Photo Book Reviews: Ward 81 by Mary Ellen Mark

Ward 81 is Mary Ellen Mark's photo book of living in a psychiatric hospital for 36 days. The book contains haunting black and white images of women lounging around sterile rooms that look more like a prison then a hospital. 

Mark describes her goal as, "I wanted to help these women make contact with the outside world by letting them reach out and present themselves. I didn't want to use them. I wanted them to use me."

The essay that starts the book describes her stay and the women she met. The images afterward don't name the women in the images and forces you to match a face to the story. Who is described as stoic but violent and who is described as trying to rip her arms apart violently? 

According to Mark the women at the facility spent most of their time watching TV and smoking, and the longer Mark stayed at the hospital the larger of a toll it took on her. "It had happened to Mary Ellen also. Somebody told her that if it weren’t for the camera around her neck, you couldn’t tell her from the patients." 

The images in Ward 81 are poignant and personal. The woman in the bathtub who looks stuck in time. The peering eyes through the doors looking for a way to leave. The thousand yard stares to places far beyond the walls. If anything in the book sticks with me it's the eye's of the women who would rather be anywhere else but in Ward 81. 

In the years since these images were taken the state of mental health care in America have greatly declined. Due to cases of reported abuse at state facilities, like Ward 81, most have transitioned to private institutions and many all together have closed. Prisons, both private and public, and the streets have become the primary homes of people living with mental illness today. While Mark called for greater resources and money be spent on mental health in the 1980s the images in Ward 81 sadly now reflect better times for people living with mental illness. 

Ward 81 is a fantastic book in either hard cover or paper back. As a photographer you try and live by Robert Capa's oft quoted, "if you're photos aren't good enough, you're not close enough," but Mark took that to another level by entrenching herself with these women and living as they lived. Her closeness is not only that of space but in shared suffering. 

Highly Recommended. 

Ondu Pinhole 6x12 Multiformat Review

A few months ago I was contacted by ONDU to review and showcase their pinhole camera. I've used one before and was really interested by their 6x12 medium format model. Wide format photography is something I wanted to tackle but couldn't afford it, and definitely not in medium format.

When the camera came I was delighted with the build quality. Most pinhole cameras are made of paper or plastic and cheaply built, the ONDU is not that. Made with walnut and maple it's a beautiful thing to hold. Small details like rounded corners and edges, clean jointing, precise milling and smooth finishing show that the ONDU was made with love and care. I used to dabble in word working and seeing something made this well is really inspiring. 

The camera itself is simple. The only moving parts are the shutter and winding nobs. The frame selection system is cutaways on the film plane with small spacers you can use to select between frames (6x6, 6x9, 6x12).  Two winding nobs on top of the camera advance the film in either direction. On top is a very useful spirit level and on the bottom a metal tripod mount. View lines are etched into the top and side of the camera. 

I took the ONDU out an a couple of trips to test it. I chose the 6x12 frame giving me 6 images on a 120 roll. This means using the center window and shooting on frame 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 to get 6 images. Most forums recommend being conservative with winding and to stop advancing when the even numbers are barely visible. This ensures the images don't get cut off if the 120 roll is a bit short. Frames 6x6 will give you 12 shots, 6x9 will give you 7.

I placed the ONDU on a small tripod and added some pressure to the top of the camera as I opened the shutter. I always worried about camera shake but didn't see any in my images. The shutter was open the length of time that ONDU recommended and after that elapsed I closed the shutter and advanced the film to the next number. 

Shooting on Ektar 100 I got some great images with some interesting color shifts. The images weren't the sharpest but didn't look like mush either. Vignetting was pretty strong but that's part of the charm with pinhole. The images had a very specific character and style that you don't see much of anymore.

I don't think the ONDU should be your first pinhole camera, you should start out using those cheap plastic and paper ones to get your feet wet and to see if you even like pinhole. If you do, the ONDU should be your second camera. It's extremely well built, acts predictably and makes the pinhole process, which is hard enough, simpler. 

You can purchase the ONDU 6x12 and other models from

10 Questions about Des Moines, Iowa. 2010 by Peter van Agtmael

Inspired by an assignment from the Photographer's Playbook I'll ask 10 questions about an image that for some reason I can't shake. This week it's Des Moines, Iowa. 2010 by Peter van Agtmael. 

 ©Peter van Agtmael, Des Moines, Iowa. 2010. 

©Peter van Agtmael, Des Moines, Iowa. 2010. 

