John Crane Photography: Blog en-us (C) John Crane Photography (John Crane Photography) Wed, 16 Dec 2020 03:00:00 GMT Wed, 16 Dec 2020 03:00:00 GMT John Crane Photography: Blog 96 120 Honesty  

Soapstone Prairie Open Space, Colorado

Blue Hour, Soapstone Prairie Open Space, Northern Colorado (Kodak Portra 160)

I went on one of my 4042n jaunts last Saturday, this time to SoapStone Prairie Open Space, a relatively new area at the extreme edge of Colorado. You can cross into Wyoming on one of the short backcountry trails. Having decided the goal for the day was to record honest images, I headed out with a pack full of Portra 160, some Ektar, some Delta and of course Tri-X. 

Soapstone Prairie Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado.

Soapstone Prairie Morning, Extreme Northern Colorado (Kodak Portra 160)

What do I mean by honest images. I mean images of an area that don't happen for a split second once a month, then are gone. An honest image is an unpretentious image. An honest image represents what an area looks like 99.9% of the time, not .1% of the time, deceiving viewers into believing every minute of every day looks like magic hour. An honest image means heading out when nothing's flowering, nothing's blooming and nothing's having babies. An honest image is two does and a buck watching you work your way up the trail in grey-blue hour, wondering if you're there to kill them, and deciding your not.

Wellington, Colorado

The honest image means a natural color film. Not a digital camera. Not Velvia (though I do think honest images can be made on Velvia). The temptation with Velvia is to force it into the dishonest realm - to compromise it. Juice it. An honest image means no Photoshop monkey business. It means no pano's, no stitching, and for the love of all things good and right in the world, no HDR. An honest image means being intentional about the media you choose to record a scene that's chosen you. An honest image means no black and white conversions. It means no cropping your way to a good image. It means thinking in series, or working for the stand-alone, solitary shot that needs no caption, no tag line.

Evolution of a November Sky, Fort Collins, Colorado

An honest image means medium format, 120 fine-grained, color negative film to capture every bit of nuance, every slight tonal variation, every bit of every square inch of everything in front of your fixed, focal-length (non-zooming) lens as you stand behind the tripod with the cable release in hand and trip the shutter. An honest image means waiting. It means looking intently for composition and it means missing. It means seeing a shot and not being able to frame it properly and passing it by, but allowing it to burn into your brain for next time.

Rawhide Power Plant, Northern Colorado

Rawhide Power Plant, Northern Larimer County, Colorado

An honest image means it fits the subject matter. Northern Colorado and southern Wyoming aren't Disneyland. The land is muted, earthen hues. Greens, mauves, ochres, tans, cobalt blues, cadmium reds, burnt sienna's; big skies, small plants, ugly rocks and lots of wind. It's bright, sunny, high-altitude light out of dynamic range praying for a cloud to drift between the sun and the earth to make a shot. An honest image means driving for hours and stopping in the middle of an unmarked county dirt road to turn around to make a shot that you pray you can make before a car comes over the hill and...  because with the wind blowing and the hood on your Carhartt up you can't hear anything more than 3 feet away. An honest image means getting dusty and dirty kneeling down in the the ditch. It means chasing your hat across the prairie when the wind takes it.

Near Red Mountain Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado

Near Red Mountain Open Space, Northern Larimer County, Colorado

An honest image means no trespassing. It means closing gates behind you and honoring the mandate to stay on the trail - and missing the shot you want because you did. An honest image begins an hour before sun up and ends an hour after sun down. It means a last tilt of the thermos of tepid, too-strong coffee for something to drink at the end of the day. An honest image means washboard roads, AM talk radio, bugs in the radiator and chipped windscreens. It means nearly running out of fuel and paying too much a gallon at the nearly closed, sporting good-convenient store-fast-food chain-delicatessen-truck stop-fuel mart that smells like burnt coffee and is out of TP. 

An honest image means - above all else - joy. Peace. Solitude. Creative immersion. It means Discovery. An honest image is a very, very good thing.

(John Crane Photography) 120 film 4042n Colorado Landumentaries Mamiya Portra Soapstone Prairie State Line Wyoming medium format rural Colorado rural Wyoming Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:59:51 GMT
4042n: Little Snake River Valley Wyoming-Colorado State Line-2 Road (2014)Wyoming-Colorado State Line-2 Road (2014)2 Road, Wyoming - Colorado Border, Moffat County, Colorado (2014).

Blog Post:
Off Moffat County Rd.2, along the Wyoming-Colorado state boundary - 2014 (Portra 160)
I've been wanting to explore the Little Snake River Valley for years. The Little Snake River Valley sits along the Colorado/Wyoming state line and follows the Little Snake River as it tumbles out of the western flank of Colorado's Park Range. The Little Snake is a tributary of the larger Yampa River, meandering westward in and out of Colorado and Wyoming along the state line then gradually makes its way south west to hook up with the Yampa west of Maybell and very close to Dinosaur National Park.
Wyoming-Colorado State Line, Route County, Colorado-2 Road (2014)Wyoming-Colorado State Line, Route County, Colorado-2 Road (2014)2 Road, Wyoming - Colorado Border, Moffat County, Colorado (2014)
 Unceremoniously proclaimed: The Wyoming - Colorado State Line south of Baggs, Wyoming just off Highway 13 - 2014 (Portra 160)
I was so pleased to have my wife join me on this trip. I've spent many hours and miles wandering alone out there and was glad for the company. All I had to do was mention fly fishing along the LSR and she was in. Unfortunately, that's not exactly how the weekend panned out. What we discovered when we hit the drainage was a whole lot of private land. At first glance, access to the river is all but eliminated by ranch after ranch, private home after private home, and miles and miles of fence line with large signs reading, "POSTED: NO TRESPASSING." While the fishing thing didn't materialize quite the way we'd envisioned, as in every first time into an area you learn a lot. Getting a feel for the area and traveling the roads is the first step in getting to know it. Turns out there is BLM land up there and river access - we just couldn't find it. Some follow up calls to the BLM office and GPS will fix that though. We'll return next time armed with more, better information. 
Moffat County, Colorado (2014)Moffat County, Colorado (2014)7 Road, Moffat County, Colorado (2014)
Evening light on Moffat County Rd.7, Moffat County, Colorado - 2014 (Portra 160)
With our fishing plans shot, my objective was to return to the "town" of Great Divide, a lonesome outpost along Moffat County Rd.7 in the remote regions of the county. Several years ago I'd stumbled across it returning from the Red Desert. At the time it had been a long few days in the car so I took the opportunity to stop and rest for a bit in Great Divide. From a landscape photography point of view light was poor; a typical, blue bird, cloudless, Colorado high-altitude, sunny day (whom but a photographer would deem those conditions poor?). Regardless, I made a few frames, then began the drive south east towards Craig. It's difficult to explain why but somehow that stop is one of the things I remember most about that particular trip.  For some reason the outpost of Great Divide stayed with me for years. Occasionally I'd google it to see what turned up - virtually nothing. It was almost like it didn't really exist. For years I've wanted to get back to Great Divide, hopefully in better light - and see what happened. Great Divide became our new objective.
Highway 13, Wyoming-Colorado State Line (2014)Highway 13, Wyoming-Colorado State Line (2014)Looking North on Highway 13, south of Baggs, Wyoming, Wyoming - Colorado Border, Moffat County, Colorado (2014)
Wyoming-Colorado state boundary, Highway 13 looking north towards Baggs, Wyoming - 2014 (Portra 160)
We hit Highway 13 south out of Baggs, Wyoming, and followed it for a mile or so before hooking up with County Road 4, then headed west. The plan was to hook up with Rd.9 and angle down to hit Great Divide for sunset. Even with a sunset calculator you can't be absolutely certain when sunset will happen. The light was cooperating beautifully. An active sky was producing doppled clouds that drifted between the sun and earth, slightly diffusing the increasingly gorgeous light as it began to sink towards the horizon. Often times what'll happen with an active sky is a low band of clouds will prematurely obscure the best light at the critical moment and end things early in a veil of gray. This has happened to me a lot over the years. This day, though - it looked like we had a shot at it.
My wife and I talked in the beautiful, evening light, heading down Moffat County Rd. 4 in search of the turn off. I told her as we drove, "when we get there, you're going to think..." and she finished my sentence: "...I know...that it was all worthwhile and I'll see how beautiful it is, right?"
"No," I said. "You're gonna think I'm nuts - that there's something wrong with me. There's really nothing there. It's just this old building, sitting out in the middle of nowhere. I can't even explain why I've had it in my head for so many years - why I need to get back. It doesn't make any sense." 
After a few miles on 4 we checked the map again and realized we may have missed our turn off. Briefly thinking about doubling back to look again the decision was made instead to press on in case it was still before us. But it was a gamble. Rd.4 continued to Powder Wash, then angled back south east on Rd.7 to Great Divide. If you picture a triangle balanced on its point, with Great Divide the bottom, 9 would have traveled one length direct of the triangle and put us right there. Instead, we missed that turn and had to travel the other two lengths of the triangle to reach the same point. It was a sure thing; getting us there eventually, but the route was twice as far. And it was getting late. Making the decision, I hit the gas instead of the brakes - ready for whatever awaited. It seemed like an eternity but we eventually hit Powder Wash, picked up Rd.7 then angled back down, towards what I hoped was that lonely remnant of a town in the middle of nowhere, waiting for me in beautiful, evening light.
My memory of the road was a little fuzzy and looking again at the Delorem atlas it seemed like we were doing everything right. A few dusty miles clicked off the odometer as stones flew from new tire treads and hit the underside of the wheel well. I glanced at the sky, then the clock. Crap. We're gonna be cutting it close, I thought. All of a sudden I remembered the date. It was June 20 - the day before the longest day of the year. A smile cracked my lips. "What's the smile for," my wife asked. I told her. We laughed, and my foot eased up on the accelerator as the pond came into view.
Great Divide, Colorado (2014)Great Divide, Colorado (2014)Great Divide, Colorado (2014)
Great Divide, Colorado (2014) - 2014 (Portra 160)
The cows welcomed us as the car came to a halt at the bottom of the hill. Directly across the road I glanced up to see the sign: Moffat County 9. We'd missed it, but would take it home when we left. Most importantly - though - after all the stressing about light - we'd managed to hit it perfectly. After a few shots of the pond we climbed in the car and headed up the road to the only junction of Great Divide, where the Mercantile waited.
Great Divide, Colorado (2014)Great Divide, Colorado (2014)Old mercantile, Great Divide, Colorado (2014) Old Mercantile Store, Great Divide, Colorado - 2014 (Portra 160)
It was still there and didn't look a bit different - which was no surprise. After surviving for so many years alone on the high plains, a few more shouldn't have made any difference. 
We pulled over across from the Old Mercantile and climbed out of the car into the gorgeous, still evening. Birds fluttered about, and back down by the pond, cows moo'd. It was serene. Still. There was no wind. The sun had continued its path towards the horizon, seeming to pull up at the last minute and wait - leaving just enough for us. I set up the tripod, picked the shots and went to work as my wife wandered Great Divide's single intersection for the first time.
Why do places remain with us? Why some places and not others? I don't know. What I did know that evening was, the second time to Great Divide was better than the first. It was made better by the company, the knowledge gained from the first visit, and the light. I'll look forward with eager anticipation to our next visit to the Little Snake River Valley. And I'll have my camera and a roll of Portra loaded and ready. 
(John Crane Photography) 4042n Colorado County F6 Kodak Little Mercantile Moffat Nikon Old Park Portra Range River Routt Snake Valley Wyoming Wed, 25 Jun 2014 16:13:04 GMT
Portra Color Negative (C41) Scanning Workflow Santa Fe, New Mexico-Christmas Lights in Gypsy Alley (2013)Santa Fe, New Mexico-Christmas Lights in Gypsy Alley (2013)Gypsy Alley, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2013).
Kodak Portra 400
Gypsy Alley, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2013). Kodak Portra 400

One of the greatest things about being a film photographer these days is the ability to create images both on film, then scan that film into the computer and have both analog and a digital versions of the image: a hybrid work flow it's sometimes called. There are plenty of reasons for doing this which others have articulated so I won't veer off course here. Being mostly a color film photographer, a number of years ago I realized I was somewhat addicted to the brilliant color and punch of the chrome films. In a sense, chrome film was the low-hanging fruit of the color film shooter's world - easy to scan because with the slide on the light box you began with a baseline of color to work with. Color negative film was a bit trickier in that regard - not being able to actually see the "right color" before beginning processing. But was it worth really diving in to figure it out? For a bunch of reasons I decided it was, and set about to figure it out. Recently in our Nikon F6 User Group on facebook someone asked about a Color Negative film work flow. I started to respond on facebook but the post got so long I decided to turn it into a blog post. Plus, I haven't written a blog post in so long I figured it was a good way to break the silence.

I don't pretend to be an expert, but I've been at it for a while and like anything else, you make mistakes along the way as you learn what works and what doesn't. I realized that as others return to shooting film they too may wonder how the heck you get started scanning the negatives into the computer. Someone else asked recently if you print the image  then lay the print on a flatbed scanner. This would make the scan a second generation away from the original; less desirable than a first generation scan from the negative. So the answer is no - you always want to scan from the negative. But how? Assuming you already have a computer, you also need a scanner and scanning software. For the latter, this description uses VueScan for the software, and the Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED (otherwise referred to as the LS-5000) dedicated film scanner.

The first step below is geared towards a Portra work flow, which I find myself shooting more and more. Again, lots of reasons for this - but the key is to over expose it by at least 2/3 of a stop or even a full stop. I've found when shooting and scanning all the Portra films, every one of them responds favorably when you give it more light than it thinks it needs. The question is, how much more? That depends on the scene, but some general guidelines are listed below. So with that in mind here's how I get from a frame of negative film to a digital image in the computer:

Regarding the C41 (Color Negative) workflow, it goes something like this:

1) I almost always over expose color negative film by at least 1/3 a stop. So for Portra 160 I’ll shoot it at 100; for 400 I’ll shoot it at 320; for 800 I’ll shoot it at 640 or more recently 400. It's not an exact science and your mileage may vary, but I do this because after a lot of experimentation with scanning have seen the most successful scans are on the light side, producing less noise in the shadow areas of the film. And if you're worried about not getting true blacks, no fear: because you're digitizing the file, bringing back the blacks is an easy levels adjustment.

Cameron, Arizona (2013)Cameron, Arizona (2013)Suspension bridge over the Little Colorado River, Cameron, Arizona (2013).
Portra 160
Cameron, Arizona (2013). Kodak Portra 160 at ISO100


2) I process straight. No push, no pull. So 160, 400 or 800 are processed at rated speed at the lab. I don’t develop the film myself, but send it to a local lab here in town, Digi-Graphics. They’re great. 

3) When the lab process and sleeves, I have them cut the film into strips of 4 to archive in my PrintFile 35-7B sleeves which fit nicely in 3-ring binders. For those reading who don't know this, the Nikon F6 generates EXIF data for every frame shot and captures it to a .txt file held in the camera's memory. Unfortunately you need the pretty expensive Nikon MV-1 reader to extract it from the camera to a CF card, then import the tiny, data file into the computer. So I export the Exif data from the camera, load it into the computer, then import the .txt file into an Excel spread sheet. I have the spread sheet set up as a multi-page workbook and save the rolls off in chunks of 25. So one Excel doc will have 25 sheets in it. This streamlines the excel files as the number of rolls grows. Once formatted in Excel I print the sheet, three-hole punch and place it in the binder on top of the two pages of sleeves containing those negatives. Nice and organized, easily findable by walking to the binder on the book shelf, grabbing the right one and opening to the right page.

4) One by one I’ll review each frame of a roll on the light box with a loop to decide which frames I want to scan. My keeper rate varies wildly. But it's usually higher than my digital photos.

5) Last year I switched to VueScan to run the Nikon LS5000 scanner. It takes a little trial and error at first, but I soon was able to establish consistent settings, allowing the maximum amount of data to be captured  during scanning. For me, the magical settings switch between a couple different combinations, depending on the image. Most of the time I use what VueScan calls Auto Levels. In a properly exposed frame it does a good job setting the initial white and black point, and rendering semi accurate colors. Every once in a while, though, I’ll switch to the White Balance setting. I find VueScan’s color settings less than predictable, to be honest - and tend to baseline everything with the intent of working on color in either Lightroom or Photoshop. Because I'm scanning a pretty flat interpretation of the image and it's 16-bit I know there's lots of data there to work with.


Cowdrey, Colorado (2013)Cowdrey, Colorado (2013)Dodge pick up truck and skull, Cowdrey, Colorado.
© Copyright 2013 by John B. Crane. All rights reserved.
Kodak Portra 160 (exposed at ISO100, processed at rated160)
Cowdrey, Colorado (2013) Kodak Portra 160 at ISO100


6) I'm a believer in doing something once, and doing it right. To that end, I always scan at the maximum resolution knowing that once a master image is created, I'll not need to scan it and rework it again-unless something unforeseen happens to the digital file. Scanning an image lower resolution, working on color, etc. thinking you can always scan it again later if you need it larger - is a waste of time. Storage is cheap, computers are fast. It's best to do it once, get the master image exactly how you want it, then down sample versions from it. Down sampling also produces a tighter, cleaner, sharper file. To borrow an analogy, if you were to take a survey amongst 10 people, you would get a data point. If you were to increase the number of people who take the survey to 100, you'll get a better representation of data. Increase the sample rate to 1,000 and even more so. You get the idea. So if you scan an image in at high resolution, then properly reduce it to a lower resolution, in theory it's a tighter, more precise representation of the scene because you're working with more data. So, I scan in 4,000ppi at 100% producing an image approximately 5,633 x 3,679 pixels. I scan right to the edge of the frame with the intent of getting every exposed pixel. The edges of the frame are uneven so I don’t always get every singe pixel, but it's close. I used to scan into the black borders of an uneven frame, then rotate and crop and clone in Photoshop, but it was too time consuming and I’ve opted instead now to just let the rectangular selection determine the edges of the image. Sometimes I lose a tiny bit, but it doesn’t matter. The point is I don’t crop in scanning - but get the entire image at full resolution. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I don't have my chrome (slide) films mounted in slide mounts either. Especially when you're shooting a camera with such a big, bright, 100% viewfinder like the F6, I like to get the entire frame exposed in the camera.


7) I scan at 4,000ppi because I’ve read in various sources and believe that’s about the maximum, uninterpolated resolution of a 35mm frame. You can scan higher on some scanners, but it may be interpolating or making up data as it scans just to get the higher resolution. I’d rather have pure, clean, raw information to work with than interpolated information. I usually use VueScan’s IR Cleaning filter, which does a great job eliminating the worst dust and scratches. I set it to Light, or occasionally Medium. I almost never use any of the other filter settings, but lately have been experimenting with the sharpening in VueScan vs. the High Pass method mentioned below. I never use Grain Reduction, finding that for me, it removes too much character in the image. One of the reasons I love film is the character the grain introduces - so trying to neutralize it is counter productive. If I need to reduce grain later I'll do so in Photoshop with Noise Ninja.


Morton Pass, Highway 34, Wyoming (2014)Morton Pass, Highway 34, Wyoming (2014)Morton Pass, between Laramie and Wheatland along Highway 34, Wyoming (2014).

Morton Pass, Highway 34, Wyoming (2014). Kodak Portra 800 at ISO400


8) I scan to 16-bit, TIF files, uncompressed, producing about 125Mb file. I’ll then open that file in Photoshop and begin work. Each image receives the following Adjustment Layers, usually (but not always) in this order: 

a) Often the first thing I’ll do is duplicate the base image to make a High Pass layer. This effectively sharpens the edges within the image and affects the tones less. The pixel radius setting is resolution dependent so for the full resolution image I’ll often play with between 2 and 3 pixel radius and see which works best, then set the Layer Mode to Overlay. This produces a non-destructive sharpening of the image whose layer opacity can be adjusted independently later on. Unfortunately however, it doubles the size of the file, and at 16-bit you're now working with a 250mb file. So unless you have a pretty fast computer you may elect to reduce the image to 8 bit at this point. If the High Pass setting is too high it may produce the dreaded white halo effect around objects in the final image so it’s best to be conservative.

a) Levels make sure I have the black point and white point where I want them. To do this, I’ll put my finger on the Option Key (Mac) and drag the black slider in the levels histogram until I begin to see clipping. Sometimes I’ll push into the clipping a bit if I want a darker rendition of the image, other times I’ll just barely touch it. I’ll then do the same thing for the white point: finger on Option Key and drag the white slider in until I begin to see clipping over all, or in various channels. If need be I’ll also adjust the middle slider to work the gamma.

b) Photo filter: sometimes a warming filter to bring up a naturally cooler image, sometimes a cooling filter to bring out the blues. The filter depends on the image. Sometimes LBA, sometimes Warming 85, Cooling 82, LBB, etc. 

c) Either a Saturation or a Vibrance layer and work on the color. In most cases I don’t saturate above 15 - 20 points. Just enough to pop the color, but at least on my monitor, not into the garish zone. Sometimes I’ll push a little more.

d) Depending on the image I’ll put a brightness/contrast layer on to work the balance of the final image.

e) Depending on the image, it may require layer masks for any of the above layers or additional adjustment layers - effectively dodging and burning various portions of the frame. I’ll typically use one mask per adjustment layer and set the opacity of my pen tool 33% to 66% ( 1/3 stops) to build up a mask in successive strokes - not just use black. I always use a Wacom tablet and pen, finding a mouse far too cumbersome for such work.

8) I’ll use the Spot Healing brush and clone tool to remove the obvious scratches, film buggers or dust spots that VueScan’s IR cleaning filter missed. The goal for each image is to make the scan appear as close to the original scene as possible. To that end I don't retouch images beyond simple dust and scratches, and color/levels settings.

Leadville, Colorado (2011)Leadville, Colorado (2011)WORKS, Leadville, Colorado (2011)
Portra 160VC exposed at ISO100
Leadville, Colorado (2011). Kodak Portra 160VC at ISO100


9) I’ll save off the full-resolution, 16-bit PSD, then create a lower-resolution 16-bit TIF version (with layers intact). For electronic presentation I have a set 3:2 aspect size (1,800 x 1,200 pixels) and like a modest, white border around the image, with small, unobtrusive text containing the location and date of the image below, flush left and right with the edges of the image. I have created frame templates for this basic presentation: one for vertical, one for horizontal. The goal is to have the images appear essentially the same size and shape so it’s the content of the frame the viewer is seeing - and not distracted by the shape of the image. I very much like the 3:2 aspect and stick with it. When I downsample the image I use Photoshop’s Bicubic Sharper setting, seeing a difference in the results over the other methods. For a long time I refused to crop the images at all in this step electing instead to set the dimensions at 1,200 x 1,8XX (whatever the organic width or height was), but have since relaxed that in favor of creating a standard, repeatable and consistent size/shape. In a case where cropping off the 30 or so pixels at the edge of a frame will hurt the image, I'll leave it. 

10) Once the image is at it’s final size (resolution) I’ll sharpen. I used to use the LAB method: convert the RGB image to LAB color space, grab the Lightness Channel, sharpen, then reconvert to RGB. I don’t do this anymore with Photoshop CC because I’m really liking the additional features within the Smart Sharpen filter. With Smart Sharpen often I’ll work the Amount, Radius and Noise sliders to a suitable balance. If I’ve done everything else correctly the settings remain pretty low. If not, here’s where I’ll try to fix it - but abhor overlay sharpened images. Typically the Amount of between 50% and 100%, a radius of .5 pixels and a reduce noise setting anywhere from 10% up to 30% or 40%. Sometimes for Portra 800 I’ve gone up to 50% until the overall effect is smooth and pleasing - without producing a overly de-noised image (at least to me).

