Some Thoughts on the Art of the Print

Years ago, when I first started getting serious in photography, I read and studied many of the works of perhaps the greatest landscape photographer of all times, Ansel Adams.  His series of three books, The Camera, The Negative,and The Print were my primary study tools and although I would never say I equaled his knowledge and skill, I did learn a vast amount from his teachings.

Although written for “analog” cameras, film, negatives, and chemical printing processes, it is amazing how relevant his techniques and information are today.  Simply replacing “negative” with “digital file” becomes an amazing trip through his artistic technique.

Here are some excerpts, from this third book on printing, modified slightly (italics mine) for a contemporary audience.

Photography is more than a medium for communication of reality, it is a creative art. Therefore, emphasis on technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.

The making of a print is a unique combination of mechanical execution and creative activity. It is mechanical in the sense that the basis of the final work is determined by the content of the digital file. However, it would be a serious error to assume that the print is merely a reflection of the pixels found in this file. The print values are not absolutely dictated by the digital file, any more than the content of the digital file is absolutely determined by the circumstances of subject matter. The creativity of the printing process is distinctly similar to the creativity of exposing proper images: in both cases we start with conditions that are “given,” and we strive to appreciate and interpret them. In printing we accept the file as a starting point that determines much, but not all, of the character of the final image. Just as different photographers can interpret one subject in numerous ways, depending on personal vision, so might they each make varying prints from identical files.

Thus the print is our opportunity to interpret and express the file’s information in reference to the original visualization as well as our current concept of the desired final image. We start with the digital file as the point of departure in creating the print, and then proceed through a series of “work” prints to our ultimate objective, the “fine print.”

The term “fine print” (or “expressive print” as I think of it) is elusive in meaning. The fine print represents, to me, an expressive object of beauty and excellence. The difference between a very good print and a fine print is quite subtle and difficult, if not impossible, to describe in words. There is a feeling of satisfaction in the presence of a fine print – and uneasiness with a print that falls short of optimum quality. The degree of satisfaction or lack of it relates to the sensitivity and experience of the photographer and the viewer. There appear to be people who are “value blind,” just as there are people who are tone deaf. Practice and experience may overcome such deficiencies, at least to a degree, and the viewing of original fine prints is perhaps the best instruction.

Ansel Adams, The Print

Adam’s philosophy of turning your images into fine art are at the core of my new custom printing service that is now available at

Because it is in the print that you can really appreciate the art inside your images in a way that you can never do looking at a computer screen.

I look forward to helping you realize your personal vision that started the moment you pressed the shutter release on your camera.


Photography 2.0

I have been involved with photography for a very long time.  When I was a child, the first camera I can remember was a Kodak Brownie box camera which shot square negatives (120, I think).  As time wore on, I upgraded a couple of times, finally having an Instamatic for quite a while.

Old T-bird & Airplane at Oswald's (2).jpgShortly after I joined the Air Force, one of my first purchases was my first 35mm film camera.  After much research I found one that fit my needs as well as my budget … with budget being the operative word!!  The camera was a Yashica Electro-35 GSM rangefinder.  I don’t remember how much it cost, but I think it was somewhere around $75-100.  This at a time when my take home pay was around $700 a month!!  Although I upgraded several times over the years I had fond memories of the Electro 35 … and was pleased when I recently found one available on eBay.  IMG_1560.jpg



It featured some automation but was basically a “manual” camera.  And I loved it.  (Unfortunately, over the years most of those pictures have vanished so I can’t share any examples!!)

Next I moved to a Single-Lens Reflex (SLR) and since most of the “professionals” at the time used Nikon’s, I had to have one as well.  My first was a Nikkormat (as it was the least expensive), and over the years I steadily moved up to newer, and more capable, models.  The last film camera I had was a Nikon FA which I had while stationed in Japan and most of my photos from that period are courtesy of that camera.  The FA was also the camera that accompanied me when I was helping a photojournalist (Michael Stanley), who lived in Tokyo, complete a spectacular photo book about the USAF and Japanese Air Self Defense Force.  Standing next to Michael as he worked on his book gave me essentially a Master’s Degree in photography, and I only wish I had better quality digital versions of many of those images.  Here are a few of Japanese Air Force flight training, and some pictures I captured while working next to Michael.




