 was to avoid the constant hassle of manually advancing film, and especially changing the roll after 24 or 36 exposures. Each failed image cost 50-cents counting film stock and developing/printing charges--a tremendous disincentive to do street photography with its very low success rate.
My original D7000 was used for 6 years--one reviewer at the time called it Nikon's best camera at any price. The D7200 improves on that, with a 50% larger sensor and better metering. However, the key factor--and it cannot be stressed enough--remains the lens.
With enough use, the price-per-photograph on a digital camera eventually approaches zero. Having sole control of the image, start to finish, is also a plus along with having instant review of my work on the camera's display.
I carry a lightweight Quantaray tripod for critical daytime work such as chrome details. Modifications include a strap-handle, ordinary "pipe wrap" on the cold aluminum legs, a bag hook, and a Velcro tie-strap that transforms it into a monopod with one leg extended, tightly bound to the center post. Nicely equipped, it weighs 1 lb 10 oz (725 g)--just slightly more than a loaf of bread!
An 8+ pound (3.7 kg) all-aluminum tripod combo (the Manfrotto 055xProB with 808RC4 3-way head) is used for night work, light-painting, and time exposures. 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.
On both, I've needed to use the monopod configuration a couple of times--the Velcro strap costs a few cents and is simple to install and use--it grips its own backside. Monopods (sometimes called unipods) have limited value, while a tripod is essential. 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.
Rain protection is from an Op/Tech Rainsleeve, cut down to size, and an umbrella. I tend to wait out real storms--often better images are available just after the rain stops.
Other significant gear includes a lightweight foam 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.
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. It's much handier than lens paper, but I occasionally use that too. One brush and pouch stays with the D7200 and the other is kept in my car.
A rechargeable LED utility 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 don't use colored gels.
The camera, filters and other essentials are kept in a nylon shoulder bag purchased 20 years ago and still going strong. 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 D7200 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 camera's battery charger, plus the LED light charger. They are kept in individual zip-lock bags. Another pouch carries lighting gear listed above.
When driving a road featured in the galleries, I will keep the camera around my neck and switched on for spontaneous motion shots, even though 99.99% are failures.
While walking in urban areas doing Street Photography, I typically carry only the camera along with extra memory cards, cosmetics brush, lens tissue and an extra fully-charged battery. I don't lug the camera bag, which remains in my car or motel room.
While the camera can shoot video, I have never used this feature. And I don't shoot HDR images.
Non-camera equipment is from Lowe's and Walmart, modification gear from Lowe's.
For post-production I use Photoshop Elements. Some images are cropped to various degrees. All are adjusted for exposure and sometimes sharpness.
The hosting service is Zenfolio and I have customized one of their templates. The flowing script of "rt66pix.com" is a font used on Nash cars during the 1950s.
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.
(Info current as of October 2020)