Film Photography

Why I have trouble editing my own photographs

A school of thought says to edit (in other words, delete) your photographs ruthlessly. Keep only the ones that represent your best work.

I’ve kept every film image I’ve ever made, including the abject failures. I never know when I’ll change my mind about an image, or thanks to better tools be able to improve one. But even more importantly, I never know when revisiting a bad photograph will reconnect me to a good memory.

Building a bridge

I didn’t like this photograph after I made it in 2012. The bright sun washed out some of the roadway behind these machines, and I thought then that it ruined the shot. According to that school of thought, I should have deleted it.

I looked at this photograph again only because I was updating my review of the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, which I used to make this photograph. Looking at it anew, I saw much to like. The tones are good. The machines create pleasing intersecting planes, the big arm of that Caterpillar machine adds strength, and each machine offers much detail to study.

I brought it into Photoshop — a tool I didn’t have in 2012 — and toned down the highlights to help that little patch of pavement not shine so hard. It helped a little. You might not even notice it now if I hadn’t pointed it out.

Looking around in that folder I found several forgotten photographs from that roll. By “forgotten,” I mean that I never uploaded them to Flickr. That means I thought then that they were failures. But looking at them again, I’ve changed my mind.

This is one of those photographs. It isn’t going to win any contests, but it’s evenly exposed and, after a judicious crop, balanced in its framing. This is a little tree in the landscaping at Juan Solomon Park in Indianapolis, a place I used to visit often for photography.

Tree

I was out on my bicycle that day. (That’s the beauty of a camera the size of a bar of soap. Into a side pocket, onto the bike, off for fun.) I hadn’t yet learned to notice when my shadow was in the frame. Also, bright light from the low sun behind me reflected strongly off my bike’s fenders. I can’t do anything about my shadow but Photoshop toned down those reflections enough.

Bike

I enjoyed remembering that early-evening photo ride, especially this portion along that closed street, exploring a nearly finished new bridge. (That’s why I was able to photograph all that heavy equipment in the first photograph above.) It makes me want to do more photo rides when spring comes. I might have lost that memory without this photograph.

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Sleeping angel

Sleeping angel
Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80
Kodak Tri-X 400
2017

Another frequent photographic haunt is the cemetery at Bethel United Methodist Church, which was founded in the 1830s in Pike Township, Indianapolis.

Photography

Photo: Sleeping angel in Bethel Cemetery

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Light sculpture

I start a new job today.

I make my living in software development (and blog about it occasionally over here). This is all I’ve wanted to do since I taught myself to code in the early 1980s. I’ve written a little code, written a lot of user instructions, and tested a lot of broken software. But mostly I’ve led teams and projects. I’ve done that for the last 20 years and I love it.

If you’ve read this blog for a while you might remember that my employer couldn’t afford to pay me anymore in 2015 and I spent the summer looking for work. I had been Director of Quality Assurance, and pretty quickly I found a position with the same title and was back to work. I was enormously fortunate.

The new company was a good place to work, and I liked the people there. I’ll miss being there every day! But to my surprise, I wasn’t finding great satisfaction in the role. Slowly it dawned on me that after 16 years in QA I’d done everything I could do in the field. It was time for a new adventure.

I’m not leaving the software world. I’m just shifting to a new role: Director of Engineering, leading the coders. Long story short, I decided that to do what I still want to do in my career, I would need to shift to engineering leadership.

My new company isn’t entirely new to me — they hired me as a consultant the summer I looked for permanent work. Since then, they hired my brother to be their Director of QA. When they needed a new Director of Engineering, they easily recruited me to the role. The company is a startup, with all the risk that implies: iterating on a product idea and trying to find market fit, all the while trying not to run out of investment capital.

But in my career I’ve been driven by adventure, and this is just the kind of adventure I like. So off I go!

I shot this photograph inside the company’s building while there for one of my interviews. I used my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on Kodak Tri-X 400 film. I’ll get to see this light sculpture every weekday now!

Personal, Photography

Beginning a new adventure

Thoughts on starting a new job, as Director of Engineering at a software startup.

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Film Photography

Shooting the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 for the last time

I’m breaking up with my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80.

Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80It’s been my favorite point-and-shoot camera. It’s so small and easy to use, and I love the contrast and sharpness it always delivers. No matter what film I drop in, I’m always thrilled with the results.

Except for its fatal flaw. And I’ve finally had enough of it.