11) The PSD is saved to a directory on the HD created before scanning. After much trial and error I've settled on specific, unique code for each roll shot. It goes something like this: F6-r0265-POR160 is the directory’s name. F6 identifies the camera. r0265 corresponds with the roll number in the camera-generated EXIF data. This is important when marrying up the individual frame's shooting data later. POR160 is a 6-character ID capable of identifying the emulsion of the roll. Each image that goes into that directory then begins with this code, then adds an fXX for frame number. So this image is F6-r0265-POR160-f25a.tif. This naming convention allows me to search the entire computer's 8TB pf storage for a unique, specific image at any time and produce the PSD, the TIF or the JPEG. I can also locate any EXIF data file.

12) I use Lightroom to catalog all images, leaving them in place on the HD and referencing their position. I’ll let LR stack the images so there only appears 1 image in a stack of 3 version. This keeps the overall LR presentation down as much as possible. More lately I've been using Lightroom's excellent processing tools to rework certain images after everything above has been done. I can see perhaps using LR exclusively in the future.

13) When I save off a JPEG for a specific use, sometimes I’ll re-size it. I’ll then throw it away after I’ve uploaded it for its purpose. I don’t like having a bunch of duplicate JPEG’s laying around.


Chugwater, Wyoming (2014)Chugwater, Wyoming (2014)Years of old, weathered paint have chipped away to reveal the many colors this ancient hotel in Chugwater, Wyoming has been adorned with over the years (2014).
Kodak Portra 160 (exposed at ISO100, processed at rated160)
Chugwater, Wyoming (2014). Kodak Portra 160 at ISO100


That's it. One image can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 or longer, depending on how much fiddling I need to do. The goal always though is to make it as good as it can be in the camera, understanding that the scan usually requires work to realize the images full potential. Some think it's crazy to spend this time scanning film images in this day of digital everything. I guess I don't agree with that - but respect the individual's decision to use whatever means which speaks to them best when it comes to creating art. For me, it's still film and will be until they stop making it.

Peace, JBC

(John Crane Photography) C41 color negative film film photography hybrid workflow Kodak Portra Nikon LS5000 Portra 160 Portra 400 Portra 800 scanning workflow VueScan Thu, 13 Mar 2014 04:50:10 GMT
Yesterday in Grover, Colorado. 4042n: Grover, Colorado.

I've been wanting to visit Grover since discovering the small, prairie town hiding on a map a few months ago. Located in Eastern Colorado's Weld County, Grover sits quietly off the more heavily traveled - but still inconspicuous - State Highway 14. If you find yourself in Grover it's because you've chosen to be there. Leaving Fort Collins sometime around 6:30 and doing the math to sunset (around 8:30) I figured I had time to wander out, take a look around in nice light and see what happens.

American Bison, Grover, Colorado (Kodak Portra 160, Mamiya RZ67)Grover, Weld County, Colorado

Images like this are why soon I'll need new brakes on the car. I've learned to drive about 10 miles an hour under the speed limit. Not only does it help save the brakes during sudden stops, it helps avoid animals suddenly appearing in the road. Small animals like birds or jack rabbits will always lose in a confrontation with a car. But antelope - and these guys - well, that's a different matter.  Driving slowly can annoy those behind me who are in a hurry - but I smile and wave as they finally get a dotted yellow line and zoom by. On the county roads leading to Grover there's no one in the rear view mirror when I look. 

Once again, quality of light wins the day. I've been thinking a lot about light lately as I'm pouring through hundreds - thousands - of images for 4042n Project. The image above is a great example. An hour earlier this is a completely different scene. An hour later - even more different. I used to stress out about this. I'd wander around with a low-grade anxiety about where I was, and when. Once you understand how subtle shifts in light either enhance or detract from an image there's no going back to just settling - you'r always looking for that perfect light. But trying to orchestrate every image in perfect light simply isn't possible. 

While out wandering scenes often present themselves in poor light forcing a decision - which needs to be processed immediately: is the subject matter strong enough to survive in poor light? What time is it? Is this a strong enough scene I'm willing to stop and wait for great light? Is it worth circling back for later? Would black and white film make this image better? How about filtering? Is the scene 90° (or there about) to the sun's direction and could a polarizer salvage the sky? Would an ND Grad help or hurt this image? A warming filter? Will the subject still be there when I stop - or will sudden activity scare whatever I'm hoping to photograph away? Is it safe? Does that matter? What lens would create the best composition (I probably will only have one shot at it)? Will a tripod be necessary or can it be hand held? What speed film is loaded into which back? Or - is this one of those images never created as the mind quickly considers these variables at 40 mph and - as a result - the foot never hits the brake pedal. In the case above, the car grinds to a halt in the middle of an otherwise serene, empty, Weld County evening and the dice are rolled.

Often times I have the camera in the front seat, loaded and ready. This time it's in the back of the car requiring I get out (1 door open and thud - closed), open the hatch back (a second thud in the otherwise serene evening) and by now the bison have stopped eating and are looking at me, beginning to reposition themselves. The light is strong but has begun to diffuse, well en route towards the horizon but sill high enough above to produce the gorgeous quality only it can. Haze hovering above rural lands to the west spreads and colors the light just enough to prevent the harsh, glaring, high-altitude blast so common here in Colorado. It's just about the perfect time of day for a late-June image here in northern Colorado: between 7:30 and 8:30pm. The bison are curious when I approach as close as I dare. Both arc their tails - a sign of something I'm sure, but I don't know what. I thought they were going to pee - but thankfully they didn't (I didn't want to have to Photoshop that out). I focus the stout RZ67 hand held, and go for broke. Thunk. The bison are now in motion, away (thankfully) as I advance and try two more frames - a bust as the bison march west, towards the light. As the camera swings with them the sky lightens as the brighter, western sky begins to encroach on the viewfinder and I know it's over. But I think the first frame was a good one.

Noble Oil pump jack, eastern Colorado oil field (Kodak Portra 400, Mamiya RZ67)Grover, Weld County, Colorado

As I packed up and headed into town light quality improved even more. This oil and gas field just out of town was a fascinating site. As far as the eye could see, a fine layer of dust - kicked up by heavy tanker-truck activity along the dirt roads - hovered above the ground. At fist it appeared as a morning dew might; a light haze clinging close to the ground producing an intriguing effect on everything it came to rest on. Then another tanker truck passed and I watched the flow of dust it displaced off the road. It was airborne briefly, drifted a bit in the stillness of the evening, and settled out in the field. When I looked at this image I first thought the foreground "stripes" were caused by banding - a digital artifact created when the tones of the image are compressed too much. Then I checked the negative (this is a medium format film image, not a digitally made image) and saw the foreground stripes in the negative are really rows of dirt lined up in the foreground with dandelion heads.

Weld County sunset near Grover, Colorado (Kodak Portra 400, Mamiya RZ67)Grover, Weld County, Colorado After a while the magic ended; the western sky fading from a kaleidoscope of color to the gentle blues and grays that mark the back edge of dusk. Birds sing, bugs buzz and moths flitter about outside and inside the car, attracted by the dome light. Half a mile away the occasional pair of headlights appears on the horizon and passes, my presence going unnoticed. This time is one of the most peaceful, beautiful times of day and I relish it. The shooting is over. I pack things up, making sure i have each lens, each back, filter, cable release accounted for. The tripod returns to the comfort and safety of its case. If I'm lucky enough to have a good cigar with me, now's the time to enjoy it as I sit on the open tail gate and watch.

Oil tank farm outside of Grover, Colorado (Kodak Portra 400, Mamiya RZ67)Grover, Weld County, Colorado

As the sky darkened I watched the flame at the small, nearby tank farm and thought how nice it looked against the darkening blue. Back out came the tripod, cable release and camera, and "thunk," one more frame is made.

Learning how to relax and enjoy the moment happened once I accepted the following: finding oneself in great light in an improbable location - one you'd never have planned - is a good way to produce some beautiful, naturally lit spontaneous images. At best, blessed if the world opens itself up revealing an image to me. At worst, the day being a wonderful outing in Colorado's natural beauty; what I learned perhaps valuable to some future engagement. Just being "out there" is its own reward. The images are a bonus.

That was my day in - and my introduction to - Grover, Colorado.

(John Crane Photography) 4042n C41 Color Negative film Colorado Grover Koda Noble energy Portra Portra 160 Portra 400 eastern plains farm and ranch film photography medium format film oil and gas Fri, 28 Jun 2013 19:46:21 GMT
The "NEW" Kodak Portra. Again. Today I received back from the lab my two rolls of Portra 160 shot over the weekend. The more I shoot this film, the more I like it. I know, I know... I'm in love with every film when it comes back from the lab and I get lucky with a shot turning out as hoped. But I'm beginning to see real benefits in sticking with an emulsion over a period of time to learn how to best anticipate how it responds in any situation. As is often the case with 36 frames, subject matter was varied. First, this post will concentrate on Portra for Landscape (and other) applications.

Kodak Portra sample image, Portra 160, 35mm film, Mobile Home, Longmont ColorardoLongmont, Colorado (2012) This first shot was made on the way home from a family event on Sunday, just north of highway 66 in Longmont, Colorado. This truck has been sitting in this field for as many years as I've been driving back and forth between Longmont and Fort Collins (many years), and I've always thought it a little unusual. This past Sunday the light was perfect. Dark skies always catch my eye, and the strong, Colorado sun was hitting the old, dilapidated siding just right. I pulled over, scrambled down the irrigation ditch and hopped what was left of the old, pushed-down barbed wire fence to get my shadow out of the shot. As usual, the F6 Matrix metered everything perfectly and Portra held the highlights in the sun-drenched western wall. As large and cumbersome as the Nikkor 28-70 is, it's sure a functional lens. Stop it down to ƒ8-11 and you almost can't make a bad image with it. But what really sets this image apart for me is the sky. There's real, subtle intrigue in the sky - and much of that is Portra. It's organic; somehow alive. And the greens in the foreground give the image something earthy. Portra handled all of it.

Here's another Portra image made last summer:

Kodak Portra sample, Portra 160, 35mm film, ColoradoArriba, Colorado (2011) When I uploaded the first image into my F6 gallery, I immediately thought of this shot as a likely predecessor in succession.  These two are good examples of where I'm heading. The obvious visual tie-ins are the green foreground, low horizon, dramatic sky... vehicle(s). What really links them, though, again is Portra's color balance, natural bias's and grain structure.  The image immediately above is Portra 400 (at rated 400). The color is - to me and my eyes - wonderful. It's subdued, not bombastic and garish. It's much more "real" than say, Velvia or Ektachrome 100VS (we'll get to that wonderful emulsion in a later post). Portra carries with it - again, to me - a sense of America. I don't know what it is, exactly - but it's there. Add to it the organic quality of the 160 grain and you've got something that's authentic. Touchable.

Here's another one, made in Pine, Wyoming late last year. This is 120 film made with the Mamiya. You can see the same tendencies, the same look and feel:

Kodak Portra 400 sample, New Kodak Portra, sample imagePine Bluffs

So Portra for landscapes - despite the overwhelming preponderance of the high-saturation, high-contrast chrome films - is becoming much more appealing to me. As Kodak mentions in their on-line literature, Portra scans very well. Kodak surmised that today's film shooter is more than probably scanning their frames more often then using enlargers. With this in mind, they specially formulated Portra for scanning. I can see a difference between it, and the old NC/VC frames. Kodak also claims it has a saturation level more balanced toward the older NC (Natural Color) as opposed to the Vivid Color (VC) strain. I'll say, however, that it is more saturation latitude to my eye than NC and not quite as much as VC. Here's a VC frame from last year:

Leadville, Colorado

This was 160VC shot at 100, which I'm pretty convinced is a good idea. While Portra has tons of latitude in exposure, like every other digitally processed image noise can always find a way in if permitted - especially at the under exposed areas of the image. I'm of the opinion that if you provide lots of light for ample exposure, then set good black and white points in processing, you'll get a higher quality final print. I think this image has more punch to it than straight up Portra would provide. But that's OK. For the occasions when that's desired, Kodak's Ektar is a good choice.

A brief word about color negative film vs. chrome (slide) films:

A look through any of my galleries bares witness to my use of the chrome films. The most common being Velvia, though I've briefly rediscovered Ektachrome 100VS - just in time for Kodak to discontinue it. However, I'm finding more often in general shooting situations I'm reaching for color negative films over the chrome films for a few key reasons. 1) Exposure latitude is phenomenal. Negative film, scanned full resolution at 16-bit is an incredible thing. Image features I know would blow or be buried on my digital sensor are right there, even shooting the mighty Nikon D3s which has tons of exposure latitude in its RAW images to begin with. And in a digital workflow, data is king - and negative film carries tons of it. 2) Cost. When you shoot as much film as I do, cost matters. Getting chrome film processed runs between $16-$18 per roll at my favorite lab. They use great E6 equipment and it's worth it when I need to be sure a roll is processed right. But C41 comes in at $4/roll, $5 if you have the roll cut into strips of 4 - which are easier to store. That's 3 or 4 rolls of film processed C41 for the cost of one roll of E6. That matters. 3) Full frame. I know I don't need to have my slides mounted, but I do anyway. It's how my storage system is set up. And I sure don't want to mount them myself (I'd rather be out shooting). When slides are mounted they obscure the edges of the frame. When you shoot a camera employing a 100% viewfinder like the Nikon F6 you're not seeing the same thing in the final image that you saw in your viewfinder. This might seem piddly, but can make a significant difference in the impact of the final image. 4) The slide-mounts also conceal the exif data my F6 writes between frames. Not a huge deal - I have the MV-1 to retrieve the data from the camera and store in an Excel spread sheet. But it can be handy to view on screen in a per-image basis, too.  5) Lastly, I don't know if it's old age or what, but I'm finding myself preferring a bit more natural color palette. The Chrome film I've been shooting for years will always resonate with me - I love color. But lately there are times that a more natural treatment of what's before me is preferred, and for that, once again Portra is a wonderful choice. Another benefit is that, for some reason, the image looks less "digital."

Add it all up, and Portra is an emulsion I'm hoping Kodak keeps around for many years to come. I'm always on the look out for deals to stock pile my freezer with, and Kodak's new Portra is now at the top of that list.

Next time I'll cover Portra and how it responds to flash.

(John Crane Photography) Kodak Portra Portra Portra 400 sample image Wyoming film photography Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:30:57 GMT
KATA E-702 Element Cover Mini-Review
I picked up the E-702 Element shield in preparation for a trip to Washington's Olympic Peninsula. It doesn't rain much in Colorado and I'm trying to stack the deck in my favor. Ironically, the day before, while preparing to shoot football in pouring rain, I ran to the store and picked up a 2-pack of the inexpensive, disposable L-shaped baggies which worked fine stretched over the D3S for the duration of the game. After only a few hours, though, it was clear I needed something more robust to survive the elements of the Pacific Northwest. The KATA looked like a good solution but at $70 retail I decided to do some homework before actually buying one. After viewing their web demo I ran back up and snatched it up before another rain storm caused someone else to do the same thing.
When I got it home I immediately took out the Mamiya RZ67 replete with FE701 Prism finder, and 250APO behemoth lens (in other words, a BIG HONKIN' CAMERA). You heard me right - this thing will fit my Medium Format rig as well as my DSLR's. This feature was a main selling point for me: that I can purchase one cover and have it work across multiple systems made it a no brainer. My Nikons are very well sealed cameras to begin with. The Mamiya - having been designed more for the studio shooter - is not. One good dose of rain would effectively kill the RZ. While this article is primarily about the F6, rest assured the KATA works on other systems besides D/SLR's.
The first thing I noticed when I took it out of the pack was the main, clear material. It's not the slippery, hard, doomed to crack plastic I'd expected. It's more of a clear, rubberized vinyl with a supple feel to it. The layout, seams and cuts are generous, providing plenty of room for my average sized hands - even with thin, photo gloves on. Each of the 3 orifices has a toggled draw string, and there is a bottom zippered access which allows mounting the camera - either via attachment to the body, or a foot on a telephotos lens - to a tripod or monopod, then zip the enclosure tight around it. I did borrow my D3s' rubber hot-shoe cover for the hot-shoe of the F6 to avoid any risk of the sharp metal inadvertently scraping a hole in the top of the cover - the most vulnerable and potentially damaging place for a leak to form.
The E-702 is laid out essentially as a T. At the top cross-bar two orifices accommodate the hands from either side, and are ribbed with a stiffer yet still supple black, nylon material, complete with a draw cord. These nylon "tunnels" of fabric are long enough - and droop down enough - to accommodate the natural entry angle of someone standing behind the camera to reach up to manipulate the controls. Having used the inexpensive ones just a day earlier I immediately appreciated the room the photographer has to interact with the camera - while still maintaining a "fitted" feel and avoiding the excessive ballooning of a dramatically oversized cover. Both primary and secondary command dials are easily spun, buttons easily pushed and of course the shutter is easily accessible as well. There is plenty of room to mount the MC-30 in the front, 10-pin terminal (before inserting the camera), and reach down and interact with VR and Focus controls on the lens. There even appears to be enough room to open the camera back for unloading/reloading film while safe beneath the protection of the plastic.
The descender of the T is where the lens opening is. You are not shooting through plastic - it is open. But there's a nice, stiff, velcro-enclosed 2-piece collar formed around the lens hood that effectively seals the barrel of the lens from the elements, while having the added bonus of extending the hood against stray weather elements landing on the front lens element. Beneath this velcro tunnel another vinyl skirt lives within the T's terminus and draws tight against the barrel of the lens, forming a second level of protection. Think fine, blowing sand and dirt in the desert. The only downside experienced here is, when the draw-string is tightened too much against the barrel of an external focus lens, it is not free to move and thereby focus. This seems to affect only external focus barrel lenses, where the length of the lens actually changes with a turn of the focus ring. On internal focus lenses it isn't an issue.
The only issue I can see having to get used to is looking through the plastic into the viewfinder. I can see this as a bit of a challenge, especially with rain streaking down the plastic, obscuring your vision. In such instances, however, I think simply lifting the plastic up to acquire focus, then lowering to shoot, would solve the problem. In the case of digital cameras, Live View will come in handy, though still prove an impediment to acquiring accurate focus. Especially if you're using a lens design on which the exterior dimensions change with focus.
The Kata E-702 seems to be a very well thought-through product, and appears to be constructed well. If you're looking for protection for your DSLR or medium format rigs, take a look at the Kata E-702. It's designed for tele use up to a fixed 300mm lens but is easily adaptable to something as small as a 50mm 1.4D (with a hood). With the purchase of the KATA E-702, in theory I've done my best to prepare my gear against the elements, but the real proof is yet to come. I'll look forward to putting it through its paces in the rainiest place in the United States and will have a full, detailed field test upon my return.

(John Crane Photography) E-702 Element Cover KATA Nikon F6 Rain Protection dust protection Mon, 12 Sep 2011 10:40:00 GMT
Motion & "Dragging" the Shutter


In the perpetual quest that - on a good day could be called "defining your photographic vision," and on a bad day called, "why on earth did I even make that photograph?," I've discovered something that I love in image making: motion. You bet - there's a lot to be said for stopping every pixel dead in its tracks and freezing a moment in time forever... love that, too. But more and more I'm liking the dynamic element a well-shot motion frame provides.
I don't know how many of you out there routinely use a flash in your outdoor photography, but I sure do. The venerable Nikon SB-800 is mounted on my D3S nearly all the time - either via the SC-29 sync chord (allowing you to position the flash virtually anywhere in a 5-6 foot radius but still have it physically connected to the camera), or mounted right onto the hot shoe of the camera itself. I have other flashes like the SB-600 and SB-900, but haven't built that rapport with it quite yet... the SB-800 is my tried and true flash-companion.
Using a flash to help make images with motion is a lot o fun. I usually shoot in "Slow Sync" mode. This essentially allows the camera to better mix ambient light with flash and helps avoid that black background resulting from allowing the flash to provide all the light. With Slow Sync, you can use TTL exposure, then kick in some light at the end to add sharp detail. Sometimes this isn't what I want - but when I'm looking for an image that brings that sense of motion into play, it's exactly what I want. Here's how it works:
If you have people dancing on the lawn and the light is fading, you can do a couple different things: 1) Put the camera on Regular flash mode, setting its minimum shutter speed to something like 1/60 second, then taking the picture. What will happen is the camera will let the flash provide most of the light because it's already pretty dark and not much ambient light will come in at 1/60 second.
Something else to try, though, is to "drag the shutter" by putting the camera on "Slow Sync" and kicking the ISO (in this case 1600) to get a shutter speed you want ... like 1/25 second @ƒ5.6. This allows in enough ambient light to show the not-dark yet background, and also allows the motion trail from the dancers to show in the frame, creating a that soft blur of action. When the flash fires during the exposure it then freezes that moment resulting the soft, blurry trail of ambient lit motion with the "bang" of the strobe to provide enough sharp detail to avoid a completely blurry image. If the image below had been made with a straight flash setting, the background would have lost the beautiful color in the clouds and there would have been three, highly-illuminated (nuked) figures against a dark background. Not quite the effect I was after.
In the Flash section of one of Thom Hogan's excellent field guides he said something pretty elementary but profound. Essentially, a flash isn't a magic wand that you slap on the camera and everything magically turns out perfectly. I couldn't agree more. Don't be afraid to experiment with it to learn what results you do and don't like. This will help remove the mindset of "always having to follow the rules" allowing the much more fun, "how can I be creative here?" space. In photography, the whole game is how you use light. Trust me - it's a lot more fun to learn and grow by trying new things than it is to attempt to memorize every step in a rule book. Have fun.
(John Crane Photography) SB-800 dragging the shutter slow sync Mon, 11 Jul 2011 10:39:00 GMT
The Ability to Improvise p678798789-4

Helpful bartender, Gonaives, Haiti. Nikon D3S, 17-35mm/2.8 @ 20mm, 1/40s @ f4, +0.3EV, ISO 6,400

Following up on this topic of improvising a few weeks back, I was thinking about another example how important being able to not settle for "auto-everything" can be. I'm the lucky owner of the amazing Nikon D3S, arguably the best low-light camera available today. Sometimes even that, though, isn't enough to get the shot you want.p554533093-2

UN Elections Detail, Gonaives, Haiti. Nikon D3S, 17-35mm/2.8 @ 17mm, 1/25s @ f7.1, +0.3EV, ISO 12,800

Here's the setting: we were eating dinner in a rather dark restaurant in Gonaives. The table across from us had a group of UN police officers traveling throughout the country preparing for the upcoming elections. I had the opportunity to chat with one of them, Eddy from Lithuania, earlier in the hall and struck up a good conversation. We'd passed their convoy of 20+ Nissan pick up's and SUV's various times throughout the trip and now here they were, sitting across from us having dinner. Fun bunch. Having asked one of the guys earlier if he'd like a group shot before they head out the next morning, I wiped the goat off my beard, grabbed my camera and went over to sit with them for a bit. One thing led to another and pretty soon we were making images.

