Thoughts on giving advice to young photographers

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by ken_schroeder, Jul 6, 2003.

  1. I notice many of the films, lenses and cameras mentioned on this
    forum are not familiar to me. I am no stranger to photography. I
    have been doing my own 35mm black and white work for forty years, and
    4x5 since 1982. I suspect much of my equipment is older than many of
    the younger forum participants. (My M3 Leica was made in 1958, my
    two Nikon F bodies in 1973 and 1974. My Nikor film reels are from
    the 1930s. Even my Vivitar 283 flashes and tripods are over twenty
    years old.)

    Are today's cameras, lenses, etc "better"? There has certainly been
    progress over the years. The 283s still seem marvelous to me. I can
    remember using bulbs and AC electronic flash, which needed an outlet
    to recharge between flashes!

    What does all this mean to the younger members of the forum? You
    need to give critical evaluation to responses. When I respond to
    postings, I do so in good faith to share what I have learned over the
    years. What I describe is what has worked or not worked for me. Is
    that sage advice or outdated?

    I have seen many responses on this forum which reflect a wealth of
    experience. I have also seen some which are, frankly, totally
    incorrect. Equipment is continually changing. The principles of
    exposing light sensitive material through lenses have not. Nor has
    the need to develop critical thinking.

    Many times the best answer is learned by trying it and seeing what
  2. Ken, I share your position to the letter, having started as an amateur at age 11 in a log cabin with little heat and no running water. I turned pro in the late '50s in my late 20s.I had the Nikon F to start, then graduated to the F-2 and the 500 Blads along with some other odds and ends. Never had a complaint about sharpness, grain, or contrast in over 30 years. Cameras and lenses were PRETTY much perfected by the '50s, and most everything since has been conveniences.
  3. Well Ken, you've got about a decade on me, but we both probably qualify as OFs. Some of my favorite equipment has been out of production since around the time I was born. I've had the same thoughts, but when I go into the darkroom with modern materials, they seem to work according to the same rules that the old stuff did. Lighting tools may be better, but light itself hasn't changed much. What I notice are two trends. One is that the LF hobbiest has more $$ to sink than I ever did when I started LF in high school. When I got my Calumet 4x5 back in 1972, I was on top of the world. Sure, I knew better cameras existed, but the Calumet never prevented me from taking any shot I wanted to take. It was certainly a better camera than I was a photographer. So was the nice old Tessar I robbed from a folder until I could afford a better lens. I'm not sure it's a good thing to start out with the ultimate, not knowing how to take advantage of it. Crawl before walking and all that. The second thing I notice is lack of knowledge/training in optics, processing, and technical issues in general. Way back in the dark ages, Kodak would send, for free, all sorts of literature, Here's How books, and even products, in response to questions. Popular Mechanics and other magazines has photo sections showing how to build darkroom gadget and shooting accessories. Today we have the 'net, but people often don't do a through search, much less resort to deeper research in both new and old books. Kodak, Ilford, and others have a wealth of info for any of their current products. IMHO, the 'net is still pretty shallow compared to some of the technical books that are available, if one cares to track them down. Bottom line- I try to give my best advice, and try to adapt it to new information, but I always assume that if I say something incredibly stupid, somebody will step up to the plate and counter it!
  4. Well, a young photographer looking for advice from this forum is going to get what he asks for and more usually. Young guys ask the old guys and salt to taste. Young guys need cheap and that is where I like to advise. I know how to make good pictures on a budget, but the facts don’t tell as much as the doing.

    Our forum is limited. It would be great if we could get together with each other more but we are scattered. We are left with helping out the way we can, which is to tell of our experiences.

    Is new equipment better than, even different than old, not much, not really. By the time such differences are going to be personally significant that person is going to know a whole lot about optics. AM I going to be able to tell at the outset that this person is going to get to that point and I should start him/her out with the very best equipment, is that my responsibility in answering a question? Good question! I suppose if the hints are there I will inquire first but really everyone should live by that old maxim: Be careful what you ask for. I really believe all of us on this forum are trying to help out the best way we know how. *I love you guys, sniff*

    John D Gerndt
  5. Amen Brothers, Amen. Young photographers should start out using totally manual cameras with B&W film, learning to develop and print right along with taking the shots. Once some competency is gained, then branch off as desired. The popular magazines have really become just endless product promotions for their advertisers. Some short technical articles can be found but mostly, these magazines say "buy this and shoot National Geographic covers in an instant!". So, the neophytes get a lot of dung flung at them from the start.

