Why I Use a Medium Format Camera

I’ve often spoken about the optical qualities of medium format photography. But hearing about how the size of the individual pixels of my Pentax 645D provides greater dynamic range, or that the lenses are superior than DSLRs and other typical cameras doesn’t mean as much as seeing the difference. (*Please see NOTE at the end of this blog.)

Take, for instance, the photograph of Watson (“W. Dog Reading T. Wolfe”) that accompanied our guest blogging guidelines. In the zoomed in image of his eye, notice the quality of detail. Also, for those of you who know how to read such things, I’ve attached the histogram, so you can see the density of data. If you want to see more detail, click on the caption below the image, to see a larger zoomed-in view. (Remember, it’s only a low resolution screen capture, but it should give you an idea of the level of detail in the photograph.)

No, it isn’t only about having more megapixels, but how those pixels capture light, shadow, color and detail. Of course, it’s overkill if my only purpose were to post pictures on the Internet. But when I create my large exhibition prints (some as large as 40″ x 60″), I need that level of clarity and quality.


*NOTE: A medium format camera is significantly bigger and heavier than the largest of DSLR pro cameras. At its heart is a physically larger image sensor which means that each pixel is larger than those on the DSLRs of the same resolution. Those larger pixels are better able to capture more and better light and color. In addition, the lenses feature superior optics.

Spending Time with Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci.

It’s a name that stands on its own, separate from all others. A magical name that evokes such strong reactions, especially among artists, writers and other creative thinkers. “He’s my hero” is a frequent refrain whenever I mention Leonardo.

Our friend Alfred Poor has a theory about why he is so fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci (as well as Benjamin Franklin). For him, they were men who “knew about everything there was to know in their world,” an incredible accomplishment in their times, but something that is no longer possible.

While Leonardo da Vinci is an important talisman and touchstone who is rarely far from my thoughts (or, at least, my subconscious), this past week I read two stories that brought him to the forefront.

The first was Michael Kammen’s review of “The Lost Battles” by Jonathan Jones for the Los Angeles Review of Books . The battles referred to in the title are paintings by Leonardo and Michelangelo. As the subtitle says, the book is about “the artistic duel that defined the renaissance.” Kammen’s review gave me just enough of a taste of the intrigues and personalities (and art history) involved in the competition between those two giants that I’m definitely planning on buying and reading “The Lost Battles.”

Then, I came across “Leonardo’s Notebook Digitized in All Its Befuddling Glory” in The Atlantic. What a great opportunity for scholars all around the globe. No longer will this collection of Leonardo’s notebooks be available to only a few who manage to get to the British Library and obtain permission, but to anyone with a computer and access. Given that Leonardo used reversed writing (readable only with a mirror) in his notebooks, I imagine that it will be that much easier to decipher digital copies that can be flipped with the click of a mouse button.

I wonder if Leonardo isn’t one of the most written about individuals in history, and that those two stories caught my eye this week, because I needed some time with him just now.
Spending time with Leonardo. I’m sure my friends will Read More

Collaboration & Marriage: Strange Bedfellows?

Daniel Grotta & Sally Wiener Grotta
“Team Grotta” (Daniel Grotta & Sally Wiener Grotta)

Reprinted from Book Dude Blog (which apparently is no longer an active blog).

Intro: Daniel Grotta and Sally Wiener Grotta are long-time collaborators who happen to also be a married couple. They’ve written literally thousands of articles, columns and reviews for scores of major magazines, newspapers and online publications. In addition, they’ve co-authored numerous non-fiction books. This means they live and work together 24/7. Of course, they argue; they’re married. Not over the “usual” trivia (taking out the trash, money or whatever) but about split infinitives and Harvard commas. Gluttons for punishment, even when they go their separate ways, writing their fiction independently, they still edit and advise each other. And now, they’re stealing each other’s characters and places, as they dip into a shared fantasy of fictional locales and characters, to create their very separate stories set in the made-up village of Black Bear, Pennsylvania. The first two Black Bear, PA stories are Honor a novella by Daniel Grotta, which was published last summer, and Jo Joe a novel by Sally Wiener Grotta ,which will be published this May.

What’s remarkable is that both their marriage and their professional reputations have not only survived, but thrived. How do they do it?

Sally: Daniel, these folks want to know how we can work together and still remain happily married.

Daniel: Not now, Sally. I’m busy.

Sally: Okay, when?

Daniel: About 15 minutes

Precept #1: Just because you’re ready to discuss a crucial point doesn’t mean your partner is. Make appointments and keep them, as though you are strangers working together.

15 minutes pass

Daniel: Okay, Sally, now what is it you wanted to talk about?