I didn't have my lighting with me and it was dark. Cranking the camera up to 6,400 gave me something like 1/10 at 2.8 which wasn't going to produce anything they'd be happy to see later. The D3S will go higher but I knew I needed more help and lowered the camera. Looking around for something - anything - to get a little more light to work with produced nothing. The bar tender saw what was going on and disappeared into the back room, emerging with a shop light (like from Lowes), encased in yellow plastic, on an extension cord.
Next thing I know my buddy Chuck jumps up, standing on the stool behind me and does a "Statue of Liberty" thing (one of the guys at the table was from France and we chuckled about it later...) getting that warm, tungsten shop light up high and bouncing off the light-colored ceiling and presto - enough light to make a decent image for them. Because I shoot RAW and wanted to get more depth of field, I kicked the ISO in the final shot up to 12,800, knowing I could clean up whatever noise was generated later in post. Better to have a little noise than have the guys in the back totally blurry due to shallow dof (which is unfixable in post).
Now, in case some of you are wondering why you couldn't just pop up the flash on the camera and let it figure things out; first, the D3S doesn't have an on-camera flash. Second, if it did, it would have produced a harsh, directional light blowing out the faces in the front of the image and barely reaching the guys in the back. And just as important - it would have produced a very unflattering hard shadow on everything behind the front row because the light would have originated from immediately in front of the camera. By getting it up higher and letting the point light radiate some light down on their faces, and bounce some light off the ceiling diffusing it, it softened things up. Don't get me wrong... if I'd taken the time to grab my flashes and umbrellas I'd have a much better image today. But the moment would have passed and the bigger point is being able to improvise with what you have at hand can be a valuable skill to develop as a photographer. No matter what, you're going to find yourself in opportunities for a good image that you don't have that perfect piece of gear for. Learning how to make do with what you have and getting creative will pay dividends down the road.
The real payoff for me was when I turned around to thank the bartender for his assistance. As I handed him the still-on shop light and saw how beautiful and rich that single, tungsten point light shining through the yellow backed housing brought out the warm atmosphere of the restaurant; his red shirt and smiling face - bang. One of my favorite images from the trip. Right there, totally impromptu, because you're engaging with other folks and having fun.
I'm no David Hobby or Joe McNally, but understanding how to improvise and think a little about light is a skill every photographer will benefit from. It's not rocket science... but just not settling for the "auto everything" mind set.
(John Crane Photography) Fri, 01 Apr 2011 06:30:00 GMT
Haiti. Wow. p784207672-4
Desire (pronounced Dez - er- Ray), in the mountains above Gonaives, Haiti.
Just a quickie to get back into the swing of things. Back from Haiti and what an incredible trip. Far exceeding expectations - too much to download here and now, but new doors, new opportunities were opened we never could have have imagined. If anyone ever feels like they need new creative inspiration, hop a plane to Port au Prince and start wandering around. Seriously. When you return your head will be swimming with imagery for years.

Shot a bunch. Mostly the D3S and some B&W film with the F6. Have my films back from Digi-Graphics here in Fort Collins, and finished the first earnest edit of the digitals over the weekend. Glad to put that behind me. Anyone else feel like that? I mean, once you make a frame of a place you don't get back to very often, throwing anything away is tough. And when it holds faces and experiences near and dear to the heart, it can be really tough. But you simply must edit. The more you edit the better your images get. Not only because you're no longer looking through 50 (500!) ho-hum images to see the 1 or 2 great ones (there's that, too...), but because as you look at your images and think, "rats - if only I'd thought to do this or that..." when you were shooting, it would have been such a better image. Well if you're lucky, some of those thoughts stick in your head so the next time you're out shooting you're adjusting with what you learned your last, arduous, emotionally exhausting editing session - and getting better images.

Much of the construction in progress last year had been completed this time through. Colorful, freshly painted homes dotted the country side. Croix des Bouquets, Haiti.

So I did something a little different this time before the ruthless final edit commenced. I took just about every one of the 3,200 frames made and put together a HD video with a sound track produced by the kids at Source de la Grace East our last morning. It moves pretty fast, but it's fair to say that no one in their right mind would sit through the 12 hour slide show required to step through every photo. And - it feels a bit presumptuous (to me) to be the only set of eyes that ever scans all of my frames - good or bad. I understand part of being a good photographer is being able to edit your own images, but man, sometimes I don't see the potential of a frame right away ("the hope of an image," as my friend Mark once said) and once you chuck it, it's gone. So I gave this a shot and it was kinda fun - but have some clean up to do and will link to it in a later post. Side note: Apple TV is the greatest thing since... I don't know what. I put a rough cut of the video up on facebook which promptly mutilated into fb-showable format. But when I stream it off my Mac to the HDTV via Apple TV, it's simply incredible. The quality of the images begins to show, convincing me I'm not simply wasting my time. While using the web to show everything is sure convenient, cheap and fast, as a visual artist when I see my work on the web it's nearly always disappointing.
Traveling with film was a little better this time. DIA still went through every - blessed - roll, but I smiled through the whole thing. No one else seemed to care - in Haiti, Florida or Dallas. Not sure how I feel about that, but it did speed things up a little. DIA asked what speed my film was.
"I'd like it hand-inspected, please," I said - doing my best to be polite while falling over removing my shoes, belt, change in pockets, watch, and getting my ziplock back of liquids out making sure I don't smash them beneath my 30 pound shoulder bag.
"But you don't need to if it's under 800..." he said - clearly not wanting to be bothered with the chore.
"Yes, but it's cumulative and we have multiple flights," I said with a smile. He relented and I was glad to have those images upon my return.

The skinniest, most frightened puppy I've ever seen, Croix des Bouquets, Haiti. Nikon F6, 28-70/2.8 on Kodak Tri-X

I used everything I brought. I was actually able to fit it all in my LowePro Stealth Reporter 400AW shoulder bag. Now nearly 5 years old this bag has become my security blanket when traveling. I know a lot of guys work out of the comando-style harnesses and such, but I'm still finding the shoulder bag more to my liking. It's a little less intimidating to people, and fits perfectly - even bulging with extras - on the floor beneath the airplane seat in front of you.
No real conclusion here other than it's great to get out and it's great to be home again. What a blessing to be able to visit the country of Haiti... there's just something about it that buries itself deep into all your senses. After packing the bus at the airport in Port au Prince Chris and I were walking across the airport parking lot and both turned to each other at the same time and said, "smell that?..." and smiled. "When you smell that smell, you know you're back in Haiti. We're back!" - and it felt great. Now I can't wait to get back again. I'd so much rather be there shooting than here editing.
(John Crane Photography) Mon, 28 Mar 2011 12:37:00 GMT
Haitian "Momma's" Portrait Project p955502957-3

Momma's & a few of the orphans at the OTV, now named "Source de la Grace East" Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, 2010


Getting ready to pack for Haiti. We're 9 days out and it looks like - at least for the moment - we're a go. Seats are booked and we're all pretty psyched. I've finally allowed myself to believe we're going. It could still get yanked… I keep watching the news for signs of unrest as elections draw nearer… but now, today, it looks good. Time to get the iPhone stocked with music & books on tape for the flight.


Haiti Kit Build Sequence from John Crane on Vimeo.

A quick stop action vid of packing & unpacking the 2010 Haiti kit to show on the blog.

As usual I'm deliberating over what to bring. Having been down the same time last year I have the advantage of knowing what actually was used and what stayed in the pack. This time around I'll make some tweaks. I've decided (again) not to bring the RZ. I was on the fence, but it's just too difficult bringing two different systems; too big and cumbersome to shoot fast and therefore wouldn't serve as an adequate backup camera should something happen to the D3S. The F6 shares all the same system components as the D3S with the advantage (?) of shooting film. So I'll get my film fix with the practical benefit of only gearing for one system. The rugged build, ergonomics, quick handling and dust sealing make it a no brainer. Besides, it's my favorite camera: going without it would somehow make me feel unfaithful.

Old Faithful, tucked in and ready to go.
This year we'll be more on the move than we were last year. Last year we were able to hunker down in one location and get comfortable for the week. This time we'll be split between three different locations and traveling quite a bit more. Gonaives is a 2-3 hour bus ride from Port au Prince and we'll be staying in a hotel in Gonaives, not at the project with the kids like we did before. So with all that bouncin' around, the lighter and simpler the load, the better.


The momma's take excellent care of - and love - the kids.
At our last meeting one of the "momma team" gals suggested we get some nice portraits of the "Mommas." For those unfamiliar with the term, "Momma," in relation to Haitian orphanages, they are the ones who do the heavy lifting with the kids. A "momma" is a local, Haitian woman employed by the orphanage and works very hard taking care of all the little ones. Like many "momma's," they're responsible for cooking, cleaning, laundry, the health of the kids and just about anything else. They love the kids. All of them. Also like many momma's, they don't get much time off. Part of our team's plan is to pamper the momma's. Give em' a break. Some of the gals on the team have prepared a special treat for them, and we're going to take over their duties for at least part of the time so they can kick back and relax a little. Part of that kick back is a nice portrait. Hence, the lighting.


Bringing the studio strobes down is simply not an option - too big and heavy… so in light of that, I just picked up a Nikon SB-900 (pun intended…). The plan is to use the SU-800 head to trigger the SB-900, 800 and 600 through umbrellas. I'm a bit constrained for space so will leave my stands home knowing I'll have plenty of VAL'S (Voice Activated Light Stands) down there - as in people holding the light/umbrella contraptions. It should be a lot of fun. My friend Len is loaning me one of his "shoot through" umbrellas, and I'll have one of my silver reflectors for a little diversity.

No more gunpowder residue in 35mm canisters. This year they'll all be wiped down before we hit the airport.
The hardest part of it all is getting film through airport security. Last year I had a scare at DIA as we were just getting under way. I handed the film around the scanner to the gentleman who wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Another gentleman came and took the bag over to another machine where they did a quick chemical analysis. This revealed gun powder on at least some of the 35mm film canisters. They called me over and started asking me questions as the rest of the team was putting their shoes on, looking over like, "what's going on with John?" Turns out after swabbing every other canister and them being sure there was actually no gun powder they let me through. Only the original 4 rolls of TMAX that tested positive went through the X-Ray to make sure and they were fine. I was glad and all for the security measures (who wants gunpowder on their flight?), but a little nervous. This time I'll be wiping them down before we get to the airport.


Guess that's it for now. Updates to follow regarding trip status and I promise, no more fruit roll ups ;~)>



(John Crane Photography) Tue, 01 Mar 2011 19:29:00 GMT
Fruit Roll Ups & Nikon CLS

Chad warming up with some jumping jacks at the base of Crystal Meth, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Nikon D3S, Nikkor 17-35, SB-800 with SC-29 cord, (slow-sync)

When Nikon invited us to use their CLS lighting system creatively, I wonder how far out they thought the "creative" part of that name? Put a few photo geeks with Nikon cameras in a Colorado back country ice cave and watch out.
We had a GREAT time this Saturday in the hills. My buddies Ben and Chad were going ice climbing and invited me to tag along. What a gorgeous day in Rocky Mountain National Park. No wind, high 30's and 40's in the shade; one of those blissful days you hope for during the week as you watch the weather develop for the weekend. So many things about the day made it great - but I can't keep from laughing about a new discovery born from this group of nutty outdoor photogs.

Ben working up the bottom pillar of WI5 Crystal Meth, Rocky Mountain National Park
Nikon D3S, 70-200VR, SB-800 (slow-sync)

We started early on Crystal Meth, a solid WI5 flow in Loch Vale, and had the place to ourselves for a while. As the morning advanced more folks showed and we decided to mosey up the trail in search of a little more solitude. Chad found this unnamed flow along the flanks, and post-holed some pretty deep snow to get to it. What a great find... we spent the rest of the day hanging out there, essentially hidden to skiers passing far below on the valley floor trail.

Coming down from Fruit Roll Up, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Nikon D3S, Nikkor 17-35.

Behind the flow there was a nice little cave carved out, full of tiny wonders. Between climbing we were in there geeking out shooting pics and I was trying to get the right mood on the ceiling of the cave. I'd brought my SB-600, SB-800 and SU-800 and was running wireless off the D3S. Crazy white balance adjustment wasn't getting it done, and in my effort to (for once) minimize the kit brought to keep the pack light, flash accessories were limited. The ceiling of the cave was full of a beautiful, green, soft moss and "Lord of the Rings" style blades of pure, crystal-clear, perfectly smooth ice. "Wish I had a green gel..." I said. And that's when it happened; the flash of synergistic genius fired. "What about one of your fruit roll-ups?" Ben said. I looked at him for a moment and thought hey-great idea.

The Ice Cave in Rocky Mountain National Park now called, "Fruit Roll Up."
Nikon D3S, SB-800, blue/green Fruit Roll Up (& edible) filter.

I ran out and rummaged through my stuff sacks looking for the food bag. The second roll-up opened was what I was after: a sheet of blue-green fruit pressed into a thin, pliable sheet. The cold made it a little brittle and I gently peeled it from the plastic and ran back into the cave, molding it like a cap on the head of the flash. I'd been shooting manual, +.07EV at about 1/4 power, and cranked it up to 1:1 on the SU-800 to penetrate the thick, plastic-like fruit. Presto: green cave ceiling. We laughed like little kids. Chad had the presence of mind to get a shot with his D40 and Ben hooked up his F100 with the SC-29 cord and made a few frames on Velvia. Can't wait to see them.

Ben and I geeking out like little kids. Photo by Chad Johnson, Nikon D40 with SB-800

Nikon SB-600 with our custom, improvised fruit roll-up, (& edible) gel

So the unnamed flow is no longer unnamed. I took the liberty of naming it on Chad's facebook page. It's now known as Fruit Roll-Up. I'm grateful to Chad and Ben for letting me tag along for the day. It's tough to climb and shoot. It was a real joy to hang with them and be free to go crazy. Looking forward to even more creative ways of using Nikon's Creative Lighting System.
Almost forgot... for any shooters in the Denver area around March 22, here's a plug for David Hobby and Joe McNally's "Flash Bus Tour" in Denver that day. We're signed up and can't wait to spend the day with these two guys learning what has to be the complete sum of human knowledge so far regarding creative strobe use. If you're going, and want to hook up after shoot us a note. It's going to be great fun.
for more pics from the day, click here.
(John Crane Photography) Mon, 21 Feb 2011 23:41:00 GMT
Wyoming Wildlife Photo Contest p153024628-2

Wyoming Wildlife 2010 Photo Contest, Scenic/Pictorial First Place: The Boars Tusk, Sweetwater County, Wyoming. Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, Mamiya-Sekor 110mm, Fuji Velvia



So last night upon returning home from our third Haiti team meeting I checked the mail and was surprised to find the new issue of Wyoming Wildlife already. Back in November a few images were submitted to their 2010 Annual Photo Competition and while not exactly having forgotten about it, it had wandered to the back of the mind. Opening the magazine I found one of the images won first place in the Scenic/Pictorial category. Pretty tickled, thinking back to making the image...


In October 2009 we'd been planning a backpacking trip to the Wind River Mountains over a September birthday but at the last minute had to scrub it due to work. A month later feeling the need to get out my wife suggested a couple car camping nights instead. Remembering a year prior a fellow photographer in Wyoming provided a tip on the Red Desert. A look at the map showed it was easily attainable in the 48 hour window.


By the end of that night I was curled up in the back of the Trib parked somewhere in the dark, and at least hoped - close to the Boars Tusk- my target for sunrise. The Boars Tusk is an eroded remnant of a volcanic neck composed of lamproite and located in the middle of Killpecker Creek Valley, 25 miles north of Rock Springs in Sweetwater County, Wyoming. Rising like a monument from a 6 mile wide otherwise flat valley, it was called on an earlier Hayden Survey map "The Sentinel," and also referred to at one point as "Rock Point." No matter what you call it, it's the biggest thing around and what I was hoping to catch for first light.


5:45 the next morning. Once again the alarm on the iPhone didn't go off and it was much later than planned. Falling out of the back door of the car scrambling to get shoes on, splashing water on the face, then climbing in the driver's seat and bouncing back up the terrible "road" clunked up the night before. Glancing east showed there was a little time before the sun broke the horizon but not much.


Not sure what to look for… not exactly a lot of road signs in the middle of the Sweetwater County desert and you need to keep your eyes peeled. According to the map we're looking for a right turn not more than a half mile from camp. Straining to see anything that resembled a road through the brush but seeing only a faint, soft-sand double track disappearing up an incline, no signage of any kind... pass it up searching for something more promising.


Well, turns out that was it. 15 minutes/a few miles later finally turning around, deciding to take a chance. The Subaru heaves and groans through deep sand but makes it, cresting the burm to a leveler, firmer double track where the Boars Tusk penetrates the horizon what looks about 2 miles ahead. It's getting lighter and the Subaru thumps and scrapes against the high center of deep double track. Scanning the remaining road in the distance my heart sinks as I realized it only worsens; deep ruts of soft sand vanishing into the scrub with a prominent strip of stout, Wyoming earth between them, sure to high center if not careful. The rear view mirror shows an eastern horizon igniting and I know what it means. Had I driven all this way for nothing? A classic case of so close yet so far. My head runs through what could have - should have - been done differently - better.


Risking getting hopelessly stuck in the middle of nowhere hours by foot from anything even remotely resembling help - I bring the car to a halt, open the door and climb into sweet morning breeze. Walking to the next rise and watching the sun's first rays ignite the Boars Tusk - a dark, purple and blue sky behind amplifying the gorgeous reds and oranges leaping from the distant rock flanks... I make a point of burning the image into my mind while it lasts - my camera back in the car 10 yards away. Oh well, at least I saw it and was this close.


Like so many western sunrises, as the earth rotates and finally allows the sun to clear the last obstacle on the horizon, only a few brief moments of clear sky permit unobstructed glory igniting everything in its path before climbing just a bit higher and disappearing again behind the strip of clouds. I watch my shot happen before my eyes, empty handed but smiling. Once the cloud bank engulfed the upward traveling sun, gray spread over the desert again and there I was. I heard birds, smelled the morning, felt the breeze… it was utter peace. I turned and looked at the car and remember thinking, "man, I hope I didn't push in too far in… I hope I don't get stuck now. How am I gonna get out of here anyway? Do I have to back out the mile of double track I just came down?… I looked back at the Boars Tusk, now a muted rust with diffused light, and noticed the sky anew. The gentle angle of the cobalt blue, morning cloud front tapering perfectly to the tip of the Tusk, and wow, what gorgeous pinks lay beyond… my eyes dropped to the scrub before me noticing how the muted, autumn golds and greens played off that sky…


Finally decided to get my camera out and make a few frames any way - just because. It wasn't the shot I had in mind the whole drive up but it sure was unfolding into its own beauty. And it's still, after all, Wyoming's Red Desert. Open a fresh roll of Velvia, load the 120 back on the RZ, spot and incident meter with my Sekonic L-758DR, mount the RZ on the tripod, screw in the M-up release. Thunk. Click. Done.


I thought I knew what I was shooting for. As it turns out, circumstances dictated otherwise. God provided the perfect scene, then placed me in the perfect position to capture it. He provided the light, the camera, the film, the eyes, whatever little creativity I posess, the health, the car, the time… as well as everything else necessary to make this image. Romans 1:20 says, "for since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Amen to that, and to God be the glory.


(John Crane Photography) "Wyoming Wildlife" "Photo Contest" "Boars Tusk" "Red Desert" "Mamiya RZ67" "Medium Format" film "landscape photography" "Sweetwater County" Sun, 06 Feb 2011 07:40:00 GMT
HAITI, Take 2: Gonaives p521637757-2

Leaving the Port au Prince airport, March 2010-2 months after the earthquake.
It looks like we're heading back to Haiti this coming March. I'm tremendously excited. This time we'll head up to Gonaives, north west of Port au Prince. Gonaives has been the site of a lot of flooding in the past (a huge understatement...). Back in 2008 it was bad - as in ‘biblical proportions’ bad. I found this link on the NASA site. It shows massive flooding east of Gonaives, with a new lake formed in Savane Jung, a low-lying area east of the city, and obliterating the main road into the region. In September 2004 more than 2,500 people died in Tropical Storm Jeanne, then again in 2008 they were hammered by Hurricane's Gustav, Hanna and Ike. In 1 season. Again, many more died there and in neighboring villages. A quick google search produced a number of compelling image sources. Patrick Farrell, a PJ in Miami, did some outstanding work around Gonaives, earning him a Pulitzer. WARNING ADVISED: The images are unbelievable - be prepared.

A few of the kids pose for a portrait in the beautiful, late afternoon Haitian light.
In preparation for this trip I've been working through a book, "HAITI-The Tumultuous History-from Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation," by Philippe Girard. The provincial illustration on the cover nearly scared me away but I sat down in a comfy chair at B&N and read through the first few pages. It's written in a simple, clear style - which is really good because it has a ton of historical meat. Anyone interested in learning the back story of Haiti, this is a great place to start. You can almost begin to understand this kind of reception from the occasional weary Haitian:

Men wait outside the airport at Port au Prince for anything resembling work.

He was the rare exception-and after reading only the first few pages of the book I think I finally am beginning to get it... everyone else was friendly beyond belief. But the big question is, Why? After what they've been through as a people? And not I'm not just talking about the earthquake this year - I'm talking about for the past few hundred years. The hardships the Haitian people have endured are staggering. And yet they smile. They're warm, loving, friendly people and happy to see the outpouring of help.
I was writing my friend Chris the other day and saying aloud for the first time how, before 2010, to me Haiti meant boat people off the coast of Florida and excessive heat. I really had no idea how poor Haiti was, and had no real concept of what that meant. Like so many "fortunate Americans" I grew up in what could be considered a middle class world in a middle class town. I had no idea what lay 600 miles off the coast of Florida until I went to see it for myself March of this year.

Laundry day on one of the streets of Port au Prince.
To say it rocked my world would be to substantially understate it. It shattered me. When I returned to my comfortable home in Fort Collins with running water, heat and a dry bed it took me a while to get my bearings and try to figure out why on earth God let me see that. I was talking to my traveling companion Ben about it and we both agreed, we didn't just want to be the Americans who went to Haiti once. Talking to another life-long friend and pastor in Denver over lunch one day before leaving he set it up pretty well: "You're not going to change Haiti, John," he said, looking me square in the eye. "It's the Haitians who will change you." Don knew this because he'd just returned from 13+ years in Nairobi, Kenya and he was right.

Watching "Ice Age" in the courtyard of Croix des Bouquet's Orphan Transition Village. Running an extension cord from somewhere we used a projector to shine the movie on one of the bunk house walls.

But what on earth can we do? The answer: absolutely nothing in our own power. Not that I needed affirmation, but this book really gets into the nitty gritty of the history of Haiti. Racism and political upheaval have been a part of Haiti since before the 1800's and as witnessed by the recent sham of an election this November (2010), it's clear the problems Haiti faces aren't going to be fixed by a few well-meaning American's on spring break. But here's the thing: for whatever reason, God has introduced me to the Haitian people and theres' gotta be a reason for it. They're now a part of me. I think constantly about the kids we lived with last March. I can smell them, feel their weight on my lap as we watched Ice Age in French in the courtyard at the OTV, my legs falling asleep because I didn't want to disturb the sleeping child on my lap by getting up. I can feel them grabbing the sunglasses off my baseball hat and trying them on - then carefully returning them to their original position on my head when they were done playing; hanging on my arms, so starved for love and tenderness; folding their arms across their little chests and demanding "photo! photo!" I'd get my F6 with the LCD on the back and make their photo. Click. They'd run over to the camera for a peek - thinking it was digital. I held up the blank, gray liquid crystal display "No photo," I'd say. They looked at me curiously, not understanding. I pulled a roll of film from my pocket and held it up: "no photo - film," I said, smiling.
No blog, story, video, or photograph can adequately communicate what the human touch can. You just have to see it - experience it for yourself.