    After a brief three years back in photography, I find myself regressing - a 1940's vintage camera with 1950's lenses, pyro, rodinal, and amidol developers, fiber paper. The only thing I lust for now is a good spot meter. But a Pentax analog will do just fine.
  6. Ken, I started photography in my early teens with a WW2 liberated 9x12 plate camera and a scrounged 15cm lens. With no mentor to guide me, I was forced to learn from books and magazines, starting with the very basics of the craft. What the newbies are going to be starting with today is all digital. Instead of learning their craft, they will be able to do something we never could, namely shoot, shoot, shoot, and see instantly what they've done, right or wrong. The craft part will come later after they discover that they need it to best complement their images. And I'm afraid that the advice us Old Farts can give will be virtually useless to their interests. We can, however, give encouragement.
  7. jbq


    Ken: people ask questions on such forums because they want other people's opinions (if they didn't, they wouldn't ask). As such, having varied opinions is valuable, and the experience of the members who have been along before the age of fancy auto-exposure/auto-focus/built-in-flash is especially valuable.

    As for whether today's lenses are better, I'd say they are. Computer-aided lens design and aspherical elements allow to create better lenses than before (that's a personal opinion, of course).

    As for the rest of the equipment, I think that there has been some real progress as well. The metering of an F5 or the auto-focus of a top-of-the-line Canon are amazing, and in my opinion allow to set aside some of the technical aspects of photography to concentrate on the creativity. I think that those advanced machines are wonderful tools, and that it would be a pity to not use all those facilities when possible.

    All of this is just technique, though. The eye of the photographer still needs as much training as it ever used to.

    Just my 2 cents.
  8. Thank you all for your varied and thoughtful responses. This forum is certainly an outstanding resource which was not even imagined a generation or two ago.

    Art, you make an interesting point about camera development in the 1950s. We have become quite pampered with automatic diaphram lenses for many years. My venerable 105mm preset Spiratone hasn't seen action in years. It did briefly when I switched to Nikon and had only one lens, and could do good work today. I have noticed much more interest in the Graphics and other press cameras than in the past.

    Conrad, I agree about the shortage of really good books today. As you noted, Kodak used to produce some fine reference works, on all levels. The Leica School was an outstanding place to learn. The Deardorff Company published Kellsey's Corrective Photography. The Graphic Graflex Manuals and Leica Manuals were very good references. Even Calumet was the real Calumet years ago. I would like to find updated versions of this literature. However, I find the present crop of technical books often rather lean. (A notable exception is Steve Anchell.) I find the net both wonderous and frustrating. I did a Google search for Beutler's formula, and found a very nicely crafted site which described it as a fine grain developer. Nice packaging, but wrong information!

    John, you state it very well...ask and salt to taste. My father was a devout 35mm man, who had absolutely no use for big cameras. I guess we have all asked and salted to taste.

    Alex, I totally agree with learning totally manually. We need to package this sell so that it doesn't sound like a form of hell week hazing. This is true in any craft or trade. Leonardo di Vinci insisted his apprentices not use color for the first two years. Punishment? No, just a very solid way to teach. i'm still quite content being a manual guy. By the way, in my humble opinion, the analog Pentax meter is the pick of the spot litter. When I use a meter, it's either my ancient Soligor analog spot or the luna pro.

    Bill, the instant feedback of today's digital camera can be a very powerful tool. It's certainly a lot less fooling around than using a Polaroid back. Yes, I think we are already seeing those who forsake the soft life of instant everything in search of craft. My hat is off to you younger guys who thirst for knowledge! Good point about encouragement. That's a value of this forum.....a lot of encouragement with some technical experience hidden in the messages!

    Jean-Baptiste, you are certainly correct about the march of technology. I suspect my present day Nikon 200mm M Tessar design lens runs rings around the originals. Yes, it would be unfortunate not to have our present day sophisticated metering. I have the luzury of being an amateur. If I was a working press photographer, I would certainly have the latest metering and flash equipment--digitally!

