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Monday, 20 July 2020


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People being people. Tough gig at the moment.

Access to? Shows. The Detroit, Chicago and/or NY car shows -- Gone! The EAA Air Show (Oshkosh) -- Gone! My city's annual July 4th fair -- Gone. State Fairs -- Gone. Street fairs -- Gone.

Maybe next year. Meantime I'm learning that making good photographs of flowers is amazingly difficult.

I find that where I live has by far the biggest impact on what I shoot. So, access. When I lived in Alaska, scenic and wildlife splendor was literally just out my door. Here in Duluth, MN, in the upper middle class neighborhood I now live in, I take a lot of photos of yards and houses, and if feeling adventurous, city parks, downtown scenes, or industrial areas. Long drives to remote areas are very rare. If I were super serious about a particular kind of photography, access would be key. Street photography? Live downtown (or maybe have a job there). To the more determined genre photographers, this may seem like a non-issue, but for me, I recognize my personal patterns.

Access, I'd like access to faces. It's become trickier now with privacy concerns and my wife might get a bit cranky with me if I started getting models in :) - her question would be why I'm taking pictures of models when it should be the family. That's one element.
The biggest overall access issue that I have is time. Time is always in short supply - be it a young family to spend time on or work to support us, time runs out for photography. I've taken to having the camera go with me in the car on the passenger seat and my photography has become efficient. It's rare that I would get more than an hour alone with the camera and chosen lens in a location to explore in any given month. So time is my biggest access issue.

Yes indeed. Taking pictures and admiring cameras are two separate interests.
Much like gardening and looking at flowers. I've known a few people who liked looking at gardens, so they then tried to tend their own. But gardening is mostly digging in the dirt, bent over in the heat. It's not at all the same thing as admiring gardens, which consists of walking around and having the occasional coffee. What's the point of planting a garden then never watering or weeding it? I have seen people do exactly that numerous times.
There's no reason why two interests can't co-exist in one person of course. One can be interested in collecting neat cameras and ALSO go out and take pictures.
Sometimes people berate themselves or others online because they spend too much time obsessing over equipment and not taking pictures. Why all the flagellation? Just enjoy both hobbies.

Unless I am very much mistaken, David Hurn once said a good pair of shoes is the most important tool for a photographer.

Your mileage may vary here.

While it is absolutely true that we need Access to the things we want to photograph, before access enters the picture we need a motivating Desire. Photography can be enjoyed on many levels, and as you point out Cameras themselves can produce a lot of enjoyment for people.
Even besides true collectors where acquiring Cameras & Lenses is the most important thing, many of us have lots of cameras & Lenses that we rarely use, but enjoy owning.
For others, pictures are primary, and cameras , while important to them are secondary.
The more important the Desire to make Pictures is to you, the more likely it is that you will find a way to get access .
Granted, if your only desire is to make pictures of The Blue Angels, from the air, you are going to have a tough time with access.

People with enough desire and perseverance, often find a way to get access.
Speaking for myself , each time I settle for what is convenient, I rarely get more than ok pictures that are ultimately unsatisfying.
If we really want to make good pictures, and have the desire willingness to work at it, sometimes the best approach is to ask, to what do I have sufficient access to allow results that would be satisfying. Desire and work often beget Access.

Being a generally overly technical nerd my early approach to photography was towards subject matter that was connected to the more technical "how to" literature that available in the 90s when I got re-started. Mostly this meant landscapes: zone system, black and white darkroom, slide film, tripods, etc.

Eventually I figured out that my landscape pictures would never be all that interesting because I have no real emotional interest to the subject. So I hunted around for what I really wanted to shoot and it turned out to be along the lines of "landscape photography, but in the city". Not architecture, really. Generally not traditional street photography either. Just interesting light landing on interesting things in interesting places.

I live just outside a mid-sized city, so there is ample opportunity to find this sort of thing nearby when I want to. Of course I don't get out and into the city for this purpose as often as I should.

I also like night photography and in a related but totally different vein, astrophotography. Again, a lot of technique and equipment there. Here living in the city is a handicap. But modern image capture and processing techniques have some remarkable workarounds for even the worst light pollution.

So. "Serious" work is cities and night pictures. Both are easy to find.