A child prays in his Port au Prince church, destroyed in the earthquake January 12, 2010

So, I guess I'm not sure what I hope to accomplish by blogging about it all. Maybe it's just a way of letting out some of the emotion; working through it. In March when we said goodbye to the children at the OTV, we got on a plane and headed home to the greatest country in the world. And they didn't. I've always hated goodbyes... No long, drawn out weepy stuff. I'm a rip the bandaid off fast kinda guy and don't look back. When I returned home my wife had some medical issues that required me as the leader of our family to emerge from the tangle of stuff I was shown in Haiti, buck up and take care of business. This gave me a specific task to focus on. It wasn't too long before I was sitting in the car pool line at school and listening to the cholera epidemic on the NPR. "The kids..." I thought and drifted off... then emotionally crashed again. So there's still a lot of stuff to work through. I'm hoping this trip will not resolve this "stuff," but add to it.
(John Crane Photography) Cholera Croix des Bouquets GO Project Global Orphan Project Gonaives Haiti Hurricane Gustav Hurricane Hanna Hurricane Ike Port au Prince earthquake flooding orphan care relief work Fri, 17 Dec 2010 21:49:00 GMT
Louisiana-images of the south wcover_2
"Louisiana ~ images of the south" a photographic essay by John B. Crane | Make Your Own Book
So I just finished putting together my first Blurb book. I don't even have one yet-it should be here by Christmas.
This is the first attempt at using blurb and it went pretty smoothly. I have so many books in my head to print - but needed to get this first one done to see if blurb was a solid path. The good news is, it appears to be.
"Louisiana-images of the south" has over 155 images made from this summer's trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It's a little pricey as far as books go - the down side to blurb short run, on demand model, but the quality is top notch and it's going to look great. And, think of it this way; it'll be a limited edition run-therefore, a collector's item. To save a little one may order the paper back version. If you're feeling wealthy, I ordered mine as a hard-cover with dust jacket and the premium paper with luster finish. I'll put some actual photos up when it arrives.
Enjoy, and would love feedback from anyone brave enough to take a chance. I put a lot of time into it-not only making the images, but the actual design of the book. Here's hoping it shows ;-).
(John Crane Photography) Gulf of Mexico Louisiana photo essay Tue, 14 Dec 2010 20:41:00 GMT
A•BAN•DON p706769411-2

Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, Mamiya M 1:4 f=65mm; Ilford FP4+; hand metered with Sekonic L-758DR.

–verb (used with object)
1. to leave completely and finally; forsake utterly; desert: toabandon one's farm; to abandon a child; to abandon asinking ship.


Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, Mamiya M 1:4 f=65mm; Ilford FP4+; hand metered with Sekonic L-758DR.

2. to give up; discontinue; withdraw from: to abandon aresearch project; to abandon hopes for a stage career.


Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, Mamiya M 1:4 f=65mm; Ilford FP4+; hand metered with Sekonic L-758DR.

3. to give up the control of: to abandon a city to an enemyarmy.


Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, Mamiya M 1:4 f=65mm; Ilford FP4+; hand metered with Sekonic L-758DR.

4. to yield (oneself) without restraint or moderation; give(oneself) over to natural impulses, usually without self-control: to abandon oneself to grief.


Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, Mamiya M 1:4 f=65mm; Ilford FP4+; hand metered with Sekonic L-758DR.

5. Law . to cast away, leave, or desert, as property or a child.


Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, Mamiya M 1:4 f=65mm; Ilford FP4+; hand metered with Sekonic L-758DR.

6. Insurance . to relinquish (insured property) to theunderwriter in case of partial loss, thus enabling the insuredto claim a total loss.


Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, Mamiya M 1:4 f=65mm; Ilford FP4+; hand metered with Sekonic L-758DR.

7. Obsolete . to banish.

(John Crane Photography) "RZ67 Pro II" "Red Desert" "black and white film" "medium format film" FP4+ Ilford Mamiya RZ67 wyoming Sat, 27 Nov 2010 19:09:00 GMT
Kodak 120 Ektar at rated 100  


Sunrise on the Adobe Town Rim, Red Desert, Wyoming - Kodak Ektar
I've been shooting a good bit of Ektar lately. At first it was a bit of a novelty - just to try something different than the Fuji chrome films I've become so used to working with. Provia and Velvia are staples. But in the quest to further define my photographic vision I've been doing a lot of experimentation.

Sunset on Interstate 80, extreme western Nebraska - Kodak Ektar

One of the pleasant surprises is the reduced cost in development. Less than half of the chrome films. And at similar pricing for the roll from the store, when you start shooting a lot of it, things can add up quickly.
The one and only drawback I've experienced has been re-adjusting my workflow without a meaningful color base to start from. At first I was getting 4x5 proofs from the lab with my negatives, but they really didn't do me much good. In just about every case I'll send film out, then scan the negs I wish to work with here in the studio. I'd supposed the proof was better than nothing, but they kick the cost up substantially and I ended not using their interpreation of the image for anything other than a hard copy for filing purposes. The real image begins to emerge with the 16-bit RGB scan.

Rainy staircase, Galena, Illinois - Kodak Ektar

But-since everything is an interpretation of the original scene, influenced by every step along the way including contrast/color cast bias of the optics, the film batch, the processing, the scan, etc. - I figure hey, I was there... I know what it's supposed to look like. I can take it from here...

If you're going to shoot color film it's extremely important to be able to balance the color precisely how you want it (not how someone else thinks it should be). The overall mood swing of an image can be dramatically affected by very minute changes in color balance. Ektar seems to have tremendous latitude in its ability to reproduce color.

You don't shoot Ektar (or Velvia, for that matter) if you're aim is accurate skin tones and such. For such projects you might struggle with Ektar (though I'm dying to try some portraits with it)... but really, that's what the Portra 160NC is for. NC stands for Natural Color. Ektar is not natural color. On our planet, anyway. But it surely can be wrestled in as conservatively as you care to stick it to the matte. No-Ektar is all about vivid color representation and I don't know about you all, but that's what I want to see in a sunrise or sunset image. Vivid color.

Sunset on old growth forest and wetlands, Iowa River, Iowa - Kodak Ektar
Something else about Ektar I just love is its exposure latitude compared to the Chrome film. The shot above is a great example. If you look at the negative there's barely any information at all contained in the middle trees section. The way Ektar so adeptly handled the soft, subtle transitions of the clouds and mist, retained information in the trees - without chrome noise- didn't blow the sky and essentially contained useable information in just about every millimeter of the frame just blew my mind. My digitals would have given up on this image, even my D3S - as capable as it is. This image used a 2-stop ND Grad for the sky so you still need to shoot well and use your head - Ektar isn't a miracle worker. But if you do shoot well and use good technique, this film is spectacular.

Having the top image drum-scanned (Tango drum scan by West Coast Imaging) really gave it a chance to see what all was there to work with). I actually had to knock the saturation back from the drum scan, once I set my white and black points and tone curve... the raw color that came out of the frame was just a little too intense. But it's there, with no clipping, no noise, waiting to be revealed.

Last light on grain elevator, Dike Iowa - Kodak Ektar

No mention yet of grain. It's simply a non-issue. There is no discernible grain. Not that I'm bothered by the look of film - I love it. But with Ektar, if you're looking for any noticeable grain you're wasting your time.
Now in all fairness, this is 120 Ektar I'm talking about. I've run a few 35mm rolls through my F6 too, but haven't really given it a fair shake. Though I can't imagine the results are much different than the 120 stock this article is focused completely on - using the 6x7 RZ 120 back. And I'm shooting at the rated 100 for now... perhaps that will be the next level of experimentation, to fiddle with speeds and see what happens. Give some a try. If you like vivid color, lower cost at the lab and no discernible grain structure, you're going to love Kodak Ektar.
(John Crane Photography) Fri, 26 Nov 2010 21:49:00 GMT
Back to the Red Desert p687273089-2

It's nearing time for the second annual Red Desert trip and I'm getting excited. This year we're heading into Adobe Town, described as the Crown Jewel of the Wyoming's Red Desert.
In terms of shooting objectives this year I've intentionally targeted off the beaten path destinations in an attempt to further define my photographic vision and take a step away from a world drowning in visual cliches. Years ago I'd frequent the town of Pinedale, Wyoming as a point of entry for exploration into the Wind River mountains. More recently - starting with a short trip to the Snowy Range back in October 2008, Rock Springs and the Red Desert north of I-80 last September, Chugwater back in May of this year, and various other short day trips into the region, I've experienced a growing interest in the Northern Colorado - Southern Wyoming - Western Nebraska region. Culture, landscape, environmental issues and history are newly interesting as I explore these off the beaten path destinations. After watching Utah turn from "free to wander" to "fee to wander" due to excessive crowds, It's nice to have a place virtually to yourself again. I hope the southern Wyoming secrets never gain too much popularity and the rugged beauty remains difficult to experience.
Part of the fun of planning trips like this is the research and exploration before the trip. Anyone wanting to learn more about Adobe Town should take a look at this on-line brochure. It's not actually a town but a proposed wilderness area in southern Wyoming that's being threatened by oil and gas exploration.
I'll be heading in this year another photographer buddy Dan and am really looking forward to exploring the parts of the map no one pays attention to. I'm thawing out some Ektar, Velvia and Delta in anticipation of some high-desert, medium format drama, one final shoot before winter sets in.
It looks like the weather might hold well - though cold in the evenings. Looks like high 50's - low 60's during the day and high 20's at night - a good opportunity for the down bag. The big concern is rain. What passes as roads here "turn to gumbo," as Erik Molvar of Wyoming's Biodiversity Conservation Alliance said. The high clay content in the soil when mixed with water is big trouble for the automobile. I pray for minimal wind, too - though in Wyoming this is almost unavoidable. A good cleaning of the gear is necessary after a trip like this. Every time you swap a lens out you get dust in where it's not supposed to be.

We'll be in the Subaru this year again and I'm a little concerned about the ground clearance issue. The Subaru isn't an off-road vehicle, and has limitations in deeply rutted double tracks and sand. We just have to play it smart and not get too ambitious. This shot was made last year early one morning as I was attempting to get closer to the Boar's Tusk, a rock formation in the Red Desert north east of Rock Springs. You can see the double track in the distance toward left-center of photo. If I'd tried to power through the section I stopped short of, I'd probably still be stuck out there, my wheels spinning uselessly in the air as the bottom of the vehicle rested heavily on desert scrub.
It sounds like we might get rain late Monday but we'll be out and en route home by then. It could make for dramatic skies Sunday night/Monday morning though.
Because this is a car camping trip and not a backpack, the tendency in the past has been to just "bring everything." But more and more I'm really trying to resist this and take only what I think I'll need. So while I don't need to be quite as militant as say, on our trip to Haiti in March, I do want to streamline gear as much as possible so I'm not rummaging through useless gadgets to find the one thing I need when the time comes. Always a challenge.
On a side note, I just visited a real eye doctor for the first time (...a photographer and artist not paying better attention to my eyes... I smack my forehead again as I realize how stupid this is...). I've been noticing my close-up vision deteriorating for a while now and have been wanting to get it checked out. All is well with the mechanics - in short, my eyes are healthy and strong, just gettin' a little old. So reading glasses for up-close stuff will make it all good.
That's it for now... hopefully we'll make some good images and have something to show after next weekend.
Happy trails.
(John Crane Photography) Sat, 09 Oct 2010 10:18:00 GMT
Alliance, Nebraska p865095062-2 I've been driving through the state of Nebraska an average of twice a year since 1981, give or take. Even a cursory knowledge of American geography reminds us that about 6 hours worth of Nebraska sits between Colorado and Iowa to the I-80 driver. Ugh. For a long time I liked to joke that when ever I was driving through Nebraska it was 4 in the morning and 40 below zero on snow-packed roads. Well, enough of that kind of talk. This weekend I had the absolute privilege of journeying to Alliance, Nebraska - and let me be the first to smack my hand to my forehead and realize how wrong I've been about the great state of Nebraska all these years.

Alliance is not quite as little a town as I thought off Nebraska's panhandle, north of I-80 about 100 miles. Not too long ago my buddy Andy, afflicted by the same years of I-80 blues as I, detoured off the beaten path seeking new pavement between Colorado and his Illinois home and made the trip to Alliance to visit Carhenge. I'd forgotten about Carhenge and thought, "...huh... that might be a cool photo outing..." and an idea was born. It fit well within the 4 hour, 300 mile radius I've drawn around my house on google maps, and after all, I love cars, and it's a heck'uva lot easier to make photographs of them immobilized; half-buried in the ground and welded together.
Why not, I thought.
I'm trying to work out the whole sun-up shooting thing. Here's the problem: going to bed the night before and getting up at 2 in the morning is the hard way to do it. I've tried. The worst part is most of the time you don't know where you're going and driving around in the dark trying to figure it out while watching the horizon isn't a low-stress exercise. Putting all the effort into a trip and almost being in position when the sun cracks the horizon - but then missing it by 15 minutes because you just haven't scoped the place out is, to put it mildly, inconvenient.
Instead, I've been leaving the night before and then pulling off and going to sleep as close to the site as I can. Either way you're driving in the dark... either way you're not going to get a good night's sleep, right? I mean, I love my Subaru and everything but let's face it - that award winning interior wasn't designed by the group that did La Quinta. This works out great. You can get out, check out the lay of the land (still in the dark) and get some ideas with plenty of time to head back and get some rest before the magic begins.
Unless of course you're met by the local sheriff at midnight shining a spot light in your rear-view mirror immediately after pulling into the parking lot of a place that closed at 10pm. O.K. I thought... time to make a friend. I pulled forward a bit thinking perhaps I'd inadvertently blocked his path in an otherwise empty gravel lot. Nope... his finely honed hand tuned by years of experience pointed that spotlight perfectly (I mean, perfectly) such that the angle of it off my rear view mirror blinded me no matter what direction I turned. I couldn't get away from it. It was like lasic's. Finally I decided to find out what was going on. I opened the door and stuck a foot out onto the dirt lot expecting the PA system to tell me to please stay in the car (not that I have a lot of experience with this sort of thing...), but nothing. I planted my second foot on the ground and stood up. "Is there a problem officer," I asked. A big man - had to be pushing 275-300 pounds - met with me with a second flashlight to the eyes. "The park closes at 10," he said. "Go ahead and do what you need to do and be on your way."
I explained to him, mindful of my body language, why I was there and did my best to put him at ease. No need for any trouble here, I wasn't aware there were hours. I've found it and now I'll be on my way. "Is there a place I can sleep for a few hours without breaking any laws?" I asked. "Try the truck stop out on the edge of town," he said. I thanked him and headed back the way I came - with him behind me the whole way - happy I'd found my destination so easily but, a little urked my first encounter in Alliance was with the sheriff.
I took the blanket from the back of the Trib, fluffed the pillow I'd brought from home and settled into a pretzel like fetal position in the back seat, mindful to first set the alarm on my iPhone. About 5 hours later I awoke to a brighter sky than I'd anticipated - no sound from the alarm - and was shocked to see it was already 5:30. Sunrise was in a half hour. How'd this happen? I hurried into the front seat, put my shoes on and hurried back toward the park. I was still O.K. time-wise and felt relaxed, but was scanning the streets for the Sheriff's car.
The 120 back on the RZ holds 10 shots. No more, no less. I had a couple of backs in my bag; one loaded with Provia 100, the other with FP4+. The Provia back was on frame 8 and I knew I was going to have to reload quick when the time came. I hate wasting frames so clicked off a few establishing color frames before getting into position for the shot I had in mind. What I'm finding is the ability to visualize your picture is a huge help in getting you started on a shoot. While everyone shoots the gray cars at Carhenge, I was more interested in a sculpture just up the hill called "The Fourd Seasons," comprised of 5 cars representing the growth stages of wheat in Nebraska. The cars are painted various colors and rise from the shortest (most buried) car towards the east to the tallest - two cars welded together end to end and sticking 30+ feet up in the air - to the west. Prior to arrival I didn't know how it was oriented - east to west or north to south - hence the reason for getting there early to plan things out. There was nothing to the east to block the rising sun, only miles and miles of corn. The walk to my shooting position was eased by a brightening sky, the sun minutes away from breaking the horizon. It was a cool, beautiful, quiet morning with a slight breeze and I had the place to myself.
The morning shoot went better than I'd hoped. The light stayed exceptionally nice for a good half hour to 45 minutes as diffused low angle light cut through millions of miles of atmosphere before striking my subjects, illuminating them in the brilliant, golden color you dream of when later looking through your photos and wish you'd been lucky enough to actually get. I looked through the big, bright view finder on the RZ and kept saying wow... it was stunning.
After getting the shots I'd had in mind, I began wandering around the sculptures looking for details glancing towards the sun every so often, unable to believe how nice the light still was. It was getting a little harsher but still diffused enough with a low angle it was worth continuing. Light hit the slightly angled underbellies of the cars and ignited the details we all take for granted on a car - the stuff you never see - the stuff that makes it work - the drive shafts and axels and springs and transmissions, etc. It was a beautiful thing. Most of the cars there were also covered in graffiti, which as I saw I began to understand why the sheriff the night before had been so diligent. But here's the thing: it looked pretty cool. I'm not a fan of defacing public property and I've personally never graffiti'd anything. But there were a few occasions where I found myself appreciating the aesthetic whole of the old, pink or green or yellow or white cars, half-buried in the ground with, what would you call it - local flavor added. Pretty weird, but in a cool, artsy way.
One car really caught my eye - covered in graffiti with plenty of sunflowers bursting up at its base. But the light was all wrong - it was a sunset shot. But what a shot... quite possibly worth sticking around Alliance for the day to be back in about 12 hours... I went through a couple rolls of Provia that morning then switched to FP4+ and headed down to the gray cars. It was the lack of any specular highlights (all the cars are covered in a flat, gray paint) that really attracted me.
At one point the silence was broken by an unkempt motorcycle muffler rumbling into the parking lot. To my amazement it continued up the path right up to the base of the sculpture, parking inside the main ring. This made photo making a bit challenging (which is probably why he did it). The combination of the guy and his bike was a photo in itself. It's tough to describe in a story that's supposed to be about something else (what is my point, anyway?) - but suffice it to say I briefly thought about approaching him to ask if I could take his picture but something wasn't quite right. He was a pretty scary looking dude, even by biker standards. It turns out later a few german tourists had dropped in and were making photos of each other in the middle of the sculpture. The guy on the bike fired it up and drove right through their group - as if to make a point, then roared off. Nice, I thought. Glad I don't have an image of him to remind me what a jerk he was.
After a suitable breakfast at the Homestead Diner the day was spent wandering around between Alliance, and the town of Hay Springs to the north where I ripped my shorts hopping the pool fence to get some shots. I picked up a couple of plums and an unripe pear from the grocery store for lunch before heading back to Alliance. It was hot and I was sleepy from a restless night in the Subaru so wanted to find a spot and rest a bit before sunset. That's when the real Alliance began to emerge. I had the good fortune to stumble across the brand new Knight Museum. The Knight Museum is a treasure of information about the whole Sandhills area of western Nebraska. First class, state of the art exhibits dot the contemporary, stylish building on the outskirts of another of Alliances treasures, Central Park. I walked through the museum and enjoyed absorbing some of the history, then found my way to the fountain in Central Park and got out my camp chair for a journal entry and a cigar.
After a bit I noticed a number of cars pulling up with people getting out and walking by. I wondered if there was something going on and said hello to a few people as they passed. One gentleman with his wife walked by and bid me a good afternoon. "There's a bar-b-que up at the high school put on by the football team if you're interested," he said. I thanked him and thought briefly about attending, but looked at my watch then went to get in the car and head back out to shoot.
"Don't be an idiot," I said to myself. "This is what you're here to do." I got out of the car, covered my gear, locked the car and hoped for the best - reminding myself it's all insured. I thought about bringing a camera but decided I just wanted to eat. The high school was only 2 blocks away and what an enormous mistake it would have been to have not gone. $5 bought a plate of baked beans, a hamburger, a bag of chips, a brownie and a coke - and - a seat in the stands to watch the Bulldogs practice, complete with cheerleaders and everything. I think the entire town was there - I felt like an extra in Friday Night Lights. Smoke surrounded the guys grilling burgers, "Love Shack" played over the PA system on the field, young boys in Wrangler jeans called me sir and people smiled, looked me in the eye and said hello. As if that weren't enough, all of it was happening in absolutely gorgeous late afternoon light. I ate, relaxed and when it was time to leave gave my seat to an elderly woman with a walker looking for an easy place to rest with her family.
Fully satisfied and still relaxed I headed back to Carhenge and enjoyed a blissful evening of still more gorgeous light as the shot I'd envisioned in the morning erupted into stunning foreground detail and color at last light. Back in town a strawberry milkshake at Zesto's as the last of the evening light reflected in the funky buildings old, glass block windows was a peaceful end to a wonderful day. The taint of my first encounter with the local sheriff the night before had been replaced with the Saturday evening bliss of summer in small town America in one of the many "small towns" that make up our great country.
Sometimes I wish the whole country were more like Alliance, Nebraska. I wish the law makers and lobbyists from Washington, the "trend setters" and culture-altering movers and shakers from New York and California - that seem to have so much influence over how the rest of us (as in vast majority) in the "flyover states" live our lives - and anyone else who's had a hand in steering our great country towards the edge of the cultural cliff we're teetering on, would visit a town like Alliance, Nebraska. I think they'd come away with an authentic warmth that would make them stop and think. About what America is really all about and how, if things don't change, our one time status as "the greatest country in the world" will be an epitaph. Alliance Nebraska is indeed home of, as it says on their license plates, "The good life."
(real photos to follow, please check back)
(John Crane Photography) Alliance Bulldogs Alliance Nebraska Carhenge Central Park Knight Museum Mamiya RZ67 Subaru B9 Tribeca The Fountain Zesto's Ice Cream medium format film road tripping small town America Mon, 23 Aug 2010 07:00:00 GMT
5th of July and Positive Thinking p545375855-3

I opened the back of the Jeep to get my tripod and there sat our folding chairs, and nothing else. The rage that filled my head at that moment was embarrassing and I did my best to conceal it from Matthew. I closed the hatch and hung my head while my mind stepped through the last 20 minutes trying to figure out what had happened. Pausing for a moment to peek in the back seat just in case, I accepted the tragedy and began the long walk to the lake. It was July 5th and we were going to catch the fireworks in Loveland.
The day before was of course 4th of July weekend. Here in Colorado it was pouring rain most of the day Sunday and as we came down from the cabin, necks craned out the window studying the sky, it looked pretty bleak. We kept searching for open patches of bright amidst the clouds and finally as we hit Longmont and made the turn North the sky looked like it was brightening. Hope. As we pulled into Loveland huge splats appeared on the windshield as wipers skidded and thumped across as if to deny their existence and we knew it was futile. I had my gear and was ready to take killer shots of fireworks for the first time. Matthew just liked the boom.
We headed home hopeful they'd reschedule them for the next night. After all, what's 4th of July weekend in America without bar-b-que, ice cream and fire works? Monday night we were both excited as we finished dinner and piled into the car. My iPhone rang just as I was loading my gear into the car and once again I was nailed by my inability to do 2 things at once. A half hour later we stood in the dirt parking lot shaking my head as I realized there was no time to race home and grab it.
We set up our chairs in the field - a truly great spot. There was a bank of trees to the left, a baseball dugout to the right, and a nice gap straight in front. If the fireworks were there we'd have a killer seat. If they were to the sides we'd miss the launch, but would still be able to see them above the foreground. "I'm so incredibly mad right now..." I muttered. "Why?" asked Matthew. "Because... this was it. This was my shot." Matthew paused a moment, wanting to console and encourage me and said, "There's always next year." At this I just shook my head again, tempted to argue my point but knew it wouldn't help. "Sometimes you're so negative," he said. He was right.
Photography has a definite technical element to it. Workshops, textbooks and education are full to the brim of technical instruction - and to a whole new level with now digital cameras. We're inundated with data as we compose, shoot, analyze, adjust, pixel peep and re-shoot – hundreds and hundreds of frames. We study guide numbers, range and candle power of new flash heads. We scrutinize the effects of one light box or umbrella's dispersal pattern over another. We try warming filters, cooling filters, expensive color altering filters, NDGrad filters, slim line circular polarizers and just about anything else in search of that "perfect look" right out of the camera. We work to form a useable understanding of hyperfocal distances, circle of confusion, chromatic abaration, color fringing and depth of field. We agonize for perfect exposure calculations, ISO useage, noise, grain, the flatness of film against a transport gate. We scrutinize a new lenses and camera bodies for corner sharpness, vignetting, misaligned focus points, back focusing... on and on and on. All thinking that the careful study of such errata will yield the perfect image. I swear - sometimes I get so caught up in the mechanism of making a photograph I just feel like a bumbling idiot, dropping things, misplacing things, putting something down in a hurry and forgetting where it is, fumbling with gadgets when I should be shooting... anyone else ever feel like this?
So - when my 12 year old son looks at me and essentially says, look on the bright side: "we're here - just enjoy the show," I can do one of 2 things: 1-forget all about taking pictures and enjoy the fireworks, or 2-let the night be ruined. Now, in my mind, only a true monster would let a wonderful night at the fireworks with their son be ruined because he forgot his tripod (right?). But perhaps there was a third option.
Rewind a couple years to Barington, Illinois. Our creative team from church had made the trip to the Willow Creek Arts Festival, an enormous assembly of creative talent dedicated to pouring it into the worship of our great God. Up first the speaker was photographer Dewitt Jones, talking about, amongst other things the process of creativity. One of the big take-aways from that talk was the idea of just being out there, open to whatever happens. Being flexibile, responsive and adaptable as circumstances change.