  • Why is this image haunting and hopeful at the same time?
  • The lighting is straight above her, giving the illusion that she is floating. Is the whole room like this?
  • Her dress on my browser pulled up images of prairie dresses on young women. Could their be a larger juxtaposition?
  • What political party is this woman, we know it's a Republican event but I can't tell? Can you tell a person's beliefs by looking at them?
  • If I knew her beliefs would it change the meaning of this image for me?
  • What is the message of this image?
  • How did Peter add a sense of movement to the image when her posture is almost sculptural?
  • Did he wait for her to lift her foot or is that a coincidence? 
  • The chairs are stacked to the left but she is moving this one to the right, is this before or after the event?
  • The colors, framing and texture of this image portray a bleakness about America that is hard to shake. Are these my feelings about the image or my feelings about America?

Do you have questions about this image? Feel free to put them in the comments. Also this image is from a new book from Peter van Agtmael, Buzzing At the Sill. It's on my wishlist of books to get and I've heard amazing things about it. You can also find more about Peter and his amazing work here


Photo Tools: Ren Hang

 Courtesy Ren Hang Studio, Beijing. 

Courtesy Ren Hang Studio, Beijing. 

Who is Ren Hang? 

Ren Hang was born in 1987 and died in 2017. He is known for his images of nudes, in which multiple people are stacked, layered, contorted and juxtaposed with living, dead animals and flowers. Although his work is sexual and explicit it never crosses into exploitation or demeans his subjects.  I admire the distinctiveness of his style and subject matter along with his ability to create such work in China. 


Ren used simple and affordable gear which fit his style as well. He was usually found in a plain white t-shirt and white shoes. 

Camera: Minolta 110 Zoom, the 110 is getting pretty hard to find but the 115 is very similar 

Film: Fujicolor 200

Clothes: white shirt and white vans

My Favorite Photos 

 "[Ren Hang's] works interpreted sex in a Chinese way, which contained a sense of loss and sorrow,"  Weiwei

"[Ren Hang's] works interpreted sex in a Chinese way, which contained a sense of loss and sorrow," Weiwei

 "But it is very difficult to shoot nudes in China. People are more bound by traditional and conservative attitudes toward the body. They think it’s a degradation, even a demoralization, to show what they think should be private. They generally abhor nudity here. We hide the body in our culture." Ren Hang to  Purple Magazine

"But it is very difficult to shoot nudes in China. People are more bound by traditional and conservative attitudes toward the body. They think it’s a degradation, even a demoralization, to show what they think should be private. They generally abhor nudity here. We hide the body in our culture." Ren Hang to Purple Magazine

 "“I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context, or political context. I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do.” Ren Hang to  Taschen  (NSFW)

"“I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context, or political context. I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do.” Ren Hang to Taschen (NSFW)


Ren Hang by Taschen (NSFW link)


Most of his gear and technique I found in this video (NSFW)

Photo Tools: Matt Stuart

This is a new series where I do some research into some new and old photographers to discuss what they use and why you need to know them. Let me know who you'd like to see in the future. 

 Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

Who is Matt Stuart? 

Matt is a new face in Magnum carrying on their tradition of street photography. Matt Stuart work reminds me of Lee Friedlander who captures tiny nuances with humor and lightness but Matt adds a more formal composition and focus, the streets of London. 

The Gear

Camera: Leica MP

Lens: 35mm F1.4 Summilux

Film: Fuji Superia 200/400

Shoes: Common Projects (high)/ Leather Stan Smiths (Low), Seen in this video 

My Favorite Photos from Matt

 "This picture took at least six months to come together, although, if I’m honest, I never knew it would come together until it did."—Matt Stuart, from Great Journeys  Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

"This picture took at least six months to come together, although, if I’m honest, I never knew it would come together until it did."—Matt Stuart, from Great Journeys

Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

 " I had been bent over with my bum in the air for about half an hour when a rather confident pigeon walked past. I instinctively shot this frame but as I was doing it I noticed something had happened with the human legs as well." For more background from Matt clickthrough    Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

"I had been bent over with my bum in the air for about half an hour when a rather confident pigeon walked past. I instinctively shot this frame but as I was doing it I noticed something had happened with the human legs as well." For more background from Matt clickthrough

Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

 "Buy a good pair of comfortable shoes, have a camera around your neck at all times, keep your elbows in, be patient, optimistic and don't forget to  smile " - Matt Stuart  Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

"Buy a good pair of comfortable shoes, have a camera around your neck at all times, keep your elbows in, be patient, optimistic and don't forget to smile" - Matt Stuart

Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016


 Currently sold out :( but check  his site

Currently sold out :( but check his site

Hope you enjoyed that. It's pretty fun doing the research and pulling these together. 


Stuart, Matt. “Book.” MATT STUART | PHOTOGRAPHER | SHOOTS PEOPLE, 1 Jan. 2016,

Ultimate Black and White Film Comparison Guide

I went through a couple months in 2016 trying out a lot of black and white (B&W) emulsions before I finally settled on Ilford HP5. I dug up these image examples and give my take on what I enjoyed and disliked about the films. Hopefully you'll find this helpful and links to purchase the films are in the titles. 