Sally: How does our marriage survive our partnership? Or, vice versa.Read More

I spent my Saturday and Sunday in Computer Hell. How was your weekend?

Headache 2 by Sally Wiener GrottaSome mornings, it just doesn’t pay to get up. After a phone briefing I had on Friday with Sage Software about the new version of their ACT database, I was looking forward to installing it, testing it and actually using it in our day-to-day business. That latter part is unusual, with all the software testing we do, very few programs make the trip from our test systems to our business or personal systems. But ACT is an impressive ecosystem that should help us get better control over our contacts files. And once I understand ACT from using it on a daily basis, I’ll be able to help others to understand and use it.

Installing, learning and writing up a review of the new version of ACT was going to be my weekend project. So, I had a decision to make. Do I install ACT on one of our test systems or directly on my business system? I chose the latter.

However, I’ve been having difficulties with my business system lately, with periodic freezes that Read More

Snow Day!

Watson in Snow by Sally Wiener Grotta

What is it about a major snowstorm that brings out the kid in me?

Is it the early childhood memory of hovering around the radio, listening for the coveted school closing, while the snow clouds gathered, promising piles of snowballs and sledding and hot chocolate waiting inside? (Yes, I did have one of those childhoods.)

Is it the photographer in me, watching the light change, how the snow frosts the huge evergreens along the stream and undulates across the field?

Is it simply the fact that my family and I are among the truly lucky people in the world. The “threat” of snow isn’t ominous to our ears or our psyche. We’re safe, inside a warm home, with more than sufficient food and water. We don’t have to commute anywhere (other than down the stairs in our bedroom slippers). Daniel and I work at home, in our comfortable studio, with Rascal and Diva pussyfooting around, often jumping up on our laps to remind us that NOW is the best time to love. And Watson (Rascal and Diva’s Golden Retriever) is always nearby, watching over us, and ready at the drop of a single syllable (“out!”), to run and play.

Of course, we’re aware that millions of others aren’t as lucky as we are. Our hearts and minds are with those who are endangered by the weather. Still, the joy of the snow blowing outside our window, and of watching Watson throw himself into a white fluffy bank to make snow angels makes me feel so very alive and, well, irrepressibly happy.

Speaking of which, Watson, let’s go OUT and make some snow angels together.

I Tweet, Therefore I am?

According to CNET, “Twitter users spawn 24.1 million Super Bowl game tweets.” It used to be that if you didn’t have a photo of it (whatever it is), it didn’t happen. Now, it appears that tweeting is your proof that you’re alive and doing.

What about just being there, experiencing the moment fully? Has social media become the way we make memories, connect with life around us? That feels too passive to me.

Stepping out of our lives every few moments to comment on it erects an edifice around us that might feel comforting and connecting, but it seems more like a wall between me and the effervescent now.

Hope: a Path, a Dream

A few weeks ago, Shannon and Toni, the two women behind the Duolit blog , challenged the writing community to come together to support a fellow author who can no longer speak for her own book. The Cell War Notebooks is the compilation of Julie Forward DeMay’s passionate, honest, heartwarming blogs written during the last seven months of her life as she lost the battle against cervical cancer.

Shannon and Toni asked us to write a blog about hope in Julie’s memory, to help spread the word. Of course, I said yes. The problem for me was that they wanted everyone’s blogs to be posted on the same day – January 31st. Unfortunately, I was installing another American Hands exhibit on the 31st. I had thought that I might actually get to it that night, but after organizing and hanging over 100 pictures at the University of Scranton, I fell into bed, unable to think, let alone write.

So, here’s my blog on hope in memory of Julie Forward DeMay, a couple of days late, but perhaps, just on time.


How often I have hoped for things that have never come true. Haven’t we all?

When I was a young twenty-something, I began to wonder if hope were nothing more than a palliative, a drug we use to blind us Read More

When to Use Flash with a Point-and-Shoot Camera

fill_flash versus auto flash_comparison by Daniel GrottaThis past Sunday, when I spoke at the NY Times Travel Show, offering suggestions to travel photographers, I was very gratified at the positive response, and how many folks stayed after the panel, to ask me more questions and advice in the hallway outside the seminar room.

One of my tips was to use Force Flash when shooting outdoors with a point-and-shoot camera. (Force Flash is the lightning bolt icon without the A.)

The flash icon with the A, is for automatic, which means the camera won’t flash if it thinks there’s enough light in the overall scene. (Such as in the picture on the left.)

In the picture on the right, Daniel turned on Force Flash, which illuminated my face, giving it better color, while improving the overall dynamic range and vitality of the picture. The result also balanced for the blue sky as well as both the highlights and shadows in the snow.

Please feel free to leave your questions about photography here in the comments, or send them to me via email or on Facebook.