So as usual these days I'm working my F6, loaded this evening with Velvia 100. I have the 28-70 ƒ2.8 focused at infinitiy (checked the lens barrel marking with my head lamp in the dark), zoomed down to about 28mm. My ML-3 cable release stays in the bag, as does the spirit level. No need for that. I take the camera out, sit in my chair and brace my left arm on the chair's arm, my right arm against my chest and rest the camera against my forehead and proceed to watch the fireworks with my left eye as my right eye looks through the viewfinder. It was a fantastic show. Excited yells echoed as booms reverberated through our bodies and shook the night. We'd unknowingly settled in a spot so close to the launch the acrid smoke began to drift into our noses adding this new dimension to the experience.
We had a blast - no pun intended. The take away? Sure, there are times you're tying hard to get everything perfect. But sometimes lightening up and going with the hand you're dealt opens up new creative opportunities you'd otherwise not anticipated. I always tell my very patient family, "some day you'll be glad I took all these pictures. We'll be able to remember when..." But, I don't want that memory to be how uptight I was trying to get "everything perfect."
(John Crane Photography) Tue, 06 Jul 2010 07:31:00 GMT
Colorado: Pawnee Buttes & Eastern Plains O.K.-I just can't stand it any more. It's been far too long since I've written something and I have to remedy that now. Went to Pawnee Buttes today with Ben. Had a great time. Actually went late last night and spent the night in the back of the Jeep. We wanted to get an early start this morning - sun up was 5:25am and to leave from Fort Collins this morning and hike out there would have been terrible. So we headed out late last night, around 10:30.
Did a Bulb exposure with the F6: 2 hours, 45 minutes. Set it up at at 1:15 then went to bed. Awoke at 4:00am when the alarm on my iPhone went off and went and closed the shutter. I have no idea what will come off the frame. My sense is that was too long, but you never know. The wind was howling all night, blowing a fine dirt everywhere. p915866857-11 In our eyes, unzipped camera bags, into every nook and cranny of the Jeep... it was awful. As I drifted off to sleep I wondered if I'd wake up to an F6 covered in dirt, but remembered the images shown in the F6 marketing brochure - the F6 literally covered in dirt for one of their tests, and it survived just fine.
When we awoke the horizon was already beginning to get light. Also, after I tripped the shutter the moon came up on the extreme right edge of the frame. I couldn't tell if it was in the frame or not, but I'm pretty sure the light from the moon will contaminate the otherwise dark sky & star trails. Also, along the bottom of the frame on the horizon, red lights from the wind turbines in the distance were blinking all night. So I'm sure there are some very bright, very noticeable red glows along the bottom edge of the frame. So, I really have no idea what to expect, with reciprosity failure and all on a 2:45 frame... but I was asleep so I don't really care. What I really wanted to know was would that long an exposure drain my battery. The answer: no. I think I shot at ƒ4 with Velvia 50. When I get the frame back I'll post it here-either as a "don't try this because it won't work" sample, or, "once in a while you get lucky" sample.
Moon Rise and Star Trails, Pawnee Buttes, Colorado
Wednesday, June 9th:True to my word, here's the startrail shot. I'm pleased with the results - much more so than what I'd feared. Still lots of room to improve, but I was trying for the circular sweeps around the North Star, which is the dot in the upper left corner. Just dumb luck, really. The bright streak to frame-right is the moon. After reading about things like amp glow on digital cameras, and factoring in battery drain, I think it's safe to say that film is still the tool of choice for long-exposure star shooting. The jury's still out on the significance of reciprocity failure. Color shift is said to be one of the primary bugaboos, but with nothing to compare this frame to it's tough to determine severity. And in terms of long exposure breakdown - who knows how to meter for 2 hours and 45 minutes? And as if it weren't tough enough to measure proper exposure in the pitch dark, even with CSM setting B5 enabled on the F6, which extends measureable shutter speeds out to 30 minutes before you hit bulb, active matrix metering ceases past 30 seconds. The final verdict? I think you just have to be willing to experiment, and have a lot of patience. You can only make so many 2-3 hour exposures before the sun comes up ;-).
We had an iPhone moment as Ben was searching for his F100 manual to remember some custom settings in its quirky menu. Having realized he'd left it home we got out the iPhone to google it. Sure enough we had a strong signal - out in the middle of nowhere - and within about 120 seconds he found the answer to his question on Ken Rockwell's site. We both had a chuckle at yet another use for this indispensable communication tool.
Sun up was good. Not great, but good. Not much of a sky. But it's so very beautiful out there. So green and lush. The Buttes themselves are 2 and honestly, not that spectacular in and of themselves. But the country they live in possesses that subtle, gentle beauty that is eastern Colorado. Layer upon layer of rolling, grassy plains in brilliant, young greens. Deep lavendar skies to the west at sun up and for those brief moments just as the sun cracks the horizon, before it disappears behind the band of low-lying clouds to the east, the brilliant golds and ochres resulting in that brilliant and brief direct light. So beautiful...
Over Weld County, Colorado (2011)Over Weld County, Colorado (2011)Portra 400
Wednesday, June 9th update: At first glimpse Pawnee Grasslands may appear a bare, desolate place. But life abounds. Whether clinging to wind-swept turf, or stubbornly protruding from winding, dry washes of soft, crumbly cliffs the first hints of color begin to emerge. Once identified, you begin to see this glorious color everywhere.
Wildflowers were out, though we were a bit early for flowering cactus. I found a couple nice stands of flowers somewhat protected from the ever present, extremely fierce wind blowing and whipping anything on a stem into a wild dance. Shooting Velvia 5o is challenging in this situation: getting a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the dance meant shooting extremely shallow, like ƒ2.8 or 3 in most cases. Good thing I love the bokeh of the 105VR... and am pleased with the impressionistic blurs resulting from shallow DOF.
I smile as I try to imagine the images in my mind. One image later in the morning I was watching two ants make their way up a closed cactus flower, They'd disappear around the back, then emerge in the front having tunneled through tiny crevices in the closed plant... at one point one emerged on either side of the plant, sillhoetted against a beautiful, deep tan blurry riverbed in the distance. I was manually focusing, tracking their appearance and disappearance with the smooth focusing ring of the 105 and was able to, I hope, get them directly opposite each other in the frame. Amazing, watching these tiny dramas unfold through a macro lens... while the whole rest of the world goes on about its business. No regrets for leaving my D3S in my pack. It made the final cut early early in the morning as I fumble around in the dark, wanting the option to shoot it if the opportunity presented itself. Truth be told, though, I'm not sure I can explain why I have such affinity for the F6. There's just something about it that speaks to me. I know this: the D3S wouldn't have survived the Bulb exposure the night before, and if I'd even thought about removing the body cap to mount a lens, I'd be sensor swiping from now through the end of June to get the dirt out.
Regardless, as a result, I have no images to post here, Saturday night as I unwind after unpacking, but am eager for the lab to open Monday.
Eaton, Colorado  (2010)Eaton, Colorado (2010)
Also spent some time wandering around the eastern plains between Ault and Greeley. Found some interesting things in Eaton; feed silos, grain elevators and old store fronts. All in all a nice, relaxing day. Skies lately have been very dramatic, though this morning's sky was not. No matter. All afternoon a thick, doppled blanket of clouds provided plenty of opportunity to shoot as the harsh sun was blocked from blasting the color out of the simple still lifes I stumbled across.
Coming home tonight and wiping down the gear is the final step, putting it away clean and dry and ready to shoot again.
(John Crane Photography) 35mm film Custom settings menu Ken Rockwell Nikon F100 Nikon F6 Pawnee Buttes eastern Colorado Sat, 05 Jun 2010 20:36:00 GMT
Trophy hunting What a roller coaster the past few weeks have been. First I sprain my ankle on the first step on the descent of a training hike to Arthur's Rock (Lory State Park). Nothing broke and I have 4 weeks to heal before the Spearhead. Two weeks later I'm running out the driveway to get Matthew's clarinet out of the car before Annie heads to work and bam -down I go again. I'm finished, I think as I'm laying on the ground moaning, visions of my lost permit rushing through my head. Two Wednesdays ago was a very, very bad day.

A week later I'm talking to mom on the phone who tells me to go to the doctor. Now I'm not one to run to the doctor too often, but in this case it seemed like a pretty good idea. So I go see T, he looks at my ankle, does the clunk test, writes me a perscription for some heavy-duty Ibuprofen and tells me to get a brace and go on my trip. I'm OK with some PT later...
I'm elated. I'd already called Ben and told him I wasn't going - but now this news from a qualified source brought the visions of a high-alpine fall back into view.
We head in Sunday. We're planning gear and it's always one of the hardest parts of the trip. I was reading in a Galen Rowell's Retrospective a while back and one of his climbing buddies talked about how Galen would agonize over which lenses to bring - much like we're doing now. Good to know I'm not alone in this.
I've been struggling with strategy and have finally arrived at this point...

When I was in the Red Desert last weekend I was trucking around the middle of no where in the dusty dark using the Trib's compass and my Wyoming atlas by the car's dome light. My 3-D cell Mag-light cut through clouds of dust to county road signs as I tried to figure out where to turn in the pitch black. I came across this pickup stopped in the middle of the dirt track they called a road. There was an aluminum ramp down the back to the ground, and a guy in an orange cap stepped from around the driver's side door into my headlights and approached the car. Right about now all kinds of things were going through my mind...but I rolled my window down and asked if he was OK, if he had everything he needed.

"Our truck broke down and my buddy took the ATV to try and get some help." I jumped his truck with the Trib and got him going again, then contemplated what would have happened if I hadn't come along. His buddy ended up making it to a power plant 20 miles away via a literal maze of county roads - in pitch black - and we ran into him on the way back. Still... there's just nothing out there. I mean, nothing. Especially at night, with no moon, no lights of any kind, no landmarks on the horizon to get your bearings, no stars. Nothing but dust kicked up by your tires on the dirt track they call a road. Every once in a while jack rabbits would appear along side the car, confused by the sudden presence of light, and more often then not run head long into it. The Red Desert is less approximately 10 rabbits after my trip - I lost track after a while. There's no avoiding it - it just happens too quickly.
I digress...
These guys were trophy hunting for antelope. They weren't interested in the smaller, common animals, but the trophy animals. The ones you have to drive around out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night to find with infrared scopes. The smart ones - that learned years ago to identify the sound of an ATV and what an orange hat meant. So - all that to say after a lot of deliberation, I'm going for the great shot this trip. Not the lesser, common shot everyone else would take with a garden variety digital camera, but the great shot. In medium format, 6x7 frame of Velvia 50 film, at the perfect time of day, under perfect light, composed and exposed perfectly. Perfect. It's been said and I believe that "great" is the enemy of good enough, and it may well mean I come back with nothing but memories of a great trip. But if it pans out, I'll come back with that - and a killer shot or 2 of Glacier Gorge and the Spearhead.
Oh-and the swelling is down in my ankle, and I'll have it double-braced, but I have to admit a lack of confidence in it. That's tough for me - the idea of my body unable to deliver what I ask of it. I feel a bit like an epileptic (not to compare the severity of epilepsy with the comparative temporary nature of an ankle sprain...) but more in the sense that at any time on virtually any terrain, the ankle can buckle and boom-down you go with no warning. Holding thousands of dollars of camera gear, off a cliff, down a ravine... anything's possible. Pray it holds up.
(John Crane Photography) Thu, 24 Sep 2009 07:43:00 GMT
Waking Up... p691060344-2

There's a point in a kid's life where the desire to discover new things kicks into overdrive and seems to suddenly "wake up." For me it didn't happen until I was 16, during my first trip to Colorado. Our church youth group hopped a plane and headed to Presbyterian Highlands Camp, nestled just outside Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness. I can remember I almost didn't go on that trip. All my pals were going but that summer I'd been saving my money for a new stereo cassette deck. Finally I asked my folks if it was OK to go and to my surprise they said yes. Prior to that my world consisted of the typical high-school kid stuff: sports, music, girls and on a good day, college. How could I have known anything outside my immediate realm existed?


For our first night in the wilderness it took 6 hours to hike 7 miles beneath 50-pound packs to reach our destination, a lake located at 10,350 feet above sea level. That night we lay on the shore trying to count stars through frosty breath as a fire burned nearby in its small, rock ring. To say that night at the lake made an impression on me would be an understatement. It changed my life forever.


This past weekend I had the privilege of taking my 11 year old son on his first backpacking trip. At dinner a few months prior we'd tossed out the idea, and my dear wife being who she is immediately grabbed a calendar to identify a date so the idea wouldn't get lost in the chaos of life. In the destination deliberation my friend Scott and I were trying to identify the best first experience; far enough removed that they felt like they'd actually accomplished something, but not too far they resented us dragging them along. Scott was bringing his daughter Sam, Matthew's best friend. We batted around a few options over e-mail and in the end he deferred to me. In my mind there was only one choice.


The next week was spent outfitting my son. In the years of backcountry travel following that first trip we've accumulated plenty of gear, and now the task was finding a pack that fit Matthew. My wife graciously volunteered her down bag and Thermarest pad and we had the essentials. Henry, our black lab, knew the sounds and smells of wool, nylon and polypro as we assembled our gear throughout the week, spreading it out on the kitchen table amidst lists and dinner. Most of the time Henry was found laying off to the side of the table pretending to be asleep, but, really ready to explode with one word. I hadn't the heart to tell him he wouldn't be joining us this trip. This weekend was about the kids.


Friday night rolled around, Scott and Sam showed up. We had a beer, did a final gear check and headed to bed, excited for tomorrow. The next morning Scott was up early fixing everyone breakfast and we were able to get an early start for the hour drive to the trail head. The kids were giddy as we hefted packs out of the truck and strapped them on for the first time for real. Water bottles, trail mix, bandanas, pocket knives, sunscreen and sunglasses were all adjusted and off we went.


The trail was long, but fairly level for the first 5 miles. The challenge was keeping the kids focused on continuing to move forward, and not on the sweet, salty trail mix and candy bars in their packs. We'd stop, rest, drink, take pictures of sweaty backs through t-shirts, then the packs would go back on for another hour or so, all the while encouraging them to keep going - we're getting closer with every step.


p1035986916-2 The last 2 miles of the trail were a bit more challenging. A river was crossed by an old, double log bridge with a primitive hand rail, and we finally started to gain some elevation. Pleas of "how much farther" began emerging, to which I'd reply truthfully, we're getting closer with each step... we're almost there. A strategic rest at the bottom of the final, steep climb provided an opportunity for a pep talk, some water and some sweets. This was the home stretch and in less than 20 minutes we'd be "there."


We arrived through the trees, tired, sweaty and sore, for a glimpse of the lake I'd spent my first night at 30 years prior. My son was tired, but his first words were, "this is so cool..." We spent the rest of the weekend with the kids, hiking, cooking meals in our high-alpine kitchen and sharing our knowledge and experience with them. We taught them why fires were no longer permitted and why it's important to camp at least 100 feet from a water source -and even discussed why other parties at the lake were ignoring these regulations. They learned how to handle a pocket knife, matches and light a recalcitrant backpacking stove; why it's important to keep your feet dry when you hike and a hat on when you sleep. We taught them how to hang the food so chipmunks and bears couldn't get it, they learned what biodegradable soap is, how to set up a tent and how to squish the air out of a Thermarest pad when you roll it up. Things that, after you do this sort of thing for a while, you just know. Their heads nodded and eyes opened as they awoke to this entirely new realm of things they'd never even considered.


As parents, we don't want to push or bully our kids into decisions we'd like to see them make in life. Still - sometimes we can't help wanting them to just naturally go where we think they should. Often times they don't. But sometimes they do, on their own volition. When this happens and you witness the beginning of new discovery - things that aren't easily described; there's simply no way to adequately communicate; that are wonderful and good - it's a fine thing in a parent's journey.


p647901876-11 Often times during the weekend I had to turn away, choked up, as I watched my son transform from "Sponge Bob" addict to mountain adventurer, awakening at the very same place I awoke, 30 years before - glad he was beginning earlier than I had.




(John Crane Photography) Indian Peaks Parenting Wed, 05 Aug 2009 08:59:00 GMT
Fall is Coming p631632853-2

Last Friday I was in Boulder to pick up a permit for this weekend's backpack up to Indian Peaks. It was beastly hot-the thermometer on the car said 97-which I think now had to be wrong, but that's what it said.
When I was done in Boulder I headed up to Estes Park for the rest of the day to just get my mountain fix. I looked at the thermometer in the car as I hit the main intersection in Estes and it said 77. Much better, I thought.
Summer can be tough. I don't remember it like that growing up, but now the heat is stifling. Fall in the mountains is great-cool, beautiful, and invigorating.
Yesterday I got word my permit was accepted and I'm granted 2 nights in Glacier Gorge the end of September. What a gift. It'll be 16 years since my last trip up there. Far too long. I'm starting to plan gear. Even though it's only a couple nights, it's still a significant outing because of elevation, exposure, weather, etc. It's gonna be great... when you're locked into dates by permits, all you can do is hope for the weather you want. When I climbed, I'd hope for sunny, blue Colorado skies and temps in the 70's. Now, I want clouds. Lots of them. I want drama, I want light. I want color in the skies. I want no rain. We'll see what we get.
Studying the maps and drawing on past knowledge of the area I'm starting to plan my shots. It's tough to know just where to be at just what time. I used to stress out about this, but I read a great line by Ansel Adams once that said something to the affect of, "you can't be everywhere at sunrise at once, so just pick your spot well and get the most out of it." Great advice from someone qualified to give it.

p87321657-2 As the time draws near for September's Wyoming trip I'm getting more excited. I haven't figure out exactly where I'll target yet - much depends on my knees, honestly. We'll see how I do beneath the weight of a heavy pack these next few weeks before making any final decisions. I'm thinking about Cirque of the Towers. Though it's reputed to be over run wwith climbers, I've never shot it, and it's a target rich environment. The hike up Big Sandy is long and arduous, but once you're there and have set camp, opportunities are endless. This is appealing from a logistics point of view. Packing in a heavy load and spreading out, then grabbing what you need for day trips is more paltable these days than packing up your whole load every day and moving on to another spot, just because. I'm inclined to settle in and explore/shoot for the week in one, target-rich environment this time... we'll see how it pans out.
Medium format film will be the primary MO of course, but I may sneak my digital into the pack too. I have a few rolls of Provia left from my last Adorama order, but need to re-stock. It's an interesting challenge to buy enough film at once that you always have it in the freezer but not so much that you overbuy and it expires before you shoot it. I have more HP5+ left and will be shooting a lot of that in Wyoming (expires 1/10), but I'm planning on shooting Velvia 50 up there as well.
For me, much of the fun of a trip like this is planning for it. I used to just wing it more, but over the years I've learned I surely get more out of it when I go with a structured, but loose and flexible game plan.
There are the spontaneous, impromptu, wild-hair, last minute things, too. Like that last Friday in Estes. Around 7pm I'd called Annie to tell her I was heading home after gassing up, and would be coming down Glen Haven - one of our favorite drives. I headed out of town up toward Lumpy Ridge and it was just too pretty not to stop. That stop turned into a 2 hour detour to shoot Twin Owls, the prominent, magnificent duolith. The light wasn't that great, but just to be out there, quietly tucked in a boulder field above the trail, patiently awaiting the right alignment of the large, active sky... all on a whim, no preparation to speak of, no maps, no grand plan. Silence. Periodically I'd hear voices below me as tired climbers made their way up the trail, back to the car. I heard the click-click-click of a woodpecker as he hopped from one tangled mass of deadfall to another, looking for something to eat. Silence and peace as the last little kiss of light touched the brow of Twin Owls, as if kissing it goodnight. Just beautiful.
Being flexible to the 2 different approaches creates balance. Can't wait for September...
(John Crane Photography) Fall colors Wind River mountains backpacking climbing rocky mountain national park wyoming Thu, 30 Jul 2009 04:58:00 GMT
Back outside: beating the film drum & loving it p11026598-2 I've always resisted conformity. I can remember years ago when I started my first job in Chicago. I'd ride the train every morning along side the executives and office workers, into the city, every day, rain or shine. The Friday concluding my first full week of work (of my first job out of college), my dad picked me up at the train station. It was raining in Wheaton, and I climbed into the car and sighed. "What's wrong?" he asked. "I just don't see how people are willing to do this every day for the rest of their lives..." I said. He laughed and shook his head.

Being a raquette ball player, I always carried my Ektelon raquetteball gym bag on the train. Being fresh off the train from Colorado, I would also wear my purple Patagonia synchilla snap-T top. One day my mom asked why I didn't trade that in for a trench coat and briefcase, "like all the other guys?" You may be starting to form a picture here...

I've been shooting more film lately, rather enjoying the dismay and perplexity on people's face when I tell them. "Why?" is the ever present question. The short answer is, because it pleases me to do so. The longer answer is this:

p186611230-2 Please... stop comparing photographs preserved on film with digital captures. They are fundamentally different. I’d go so far as to say apples and oranges. Still the comparisons continue, with the criteria of which is “better” including such things as sharpness, noise, lack of apparent grain, ease of ISO adjustment, number of images you can shoot without changing film, instant grattification, instant feedback, reduced cost per shot over time, etc. For those reasons, I am comfortable conceding the pont to digital. It wins. o.k.? I own, shoot and love my digital cameras and see an important place for them in comtemporary photography.

p616717335-2 However-there’s nothing like film, and I suppose and postulate there never will be in the digital realm. Unique dynamic range, unique treatment of color rendition and fall off, its transitions of tones and the way it spreads color from region to region within an image, the lack of banding that plagues many digital cameras, and even the appearance of grain, which has become such a dirty word in photography, but actually contributes to the character of an image if handled properly. Then of course the authenticity of the image: there’s no disputing an image’s authenticity (as in lack of manipulation and tampering) if you're able to examine the original frame recorded at the moment. Add to this its existence with or without a computer and the ability to view using no electricity - without turning an electrical device on - and its tangible existence in analog space - with substance, matter... and you have unique properties that render comparison moot.

p980564187-2 Please... leave film alone. It stands on its own merits and doesn't need to be inanely compared to the different characteristics of the new digital capture. If you don't want to shoot it, or can't shoot it for whatever reason, please be happy shooting your digital cameras and get on with your life.
Don't look back.
Don't wonder if you've made a horrible mistake spending thousands of dollars on a technology no one knows the future of at the moment; on a camera that - in only a few comparatively short months will be worth a fraction of its over-inflated original price tag; saying goodbye to the tried and true method so many photographers have employed for so many years, that has captured image after image, time and again through history, that represents one of mankind's greatest achievements in my opinion; the ability to record and preserve moments in time visually for others to experience - often times a lifetime later.

p332924073-2 Me? Well, along side appreciation for "new fangled technologies" I have deep love for old school, too. Tradition. Homage. Authenticity. And even retro. All these words have meaning to me, and all figure into it somehow. I think the bottom line is to just have fun taking pictures, and don't be afraid to try something that may, on the surface, make you appear to be different then "all the other guys." It's O.K. to be different.