Fomapan 400

It's a little bit muddy and dull. I pushed 2 rolls to 1600 and really didn't like what came back, it could be that I underexposed some images but even properly exposed images didn't have any punch or character either. Not a fan. 

Ilford FP4

At ISO 125 FP4 is a great film for landscapes and still life subjects. It is perfectly fine but never really captured me. It's classic and simple but lacks the punch in contrast that I'm going for. 

Ilford Delta 400

I had one roll come out spectacularly and another come back a dud. Delta 400 is a step up from HP5 with a finer grain and possibly more dynamic range. Is it $2 better than HP5? I'll have to try a couple more rolls to be sure. 

Ilford HP5

My favorite and I've covered it in depth before. It gives my images a look I really like and I rarely have to do any adjustments in post. For me that's enough. 

Ilford XP2

It may sound like blasphemy to have a C-41 B&W film in this list but I liked the look of what I got back. Images were extremely contrasty with a quick gradation from black to white. It looks and feels a bit noir. Disadvantage is that you really can't push it easily. 

Kentmere 400

Made by Ilford this is the cheaper version of HP5. Looking at these images now make me want to go back and give it another try, the images have a similar character as HP5 with nice contrast and tone but one issue is a little less dynamic range.

Kodak Double X 5222

Kodak Double X is a motion picture stock that was given to me by David Hancock. I've had a great time with Double X, and the images have a flat overall look but show great detail and character. One of the more subtle films I've tried and it would be great for still life images and portraits. This has also been rebranded by Cinestill as bwxx. 

Kodak P3200

The roll I had was super expired, 10 years, and I should of shot it at 800 rather than 1600. These aren't the best examples but do show what expired high speed film looks like. 

Kodak Tmax 100

I had purchased 20ish rolls of this for $2 a roll when I left Kansas. Being the first B&W film I used I really loved the smooth gradations and classic tones it produced. It's a versatile and forgiving film as well, it looks pretty good pushed at 400 and handled all sorts of weird photo assignments I did very well. 

Kodak Tmax 400

While I loved Tmax 100, I never fell for Tmax 400. The images came out fine in terms of detail and sharpness but I felt there were a bit lifeless in impact and contrast. Even when pushed it felt a bit too restrained for me. 

Kodak Tri-X

While I didn't like Tmax at 400 I really like Tri-x. It's a classic look that borders on being too contrasty but I prefer a B&W film to have a bit of punch. It pushes really well too and is incredibly sharp. The only reason it doesn't beat HP5 is because I like the tonal range of Ilford slightly more. 

Ultrafine 400

It could of been the day but my images with Ultrafine 400 were a bit flat and muddy. I prefer a bit of tension in the negative and this didn't deliver. 

Thanks for making it this far. If you have any other B&W films you'd like to see me try please put it in the comments. Also what's your favorite and why? 

My Favorite Films

I like to try new things and new places but once I find something I like I make it into my routine so I don't have to think as much. It's the same with restaurants, cameras and film. Here are some of my current favorite films and why I love them so much. I'm going to focus on color, contrast and saturation. The titles are also links to purchase the film so if you're interested in supporting this page feel free to pick up some rolls.  

Fuji Superia 400

I'm a bit sad that Fuji is pulling back on it's film production but at the very least they created some great emulsions and supported them as long as they could. I love Superia 400 because you can get it at anywhere, it's a bit oversaturated and handles greens and reds in a way that stands out. It's what sold me then and always brings me back. 

Kodak Ektar 100

Ektar is known for being a great landscape and travel film and it's been Kodak's de-facto successor to Kodachrome. I love the way it handles reds and borders on over saturation. Ektar is versatile as well, you can overexpose a lot and get away with it. Images with Ektar have a very pleasing and natural color palette as well. 

Ilford HP5

I had messed around with a lot of black and white brands but once I tried HP5 I knew I had found my look and have stuck with it since. I push HP5 to 1600 because I shoot indoors and that increases contrast and grain. It gives my images a really specific look and feel that work well with the tattoo content. It's also very affordable and Ilford hasn't shown any signs of slowing down it's production. 

Kodak T-max 100

T-max 100 is little less edgy then HP5 and versatile as well. I don't shoot a lot at ASA 100 but this is the film that made me love black and white. Images have a classic feel and look. Kodak has shown restraint with contrast and their is a lot of gradiance between black and white. 

So those are my current favorite films. Since this was so fun to write and cull through my images I'll do a larger post on all the films I've shot with some quick quips and examples. Let me know if there is a specific film you'd like to see me cover. Have fun shooting!

