Scenes from the American Sign Museum

Glass-letter signs
Pentax ME
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

I took the Pentax ME along on my Cincinnati spring break trip with Garrett. I have always wanted to shoot serious neon on film, and the American Sign Museum surely gave me a great opportunity.

But of course these signs aren’t neon. The letters are all backlit glass. Such signs preceded the neon era.

Photography, Road trips

single frame: Glass-letter signs


Blogosphere, Photography

Hard lessons learned writing for PetaPixel

Last week I posted my updated list of film-photography blogs I follow. Stephen Dowling, the force behind Zorki Photoshared a link to it on Reddit. Thanks Stephen! From there, linked to my post, too. Boom! My stats spiked instantly.


Guess which day my post appeared on Reddit

PetaPixel noticed it too, and asked if they could republish it. An honor, right? Lots of people would see my work on that well-visited site, right?

I didn’t say yes right away. On the one hand, I wanted my list of blogs to be seen far and wide, and I knew PetaPixel had giant reach. On the other, I wanted my blog to get all the visits, not somebody else’s site. Also, if PetaPixel ran my post just as I wrote it here, Google’s search algorithms would take a dim view and downrank my post in searches.

But I hoped perhaps for some new readers who clicked through from PetaPixel, so I said yes. But I rewrote the post first.


Get out your magnifying glass to find my name

When it went live, my poor little byline was in such tiny type I doubt anybody noticed it. There were two links back to my blog, but my stats say that only four people clicked them. And while the post got a lot of shares, the ones I saw invariably went something like this: “Hey, check out PetaPixel’s list of film photography blogs!” Or: “My blog made PetaPixel’s list!” Argh! It never occurred to me that people would attribute the list to PetaPixel and not to me.

Here’s something else I didn’t see coming. My original 2014 post of film-photography blogs had long been at or near the top of Google’s results for searches like “film photography blog.” That drives a steady stream of traffic to this blog. But within two days, the PetaPixel post outranked it. Arrrrrrrgh!


Cue the sad-trombone sound effect

I love experimenting. I’m always excited to see what happens when I try something. Well, I certainly got a faceful of “what happens” from trying this.

I’m not sure I’d start this blog today if I had it to do over. Rather, I’d seek to contribute to an established site that already has good traffic, and build my name that way. As an individual blogger who works at something else for a living, I can’t devote the time and effort it takes to build an audience as large as PetaPixel’s.

But here I am, ten years into this blog, having built a respectable audience as an individual blogger. I’m not going back now.

And so, here are my lessons learned.

  • If you want to republish my content, the answer is no.
  • However, let’s talk about something different and original I could write for you.
  • If your site is owned by a profit-making company, I expect to be paid for my work.

There is an upside to this experience: several of the blog owners from my list told me that PetaPixel sent them a ton of traffic. That’s why I wrote the list in the first place: so more people could find those blogs!


Recommended reading

Happy Saturday, Roadies, and welcome to the weekly blog roundup. A new feature awaits at the end, so do read through!

I’ve gotten good at processing my own emotions — except for anger. I think I’d rather be devoured by bears. But Jess Cotton, writing for The Book of Life, says we all have emotions we struggle to process. Read Unprocessed Emotion

Mike Connealy has been busy making photographs with an old plate camera on 120 rollfilm. The tones he’s getting are just stunning. Have a look. Read More Plate Camera Work

It was in a Moroccan bath house that Abbie came to accept and enjoy her own skin and realize she’s perfect just as she’s made. She also tells you everything you need to bring to enjoy one of these bath houses yourself, should you ever find yourself in Morocco. Read On Moroccan Bathhouses and Loving Myself

Aaron Renn reflects on the experience of growing up in a small town today, and how the tight social order so often found in them stifles people who want something more than their little town offers them. Read “What Makes You Think You’re Better Than Anyone Else?”

I don’t think I believe in destiny. I think most of us who are fortunate are on a journey of discovery, and we discover that some things we find to do fit us very well. I think Johanna Rothman thinks so too, but she calls those good-fit things destiny. Read What’s Your Destiny?

Something new I’m starting this week: links to all the camera reviews I found published in the last week. Because I love camera reviews.


The evolution of the Eastern Star Church

It had been a cornfield, this plot across from my neighborhood. Once in a while I’d get stuck on the main road behind a tractor or a harvester that had just completed some work here. Right in the middle of Indianapolis. And then one day about seven years ago heavy equipment cleared a dense line of trees by the road, revealing the fallow field beyond. This sign went up, followed by the framework behind it.

Church Coming Soon

As the trees came down I figured a neighborhood would be built here. I wasn’t excited. The road is narrow and busy enough without a hundred more cars trying to get in and out every day.