It’s this weird curved light leak, which this photograph shows. I shot a roll in this camera recently, some Kodak Tri-X 400, and half the images suffered from it. I’ve owned two of these cameras and both had this problem. And reading the forums, it’s not just me; this appears to be a problem with this camera, period.

Rock Bottom

One forum participant said to cover the window on the back that shows the film canister inside. He thought this was the leak’s source. I tried it and it didn’t work. I assume now that the leak comes from around the lens barrel, and I don’t know how anyone would fix that.

It’s a shame. This lens is so capable. And the 35-80mm zoom range is useful, even though the camera zooms slowly. And the flash is pretty good for an onboard flash, lighting remarkably evenly, as this throwaway shot of my kitchen shows.

Air drying

Typical of this kind of point and shoot, the camera decides when to use the flash. But the camera uses it well. I didn’t intend for the flash to fire on this shot, so I turned it off and shot it again. The flash-enabled shot looked much better. Could this camera be smarter than me?

Park-O-Meter

But anyway, back to the light leak. I’ve always cropped the leak out of the afflicted photos, as I did on this shot of some mailboxes in my neighborhood. But I’m tired of having to do it. And sometimes the leak covers up some of the subject.

Mailboxes

I’m sad that it’s time to break up with this camera. It’s just perfect to carry around with me everywhere. I’ve started taking 15-minute walks around my neighborhood before going to work, and after a skiff of snow fell one morning I snapped these tire tracks on the street. It’s great to whip this light little camera out of an inner coat pocket and quickly grab the shot.

Tire tracks in the snow skiff

On an evening when I met Margaret for a pint I photographed this fence across the street. Truly, except for this flaw this is a quality point and shoot camera that’s easy to carry and use enables photographs I might not otherwise make.

Fence

But now the search begins for an easily pocketable point-and-shoot 35mm camera with a great lens. Is it too much to ask of it to take a battery I can buy at the drug store, and will zoom across the 35-80mm range?

What pocketable point-and-shoot cameras do you like? Tell me in the comments.

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Photography, Road Trips

On Shelbyville’s Public Square

It’s the only town square I know of in all of Indiana that doesn’t have a courthouse on it. Rather, the centerpiece of Shelbyville’s Public Square is…a parking lot.

Public Square, Shelbyville

I was in Shelbyville for a board meeting of the Historic Michigan Road Association. Turnout was disappointing. Three of our four core officers made it, plus one of our board members from Shelbyville and, at her invitation, one of the Shelby County Commissioners. That was it. Our board numbers about 30.

Several of our founding board members have retired or have experienced career changes that made them step down. And, truth be told, we’re just not moving our heritage-tourism agenda forward very powerfully. We suffer from the common nonprofit board syndrome of a small handful of people doing everything, and there just aren’t enough hands. I think many of our board members are allocating their time to other initiatives.

But also, last year a lot of our limited time and attention was diverted to a matter involving a billboard. United States Code, Title 23, § 131, paragraphs (c) and (s), prohibits new outdoor advertising within 650 feet of any byway. A billboard company and an industrial park spent considerable money on lawyers trying to find a way to get a billboard erected in our corridor. These lawyers want to exploit a possible loophole in the law, and doing so apparently requires approval and action from our board. This is still not resolved, so I’ll say no more beyond that this enormously frustrating matter consumed our limited time and resources last year and is fixing to drain more of the same this year.

Knowing we’d have to discuss this matter again at our board meeting, I wanted to enter in a pleasant mood. So arrived in Shelbyville early with a couple cameras loaded with film and made some photographs. This is the Methodist Building on the west side of the Public Square.

Methodist Building, Shelbyville

Just north of the Methodist Building is my favorite building in the Public Square: the ornate Sheldon Building.

On the Public Square, Shelbyville

I shot the two photos above with my Pentax ME and a 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens on Kentmere 100. I made the rest of the photos in this post with my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on Kodak Tri-X 400. The Stylus’s zoom let me move in on the Sheldon Building’s cornice.

Sheldon Building detail, Shelbyville

It also let me move in on the square’s clock. I just noticed as I wrote this that it shows two different times.

Shelbyville clock

When I made my 2008 photographic survey of the Michigan Road, this building on the square’s northeast corner housed a physical therapy business. I didn’t know then that it was once an opera house, but that most Shelbyvillians remember it as an old-fashioned hardware store. Today the first floor is a restaurant, where we held our meeting. But the upper floors remain vacant.

Former opera house, Shelbyville

I walked south along the Michigan Road, which is State Road 9. At the corner where you have to turn east along State Road 44 to stay on the Michigan Road stands this building, which was originally the Alhambra Theater.