The advent of the cell phone camera has made me try to also take a looser approach to things, and not worry about the technical issues so much. The extent to which this is now possible even with night-ish pictures is remarkable.

Here is my phone capturing the comet that showed up recently.


It's in the lower middle of the frame.

But for more regular subjects the phone has also opened me up to doing more traditional street photography ... though I still don't do that much.

Personally, I think of your two questions the other way around: 1) what do I most enjoy or find meaningful, and only then 2) how can photography accompany or enhance my engagement with those things or activities? In other words, while I do sometimes say "I'm going to go out and take some pictures" that's really just shorthand for "I'm going to go out and do something I love and see if I can make some artful photographs along the way." The photographs that I find most satisfying are those that 1) record or signify something or some action that's meaningful to me (family, walks in the woods, etc) and 2) do so in an artistically interesting or engaging way. Thought of this way, I have as much access to what I want to shoot as I have access to whatever it is that I love apart from photography.

When I self-studied a bit of typograhy, my boss at the time wrote a newsletter for his company, and he made the headlines in bigger type. And in bold. And in italics. And in capitals. And underlined. If there had been more ways of emphasis, I'm sure he'd have used those also.


"What are you happiest making pictures of ... and do you have access to it? If you know the answer to the first riddle and can say "yes" to the second question..."

Definitely know the answer, and I had access until the pandemic. I don't right now. Hopefully will again someday.

For both my wife and I our favourite subjects for photography are birds and other wildlife. We live on the north shore of Lake Ontario on one of the many fly-paths for migrating birds and have had different families of foxes making their home here as well as a resident Kingfisher nesting in the banks along the shore. When we were able to travel we worked our way through most of Central America, California, Arizona and Florida taking advantage of many popular birding hotspots. For most of that time we used Canon 7Ds (we have 4 of them between us) and the Canon 400mm f5.6 L. About 6 years ago I decided to try mirrorless Cameras and bought a used Sony NEX 7. In 2006 I bought a Sony a6500 along with various adapters to use my Canon glass. When Sony introduced the 200-600mm f5.6-6.3 in 2019 I preordered it and have reveled in its performance ever since. We prefer the crop sensor cameras to enable us to get as many pixels on the bird as possible as the photos are almost always cropped. So, to sum it up, we are lucky.

Sometime after my book "Rock City Barns: A Passing Era" was published in 1996 and became an instant best-seller, I received a letter from the well-known art photographer Maria von Matteson, who proposed arranging a joint exhibit with her and the great Florida Everglades photographer Clyde Butcher.

The show never happened, but one thing that Maria said to me stuck: she said "You need to write an artist's statement that defines you." So I did, and this is what I came up with.

"My domain is the old, the odd, and the ordinary; the beautiful, the abandoned, and the about to vanish away. I am a visual historian of an earlier America and a recorder of the interface between man and nature; a keeper of vanishing ways of life."

As a commercial, architectural, and occasional wedding photographer, I've done a lot of things that don't fit within that statement. Yet, for the past 22 years I've known who I am as a photographer and have sought to work as much as possible within that vein. I wrote about this on my blog A Life in Photography. http://alifeinphotography.blogspot.com/2020/02/who-am-i.html

Easy: Division I men's and women's volleyball and I do have access, even when traveling to other schools. I also like to shoot DI basketball and have little access other than when my team travels and they don't bring a (paid) photographer...

This make so much sense to me. I have pretty much everything that I lusted after gear-wise. For example, I put together a terrific set of lenses optimized for portraits, based on the reviews. I spent thousands of dollars on this hardware with visions of what I could do with it.

What I don't have is ACCESS to the faces that I saw in my mind's eye when I bought these lenses. Yep, the potential of my gear is off the charts. The actual reality is that I needn't have acquired most of it.

Yes, generally I have access. That's because I've disciplined myself about what to shoot wherever I am. I also luckily just bumped into something just over 20 years ago when I had an opportunity to participate in my only international show, a group show of installations around the city of Belfast (not a photography show). We had to get on the ground and find our location (they weren't assigned to us, we had to find them for ourselves). I got an extremely important insight then, and was able to translate it into the photo project I've been doing since 2005-6.

Taryn Simon's ouvre is all about access. Her photos aren't really about things like color, geometry, tones, shapes, those things that are the bread and butter of so many photographers.