Old School Photo Lab: Mail Order Reviews

I'm lucky enough to live down the street from my film developer, Austin Camera. While that is great for me now, I've also lived in a smaller city and had to take my film to a store that shipped out for development. To help everyone out I'll send some rolls out to popular online mail order developers and let you know what I think about their services. 

Starting off is Old School Photo Lab which is based out of New Hampshire. They have been active in the film photography community on social media and seem like genuinely nice people. The twitter community swears by them and they were easily the first service I wanted to test. 

Ease of Use

Old School Photo Lab (OSPL) has a very straightforward process. You first decide what you want in terms of development: film format, film type, prints, scans and extras like push processing and cross processing. After that you add the items to your cart. If you are have multiple rolls with the same needs you can just increase the number for those settings. You then print out a mailing label and a receipt and send it off. Postage is included in the price so no need to go to the post office.

I found  only one issue with the service. While I was using the mobile system I could not figure out how to delete a messed up item. I had to go to my laptop and redo my order, this isn’t a huge deal but with mobile being so prevalent it’s something that should be fixed or made simpler. If I’m missing something really blatant about this let me know. 

 Where's the delete?

Where's the delete?

Although it has some extremely small quirks OSPL is still super easy. 4.5/5


I sent out my film on October 24th and received my scans on October 31st and the negatives came on November 3rd. That’s one week for scans and 10 days for negatives to get back to you. That’s pretty darn fast, I bet the biggest driver of time is how long it takes the film to ship to them in NH. 

Not sure how they can make it faster and still be economical  5/5

Quality of Scans

Scan quality was great. I had sent 120 film and went with regular scan quality. They were sized at 2416x2380 and I really liked how the they handled my scans. The images were scanned to allow the customer to choose the final look of the image and OSPL were restrained when it came to contrast adjustment and saturation. This approach is really what I’m looking for in a scanning service that are not super familiar with what I like to do with my images. 

To get your scans back you are emailed a link to their website with a password. I’m used to having a dropbox link emailed to me and adding the folder to my account but I’ve filled up my dropbox doing this pretty quickly.

Using the secondary website was easy but I didn’t like that in order to download the images on the website required a zip file to be sent to you. I’m not opening that at work. To get around this they offer an app in which you can download the images directly which really is the best of both worlds. I’m not a huge fan of downloading another app but if you use OSPL a lot it is a lifesaver and very smart move on their part. 


Customer Service

I didn’t have any issues with my order so I didn’t need to call them, which in reality can be the best customer service. When I got my negatives back in the mail they included a hand written thank you card and some complimentary prints. While these things don’t cost a lot they didn’t need to either. I’ve heard other people getting candy back with their negatives and weird requests for the film canisters as well. 

Another part of customer service is servicing the community that supports you. Check out this exchange with Jon. OSPL knows their position in the community and that they can really help people out when they have problems. It doesn’t take a lot of time or money but this type of care really shows. 


They go above and beyond 5/5


One roll of 120 film cost me $16.00 and was shipped free both ways. If I was to ship it on my own it would cost about $6, I’m pretty sure OSPL get’s some type of break but that’s about $10 for development and a total steal. 

Not sure how much lower you're expecting. 5/5


I couldn’t be more happy with the service and only really had some minor issues with the ordering process which I think could be easily fixed. I probably should keep this review just to the service they provided me but their impact on the community shouldn’t be under emphasized. They care about the community that they serve and when do that you help people who may never spend a dollar with you. That’s paying it forward. 

Maybe the best out there. 5/5 


Shooting Color Film at Night: Cinestill 800T and Superia 1600

One of the best parts about the tattoo project is that I usually don't have to think that much. I grab some HP5 push it to 1600 and shoot away. One of the main reasons I did this was it was easy. Black and white film pushes easily, cheaply and it's way better under weird lighting conditions. Sometimes you need to mix it up though.

Friday the 13th is a special day for tattoo shops. When a Friday lands on 13 most people are worried about bad luck but in Austin it means you can get a great tattoo at a really low price. Shops will make special flash, pre-designed artwork, that they will tattoo at a prices below normal. People mark their calendars and come out in droves for it. It's like Black Friday for tattoos. 

I knew I would be shooting in the afternoon under normal indoor lighting conditions. At 1600 I'm typically at 1/125 and moving my aperture between F2.0 and F8.0. Indoors you don't have a lot of options, if it's really bad I'll push to 3200 and apologize to my film developer later. 

Most of the light I would be dealing with was fluorescent so I asked my film monger at  Austin Camera what film stocks I should use. We decided on Cinestill 800T because I heard so many good things about it, but they warned that since I was shooting under flourescent light the images could be a little cool. They also recommended Fujiiflm Superia 1600 since flourescent was much closer to daylight and wouldn't need as much adjustment. It would also be a fun way to test out which one worked better. 

