Archive for the ‘On Photography’ Category

In the Early 2000s Some Railroad Photographers Were Skeptical About Digital Photography

March 6, 2017

I recently ran across some writings about the pros and cons of digital versus film for railroad photography.

on-photography-newIn each case, the author favored slide film. None of the authors were against the use of digital photography per se and all had experience with it.

But that was more than a decade ago. What would they think today?

Writing in Railway Photography (2003), Richard Jay Solomon said that for important (emphasis in original) subject matter he used a Leica film camera.

Writing in The Railroad Press magazine in 2004, Jaime F.M. Serensits favored slides because of their ease of storage and because he liked them.

Professional photograph Steve Smedley said he liked digital photography in his job as a newspaper photographer but favored slides for his railfan photography.

“Slides will be my medium for the next several years,” Smedley wrote in Railway Photography.

A common theme expressed by all three authors was the superior color quality of slide film.

Another theme was the fear that rapid advances in technology might mean that a photographer would not be able to “read” digital images some day. But slides are forever or at least the rest of your life.

That is a legitimate concern. At the time, most photographers stored digital images on CDs, which have been shown to have a relatively short shelf life.

In the early 2000s, USB devices, portable hard drives and storage on “the cloud” had yet to arrive or become widely available in the consumer market.

None of the authors from the early 2000s touched on a factor that has driven many photographers, myself included, into the digital world.

That issue was hinted at in the same issue of The Railroad Press in which the Serensits article appeared.

Several pages back was a feature piece on how to save money on slide film. At the time, slide professional film ranged between $5 per roll if purchased in bulk to $18 for an individual roll.

I remember a discussion I had with Marty Surdyk about slide film. He figured the cost of the film plus processing worked out to $1 per slide.

If you shot an average of one roll of film a week, that would cost $1,872 for the year. Of course not everyone shoots that much, but whatever your photography habits, the cost of film and processing aren’t cheap.

More than a decade since the works cited above were published, I wonder if those photographers are still using slide film. Does Solomon still rely on film for his most important images?

All three authors acknowledged that digital photography was likely to continue to improve. My guess is that they might still dabble in film, but their views of digital photography probably changed as digital technology evolved. They had little choice about that.

It Wasn’t Just a ‘Slide’ Show. So What was it?

February 27, 2017

I first noticed the “s” word as I wheeled a cart loaded with digital technology toward the social hall where the Akron Railroad Club was having its annual pizza party and member’s night programs.

on-photography-newA sign pointed in the direction of the ARRC “slide show.” The next day I noticed that “slides” had been used on the front page of the February ARRC Bulletin to promote the event.

Slides were shown at the event, but it was not a slide show. Digital presenters outnumbered slide presenters 6-4.

“Slide” is used by some as a generic description meaning photographic images projected by light onto a screen.

It is not unlike “Kleenex,” a trademark name that many people use interchangeably to describe any brand of facial tissue.

Kimberly-Clark, the holder of the Kleenex trademark, used to buy advertisements in Editor & Publisher to implore journalists not to use “Kleenex” as a generic term.

Slide is not a trademark, but has a specific meaning as a single frame of film mounted in cardboard or plastic.

For many years slides were the predominant medium for projecting photographs at ARRC meetings.

In the club’s early years movies were common, but they gave way to slides and, at times, video tape.

It is possible that a slide could be a photograph of a photograph, but that doesn’t happen often.

But digital is a more flexible medium that can be used to show images scanned from slides, film negatives or printed photographs. It can also be used to project movies, video and, of course, images made with a digital camera or smart phone.

One digital presenters at last Saturday’s ARRC member’s showed images scanned from prints. Another showed movies that had been digitized.

About 40 percent of the images I plan to present in my digital program next month will have been scanned from slides.

“Slide” also has taken on another meaning. I’ve come to associate it with old photographs.

Only one of the four presenters at the ARRC’s member’s night showed slides that were made within the past six months. Most of the slides shown were at least 20 years old.

I’m reminded of the trademark of another company that used to advertise in Editor & Publisher.

Xerox Corporation used to plead with journalists not to use the name of their company as a generic term for a photo copy.

