Fail and Fail Again

If at first you don’t fail then you really owe it to yourself to try again. Fail people, please fail. There is nothing wonderful about ease, perfection,routine and the word that will ultimately destroy photography….convenience. Failing is like slamming your shin into that chair you moved right before you went to bed and right after you forgot you moved it. It sucks at the moment of impact, but it reminds you not to forget you can’t see in the dark. I fail all the time, and I routinely go out of my way to do things that ensure my failure. Like testing. I was recently given a camera, a plastic camera. I looked at it, opened up the box, figured out a way to customize it then promptly went outside and shot the images you see here, junk images rife with self portraits and odd little backyard landscapes, telltale signs of the all important test. In other words, crap.



However, as it turned out, these are important crappy images because they don’t actually look like the kind of crap I was going for. If you like these images, that is okay too, but I don’t like them which ultimately is all that matters. The technique I THOUGHT was a slam dunk was in fact a complete air ball, but I didn’t know that so I tested. I do this on a regular basis and actually find it very entertaining. My office is littered with bad images, prints, books and odd tests. It is FROM these creative debacles that I often times find my visual promised land.




Test Film

Okay people, a lot of new on the way here at Smogranch. Heck, a lot of new in my “e” life, but more on that later. I just learned how to make films with Photobooth, something you all probably knew how to do ten years ago. I’m pacing myself. So get ready for more of these. The real ones I am envisioning will have actual substance, unlike this one.

First Roll: Leica M4


Okay, I lied. I actually shot 1.5 rolls with the “new” Leica M4. I had to do it. You can’t get a “new” camera, not test it, and then head into the unknown thinking you are gonna set the world on fire. I have utmost faith in Leica technicians, but THEY would want me to test it, so I did. I happened to be in Newport Beach, so I started walking and searching. I put myself in Newport at days end, hoping for some decent light, at least some decent direction. The first thing I noticed is that the M4 has some heft to it. It’s not heavy it’s solid. It feels great. The second thing I noticed is the camera is smooth, REALLY smooth. When you crank the wind lever it is like eating a stick of butter.

I knew within about ten frames that this is the best film camera I’ve ever had. It’s not even close. The M4 is all brass and all mechanical. There is no meter. Another photographer said to me, “Oh that sucks, no meter, what a pain in the ass.” For a split second I was kinda thinking the same thing, then I quit huffing paint for two minutes and realized my Hasselblad has no meter and I love that thing. So when I did this M4 test I put my trusty light meter in my back pocket, but instead of pulling it out and metering the scene I just viewed the scene, analyzed it, and then set my exposure. Then I pulled out the meter and tested to see how close I was. The vast, vast majority of the time I was right on the money. So, in short, I don’t need a meter.

The crazy thing about NOT having the meter is what it does to you, or doesn’t do to you, when you look through the viewfinder. There is NOTHING there except for the framelines. That’s it. There is ZERO distraction. Now it’s not like the M6 with the small red circle and arrow is greatly distracting, not at all, but this M4 is so damn basic it is impossible not to pay full attention to what lies within those faint white lines.

This is now my everyday camera, my number one, my big cheese, my big Kahuna. I’ve been carrying it now for about a week, and I have to say, everywhere I take it people flock to it like bees to honey. I’m not sure why this other than the fact that old cameras are cool, but there really seems to be something more to it. The only thing I can come up with is that in an age of something new every six months, people have a great appreciation for things that last. This M4 is over forty years old and it is just as good today as it was when it was first released. How can you not appreciate that?

Last night I was at a retirement party for a local college photography professor, someone I’m going to write about in the coming days, and I found myself at table with four young photography students. I put the M4 on the table and grabbed a menu. I felt four sets of eyes on the camera. “Wow, what is that?” one of the students asked. What followed was a conversation about learning the basics, about editing, about finding a style and about the latest greatest isn’t always the best. Is this the only camera I’m going to use? No, not by a long shot. Over the last week I did two shoots with the M9, then turned those shoots around minutes after the shoot was over. I see a future of continuing to do the same. Using what I want to use, when I want to use it. After all, I’m the photographer. I make the decisions.

