Monday, May 30, 2016

Rest Easy, Big Steve

Today (May 30), I got the news that my biological Father passed away. He lived on the east coast, while I lived on the west coast- probably for good reason. He didn't raise me, and I hadn't spoken to him in almost 20 years, the last time being him disowning me for not agreeing to live my life on his terms. I chased after him for a while then gave up.

At the end of our relationship, he treated me like shit. But today as I sit and reminisce, listening to the Blues Brothers and reading some letters he wrote me, I realize just how much like him I am- which is scary.

Steve Chamness was born in Indiana, and relocated to California at a young age. He grew up in the L.A. area, and spent his young years breaking into Disneyland and getting into trouble the Southern California way. He met my Mom in high school, and they got married, had a rocky marriage but also had my Brother Steve and I.

One of my favorite stories he would tell me was as a teenager he and his friend Russ made a bet to see who could make out with the most girls over 1 summer. My Father made that bet, because he knew Russ had a girlfriend who was super possessive. Little did Steve know, but Russ would go to any lengths to win a bet. Long story short, Russ signed up both himself and his girlfriend for the Peace Corps. However, Russ couldn't pass the physical. Instead of telling his girlfriend, Russ picked her up, pretended they were both going, then dropped her off at the airport. There was nothing she could do, but go. And Russ was free to beat my Father.

My Father favored my brother over me in almost every way possible- on a real Steinbeck-ian level. It used to crush me as a kid, but as I look back on it with 20/20 vision (and the impossibility to change anything), I realize he did that because he was very much like me. He loved movies, guns, cameras, and was sentimental as fuck. I was always so jealous of the time anyone got to spend with him, but I also knew that being a kid I didn't have much to offer him in way of conversation or knowledge. But over the last 20 years, I learned a lot of that stuff to a degree that would be fun to sit and talk about. The unfortunate irony is that I'll never have those conversations with him, because we were both so alike and couldn't get past ourselves to make things right.

Steve taught me everything about photography, even buying me my first camera, a Minolta XD-11. The original one he got me was stolen, but I replaced it with another one a long time ago, and still use it to this day. I will be forever thankful for him teaching me that, and I can only hope he checked out my web site from me to time to see the pay off for his investment.

(My XD-11- Still one of my favorite cameras to shoot)

If this situation sounds similar to yours, and if you can, fix it. No matter what it costs. I am beside myself with grief over the stupidity of my own pride- don't make my mistake. My Father was a prick to me, and he should have been nicer, but he was family, and as my daughter likes to say to comfort us these days- Family is forever.

I always told myself the day my Father died, I would go to an old shitty bar and get piss drunk. But I have to pack up my house, and take care of my family... We'll see what wins out.

Rest easy, Big Steve- I hope you're eating rubber biscuits and wish sandwiches with the man upstairs.

California Exodus- The Chamness' Head East!

Over the past few years, there have been many changes for our family. The passing of some of our family, Cameron graduating and going on to college at Fullerton, and the moving away of some of our other family members left us questioning the necessity of our house, and our location on this big blue ball.
With the passing of Stella's Mom, our family was shook. Recently, Stella and I were sitting and talking about it, and we decided it was time to make some changes and take some risks. We've decided to pack up the family truckster and head to Tucson. Although the markets for both photography and my full time gig are much smaller, the risk isn't too great, as I was offered an incredible opportunity continuing doing what I love, and we have family there (and are currently trying to entice others to make the trek).

For me, it will be a return home to the Old Pueblo, and a chance to show my wife and daughter why I love it so much there. It'll be a more family oriented way of life for us as well, which I think will really benefit Emma. We have amazing family and friends out there, and we can't wait to pick up where we left off. Although I was a complete hellion during my time in Tucson, I am hoping 20 years is long enough to clean the slate!
There are so many  people in San Diego we love and appreciate and will miss. Specifically I'd like to thank Chris LeTourneau and Janet Murray for investing in me and pushing me to learn my trade- it may have been a small investment to you, but it made a world of difference to me. David McCullough for showing me that there is no downside to turning yourself inside out for the things you love, so long as your priorities are the right ones- we still have to hike havasupai!
One of the larger reasons for moving to Tucson is photography (of course). One of the deals I made with Stella is that if we made this move, we will spend the rest of our days traveling the state, hiking, camping, and capturing the beauty of Arizona on film.

