on shooting

Ways I Found to Shoot More Photos

I'm not a super prolific shooter. I average a roll a week and I have bursts where I shoot three to four rolls a day. But I always aim for at least one to keep a routine and continue a habit. I used to find myself needing a lot of things to be right to shoot but the more I get out there the less I try to bring and expect.

Recent walk in December. Parking lot near the art supply store.

Recent walk in December. Parking lot near the art supply store.

Set a time

I have a way easier time shooting in a new environment and exploring than staying in my neighborhood and finding different angles on similar scenes. I shoot a roll of film on Sunday or Saturday when I can drive off and go somewhere new. The routine is simple, I drive around find a spot I like and get out and walk around for an hour or so. I'll go for some really common themes I always chase and some motifs I'm big on (painted poles, messy corners and offbeat colors). Once done I'll walk back to my car and drop off the film. I used to think it was a waste of time but it's become just another way of walking and looking at the world.

Ol’ trusty

Ol’ trusty

Make a bug out bag

Having a camera in mind before you walk out the door is a huge deal to me. A lot of time we can get stuck in experimentation and gear. Last year the camera I ended up using the most was the Canon GIII QL 17. I had lusted for a Leica for years and then put it on the shelf for the majority of 2018 in favor of a pretty affordable camera. Why?

It's easy to use and load. Lens sharpness is probably not on the Leica level but I'm also never afraid to drop it or have it banged around. I grab a light meter, a roll of film I'm testing and get out. And every damn time I go I'm having the same thoughts you have too. This is silly and I should be doing something else, and how in the hell is this going to work out. Somehow it always does and I get a few shots I'm really happy about. I'm realizing the act of shooting, even if you're not motivated can lead to great images.


Somebody souped their film and didn’t tell the store. :(

Somebody souped their film and didn’t tell the store. :(

Accept the duds

Making art for me now is about finding personal growth and enjoying the process. And to get that growth you have to live with some pretty terrible rolls and some shots you just miss. The act of always shooting and being ready has yielded more great images than any other thing I have ever done.

So I try not to dwell too much on the little failures. That perfect shot of your siblings was ruined by a passerby, happens. The time you accidentally opened the back of the camera when the roll wasn't rewound, not an isolated thing. These blunders come with shooting and the more you shoot the more blunders you'll encounter. But you'll make a ton of images too because you didn't let the mistakes stop your practice. And this change in mindset allowed me to just be a bit looser and happier with all the images I take.

What things do you do to shoot more? Are there games you play or routines you found that work? If so put them in the comments.

4 Ways to Save Money Shooting Film

With all the ways we have to take photos now, shooting film is definitely not one of the cheapest. You constantly have to buy film, develop it and find a way to scan it. I still love it for the surprise factor and that it forces you to pay a little more attention. But what about the costs? For about 15$ a roll with scans things can add up fast. For me, one roll a week would add up to 676$ a year! That hurts even doing he calculation.

Even though it cost more, doesn't mean there aren't ways we can make shooting film cheaper. Here are my top 4 ways to cut costs.

1. Developing Film

The biggest way to save money on film cost is learning to develop film yourself. Black and white film development, which is a bit simpler than C-41, cuts cost down to about $7 for each roll and even less if you develop in bulk. You'll learn a lot more about the development process and have total control over how the image comes out.

Some negatives I developed back in the day.

Some negatives I developed back in the day.

The reason I don’t develop my own film is time. The development part isn’t too bad but the scanning part can be very tedious. You’ll need to get a flatbed scanner and spend time getting your images into a digital format. A lot of people enjoy scanning and having absolute control over the entire process. If you do everything in house you'll save a lot of dollars too.

2. Choose your chemistry wisely

Different types of films are gong to cost different prices to develop. If you’re developing yourself or going through a third party the cost of processing from highest to lowest is typically going to be slide (E6)/Black & white/color negative (C41). C41 at third parties developers is going to be the cheapest because the process was pretty well automated since the early 2000s, or peak film use. We used to have one hour film development in every drug store and camera shop and those same old machines are still in use today.

