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Tribeca Dreams

So, the Tribeca Film Festival happened (April 19-30, 2017). If you’re not familiar, the Tribeca Film Festival was established in 2002, purportedly as a means of helping to revitalize the area (Triangle Below Canal Street) in the aftermath of 9/11. It’s possible this isn’t entirely true, given murmurs that the festival was in the works before Sept. 11, 2001. I don’t know for certain how much of that is true, but it doesn’t really matter. Even if the Tribeca Film Festival wasn’t the direct brainchild of those who wanted to do something culturally and economically beneficial after 9/11, I’m confident that 9/11 was surely the impetus to get the show up and running as soon as possible.

There are multiple events (both official and unofficial) held in support of and related to the Tribeca Film Festival, including the Tribeca Dreams Photowalk hosted by Street Dreams Magazine. I’m generally not one for photowalks — shooting with a large group of people just seems a bit odd to me. But I love Tribeca, so I decided to jump in…and I’m glad I did. It was a good time and I was surrounded by inspired and inspiring individuals who all, in one way or another, represent the creativity energy that keeps Tribeca (and all of NYC) buzzing. Here are a handful of my shots from that day.

See more at

Tribeca ShootTribeca ShootTribeca ShootTribeca ShootTribeca ShootTribeca ShootTribeca ShootTribeca Shoot

3 Ways to Deal with Distracting Backgrounds

I imagine it’s a scenario that plays out quite often: you take inventory of your gear and realize you don’t have two really important pieces — off-camera flash and a backdrop of some kind (muslin, seamless paper, etc.).

So you resort to what you deem to be the next best option — take your portraiture outdoors.

It’s a perfectly logical and feasible option that can really open up creative potential for your portraits, but outdoor portraiture also has the potential to foil some of those lofty ideas you may have originally held, especially when it comes to getting good backgrounds.

If you’ve taken up outdoor portraiture and have found yourself struggling to achieve non-distracting/less distracting backgrounds, you’ll be happy to know that the solutions to your frustration are super simple and won’t cost you a dime.

1. Micromanage the Background

When you decide to shoot in the great outdoors you kind of have to take what you’re given – and sometimes, particularly in urban environments, what you have to work with is less than ideal.

Your job as a portrait photographer is to work the scene, not to let the scene work you. This means paying attention to detail; virtually any scene you encounter will have the potential to work for you. All you need to do is break the environment down to its very best elements.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a building facade, a tree or a graffiti covered wall; there’s always a small area of potential. Locate that area of potential, position your subject accordingly and get your shot.

You Belong to the City (color)

2. Blur Out the Background

Shooting wide open refers to taking a shot with your lens set to its largest (widest) aperture. This, in turn, creates shallow depth of field — you can keep your subject’s face in focus while blurring out the background. There are, however, a couple of points you will want to keep in mind in order to get the best results from this method.

It may not be possible to use your lens wide open in a bright outdoor setting without severely overexposing the shot. If you can’t get your shutter speed high enough to get a proper exposure, you can use a neutral density filter to help decrease the amount of light entering the lens.

Be sure to place your subject a good distance from the background; if there isn’t sufficient space between your subject and the background you won’t really see any blur.

You can further help maximize background blur by using a longer focal length, which will take better advantage of the compression effect. An 85mm focal length will produce more compression than a 50mm focal length; 200mm is even better.

Park & Chill

3. Blow Out the Background

A third practical but creative way to handle a distracting background is to overexpose it a bit. It’s easy to accomplish. Position your subject in front of a well-lit background (something as simple as a white wall can work wonders) and meter for the subject’s face (use spot metering if your camera has it).

The end result will be a blown out background with your subject being the center of attention. A quick reminder: make sure you don’t meter for the background or you’ll end up with a silhouette.

Jackie light

My Final Thoughts

Some photographers prefer to do their portraits outdoors; others resort to working outdoors due to financial or space constraints.

No matter what might compel you to take up outdoor portraiture, you must be aware that you are going to encounter challenging environments; you may save money on traditional studio equipment but you’re going to have to expend some time and effort overcoming cluttered/unsightly backgrounds.

Fortunately, it’s not a terribly difficult thing to do. While the ideas presented above represent specific solutions, the overriding point is to use the environment to your advantage – use light, shadows, angles and even less-than-perfect backgrounds in a creative manner.

And after you’ve captured your shot, apply that same creativity in post-processing; some resourceful cropping can be especially helpful for improving busy backgrounds.

Why I Love Film Photography

They say that everything old is new again. Life does, indeed, tend to unfold around us in a cyclical fashion. Many of the so-called retro and vintage trends that rise to popularity often vanish as quickly as they appeared. But the fact that these things enter popular consciousness at all says something about our connection to — or, more likely, our curiosity about — styles and ways of doing things that preceded some of us. The retro stylings of cameras like the Nikon Df or the Fujifilm X100S certainly bear this out in the realm of photography.

But what about film photography? There surely seems to be a growing interest in film photography but, for many, the idea that film photography is “new again” doesn’t really fit, as they never completely gave up film even after the digital revolution took firm hold.