We of course hope that for all of our friends, this is not goodbye, rather us forging a path for you to come hang out, drink a margarita, put on a sombrero and sleep under a saguaro! If that is you, we have a place for you!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It'd be a crime for you to not get this prime- 'Free' Nikon 50mm 1.8 ai-s!!!

For the past couple of years I bounced around. Not only professionally, but also with my camera gear. The cost of this was a lot of pain and frustration for me, my wallet, and most of all my wife! When I boiled things down and took a deeper look at what inspired me, and what systems just made me want to take pictures, I settled on 3.
You may be thinking to yourself, 'how is 3 whittling anything down?' Well, for the past few years I've messed around with a total of 8 systems, all of which of course were the ultimate and best thing out there for my needs. However, I really just had a bunch of high end camera gear lying around, and I was too exhausted from working deals on Craigslist and eBay to actually go and shoot. To be honest, it sucked.
The systems I ended up with are this: Medium format film- Hasselblad 501cm. Digital- Fuji. 35mm film- My trusty Minolta XD-11. All three of these give me the results I want, in packaging that is small, powerful, and inspiring to use. But the point of this post is not about my cameras that I'm keeping, but rather the gear I'm shedding.
With this decision, I have spent the better part of 3 months unloading my Nikon, Leica, Toyo, and Mamiya systems. All great cameras for sure. I am left with 1 lens from my Nikon system, and it is an amazing lens in a small package- The Nikkor 50mm 1.8 ai-s. This lens is super sharp, free of any defect or aging, and is a blast to use. It is not the crappy series E, and it is not the AF 'nifty-fifty.' What it is is an amazing piece of overlooked engineering that produces amazing results, in a pancake body. And I am giving it away to you.

What I ask in return is this: I want an 8x10 of something you shot with it mailed back to me.
Why would I give it away, instead of selling it for $100 on eBay? To be honest, I am of a belief that since the advent of digital, people have stopped printing, and it sucks. I'd like to encourage you to print your work, and I can't think of a better way. On top of that, I've been blessed by meeting quite a few talented people over the past few years, and to have made some great deals as well. Also, this is a way for me to get free artwork from you!
So that's it- a little long-winded, but hopefully worth it for you. First person to email me gets it- whether I know you or not.
I will mail it to you for free in the lower 48. If it's going international, we'll work something out. Locally, let's meet up for coffee or a beer, and I'll get it in your hands. You mail me an 8x10 of your work in exchange- shoot something film or digital- from the street, a landscape, a portrait, dogs playing poker, whatever! Thank you for your passion for photography, I hope this inspires you to go shoot.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My Favorite Digital Photograph

Like a growing number of folks, I shoot both digital and film. As surprising as it is to see film starting to grow again amongst photographers (not consumers), it's no surprise as to why- Film renders images completely differently than digital.

This is not to speak to the quality of a digital image, as there are some amazing digital systems out there. Besides, the film vs. digital argument is more than little tired, and people should either leave room for both, or accept either if they aren't going to use them.

With the advancement of photo technology, it seems that Facebook, Craigslist, and every other social media site is littered with photographers. Just about anyone with $500 and an index finger is moving into the photo industry. This is great, not for the photographer who likes to overcharge for pictures, but for the artists and people who just love photo. It causes one to differentiate themselves, and to work harder (which, by the way, is probably what they were doing in the first place). Having said that, I love coming across photo sites that are new to me, and discovering the work of said artists.