But it wasn’t just journalists. I heard quite often people talk about making a “Xerox copy” of a paper document.

It is a term, though, that seems to have fallen by the wayside in favor of “copy.”

The novelty of copy machines has long since worn off and there are so many brands of them that most people probably aren’t aware of which one they’re using.

And so use of the word “slide” probably will fade away as the generations that grew up making images on film pass on and slide become a novelty.

When Someone Thinks Your Hobby is Silly

February 13, 2017

A spring on the door of our dishwasher had broken so we called an appliance repairman to fix it. He been to our home before, but I’d never met him.

on-photography-newI had come downstairs to see how the repairs were going and found the repair guy talking to my wife about someone he knows who photographs trains.

I’ve never met the appliance repairman’s friend, but his name sounded vaguely familiar.

Within seconds it became apparent that the repair guy doesn’t think much of the hobby of photographing trains. “I think you’re both nuts,” he said.

It could have been worse. At least he didn’t say that railroad photographers are engaging in some sort of nefarious activity.

It was yet another example of why I am careful who I talk with about what I enjoy photographing.

The repair guy didn’t say why he thinks it strange that someone would travel for miles to photograph a particular locomotive.

Given the strident tone of his remarks, I didn’t care to explain it to him. He doesn’t want to know and probably wouldn’t understand if someone did explain it to him.

He thinks making photographs of trains is silly and nothing I or anyone else might say in response is going to change his mind.

I generally avoid people like that. It doesn’t matter what they think.

Of course some people are open-minded about the interests of others and have a genuine curiosity about the attraction of railroad photography to those who practice it.

If such a person were to ask me why I make railroad photographs I would say that railroad operations have always fascinated me and that I can’t remember a day in my life when I wasn’t interested in trains.

I don’t know why that is. Why does anyone like what they like? There are reasons for it, but sometimes those are beyond our comprehension.

Maybe it is because trains are large objects that move. I also have an interest in commercial transport aircraft for the same reason.

Maybe those are unsatisfactory explanations for why I like to photograph trains, but I sometimes wonder about those who religiously follow a certain professional Cleveland football team that loses games more often than it wins them.

They talk about what the owners, players and coaches should be doing even though no one with the team will ever hear their ideas or much care about them. Now isn’t that silly? Maybe not if you enjoy doing it and it is harmless fun.

People have passions about certain things and they seldom sit back and wonder why that is. There is no reason to do that. You like something and that’s that.

I’ve never felt a need to do “missionary work” and explain why I and others enjoy photographing railroad operations.

And yet given the post-911 climate we probably should. We probably should seek to educate the public about why we make railroad photographs.

But I don’t want to do that. If someone thinks that making photographs of railroad operations is silly or stupid, well, that’s their problem, not mine.

And yet I know that it does become my problem when their problem becomes the worldview of police officers and others with a well-meaning, but misguided sense of trying to protect national security.

In the meantime, I’m going to go about my business of photographing rail operations. I enjoy it and come to think of it maybe I need no better explanation than that.

If You Post Your Photographs in Social Media, It’s Almost a Sure Bet That Someone Will Steal Them

January 30, 2017

If you post photographs on social media you run the risk that someone will copy and use your work without your permission. Chances are they won’t even give you credit so no one will know that it is your image.

on-photography-newIn theory that is a violation of copyright law, but like speeding on an expressway it is a law that is widely flaunted.

I’m not sure whether to be angry or flattered when someone steals my photos.

At times I’ve been amused. That was the case when someone posted on a photograph of a flier on the wood bridge carrying Bort Road over the CSX Erie West Subdivision tracks near North East, Pennsylvania.

A group seeking to save the bridge from removal put on that flier an image that I made of a CSX train passing beneath the bridge. That photo had been posted on the Akron Railroad Club blog.

I was less amused when I discovered the organizers of a Michigan railroad conference lifted an image I made last July of Amtrak’s Blue Water at Durand, Michigan.

An educational group should know better than to steal a photograph without permission or giving credit.

On occasion, someone sends me an email asking permission to use one of my photographs.

The Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers did that for an image I made of an Amtrak train in Kalamazoo. My images have been used with permission in professional presentations and in the magazine of a rails-to-trails group.