    When I first found this forum, I was flabbergasted to see the number of people casually recommending the purchase of several very expensive Schneider or Rodenstock lenses. I also saw people trying to squeeze by with cranky shutters on old Graphics. And those who are willing to make the investment in one or two expensive lenses on a limited budget. This is an interesting and encouraging group; I'm proud to be part of it.
  9. My advise to the young photographer is to use only one camera (with manual controls), one lens, one film, and one developer.
  10. It just occured to me: what advice could the early photographers have given to us? Their main emphasis was in mixing the emulsion, and coating their plates, then developing them while still wet. Not to mention handling those fragile glass plates, along with EI speeds which were probably equiv to ISO=1.0 or less. You couodn't just carry it around in a buggy, but had to use a closed vehicle like a hearse! And then contact printing the negatives by exposure to sunlight, after coating their paper (in the dark) with some mixture of egg white and silver halide. Aesthetic considerations must have been way down their lists. Give me auto exposure, auto focus, auto advance, and auto mobile any day.
  11. I be a 1956 model, so that makes me a middle aged fart, no?

    The newest piece of equipment I own is my trusty FM2 from 1986. It has the latest 105/2.5 (1986) and a 35/2.0 lens on it. It's also the only camera I have with a built in meter.

    So I can't answer your question as far as new/old debate. I do know my 150 Fujinon/6.3 (1984) takes incredably sharp pictures, but then again so does my 1930 Zeiss 135/4.5 Tessar. So do my 1940/50's Ektars that come on the press cameras I have been messin' with.

    As far outgrowing my equipment, I am still waiting to produce my first print with the quality of Atget, a man who used the equivalent of shoe boxes for camera equipment and makes a mockery of most of our efforts.

    I give the advice I know about. I am an amature and never aspire to be more. Long live the silver process.

    tim in san jose
  12. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I frequently get asked by young people (ages ten to twenty) for advice on photography. I always tell them the same thing - make photographs that mean something to you. Start with whatever equipment is available, even if it's a disposable, and make those photographs.
  13. John, I'm paraphrasing a bit because I read the quote in 1969, but I remember reading "The first and best advice I received when starting this hobby was to stick with one film, one developer and one paper." The source was a very avid photographer, who also happened to be a Senator, the late Barry Goldwater. My father also believed in simplicity of technique. I think there is much wisdom in it.

    Bill, you don't fool me. I know that next to your cel phone there are a couple Grafmatics!

    Tim, I have wondered what our equipment thinks of us......I also suspect that being marooned on an island, a serious photographer would do good work with whatever camera and film happened to make its way to the island.

    Jeff, if a person has passion, the image will be made. Eugene Meatyard was wise enough to realize that his friend, Thomas Merton had the passion to make images. As a devout Trappist monk, Merton could not own anything, but he was wise enough to agree to "borrow" a camera from Meatyard.

    I find it gratifying to see so many responses from thoughtful photographers who are willing to share thoughts on more than what lenses to buy.
  14. Maybe I'm young, but I believe most photographic problems date back to the early years. Especially here at the LF forum I'm glad to find the experienced oldtimers. I can't afford no modern camera, but I know I should learn to use what I have. My Linhofs and lenses date back to the 1960s, the 35mm stuff is from the 80s. At least I have modern film. I read books the oldest from 1918 up to early ones about digital photography, but they are nothing against the folks here helping me to solve the problems I have at the moment.
    Go on responding if you can help. It's always good to hear something else than "buy the latest EOS." Be a teacher and no salesman. That is what I need.
  15. Jochen, one of the early Leica experts was Dr Paul Wolff of Frankfurt. His classic book (1935) is entitled: Meine Erfahrung mit Die Leica. (Please pardon my very poor German from thirty years ago.) The English title of this book is My First Ten Years with the Leica. As you can see, this translation is close, but not exact. I think you would find this book fascinating. Dr Wolff believed in "giving full exposure and abbreviating the development". Today we associate this with the Zone System, but Dr Wolff predated the Zone System.

    One of my favorite film developers is called the Beutler Formula after its inventor, photochemist Willi Beutler of Hamburg. I know there are several variations of Beutler's formula, however, I have never found a good reference of Beutler's work. Perhaps you might find more in your German language technical library. If so, would you please share it with us. gute licht!
  16. There are a variety of different issues here, I think, Ken. Aside from the technical and artistic issues of differences between various generations of equipment and styles, there's an underlying problem with the nature of the Web itself. The nature of this medium of communication tends to prompt abbreviated responses to complex questions.

    This forum is a bit better than many, but the responses here are still relatively short. Some of the questions, for example, could easily generate a book in response. Additionally, there are inadequately-phrased questions, and answers based on misreading the question. Thus, the reader, as you say, needs to take all of this into consideration - in addition to the fact that he or she is getting personal opinions from the responders.
  17. Points well taken, Ralph.

Share This Page