Her photos are about access to places that are normally forbidden.

Why is one portrait photographer considered a master when another, whose photos are just as masterful, toils in obscurity? Because the famous photographer is photographing the famous. They have access.

And then there's an entirely different kind of access that I think most of us will understand- access to your own unique voice, your eye. Vivian Maier is a perfect example of that access to an inner vision (thank you Stevie Wonder).

Even then, Vivian Maier is acclaimed, posthumously, because someone pushed and pushed for her work access to the wider world.

Isn't that what we all want? For the people around us to gain access to our individual visions?

I almost stopped caring for gear, having a decent "good enough" set up. My concern is much more related to the access, motivation and possibilities to shoot.

Last Saturday I ended up at a Friend's balcony.
But it wasn't any balcony, but the one of the attic, next to a preserved midcentury Neon sign over a theater building.
In the center of an European capital, where it's quite a privileged location.
He stayed there only temporarily as it was a relative's business office, and that was the last night.
It was a warm evening, on the 60F's, which is rare at these latitudes in Northern Europe, clear beautiful long blue hour.

I came to think about how all of these were aligned.

Of course, I shot as much as I could of the neon sign, the space and my friend as well as enjoying a great time and conversation.
I just had a Fuji 6x9 film camera, phone and an EM5 with a superzoom that is not a fast lens. Yet, good shots were taken.

And the riddle. I thankfully have had for some shots, not for others. I came with an idea that was different, and took photos I could not imagine. My last point is that photography is a good way to freeze time and keep all of those constantly moving factors, in a single image.

Also, too many cameras may lead to fiddling around and missing the point.


The depth of that balcony moment was that some movie stars may have sat in that place sometime in the past. That years ago I thought about moving to this place, the park below where I walked years ago as a tourist stranger; Later as a desolate emigrant; and here I was, with finally a brighter future and next to friend. A friend who I made after a mere coincidence plus a year of friendship building. Things I would not have imagined.
The friend is important as this society is closed, a capital city where you can thrive or grow miserable. All because of social access due to a reserved individualistic society. Yet here I was, with a friend who decided to share a path together.
I struggled for a few years to find some footing in career and finally have settled, perhaps not in the ideal way, but to think about the worst -just look at Covid's crisis- makes me shiver. See so many things taken for granted that are gone.
A closed cinema, symbol of the past and broken future. Yet there, in an attic balcony, next to its midcentury neon sign and with a meaningful friend.

And I can only conclude thinking in how complex or unforeseen this access can be.

I always liked photographing people, street, yes, but not necessarily on the street, candids. I enjoyed trying to capture that fleeting moment, and I succeeded sometimes. Now, I’m older, and all that is harder. I’m not as agile, and I have physical limitations that, hopefully in time, I can overcome,
But I love putting elements in a frame and composing a picture. It doesn’t happen easily, but when it does, and if at the same time, I can get lighting the way I’d like, I’m a happy camper!
So at this point in my life, I’m happy to be able to photograph anything, and nothing is out of bounds.

The things that give me the most satisfaction to photograph are cities (urban landscape and street) and live music.

I love the generally universal access to the first two - pretty much no matter where I am, I can roll out of bed, explore, and return with unexpected treasures. These chance (and sometimes not so chance) encounters really drive that addiction for me. And to combine them with some type of recurrent theme or to shoot purposefully in that vein is the ultimate for me.

With live music, it's generally a more 'controlled' experience in that I'm in the crowd in some fashion (seated or roaming) and am more of a hunter - with one or a few subjects that I need to study and learn to anticipate their movements to capture the best moments. Being present and able to capture these cultural touchstones for myself of my favourite artists allows me to participate in (insert myself into?) that conversation in some fashion. That access has been missing since March, but I'm looking very much forward to its return at some point.

But, I think the best example of access making all the difference is with my niece, who lives a five hour drive from me. I only get short windows into her life typically around holidays or specific trips to visit or visits from them. I do what I can on these occasions to get some good shots, but I'm also torn with just spending time with her. My sister, though, has full access 24/7 so, while not a 'photographer' she is able to capture a lot of great, personal moments that I am not. You can definitely see that difference in my pictures and hers - easter, christmas, summer cottage time versus first time reading a book, first attempts at personal fashion, etc. The intimacy in the photos is quite different due to that constant access. (And omnipresent smartphone cameras, of course.)