I've had the pleasure of following Andy Feltham for quite a while, watching his work evolve and grow. He has a brilliant site that you should definitely check out.

(Click on photo to enlarge. Seriously, can you even see something this small???)

My favorite photo of his, and my favorite digital photo I have ever seen, is takeaway. It is minimal, colorful, artistic, and just grabs your attention. It is what an artistic photo should be, and it makes me want to get out there and shoot.

Do yourself a favor and check out Andy's site when you get a chance. Also, check out some of the sites listed below- they are some of the folks who I think put out great stuff, and who have worked their butts off to get those images up. Have a great one- go shoot!

Spend some time on these sites, and it'll completely fuck up all of your ideas and notions about photography:   (the Master! I'd give my left nut for 1/10th of this talent!)       (an absolute genius)        

Friday, December 12, 2014

Happy Birthday to My Dad

Today would would have been my Dad's 69th Birthday. With his passing earlier this year, our family is left without a patriarch, and it's been pretty rough. Jerry Cornoyer was an awesome guy, and I thought I'd take a minute to share a little of that awesomeness (as if I could through words).

Everyone who met Jerry loved him, and people were drawn to him and would share their lives as he patiently listened, and he would in turn share exceptional wisdom with them- although it never came across like that. He was a man of few words, but those words held a lot of meaning. He was definitely from a different generation- one that didn't need constant reassurance, or to find their meaning through others' acceptance or social media. He didn't get things like self-doubt or self-pity, as life was too short for that- just put your head down, do your work, and do what you want in life. Man, was he right. He owned an iPhone because my Mom bought him one, but I think his head would have exploded if he ever needed to send a text! He outlived quite a few people in his family, and those of us left behind are lucky for the time spent.

My Dad helping Emma rake leaves.
(the last picture I ever took of him)

Jerry was silently great at everything he did. He never let people know how good he was at golf, or racquet sports, or cooking, or working hard, or loving his family. He did all of these things without fanfare- and he was better at all of them than anyone I know. He loved having our family over, and he got such a genuine joy out of spending time with all of us- particularly my cousins Jeff and David, as they are a living reminder of his brother.

Jerry in the '80's- getting ready to dig us out of a snowstorm!

His work ethic was second to none, and it was something to behold. A couple of quick examples: He worked in Phoenix, but we lived in Tucson. Every day, Jerry would drive to Phoenix (2 hours), work all day, drive home, then cook dinner for my brother and I. One winter when we were kids, we were up at my Aunt and Uncles' cabin in the White Mountains in Arizona. We got snowed in, and he and my uncle had to shovel about 1/4 mile of road in order to get our cars out- so he could spend the next 6 hours driving us home, then going to work the next day. And all without complaining. I go nuts if I have to stop for gas on my way to work!

My Mom and Dad in the '80s (My cousin Andy took this one)

Jerry Cornoyer was my Step Dad, not my blood Father. However, he never treated my brother nor I differently- it didn't matter to him. My brother put it perfectly when at Jerry's Memorial he let folks know that he may have had a Father, but that Jerry was his Dad. Jerry taught us what it meant to be a man, how to treat people, a strong work ethic, and the reality that mixing all of those together meant the realization of one's dreams (although he would have never said anything as corny as that in his life).

Jerry Doing What He Loved

Later today when the rain clears, I'll be taking a drive in my old truck where I keep some of my Dad's ashes. I'll get to hang out a little with him, but it'll never be the same. I'd give 5 years off of my life to be able to spend 1 day with him, taking him golfing, and suffering through him smoking cigars.

Jerry laid his shirt down here in this chair, the night before he passed

The writing of this blog post doesn't really do much justice in explaining what a great guy he was, and if I wasn't too busy being lazy, it would be awesome to put a book together of his life. I won't pretend to speak for him, but I think that if there were an overall message to give people from the way he lived life, Jerry would have wanted people to know that their life matters, and to look for that meaning in the small things.