But All Aboard Ohio stole a photograph I made of the Lake Shore Limited at Bort Road and published it on Page 1 of its newsletter. They did give me credit, though.

Some photographers won’t post on social media because they hate having their photographs used without their permission.

Others post stern copyright warnings, but those may be useless because it is easy to copy and paste online content.

Those who steal copyrighted work are largely unapologetic about it. Supposedly, some people believe that if something is online it is in the “public domain.”

There may be some truth to that, but I see it a different way. There is larceny in the hearts of many, if not most Americans.

Some scrupulously honest people will refrain from theft out of principle or moral obligation, but far more others have the attitude of “I’ll take what I can until someone stops me.”

The cost of stopping people who steal photographs can be high and the rewards low or nonexistent even if you prevail in a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Using the legal system is not free.

Many, if not most, who “steal” the photographs of others are not making money from the theft.

They see what they did as providing an illustration. I can look past those situations, but have a harder time with situations such as the blogger who copied an image I made inside an Amtrak dining car and used it to illustrate a travelogue about his Amtrak trip. The post suggested it was his photograph.

I received an email from someone I don’t know alerting me to that theft and providing a link to the site moderator to seek removal of the image.

I was told this blogger has a reputation of stealing other people’s images. Although I thanked the watchdog, I wound up not doing anything about the theft.

In part that is because I have adopted the philosophy of David Oroszi, a highly-respected railroad photographer from Dayton.

He once wrote that if someone is able to profit from stealing one of his photographs, well then good for them.

He did not elaborate on why he felt that way, but it might be a combination of understanding that the battle might not be worth waging and feeling comfortable with his own success as a photographer.

Dave’s images have appeared in numerous books, including several he has co-authored. Magazines regularly pay him for use of his photographs.

He knows what retailers know that you do what you can to protect your property but some loss from theft is part of the cost of doing business.

There Goes the Circus Train for Good

January 15, 2017


I only caught the circus train once. That occurred on Nov. 5, 2011, during a railfanning excursion to Pittsburgh. We didn’t know it was there and happened to just see it.

It was sitting in Norfolk Southern’s Island Avenue Yard (shown above) so I made a few images and then we moved on. I haven’t seen it since.

on-photography-newNow, it turns out that is likely to be the only time that I photograph the circus train.

Citing diminished ticket sales and high operating costs, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus announced on Saturday (Jan.14) that it is ending its traveling circus shows in May.

Some railroad photographers treated the circus train like an NS heritage unit.

When it was on the move, social media would light up with reports of its sighting.

There are three circus trains still operating. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has two trains, named red and blue, that crisscross the country. James E. Strates Shows also has a train.

But it was the Ringling trains that were best known among railfans.

Although the circus train was a regular visitor in Northeast Ohio, catching it wasn’t always easy.

Typically, the train would load after the last performance in a given city and then depart for the next stop on the circuit.

Often, the circus train would pass through our area in the dark, which is one reason why I never made an effort to catch it.

I have a great interest in passenger trains, but the circus train just never had much appeal to me.

It operated with run-of-the-mill freight locomotives and being a very long train and I was never sure how to get an image that would show more than a few cars.

It would have been a nice catch, but was never very high on my “to do” or “wish” lists.

In looking at a couple chat lists to gauge the railfan community’s reaction to the news of the end of the Ringling circus, I found the expected anguished cries of “no, it can’t be” mixed among nostalgic memories of having seen the circus as a kid.

I don’t remember ever seeing a Ringling Bros circus. My hometown in east central Illinois was too small for Ringling to play.

I do have a memory of going to a smaller circus and being disappointed. Maybe that colored my attitude toward chasing the circus train in recent years.

I’ve never had any interest as an adult in seeing the circus and it is just one more thing whose time seems to have passed.

Will the circus train be missed? Maybe, but I wonder how many railfans saying “oh, no” have actually chased the circus train.

It seems to be a situation similar to the decline of passenger trains in the 1960s. The number of people decrying the loss of intercity rail passenger service was far greater than the number who rode the trains.

Losing something that has always been there tends to evoke an emotional response in many. And so it seems to be with the circus train.