(John Crane Photography) Thu, 23 Apr 2009 05:32:00 GMT
EIKON at ISO 3200 p226083057-2

Even the outdoor photographer in me jumped at the chance to shoot an indoor live, musical performance when asked. So this past Sunday night I had the pleasure of photographing EIKON, an independent worship service put on by a few very gifted musicians in our church and community. Sunday mornings we worship God one way, but Sunday night was far from "unplugged." It was great-high energy, gifted musicians performing with passion, and a congo there to drink it up.
I had my trusty D300 and had hoped for enough light to shoot between 1250 and 1600. But the atmosphere dictates what you have to work with (no flash), and most of the evening was spent at ISO 3200. I knew I could remove a good bit of noise if I had to via processing, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, that there's no way to remove camera-shake induced blur from shooting too slow at too low an ISO, so I cranked it up and put my fast glass on. 
What I saw when I got back to the office and loaded the pics really blew me away. Between the way CaptureNX 2 handles noise, the performance of the D300 shooting RAW and Noise Ninja in Photoshop CS3 I wound up with far better photographs than only a year ago when I shot a similar event, Paradoxollogy, the Christmas program again for our local church, Faith Evangelical Free here in Fort Collins.
If you have a D300 or any contemporary DSLR, don't be afraid to stretch its legs a little. It's probably more up to the task than you think. From my experience, the top 10 "most important things" for these types of events seems to be:
1) Spot meter. Matrix metering factors in too much of the dark, ambient background and blows out the main figures too much. Spot metering on the targets face or head assures (OK, maybe not assures, but increases the probability of) a sharp, well-exposed face and eyes-which are really what count in most photos of people. A caucasian face meters at about zone 6, and your in-camera meter is looking for zone 5. So your shots should be pretty well-exposed if you switch the camera over from matrix (what a lot of people just leave their camera on) to "spot" mode. The D300's focus point, when shooting in "Single Point Autofocus" mode becomes the "spot" in Spot Metering when you're shooting like that. So where ever your focus spot falls on, your meter is also taking a reading from that same spot.

2) Shoot Manual Exposure.
I usually don't use programmed auto, but tried it for a few shots Sunday night just for fun. It did a pretty good job, but wasn't reliable. As things like guitars or instruments with shiny, hard surfaces caught the light and a specular glare would throw the meter into a tail spin, the exposure would be all wrong for a brief instant. Shooting manual, you can essentially lock the camera down as to how you want it to shoot, and it won't get confused when a spot light hits the shiny surface at the instant you take the picture.

3) Have fast glass. There's no way around this. The slowest I shot was 5.6-which was only a few shots. Everything else was from 1.4 to 2.8, with f4 mixed in when I shot the 12-24DX (which worked just fine). I know, I know... it's more expensive. But often times it means the difference between being able to take a picture and not.
4) Be flexible and patient. move around a lot. The light is being run by the guys in the back. Sometimes they'd see me up on the platform waiting and they'd boost the light knowing I was waiting for it. Other times the light would ramp up across the platform while I was shooting a different guy, and I needed to zoom over to where the light was fast, before it faded down again.

5) Don't use flash. It's too disruptive to the musicians, and obnoxious to the lighting designers. They've thought through the best way to aim and light, and randomly firing off flash around the platform is disruptive to the crowd and the musicians.
6) Search for unique angles. I always want to get at the base of a  guitar and zoom up looking at the face of the musician, but often times you just can't get that close-either because there's too much gear around them, security, or it disrupts their performance. I also like to get behind people to get that "see what they see" shot.
7) Try to get at least one of everyone. Invariably there are people tucked in the back that are tough. I missed one guy Sunday night-he was in black, in the dark, behind other people. I just never saw him, but my mind registered he was there and as I was driving home later turning over the performance in my head, I thought "uh-oh." and sure enough as I was looking through the photos, saw only his back in most shots.
8) If you have any input into what people wear, contrast between the background and their clothing is really great. Our drummer had on this great, plaid shirt. The camera focused on him so fast-which was good because he was really active. One of the main leaders though had on a dark gray, long-sleeve sweater shirt kinda thing. It was tough for the camera to find where he quit and the dark background began. Dark backgrounds are great. They help isolate the musician or performer better and reduce visual clutter in both the photo and the actual performance. They also help the colors pop more.
If you're shooting with screens in the background and have anything to say about what's on those screen, push for dark screens with light text. A light screen in a dark room visually competes with what's going on on stage-both during the performance and in the photographs.

9) Watch for good use of colored lights. Forget white balance-it's impossible anyway with multi-colored theatrical lighting.
10) Look for expression and emotion. Music performances are usually performed by extraordinarily gifted musicians, passionate about their music. It's virtually impossible for a musician to sing, play or perform without baring their soul on the platform. Watch them perform and try to determine how to predict facial and hand/arms expressions. You don't need to shoot too fast to stop them-1/60, 1/80 or so is usually enough-unless it's a drummer going nuts-then the motion adds to the e-motion. Hey-that rhymes. Being not musically inclined myself, I have an awe of those who  perform music-especially live music. It's something to behold.
Have fun. Today's digital cameras were made for this type of shooting. Shoots lots of pics, experiment with the ISO and have fun with it. The musicians will appreciate glimpses of their performances after the fact, and it's a great way to re-live the event later, and ramp up for the next one. Speaking for someone who's scared to death to be on any stage of any kind, I find it much easier when I'm hiding behind a camera. I'm like Nikon Ninja-boy and I pretend like no one can see me as long as I'm up there shooting. Try it. It works ;-).
Come join us at Faith Church for the next EIKON, time & date TBD.
(John Crane Photography) Nikon D300 high ISO performance night photography photographing worship services worship photograph worship photography Tue, 03 Mar 2009 10:02:00 GMT
Rattle Snake Gulch p7242915-3 Friday, February 27, 2009

Getting ready for the Winds in September.

Used today as a training day. I had to go to Boulder to sign a print for the upcoming Trout Unlimited Fund Raiser Auction and took advantage of my proximity to one of my favorite old haunts to get in a workout.
Years ago we'd ride Rattlesnake Gulch on our mountain bikes. I've gone over the handlebars a few memorable times with no helmet and no one around, only to get up and realize how fortunate I'd been to not have my brains splashed on the rock. This time I was on foot and carrying my LowePro Photo Trekker AWII, packed with 45 pounds of kit. I wasn't going for the photographs so much as just the workout. 

It's not too strenuous: 1,200 feet of elevation gain over about 1.4 miles up, plus the .8 mile loop at the top, and the little scramble up to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at the top, which I just had to do. All tolled, including the short Fowler Trail Spur at the end was just over 5 miles. It was cold at 38°, and extremely windy.  But oh, so beautiful.

Usually the canyon is crawling with climbers. I've spent some time here in the 80's during my climbing days. Great rock and easy access make it a mecca for wall climbing. Rattle Snake Gulch is up off the main canyon and winds up the hills, past spectacular views of the canyon and eastern plains to the historic Crags Hotel ruin, 800 feet above the trailhead.

Gearing up for Zion last fall I finally picked up some GoreTex wind pants and I'll tell ya, they're worth their weight in gold. Between that and the new wind parka I also got for the trip, it can get as windy as it wants and I'm good. Nice n' warm. It was so windy I needed one hand on my Wind Stopper skull cap to keep it on my head. But most of the trail winds through the trees, so the wind only hammers you when you emerge onto an open ridge. Great fun.
Last summer after a good bit of forum reading and research I finally decided on the best way to carry a lot of camera gear: use the pretty good pack you already have and just do it. There's no perfect pack, there's no short cut, there's no way to make it "easy." It's hard. And you just need to be ready for it.

The year before I'd picked up the Photo Trekker for my spring trip to Zion and while it fit a lot of gear, it sure got heavy fast. Being used to  full-fledged climbing backpacks designed to carry a lot of weight for a long approaches and ascents, I wasn't convinced I'd done the right thing with this Photo Trekker. Empty it weights 11 pounds, and it has gone largely unused for hiking trips opting instead to go light and throw gear in my unpadded, unsecured mountaineering packs. Invariably though, I'll find I don't have that one piece of camera gear I left behind to save weight. With the Winds in mind this September I'm focused on trimming my kit down to the ideal load. It's extremely difficult to do and will be the topic of more posts I'm sure. This day, though, I just filled the pack for the weight and almost didn't care what was in there.
It worked great. This morning in the shower I put the water on as hot as I could tolerate and just stood there with it beating down on my chaffed, red shoulders until I couldn't take it anymore. It felt great. Aside from that, no Ibuprofin  or otherwise muscle med's needed. I'm encouraged.

The big question is, though, what will the pack look like for the Winds? In the past when I've gone my pack has been quite heavy- loaded with climbing gear and no photo gear to speak of. Now it'll be loaded with photo gear and the climbing gear staying behind. I will however have my fishing gear too, so I'll need to pack smart. 
I've considered goats or Lamas for the trip, but haven't decided yet. While I like the idea of having an animal carry the weight, they top out about 60 pounds. That means the animal would carry some of the weight but not all, and I'd still be saddled (no pun intended) with some sort of pack with some amount of weight. I also don't like the idea of having he/she-whatever- tethered at camp while I'm off wandering during the day. Then there's the issue of how it (they) would get along with the dog. I've considered having a commercial outfitter horse pack me in but that seems like overkill. So for now I'm planning on using fitness to carry the weight and keep it simple. It allows more flexibility,  fewer variables, and keeps the footprint smaller.


(John Crane Photography) Sat, 28 Feb 2009 16:48:00 GMT
The Film Crusade Continues  

My top 25 reasons for still shooting film in the age of digital cameras.
After nearly completing the process of bringing a single, medium-format film-shot image to life, I'm finding myself more passionate about film than ever. Before I continue, though, let me say this: I still love my digital cameras for many types of shooting, so regardless of your pre-established notion of the "film vs. digital" debate, this isn't intended to dis digital– but more support film for various types of shooting conditions.
Now that that's out of the way...
I've put a few graphics up on the zenfolio site I'll use to point some things out. I'd begun writing long, technical explanations in other venues and remembered I had a blog, and really this was the place to put such things, so here we are.


A few Fridays ago I went out to shoot again. Conditions were poor by most people's standards; snowy, overcast, cold, flat light, etc... perfect. I headed to what's turning into one of my favorite close-to-home destinations, the area of Colorado known as North Park. Up over Cameron Pass, about 100 miles from Fort Collins is a little town named Walden. Walden is, "the moose viewing capitol of Colorado," as you can see by the sign. I'd gotten an early start in hopes of catching a sunrise, but hopes were dashed atop Cameron Pass as my windshield wipers thumped and skidded against the glass and I struggled to stay on the icey road. No worries, I thought... I have a full day in front of me, a hot cup of french roast and I wasn't sitting in front of the computer. Whatever happens today it'll be a good day.


The first thing I shot was a dead badger on the road up to Delaney Butte. Something about his presence on the side of the road caught my eye as I drove past.  I think it was his rather large and intact sharp, white teeth juxtaposed against the contrast of his otherwise gray and decaying carcas that made me stop, jam on the brakes, check my rear-view mirror and back up in the middle of the road as I've done a hundred times before. I had a fresh roll of HP5 (Ilford black & white film) loaded and ready to shoot and this would be a great shot for it: great tonal range in the dark gray road, the badger's fading stripe in his decaying fur, and all the grayness that surrounded it... I immediately envisioned the scene as the cover image for my book, a photo essay on north park.

North Park is what I've come to think of as "true grit" Colorado. Far from the posh & polish of the heavily traveled I-70 corridor's ski areas, convenience stores and outlet malls, North Park rest quietly between Colorado's I-40 on the south border and the Wyoming state line to the north. It's untamed west, full of horse ranches, working farms, hay and logging trucks and people who work hard outside in Carhart coveralls and field boots, returning at the end of the day to humble homes with muddy trucks in the driveway. Not everyone of course, but this is the flavor as you drive through the area. It's pure, unsullied and harsh but beautiful land.

People are tough and good folk. Holiday Inn, McDonalds, Starbucks and Wal-Mart have yet to dethrone The River Rock Café, the Village Market, and other small, local establishments run by friendly townies. Thank goodness for North Park. It's still and all, authentic Colorado.
As I pulled up along side the dead badger I glanced up to see a red tail hawk circling high above me. I had the feeling he'd just dropped the caracas there for me to shoot and I thanked him. A white, broken, half-rib cage emerged from the badger's deflated body cavity sticking upright into the air. 
I needed to take the center column out of my Gitzo to get the camera low enough to the ground for the composition I was trying for. In an effort to keep my load light, I'd left my bean bag at home (that's the last time that'll happen). I grabbed a canvas tarp from the back of the Trib and layed it on the wet pavement before kneeling down. It was snowing and as I opened the pop-up hood on the RZ's waist-level finder flakes fell through and melted on the ground glass. I threw a shirt over the camera as I walked about getting things set up. Gray card, meter, cable release, check for cars... soon a fellow came down the road in an old, mud-red import pickup and asked if everything was OK. His grade-school daughter sat in the front seat next to him, her pink coat with the fur-lined hood nestled down behind her neck and I'd guess this friendly rancher was on his way to school. "Just taking a picture," I said, "but thanks very much for asking." "Of what?" he said. I pointed over toward the dead badger along the side of the road. He just kinda looked at me and smiled, "how come?" "Just not something you see every day," was all I could come up with. We both laughed and he wished me a good day as he pulled back on to the road.

For the next half hour I set things up, metered, watched the light as it peeked in and out of the heavy but active cloud cover, metered again, and just stood there looking out across the land with my hands buried in my pockets, my hat folded down over my ears and the neck of my jacket zipped high against the cold. No other cars came by and it was just the badger and I on the side of the road in North Park. Clouds wafted by at first hiding, then exposing the strong, filtered sun. I wondered how he'd died. Was he hit by a car? Was he killed elsewhere and his carcass dropped here as I'd earlier imagined? How long had he been dead? My goal was to not disturb him at all; to shoot him exactly where he lay, in exactly the same position I'd found him. For some reason it was extremely important that the shot be authentic, not staged-in keeping with the whole authenticity theme of North Park. I knew if I moved him, there'd be a lighter, drier spot beneath where he lay, and it would stick out in the final image like a sore thumb.
After the shot I packed up, double checking as I always do to make sure I didn't drop anything on the road as I pulled away. The weather was giving the day real promise.
So what does this have to do with shooting film instead of digital? Absolutely nothing. At all. I guess my point is, you can have a great time just being out-no matter what holds your film, or your SD/CF card. The results of your decisions, however, have a tremendous effect when you arrive home at the end of your outing. 
When I get back and get this negative processed I'm going to have a big piece of film as a result of the shoot. I can take that big piece of film and have it scanned by any number of methods (with associated costs). I'll then have a big (300mb or 96+mp) digital file and a big piece of film. So what, you ask? Who needs film? Well, call me old-fashioned, call me paranoid, call me non-digital savvy (which is far from true but that's OK-I've got thick skin...), call me whatever you will-but, anyone who has worked on computers for any length of time has experienced loss of data. 
And when it happens there's seldom any warning before your whole life just disappears before your eyes. Sure, you can back things up, but what happens if your backup archive fails? And how many CD's do you mound up with files, forgetting to mark which is which... and they lay buried in some drawer and you don't even know what's on them after a few years?
I digress...
When that happens (not if it happens, because it definitely will happen), with those big pieces of film, I can now go back and re-scan, making large prints if the image warrants it. That is, if it's "good enough" to want to see big.
So, from a nuts and bolts practical point of view, as I see it, here are the reasons to shoot film instead of digital in certain situations:
1) The potential of a large image (beyond the 12 x 18 realm) is there.
2) At the end of the day you have something besides 1's and 0's to hold in your hand that, should all your computers crash and all your data be lost, you'll still have the original piece of film you began with.
3) You like the look of film, its grain structure, color saturation properties and the intangible that is subtle, but definitely there.
4) You enjoy the anticipation of viewing your images a day or so later, after you shot them (you can also get your film back very quickly, within an hour in most places, if you need it that fast).
5) You enjoy the process of shooting film because it slows you down and makes you think more about what you're seeing. It's not as much a discipline thing as it is an aid in weaning oneself from the hectic pace of our world.
6) You enjoy the discipline shooting film encourages.
7) You want to save an enormous amount of money by buying the film gear others are liquidating to buy the latest digital cameras.


8) You have a difficult time spending thousands of dollars on a digital camera that, in a comparatively short period of time will be pennies on the dollar because "the industry" has been forced to come up with a new digital camera with small improvements to keep the marketing machine chugging along and investors happy.
9) You want the links between your love of photography and the desktop computer to be as unnecessary as possible, freeing you to wander and shoot rather than catalog and sift through thousands of redundant images just to find one that's a little sharper than the other.
10) You don't want the inconvenience or cost of software/hardware updates tied to your photography.
11) You just plain like the idea of shooting film, just because.
12) The quality of today's film has never been better.
13) The chemicals used in producing silicon wafers and microprocessors for your digital cameras are just as bad-if not worse and many times more- as the chemicals used in developing film.
14) The imaging sensor on a film camera will never die, develop bad pixcles or malfunction because there isn't one.
15) Film is the real deal. Authentic. Old school. Tangible. Hard goods. It has a history of excellent images (because there was nothing else at the time-no alternative...) behind it.
16) You don't need to lug laptops and electronic gadgets around with your to back up your images in the field, or worry about AC adapters and extra batteries. Don't laugh at this: recently I was planning a trip and honestly, one of my concerns was being able to charge my batteries at night, driving me more toward a motel than camping. Pretty pathetic, I know.
17) You don't need to turn on anything requiring electricity to view your images.
18) A roll of film is inexpensive.
19) You get hard copies of your 35mm film shots in your hands the day you shoot them. How many of your digital pictures do you actually print?
20) You can get your pictures loaded onto a CD to e-mail to people if that's what you love to do.
21)  You won't shoot as many useless photographs that create the archive/backup/re-sizing nightmares your thousands of digital pictures require.
22) the dynamic range of print film is greater than the dynamic range of an image sensor most normal folks can afford. If you don't know what dynamic range is, it's the ability of a piece of film to capture and hold detail in shadow areas and highlight areas. Most people take pictures on bright, sunny days, where the difference between the brightest spot in the picture and the darkest spot in the picture far exceeds a digital camera's ability to capture it. Print film does a better job here.
23) greater depth of field possibilities because of the larger image receptor size (especially on medium and large format) and the greater ability of the lenses to stop down another stop. So on most SLR/DSLR lenses stopping down all the way means shooting at ƒ22. On MF lenses, stopping down to ƒ32 and even 64 is a regular option. There are those who would argue that color fringing occurs at these small apertures, which is true. But it's correctible, and nowhere near as blur-causing as an image that is out of focus because you didn't have enough DOF.
24) You can spend all the money you're saving by not buying digital cameras on actually going on a trip and seeing an interesting place worth photographing, rather than walk around town with your expensive digital camera, trapped, because you shot your budget on it and now have to wait for a year before you can take any trips.
25) Images shot on film have a more accepted degree of authenticity. Being able to produce a piece of film that shows exactly what was captured at the time of the photograph ends most disputes whether an image is authentic, or has been tampered with somehow. 
In conclusion: the existence of digital doesn't negate the worth of film. The worth of film stands on its own merits. Go get yourself a film camera and a few rolls of film for a few bucks. Shoot it up, take it to the 1-hour, go for a walk, get some exercise, then go get your pictures. Enjoy flipping through 24 (or 36) pieces of paper you don't have to turn on anything electric to view. If you like it, consider moving to a medium format film camera. It really is a huge jump in image quality over 35mm-there's just so much more information captured in that larger piece of film (see graphic).

Support the film industry. They're struggling right now because so many people have accepted it as normal to spend a few hundred dollars every few years replacing their digital cameras, only to shoot thousands and thousands of photos just because they can, that will wind up buried in hard disks destined to fail-losing the images forever. No digital camera is the best that it can be right now whereas film has never been better. And how many times can your bank account allow you to replace a 6-10mp digital camera that just doesn't cut it anymore because there's a better one out there, and afterall, these are your precious memories? I know the land fills can only take so many, too. Don't be fooled. Have fun taking pictures and not going broke doing it.
(John Crane Photography) Wed, 04 Feb 2009 05:48:00 GMT
Day 3: Alice in Wonderland: Utah Highways & Zion's Tunnel p1031214303-2 After the Gooseneck Overlook shoot (below) I stopped back by the room, checked out and gassed up. I was excited to get in gear this morning-I knew what lay ahead.
For all the time I've lived in Colorado (some 25 years now), I've spent almost as much recreational time in Utah as Colorado. Years ago I'd travel to Wyoming's Wind River mountains, southeast of Jackson along the Rocky Mountain chain, with the occasional trip to Utah for mountain biking. In the past 15 years though, when I've craved inspiration and adventure, Utah is the map I run my fingers over most, searching for routes off the beaten path. Why is another story, but for now let's just say Utah flips my switch-especially as a photographer.

To say the drive from Torrey to Zion traverses some beautiful land would be like saying King Kong was just a monkey: a gross understatement. It's not a long drive-and that's a good thing. There is so much to see between one point and another you could easily disappear for weeks disappearing wandering dirt tracks off into the desert-which is exactly what I love to do. Today, however, I was on a bit of a schedule. The goal for the day was to hit Springdale before the Zion NP Visitor's Center closed at 5pm. I needed to get my permit, then pick up some neoprene booties for the hike tomorrow. I knew what time they closed and how many miles it was from Torrey to Springdale. The rest was as the Spirit led.

There's a stretch of road in Utah I try to drive during daylight. If I come upon it at night I'll pull over and wait. It's that beautiful. It begins just out of Torrey heading south on Utah highway 12 towards Boulder. The road travels up and over aspen-infested mountain passes, through Dixie National Forest, amidst a surrounding sea of red desert. I'm sure I shorten the Subaru's brake life when I travel this road. I'll be cruising along at highway speeds, see something I want to explore, check my rear-view mirror, and slam on the brakes to check it out. A half-hour later I'll dump my gear back into the car, check my watch and think, "O.K., that was worth it, but now I really have to hustle..." only to repeat this sequence innumerable more times. This is one of the main reasons, I believe, why Annie and Matthew have stopped traveling with me when I make these trips-and I can totally see why. Heck-it even drives me nuts. But when it's there in front of you, how do you turn your back on it? I have to stop. Have to. So I do. Again, and again and again and again.


At one point near the top I happened to look down along a boulder-strewn drainage as it passed beneath the road and saw something I wanted to explore. I pulled over, geared up and headed down a steep, bolder-littered creek bed a few hundred feet beneath the road into shimmering, effervescent, autumn-color-filtered forest light. Some large bolders teetered as my weight bore down on them, others stayed still. My tripod hung over my shoulder and I did my best to steady myself with my other hand, but there was nothing to grab onto. I just took it slow. Finally I was deposited in the middle of a sunken bolder field below the road, partially obscured by forest. It was noticeably cooler here out of the sun at moderate elevation and I zipped my neck closed a bit.


What I thought would have made a cool photograph ended up not. But, I was there and so I just stood for a moment. Cars occasionally passed by on the road above, but for the most part I was left alone in the cool quiet.

He must have been watching me come down the slope all along-but had stayed put. That's all I can figure. After standing there a bit in the silence I heard a rustling off to my right and turned in time to see the hind-quarters of what was probably a coyote (I doubt it was a wolf) disappear into the brush. Too small to be a deer, too large to be any other small mammal. I stayed there a while-probably longer than I should've-and just listened. Partially because I didn't want to navigate back up that bolder field with my camera, but also because I was enjoying the light. The gold and green changing leaves filtered strong, side-lit light straining it into something I wanted to scoop up and drink. Because it was largely shaded, cool hues prevailed. Moss and lichen on the bolders underfoot were their quintessential bluish-green against the dark-gray rock spread out before me like lumpy carpet you'd brake your ankle trying to walk across. Fallen trees lay decomposing amidst the bolder field filling golden air with the sweet aroma of decaying fall foliage. Wonderful peace for just a bit. No road noise, no wind, just birds, breeze, flies buzzing by my head and the distant hiss of tires above.
I don't know how much time passed down in that ravine but eventually I snapped out of it and headed back up, slowly, carefully, until I reached the pavement 150 feet above. Now I really needed to hustle...
I'd spent enough time in Dixie that stopping at some of the other spots was going to have to wait. There was, however, one exception: Kiva Coffee house for a late morning Americano. The taste of bad hotel coffee had been purged and I had my sites set on something better. It was Tuesday morning. I wasn't at work, and I was thirsty.
Kiva Coffee House sits on a beautiful, lonely stretch of Utah desert Highway 12 just out of Escalante. If you're not looking it's easy to miss the sign. Nestled down beneath the road, you can see it on the approach from below (the north), but once you go up around the bend it's nothing but a rock & stucco sign by a gravel driveway. Not remembering exactly where it was (having only been once before) my eyes were straining to spot the long, earthen words spelling, "Kiva Coffee House..." then to my horror just below, "closed Tuesdays." Oh no...