My Dad's ashes are spread at Picacho Peak- If you ever drive by, honk and say hi!

To the folks who have a Dad who is still around, I hope you'll take the time over the holidays to let him know how much he means to you.

Happy Birthday, JC- You mean so much to all of us. We love and miss you very much.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Eating Crow and Loving it- A not too technical review of the Nikon Df

Let me start this review by saying to the critics of the Nikon Df- I was once like you. When the Df came out, I thought it was nothing more than Nikon’s attempt to get into the retro market. The very fact that Nikon made this made me madder than Bobby Knight without a chair to throw- I even wrote a blog entry about it. The controls and layout of the camera seemed like a mashup of old and new and nothing looked right… And then I used one.
A little about me- I was and still am a film shooter, and I hated the transition to digital, because it felt like I was giving up so much for convenience. I kicked around with different systems until I found the X-Pro1. It is such a great camera because it just gets it right, although it is APS-C and very slow to focus and process. I know the next iteration of the X-Pro will be a landmark camera, and I’ll hopefully own that one day. But I wanted an updated camera for what I wanted to do with my photography, so on a whim I checked out the Df.
Do you hate reading boring, technical reviews? Me too! But at risk of sounding like a complete and utter nerd, I’d like to tell you why I was so wrong, and what is so great about the Df.

At first grasp, I knew I had stumbled onto something special. The feel of the camera is so solid; it does not feel at all cheap or poorly designed. Everything is where it should be, and it all comes together surprisingly well. The shutter is very solid, and the image quality is amazing. One of the great things about the Df is that it just seems made to use Nikon ‘D’ series AF lenses. There are some great lenses in this series, most notable being the 85mm 1.4, and the 20mm 2.8. These are two of my favorite lenses ever made by any company, and they kick ass on the Df. 
Online photo reviewers chomped at the bit to tear this thing apart, and I was in agreement with many of their complaints: It is too expensive, the controls were funky, you could get a comparable camera for less money.
I’d like to address just a couple of those complaints, because I think they are a little misguided, or not as genuine as they could be about these ‘issues’. The first being the general layout. There are complaints about where the buttons and dials are, and how they could/should be exactly like the FM. For me the layout of everything took a little getting used to, but I would compare this to going from my Nikon F3 to my Minolta XD-11. Sure their dials and knobs are in different places, but once I got it down, it was no big deal, and the more I use the Df, the more I understand why they are there.

One famous photographer/blogger has complained that the grip of the Df is too small, and that his hand actually hurt when using the camera. To this I would suggest someone look at a Nikon F3- it is a pretty similar grip. No, it is not as form fitting as the newer Nikons/Canons, etc. but it works, and it actually performs well if you position your hand correctly on the camera. I would also suggest to anyone if hand holding any camera smaller than a 4x5 field camera causes your hands pain, you probably need to do some finger exercises, or choose a different hobby. Additionally, you would probably hate using a Leica, Fuji, Olympus, Sony A series, or pretty much every other non D-SLR camera being made now.
Another complaint/observation is that this is a hipster's camera. This couldn't be further from the truth, and this is where critics of the Df contradict themselves. They argue that the layout of the buttons is too complicated, and much slower than their superior camera, and that hipsters would buy this just for the looks. They couldn't be more wrong- This camera is expensive. If someone is going to pay $3k just to look like they know what they are doing, more power to them, but in reality, someone who wants this as an accessory would probably just use an Fuji X100. Also, if the layout is so complicated, how on earth would a stupid hipster ever be able understand how to use it? And on that note- who gives a crap what camera someone else uses? If you love your camera so much, go use it and stop bitching about the one someone else chooses to use.