These pictures are not world beaters, but the test was successful. And if you want to know more about the M4…click here.

Testing One Two Three

The official results are in.

First, I’m REALLY fast on my bicycle, as you can see be this visual evidence. Most people wouldn’t consider a 25-pound steel touring bike to be such a rocket, but as you can see….

So if you have been with me for a few weeks now you will remember a post I did about being handed two Voigtlander rangefinder cameras with ultra-wide lenses and finders. Well, I finally got a chance to test one of them. As many of you know, I love the bicycle. Frankly, I think the bike is one of the best inventions of all time, and is a perfect example of clean efficiency. I know a FEW people who don’t like riding bikes, but the vast, vast, vast majority of people I know love it. The bike is typically one of the first glimpses of autonomy we get as young people. Those training wheels come off, we heal from our road rash wounds, and before long, we are exploring the far reaches of our civilized boundaries.

This new site, Smogranch, will in coming weeks, hopefully have a bike blog built in. I’m not sure this will happen, or when, but that is my goal. If you thought photographers were obsessed with equipment, wait till you meet a few bikers. Crazy obsessed. But, I think the bike has only begun to crack the American lifestyle, and what I’m hoping for is to simply raise awareness of what is possible. Bikes aren’t for everyone. Bikes won’t solve our problems. But maybe, just maybe, they can help us rethink some of our current lifestyle choices. And let me be straight here in case you think you think I’m an anti-car, tree hugging dude who is naked at the mall on the weekends burning fur items. I’m not. I love cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc, and I know they are not going away. I drive thousands of miles a year, and am part of the fossil fuel masses. But, when I look around, I see a need for drastic change.

So gearheads, in case you are wondering, these images were done with the 12mm, handheld, as I tried not to crash or get my strap caught in the spokes. The bike is a Trek 520, built for the tour, with Tubus racks front and back. Tires are Continental Gator Skins, 25mm, and the saddle is a Brooks B-17. Other than lights, a computer, it’s stock. I love this bike. Heavy but steady is how I would describe it. I’ve had it LOADED and it still handles well. Trek has a lifetime warranty on frame and fork and this bike carries the touring legend for the Trek brand. There are things I would improve, for sure, but overall, a great bike. And in case your wondering, I use this bike for everything. Training, tour, commute, errands, shopping, etc. The only thing I don’t do on it is off-road. I have another bike for that.

Kodak Ektar 100


Birds doing what they do, Corona del Mar, California.

I don’t think I’m a great film tester. In fact, I know I’m not a great film tester. Thank God for serious photographers and the work they do because I could never do it. Running a film through its paces is difficult work, and frankly, I’m not sure I’m man enough for it. So, when I test a film, I grab a few rolls, take a quick look at the speed then head into the void. Today’s void was the beach in CDM, or Corona del Mar for those of you from any backwater that isn’t The OC. It might have been Newport. I don’t really know anymore. If I was guessing, and trying to get a permit for this place, I’d probably….go….with…..CDM? Who knows?
Kodak Ektar 100 speed film, in 35mm. In short, it looks good. Thanks for reading.

Pretty yellow things growing from the Earth near a beach where lots of people go and where there are security cameras, Corona del Mar/Newport Beach, California.

I like the color. I like the contrast. I like the grain, or lack there of, and I like the texture in the non-critical focus areas, or for the average citizen, the blurry areas. Might be a little warm for skintone, but you know, with Photoshop 1.0 we kinda solved that. I use Portra for skin, and most things, but I have a plan for this film, one type of image that it will be perfect for.
So, when I head to Peru, there will be Ektar, 120 in my bag. In fact, it’s already there.

So dust off the old jalopy and head out to your nearest film peddler, if you still have any around, and get ready to endure the painfully tired question from the counter guy as you ask for your twelve exposure roll of Ektar, “Film, they still make that?” Hahahahahaha, never get tired of that one.

On a side note. Most of the time, when someone slaps one of those lame film statements on me like “Film, oh ya, I remember that stuff, heh, heh,” it is a sure sign that their work really sucks. Like really sucks. Like it has unicorns in it and the painter tool and shots of their kids with purple fog around the edges.