Church construction

And so I was happy that our new neighbor would be a church. And not just any church: the giant and well-known Eastern Star Church.

Sunrise over the unfinished church

This nearly 100-year-old congregation began to experience explosive growth about 30 years ago. Since then it has planted three new churches and expanded from one to three locations around central Indiana. This is the third and newest location.

Eastern Star Church

The church has been a respectful neighbor. They designed their parking lot so that it empties not only onto the main road, but also through a neighborhood to the north and the cemetery through the south, to disperse exiting cars evenly.

Eastern Star

Traffic moves pretty smoothly on the main road every Sunday morning, especially since police are always on hand to direct traffic. Sometimes I happen to return home from my church as Eastern Star lets out, and I seldom have to wait more than a minute to turn into my subdivision.

Eastern Star Church

The church brought an unexpected benefit: it extended my ability to take an evening stroll. My little subdivision has but five streets. Walking the same loop gets old fast. But now I can cut quickly through the church’s parking lot to reach the large cemetery beyond. It’s a nice, long, varied walking loop. I could walk there before, but I had to either walk a mile on the shoulders of busy roads, or drive. So I never did it.

Eastern Star Church

So why do I have so many photographs of the church? Because I’m forever testing a new-to-me old film camera, and the church is an easy subject. I can walk to it in five minutes.

Eastern Star Church

And so I’ve captured it in all seasons and at nearly all times of day. These photos are in chronological order, by the way.

Eastern Star

Really, little has changed since construction ended. A little more landscaping. The signs out front are a little different now. The trees, so spindly when planted, are filling out.

Eastern Star Church

It’s interesting to me to review these photographs and see how the church and its grounds appear on various films, through various lenses, at various times of day.

Eastern Star Church

We think we know a thing or a place because we pass by it all the time. But I think we easily come to fail to actually see it — our minds have put it into a box, have made it a known quantity.

Eastern Star Church

These photos show some of the variables that go into what a place looks like. This church’s structure is certainly fixed. But how we see it is not.

Eastern Star

Moreover, you would see it differently from me.  I would enjoy seeing how you would photograph this same place.


Drink Coffee Do Work

Drink coffee, do work
Apple iPhone 6s

Before I drive to work I drink three mugs of coffee. Then at work I drink as many as three more. It’s a family thing; we all do it. I tried to resist — I hardly drank coffee, just stayed away from it, through about my mid 20s. But I finally fell, and hard. And the older I get, the more I consume. But I’ve drawn the line: six mugs is all I’ll drink in a day. That’s a full pot of coffee!


single frame: Drink coffee, do work

Photo: Drink coffee, do work


No photographic experiment is a failure

Cutting the grass

While this is certainly not a great photograph, it is important in my development as a photographer. Because it was an experiment.

I had paused in my mowing, and the scene looked interesting. So I got my iPhone out of my pocket and opened the camera app. I’ve left it set on square format lately, so I went with it for this shot. I moved around the scene for several seconds looking for good framing. When I thought I’d found it I touched the shutter button.

It’s not everything I thought it could be. I hoped the uncut portion of the grass would stand out more. I hoped for a greater foreshortening effect on the mower’s handlebar. I wish I had turned the phone slightly so the top edge of the uncut grass was parallel to the frame’s top edge. And in the original image the mower body would have been better placed on a rule-of-thirds intersection. I cropped slightly to achieve it.

I’ve made a lot of photographs over the last ten years or so. Early on each photo I made was tinged with the fear of a bad frame.

Now I know I was overthinking each shot. Because when I got my first phone with a passable camera I soon realized I could take photos anytime, anywhere, essentially for free. Suddenly I didn’t have to worry anymore about a bad frame. And so I began photographing anything that seemed remotely interesting.

Snow-covered Caddy

This snow-covered Caddy was an early (2010!) experiment with my old Palm Pre’s camera. It’s not a truly great image, and it reveals some of that camera’s limitations. Yet I liked it. Still do. It encouraged me to keep experimenting.

By remaining devoted to such free experimentation I’ve been able to relax when the photography isn’t free, and when I really want it to count: when I drop film into one of my vintage cameras. There are two reasons.

First, through phone camera experimentation I’ve learned a lot of things that don’t work. So my success rate is higher.

And second, I’ve learned to relax. A bad image is no big deal, not really, even when I’m shooting something expensive like Impossible Project instant film and each photo costs me $3.

Every experiment moves me forward. I examine each photo as critically as I can. I try to emulate what I admire in others’ work. I try to take away something I’ll do differently next time.

How have you gotten better as a photographer?