I pulled over and sat in the gravel drive for a moment, engine running, gathering my thoughts. I'd really been anticipating good coffee as I'd pushed on, and now this - this travesty, this disaster. I hung my head in sorrow... Then, after remembering that wouldn't actually re-open the Kiva Coffee House, I collected myself and headed back onto the pavement.
It feels somehow inappropriate to recant the following, but given the circumstances it was necessary. The rest of the drive that day was pretty much just that-a drive. While I passed through some absolutely spectacular land, I was afterall on a mission: to reach Springdale in time to get my booties, and my permit for tomorrow's hike. I sped past the turn off to Kodachrome Basin, Bryce Canyon National Park and so many other beckoning scenes I lost count, promising I'd be back to spend time there.

After a long pull I found myself sitting at the Mount Carmel Junction gas station doing a trash dump as the Subaru filled his thirsty tank. I'd made it. Only a few miles to travel, along the spectacular Mount Carmel Highway that will deliver me to my end goal: Zion National Park.
Through the official eastern entrance to Zion where I stopped to renew my Annual National Parks pass, I headed towards the tunnel. For those unfamiliar with the main tunnel in Zion that connects the "east side" with the rest of the park, I'd encourage an exploration of the topic on Wikipedia or another site. It's truly an amzaing feat of engineering-especially considering when it was built. The net effect is this: you head west from Mount Carmel Junction towards Zion, and ultimately pass through a tiny tunnel scooped out of over a mile of mountain, emerging on the other side to the main canyon of Zion National Park.
As you're driving through the narrow, dark tunnel, there were "windows" blasted out used to dump rock as they tunneled. It's difficult to describe, but there's this sense of hurtling through a hole, emerging on the other side into this magical world, much like, I'd imagine, Alice experienced as she took the plunge through the rabbit hole into Wonderland.
I made the National Park Visitor Center before closing and spoke with the rather serious gentleman behind the counter who warned me of what I was getting into tomorrow. He made me sign a few papers and handed me a small, sticky note parking pass I was to put on the dash of the Trib tomorrow. A quick trip to the mountain shop yielded my neoprene booties, then it was off to Under the Eves B&B, which would be my home for the next 5 nights in Springdale. The fun was only just beginning... but I was here. I'd made it.
(John Crane Photography) Boulder Utah Dixie National Forest Mount Carmel Highway Utah Utah Highway 12 Utah Highway 9 Zion's Tunnel road trip road tripping Sun, 07 Dec 2008 13:50:00 GMT
Day 2-The Road to Zion (Capitol Reef N.P.)

Day 2 started at 4am with bad hotel-room coffee in Torrey, Utah. I jammed both the little coffee sponges into the coffee maker in an effort to bring some semblence of life to the anticipated feeble brew, but to no avail. Coffee is huge for me and this trip I'd left my traveling french press at home, not wanting to carry water-boiling kit with me. I was smacking my forehead right about how. But this too would pass.

Coming in late the night before I'd been scanning the road for targets (in the dark) and tentatively settled on Capital Reef's Gooseneck Overlook for no reason other than I liked the "overlook" part, and it seemed as though it was an east-west running valley, which could be good in morning light. I packed the Trib and headed out into the dark, cold desert morning under a clear and starry sky. This was going to be great.
Sunrises: so many people squander sunrise. It's so much easier to just stay in bed and sleep, no doubt. But sunrise and sunset are my favorite times to shoot-and of the 2, sunrise wins. Yes, it's tough to get up sometimes, but never have I been sorry I did.

Capitol Reef National Park is one of the undiscovered gems of the American Southwest, though it has been enjoying more visitors over recent years as it slowly becomes known. It's a beautiful place-and huge. You can spend a lot of time there driving, hiking and shooting. My time was limited this morning-it was a stop along the way and part of my on-going effort when I travel to both begin and end each day some place beautiful. This morning it was Gooseneck Overlook.
Turning off paved road I headed up the mile-long dirt road watching for jack rabbits and dear in the headlights until I hit the parking area to find myself the only car. A welcome relief after the rock star hoopla of Goblin Valley the night before. Loading up the PhotoTrekker and heading out under headlamp up the dark canyon rim trail I noticed signs everywhere warning about exposure to steep cliffs and fatal falls. Tension emerged as I imagined a headline in the local paper the following day describing my shattered body on the canyon floor below, "photographer falls to his death off Gooseneck Overlook..." I reached up and rocked my headlamp down a bit to show more of the trail in front of my feet. I swiped a runny nose with my gloved hands.

Gooseneck Overlook looks down on Sulphur Creek, well above (1,000 ft) the canyon floor. The short trail terminates at a fenced-off outcrop and I put my pack down and turned my light off. The wind was stiff and I folded the collar up on my jacket against it. My hands-already clothed in the LowePro gloves Annie had just given me for my birthday-buried deep in my pockets. It was beautiful, even in the dark-and cold. The canyon I was looking out over had multiple levels of colored rock and dirt all exposed by the creek, and I stood there marveling a bit before thinking about what I was going to target before sun-up.

After gawking a bit the heavy pack went back on my shoulders and I took off up the rim, off the trail, watching my footing carefully. There was no overt danger. As long as I stayed in from the rim 10-20 feet or so there was nothing to worry about. The problem was, you couldn't see anything from there. I edged closer to the rim, no railings, headlamp on, just being careful. Finally the light had come up and my field of vision expanded enough that I could turn my headlamp off. Stopping there in the coming dusk I heard my breathing, felt the weight of the pack, and thought about the hotel room coffee-it wasn't good, but it got me out here. I smiled big, deeply happy.

Tripods: Some who don't do it might wonder why others shoot with tripods so often. This light right here and now is why. While most people can hold there camera still enough at fast enough shutter speeds in the bright sunlight, that's not typically what makes great photos of the land. It's the hours of the day that light is hard to find (morning and evening), and when you do, there's not much of it. This low light means longer shutter speeds, which means you can no longer hand-hold the camera still for say, 1/30 second and slower. Enter the tripod and cable release. 
On the rim, close to the edge, there weren't many trees. This makes walking with the tripod easier as well. I usually don't carry my camera on my tripod when it's slung over my shoulder like this. There are too many trees, rocks and other perils that can whack it right off the head and smash it on the ground. Party's over just like that. So I carry my tripod but no camera over my shoulder most of the time, and it takes one arm to do so. This leaves one arm for steadying yourself with a walking stick (usually a telescoping ski pole) if you use one, or to catch your fall should you. I prefer having both hands free, especially in the dark, just in case. But it was light enough this morning that I felt comfortable what I was doing.

The rest of the pre-dawn morning turned into a slow amble up a gentle slope that was the canyon rim, peering over, shooting, stopping, wondering, praying, and just having a sweet, peaceful morning as the sun rose higher toward the distant horizon where it would eventually break through the darkness and ignite everything under it, changing the flavor of the day until sundown so many hours later. The moon had been full the previous night and it hung there motionless, opposite the corner of the sky the sun would occupy, seeming to bow to what it knew was coming: he was Lord of the Night, moving off in preparation for Lord of the day to come. The wind was gone now, temperatures were up, safety was assured and any earlier tension was gone. I took my coat off, left my gloves and hat on, and kept going.

Gently, slowly, the dusk light began revealing utterly unspeakable things and I shot. And shot. And shot. And shot. Everywhere I looked I saw something else-the way the pink, indirect light was revealing cracks in old trees, the color the light briefly turned the dirt on the ground, the pocks in rim rocks... even now as I remember it I drift back into it and wonder how anyone can deny we have a genius Creator... who can't not be beautiful. Sometimes moments catch you off guard and rock your soul-blindside you with beauty and awe with no preparation, no time to process-they're just there and you're there and there you both are and man-wow. I stood there and watched and inside I cried it was so pretty I just couldn't stand it.

When people look at a picture I shot, maybe they see something special - maybe they don't. It almost doesn't matter -though I always hope they do. But what I see is this morning, this moment, this glimpse of who my God is, sticks with me-it's preserved. Not captured, just preserved-so I can refer back to it when I wonder, or need to re-juice on Him. My God-it's so beautiful. And I'm so sorry others don't see you the way I see you here, now. Thank you more than I can-for your mercies on us, your grace, your beauty and numerous beautiful gift to us-for this beautiful scar we call the earth.
If you could imagine, the day only got better from here. But I'll save that for another time.

(John Crane Photography) Sun, 23 Nov 2008 14:52:00 GMT
True Confessions of a Film Shooter Nikon F6 and MB40 50mm14
Wow-where do I begin? A lot has happened in the past 3.5 months, so let's see if I can get caught up with at least some of it.

On August 9th, I fulfilled a long-time dream by taking delivery of a brand-new, factory fresh Nikon F6 35mm film camera. I purchased it from Adorama (New York), my favorite place to buy camera gear on-line. I have purchased all other Nikon F bodies pre-owned. This one, however, was the first purchased new. I wanted that new, "Nikon F experience" just once before-well, before they killed the Nikon F line... What an absolute dream camera it is.

Now before you're tempted to go off on a film vs. digital wrestling match, let me say I'm done wrestling with this issue and have finally settled on the following statement: for some things digital makes perfect sense. For everything else, there's film. Now, whether it's medium format or 35mm film is another question entirely, but the point is made. When I shoot a photograph I really care about, beyond an assignment or work, I shoot film.

Please don't misconstrue this statement as I don't care about my assignments or my work – nothing could be further from the truth. Digital shots for me just seem to have a shorter life span in theory. One good power surge, hardware failure, file corruption, virus, crash or EMP (electro magnetic pulse) and they're gone. They're just 1's and 0's, folks. And what percentage of your digital photos do you actually print and keep? It's easier, really, to just keep viewing them on the computer, isn't it? Film, on the other hand, is tangible matter. It exists outside the realm of the computer. Like the Hollideck on Star Trek. On the Hollideck, everything feels real and appears to have substance. Once you leave that room, though, it can't come with you. It doesn't exist outside that room.


So it is with digital photographs. You can't take a digital file off the computer and burn a negative with it, but you can take a negative and make a digital file with it. So I shoot film for things I deem a longer life-span desireable. There's also the idea that, in our life time or our children's lifetime, will the media used to store digital photographs be readable? Will CD's exist, for example, 50 years from now? If not, a maintenance issue has now been created. For digital photograph libraries, which can be quite large, the issue of converting them from one file format, one storage medium, one hard disk, one archive to another now becomes necessary. During this process there is risk. Far from iron-clad reliable are today's computers and storage media. With film, short of fire or flood, all you need is a reliable storage system that won't be obsolete in a few years and you'll always be able to view your images. This has tremendous value beyond today's needs for me, and is worth investing a bit more time in to preserve. I could go on and on, but that's enough for now. Film is real, and I like real stuff.

To be honest (true confessions of a film shooter), I think another one of the main forces that drove my return to film was the feeling that I never got it quite right before. What I mean by this is, digital made me a better shooter. With its instant feedback, histograms, large displays, somewhat limited dynamic range, and overall ease of use, it was easy to figure out what I was doing wrong when a shot didn't work (which was often). As this happen, I'd compensate, try again, and ultimately figure out what I needed to do to fix it. This was essentially impossible with film. There was too much of a delay between making the photograph, viewing the photograph, then remembering what settings were used and how they needed to be tweaked. Old, bad habits were revealed using this new, digital process and rather suddenly it seemed I'd begun making the images I had in my mind when I made the photo. The return to shooting film for me was at least partially, in a sense, going back to pay homage to a medium I'd previously squandered - and now desired to do it justice – armed with this new-found knowledge. There's more to it than that, but certainly there's a component here I'd previously not admitted to myself.

Back to the F6, with no hesitation- the Nikon F6 is the finest camera I've ever held in my hands and shot-bar none. And - he arrived just in time to accompany me on my trip to Zion National Park in September. What a perfect thing (more on Zion later).

If you do a search on some of the forums regarding the F6, you'll probably run across the following smattering of opinions. "...why on earth would anyone buy a pro film camera today with digital being so easy...?" or, " image quality long ago surpassed film-why would you shoot film?" or, " is dead." However, you'll also run across the film devotees and diehard film shooters who have a different take on things. They have nothing but praise for the Nikon F6, and I for one am extremely happy to have and shoot it. It's a work of art and makes incredible photographs and is my new best friend (except my wife, son and dog).

So I took my shiny new F6 to Zion for a fall foliage workshop offered by the Zion Canyon Field Institute's Michael Plyler. It was the first time I'd met Michael and I now consider him a good friend and photographer. If you get an opportunity to attend one of these workshops I'd highly recommend it. Not only will you learn good technique pointers, have tough questions answered by experienced folks and have a lot of fun, but you'll find some off-the-beaten path things to shoot, learn when the good light is and see things the ordinary visitors will not – which were all things I'd highly anticipated leading up to the workshop. I was not disappointed.
The workshop began on a Thursday, September 18th and ran for 2 days. So I got my calendar out and started planning. Annie agreed to hold down the fort while I was gone, and I got a wild hair idea. I googled the Subway and began the permit process. The Subway is one of the most famous hikes in Zion National Park. It has become so popular that they've instituted a lottery system to obtain the necessary permits to do the hike. Because of the nature of Zion, at the edge of the Colorado Plateau, flash flooding is a serious danger in many of the side canyons, and the Subway hike follows one of these canyons. Because of the off-time of year and off-day of the week I was interested in doing it, I was able to get the required permits. My day was the 17th of September.

So I headed out from Fort Collins on Tuesday, the 15th, and by that evening - just as the sun was setting - I was at my first stop: Goblin Valley State Park, Utah. It was a gorgeous evening with a gentle breeze as I paid my $6 at the entrance and asked the ranger where the good sunset shots were. "The valley," he said. Light was fading fast so I didn't waste time. I headed up the road, enjoying the strangely shaped rock formations being blasted by the sun on one side, deep in shadow on the other side. I didn't make any photos here as I was in a bit of a hurry to get to the main valley. With great anticipation I rounded the last bend before the parking lot, visions of Desert Solitaire hovering in my mind. Of course, that's not the end of this story...
I think I saw it before I heard it, but as I rounded the final bend there seemed to be a tremendous amount of activity in the parking lot. My first thought was, "hmm, I guess I'm not the only one who cares what Goblin Valley looks like at sunset..." Then I saw the 2 semi's, their backs open, ramps down, and people scuttling busily in and out, pushing hand carts with black boxes stacked, wrapping cords, talking on walky-talkies, and the low murmur of power generators. "hmm..." I thought, "what's all this then?" I pulled into one of the few open spaces in a rather large parking are at the main valley overlook and headed for the bathroom. "What's going on?" I asked three guys hanging out by the biffy. "Music video shoot," they said. "Of who?" I asked. "The Killers-I don't know if you've heard of them..." "Nope. Good luck." Just then, I saw a guy dressed in vintage MTV "I wanna be a rockstar" clothing walking up the hillside-complete with silly hat, makeup, funky big, black, high-heeled boots and all. If I could have cried without embarassing myself I think I would have. So much for my peaceful desert evening.
I loaded up my LowePro Phototrekker AW with what I thought I'd need and headed into the desert to try and escape the fray. As I walked from the car, a helicopter started its engines and groupies climbed in for a tour of the valley at sunset. I envied them, being able to get above all this and look down at a gorgeous time of the evening. I covered my eyes and my camera as the copter took off, kicking sand and dirt everywhere then watched as it slowly vanished into the pink and purple sky-the sun hitting the metal skin once it rose to a certain elevation. It was quite beautiful. Off I trod, seeking peace in the desert for an hour or so this evening.
I spent a few very pleasant hours in Goblin Valley that evening but needed to press on. I'd made reservations in Torey, Utah, just down the road outside Capital Reef National Park, so packed up and headed there, concluding day 1 of my trip. Despite the chaos at the parking lot we were off to a wonderful start and a quite nice birthday present to myself that first day.

(John Crane Photography) Wed, 19 Nov 2008 15:56:00 GMT
Quality Kid Time p629695393-2

Matthew at Partition Arch, Arches National Park, Utah. Nikon D300, lens: Nikon 17-35/f2.8, 1/100@f14, ISO200, manual exposure, center-weighted metering; Gitzo 1325 tripod, Kirk BH-1 ballhead; RAW conversion CaptureNX, B&W Conversion Photoshop CS3.
"This is my favorite place in the whole world," my son said as he jumped out of the car after a 7 hour drive. We were on our first Father-Son photo adventure and we'd finally hit Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah. It was time to stretch our legs. Excited to use his new camera, he switched it on and started shooting pictures of the moon over "The Guardian."
Some background:
Each spring for a number of years now I've had the opportunity to head south to one of my favorite regions of the country known as "The Grand Circle." This trip has been timed to coincide with my son's Spring Break at school. Both my wife and son usually head to Arizona for a stay with the folks, and I take off, wandering around the American Southwest for a week or so. It's almost perfect. While I love to wander, I miss my family.
A few years ago we retired our Canon Powershot A70 given to my wife a few Christmases back. When I say retired, I don't actually mean retired intentionally-we gave it to our then 8 year old son as his first digital camera. He did pretty well with it for an 8 year old kid. Until the fateful day he decided to take pictures of he and his friends doing a slam-dunk competition out on the pavement. Even then, things were going well. Until he put the camera on the ground, pointing straight up, to get a zoomed shot of one of his buddies pretending he was Michael Jordan. Let's just say that is the last photograph that camera took.

p510301183-2  Neighborhood Slam Dunk Competition; Nikon D300, lens: Nikon 12-24/f4; exp: 1/8,000 @f4, ISO 500, auto,  center-weighted average; aperture priority; active D-lighting: normal; RAW conversion CaptureNX; hand-held while standing on ladder above backboard.
While genuinely disappointed in the loss of the camera, the photographer in me was impressed with his creativity and ingenuity. Oh, to be reckless again and not think about things like basketballs smashing your camera... imagine what you could do if you weren't concerned about putting your (now rather expensive) camera gear in harm's way. Since that day, he has been without a camera. Until this spring. We figured it was time to give him another shot at being a responsible kid; after all, he had a birthday coming up. 
Before the annual trip, before his actual birthday, we surprised him with a new Nikon Coolpix L14. While he (somewhat condescendingly) referred to the late Canon A70 as "the little silver camera," he went absolutely bananas over the shiny black box with the revered yellow & black Nikon badge on it, no doubt remembering his dad receiving and opening many such a box in the past. He was stoked.
But wait, there's more.
This year we had a new plan for Spring Break. He was going to accompany me driving from Fort Collins down to Phoenix, and mom was going to fly down a few days later. So on the first leg of this year's "Grand Circle Spring Break Photo Safari Extravaganza" I'd have the privilege of my son's company. That he even wanted to come pleased me beyond words.

If you're looking for a fun family activity, photography is a great one. No matter what your level of expertise, what kind of equipment you have, or where you live, there's always something to make photographs of and share the process together. I've found that shooting with your kids provides an entirely different perspective-on photography, and how their little minds work. It's fun to watch the young, creative mind develop.

fast forward...
"Let's head a little deeper in before we lose our light," I said after a bit. We had the hotel room so there was no need to hurry back into Moab, and I wanted him to see my second favorite National Park in its dramatic display of evening light.


Arches National Park, Moab, Utah. Shot on Kodak TMax 100 with Nikon F5, 28-70/2.8 at 1/60 at F14. Heliopan Circ. Polarizer.

By the time we took a lap through The Windows area, and another around Balance Rock, his little head was spinning. He walked down the path alone and stood at the end, watching clouds build over the Mante La Salle mountains to the east. On the ride back to town for dinner, cold but sitting in the Trib's heated seat, he said, "You're the greatest dad in the world." We had had a very good day.

(John Crane Photography) Arches National Park Grand Circle Utah family photography quality time with kids Mon, 04 Aug 2008 07:16:00 GMT
Wax on, Wax off Summer 082008-07-26_11-09-06

With the release of Nikon's new full-frame D700- a remarkable camera I'm sure, I've hit some sort of techno-wall. Since August of 2006 I have been active on the digital photography forums such as DPReview. I have learned a good bit about equipment and technique, had some important questions answered, shared photos and even built friendships with people I have never and may well never meet. Overall it has been a great journey.

Whenever a new camera is released, something happens. The forums buzz with everything from exalting jubilation at this new piece of equipment (been there), to bitter accusations about how their present camera (maybe the cream of the crop 6-12 months ago) is no longer adequate and they feel somehow betrayed by the manufacturer (haven't been there). And just about everything in between. I call it the lemming factor (reference to people who go along unquestioningly with popular opinion, with potentially dangerous or fatal consequences).
p764108-2 All the deliberations and arguments/ramblings about sensors, high ISO performance (or lack there of), totally subjective image quality drivel, post-processing sharpening arguments, FX vs DX, angry D3 owners bashing Nikon, insecure D300 owners being pushed over the edge in to buying a camera they don't need... others losing their shirt in the resale market, how the 70-200VR has gone from a legendary lens to a joke in such a short span... people placing multiple orders for a camera they don't need and confusing vendors just so they can have the latest and greatest camera to post pictures of their cat on the forum... please... enough already.

So this weekend I staged a silent protest. We were blessed to have a camping trip scheduled with our small group. We were to head up Cache la Poudre Canyon (one of my favorite spots in Colorado-and not coincidentally very close) to hang out with a handful of close friends.

While packing, I briefly deliberated over what gear to bring and made my decision. My digi-cams would stay home this time. This weekend I was going back to the basics. I grabbed my Nikon F5 from the Pelican crate, checked the batteries, grabbed a few rolls of black & white film, two lenses (50mm/f1.4, and the 105VR/f2.8), my tripod, cable release, and called it good.
It was cathartic... way sweet to simply focus on photography again. I shot 72 pictures, all on black and white film, and loved it. I thought about and applied my best technique to every shot. Some will undoubtedly tank, but I also think I got lucky on a few. I'm excited and anxious to see the photographs maybe Monday or Tuesday. I'm also not now faced with deciding which image is just a tad sharper than another, or which of the hundreds of (duplicate) photos do I delete and which do I keep "just in case..." or pouring over hundreds of pictures for hours on end. Many of those decisions were made prior to snapping the shutter-a natural consequence of slowing down, assigning higher value to each shot, and actually thinking about what you're doing-before you take the photograph.

p38364721-2 Don't get my wrong-I love my digicams and use them heavily just about every day. They're great tools. But this weekend it was nice to get back to the basics and just have fun making photographs again. The moral of the story? Just shoot, and know that if you're shooting a DSLR from this century, you're using one of the finest & most advanced camera systems on the planet-no matter WHAT they come out with next (and-you can pick up incredible film cameras for a song now!).
(John Crane Photography) Karate kid Nikon D700 back to basics film photography wax on wax off Mon, 28 Jul 2008 07:51:00 GMT
Decisions, Decisions... p1029542307-2
Richard Formato, SE Competitor from Wytheville, VA, dips his cap into the cool Poudre River to cool off during the 2007 Trout Unlimited National Fly Fishing Championships. Shot with the Nikon 400mm/f2.8

I'm at the brink of making a rather important, large decision in terms of kit. After shooting the Nikon 400mm/2.8 in last year's National Fly Fishing Championship I've been forever smitten with big glass. I read on DPReview aftterwards a guy saying, "don't ever, ever rent big glass until you're ready to buy it." Big glass, for the un-initiated in photo-speak, for our purposes here equates to the line of "super telephoto" lenses Nikon puts out. They're big, beautiful and very, very expensive.

