San Francisco, California.
Below are some photographs from Sunday’s Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. Be warned that a few of these are graphic and contain either male or female nudity.
There was a lot more going on than you’ll see in these pictures, but people were exploring how open they could be. There was a bold nudity and public masturbation. I want people to keep being able to do this and not to fear someone on the Internet finding out who they are and giving them a hard time, so I’ve censored pictures that might cause problems. Enjoy, and if you like what you see consider visiting next year and making a small donation to keep the fair going.
This was all shot on a Leica M6 and Voightlander 35mm f1.4 lens on Kodak Tri-X 400 film. It worked out wonderfully, and I really enjoy using it as a camera. Rolls cost only $1-2 to develop at home and less than $5 to buy online — bringing the cost per frame to an affordable 19 cents. They were scanned using my Canon 6D and a 100mm f2.8 macro lens. It’s a long process, much better for single photos than for a series like this, but I enjoy the workflow.
I’m back in the USA for an extended period to help a friend at a small and exciting company. This isn’t the end of my photography by any means — I’m actually really excited about settling in San Francisco again. Today is day 11.
A common misconception — one that influenced me a lot before my trip — is that travel makes photography easier. I no longer think that’s true. I can shoot pictures almost anywhere. Rarely anymore do I look at an amazing photo and wish I’d been in the place where it was taken. For me I think that light, composition, and timing are much more important skills to develop than finding content.
Shot at the top isn’t a particularly amazing one. It’s Kona, my new roommate, shot on 400 ISO Tri-X and developed at home. For a first roll hand developed at home I’m very happy with how it turned out.
When I started taking pictures the conventional wisdom was to shoot with a 50mm equivalent lens (on a full frame camera or film). I stuck with that for years. It helps that good 50mm lenses are cheaper and have less distortion than other lenses on every camera system I’ve found1. This makes 50mm a natural place to start.
50mm lenses are good for learning because they force a photographer to compose pictures more tightly than 35mm lenses lenses. If you’re reasonably close to your subject there’s almost no space in a 50mm frame to cut content later.
So 50mm was the easy choice and I had Henri Cartier-Bresson as ideaological support. If the most famous photographer in the world spent most of his life only shooting at 50mm then why would I need to try anything different?
Two early 50mm lens pictures I liked from Japan. Captured with a Leica ME and very old Summilux 50mm 1.4.
I switched from 50mm to 35mm lenses because the ergonomics are better on my camera, but I stayed because I like the pictures more. What ergonomics?
First, the 35mm is easier to shoot in low light: it has a wider depth of field at f/2 and it is more resistant to camera shake. What I can do at 1⁄60 and f/2.8 on a 50mm lens I can do at 1/30th second and f/2 on a 35mm lens. Thats two extra stops of light! It’s huge.
Second, the 35mm lens is smaller and easier to focus on a Leica. I believe this article in Luminous Landscape that 35mm is the more ergonomic choice for rangefinders. I don’t understand why 50mm lenses are small on SLRs and 35mm lenses are small on rangefinders. That’s how it is.
Third, the 35mm lens is easier when interacting with people. While 50mm lenses are good for standing five to ten feet away from someone, only 35mm lenses work if someone is right in your face or in the same car as you. If I sit down outside and a kid walks right up to my face a 35mm lens lets me capture their head and shoulders. A 50mm lens only lets me take a picture of their face.
Last, for me the 35mm is more fun. I only learned this after shooting for a while but the 35mm lets me shout. I like to shout.
Yes, the 50mm lens is perfect for someone like Henri Cartier-Bresson is who was a painter first and a photographer second2. The distortion and framing on 35mm can be maddening. As a photographer first, the 35mm is more versatile and looks fine to me.
#Comparing 50mm and 35mm lenses
|50mm Lenses||35mm Lenses|
|Are better for isolating a subject.||Provide more information to the viewer.|
|Have no distortion.||Can have distracting and ugly distortion when you get close to a subject. Are okay at a distance.|
|Naturally lead to strong composition.||Naturally lead to poor composition.|
|Make it easier to isolate subjects.||Make it easier to get content in focus.|
|Are easier to use without people noticing.||Are easier to use close up when interacting with people.|
|Are lighter and smaller on SLRs but bigger on rangefinders.||Are bigger and heavier on SLRs but smaller on rangefinders.|
|Can cost as little as $150.||Can cost as little as $300.|
|Make images that look like paintings.||Make images that look like what you see with your eyes.|
|Need to be shot over 1/50th second to be used reliably.||Can be shot at slower shutter speeds in low light. I get plenty of usable shots at 1/30th second.|
If you have no camera, then the Fuji X100T ($1299) is easily the best 35mm-equivalent lens camera for beginners. Read my review of the X100S and consider just getting a used X100S for $600 instead of a new X100T. If you’re just getting started in photography and on a budget read my letter to a new photographer.
On the high end most photographers I know love the Sigma 35mm f1.4 art ($899) series lenses for Canon full frame and Nikon full frame. For Canon full frame cameras the Canon 40mm f2.8 pancake ($150-$199) is close enough to 35mm that it’s what I used most of the time on my Canon 6D.
I rarely go wider than f/2 and use a 1970’s era Leica 35mm f2 (link is to the new aspherical version). I got mine used in Shanghai for $1,300. In the United States you can get them used at B&H or buy the very similar Zeiss 35mm f2 ($1087) brand new for 1⁄3 of the price of the Leica. The Zeiss is just a little bit bigger, but who cares?
For Nikon crop sensor cameras like the Nikon D7100 and D3300 I would get the 24mm f/2.8D ($349) lens. It’s manual focus only on cameras below the D7000 but I like manual focus more anyway.
Every year I review my favorite pictures to see what I can focus on for next year. For 2014 I decided to focus on photographing pictures of people.
Here are my favorite images of people from 2014 and the stories behind them.
Single frame from Hanoi, Vietnam showing the insane nature of traffic. June, 2014.
Woman walking in the Ginza district of Tokyo. April, 2014..
The rainiest day on my trip in Shanghai, China. May, 2014.
Kids running to cross the street in Kyoto, Japan. April, 2014.
A crowd of people watching the sunrise at Mount Bromo. August, 2014
Climbing Mount Bromo in Indonesia. August, 2014
Kid eating ice cream on the sidewalk. Beijing, China. August, 2014.
Motorbikes blow through an intersection in Hanoi, Vietnam. June, 2014.
Boys driving through the flooded streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. November 2014.
Military officer standing watch after the coup. Chiang Mai, Thailand. May, 2014.
Boys jumping into the river in Siem Reap, Cambodia. November, 2014.
For 2015 I’m going to focus on taking better pictures, getting closer to people, and telling stories.