F-15 being re-fueled at night from KC-135.jpg

Snowy F-16 at Misawa AB Japan (1).jpg

Yokota AB from the air.jpgToday, I use my iPhone and a Nikon D750 for my photography.  I find using the iPhone is a lot like my old Yashica rangefinder … fixed lens and somewhat limited choices for aperture/exposure control but easy to carry and great image quality.  But, the D750 is my main workhorse.  The images are stunning!!Monument Valley 371.jpg

Every time I use either of these technical marvels, I cannot help but wish I could somehow go back in time and use them to capture places, people, and events, that were important in my life.  Dang!


Being Bullied – The Far Left’s Legacy

The college years are a time of learning and awakening to the life we will live as adults.  It should be a time of exploration … not of fear.  Fear of: being ostracised for one’s beliefs, being abused, being called names, being socially isolated.

UC Berkley on February 1, 2017?  Nope …. the University of Washington (UW) in 1968.

After high school graduation, I was accepted to the UW and one the main reasons was the university offered Air Force ROTC.  Since I had seen jet fighters from nearby McChord Air Force Base soaring overhead when I was in grade school, I had wanted to serve our nation as part of it’s Air Force.  When I started classes at the UW, the AFROTC quickly became my favorite class.

But, this was 1968 and the war in Vietnam was increasing unpopular.  The far left had discovered it’s issue (stop the war!) and it was embarking on a brutal and violent path to ensure their success.  Their primary target on campus was ROTC and the military in general.  To those members of the SDS – Students for a Democratic Society – we were the enemy … and we were WRONG!  We were to be scorned and treated like the dogs they felt we were.  One day a week, we wore uniforms to go to and from our drill class, and on those days we were called “Baby Killers” and much worse.  They through raw eggs at us and praised the “heroic actions” of the North Vietnam and the Viet Kong as they killed American soldiers and airmen fighting in Vietnam.  They even made getting a date difficult … and I am absolutely convinced that we were held to a different grading standard when we attended a class in our ROTC uniform.  After two quarters of this academic, verbal and even physical abuse, I quit and enrolled at Tacoma Community College for the final quarter of the year.  During the quarter, I applied for Washington State University and was admitted in the Fall of 1969 as a sophomore.

At WSU the environment on campus was 100% different.  We had a SDS club and some other radical groups, but they were a tiny minority of the students and we certainly never had any of the bullying that was a daily occurrence at the UW.  For that I am thankful.  I graduated in 1972, entered the USAF a month later, and was able to serve for more than twenty years.

Fast forward to 2017 … and once again radicals of the political left are at it again.  Told by the left-leaning media that the election of Hillary Clinton was a “done deal”, they are horrified that the American people stood up to challenge their far left wing leadership and elected Donald Trump.  Since election day, we have seen how the political and media elites have reacted … by violence in the streets, and an unremitting vitriol of lies and distortion in the media and from the entertainment industry.  But, I guess we should not be surprised by this, I’m 66 … which means that a lot of those SDS members from the 60’s are my age.  Many are now in senior leadership and management positions in the media and entertainment industries and they probably don’t see anything wrong with the bullying that is happening.  They learned a long time that it was “OK” to demonstrate in the streets and call opponents names.

Although I will agree that there are the occasional right wing nut jobs that do something violent or preach hate, in general folks in the middle and right just don’t follow the left’s guidelines.  When we demonstrate, we carry the US flag with honor and sing it’s praises … we don’t burn it.  We carry signs that express our opinions …. not use fences to break windows and damage property.  We sing “America the Beautiful” and thank our God for the freedoms we enjoy … we don’t rant about our President or people we disagree with using foul language.

What truly makes me sad is not that the Democratic party disagrees with President Trump or those that voted for him;  no one is perfect nor does one party have all the answers.  What hurts is seeing these far left radicals who take to the street and the Democrats do nothing to stop them.  When a nutty group such as that so-called church in Kansas that shows up at military funerals to spout their hate, conservatives line up to stop them and protect the family of the fallen from the church’s hateful comments.  Which Democrats step up to stop the violent protests on campus or in the streets, and condemn the violence?  No one.  In fact, some Democrats even rush out to help them by giving hate filled speeches.

And, don’t assume that I’m wildly anti-Democrat either.  For most of the years I was in the USAF, I voted for many Democrats.  People like our Washington senators, Henry Jackson and Warren Magnuson got my vote every time they ran for office.  I also fondly remember Sam Nunn for Georgia who was a staunch supporter of the military at a time when few of his party colleagues would stand up for the troops.