I Felt Good About the Return of My Friend Etkachrome Even if Only for a Fleeting Moment

January 9, 2017

I don’t use film anymore but found interesting the news that Kodak is bringing back Etkachrome slide film.

on-photography-newI was a big user of Etkachrome until I bought a DSLR camera in July 2011. I shot my last frame of slide film a year later.

The rebirth of Etkachrome is good news for such slide shooters in the Akron Railroad Club as Marty Surdyk, Jim Mastromatteo, Richard Antibus, Don Woods and Dave Shepherd.

Kodak Alaris, the company that took over Kodak’s film products, said there has been increasing interest in analog photography and sales of film products are on the rise.

Those making images of railroad operations on film can expect to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

Yet I am reminded of a discussion we had at Eat ‘n Park last year during the post-ARRC meeting social hour about how the last lab in Akron that does E6 processing would be discontinuing that service.

Marty said he had a couple of rolls of film that were being held “hostage” by Cleveland-based Dodd Camera because the machine it uses for E6 processing was broken and it wasn’t certain when or if it would get fixed.

The upshot of those developments is that local photographers might need to ship their slide film by mail to get it processed.

The availability of slide film is unlikely to become any more convenient than it has been for the past several years. You have to visit a camera store to buy it or order it by mail.

Nor is the return of Etkachrome likely to signal a substantial return to film among railroad photographers.

In reading the comments on a photography website about the Etkachrome revival, I got the impression that film is a niche market heavily populated by professionals and serious amateurs who are invested in digital and film alike.

Film has its advantages, but cost is not one of them. Many who posted spoke about the high cost of buying and processing film, which can average around a dollar a slide.

If you want to show your slides to the world, you just about have to digitize them because there are few opportunities to see slides projected on a screen or wall. Social media is a digital world.

Although I grew up in a film world and most of my photography career has been in film, I sold my Canon Rebel G after going digital and there is a zero chance I’ll go back to film. The advantages of digital photography are just too many.

Emotional attachment and reaction is at the heart of photography. The return of Etkachrome is like hearing from a friend you haven’t been in touch with for several years who was once a big part of your life.

Even if the renewal of that friendship is fleeting, it feels good to know that he is still alive and well even if living a diminished life.

Oh, How Dark Room Work is Easier Now

August 22, 2016


When I was young, I had access to my Dad’s darkroom, so I began railfanning using black and white film.

For me it was dangerous. Film developing and printing consisted of dangerous chemicals, a sealed room in which I’d breathe their vapors, and the foolishness of youth in not wearing gloves but dipping my hands in the chemicals.

It also was time consuming and hard to get a really good image.

Today, with Lightroom and Photoshop, this is done digitally with much better control over each step.

First the image is scanned into the computer. With the scanner maker’s provided software there are many controls over the outcome simply by using the software for general corrections.

Then comes Lightroom where the image is digitally manipulated with far greater precision than could be done in a darkroom in a similar amount of time.

Not only are there exposure and contrast, there are sliders for highlights, shadows, saturation, cutting down on grain using noise reduction, etc., along with being able to remove chromatic aberration, clone out scratches, etc.

Next comes Photoshop for the finishing tweaks, including cloning out those hard to remove tiny defects and sizing the image for use on different sites.

Here is Canadian Pacific 4074 sitting in the CP roundhouse in Toronto in June 1972. The detail, contrast, exposure were all changed or improved along with other tweaks.

Could I do this in a darkroom? Perhaps, if I had many hours.

Thankfully, I live in 2016. While the late 1960s was a wonderful time to railfan, I’d hate to be limited to only that period’s technology.

After all, only a few could see a railfan’s work this way instead of putting the images on sites like this blog where many can share and enjoy various railfans’ work.

Article and Photograph by Robert Farkas


On Photography: Some Lessons To be Drawn From an Artist-Photographer’s 4-Year Exploration of Traveling Across Amerca Aboard Amtrak

May 2, 2016

I’ve long had an interest in how a master photographer who is not necessarily a railfan might approach photographing railroad operations. What would he or she see that the typical railfan overlooks or doesn’t think about?