I have access to an entire civilization which may soon disappear. I daily drive to one of the several coffee shops I frequent in Phoenix. There I read the NYT, then spend two or three hours walking or driving around the neighborhoods in this congregation of five million people living in a desert. The water supply is unlikely to last. This is my "Phoenix Pompeii" project, recorded on film so that a future generation will have something tangible to hold, a visual fossil which an SD card could never be.

I have a wonderful set of cameras and lenses for the task. One of the most useful is a Minox GT, always in my shirt pocket, with a 35mm f/2.8 lens which is so venerated it is sometimes rebuilt into a Leica M mount. I also have a Pentax P3N which has the best screen for focusing A-mount lenses.

I am almost embarrassed to admit how humble my yearning is to see people simply being kind to each other.

But it’s what motivates me to be a funeral photographer.

And why a funeral photographer? Because for a day, people are human and since funeral photographers are so unusual, people don’t perform for you as they would at a wedding and instead are genuinely compassionate.

My thing is the relationship between humans and places - how places are shaped by us (are there any other places??) and how they shape us, provide us with roots. Access is a constant problem. For instance, a project that I'd really, really like to do is to photograph disused fish ponds. The region where I live has lots of small creeks. The locals used to dam them up to create small ponds in which they bred fish, mostly trout. However, this seems to be out of fashion for quite some time, so most ponds are no longer used. These ponds represent landscaping on a very small scale, often in a makeshift fashion. Very interesting and photogenic. The problem is that the only things that the owners keep in proper order are chain-link fences and "No Trespassing" signs, so those ponds are off limits. An obvious, but not very satisfying solution would be to include these fences - dissatisfying, because when you sense that you would get a much better picture, were you just able to move those two steps forward, past the damn fence ...

Best, Thomas

When people discover that I am a "photographer", one of the two most frequent questions they ask is
"What do you like to photograph?"

My response is "I almost never do formal portraits."

I'm as interested in the random pattern of fallen petals as in the Himalayan crest. As interested in a local finch as an exotic Hornbill. Little girl who should have a pearl earring as a wrinkled old man. Fabulous fabric in a dress as the texture of ferns. Flower with soft glow as another with razor sharp deep focus. Abstraction and documentation.

I could go on for ages, and illustrate, but then this post would be yards long. \;~)>

You, and others often warn that to become a successful photographer, one must specialize, with a recognizable look. Fortunately, that only applies to commercial success, not artistic satisfaction.

". . . having this camera or that one has seldom been the real determinant of whether I'm happy with my photographing or not."

As a result of the breadth of my photographic interests, gear makes a real difference to me. When I was able to move from a 28-200 mm zoom on FF to 28-300 mm, my satisfaction increased. Yeah, sure, I had a 300 mm prime, but that's not exactly responsive for my kind of photography.

Moving to APS-C, my satisfaction with tele work increased, but WA decreased and I didn't get along with the 60D very well. µ4/3, in the form of an E-M5, with both ends covered by 9-18 (18-36 eq.) and 75-300 (150-600), was a huge step up in satisfaction, both with the process of capture and with the results.

Then came the E-M5 II and focus bracketing. Means nothing to you, Mike, but it was a long wished for revelation to me. Pictures I had long had in my head, but was unable to make, were now possible! I have 16x20 prints on my wall that knock me out.

And then -- the Leica 100-400 zoom! Candids, mountains, birds, bugs, different landscapes, so much more oh my!

Then -- the Panny GX9, birds in flight. The Voightländer Hyper Wide 10/5.6, for panoramic AoV without stitching issues or defishing, esp. of things that move.

The 19 years since I bought a 1.9 MP Canon S110 P&S and the 16 since the 5 MP 300D have been a carnival of increasing capabilities in the gear available to realize the images in my head.

I've been lucky with access, in that much of what I like to photograph is not hard to find. Last year, Bhutan, Seattle, Cascade foothills, red rock Utah, New England and Ireland provided access to endless opportunities. Not cheap, perhaps, but not difficult to access.

