By Scott Dickey
I touched my first camera in 1985. All I can remember about it was it was a Minolta. Why Minolta, I have no idea. It was probably the shiniest one in the display case. I was in the US Marines then; had lots of cash and wanted to spend it.
I did no research, the internet, google, even laptop computers were just in their infancy in 1985. I just decided to buy a camera. I “played” around with it at best. I cannot be certain, but I’m sure everything was set to “auto” to avoid any costly mistakes, and save my precious ego. Even in 1985 there was a mysterious notion about “photographers.” And I was going to be called one – even if I didn’t know the entire cost of having or earning that title.
Fast forward one year. I had gotten out of the Marines, I was now living in Logan, Utah and attending Utah State University. I was a business major, without much passion for business study. I was registering for my classes for spring trimester. I saw a class called something like Photography 101 (I’m sure it wasn’t), and I remembered that Minolta camera setting on a shelf. I signed up for that class. It introduced you to the camera, basic functions (beyond the auto setting), composition, exposure, loading on a metal spool and developing (Kodak D-76) 35mm black & white film (easier said than done) and lastly, printing and proper display of the image. It’s all pretty laughable thirty-four years later; but you’ve got to start somewhere.
I can’t remember that first image I placed on the corkboard for a critique by my instructor (Professor R.T. Clark) and my peers. I do remember the assignment, “The common-uncommon” was the theme. True to name, we were to take something common and pick an angle, crop, or exposure; to make it look uncommon. To get a word picture about what I’m saying, I point you no further than some of the later work of Edward Weston, or Aaron Siskind. They did unbievable work with common vegatables or advertisments pasted to a building. I’m certain my work wasn’t of that caliber. But I was hooked on the visual image. And the rest is history. It wasn’t long before I was living the artist dream. Selling or hocking anything of value for the next camera, or lens, or even printing paper and film. I switched my major from business to art following that class.
I moved past the 35mm realm rather quickly. My professor for the Zone System, Craig Law, convinced me to purchase a used Graflex XL 6×7 camera. The only remarkable aspect of that camera (it was ugly on an industrial level) was the Zeiss-Tessar lens. The focual length and f-stop escape me now, but I’m guessing 100mm give or take. It was a sharp lens but not fast. Of course, I never tried to hand hold it. At that time I was using Kodak Panatomic-X (ISO 32) at about 15 ISO. I can always remember, under the clear Utah mountain skies, having exposures of 1/2 sec. at f/22.
After college, I moved to the bay area of California and there I began to experiment with sheet film. I wish I could remember the details of that view camera, but I don’t. Except it was a studio camera and I didn’t have a studio. I can remember lugging that huge box, film holders, my trusty Pentax Spot 5 meter and a Bogen #3040 tripod with a #3047 head. That thing would keep a camera steady except in the event of an earthquake. (On a side note, that tripod just gave out in the summer of 2019.)
The only drawback, and I stress only, was I had a makeshift darkroom at the apartment in the only bathroom. So nothing was permanent. I lacked a large enough enlarger, so I had to contact print everything. But that and the darkroom set up didn’t deter me.
A year later I was nosing around the local camera shop and fell in love with my first Nikon 35mm camera. It was just setting there, calling my name. An F3/T with the motor drive and I believe a 50mm lens. I was in love with it. It just looked so professional, so put together, so what I needed. It was an astronomically priced for 1988, but I wasn’t going to be told I couldn’t have it.
That single camera set me on a course with Nikon that has lasted to this day.
I have never considered switching to another brand of camera. Although, from a professional point of view, the only true option in my limited perspective would have been Canon. I hold nothing against Canon cameras or users of Canon equipment. Fine construction, probably more professional photographers use Canon than Nikon. I just never jumped ship.
Probably the most challenging aspect of a 35mm camera (for me) was the discipline required to not waste lots of film. 120 roll film certainly, sheet film for sure, required you to slow down and compose, wait for the perfect light. Not 35mm film on a motor drive. I burned so much transparency film back then it would be an embarrassment to witness. I was working at Custom Process (now defunct) in Berkeley so I had free film development (E6) as a benefit. At cost, I could have Kodachrome processed and I did. I fell in love with everything about Kodachrome. I tried others, namely Fuji. While Fujichrome was good, the saturation was over the top! I liked saturated colors, until I started to use Fujichrome. Today I lean more towards what the scene looked like, rather than what I wished it looked like.
However, wasting film aside, my beloved landscape was hard to come by in a major city like Oakland. I had to find new subject matter. And that didn’t take long. Along bridges, underpasses and any random abandoned building, you could find lots of colorful graffiti. Absolute works of art. And then my college days came back to me. I remembered the work of Aaron Siskind. It’s been written that Aaron Siskind was one of the greatest photographers of modern history. It has been written that Aaron was significant in details of flat subject matter. Cracked paint, worn out billboards, painted asphalt and almost anything that was two dimensional was subject matter for Aaron Siskind. And that’s the mentality I took to my newest form of artistic expression. If I can come across a decent scanner I will at some point scan and post the abstract work I did in Oakland from 1988-1991.
Fast forward twenty-five years.
The evolution of cameras over the last several decades has been unbelievable. We’ve transitioned from film to digital. We now have the option to look at our scene using Live View, we no longer use negative or positive film to record our image. Probably the biggest change that has impacted the photographic world has been the introduction of the smartphone.
Anyone who uses a camera for a means of living understands the full impact of smartphone on photography. The iPhone XR was released in October of 2018 and packed a 12 megapixel camera. Nikon released its first full frame camera, the Nikon D3, in 2007 – it also packed a 12 megapixel camera. Think about it, eleven years of technology in photographic design seperates the two. The gap is closing rapidly.
One of the ways I use a camera is to make a living in the area of real estate. Photos, along with all the benefits of the internet, have been a great help to selling property. A family living in Texas can go on- line and through the use of virtual tours, find their next dream house without even stepping outside their current home.
I haven’t used my camera on my smartphone for a real estate shoot, ever. The people who pay me to photograph their property probably wouldn’t appreciate the fees I charge to use a smartphone to capture their homes for the market. But, there are some real estate agents out there who do exactly that, use their smartphones for real estate images. I would assume they are trying to limit the amount of out-of-pocket expenses to maximize the return. And I get it.
Most literature you read today warns agents against just that. I wish I had examples of real estate property using a smartphone. I don’t dig my phone out during a real estate shoot unless it’s an emergency. I might try that one day and post it as a compare / contrast example.
“Living Room” is a classic example of interior real estate photography. A wider lens is needed to capture the expanse of the room, and frankly, make it look bigger. It is usually in color. Mostly achieved with a full frame sensor (more of my opinion on that later), and color corrected (sometimes by the photographer) or more commonly by a “factory” that does nothing but adjust photographs.