Good Reads: “Wayward” by Chris Burkhard

Once again I have to thank Fieldmag for turning me onto this gem. Prior to reading the Q & A Fieldmag posted, I had certainly heard of Burkhard and was semi-familiar with his work (I stopped reading surf mags before Burkhard really became a fixture in that world). But after reading the piece, I realized that he was a pretty interesting dude who probably had some cool stories to tell. A few pages into the book, I could already tell it was right up my alley. As a kid who loved photography and board sports, young me essentially dreamed of having Burkhard’s life. The stories that he tells from his early career left a little bit of FOMO pang in my gut. If you are remotely interested in photography and/or cold water surf, I highly recommend this book. The images alone are worth the flip. Plus, the hard cover makes it a very handsome addition to the coffee table.

Colorful Chaos

B and I took a trip to western PA for independence day. We stayed with my brother (who lives there) and were able to spend the holiday with his family, along with some of my other siblings, nieces and nephews. The kids were playing with glow sticks and sparklers. It gave me the idea to have some slow shutter fun. My camera battery was almost dead, so we only did a couple of snaps. But here they are, and they are kind of wild!

“Knock-Around” Rig

As great as iPhone cameras have become, there is still no real comparison (in my opinion) to images captured using a “real” camera. When I say “real” camera, I mean a camera with a sensor larger than a few microns coupled with a lens having a variable aperture and quality glass. In the early aughts, when camera phone images were much crappier quality than today, I had an original Canon 5D, with the old super-janky plastic version of the 50mm f/1.8mm (okay, not quality glass, but quality-er than camera phone glass). I picked up the body locally from a Craigslist seller for around $100. The lens was about the same price (here is a mirror selfie that I took with it 1000 years ago). I owned some newer professional grade bodies and expensive glass which I reserved for paying gigs. My motivation behind the old 5D was to have a relatively inexpensive camera that I could bring everywhere, even when I knew it would get knocked around and potentially broken. I called it my knock-around camera. The images that I was able to capture with that thing were almost as buttery as this setup, but cost a fraction of the price. As a result, I would bring that thing everywhere with me. I was caught in heavy rain on multiple occasions while carrying this rig, with no camera case to speak of (I never kept it in a case, it was always ready to shoot). One of those times a nice girl saw me trying to shelter it under my shirt as I ran to the subway, and offered me a plastic bag to wrap it in. Another time, it became so water logged that when I pulled off the lens water actually came dribbling out of it. It survived all of these adventures! After many years of good use, I gave it to my sister for a photography course she was taking, and it promptly gave up the ghost.

In the past several months, I have had more than a few instances of wishing that I had a real camera on my person at the moment to capture something cool that I was witnessing, but had to resort to an iPhone shot instead. Cue knock-around camera 2.0! Upon conducting many minutes of research and due diligence (googling “used canon 5D for sale” on my phone), I stumbled across a beautiful 5D Mk II (see image above) on a website called mpb.com for a price that seemed too good to be true. The name of the website also had me second guessing. I mean, c’mon. Mpb.com? Yeah right. After a few more minutes of due diligence (went to an actual computer and read 15-20 reviews from mpb.com customers, most of them glowing), I pulled the trigger. My next stop was the B&H website to purchase a nifty 50 and UV filter (see image below). Note: the 50mm is roughly still the same price as it was in 2008 (about $100), and the latest iteration is actually constructed a lot better than the older versions I had experienced. The UV filter is mostly just to protect the front lens element while being knocked around.

Voila! For less than $400, I have a full frame pro-level body with a 50mm prime that I can bring everywhere!

Here is it freshly mounted up-

Here is the first test snap-

A note about MPB.com–And, this is not sponcon by any stretch: I had a great experience with these guys. The camera showed up in better condition than I expected, based on the website description. It came with a decent memory card installed (not sure if this was on purpose). I also had some brief dealings with MPB’s customer service. They were responsive and cordial. The packaging in which it arrived was superb. I will definitely be using these guys for all of my used gear going forward.

Autumnal Views

Being in nature during these crazy times has really been a game changer. B and I are entering the third consecutive season living in the Catskills (not counting March as part of winter, even though it was still snowing a lot). Fall can be a tricky time emotionally. It is a signal that winter and cold are around the corner. But there are plenty of trade offs: wearing sweaters, enjoying a fire in the evening, all of the fall spices, football (even though my team may not play this year), and last but not least, the autumnal foliage. The changing leaves are so beautiful, even from the windows of our house. By nothing other than dumb luck, we bought a place that is literally steps from one of the best views (my very biased opinion) in the Catskills. Even though Britt and I have been insanely busy with work and are spending all of our free time working on the house, Britt convinced me to do a golden hour walk to the lookout. It was generously rewarded. Thank you, mother nature for all of your dramatic autumn glory.

This timer shot might be one my favorites of us in recent history

Blue Hour in the Catskills (Part 2)

Continuing with installment No. 2 of this series, here are some photos from Friday night. I’m pretty sure this is the last set I will post of images shot around the yard (don’t hold me to that). The top two photos in this post are my favorite from this set. In the top photo, I really like the contrast of the warm bokeh from the pathway lights next to the ethereal cool tones of the dandelion seeds.