The last complaint I’ll address is the ISO dial. Another famous camera reviewer (notice I didn’t use the term photographer) has complained that in order to have Auto ISO, one must select it in the menu system, but that there is still a dial on top. There are a couple of reasons for this: Yes, you select auto ISO in the menu. But the camera then lets you override the camera’s choice by simply turning the dial on top- it’s actually pretty genius. If Auto ISO were on the dial, it would be almost impossible to use this feature. The other reason for this, and one of the many things I LOVE about the Df, is that it was designed to be a set it and forget it camera. If you like auto-ISO, you set that in the menu on day 1, and you never have to think about it again. But you can if you want. I think this reviewer was either not smart enough to understand how this feature worked, or was simply lying to just bash the camera.

There are a couple more complaints that people have made, some warranted, and some not. Rather than go further with addressing those, I would like to mention the things I love about this camera:
1)      Image quality- Yes, it is like having a mini D4- If the D4 were designed for people who prefer manual cameras. The quality is superb, and I love the way it renders images with the aforementioned lenses.
2)      Layout of the camera- It took some getting used to, but now it is old hat. It is comfortable to use all day long, and everything is right where I want it. I guess the layout would also include the look of the camera- I think it is fantastic. People complain it is too fat. Those same people probably have never held it, and they also don’t realize this is the smallest full frame D-SLR out there. There’s a lot of stuff physically packed into this camera. Additionally, I love shooting landscapes, and the controls are all right on top of the camera, instead of buried inside of digital menus.
3)      Optical viewfinder. I love, love, love using an optical viewfinder, and I hate using an electronic one. If the Sony A7 series had used an optical, I would have gone with that instead (that, and a mature lens lineup). I tried the Fuji X-T1 as well. It is a great camera, but I don’t like using the electronic viewfinders.
4)      Usability- This thing handles exactly the way it was intended- as a mix of an old camera with new technology. I rarely go into the menu system, as I set it up when I got it, and use the top functions to adjust. It is just a blast to use- Unlike my old D-SLR’s.  And by the way, I can shoot an 80-200 2.8D just fine on it. People complain that the camera can’t use large lenses. Those same people should probably dig up the bones of Eugene Smith and let him know he can’t use long tele-lenses on his Minolta SRT’s.
5)      It doesn’t shoot video- I once took some videos with a Canon 7D. They never got used or downloaded. I’m not a video shooter, and by not having this feature, the camera is de-cluttered both in physical buttons, and in the menus. If you like having video, this isn’t your camera- but don’t take it personal!
Please note that the things I love about this camera are my own personal findings, you are more than welcome to agree or disagree. What is amazing to me is how polarizing this camera is. People seem to hate it just to hate it. Many of those people (myself included) wrote reviews on it without ever having touched it. Many of those same people (myself included) are now eating crow as they realize that this camera is what we were waiting for all along. People who hate this camera simply because it exists aren’t meant to use this camera, and that is fine. It doesn’t make the camera crappy, and it doesn’t make the person who doesn’t like it stupid- they just aren’t meant to be together. But as more people begin to use it, the more they love it.

Are there things about it I would change? Yep- They should have gone with a split focusing screen, the optional special edition 50mm 1.8 is a joke, and the starting price is way too high for what it is- although I was able to pick one up used with warranty for $2k, which seems about right to me for a mostly metal, full frame D-SLR. Additionally, most people don't know this, but Nikon still makes manual focus lenses- a few of them. If they really wanted to present this thing right, they should have sold it in a kit with the 35mm manual, and 50mm manual focus lenses- that would have been freakin' awesome.
In the end, this is a great camera that is fun to use, has about a billion lenses you can use on it, and takes amazing photos. I’m glad I was wrong about it. The Df, a couple of prime lenses, and my X-Pro are all I need for a great day of digital shooting. When the X-Pro2 comes out, I’ll probably pick one up when the price is right, but for now, the Nikon Df fills my needs- and if your shooting style is anything similar to mine, you owe it to yourself to check one out- don’t just listen to some idiot with a blog.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why I Went Small

Like many photographers, I got my start using film. When digital got 'good enough', I began to look for a system that would take outstanding photos while giving me the same feelings and usability of a film system. Before I break down the systems I used, and why I ended up where I did, let me say that this is not a blog post to try to sway you one way or the other- I went the route I did because it worked for me. Maybe it doesn't for you, and that's great. I love connecting with a camera system, and hopefully you do as well. It doesn't matter what someone shoots, so long as they are content.