The Cinestill really surprised me. After color correction I really didn't notice any weird color shifts. The grain which can be an issue an higher speed was really pleasant and not distracting at all either. I always prefer a higher contrast negative and the Cinestill delivered here again. I had little to no adjustments to make in post. 

The only issue I had with the Cinestill was halation. The history on Cinestill is that it's Kodak motion picture film with the remjet removed. If the remjet layer is not removed it can cause havoc in the developing process. The Wright brothers have been working a long time on perfecting the remjet removal process. On a very weird side note, I knew them back in high school and only this year realized they were behind Cinestill, small world. The one downside of the removal of the remjet is that the film now suffers from halation, which looks like halos around lights. I saw a lot of it in my shots and while it didn't ruin anything it still looks a little weird. 

 See Halo's around the lights 

See Halo's around the lights 

Superia 1600 on the other hand handled extremely well too. The grain and color here were great. The Superia 1600 colors overall felt a bit more warm and the grain was smoother as compared to the Cinestill. Having an extra stop is nice too, allowing me to increase my shutter speed and getting sharper images. 

I thought shooting color at night would be a pretty tough process but with the availability of Cinestill 800T and Superia 1600 you really have some great and affordable options. I give a very slight edge to Superia 1600 because it doesn't suffer from halation but I'm interested in pushing Cinestill a couple of stops and seeing how well it holds up. With whatever stock you choose it's nice to know you can get some usable images at night and that these films are still being made.

If this review helped you please use these links to purchase Cinestill 800T and Superia 1600, this helps support this page and my work. 

How I Got Access

Working on the Tattoo Project over this last year I've discovered if there is one thing that can make your photography better it's access. Increased access to the things that you want to shoot allow you to be more intimate with the subject and increase your chances of getting the shots that you want. 

 Great Wave, Austin, TX 

Great Wave, Austin, TX 

When I started the tattoo project I knew I wanted to take pictures of tattoo culture in Austin. I have never had a tattoo and never stepped into a shop before. On a sunny Saturday I walked into Great Wave Tattoo down the street and asked them if I could take pictures. I was sweaty, super nervous and pretty damn sure they would say no. A guy was getting tattooed naked on a table, they asked if he was cool with it and he said, "sure". Now, I was on. I collected myself the best I could and took some images I'm really proud of. 

 Ben Sieber at work. 

Ben Sieber at work. 

Working this same way, I went into 3 more shops. Literally walking up and asking if I could take pictures. Each time I was nervous and expected rejection and each time they said yes. With a couple of shops under my belt I started using those experiences to gain access to other shops. I smartened up and sent out an e-mail telling people what I wanted to do and some of the images I had done. To date, I was kicked out of only one shop and had another shop say no in e-mail. 

You learn so many things along the way too. How the shops are run. Why different shops have different styles, setups, standards and rules. You start to pickup the language and understand the community and the players. You start to become a part of the community yourself. When this began I never imagined these things happening but it has been a great gift and helped me understand the industry and subject better. 

 Austin Tattoo Convention 

Austin Tattoo Convention 

I've been thinking about what the next project is going to be, a crazy idea is to go all around the world to take pictures of restaurants and the people working in them. If you asked me early last year how the hell could I pull something like this off I would of told you I don't have a clue. But after my experience with the tattoo project the plan is much simpler. I'd go to couple of places in town show them my images and ask to shoot. I'd send them prints after I left and ask them for references. I go to those places to shoot and slowly expand my access. After I'd saturated Austin I'd ask San Antonio if I could shoot there for a weekend/week and do the same thing. I'd turn that work into a zine/book/project. I'd go to more cities. 

All of this sounds pretty pie in the sky and simple but it's worked so far. It's also a lot of hard work and risk of being flat out rejected. There is no way around that part of it. For me, it's about getting out there, belonging to a community and trying to do it justice. I wish I would of started earlier. 

Light Meters: Sekonic vs Lumu

Light meters are essential to my workflow. Shooting with a lot of fully manual film cameras you can save money buy purchasing ones with broken meters. My favorite two cameras, a Leica and Hasselblad, never even came with built in meters. This makes it necessary for me to have one on hand in tough lighting situations like being indoors or cloudy days.  

Lumu found a way to cram a light meter it into a something the size of a bottle cap. All you need to do is download the app and then plug it into the headphone cap and you're ready to go. Although everything sounded good I wanted to make sure that it would hold up well along my tried and true Sekonic L-308s. 

I did some pretty basic tests, outdoors in the sun, in the shade, further in the shade and indoors. It was surprising that both meters gave really similar readings. Most of the time they readings were exact and when they weren't it was extremely close. 