Back in the early 2000's C41 was the most widely available and accessible film. E6 slide film was more niche and professional and typically sent out for development from specialized labs. The same is true now, there are three film developers in Austin and none of them develop E6 on the premises anymore, it’s all sent out of state for development.

Lastly E6 film is typically more expensive than C41 films. You can get three rolls of Fuji Superia 400 for the cost of one roll of Fuji Velvia 100. The additional developing costs due to having to send the film out compounds the cost of shooting E6 over C41.

3. Shoot more films per roll

My local camera store sells expired film at $2 bargain basement prices. I’ve been a huge sucker for it and purchase whatever seems interesting at the time: Superia 200/800, York film, even garbage Walgreens film. It let's you get a taste of what the film is like at a ow cost. But I realized it was also eating my paycheck and making me shoot less.

You really don’t lose out on shooting a roll of 24 but you pay for it in development costs, which is typically the same for a roll of 24 vs 36. So let’s just say a scan and dev cost you 13$ a roll. That’ll be $0.54 an image for the roll of 24 exposures and $0.36 for a roll of 36 exposures. The number of images adds up too. Shooting 10 rolls of 24 exposure rolls is going to be 240 images vs 360 on 36 exposure rolls. There aren’t many 36 exposure roll color films out there but seeking them out is going to save you a pretty penny.

4. Making Sure Your Gear is Solid

You can lose a lot of frames due to light leaks, underexposure and flare. Sometimes the effects are very cool and for some, a big reason why they shoot film, the random organic chaos you can have in an image. When I'm not experimenting I like to have consistent images and repeatability. Here are some simple tips to keeping your camera in check.

That’s a leak.

That’s a leak.

When light seals go bad you get light leaks, usually really small ones add a little flavor to your images but big ones destroy images. Changing your seals is pretty simple and something worth learning. It'll save you a lot of time and money down the line.

Second, use a lens hood. It's one the best ways to cut down on flare, haze and increase contrast in an image. My camera feels a bit naked without it so I have a few metal ones I use on different lenses with step-up and step-down adapters. It's one of the best $10 investments you can make for a lens regardless of film or digital.

Even after shooting as many rolls as I have, I'm not comfortable in guessing my exposures with film. I always carry around a simple light meter to start any shoot. This has saved my butt in difficult metering circumstances like cloudy days and shooting indoors. I recommend the classic Sekonic L-308 which is a workhorse and just dead simple to use. I get more usable shots using a light meter and that saves me money and time.

Shooting with film should be fun, and it shouldn't bankrupt you either. With a couple of tweaks to your practice you can save a few dollars that will hopefully allow you to tackle bigger projects. Do you have other ways to save money shooting film?

To Sell and be Sold 

Collecting things is a slow and gradual process. You buy an item here and an item here and suddenly you end up with way more than you ever needed. Last weekend I went to guy so sell some of the gear I had accumulated. All the tables had guys young and old trying to get rid of things they no longer needed. I looked to my neighboring table and saw a large collection of bags. "How did you end up with so many bags?" 

"How did you end up with so many cameras and all that stuff"

Touche. 

Writing multiple articles about buying things and selling things should get boring but maybe this is more for me to understand why I do things and how I can be better. You do art buy going out to make images and to make people feel something. You buy things to either use or collect, and sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference. Here's some of my reasoning to buy things in the past...

- It would be cool to get that camera to do a review. 
- A tilt shift lens is totally usable and a great tool. 
- You'll need that extra light and it will pay itself off in seconds. 
- You've made money with videos so you need to keep on making them. 

That's the trap. The gear and the purchases solve a problem that might not exist. I  don't need to buy another 50mm lens, but I'm still lusting after a Nikon 50mm LTM lens that supposedly renders greatly and has a trademark Sonnar look. Do I have scenarios when I need to shoot with a Sonnar Look? Probably not and spoiler, I bought it! 

Gear, it solves a problem. And when we aren't creating enough there are a lot of problems. Gear becomes an easy solution. I'm not sure how to break the cycle either. Do you shun the gear and sell everything you have? No! That can't be healthy.