Hence, I was drawn to an article at the website about San Francisco photographer McNair Evans and his exhibit In Search of Great Men, which is on display at San Francisco City Hall through Nov. 18.

Evans spent four years riding Amtrak for two weeks at a time twice a year. The exhibit highlights what he saw and captured during those trips, a view of Amtrak travel through the camera of an artisan photographer.

If you lack the time or money – or both – to travel to the West Coast you can sample the exhibit by clicking on the link below.

I haven’t seen the complete exhibit, only the sample available at It was enough to intrigue me.

On Photography Logo-xEvans did not focus on what a typical railfan photographer might emphasize. He was more interested in the people riding the train and their stories of why they were traveling.

One theme he developed was how people appear on a long-distance train after having ridden in a coach seat all night.

“The long-haulers interest me the most because at that point, why aren’t you flying?” Evans told the San Francisco Chronicle.

They weren’t flying because the train was more economical, they enjoyed train travel or they had an aversion to flying.

Evans, 36, is not without a railroad background.

A biographical sketch posted at sfac said that the North Carolina native spent summers as a teenager on a track gang for a short-line railroad.

A passenger car that his grandfather once owned is on display in North Carolina.

But it was a summer 2011 trip from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Richmond, Virginia, that sparked his interest in what became his “great men” project.

“I felt in love at the time, so the romance of this short ride really swept me away,” Evans told “We passed the backs of manufacturing facilities, Little League Baseball games, and tobacco fields where individuals worked with traditional hoes and rakes. I was drawn to the passengers on that route that not surprisingly mirrored the surroundings. They were very receptive to my camera.”

Between 2012 and 2014 Evans rode Amtrak for two weeks at a time and would spend 16 to 18 hours a day making photographs. As a college student Evans studied anthropology and in a sense his train trips were anthropological expeditions.

Aboard the train he looked for passengers who caught his attention through such traits as the color of their clothing, the meal they were eating or the way they laughed.

He asked them to write out a narrative explaining something about their lives and why they were aboard the train.

“It provides a safe place for them to share their story and a rich source for me to explore each person’s emotional nuances through his writing,” Evans said. “The idea of a single perspective project felt self-indulgent, distant, and one-dimensional.”

Evans said he rides the train because of the human interactions it provides. “I’m there because I love people, observing them, learning from them, and finding common ground between our lives. For a romantic humanist like me, it’s a wonderful way to travel,” he said.

Not all of Evans’s photographs are of people. He also made images of what could be seen from the train, including such things as the underside of a highway bridge.

A description of the “Great Men” exhibit at sfac described it as a combination of “compelling portrait and landscape photography alongside photo-documentation of pages from first-person, passenger-written journals, offering the viewer a poignant and empathetic view of the diverse cross-section of travelers he encountered . . .”

Among those whose stories he tells are an Amish family traveling to Tijuana for medical treatment, a single mother commuting to the North Dakota oil fields, and a teenage son hoping to reunite with his father.

“At a time when such travel may soon be only a memory, this show explores that search for something just out of reach and a bit intangible,” Evans said. “It is about the desire for change and the possibility of hope fulfilled.”

I found myself admiring how Evans was able to get the people he met aboard the train to cooperate with him.

Most people do not embark on a journey expecting to be photographed or approached by a stranger asking them to tell their life story.

I’ve had interesting conversations with people aboard Amtrak, but more often than not those occurred during meals in the dining car. Many – although not all – of those you dine with aboard a train want to socialize.

I also know that many people are self-conscious about being photographed and suspicious of your motives for wanting to photograph them.

When traveling aboard a train, I try to make images of people who aren’t looking at me or who seem unaware of my presence.

Evans used that tactic, too, but at other times he created portraits of willing subjects.

Doing that takes a certain amount of people skills and even courage that many railfan photographers – myself included – don’t have.

You have to have a photojournalist mindset in order to board a train and start firing away at your fellow passengers with a camera. Having an extroverted personality also helps.

There is an art to approaching people and getting them to agree to be photographed. Evans probably has plenty of stories to tell about people who were cool if not hostile to his work.

He probably reached a certain comfort level with people before pulling out his camera. I’d bet he has developed a feel for what type of person is amenable to being portrayed in a photograph.

