My history with photography

Humility note and background:

This page is new, as of early 2016, and is designed to give some perspective on my past experiences with photography, and the reasons why I started shooting again, in late 2015.

Although I've been away from SLR cameras for a few years, I'm not new to photography by any means. For a time/age reference, I was born in 1954. My first adventure into 35mm photography came when I left Air Force basic training in 1974, and wanted to shoot some nice photos while on leave at Christmas time. Until then, I had been using the then-common “snapshot” cameras that used very small negative film, like “110”-size cartridge cameras, and polaroids. So, I bought a rangefinder-type 35mm Nikon camera at the base exchange, before starting my trip home. The photo at the right here is the first 35mm photo I ever shot, while waiting for my flight at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. I didn't know the woman in the photo... She just struck me as beautiful, and also a bit sad, so I kept the camera pointed at her until she turned and looked at me, and then snapped the photo. It was this "compose and wait" concept that made the photo work, since she's the only one in this busy airport scene looking toward the camera. I was, and still am, quite pleased with the shot.

As you'll see below, I've had several major immersion periods with photography. In every case though, I've done it for my own satisfaction... to document people, places, and things I've encountered in life, and to explore some of the technical and abstract aspects of both film and digital photography. It's an additional creative outlet for me, and although I'm a "serious enthusiast", photography is not my primary business. (That's still 3D work.)

Back to the early days...
Like anyone making this transition, I immediately fell in love with the quality of 35mm. Soon after that, I became addicted, and went gear crazy. My first “system” camera, in 1974, was a Minolta XK. During the first week that I owned it, I was diving into photography books and magazines, making friends with the base photographer, and attending the free Nikon clinics that were available on base. One of them that made a big impression on me was one presented by Ken Biggs, one of the Nikon photographers featured in the book, “The Nikon Image”. I immediately made the decision to switch to a Nikon-based system, before I got too deep into Minolta equipment. I traded in my Minolta XK for a Nikon F2, and shortly after that, the F2AS, which was a wonderful camera, and built like a tank. I lived on base, and the base photographer was also a Nikon user, so getting to know him allowed me to soak up a lot of his expertise, and also allowed us to swap lenses at airshows, etc.. What followed was the usual bag of lenses and filters, tripod, and of course, a motor drive. It took nearly all of my money, but on base, we had a free black and white darkroom, so I bought a bulk film loader, and shot 20 or 30 rolls of film per week, and spent nearly every night in the darkroom. That Nikon system served me well for several years.

When I got out of the Air Force and went back on the road, as a musician, I reduced the amount of stuff I was carrying by quite a bit. Ultimately, all of that gear, including boxes containing all my negatives and slides shot up to that time, was stolen. The loss of those thousands of negatives and slides was a big psychological setback for me, and living in hotel rooms, theft was a concern too, so I went back to snapshot cameras for the next 10 years or so.


When I finally got off the road, and moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1995, the terrain alone was enough to motivate me to get back into photography, and again, I chose Nikon. This time, it was a (titanium) F3 body, and an 8008s body with intervalometer back, along with another bag of lenses, expensive tripod, complete darkroom setup, etc.. Several friends and I spent a lot of time making random road trips around Alaska, to shoot photos, and over the next couple of years, I once again shot thousands of negatives and slides.

I processed and printed all my own black and white film, until I could see that digital was starting to make it into Nikon and Canon. Canon had just changed their lens mount, causing a huge uproar with photographers, and I thought that Nikon might do the same. Coincidentally, I had just made the switch from being a 3D programmer to being a 3D user. So, with those first digital cameras being so expensive, I traded all of my photo gear for a computer system, and went back to point-and-shoot cameras for several years. I wanted to wait for the digital photography industry to settle down a bit.

Making my living in 3D modeling, and being an aviation/aerospace addict, means that I’ve always been somewhat of a techno-geek. So although I’ve been out of SLR cameras for several years, I’ve kept up with what’s going on, and it’s become truly impressive. The most obvious two examples are the gigantic ISO values we can shoot at, compared to what was possible with film, and of course, with no film involved, the low cost of shooting digital images. The ability to see what we shoot immediately is a big advantage over film, of course, and if you shoot in RAW format, the post-processing options are nearly unlimited. Add autofocus and image stabilization to the mix, and it’s actually fair to say that the cost has gone down, while our capabilities have grown exponentially.

Part of my getting back up to speed with the technical side of things is that I've spent a lot more time studying the details of lenses, and the control of lighting, and that has paid off with some higher-quality photos, especially when shooting with artificial lighting.

I've missed the capabilities that a nice SLR system gives, creatively. And, I'm yearning to create more of my own photographs to use in my 3D work. This would include “scenes”, to use in compositing, textures, for reference or actual use, and research, in the form of photographing things that I want to model in 3D. Finally, I still simply enjoy photography, and am hoping that I've matured enough to produce some interesting images that tell a story.

Living in Alaska provides some outstanding opportunities for photographing terrain, water, aurora borealis, etc., and living in Anchorage adds Ted Stevens International Airport and Elmendorf Air Force base to that mix… exciting to someone with my interests. Then there’s the vast array of amazing wildlife… (including my cat, “Mitzi”) This will be a practical/fun/artistic endeavor, and to be clear, I have no intention whatsoever of going into photography as a business. although I may sell some images to 3D modelers for use in compositing, and I may provide photo "walk-arounds" for people interested in the variety of aircraft you can find here in Alaska. Aside from that, I have no other "commercial" plans at this time.


Photography "How to"...

If anyone has any questions about any of my photos, feel free to email me, and I'll try to assist. I have no "secrets". But... I certainly don't see myself as a photography "teacher", and suggest that you explore the vast amount of technical information available on the two YouTube channels below. There are literally hundreds of videos on every technical aspect of photography, as well as inspirational stories from some of the best photographers.

My interests include:

  • The ability to shoot 24 megapixel or larger full-frame images in RAW format, adding great editing potential
  • Shooting mostly stills and some video at airshows, airports in general, and museums
  • Landscapes and wildlife - Lots of that here in Alaska!
  • Night, long-exposure, time-lapse, and hyper-lapse photography (including some light painting)
  • Some limited astrophotography
  • Some abstract things, (i.e. physiograms, light painting, macro, etc.)
  • Creation of some 180-degree (and possibly 360-degree) panoramas for 3D compositing

Getting back to photography will undoubtedly influence my 3D renderings in a positive way too, with more creative uses of focal lengths and lighting, as well as the compositions themselves. Naturally, it's my hope that my photographic "vision" will become more developed too, given the freedom to shoot more, at a lower cost. This will be fun...

Click the "35mm film" or "Current photography" link below, to see my galleries.

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Unless otherwise noted, all content on this site is ©Copyright by Mike James - - All Rights Reserved
NOTE: I am not at liberty to redistribute any of the documentation used to build any of the 3D models on this site.