The advantage of the Lumu is that it's so small and convenient. It's also why it can be a liability too, it constantly fell off my phone and I was always worried I was going to lose it. I find myself using it less and less for those reasons. If I'm going on a trip and extra space is a luxury, I'm taking the Lumu but on my normal weekend shoots I have my Sekonic L-308s in my pocket with fresh batteries. 

If this helped you and you would like to purchase a light meter use these link for the Sekonic and Lumu. Even if you buy something else like.... a 2018 daily planner to journal your year it helps support this page and my work. 

Casey Neistat's Film Camera

If you watch Youtube you've been influenced by the work of Casey Neistat. The king of the vlog has defined how vlogs should look and be structured. In episode, WE KISSED!!, he goes into his personal camera collection and I was extremely surprised to see him highlight his film point and shoot the Olympus Stylus and the Olympus Stylus Epic. 

If you were born in the 80's the snapshots of your high school and college years were probably going to be on film. There wasn't yet cameras on smart phones and digital camera point and shoots were relatively young. 

The Olympus Stylus makes a lot of sense for Casey as well. It was a very portable and easy camera to use, their literally is only one button at the top to shoot and you can get away with shooting a whole roll without ever having to touch any other buttons. It also takes amazing pictures, images that are sharp and contrasty without a lot of downsides. Plus it was affordable so if you broke one you could get another without being too worried. 

What about today? The cameras are still available on eBay but there getting more scarce as people are buying them and using them. Now when a Stylus dies another Stylus goes off the market since they are no longer being made. This has driven up costs of working ones a lot into the $100s, but if you can get it for less than $75 I'd still go for it. 

If you have never used a film camera here is a quick rundown on how to use it. You can still get film at CVS/Walgreens and Walmart. Anything by Fujiflim or Kodak should be fine and go for the 400 speed film, it'll be a little more versatile than slower speeds. When you open your film you're going to want to slide the film onto the rite side of the camera and then you close the back. The camera will start winding, when you want to shoot open the clamshell and hit the big silver button. When the roll is done it will auto-rewind and you can remove it. 

Some places to get film developed are Walmart and see if there are any local photolabs as well. If there isn't any places close you can always send your film away to places like Old School Photo Lab, the Darkroom and Indie Photo Lab. You'll send your film away and they will send you your scans digitally and negatives in the mail. 

The Olympus Stylus is one of my favorite cameras and if you can grab a copy it's super fun to use. If you're new to film photography it's a really great way to get started and hopefully branch out and try other cameras and film stocks. 

If this helped you and you would like to purchase a Olympus Stylus please use this link. Even if you buy something else like.... BOAT by Shea Serrano it helps support this page and my work. 

Minolta X-370 Video Manual

Minolta's answer to the Canon AE-1. This classic camera was originally sold in 1984 and was a hit for Minolta. This aperture priority camera is a good option for those just starting out in film photography and don't want to break the bank. 

This video covers

  • The camera features and how to use them 
    • Changing ISO 
    • Changing Aperture 
    • Changing Film Speed 
    • Understanding the meter 
  • How to remove the lens and place it back on 
  • How to load film 

I wouldn't pay more than 25$ for this camera and the lenses should cost about that much as well. Minolta lenses are great though and should get you some awesome images. 


LR-44 Batteries

If you are interested in buying this camera on Ebay feel free to use this link. Even if you plan on purchasing something else like... Hot Pockets it helps support this page. 

When a Project Changes

After reading David Hurn's On Being a Photographer, I got inspired to tackle a photography project. Using his rules: the project would be in my own city, looking at one subject and diving deeply into it. I picked two, tattoos and murals. While both projects have taught me a lot about photography, the mural project really changed how I viewed my images. 

The idea of the mural project was simple, there are bunch of murals in Austin I would go out and document them. It's an accessible project since murals are in public places I wouldn't need any permission to take the photos. Austin is also a hot bed of murals and more great ones were popping up all the time. Recently, I visited Denver I saw that the mural phenomena wasn't just bound to Austin, in neighborhoods that were transitioning from undesirable to "up and coming" you were bound to find some colorful murals. 

 Willie is a crowd pleaser

Willie is a crowd pleaser

When I posted my pictures of the murals on Instagram I was surprised to see the response was good. Before my page had been a mish-mash of my film experiments and random shots of anything I thought was cool. While this approach sounds pretty normal I was looking to build some sort of cohesion and uniformity to the images. Focusing on just taking images of murals gave my page more structure and recognition. 

So I went out and took more mural photos and the likes and comments increased. Murals are designed to catch the eye with color and design, so they're a great fit for Instagram.