This year is oh so different, but I find that there are lots of details to see in a smaller area. Last year, Bhutan:

This year, home:

Why birds? Maybe 'cause the Red Tail fledgling was here so recently. Could have been any of many things.

Bill Jay wrote an excellent essay that touches on this, called "The Subject Matters". It's on the net, somewhere, but I'll recommend looking it up.

Lack of access is 'killing' me while keeping me safe.
What I am not photographing this year that I had planned to.....
Three new family members I haven't met yet, except by FaceTime.
Polar Bears.
South Africa.

It's the flights of course.

Who was it that said "set your camera to f8 and be there"?

Its the being "there" that is important. You can't take that world shaping pic if you are not there.

Keenly observed!

Here are a couple of examples of another aspect to "access"...

Standing belly deep in a lake with camera on a monopod:

Laying on the sand with the viewfinder six-inches off the ground:

Access is important, undeniably- and I've never had a press pass or any other 'private in.' So you learn to work the periphery the best you can, learn to milk and make the best of it that you can.

Even with a pass, Jimmy Breslin made perhaps the best example of this:


I got quite deep into beekeeping – I actually make a brief appearance in the new Netflix documentary hosted by Zac Efron (ep 7, London) – and I volunteer with the Bicycle Innovation Lab in Copenhagen which promotes unusual bike designs and also does bike repair, advocacy, etc. I've often thought that these would make for interesting documentary-type projects (and both feature some interesting characters). But I'm always too preoccupied working with my hands to focus on photography... or maybe I'm not enough of a photographer. If you or anyone else have any tips, I am all ears.

Between 2004–09, I lived in a "college hostel" (South Asian term for campus dorms). I was the unofficial "college photographer" and my photos appeared in several brochures and the college magazine. But for whatever reason I didn't really document our day-to-day lives in hostel, which were quite colourful, sometimes bizarre. I only realised what an opportunity I had missed when I saw a series by a Bangladeshi photographer, shot in her own hostel around the same period.

I wonder what other such opportunities I'm missing as we speak. It's a gift to be able to see what might seem mundane, with fresh eyes. The fish doesn't know it's in water and all that. Or to quote from one of my favourite novels, "We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours for ever."

Well, i am curious about people’s responses to this train of thought: “i grant access, so i claim copyright.” Nope, it’s not that uncommon.

For event photography, getting hired for the job gives you the access :-)

Not as strongly, but somewhat the same for photojournalism (Jim Marshall had the only press pass for the last Beatles concert, wasn't it?). If you're chosen as a Whitehouse photographer that gives some of the access. But for the high-demand spaces, who they hire or credential will be a very small portion of the who apply or want the position; those choices will be mediated by who they know, but also by who has a good history of producing results. (To some degree, photojournalism is just event photography of events too many people want to photograph!)

Have been working on two personal photography projects (very unusual for me to do defined projects; I remember I did one senior year of highschool, and I've been working on a one-day-a-year one since about 1987...).

One of which is very relevant here. Borrowing the idea (and name) from local photographer Stuart Klipper I've been photographing "solar intrusions" during lockdown—interesting patterns made when beams of sunlight coming through the windows fall on parts of objects inside. Closest to abstracts I've ever done, too.

The quote "90% of photography is being there" has always stayed with me. Read it many years ago and can no longer clearly remember the source. Although my hazy memory wants to say it's from an interview with Harold Evans (UK Sunday Times editor in the early 80s). Anyhow, it's remarkably minimal in its sweeping truth.

Mike, I have to say this is so true. Back in the late 60s, early 70s when I was attending lots of pro sports car races as a volunteer mechanic or photographer I had access to the real action and took thousands of photos. The best ones were people, like this one of Mark Donohue in Roger Penske's Sunoco McLaren at the Mid Ohio Can AM Race in 1968. I took the photo by standing up on the pit wall where I had been sitting with Mark's wife Sue on one side and Roger Penske on the other.

I have some wonderful candids of Peter Revson, Jim Hall, even Denny Hulme sticking his tongue out at me and lots more. If you like that era, here's some more in my archives: http://www.jimhayes.com/Archives/index.html

Two asides: these were scanned and posted almost 25 years ago in the infancy of the Internet before any photo posting sites existed. And most were shot with my Leica M2 and 35 Summilux or 90 Elmarit. Even the action shots! How did I do that?

