Personal

The Christmas experience

Before we got married, Margaret and her kids had their Christmas traditions and I and my kids had ours.

At Christkindlmarkt

Because our children are older — our youngest is almost 18, and our oldest is 33 — I hoped our families would blend their traditions and we’d have one giant Christmas celebration that satisfied everybody. That’s not how it has turned out.

I am surprised to find how strong my family’s traditions became. I always thought that we made them up as we went, as we flexed around frustrating parenting-time rules and my ex-wife’s holiday plans.

At Christkindlmarkt

But in the couple years Margaret and I have tried to blend our family’s traditions and get-togethers, I can see that the main flexibility my family had was in timing of our gathering. Sometimes it was Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, sometimes it was the weekend that worked out best before or after Christmas, and once it was New Year’s Eve (which was very cool). But we celebrated together in exactly the same way every year. Unfortunately, that celebration just doesn’t blend neatly with Margaret’s family’s celebration.

At Christkindlmarkt

So this year we decided to just honor each family’s ways separately, and have two celebrations. The Greys celebrated on Saturday. I’ll celebrate with Margaret’s family tonight and tomorrow morning. And I think everybody will have had a satisfying Christmas experience.

However you celebrate, happy Christmas to you and yours!

Ornaments photographed with my Canon PowerShot S95 at this year’s Christkindlmarkt Chicago.

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Photography

Photos of Christmases past

Merry Christmas to you and yours! On this holiday I’ll just share with you today some Christmastime photographs I’ve taken over the last several years.

Lit Up at NightBroadway FountainBulbs cropUnder my Christmas treeNativityA Lilly ChristmasChristmas bulbSnowy day

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Stories Told

The Christmas card you didn’t get from me

I haven’t sent Christmas cards in years. I feel bad about it. But only a little.

Receiving cards is always a pleasure, but sending them had become a chore. It had become One More Thing To Do at a very busy time of year. On top of working full time and raising my sons, I also always hosted our big family Christmas celebration. Family drove in from points distant and stayed with us, usually for several days. That meant cleaning and decorating, buying gifts, planning meals, and cooking for everyone. It was a lot of work for this single dad, but it was worth it for the joy my family experienced while we were together.

My 2010 holiday season was especially crazy for reasons I no longer remember. At two weeks before Christmas I had not yet found time to buy cards, let alone write in them and send them. And I didn’t know where time was going to come from to make it happen. I chuckle at it now, but I was feeling serious stress about it. I didn’t want to let friends and family down!

If I could make the job take less time, I reasoned, maybe I could still squeeze it in. I decided to try making Christmas postcard with a preprinted message. All I’d have to do is address, stamp, and send them. So I put my camera on a tripod, gathered my sons in front of the tree, made the shot, brought it into my computer, added the caption, and sent the card off to be printed. It took all of 30 minutes. It wasn’t the greatest family photo ever, but it would work well enough. Here it is:

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And then the printer screwed them up. Every last one of them came back with the caption cut off. By then it was just days before Christmas and I had no more time to mess with it. Defeated, I got my money back — and sent no cards that year.

The world didn’t end. Christmas was still merry!

And I’ve not mailed a single Christmas card since. If you send me one, I’ll send you a nice note in the new year. Because life has calmed down by then, and I have time.

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Photography, Stories Told

Photographic holiday memories

A rerun, from 2008 and 2012, as this Christmas nears. Now with new photos.

supershooterboxes

courtesy giambarba.com

My grandparents always owned the latest Polaroid cameras, and they passed on that tradition in 1977 when they bought my brother and me Polaroid Super Shooter cameras for Christmas.

When I unwrapped the gift, I remember thinking how cool the box was. I liked the box so much that I kept my camera in it for the almost 30 years I owned it. Not long ago I learned that the box, like all Polaroid packaging of the day, was designed by Paul Giambarba, a top designer who was a pioneer of clean, strong brand identity.

polaroidtype108I remember how easy it was to spot Polaroid film on the drug store shelf because it had the same rainbow-stripes design elements as the camera’s box. Film and developing for my garage-sale Brownie cost about half what a pack of Polaroid film cost, but the colorful Polaroid boxes on the shelf always tempted me. I often decided that next time I bought film, I would save my allowance for the whole month it took to afford a pack of Polaroid.

My brother also got a guitar that Christmas morning. My new camera came with a pack of film, so I loaded it and shot this photo of him on his first day with his guitar. He played this guitar for 20 years — he looked strange as an adult playing a kid-sized guitar!

rickguitar1977

20 Christmas Days later, when my older son was not yet a full year old, my wife gave my brother her old guitar. Our boy, drawn to the music, wouldn’t leave his uncle’s side as he played that evening. Steadying himself on his uncle’s knee, he looked up with wide amazement in his eyes.

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May this holiday bring you the gift of excellent memories to share with your loved ones down the road.

When I first posted this, in 2008, Paul Giambarba himself left a comment! It was a thrill. I followed his blog for years. He discontinued it a few years ago, and thanked me in a final post for saying kind things about his work. None of this would have been possible without the Internet!

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Photography, Road Trips

Always meet a fellow blogger when you get the chance

Our day along Northern Ireland’s Atlantic coast brought us near the home of fellow film photography blogger Michael McNeill. He writes the North East Liberties blog, which is named for the area of Northern Ireland that Michael calls home. When he read here that we were coming to Ireland, he wrote to offer a meetup. We made it happen.

jimmichael

Here we are, me with my Nikon N2000 slung over my shoulder and Michael with his pristine Nikon FE2 (I think it was) slung over his.

We met in Portrush, a holiday town just east of The Giant’s Causeway, from where we had just come. We met at the beach and walked to a little shop for tea. I announced my American-ness straightaway by taking mine black. Michael and Margaret poured on the milk.