But the deeper I got into the project the harder it became to find murals. Austin has about 10 really famous murals and about a couple hundred other ones that were a lot less recognizable. It's getting into this second tier of murals where things changed for me and the project. As I dug deeper, I started following mural artists to see where the newest murals in town were so I could get new content. A few months ago, I saw on an artist's Instagram of some new murals he had done behind a tattoo shop. I went a few days later to take my pictures of those same murals with the intent on putting them on Instagram as well. Those images though didn't feel right and still haven't posted them. 

 The artist's post

The artist's post

 My interpretation. 

My interpretation. 

Why? Well, these artists are extremely talented and the murals they make can take upwards of days and weeks to complete. After they are finished they take a photo to capture and share it. I felt a bit weird to show up at the tail end of their hard work and take my picture to post for likes. I hadn't done anything other than knowing where it was and going there. Of course as a photographer I could most likely take a better image of the mural than the artist, but that didn't feel like it justified it. It still wasn't my work to get credit for. 

Maybe I'm thinking too much about problem that doesn't really exist. What if they like to have people take pictures of their work and share it?  I haven't asked any of them but it did make me think about what I was doing. Was I making my own art or just literally copying others? 

What next? I plan on taking a few more mural images and then turning them into either a zine or a small book, A Mural Guide to Austin. The work I put into the project was fun and the images are great and should be shared. For the murals that most people don't know it'll help publicize them too. But any ideas of a long term project or passion for mural photography is gone. I'll finish up the series and call it a day. 

This experience  did teach me good lessons. First, people really enjoy colorful and interesting things, it sounds obvious but I was really surprised. I've decided that for the next few month I would focus on taking picture of colors that caught my eye, be it a building, lamp post or coffee cup. It would be a different project and something where the photos would come from my vision and not someone else's. It's also a little vague and will allow me to experiment and not be tied down to one subject matter. 

Secondly, learning something about yourself isn't always the easiest thing but it's always important to allow things to change you and your vision. While the relationship I have with those mural photos is now different it's taught me some important lessons about how I view art and the relationship I want to have with it. 

How Does a Polaroid Work?

The invention of polaroid film was likely to answer a very annoying problem. Developing film is a pain in the butt. You have to worry about times, temperatures and chemicals. I've tried my hand at it multiple times and I never really enjoyed it. I made this video on How a Polaroid Works to explain the process to people in simple and short way. 

The layman's answer to how a polaroid works is that all the chemicals that it normally took to develop film (devoloper, fixer, stop bath) were put into the bottom of film pack on polaroid. It's a magical chemical pouch. When you shoot the film it goes through the rollers on the cameras and the chemicals are spread over the negative. The part that is really amazing to me is the fixer, which is a chemical that stops the reactions so the film doesn't over or underexpose. 

All of this ingenuity and mastery of chemistry is why it cost a lot to shoot with polaroid. Each frame you shoot is like having a mini film developing operation in your hands. These processes for instant film haven't changed much since the original polaroid days. 

The animations in this video are heavily inspired by Frank Howarth and his videos. Check him out here. 

How I Got a Cheap Leica

So how do you get a cheap Leica? Well you have to do two things: be patient and get lucky. 

I had wanted a Leica for a long time. Doing this camera review/manual business for multiple years I was getting a little tired of buying cameras and constantly thinking about gear. Leica's since their inception have been cameras that people lusted after and copied. They've also been used by some of the greatest photographers on the planet to shoot some of the greastest photos of all time. For me getting a Leica was a way to turn off a silly question, "maybe new gear will make you better". By most standards, there isn't anything better than a Leica. There was only one issue, I didn't want to pay Leica prices, the $$$$ of cameras. 

Adorama camera has been a place that always have good camera deals and I'd noticed they had some really questionable prices on Leica cameras, see screenshot below. The catch with these cameras were they had some functional issues, maybe the shutter was jammed or the rangefinder needed adjustement. The deals would only last minutes though, so I needed a way to figure out a way to get there first and grab it. After some googling, I stumbled across website change monitoring programs that alerted you to when a website changed. Visualping was the service I used and after some tinkering the site was aimed at the used rangefinders section on Adorama. 

 Like how is this possible?

Like how is this possible?

From there it was a waiting game. I would get an alert in my inbox and check to see what had changed. On one lucky day I saw my beloved M4-2 get listed for $200, the only thing wrong was it needed a rangefinder adjustment and a missing frame selector tab. I added it to my cart, threw in a pack of T-MAX 400 and fist pumped the air. To be alive. 

 The Receipt of the Crime 

The Receipt of the Crime 

The camera came a few days later and it was in great condition. The only issue was that it had some missing parts and the bottom plate was silver instead of the matching black. I called Youxin Ye to solve the missing parts issue, he forwarded me to Leica represenative in NYC who shipped me the frame selector tab from Germany. Twenty-six dollars and a week later I installed it on my camera. I later took the camera to a friend to adjust the rangefinder. 