I, like most of my peers, was introduced to photography via a film camera — one those old Polaroid One Step cameras that I managed to wrestle from my aunt’s hands whenever she brought it around. But I am very much a product of the digital age and I jumped at my first opportunity to a digital point-and-shoot camera. I weaned myself from film and never looked back. For a while.


Olympus OM-1 Kodak Portra 400
Olympus OM-1
Kodak Portra 400

I’m not entirely sure what sparked the desire to return to film, but I’m glad it happened. Sure, I’m also reminded of the downsides, but I consider them relatively insignificant. To be sure, this isn’t a manifesto about abandoning digital photography or a screed about why film is ostensibly better than digital. No, I’m just sharing a few reasons why I love shooting film and why film photography will continue to play a small but important role in my growth as a photographer.


Hopefully, one or two of you reading this will be inspired to return to film or to try it out for the first time. Or, this all might serve as a reminder of why you happily kicked film to the curb and will never go back. Either way, food for thought.


Here are five reasons why I love shooting film, in no particular order.


Happy Accidents and Unexpected Treasures.

I tend to approach film photography with somewhat of an “art project” mindset, so I’m far more tolerant of imperfections as opposed to when I’m shooting digital. I don’t consider light leaks and lens flare to be problems, even when I’m not expecting to see them in a photo. And since I’m admittedly bad at reading manuals (I just don’t do it), I’ve made my fair share of accidental double exposures. Turns out I’ve enjoyed the results of most of those accidents.

Bronica SQ-A Kodak Tri-X 400
Bronica SQ-A
Kodak Tri-X 400

I Like a Challenge.

I would never go so far as to say digital photography is easy. But film photography sure isn’t convenient. Film photography forces me to be much more deliberate and thoughtful when I’m working. There are no do-overs. No delete button. If I don’t get it right the first time — get it right in camera — then I’ve just wasted a frame. As noted above, it doesn’t always go right but I am ever cognizant of the fact I have a limited number of frames to work with. Not all of my film cameras have working light meters, so getting the exposure I want (rather than a “correct” exposure) has become second nature.

Bronica SQ-A Kodak Portra 400
Bronica SQ-A
Kodak Portra 400

No Post Post-Processing.

Once I get my film developed and scanned, that’s it. The images remain untouched. I simply feel no compulsion to alter or “improve” my film shots in any way — even when they’re not very good. It’s a nice break from Lightroom’s develop module.

Canon AE-1 Fujifilm Pro 400H
Canon AE-1
Fujifilm Pro 400H

Grain Versus Noise.

Like virtually everything else on the list, this is entirely subjective (and, perhaps, a figment of my imagination), but film grain wins the war of aesthetics over digital noise every time. I understand the semantic use of noise as an analogy for grain, but that’s where that relationship ends for me. I’m partial to real film grain.

Bronica SQ-A Kodak Tri-X 400
Bronica SQ-A
Kodak Tri-X 400

The Analog Personality.

Not to be overly anthropomorphic here, but I thoroughly enjoy the personality of film and old cameras. While I love my DSLRs, I don’t feel they have much personality beyond what I assign to them. My old cameras, on the other hand, each come with their own distinctive quirks that generally escape being put into words, but if you shoot film you’ll know what I mean.

Olympus OM-1 Ilford HP5 400
Olympus OM-1
Ilford HP5 400

A similar case can be made for film. I have a particular attachment to Kodak Tri-X 400 and Kodak Portra 400 because, well, I just like the look of them and that’s all the reason I need. But I’m determined to try as many different kinds of film as I possibly can; and as I make my way through the different Fujifilm, Kodak, Agfa, Ilford, and other films (including rolls of expired film and instant film), I’m learning the many different “looks” associated with each one — looks that are rather difficult to replicate with plugins and presets.

Bronica SQ-A Kodak Tri-X 400
Bronica SQ-A
Kodak Tri-X 400

As far as the drawbacks of film photography (such as the waiting period and costs associated with developing film, cost of buying film, etc.), they’re not significant enough to keep me away since film doesn’t account for the bulk for my photography. Digital is still my go-to medium.

Olympus OM-1 Kodak Portra 400
Olympus OM-1
Kodak Portra 400

If you find yourself stuck in a creative rut or are in need of adding a new feature to your photographic repository, I highly encourage you to give film a shot (pun unfortunately intended).


5 Reasons I Love Film Photography

In Appreciation of Prime Lenses

Menu scan

Zoom lenses are everywhere in modern photography — from mobile devices to point and shoot cameras to entry level DSLRs, a zoom lens is pretty much a standard marketing companion. Even many higher end DSLRs typically feature a zoom lens as part of the kit. Sure, you can always buy just a camera body and choose your own lens, but, with a few exceptions, it seems that the days when cameras came with a simple 35mm or 50mm lens are a thing of film photography’s distant past.

This isn’t an effort to denigrate zoom lenses because that would be pointless; zoom lenses play a vital role in photography. But given the dynamics of modern (digital) photography, it is quite possible that many new photographers have never used or even heard of a “prime” lens.