It is not just people that Evans photographed during his journeys. He didn’t overlook details that we take for granted because we’ve seen them a thousand times.

One of Evans’ images shows a menu for the Capitol Limited tucked between a wall and the back of a booth as late day light streams through a window.

Such detail helps to tell a larger story by showing a nuance about the experience you are seeking to capture.

Another lesson is to view that experience through the perspective of someone unfamiliar with it.

Most Americans have never ridden Amtrak, let along taken a cross-country trip by rail. To them, Amtrak is just another way to travel yet they might even think of it as romantic because that is how train travel long has been portrayed. What would a person unfamiliar with Amtrak travel or any other experience focus on if seeing or experiencing it for the first time?

And then there are the people at the center of the experience. They do not have to be doing extraordinary endeavors. Some of Evans’s most interesting images portray ordinary people doing an ordinary thing. As much as train travel has been romanticized, it is, for most travelers, an ordinary experience.

But it wasn’t just travelers who Evans captured. One image shows a young man watching the Southwest Chief pass a McDonald’s restaurant in Trinidad, Colorado.

Perhaps that man views the train as a summons to travel to some faraway place for the excitement of discovery of something new, as a means to escape something that is haunting him, or something that is attractive because it is moving.

Whatever the reason why they watch trains go by, people alongside the tracks are a part of the railroad experience.

Evans’ work shows what you can accomplish if you are willing to spend the time to study something in depth and put in extensive work documenting it.

It also shows the value of theme development, which often results from familiarity with your subject matter. Theme development, after all, is the difference between a story and a mere collection of photographs.

Maybe It Was All About the Pursuit of Perfection

April 8, 2016

I was killing time at the Lakeland train show a few weeks ago when I picked up an issue of Trains magazine from the 1990s to leaf through.

Catching my attention was a letter to the editor pertaining to an article published in the September 1995 issue about the man who shot perfect photographs.

I dug through the pile of magazines and found the article in question because I was curious who it was and what made his photographs “perfect.”

On Photography Logo-xThe photographer was the late Robert O. Hale and the article author was Richard Steinheimer, who some might say also made “perfect” photographs.

Hale worked in the western United States, particularly California, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Steinheimer wrote that he first encountered Hale’s work in Trains around 1950.

For those who liked Hale’s work, Steinheimer wrote, he was a “superman of rail photography.”

According to Steinheimer, all of Hale’s images were properly filtered and cropped, and he had an “independent personal style.”

However, the article never explained what constitutes a perfect photograph and how and why Hale’s work fit that description.

Terms such as “perfect” and “perfection” might seem to have a definitive meaning, but wind up being rather nebulous because of the casual and careless manner in which they are used.

What constitutes “perfect” has caused me some anguish over the years, particularly when I was grading essay exams written by college students.

I was loath to award the maximum point value for an essay, usually 50 or 100 points, because the maximum score meant that the answer was “perfect.”

“Perfect” meant nothing more could have been done to improve upon the response.

If more could have been said or it what was said could have been presented in a more skillful manner, then the response was not perfect because it was flawed.

That, though, raised the question of how a mere mortal could determine that a performance was without any flaws.

I eventually came around to thinking that “perfection” when it came to college student essays is context-specific.

My standard became that the student did the best that an undergraduate could reasonably be expected to do given how much time he or she had to answer the question.

That is still a tough standard to judge, but I’ve found it easier to deal with than a rule that to be perfect something has to be without any flaws.

The letter to the editor about the Steinheimer article on Hale’s photographs asserted that the latter’s work was very good and some of it was unique, but it was not perfect.

The letter writer also failed to define what is meant by “perfect,” but after looking at some of the photographs that illustrated Steinheimer’s piece, the letter writer probably had in mind the fact that some of Hale’s images of steam locomotives did not show the entire locomotive.

Whether Hale made perfect photographs or not, his story was interesting and quite reflective of the era in which he worked.

He might make just one or two photographs a day and had a rather laid-back attitude toward his work.

He didn’t spend endless hours waiting for a train. Either the train he wanted to photograph came or it didn’t.