Former Alhambra Theater, Shelbyville

On my 2008 visit to Shelbyville I found the downtown to be in sorry condition. But in the nine years since, many facades have been restored. The town is shaping up!

Shelbyville

And then I walked back to the Public Square for my board meeting. The discussion about that infernal billboard wasn’t too painful.

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Camera Reviews

Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80

Pity Olympus’s poor Stylus Epic Zoom 80. Did it ever really have a chance? It was introduced in 1999, just a few years before everybody would start switching to digital.

That’s not to say that this affected sales. Olympus sold these by the bajillions. But every one you find seems to be in like-new condition, suggesting that they got little use before the digital wave hit.

Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80

Known as the μ[mju:]-II Zoom 80 outside the US, this little camera packs in autofocus, autoexposure, and a telescoping lens that zooms from 38 to 80 mm. It’s flash can adjust to reduce red eye, fill to brighten shadows, and fire in conjunction with a slow shutter speed for better night shots. It also has “infinity mode” that focuses on infinity for landscape shots, and “backlight mode” that reduces exposure by a stop and a half when your subject is lit from behind.

Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80

This camera is small; it reminds me of a bar of soap in my hand. Its design is so modern that if you took this camera out in public nobody would give it a second glance because they’d think it was digital.

By the way, if you like compact 35mm cameras, also check out my reviews of other little Olympuses, such as the original Stylus (here), the XA (here) and XA2 (here), as well as of the μ[mju:] Zoom 140 (here). You could go up a little in size and experience the legendary Trip 35 (here). Or just check out my master list of camera reviews, here.

This is my second Stylus Epic Zoom 80. I gave my first one away several years ago and missed it, so when I came upon another at a reasonable price I nabbed it. I immediately put a roll of Kodak T-Max 400 through it. When the film came back from the processor, I was reminded of this camera’s two big flaws.

Blown out bushes

Flaw #1: In contrasty situations, the exposure system seems biased toward resolving the darker areas, which has the effect of blowing out the lighter areas.

The Flaw

Flaw #2: The camera has a tendency to produce a curved flare in the image’s corners. The camera forums are full of stories from other users who experienced this problem. Some theories blame the lens, saying this is a form of flare. Others say that the seal around the lens fails with time and leaks light.

Another issue that doesn’t quite rise to the level of Flaw: At full zoom, the lens goes a little soft. The zoom isn’t that deep anyway, so I hardly use it. When I want a tighter shot I just move in closer.

What makes me call out these issues is that they stand in such stark contrast to how pleasant this camera is to use and what good results it returns otherwise. I slipped it into my pocket on a recent bike ride – it’s so small and light I hardly noticed it. It feels good in my hands. I can slide the lens cover out of the way with one hand, and by the time I get the camera to my eye the lens has finished extending. The shutter button is right where my finger wants it to be. All I have to do is frame my shots. The viewfinder isn’t very big, but it’s plenty bright and surprisingly accurate. This signed tree is in a wooded lot not far from my home. Just look at all that detail!

No Dumping

It was a day for shooting trees, I guess. I’m super impressed with the tones in this shot.

Tree

It’s fitting that when my previous Stylus Epic Zoom 80 was my go-to camera, I shot plenty of my go-to film, Fujicolor 200, in it. I took it on my early road trips. State Road 45 is a twisty handful to drive between Bean Blossom and Bloomington.

SR 45 WB W of Trevlac

This is the Ohio River at the town of Leavenworth, which is also on State Road 62.

Ohio River SR 62 EB W edge of Leavenworth

I took my Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on my third and final mission trip to Mexico in 2006. Vida Nueva Ministries has a large compound outside Piedras Negras in Coahuila. They run a school there; this animated student wouldn’t rest until I took his picture.

Happy student

The last road trip I made before I bought my first digital camera included a stop at the Bridgeton covered bridge. It had just been rebuilt after an arsonist destroyed the original 1868 bridge. It was a rare opportunity to photograph brand new wooden Burr arch trusses.

Bridgeton Covered Bridge

Outside, the scene looked like a set from Little House on the Prairie.

Bridgeton Covered Bridge

See more photos from this camera in my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 gallery. I’ve shot this camera a lot — see every post where I used this camera here.

If this were my only camera I’d find its flaws to be a major bummer, especially that unpredictable flare. It’s a shame, because otherwise there’s so much to like about the Stylus Epic Zoom 80.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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