Being a Minolta junky, my foray into digital began with a Sony A100. It took my Minolta lenses, and kept a lot of the design aspects from the recently deceased Minolta cameras. It felt great, but like all cameras from 2006, it lacked in image quality and functionality, and was rapidly eclipsed by newer and better tech. Realizing that the only Sony camera I truly liked was over $2000, I sold an old Leica I had, and set my sights on Canon. Canon was great and has some AMAZING lenses. I quickly worked extra shifts, sold everything I had, and saved up to buy a bunch of L lenses, a 7D, 5D, 5D II, and everything that goes with that. It was a nice, heavy, expensive looking set up that took fantastic pictures.

But I got frustrated with the normal Canon things, and I always loved the Nikon 85mm 1.4d. So, out of boredom and a desire to shoot that lens, I went to Nikon. The 85mm 1.4d is truly my favorite Nikon lens, and if you shoot Nikon full frame, you owe it to yourself to get that lens. But like a lot of folks who switch systems, I quickly realized that aside from some nuances, there wasn't much difference between Canon or Nikon. I tired of shooting digital, and aside from paid work, I pretty much just went back to film. And then I got my hands on a Fuji X100.

The Fuji system not only looked beautiful, it took fantastic photos, with almost all of the quality of my full frame DSLRs, but in a smaller, quieter, and more fun to use package. The only problem was that it was SLOW. Like manual focus slow. It was not fun to shoot anything that moved. Like people. Or anything subject to the wind. Or cars. You get the idea. I loved the X100, but realized it couldn't take the place of a fast DSLR. My X100 got replaced by the X100s, and I figured my X100 would be a nice backup, but that was about it. And then Fuji did something amazing- They did a series of firmware updates to a camera they no longer produced. And my slow, lesser than X100 became fast- really fast. An idea slowly crept in my head.

On a whim, I began to look at the big brother of the X100- The X-Pro 1. The optical viewfinder is amazing, and when handling it, I was quickly reminded of my Leicas. The autofocus is nowhere near as fast as a DSLR, but it is fast enough to shoot pictures of kids. And things in the wind. And racing motorcycles.

As nice as the cameras themselves are, what is so remarkable about the Fuji cameras is the lenses- they are every bit as good as $2k + Leica lenses, but cost so little, and perform so well on the Fuji bodies. The 23mm in the X100 and X100s is simply amazing. It has a leaf shutter, so it is silent. Literally silent. It is fast, and the autofocus is super sharp. On the X-Pro, I shoot primarily the 35mm 1.4, and it has never once let me down.

I quickly realized that this was what I had been looking for since 2006. With that, I went to Craigslist and dumped all of my Nikon gear, and what remained of the Canon stuff. After buying my Fuji cameras and lenses, flash, and everything else I needed to shoot for clients, I still had over $2500 left- Yes, for much less money, I get arguably the same results.

Today, I only need a small bag to hold both of my film and digital systems- with flashes, reflectors, triggers, etc. etc. And I get almost all of the same results as my old systems. I don't lug around 45 lbs of equipment on my back, and I no longer rock the 'check me out, I am a photographer' look. On top of that, I LOVE shooting the Fuji system. It is so fun and intuitive, and I get excellent results. Fuji also stands behind their products like no other, and seeks out the advice of photographers when designing new stuff.

I would not suggest anyone do what I did by going from system to system. Instead, I would suggest borrowing and renting anything you might be interested in- you will save yourself a ton of money and headache. Wait until you find what truly speaks to you, and when you do, your images will relay that same message to their audience.