Next was lenses, getting a Leica is one thing but the lenses are where things really get expensive. I planned on using a Jupiter 8 lens or the Japanese Summicron, Canon 50mm F1.8 Rangefinder Lens, but thought it was a bit silly to get a Leica and then cheap out on the one thing that matters, lenses. Ideally I'd like to have a 50mm but those were out of my price range (sub $500) and I focused in a 40mm Minolta Rokkor Lens that was made in Japan. While not technically a Leica lens it was an M mount lens, highly regarded and affordable. I purchased one a little more conventionally by getting a copy from Japan via Ebay. 

So has it changed me? Yeah, it has. After shooting with it for a for almost a year now I'm glad I took the plunge. I have taken some of the best images I have ever taken in the past year and have purchased the least amount of cameras also. I think my improvement has more to do with the latter though, you get better at what you put your time into. If you put your time into buying cameras you'll become an expert at that. When I stopped trying to buy cameras I started reading more about photography and giving myself goals with photography. I shot a bunch more and got better at shooting. 

You may of noticed I'm not saying much about the camera making me better, because it hasn't. Gear helps but without having a vision and a goal I'd probably be in the same place. This doesn't mean I won't stop shooting the camera but now I know it isn't everything. I just had to prove it to myself. 

*Side note: The camera is really amazing, it's the most fun thing to use and everything is in the right place. Especially the film advance which is so buttery smooth you have to feel it in person to adequately describe it. It's got some issues like the inane film loading mechanism but it's the best camera I've ever used and handled. But still, it's just a tool. Just a really really nice tool. 

If you are interested in buying this camera and helping support this page please use this link. Even if you want to purchase something else like... Nick Van Excel Laker Jerseys it will help the page as well. 

Shanghai Seagull

There is a special place in my collection for very cheap cameras that perform well. The Shanghai Seagull 4B is one of those cameras. Last year I found a 4B on Adorama with a stuck focusing knob. I bought it and sent it away for repair. 


The promise of the Seagull 4B is that it's reasonably priced (Twin Lens Reflex) TLR that takes great pictures. TLRs themselves are a niche category in photography and most decent TLRs will set you back $150+. The 4B on the other hand can be had for for around $100 pretty easily on eBay.

The camera itself is dead simple. Being completely manual, there is a simple winding knob that advances the film. To shoot the camera you have to cock the shutter and then press on the shutter release. In more advance TLRs you pay for the convenience of an advance crank that does the film advancing and shutter cocking all in one stroke. It's a small inconvenience but something that comes naturally the more you use the camera. I never found it to be an issue. 

The minimum F3.5 aperture means on a sunny day you can shoot in the shadows outdoors. With the focal length at 75mm I shot everything at a shutter speed at or above 1/125 of a second. Anything indoors is going to require a tripod, fast film (800+) or extremely steady hands. 

In use the camera is very light, even lighter than a Hasselblad 500CM. The main issues I had with it were the pretty dim focusing screen. In direct sunlight it was pretty difficult to frame and see if things were in focus. I had to use my hand to cover the screen and even used the built in magnifier, but those are always awkward to use even on good cameras. Shooting was simple though and the extra steps you have to take become pretty natural after a couple of shots. 

Even though my copy isn't perfect, it's beginning to show some lens separation, the images that came out of it are great. The photos came out contrasty and sharp. There is some slight vignetting in the corners at all apertures and the colors lean a little cool but there isn't anything bad about the images either. 

 Rays of Goodness on B

Rays of Goodness on B

 A tire shop around the block 

A tire shop around the block 

Is the Seagull 4B the perfect TLR? No. But it's plenty capable of taking great pictures and a low cost way to try out TLR cameras. I enjoy the simplicity and the fact it isn't too expensive. I don't have to baby it and I'm always pleasantly surprised when my scans come back. For me that's enough to have around and currently the only TLR I have.  

If you're interested in buying a Seagull please use this eBay link to support me. Even if you buy something else like... Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards it'll help support my work.  

 Pretty sketchy motel 

Pretty sketchy motel 

Canon AE-1 Video Manual

The Canon AE-1 is one of the most classic vintage cameras you can buy. Readily available and easy to use it's a great choice for beginners. In this video I'll go over how to use the camera and it's components. 

I've purchased a bunch of Canon AE-1 cameras and they can be finicky. A lot of people complain about the squeaky shutter which you can repair by watching this video.  They also aren't the most durable of cameras and once the electronics go bad you're out of luck. 

If you're planning on buying this camera please use this Ebay link it helps support the page and if you buy something else like... Power Ranger Trading Cards it helps too!  


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