I would like to have full credentials, i.e., access, to shoot the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.

Just once will be enough.

Access. It also works the other way round from what has been generally described here. My camera and a few of my portraits in the camera bag have facilitated my getting to know quite a few nice girls. And some men.

Henning Wulff, he sometime comments here, came to stay with us decades ago when he visited Hamburg to place the ashes of his late father in his town of birth. We met over at the old Leica Forum.

I want to start photographing local artists in their studios but did not know where to start. Met a guy at a local bar that I frequent earlier in the year and found out that he owns one of the top sculptural restoration firms in the country, Venus Bronze in Detroit. In talking to him I found what he did fascinating and he had restored works by Rodin, Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. Also found out that he is making the Robo Cop statue that is going to be put on permanent outdoor display. Asked him if I could visit his facility to photograph the works and workers there and he said yes. Was going to bring a few speedlights, umbrellas etc to see what I could do on my first self assignment.

This was going to be great. I would have some of my own work that I could show to artists to gain access to their studios. And then along came Covid-19 and the world went into suspended animation, sigh.

Access is key, to be sure. Access to raw material (aka, "subject matter"), whatever that may be, is the lump of clay we photographers work with. We form, mold, shape, and clarify the raw material with lens, frame, vantage point, detail and time (kudos to JS).

Access, after the photograph is made, then becomes a different, though related, element. Access to disseminating the photograph. Gallery, museum, publication, and other venues. It is deeply satisfying for the photographer to create the image. It becomes exponentially more so to share, if you will, those satisfying photos with others.

Consider all the examples you and other commentators have mentioned of well-known photos and how they became well-known. I'm sure having made the photograph, the photographer was imminently satisfied. But the reward of that satisfaction comes from the experience of having that photo become "famous."

And that comes with access to the means of getting the image out of the box and in front of eyes, many eyes.

Q: "I want to take amazing photographs. What should I photograph?"

A: What CAN you photograph?"

I might shock some folks with part of my answer, but in short my nature and landscape photography interest has little changed over just short of 60 years of photography. However my access to places I love to see and "be able to photograph" has changed considerably in 4 ways (I'll stop at 4 but surly there are more).

1) Age (Duh) - Age limits access to wild or undeveloped land because I'm shut out from physically difficult spots or places requiring a long, long outing to get there. I don't begrudge that, however, because I was young once and took advantage of it to the fullest. It's now someone else's turn at truly remote & physically demanding outings.

2) Attitude - This is harder to define but one's approach to the outdoors - the effort you are willing to take to go somewhere, the risks involved, and the chances of a "keeper", have all evolved over time. This is different from age - I can still do some things physically but choose not to because I'm less carefree than I used to be, which ends up limiting access.

3) Overuse - Certain outdoor resources are now too crowded to easily see or photograph in enjoyable ways. Some parks are so heavily visited that tripods are often banned or frowned on because they and the user take up too much space! Popular viewpoints are so crowded, I for one find little enjoyment going to them. The counterpoint here is there still are limitless places & settings where an enterprising photographer can make great photographs, even if the most "famous" places are "taken". As I've "aged" I have been more creative at finding wonderful settings for myself - and with no-one breathing down my neck.

4) The Cartel & the Virus - Two contemporary subjects with almost the same outcome. I happen to live in northwest California, part of a "golden triangle" of counties where illegal marijuana growing has been going on for decades. Moons ago, one could venture most places on public (and even private) lands and feel relatively safe. I don't hold that feeling anymore, especially on our extensive national forest lands, since practitioners have both increased the extent & intensity of their activities plus they are more dangerously armed. Legalization hasn't yet altered this situation. Local law enforcement is too overwhelmed to do anything about much of this.

The Covid-19 virus is just like the cartel in that it operates secretly and severely limits a "smart" person's wonderings. Redwood National Park, for example, has many popular visitor locations that I will simply not go to until this pandemic is over. The park has a beautiful dedication site named for Lady Bird Johnson, who dedicated the park in 1968. I consider it a "covid breeding ground" because the site and trail to it are so crowded. By and large, and I've been observing this first hand, out of area visitors are very infrequently wearing masks, even though signage is everywhere requesting it.

So, in short, my access to my favorite "things" is declining.

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