Tea consumed, the getting-to-know-you conversation was going well so Michael suggested a stroll along the beach and up the little peninsula that comprises most of the town. I photographed this scene which I’m sure Michael has contemplated through his viewfinder many dozens of times.

Portrush

A little harbor rests about halfway up the peninsula and provides obvious photographic opportunity. But I didn’t take very many photos on our walk, actually. I’m sharing everything I shot in this post. The conversation was good and it seemed a shame to pause for too many photographs.

Portrush

We walked a trail up to the peninsula’s tip. Michael says that he often drives up here with his dog for walks.

View at Portrush

“If anyone knew I had friends in and didn’t take them to the Harbour Bar, I’d never hear the end of it,” Michael said, and with that, we popped in. A restaurant takes up the back, but up front is the kind of Irish bar you’d expect to see in a movie: crowded and spare, full of dim nooks and rough wooden tables. It’s an old bar, the oldest in all of Ireland. My stomach was out of sorts, so to my dismay and disappointment I had to decline the half-pint of Guinness Michael offered. But Margaret and Michael both enjoyed one, and our great conversation continued.

The Harbour Bar, Portrush

Margaret and I figured we’d meet Michael for a quick cup of tea and be on our way, but we had such a lovely time that we stayed in Portrush for a good three hours. We parted where we met, at the beach.

The beach at Portrush

Do follow Michael’s blog (here). He is dedicated not only to black-and-white film, but also to the art of darkroom work and printing. I believe most, if not all, of the photos on his blog are scans of his prints.

Shot of me and Michael: Nikon D3200, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor
Black-and-whites: Nikon N2000, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Kodak T-Max 400
Color landscape: Canon PowerShot S95.

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Film Photography

What’s the best compact 35mm film camera to take on vacation?

As I get ready to visit Ireland with Margaret later this year, I’ve been trying to decide which film camera to take with me.

I’d love to shoot nothing but film over there, but ay yi yi the cost of processing the film when I get back! So I’ll pack my digital Canon PowerShot S95. This capable camera slips into any pocket and will let me shoot as much as I want. I just have to charge the battery each night at the hotel.

But I still plan to take one 35mm film camera and a few rolls of black-and-white film. The question is, which one? Frankly, I’d be happiest shooting one of my SLRs, but I want to travel light. This calls for one of my compact cameras. I have a bunch to choose from.

Olympus XA

The Olympus XA: a very nice compact camera

Vacation photography typically involves group family shots and portraits, as well as landscapes and streetscapes. Fortunately, compact 35mm cameras are made for just these kinds of photos. If you know going in that you want to shoot something other than that, such as closeups of local wildflowers or cinematic landscapes, consider taking gear that can do that. Most compact cameras can’t.

Which compact film camera you take on vacation depends on what is important to you.

Size — How small it needs to be depends on how you’ll carry it. Do you want it to slip into your pants pocket? Are you willing to carry it by its strap? Will you carry it in a backpack or purse? I want to slip mine into a jeans pocket, so the smaller the better, and it’s best if its lens is flush with the camera face.

Focus type — Decide whether to bias toward speed and ease, or toward control. If you think you’ll shoot almost exclusively group shots and landscapes, go for speed and choose an autofocus or fixed-focus camera. But if you think you’ll want to tightly control focus, such as for close work, consider a rangefinder camera. You’ll need to focus each shot, which slows you down — but that control will be there when you really need it. A middle-ground choice might be a zone-focusing camera. They generally offer three or four focusing zones. Many of them offer a focus setting that’s good for most shots; just leave it there unless you want to shoot something close up or far away. I shy away from zone-focusing cameras because all too often I forget to set focus at all.

Battery — A camera that doesn’t need a battery is ideal, but fairly rare. Next best: a camera that takes easy-to-buy AA or AAA batteries. But regardless of the battery the camera uses, if you drop in a fresh one before you go, it should easily last the trip.

Lens — Most compact cameras offer either a fixed lens of about 35mm or a zoom lens with about 35mm at its wide end. I think 35mm is just right for vacation photography. Compared to “standard” 50mm, 35mm widens the view up just enough to be useful for landscapes, without being so wide that it’s not useful for closer work. For me, zoom isn’t important; I don’t mind backing up or walking closer to my subject. My experience is that fixed lenses tend to be of better quality.

Annoyances — You want this camera to work fluidly in your hands. Why spend your trip frustrated with your gear? What’s annoying is personal, but here are some things that you might find annoying: a built-in flash that you can’t turn off, a mushy or awkwardly placed shutter button, a tiny viewfinder, no built-in flash, or a protruding lens that makes it hard to pocket the camera.

Cameras have a few other measures I don’t think matter too much in this case, such as range of shutter speeds, or range of film ISOs accepted. Pretty much all compact cameras offer a useful range of shutter speeds and accept the most common film speeds, such as 100, 200 and 400.

I own a number of interesting compact cameras, so the choice has been challenging. I used these criteria to narrow it down. More than anything else, I need a camera I can slip into my jeans pocket, which narrows the field way down. I want the best lens I can get, and I prefer autofocus.

So I went straight to my Olympus Stylus. I dropped some T-Max 400 into it for an audition. And I discovered a fatal flaw: every time you open the lens cover, the flash goes into Auto mode. I almost never want the flash to fire. I will never remember to turn it off every time I open it.

So now I’m auditioning my Olympus XA, even though it is a rangefinder. I don’t mind rangefinder focusing. The XA lacks a built-in flash, but that’s also not a problem for me. I have an external flash for it, but I think I’ll just leave it at home.

What compact film camera do you think you’d take on a long vacation?

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