Hale’s day did not begin early. He often would visit with railroad block operators, finding out during those chats what was coming.

Then he would make a plan to photograph trains at a specific location. Hale was not one to engage in “death marches” to reach distant and rugged locales, but he did like to get out into the countryside.

Steinheimer wrote that when Hale had a vision for a particular image, he stayed with it until he had captured just the right train in just the right light with just the right clarity.

It probably was that quality that prompted Steinheimer to conclude that Hale made perfect photographs.

Hale honed his photographic skill during his U.S. Navy service. Steinheimer noted that Hale had worked long and hard to perfect his technique of making images of landing aircraft.

That level of development led Steinheimer to observe that not all great talent appears spontaneously. It must be developed, even by those who possess much natural talent.

I still don’t know what constitutes a perfect photograph or whether Hale made such images. What seems clear, though, from Steinheimer’s article is that Hale practiced the pursuit of perfection.

Hale mastered the little things that work together to make images that evoke an emotional response from a viewer by capturing a strong sense of time and place. Today, we call this “nailing it.”

One of his strengths was his ability to visualize an image and then have the patience to try multiple times if necessary to attain it.

He was a student of the craft. That didn’t make him unique, but it did elevate him to the upper echelon of his peers.

We should all feel that we’ve accomplished a great deal if someone can someday say that about any of us whether we did or did not make perfect photographs.

Lack of Planning, Practice Will Land Your Program on Left Edge of Presentation Spectrum

March 23, 2016

The lights come on at the conclusion of an Akron Railroad Club meeting program. You ask the guy sitting next to you what he thought of the program you both just viewed.

Chances are the answer will be brief. Either it was good or it was bad. Some might be polite and use a less harsh word than bad. Whatever the language used, the response tends to be the good-bad dichotomy.

On Photography Logo-xThink about it some more, though, and you realize that programs fall on a continuum between those extremes.

Think of good as falling on the far right side of the continuum and bad on the far left side.

Let’s explore the left side, which is not necessarily a mirror opposite of the right side.

Programs that fall toward the left side have a few positive qualities that you will also find on the right side. But left side programs are there because they have a series of deficiencies and not just one major shortcoming.

Typically, left side programs suffer from mediocre image quality and lack of effective organization and structure.

Most, if not all, of the images shown have average to poor composition along with such technical deficiencies as under and over exposure.

More than anything else, though, poor organization and execution lands a program on the left side.

I remember a program in which the presenter used software that advanced his images in a timed sequence.

The images raced along faster than the presenter could explain them. Many images went unexplained because there was no way to catch up.

I’ve also seen programs in which the ordering of the images was baffling. We’d be looking at images made in Colorado and then the program would cut back to Ohio for no apparent reason.

Such programs lack a logical progression to the order in which images are presented.

Combine mediocre images, lack of logical order and a presenter who is winging it and you have a program that can’t end soon enough.

The presenter has not rehearsed or scripted his program. He hasn’t thought much, if at all, about how to integrate his commentary into a well-developed theme.

Lack of theme and focus are two hallmarks of a not-so-well organized program. Maybe the presenter had a focal point in mind, but failed to explain it adequately.

Most programs at ARRC meetings tend to fall toward the middle of the spectrum with some flirting with left end territory.

I’ve yet to see a true stream of consciousness approach in a program even if some had characteristics of that.

Stream of consciousness presenting occurs when the speaker talks about whatever pops into his head at any given moment. It can be entertaining, but not necessarily informative or insightful.

There are many reasons why programs turn out as they do. Aside from what inadequate preparation, a key factor is the personality of the presenter.

Some presenters tend not be well organized in most things they do in life. Why would presenting a program be any different?

In fairness, most who present at ARRC meetings have few opportunities to practice and hone their presentation skills in front of a live audience. Inexperience and lack of mentoring prevent them from doing a better job.

You can’t easily change your personality but you can change your approach. Start by studying programs with an eye toward identifying the characteristics of the best presentations.

Knowing what makes a good program and being able to execute one are not the same thing. You must be willing to put in the time needed to plan and practice.

Many presenters don’t want to do that and it’s almost a sure thing that their programs will fall toward the far left end of the quality spectrum.