Having tucked away budget for such a purchase one rainy day, beautiful clouds are beginning to form overhead and I'm smelling that rain smell. That day is drawing near. Based on the type of shooting I do - if one could classify such a thing - I'm attempting to draw some logical conclusions. However, I'm also keenly interested in what the "illogical," passion-evoked voice of my heart has to say, and eager to distill all that noise and information down into some semblance of an actionable decision. In other words, wants and needs, left and right, heart and mind, must come to some sort of agreement.

I've narrowed it down to 4 primary contenders, with a long shot 5th contender if my Powerball ticket comes in big (just kidding-I don't gamble), presented here in order of favored consideration:

  1. Nikon 200-400/f4/VR

  2. Nikon 300mm/2.8/VR + TC

  3. Nikon 200mm/2/VR + TC

  4. Nikon 400mm/2.8/VR +TC

  5. Nikon 600mm/4/VR

Yesterday before heading to the ballpark for the Rockies/Pirates game, I made a deal with my son. The deal was, we were heading to the camera store to do some research first. The goal was to get my hands on the 2 front runners and do a side-by-side comparison using my primary camera, the Nikon D300. If he'd be patient with me while I did my "research," I'd make sure he  had a wonderful night at the ball park (read below's entry for how this promise was fulfilled).

The camera store in this case was downtown Denver's Wolf Camera, on California Street. Wolf Camera downtown has been an excellent partner over the years. Corey Anderson, the manager has been extremely helpful whenever I've needed gear, and Chris, one of my favorite salesmen, is always willing to help however he can when I come down. 

Nikon 300mm f2/8 test imagep740142117-2

Nice, young couple enjoying a pleasant Saturday afternoon stroll down California Street, downtown Denver.


I prefer to purchase my gear new when I can, and to purchase it from a brick-and-mortar store when I can. The reasons are the following:

  1. I like to get my hands on something before committing to purchasing it. When you order on-line, you of course can't do this unless you actually purchase, then return it if you don't like it. I prefer not to do this. Shipping costs, restocking fees, opened boxes for other buyers, delays in refunds, hassles back and forth, risk... all tip the scales for me. It's just not my way of doing things.

  2. If a brick-and-mortar store is going to go through the expense of keeping an item on the floor so I can come down and inspect it before purchasing, I feel it right to help support their ability to do so any way I can. Walking into a store to inspect an item, then walking out and buying it on-line isn't something I'll normally do. I value the knowledge and wisdom of the experienced sales force and am more than happy to help support them. After all, we're all in this together. Andy Horton at Mike's Camera in Boulder is another great resource. Andy helped me through my NPS membership and has been very helpful in other areas as well.

  3. New gear comes with a warranty, used gear does not. New gear doesn't have ebay woes associated with it. New gear has the highest probability of being "perfect" right out of the box (if there is such a thing). Used gear-well, you never know what you're gonna get.

  4. I tend to buy a piece of gear and keep it forever. I'm not a turn-and-burn guy. Uh-oh, I hear the "sensitive artist" creeping up to the keyboard here-hold on a moment...

    "hi-I'm John's aesthetically-enabled alter ego. While he's off commiserating about the practical, logical, sensible stuff (someone has to do it), I'm considering things like look & feel, touch, weight, smell, usability, overall impressions, gut feelings, wow-factor, X-factor, "just plain coolness," and other more subjective aspects of such an important decision. Tying this in with the gear point, let's just say for now that it's not unusual to build an attachment to a piece of gear. Especially when you use it - a lot. Think about it... When you use a camera you hold it up to your face, it presses against your nose, often times bending it to the side slightly... and now your LCD display (or back of your film camera) has an oily nose-print on it. Eyelashes sometimes find their way into the viewfinder, and when it's cold and your nose is running... well, just plain eewwww...

    On a long lens, you heft and balance its weight in an attempt to get it to sit still and cooperate; when transporting it you might cradle it in your arms because it's valuable; you feel it with the tips of your fingers and the palms of your hands bare its weight - it has temperature, mass. Brassing and rub marks adorn heavily used items like badges and battle scars. On the used market these are detriments, but when they're caused by your hands and oily nose they mean something positive-bring back memories, evoke feelings.

    Your gear has a unique piece of identification associated with it. A birth certficate (warranty sheet), a serial (SS?) number. It's unique. Yes, it may be one of 10,000 or so created in a manufacturing run, but this one is special. It's yours. It has micro differences in coatings, alignment, AF motor noise and vibration, exterior features and other subtle differences that, if you put it in a group of its peers, you might just be able to pluck yours out and say, "here it is."

    Equipment becomes familiar, predictable. When it needs repair, you send it off to the doctor. When it returns, you're glad it's back, healthy again. "Put me in coach, I'm ready to play," it says proudly as you unpack it and the bubble wrap & peanuts fall away. All this to say, I tend not to part with kit once I make a spot in the crate for it. Think I'm kinda nuts? Let me ask you this: have you ever asked yourself why you like something? Think about it. Gotta go"

  5. OK-sorry about that. He's gone now-drives me crazy sometimes... Back to the practical stuff: the last reason is that if something goes wrong with it after getting it home, I can hop in the car, drive it down and get a new one. Just like that. Here's an example. When I bought my 105VR, I got it home and upon inspecting the rear element closely, noticed there was something dislodged and floating within the lens barrel that looked like some sort of "flake." I called the store, they said bring it back, they had a new one on the counter ready to swap out. Just like that. I like that.

So all that to say, I'll buy new if I can, and buy from a local store if we can come to some sort of agreement on price (everything is negotiable). I don't expect them to match the on-line guys penny for penny, but I do appreciate some willingness to work with me, especially because I still need to pay sales tax on top of that cost (you should also pay sales tax to the city whenever you buy on-line, but can get away with not doing so if you're shrewd. Buying from a store and paying the sales tax like you're supposed to is a good way to keep your nose clean with the tax people).

I tend to not by after-market brands. I tend to buy the brand version of something. For example, when I bought the 12-24mm DX (AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 12-24mm f/4G IF-ED) wide angle before heading out this spring, I looked at the (highly-regarded) Tokina 12-24 right along side the Nikon. I held them both in my hands, judged the build, feel, quality, and came up with a draw. There was about $450 price difference between the two. I stood at the counter in tremendous turmoil, I'm sure much to the amusement of the clerk (at Jax Outdoor Gear, Fort Collins), and finally walked out with the Tokina. "That's a lot of money you're saving," I kept telling myself on the drive home. It almost worked. Jax is on the north end of Fort Collins, and I live on the south end. It takes about 20-25 minutes to travel from one point to another on a Sunday afternoon. I made it to the Foothills Fashion Mall light, roughly 15 minutes into the 25 minute journey, and turned around. "I'm coming back," I told the clerk on the cell phone. "I just can't do it." Today, I never think about how much that lens cost. It's a superb lens and well-used. A permanent addition to the kit. I digress-and I'll never get to the point of this post if I keep it up.

Here's the point: I love the 200-400/f4/VR (AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED) and have pretty well made up my mind that's what I'll get.

There can be no mistaking this for a piece of serious-calibur equipment. Often times zooms are poo-poo'd by the purists for their softness-as in, not quite as sharp as primes. OK, I think there is some validity to this. But more so in the past, and I've seen what this lens can do in the capable hands of others, and have put that issue to rest once and for all: sharpness is more than adequate. My only hesitation with this lens is that it's F4. F4 is good-not as good as 2.8, but not variable ap. F4 is the standard amongst super tele's with the exception of the blazing fast, rediculously expensive 400/2.8. None the less, I wish the 200-400 were f2.8. It's that separation between a sharply isolated, perfectly focused subject and the beautiful, soft, blurry background bokeh of quality glass that I crave. Would f4 get me there? Could I shoot it wide-open? Would contrast hold up? Edge-to-edge sharpness? CA? Color frigning? Could I hold it steady at 400 (EFL 600mm). Only one way to find out and that's to shoot it.

I took both lenses out of the store (many thanks, Chris-not many would let a guy take $10,000 worth of brand new exotic lenses out onto the streets of Denver leaving only my 70-200VR and my 85/1.4 as collateral behind the counter) onto the sidewalk and started shooting. Not having my tripod, doing any kind of serious application comparison wasn't feasible. Instead, for this outing I wanted to learn what I was up against in hand-holding these guys. After all, most of the time I use a tripod/monopod. The rest of the time, I want to be able to get it out quickly and shoot hand held.

Out on the sidewalk in front of the store in Denver, on California Street, I dropped to one knee, propped my left elbow on the up-knee, cradled the foot of the lens in my left hand, and started shooting with the right.

Nikon 300mm f2/8 test imagep725679413-3

Here are some first impressions of the 200-400VR:

  1. The 200-400VR is a BIG LENS. When I looked at in the store display case it had the hood reverse mounted, covering the front end portion of the lens. In my mind I thought, "yeh, but when you take the hood off, the lens is really a lot smaller and shorter." Wrong. This was both enticing and problematic. I wasn't comparing it direclty to the 400/2.8 I shot last fall, but it seemed not quite as fat and a little longer. Extremely well-built, extremely well-appointed in terms of finish detail. I didn't inspect it closely-I was there to shoot it, not critique the design. But it's gorgeuos-making my artist friend extremely happy.

  2. Because it's so big, the nose tends to dip. I didn't notice this until I switched to the 300/2.8 which was considerably shorter, a bit fatter, and not as nose-heavy. Yes, holding this thing would take some practice.

  3. It's AF is fast, even on my D300. I'm sure it will focus even faster on the D3.

  4. VR is fairly smooth and quiet on this lens. Again, I didn't realize this until I mounted the 300/2.8, which had a noticeably noisier, more vibration-prone feel to it. When you look at the shots with the 300/2.8VR you'll see this has no affect on the image, it's a usability thing.

  5. 400mm on a DX sensor is the equivalent focal length (EFL) of a 600mm lens on a 35mm piece of film. If you don't understand what this means right now, don't worry about it. In a few years it probably won't matter as much because DX sensors I'm predicting will go by the wayside and FX sensors will gradually replace them. But for now, I get more reach from this lens on my D300 than I do on the D3. I like that. 400mm (600mmEFL) is out there.

  6. Cool factor. Now this is purely subjective, but on a 1-10, in my book, it's an 11. The hood is carbon fiber, the finish is a beautiful semi-gloss/matte classic Nikon black with micro-bumps. Just the right size of zoom and focus rings with just the right size/amount of raised ribbing to grip. Focus is smooth and easy, and my hands just loved being in contact with the barrel. The VR and AF had a soft, supple pulse that was sure and predictable. No hunting, near instant AF and sublime handling. Its control panel-while complex enough to require some getting acquainted with-is well designed and adds visual interest to the lens, without cluttering it up. It's really, truly a gorgeous beauty of a lens. Super cool. A+. I liked it. A lot.

Nikon 300mm f2/8 test imagep780094436-3

First Impressions of the AF-S VR NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G IF-ED (aka: 300mm/f2.8)

  1. It's notably smaller than the 200-400, and therefore handles much easier (better).

  2. The dimensions are not only shorter, but a bit larger in diameter. Its proportions with the hood are aesthetically pleasing-a nice balance of power/reach/usability in a somewhat compact and highly usable package.

  3. Same aesthetic comments as the 200-400 in terms of finish, control panel, ribbing, focus/zoom rings, etc.

  4. It's VR was a bit noisier, and I was able to feel it a bit more, as mentioned already above.

  5. It focuses amazingly fast, and is dangeroulsy sharp. The color rendition is superb, as is on the 200-400. Just beautiful.

  6. At 300mm, obviously, it doesn't have the reach the 200-400 does. There can be no meaningful comparison to me in terms of image quality with this lens and a TC. The 200-400 would kill it.

  7. wide open it shot very well, though these test were done with this lens stopped down to 4, and the 200-400 is only 4. Thus, the 300/2.8 has the advantage here in being stopped down a bit, while the 200-400 has the disadvantage of being wide open. That could account for the minor differences in sharpness noted below.

Nikon 300mm f2/8 test imagep444789495

100% crop of Nice, Young Couple. Notice some minor CA on her shoulder.


Final analysis: I walked away from the store yesterday favoring the 300 for its handling ease, sharpness, fast focusing and overall speed. Truely a magnificent, world class chunk of glass, truly worth every penny of its $4K +price tag. No more superlatives. Just gorgeous. But in the back of my mind, I was reserving final decisions until I saw the full resolution results on the computer monitor. Which was this morning. Looking at the two images side by side, I dare not try to tell them apart at 300/f4. Now add to that the flexibility of shooting at 200 when you need to, and of course the extra reach of 400mm and the decision becomes quite a bit easier.

In many ways it's unfair to compare these two lenses. They have different intents. But given their price point, reach and size, it's something I needed to do regardless.

Nikon 200-400mm f4 test imagep294065549

Nikon 300mm f2/8 test imagep151380708

I saw 3 differences in the above images. (disclaimer: the same focal point was used, the same ISO, the same exposure, and both were shot within 30-60 seconds of each other. Images are RAW converted in CNX2, exported as 16-bit TIF's, then JPEG'd in Photoshop CS3. No sharpening, leveling or any other post is applied to these images either in CNX2 or Photoshop CS3).


  1. First, the image shot with the 300/2.8 had slightly better edge/micro-detail. Not by much, but it was there. If you look closely at things like the separation between the light, vertical reflection and natural color of the fender, for example, you can see a difference. This could be attributed to various things, but I'm going to consider it a characteristic/quality of the lens. You can also see it in the red tail light. As per above, my guess is it's the difference between shooting the 200-400 wide open vs. shooting the 300 stopped down to f4. But that's just a guess.
  2. Second, the 300 exhibited minor color fringing or chromatic aberation-not sure what this is (see the magenta line separating her shoulder from the bright background?). From what I could tell, the 200-400 did not exhibit this-but I didn't test it with the same shot so I can't say for certain.
  3. The histogram for each image was slightly different from one image to another. Overall it was "lighter" (my 10-year old son even caught it, unsolicited, when I asked him if he saw any differences between the 2 images). Now this (different histogram) could be because one image recorded a car passing by on the extreme right of the frame and the other didn't. It could be a cloud passing overhead changing the light... who knows (the images were shot within seconds of each other). But it could also be different characteristics of the lenses, which is what I think. The 300 lets in just a bit more light. Not much, again, but some. If you read the specs on the nikon site, the 300 has fewer elements (11 elements in 8 groups) for light to pass through than the 200-400 (24 elements in 17 groups).


While I can't deny the purist in me wants to shoot just primes and boast to others about it in an obnoxiously snobby, elitist and condescending way, I've decided on the 200-400VR/f4 with no doubt or regret in doing so. Besides the fact you'd need a llama or a sherpa to carry all your primes on any kind of outdoor adventure (what price vanity?), the zoom is unquestionably more convenient-especially for wildlife, especially when your position is confined due to circumstances where the slightest movement would scare the animal and blow a shot. 

The other lenses all have their pluses and minuses (there's not a bad lens in that bunch), and some day, PowerBall willing, I may have the privilidge of adding (one of) them to the kit as well. But for now, lens lust and pragmatism pat themselves on the back in their ability to work across the aisle as they go walking off into the sunset with a rather self-congratulatory gate to the camera shop, happy to deliver the news to the newest member of the family.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

(John Crane Photography) National Fly Fishing Championship Nikon 200-400mm/f4 Nikon 300mm/f2.8 Nikon D300 Nikon Super Telephoto lenses digital camera buying decisions which lens to buy Sun, 20 Jul 2008 11:16:00 GMT
Rockies Baseball p721146817-3


On a whim Friday night, with Annie being out of town, the guys decided out of the blue to see if the Rockies were in town tomorrow. They were! They were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. We decided to get tickets and go. Matthew was excited. "I'm going to bring my glove-maybe I'll catch a fowl ball!" he said in traditional 10-year old boy excitement.p863650059-2
We arrived at the park well ahead of game time. I enjoyed sitting in the glow of the ball park, having not been to Coors Field in some time. It's a beautiful park-a nice mix of old style and new comforts. Matthew's eye was caught by every distraction strategically placed between the entrance and our path to our seats. Me being who I am - focused on finding our seats and getting situated - encouraged him to stay with me... "we can come back later if you still want to," was the bone I threw him.

Before the game started, Matthew was a little disappointed he didn't get to go to the pitching cage, batting cage, have players autograph his glove or participate in any of the other mayhem going on at the ball park. To make matters worse, he saw the big net behind home plate to catch fowl balls, took note of our seats (they were great, but he didn't know it-between home and third base in the Wells Fargo Club level) right on the edge of the net, and heard someone say the only fowl balls that came over here were from lefty batters. He pessimistically speculated that no one was a lefty on either Colorado or Pittsburgh, and he may as well just go home.

The second pitch of the game, the lead-off hitter for the pirates fowled a ball... high, high, ever so high, back, back-right above us... a gentleman 2 rows in front reached his hand up. The ball smacked his palm so hard I'm sure you could hear it in Pittsburgh. Bouncing off his red, wounded hand over to the very edge of the precipice our seats were perched on, the little white orb was poised at the brink of rolling out of our lives forever. Suddenly, a nice young man sitting next to us scrambled right, grabbed the ball before it fell to the next level and handed it to Matthew. "There you go, kid."

I'd fulfilled my obligation as a dad, and my rather speculative promise during the trip to the camera store (see post above). And the Rockies killed the Pirates. It was a very good night.
(John Crane Photography) Sun, 20 Jul 2008 07:20:00 GMT
The Goats of Mount Evans p847430035-3
Last Saturday I was able to break away and get to something I've been thinking of for a while. I set the alarm for 2am, which came pretty quick after getting to bed only 3 hours earlier. Left the house around 2:40 and was at Idaho Springs by 4. I was heading for Mount Evans, specifically, the mountain goats of Mount Evans. I'd been up there years before on a couple different occassions-once on my bicycle to the summit (a very long day in the saddle), and a couple times driving. It's spectacular Colorado front range scenery at its very best.

Since my first visit, I've wanted to return with my gear to get the shots I've had in my head for so long. After spending the day there with the goats, I came away with a few that were keepers, but I have to say my vision is as yet unfulfilled. This is a good start, though-better than anything I'd had before last Saturday.
The babys were out and provided wonderful entertainment. Watching them interact with the adults reminded me of my interactions with my son sometimes. The babys would gradually drift off from the comfort and protection of moma, pair up and jostle for top spot on a rock, jump, butt heads, bump, push each other and just laze in the sun. Every so often moma would come check up on them, then go back to grazing as she kept one eye on me, and one eye on her babys. It was very sweet to watch. While I couldn't quite get in the position I wanted for some of the compositions I was so close to, I felt fortunate to have been essentially surrounded by these animals, tucked down behind a rock-visible, but slow moving and trying very hard to be just a part of the landscape. The animals would come within 15 feet of me, then gradually veer off, finding something more interesting to explore.
It was a great experience, but only a teaser for me. The shots I have in my mind's eye will require many trips and better glass, I'm sure. What a blessing to spend time with these creatures.
To view the whole gallery, please visit the mountain goat gallery at zenfolio.
(John Crane Photography) Fri, 04 Jul 2008 10:12:00 GMT
My Review of Adorama Professional Verical Grip / Battery Holder for the Nikon D-200 Digital SLR

Originally submitted at Adorama


Adorama Professional Verical Grip / Battery Holder for the Nikon D-200 Digital SLR Camera, Batteries Not Included.

Adorama Professional Verical Grip / Battery Holder for the Nikon D-200 Digital SLR Camera, Batteries Not Included.

Suitable alternative to nikon, maybe

By Titus from Colorado on 7/4/2008




3out of 5

Pros: The LCD addition on back, Diff battery arrangement, Easy to Install

Cons: Doesn't Fit Camera Well, Spongy vertical release, Deciphering LCD instructs, Covers L-bracket, Extra piece bat tray, Battery door at end, Additional pwr switch

Best Uses: Mobility, Digital Photography, Power Equipment

Describe Yourself: Professional

I purchased this unit when the white plastic tab on my MB-D200 was broken thinking the addition of the LCD on the back, and the fact that it saved me $20 from buying a new MBD200. I would have kept it, but the way the battery door opens (on the end, like the D300) forces me to remove my L-Bracket every time I want to access the battery doors. Even though this camera is relegated to Studio shooting & a backup to my other cam's now, I didn't want to monkey around with this. I took a peak at the directions to set up the LCD and actually use it, but wasn't impressed. The unit went right back in the box and was returned. Quality was OK, fit & finish was OK, and usability was OK, though the shutter release on the grip felt a bit spongy. Also didn't care for the power management: with the On-Off switch, there were essentially 2 switches you need to turn on to use the camera, making it slower to fire on and use quickly. Other than that, it was a decent product worth the price.


(John Crane Photography) Fri, 04 Jul 2008 08:35:00 GMT
Opening Post This is the opening post to my photography blog, johncranephotography. Not sure at all what I'll be doing with it, but it seems like a good idea to finally get it going.

My name is John Crane, and I'm a professional photographer in Colorado. I won't go into a list of professional accomplishments and accolades because honestly there aren't many-I just love to shoot photographs and have since I was young.

It all started with a Christmas gift from my mom and dad back in the early 70's, my first "real" camera, a Canon AT-1.


I walked around Wheaton, Illinois-my home town, and shot roll after roll of film. When I got the photos back they were never what I had in mind. It took years of practice to start being able to capture what my eyes were seeing when I shot a photograph.

I studied art in College at University of Iowa, then at Colorado State University, and went through a photojournalism period at Iowa. I intended to work for National Geographic. Why not, I figured. I loved to travel and loved to shoot-it only seemed natural. I wrote the Geographic back in the late 70's and announced to them my intention. They wrote back and said basically get in line. Most photogs come to them after 10 years with a good photo-oriented newspaper. I tried to picture myself shooting car crashes, political rallies and obituaries for the next 10 years and opted to go another route. With the present state of the newspaper industry it turns out it may have been a good decision.
Today my main focus is nature, landscape, wildlife, outdoor activities, and people. I'm a Christian man, having accepted Jesus Christ as my redeemer & Savior nearly 30 years ago during my freshman year at University of Iowa. That's another story entirely, but it is the core of who I am today, and drives everything I do.

I started my graphics career in 1984 in Chicago going to work for a photo studio in the warehouse district. There I learned the basics of layout, design, studio shooting and whatever else needed to be done. The real story though isn't work. It's where I've had the good fortune to be able to travel to. Since setting foot in Colorado in the mid 70's for the first time-until present day-my love affair with the Rocky Mountain West has grown with each passing year. My back yard has been New Mexico north through the Canadian Rockies, with a few trips to Alaska sprinkled in between.

Before I met my wife I would journal. I guess I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around the cloud in my mind that needed an outlet. Today the blog world has exploded, but I've sat on the sidelines, unsure of things like security, personal privacy, accessability, and all the other things that go along with putting yourself "out there" for others to see. I've finally decided that if one is smart about it, one can mitigate risk and enter a new communication space. So that's what I've done.

What triggered actually taking the step of setting up the blog was when I left feedback at about a piece of gear I purchased, then returned. Once submitted they asked if I wanted to add my review to my blog. "Hmmm..." I thought-good idea. So I fired up this space, added the link, and presto-my blog has content.
Being a photographer, this blog will have plenty of pictures, but at the moment I don't have the energy to sort through the details of re-sizing, uploading and layout... so I won't. If you've read this far, congratulations-because I know this hasn't exactly been a riveting opening statement. Just wanted to say hello.


(John Crane Photography) Fri, 04 Jul 2008 07:06:00 GMT