HOW TO BE A BETTER PHOTOG: SHOOT SOME FILM

The Civil War photographer Mathew Brady had to travel with a mobile darkroom in a wagon.  The wet plate process with which he worked produced amazing negatives and an irreplaceable record of that bloody conflict.  But the process was so slow, so fragile, and the cameras so large, that actual combat pictures were impossible. It is fascinating to read about the lengths that early wildlife, documentary, and expedition photographers Martin and Osa Johnson went to in order to bring back never-before-seen images and films from the South Seas, Africa, Borneo, and elsewhere.  That Frank Hurley’s sublime images of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1915 Antarctic expedition were even made, let alone survived, is nearly unbelievable. John Noel ‘s footage and photographs from the 1924 Everest attempt where Mallory and Irving lost their lives took a nearly inhuman effort to shoot and then develop in a high-altitude field darkroom. Taking photos with early cameras in what are still the most unforgiving, deadly, and difficult mountains, jungles, and ice fields of the world is scarcely believable.  But the images exist to prove it was done and the more you learn about these feats of bravery, endurance, technical skill, and artistic genius the more you realize that as photographers and explorers we truly rest on the shoulders of giants.

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HOW TO BE A BETTER PHOTOG: SHOOT A PHOTO ESSAY

All Photos taken with a Leica M6ttl and a Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron on Kodak 400CN film.  All Photos from the photo essay, “The Faces of Transcarpathia.” By Andrew J. Tonn ©

MONTERREY — Most photographers have favorite subjects and preferred themes.  Some are obvious and others less so. One person shoots flowers and selfies. Another also photographs flowers and themselves but, as with any art, the subject is not always just the subject.  Robert Mapplethorpe’s beautiful black and white studies of calla lilies and tulips are far from ordinary photos of pretty flowers and Graciela Iturbide’s self-portraits are far more than another reflexive selfie.

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HOW TO BE A BETTER PHOTOG: THE PHOTO WALK

Photo by Andrew Tonn

Regardless of whether you are a seasoned professional, an avid amateur, or you just got your first camera last week, an excellent way to become a better photographer is to take photo-walks.  Walking, of and by itself: exploring a new city, a faraway island, a familiar old trail or a nearby neighborhood is one of life’s great pleasures with or without a camera. But this story is about photo walks and one walk in particular I took with my friend, the inimitable Sebastian John, one hot day over a year ago in Mumbai, India.  It was my last long walk in that city I called home for two years and similar to the first long walk I took by myself in Mumbai during the monsoon not long after we arrived. It was not quite as long as that watery hike, because Sebastian and I took our foray into Mumbai’s mad streets in the sweltering days just before the monsoon broke.  The heat in that time of year is very nearly hallucinatory. The temperature, combined with the crowds, humidity, smoke and noise, can only be completely appreciated by someone who has been there. Neither a thousand words nor a thousand photos can describe the reality of the streets of Mumbai.

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FORCADO IN THE CORRIDA DE TOROS, CADEREYTA – NIKKOR AFS 70-300MM VR F/4.5-5.6 G

Forcado in the Corrida de Toros, Caderneta, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Nikkor AFS 70-300mm VR f/4.5-5.6 G on Nikon D800 shot at 122mm, f/4.8, 1/1,600 sec., ISO400

WRITE A PHOTO ESSAY, WIN A LEICA M4-P & LEICA M 50mm ƒ2 SUMMICRON LENS

So you want to be an M photographer right? But it’s really expensive! And it just seems so far out of reach! Almost every M photographer has been there. We understand, and it’s not easy for anyone starting out to get into the Leica M system. And many times when you do manage to get ahold of that M body, you have to buy one that looks like it’s seen a war and sometimes… It has. Then you have to figure out how to get your hands on a lens, more often than not you won’t be buying a Leica lens as your first lens. But we have you covered. We’ve partnered with our friends at World of photography in Columbus Ohio to award one lucky young photographer a mint Leica M4-P and 50/ƒ2 Summicron lens!

We want to hear your stories. Not only hear them, but publish them as well. 

How can you win? Simple. Do the work.

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HOW TO BE A BETTER PHOTOGRAPHER

Part of our mission here at Field Photographer is to help our readers become better photographers.  Both in person and from readers on-line, we are regularly asked for advice on how to become better with a camera.  The following are five things anyone can do to improve their picture making ability. None of them are terribly complicated or very expensive.  There are no cryptic, esoteric secrets involved. I don’t doubt that investing years of study and tens of thousands of dollars going to photography school would make you better than when you started (or maybe not, judging by some of what is currently in fashion from visual academia).  I am advising neither for nor against formal education. What I am saying is that there are a number of things anyone who is truly interested in the art and craft of photography can do to become much better.

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The 35mm f/2.5 Voigtlander Color Skopar

The oddly and charmingly named (but what Voigtlander is not oddly and charmingly named) 35mm Color Skopar is among the smallest and lightest 35mm lenses you can get in Leica M mount.  At around $500 new, it is also one of the least expensive. It is an excellent choice for your 35mm lens whether or not price is a consideration.

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ANNOUNCING THE KODACHROME CITIZEN ARCHIVE PROJECT

Andrew and I have a fondness for Kodachrome that often comes up in our discussions of films photography’s past and future. For my part, I never actually shot much of it. The first time I’d ever bought any was for my 2003 venture to the island nation of Haiti, and nearly all of the film I shot on that trip was stolen or lost coming back into the U.S., so I’ve never seen my own images on Kodachrome.

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THE NIKKOR 20mm ƒ/2.8

Maya Shaman conducts rituals in the cemetery in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Nikon D800, AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D

Go wide!  Go wider!!  Go as wide as you can without going too wide!!!  This is how I think about the 20mm lens and, to be specific, the classic 20mm f/2.8 Nikkor in both auto and manual focus.  In my long experience with this lens — I have used it in its MF and AF versions as one of my primary working optics since around 2000 — I have found it to be a special lens in particular and generally as wide an angle as one can get without entering the realm of special effects.  Lenses wider than 20mm can come in handy for unique perspectives and situations, but rarely for every day use.

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THE LEICA-M 90mm ƒ/4 ELMAR C

MONTERREY — I have shot tightly framed portraits of people since I began taking photos at age ten or eleven.  A certain style of naturalistic headshot, the subject fully aware and looking straight into the lens, has been a major element of my work for my entire photographic life.  I still have almost every negative I ever shot and though I hope I have learned a thing or two along the way, I am still rather happy with many of the portraits I took of my classmates, teachers, and family back in Junior High and High School.  

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