If you happen to be one of those who have never used a prime lens — a single focal length lens — you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about. Is it just hype and no substance? Is the awesomeness of prime lenses all in other people’s heads?

Both of those questions can be assuredly answered, “No.”

So let’s go over the reasons why you should give prime lenses a try and why I’m confident that you will absolutely love the results.

Prime Lenses and Image Quality

One of the things you will hear most often when it comes to why photographers adore prime lenses is for their superior image quality. To be sure, there are indeed a handful of zoom lenses that produce images of a quality approaching — if not matching — some prime lenses. But this isn’t the norm and doesn’t apply to the majority of zoom lenses.

The main reason exceptional image quality is associated with fixed focal length lenses is because they contain less glass, a less complicated optics formula, and fewer moving parts than their zoom counterparts. This all translates to better contrast (which most people interpret as sharpness), less distortion, and more pleasing bokeh (out of focus areas).

sunny day

There is probably no zoom lens in existence that can match a prime lens in every aspect of image quality, and if such a zoom did exist, it would likely weigh a ton and be out of the price range of all but the richest 1%. Both Nikon and Canon make highly regarded 70-200mm zoom lenses, yet both companies also produce comparatively cheap 50mm lenses that are held in high esteem for their optical qualities.

Prime Lenses and Maximum Aperture

This could, perhaps, compete with overall image quality as the number one reason photographers love prime lenses. Having a wide maximum aperture (small f-number) gives prime lenses two very important advantages:

1. They can capture more light, meaning you won’t have to sacrifice shutter speed and you can keep ISO levels lower.

2. Their wider apertures allow more control over depth of field and, thereby, subject-background isolation.

It is not uncommon to find a prime lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 or f/2.0. If you are willing to pay a little more, you can get a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.2. In 2013 Sigma lenses introduced the first zoom lens with a constant maximum aperture of f/1.8; all other zoom lenses on the market max out at f/2.8, with the average maximum aperture being f/3.5 to f/5.6.

Prime lenses simply hold a distinct advantage in the lens speed department. When you want to isolate your subject from the background, shoot indoors under poor lighting, or shoot outdoors at night, a prime lens is the way to go.

Prime Lenses and Your Compositional Skills

If one were to cast an aspersion of some kind on prime lenses, it would probably be that they aren’t as versatile as zoom lenses; they can’t change focal lengths. Whether that is truly a “con” is debatable. No, you can’t twist the barrel of a prime lens and suddenly be closer to your subject; you’ll have to use your feet to do that, which will change the shot’s perspective and framing. All of this means that when using a fixed focal length lens, you need to be ever so conscientious of your composition. Sometimes just taking a step forward or backward is all you need; other times, that’s not going to work at all and you’ll need to reframe/recompose the shot. The bottom line is that you will be forced to think before you shoot. If it sounds like too much work, just remember that most things worth doing aren’t usually easy. But the perceived “inconvenience” of using a prime lens may very well end up making you a better photographer.

Prime Lens Weight, Size, and Price

Prime lenses are smaller, lighter, and cheaper than zoom lenses. There are, of course, exceptions to this, particularly in terms of price, as there are some f/1.2 prime lenses that can put a real dent in your bank account. As a guiding principle, however, if you want a small, lightweight, affordable lens, you are very likely to find all these traits in a prime lens.

What Are Prime Lenses Used For?

Almost anything you want, really. And this is where prime lenses’ supposed lack of versatility becomes more a matter of perception than an objective fact.

  • General purpose/walk-around lens. Sometimes you just want to grab your camera and go; you don’t have any specific themes or subjects in mind, you simply feel the urge to go out and shoot, unencumbered by a heavy lens.

driver's seat

  • Street photography. Size and weight make a prime lens the perfect candidate for street photography. You want to be comfortable, not lugging a weighty lens around your neck; and you want to be discreet, not bringing undue attention to yourself, a feat considerably less attainable if you’ve got a foot-long lens protruding from your face.


  • Close-up photography. While not true macro photography, you can use a prime lens in conjunction with a close-up filter or a set of extension tubes to approximate the look of a macro lens. You can also reverse mount one lens onto another to achieve a similar result. And just so there’s no confusion, true macro lenses are, in fact, also prime lenses.


  • Portraits. Lenses 85mm and longer are often considered traditional portrait lengths. But there’s no right or wrong here; you can also use a 35mm or a 50mm lens for portraits, just be aware of the distortion that may be introduced at shorter focal lengths and compose accordingly.

Jackie light Gaze IMG_9868-Edit


The benefits of using a prime lens are many: image quality, aperture, cost, improved technique. We can’t deny, however, that there is a time and a place for zoom lenses; there are situations that simply demand them. If you shoots sports, you will likely find a zoom lens perfectly suited to what you’re shooting; a similar case can be made for wedding photography. The real drawback of prime lenses might be that you would need to carry two or three primes to cover the same focal length of one zoom.

Yet, for some photographers, the image quality of a prime lens is enough to override concerns about having to carry multiple prime lenses. If you are interested in building a collection of primes, you simply need to know what you shoot so that your collection is a smart collection. And it will almost certainly be a sharp collection.