At some point, most of the moderation in the Democratic party disappeared and the far left, and their allies in the streets, took over control of the party.

It was a sad day for Democrats … and for ALL Americans.


The Russians Are Coming!

I’m old enough to remember the warm part of the Cold War (1950’s/60’s) where I learned to hide under my desk at school in case of an attack.  I remember those tense days in Oct 1962 when John Kennedy went toe-to-toe with the Soviet Union … and “won.”

Of course, I was also a Cold Warrior myself (with a gift certificate to prove it) for 7 years as a Minuteman ICBM launch control officer in Montana and Wyoming.  After sitting through hours of “intelligence” briefings, I think I know a thing or two about a relationship with the Soviets/Russians.  But, I also know that times change.

So the current interest in what the Russians did (or did not) do with respect to our election and so on is quite interesting.  The far left’s sudden interest in the activities of Russian agents is telling as it’s no doubt more selfish/political in nature than a real concern about foreign interference in the campaign.  After all, if it had been the RNC that was “hacked” … the far left would not have cared!!

The one thing that I learned during those Cold War days (up to and including Ronald Reagan’s “win” in forcing the final death of the old Soviet Union), is the Russians’ respect  of power and courage.  I believe they will quickly learn that Donald Trump’s “America First” approach will be far different that President Obama’s “lead from behind” approach.


Year End 2016 – The K Mart Effect

As we approach the end of 2016, I thought I’d rant about something that really bugs me.  Maybe more than just about anything.

Our story begins a long time ago.  Born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, I was a child and young adolescent during one of the best periods in American history – the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Although I know that things were not as perfect for many people, especially those of color in the South, I really didn’t see much of that in Washington.  (We didn’t have any “separate but equal” bathrooms or drinking fountains.  News stories about problems like this always seemed foreign to me because I never thought I was “better” than just about anyone, especially one whose skin color was different.  Who cared?  Not me!!)

What I did see was prosperity.  Jobs seemed to be available for just about anyone who wanted one.  Folks bought new cars every couple of years, and all of my friends had nice homes.  We rode around without seat belts in our cars, we played with toys that shot little gray plastic bullets, and ate whatever food we bought at the grocery store without thinking of where it came from or if it was “organic.”  When we got sick, we got a penicillin shot in the butt and got well in a couple of days (must have been fewer “viruses” back then!)  We took drives on the weekend … just to drive around … and took most of our vacations by car, because only “rich” folks could afford to fly.  Since my Grandmother lived in rural Nebraska at the time, almost every year we loaded up the car for a drive back during the summer (and man, did I like it when my folks could finally afford a car with “air conditioning!”)  Several times, we loaded up our bags onto a train for a two day trip to visit grandmother for Christmas.  When someone did fly into SeaTac, we’d drive up to the airport early just to watch the planes take off and land, then walk out to the gate to stand on the tarmac and greet our visitors as they got off their plane.

All in all, it was truly a wonderful life.  And, I miss all of it a lot.

One aspect of this great life really stands out to me.  We had a variety of shopping choices, most of them locally owned and operated.  There were the big stores downtown, like People’s Store – a multi story department store headquartered here in Tacoma – Sears, Penny’s and a branch of Seattle’s own Bon Marche.  Around town there were a number of smaller shops that were literally “Mom and Pop” stores.  One I remember was the Samuelson’s Men’s Store in University Place.  Located on 27th and Grandview, it primarily served men and boys, and each year it was where my Mom took me to get my new pair of jeans, underwear, and a few other items that were my new school clothes.  We also did a lot of Christmas shopping for my Dad there.  These shops employed local folks, and sold goods primarily made in the USA such as Levi’s jeans.  So they not only provided us with clothes, but there were a lot of jobs generated nationwide ranging from the sales persons, to the owners, to the folks who made things in the USA.

This landscape started changing in the mid-60’s.  The first threat was the new Tacoma Mall that opened up out near the then new freeway.  With the easier access and big, free, parking lots, the Mall took away a lot of business, especially from downtown where parking was always a bit of a problem.  But the REAL problem was the new K-Mart!!