I like the photo below for the super shallow depth of field. Normally I think it would be overkill on an image where the subject is so close. But when shooting after nightfall, there aren’t a lot of options other than to have the aperture wide open. It this case, it almost creates the sensation of being submerged in water. Further, I shot all of these at a much higher ISO that I would normally ever use. The resulting effect is a grainy look (often referred to as “noise”). Aside from photos shot on film, I’m generally not a fan of noise in my images. In this case, I feel like the texture actually adds something to the overall vibe of these images.

Blue Hour in the Catskills (Part 1)

People rave about photos taken during golden hour (also called “magic hour”) and for a good reason. They are beautiful. It is almost impossible to take a bad photo in golden hour light. And when you see a really good one, you can feel the warmth from it pouring straight into your soul.  The time of day that seems to take a back seat to golden hour in terms of photog popularity, is that of blue hour. I think that part of what makes both of these types of photos special (as is true with any really good photo) is the emotional reaction that they evoke in the viewer. Seeing a golden hour photo that has been done right, is like being wrapped in a fleece blanket that just came out of the dryer. For blue hour photos, the sensation is typically much different. Similar to the project I gave myself in April, I’m going to spend the month of June practicing blue light photography here in the Catskills. I won’t be posting every day, but hopefully a couple of times per week, depending on if I get anything worth sharing.

The shots in this post are a few that I took the other night. None of them are amazing, but I feel like they set the tone nicely. Here goes!

Isolationist Vibes (Cont’d)

Taking a small break from my April series of “stuff I brought into isolation with me“, and getting back to the vibe generally: Here are some owl photos. I started seeing this guy (these guys/girls?) our first week at the cabin, but have only been quick enough to grab the camera twice, so far. The most recent of such instances, it also happened to be snowing, which made for some pretty dramatic images when the owl flew from one perch to another. After sharing a couple of these with a friend, he told me that it is good luck to see an owl. I had never heard this before. But I’m hoping that he is right and that good luck is on the horizon.

 

 

Canon 5D x 50mm f/1.2

My most used rig.

I love this camera and lens combo. I have been a Canon guy since before the digital era, and this 5D is my favorite camera I have ever owned. My 50mm f/1.2 is essentially glued to this body. It is not the most versatile lens, but in my opinion the quality of images that it produces makes up for the extra work required to get the shot. I did a cheesy unboxing video over here, the day that this body arrived. I was super stoked that day, and have subsequently been stoked every time I feel the shutter click. In case it is not already clear, I heavily endorse this setup.

Canon AE-1

Canon AE-1 (with 50mm f/1.4): This kit is very similar to the one that I used in Jr. high when I was learning how to use an SLR. I picked it up a few years ago, with this project in mind. Since then, I have collected a few additional lenses (thanks Mike), and amassed a stack of exposed yet undeveloped film at home. The great thing about shooting film is that it causes me to be much more selective about what I actually snap. I have been observing my new surroundings for the past month, and finally broke out the 35mm this week to start documenting some of my favorite aspects with film as well. Here are a couple of more from a bygone era of normalcy.

New Decade

It was kind of cool to wake up to the sounds of fog horns on the East River Saturday morning. It was one of those days where it never really rained, but everything was wet all day. It has officially been three weeks since surgery. I’ll be starting regular PT week after next. I have enjoyed the steady return of my mobility, and decided to capitalize on it Saturday after spending some time with PJ. I drove to the Tarrytown reservoir and took a lap on the reservoir trail. I wished so badly that I would have brought my real camera with me. Instead, all I have are these mediocre-ish cellphone snaps. The fog transformed the depressing dead-looking winter woods into a nearly silent ethereal dreamscape. I felt like I was walking through an Isabella Stahl photo.

Switching gears completely — One of my 2020 goals is to get back on the horse creatively. As a part of my end-of-year and end-of-decade reflections, I became painfully aware of  how drastically my time spent being creative has waned over the past several years. One decision that I have executed to proactively kickstart said goal, is taking a break from Instagram. I disabled my account shortly before midnight on Dec 31. It was an idea that I had been leaning toward for a while (since the app was acquired by F@#$book).

When the app first came on the scene, I feel like it actually may have helped my creative juice via the inspiration I gleaned from the photographic works of my peers and acquaintances. In the past couple of years it seems to have devolved into the same torrent of internet diarrhea that is F@#$book. Having so much additional down time lately while recovering from surgery has intensified my awareness of how much time can be wasted mindlessly scrolling absolute nonsense (yikes!). Some people do dry January. I’m doing ‘gram-free January. So far I don’t miss it at all. I’ll re-evaluate on Feb 1. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll find the juice to expand the content on Jake.News beyond monthly playlists and the occasional book review, hehe. I realize that the ‘blog’ as a format has been dead for a while now … oh well.

For now, please enjoy this set of photos from my walk through the woods in the fog.