Maybe you cull the heard. Look over the things you have, à la Marie Kondo and you honestly take into account things that make you happy. This lens just sits here and just brings me pain, I should sell it or give it away. And reversely, I love this lens even though I don't use it so I'll keep it. 

With all the gear and cameras I have I shouldn't need to search for any new gear until everything breaks. But I still look. I still have the used section of many sites bookmarked in my browser. I realize the futility of looking for gear, reviewing it and researching it when shooting and making images is the goal. Maybe it's another obstacle in the process though. Something you have to strive through to get better. I just wish I didn't enjoy the hunt and the packages hitting my doorstep so much.  

What is Left Out?

I picked up a Moviepass card earlier this year and have been able to watch a movie weekly. My main aim is to just relax, get caught up on what is in theaters and see some great cinematography. After seeing the recent "You We're Never Really Here", I was taken away by the movie and especially a few scenes.

The images and scenes reminded me of a quote in The Photographer's Playbook from Michael Schmelling.

I had a professor who once told me something like this: if you know what the picture is before you take it, it's not worth taking... I think it's always served as a reminder to avoid the obvious photos, and the easy explanations. You should take any photo you want to -just don't make the assumption about what they mean, or what they might mean later. 

The movie itself is similar to Taken about a teenager being abducted and the violent path to get her back. Unlike taken there is a lot of mood, open pacing and ambiguous shots. Shooting something ambiguously so the audience has to guess at the meaning or motive of the image is a difficult and rewarding task.  

Here are three shots from YWNRH that on stand on their own as images but don't give you enough to know anything else. All three play impactful parts to the stories. 

When I look through my photography, the images that I revisit the most have an open ended and ambiguous nature to them. Three of them happened when I shot in a Catholic high school parking lot, down the block from my house. I didn't have any intentions or goals when taking the images and it led to more interesting images. I actively try and recreate the same feelings now in my pictures but it's not something I can easily channel. 

Maybe it's how you approach the images and the scene and less about composition and lighting. Whatever it is I wish I could do it more. 

Watching more movies this year than I have in a long time has been a great learning experience. You can see how a director develops a story through images and also find little nuggets on how to better frame your photography. I'm really impressed with movies having scenes that leave the audience guessing. It doesn't always have to end up in purpose but it keeps me thinking and analyzing, something I hope to do with my images too. 

Automatic Documentation as Photography

In 2014, my brother and cousin and I went on a once in a lifetime trip. We had all gotten jobs and decided to go to the place we always dreamed about, Japan. My brother and cousin are Japanophiles and I was always down for adventure. Me being the photographer in the group, was charged with documenting the events and trip. 

I did a decent job taking photos, getting the touristy shots and pictures of us eating and being in a group. I documented the trip the in a way to help describe what we did and where we went. In other words, it was pretty boring and pretty basic. 

My cousin on the other hand had a much simpler way of documenting. Whenever he ate anything: a soda, soup or concoction from the street he took a picture of it. No matter how common or insignificant, he took a picture of the item and logged it.

When we got back home and looked at all of our pictures I was extremely jealous of my cousin's shots. What seemed less creative and simple at the time turned out to capture the trip in a more authentic and factual way. We could see what we ate, where we ate it and remember the stories about how we got there and felt. 

I've been trying to get better at shooting automatically and documenting things around me, starting a few series on items like: telephone poles, public payphone, beds I sleep in, good quotes and coffee cups. It makes shooting less of a creative task and more of a documentation routine. Although it's not creatively spectacular it's a way to make images that make you remember more of your days.

My cousin is a super smart guy and got the point of some trips is to not wait for an amazing moment to happen but to take a simple reminder of what happened that day so you could look back on it later. I'm glad I was able to share the trip with him and pick up that new skill. It's helped us create new stories and capture new memories. 

Shooting more is Shooting Better

I started out this year trying to shoot a roll a week. A quarter way through they year I'm still on track and shooting a bit extra, in case I have a busy weekend or week. As I read more about art making and photography, projects like this can lead to large impacts on work. Take this story from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. 