Because, when K Mart came to town, so did much lower prices (for mostly “imported” goods) and little service.  It started us on a road that continues today: “CHEAP, CHEAPER, CHEAPEST!!”  The stores like Samuelson’s couldn’t compete.  Gone.  The department stores either closed (like People’s Store) or consolidated (The Bon became Macy’s) to try to offer lower prices.  And, throughout the land, one by one the factories that made things closed.  CHEAP, CHEAPER, CHEAPEST!!

Along the way, we found that we really needed more than one or two pairs of jeans … since they were CHEAP we needed several.  But, only if they were CHEAP.  (I also remember when airplane travel was a dress up experience … very unlike today’s CHEAP cattle cars.)

I know it’s all progress and those good times will never return.  But for folks who are younger, I’m truly sad that they missed out on mid-century America.  It was truly a wonderful life.

Happy New Year!!

Someone Mr Trump Should Talk To

Already we have seen that Mr Trump will be anything but a “typical” politician.  His campaign was unorthodox, his messaging was, at times, frustrating, and he’s become almost a cartoonish character to the liberal media and pundits.

As he continues to look “outside the box” for ideas and solutions to our country’s many problems, I though I’d toss out one of my favorites.  He’ll never hear this, of course, but I’ll feel better!!

My last assignment in the USAF was in Japan at Fifth Air Force headquarters.  Our commander was a three-star general.  At one of our staff meetings, he asked the senior staff (mostly colonels) to address some issues.  A week or so later, after they had turned in their ideas, he called a meeting of ALL of our officers, regardless of rank, in the conference room.  The general started the meeting by asking a rhetorical question:

“Do you folks think I’m stupid?”

It went downhill from there.

Apparently the assembled colonels all fed the general what they thought he wanted to hear, but what the general really wanted was the TRUTH.

After making his concerns abundantly clear, he motioned to the back of the room and said something which I would heartily recommend for Mr Trump:

“Every day I thank the good Lord for my passed over [for promotion] majors!  They are the only people on the staff who will tell me the truth.  They’re not worried about their next promotion … they only want to make a difference.  You guys [the colonels] need to ask them what to do and pass that information on to me.”  The general then left the stunned and silent room without another word.

He was right.  In any bureaucracy, there are those who rise to the top.  Most are pretty good at their jobs, some are not.  But below them in the hierarchy are people who know the day to day gritty nature of the organization and how to improve it.  They have reached their peak and are comfortable with their place in the organization.  They also know where the skeletons are buried and how problems SHOULD be fixed.

But, no one asks them for their opinion.

I truly wish that amongst the recognizable faces going in and out of Trump Tower, there are a few “passed over majors” who would be willing to tell Mr Trump the TRUTH.


Nuclear Codes

A few days ago, I saw a reference in a Democratic advertisement against Donald Trump asking if I would trust him with the nation’s nuclear codes.  That’s an interesting question, as I spent almost a third of my Air Force career at the other end of those same nuclear codes.

As a Minuteman ICBM launch crew member, I inspected, inventoried, and signed for those same launch codes several times a month when my crew assumed alert.  It was a simple process but one that never became routine.  Every time I saw those codes, I was reminded of the incredible destructive power that was about to be placed in my care.  I never questioned my willingness to use those codes, if called upon, and trusted completely the integrity of the process by which I would be asked to open them.  This was made very clear to us one night, 8 August, 1974, when then President Richard Nixon resigned as President effective at noon the next day.   As we watched his announcement that evening on our little TV, I clearly remember thinking to myself that I was sure steps had been taken to ensure that any irrational act by Nixon would never be acted upon and I did not need to question the security or the validity of the codes we had in the control center.

Which brings us to this comment about who should soon have charge of the nation’s nuclear codes.  Clearly, this power must only be entrusted to someone who clearly and completely understands the gravity of their power and has the upmost respect for our national security.  Since one of the candidates proved when she was Secretary of State that she had little respect for security of information that was classified at the same level as those nuclear launch codes, I cannot help but be concerned.  Although it is true that Mr Trump has, at times, said things that I disagree with, I have seen no evidence that he does not understand or respect the systems we use to protect classified information.  I also know that had I, or any other nuclear crew member, mishandled those launch codes, or any of the other classified information we maintained in the control center, in the same manner as Mrs Clinton has (according to the FBI), our punishments would have been vastly different than hers!

On the plus side, I have no doubt that the conscientious men and women who are not politicians but fellow members of the United States military will continue to protect the integrity of sensitive and vital national security information regardless of who is in the White House.