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A".
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Shooting more is going to make your photography improve. Ironically I shoot more now with film than I ever did with digital. With film having a set number of shots, a roll of 24 or 36 a week, is an easy thing to track. I just need to leave the house with a camera, a light meter and a roll to keep the streak going. Shooting a thousand shots in one sitting with digital isn't the goal here but shooting 100 shots a week for ten weeks is. 

Shooting like this every week also keeps my brain in gear and always on the lookout for photos. Once it became a habit I find more things that interest me and more techniques I want to try. Imagine if you had to eat a pound of chicken a week for a year, if you didn't find some new recipes you would get pretty bored.

The most important part is shooting when you don't feel like it. There will be those cloudy days where the weather is blah and nothing is going on. I literally drive to corner or walk around and just start snapping. The images may not be amazing but are always better than I expected. The act of shooting all the time and making mistakes teaches you more than waiting for the perfect subject or set of conditions to happen. I can't control the perfect shooting conditions but I can prepare myself to be ready and better when they come around. 

I'm Sorry, I Have to Take This Photo

I have a lot of habits. Brushing my teeth and flossing everyday is a good one. Waiting too long to fix something is a bad one. I also have a photography habit that is fun and potentially awkward. If I see a picture I want to take, I don't allow myself to walk away. I have to take the shot. 

I started doing this after I read The Photographer's Playbook (highly recommend) and specifically this quote by Eliot Porter. 

"You can't ever go back really, and get the same picture that you saw because when you go back it's not there anymore. The sun is different. The atmosphere is different. So one should never put off taking the picture if you see something. I found that out."

Here are a bunch that I have taken, and if you can find a pattern please let me know what it is. These aren't planned photowalks where I have a camera but daily moments where something catches my eye and I stop and grab my phone, click. 

This habit has made shooting easier too. It makes me trust my gut and develops my nerve to stop almost anywhere to take a picture. The middle of a street, in a crowd and even in a bathroom are all fair game.

Whenever I doubt and wonder that this may not be a good shot, I remind myself that it's better to take a shot and know it's bad than to wonder if it would have ever been good. I have a phone that can take more photos than I can ever imagine but if I'm not taking the photos I want to, why even carry it around? Other than Twitter, Instagram, Podcasts, Google Maps, Visual Voicemail...

A Simple Way to Describe Your Photography and Find New Ideas Too

It's hard to talk about your own work. It used to feel self serving and too introspective but recently I made up a fun exercise that helps. I used a simple sentence to describe some classic photographers and found you could use it to describe your own work and best of all create new projects and ideas as well. 

It's a simple formula: 

- NAME is known for shooting SUBJECT in a NAME OF STYLE. The images are most commonly described as THREE ADJECTIVES

This sounds simple and it is. Here are some examples of photographers I love. 

hb_2001.474.jpg

- Diane Arbus is known for shooting people on the edge of society in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as humanizing, evocative and disturbing. 

- Chikako is known for shooting flowers in a dreamlike style. The images are most commonly described as painterly, organic and hypnotic. 

MES1981016K064_520p_43.jpg

- Susan Meiselas is known for shooting Latin American conflict in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as raw, emotional and close to the action. 

Using the same formula and describing my tattoo project in this way is pretty easy too. 

- Dan Dao is known for shooting tattoo artists in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as natural, personal and straightforward. 

Secondly using this same formula you can remix parts to find new styles and approaches to things. Take the Diane Arbus description and change "people on the edge of society" to "softball players" or "pet snakes". You can take that style and description and use it as a framework for approaching a new subject. Maybe the images would be duds but it can get you thinking in new ways. How would Arbus shoot a softball catcher?

Photographers and artists can't reinvent the wheel on every project but they can remix ideas and subjects in new styles. This simple word play exercise really helped me define my work and gives me endless options for projects in the future. I hope you're ready for...

Dan Dao is known for shooting taco trucks in a macro photography style. The images are most commonly described as bright, colorful and yummy.