Awakening: The Secret Origin of The Twilit Lens


Who’s this familiar-looking face? Well, in many ways he is the man most directly responsible for me becoming a photographer.

This is Richard W. Fountain, my dad, known to the ham radio world as W2AVC. Sadly he passed away in December of 2011, but not before giving me a passion for photography. Let me tell you how it all began…

KodakPocketInstamatic20Camera2-viWhen I was about six years old, my dad showed me a Kodak Pocket Instamatic (remember those?) with a bag of disposable flash cubes, and instantly I wanted to play with it. As far as I was concerned the flash spots before my eyes were stars. I went along with him on every trip he made to the local photo lab. I smelled the developing chemicals, gazed at the cameras on display (even the old junker SLR that had been made into a planter), and marveled at all of it.

Then in 1985, he let me take the Instamatic on a high-school field trip to Washington D.C. I used up my film in the Smithsonian. Boy, was I new at this! Thank goodness I don’t still have any of those old embarrassing prints. Half the time, the lens cap was still on and the other half I was so excited, I put camera shake into almost every image. Ouch! But I learned from it, because my dad went over every shot with me, patiently explaining to me what I’d done wrong and how to correct it.

vintage nikon slrOne day we visited an airplane museum in Connecticut. And he let me use his Nikon SLR and an old light meter. I couldn’t believe it! I knew how to use them because I’d been studying at his side for years, though he’d never let me operate them before. I held them almost like holy symbols. But then I started taking ambient light readings, setting my exposure (manual mode only, of course), and composing my shots.

And when the photos came back from the lab, my dad said something transforming: something that made my spirit soar.

“You have the eye, Bob,” he said.

And now, here I am: a grateful professional who owes so much of who I am to one man. I miss you, Dad. But I’ll never forget your words. And I’ll see you again, someday. Vaya con Dios.

Visit my web site today and see the fruits of his labor.

I Made an Oops: Please Comment and Be a Winner

Surreal Barn

A week ago, I posted a reader poll about whether a traditional or surreal photo got added to my online gallery. And the results are in: The Winner (by a landslide) is the #2 photo (shown above). Thank you to everyone who voted.

But there is a dark(er) side to this already dark photo. As it turns out, under my current blog hosting provider, there is no way to tell who voted in any one category! Grrrr…

I have a feeling I’ll be moving my blog to a different host. But in the meantime, you can help me out. If you voted for the #2 photo, please leave a comment on this blog post or email me at I will make sure you get that all-important discount I promised.

Thanks for being understanding about this, everyone. Next time will be better, I promise. :)

What’s in Your Bag? (With apologies to Samuel Jackson)

Camera BagHi everyone! A short time ago, Leanne Cole made a great post on her blog about camera bags! Check out the link if you’re curious. It’s worth a read. Now, in the spirit of that post, I thought I’d add a few thoughts of my own about photography gear: a subject near and dear to my own heart.

They say clothes makes the man. So does the gear make the photographer?

Only to a degree, really. Being the best photographers we can be means honing skills that will add professionalism to any photo, regardless of the camera and gear. But having some quality hardware can often make our jobs a lot easier and more of a joy.

Many moons ago, I posted some information on the main camera bodies I use for my work. You can find the links here and here. Both are good starting points for an effective gear ensemble. With this current post I’ll expand on that and give you the details of one of my typical bag loadouts, in this case the one I most use for roadside and urbex shots.

bag1. The Bag Itself! The Tamrac Expedition bags are great. I can vouch for how sturdy they are. Plus they’re very customizable. I find myself tweaking the internal layout from time to time as I evolve as a photographer.



Canon EOS 7D2. Canon EOS 7D: Once again, a plug for my workhorse. ;) The 7D is a rugged (and I do mean rugged) 18 megapixel NTSC body with 19 focus points and a 23 image maximum burst (as of the latest firmware update). Some of the hazardous environments I find myself in, make a tough-as-nails camera a plus!


Tamron3. Tamron AF 18-270mm: the swiss army knife of my lenses. When as photographers we find ourselves in situations where conditions change a great deal, it helps to have an adaptable lens with decent image quality. This lens fits the bill.



Neewer4. Neewer Remote Shutter Release: Sometimes known as an “intervalometer,” this allows me to override the standard shutter speeds on my camera body. Very useful for extremely dark environments that need more than 30 seconds of exposure.



5. Flashlight: not only good for finding your way in dark places, it also allows me to “paint” a subject so that the camera’s autofocus can lock onto it in the dark.

Rokinon6. Rokinon 8mm fisheye: more specialized than the Tamron, but for those cramped spaces, nothing beats this lens’ field of view.

7. Tripod: this almost goes without saying. Uneven terrain, long exposures? A tripod is my best friend.

8. Spare batteries: not just for the camera but for the flashlight and the remote shutter release too. You can’t be too careful.

9. Business cards: even though I insist on playing by the rules, there’s always the chance somebody’s going to ask me what I’m up to. Business cards help prove I’m an actual professional.

So that’s a glance into my gear. What about you? What do you carry on a typical photo expedition? I’d like to hear from you.

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Urbex Ethics: Photos and Footprints

Ruined Barn Interior

The big motto for urbex is “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” A great tagline that promotes a non-destructive approach. But there is a potential problem in spite of these high ideals.

Now, I love urbex. It’s part of my identity as a photographer. And I confess that I’ve been enticed many times to throw caution to the wind and sneak into a juicy abandoned property. But I’m also a professional, and that means acting like one. Is there a way to get into abandoned areas legally?

As a matter of fact there is.

Take the photo above. It’s part of an abandoned farm complex I ran across recently. And not a “Posted” sign to be seen! Tempting as tempting can be. Fortunately, I was saved from tearing my hair out in ethical frustration when I saw a guy operating some heavy farm equipment on a neighboring property. I asked if he knew who the owner was. And, joy of joys, he did! I made a beeline for the owner’s main property, presented a business card and my most winning smile, and asked for their indulgence of an oddball photographer.

The next day, I was happily snapping away guilt-free. The takeaway? For the sake of your profession, it’s much better to ask permission than forgiveness.

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/16, 2″/1″/4″

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Reader Poll: Vote on Your Favorite and Win a Prize!

It’s time for a reader opinion poll!

I recently took some HDR shots of this old peak-roofed barn but in trying two subtly different views, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go for a traditional look or something a bit more surreal. So… you get to decide which one will go into my gallery!

You can choose photo #1 (on the top) or #2 (on the bottom). In a week’s time, I’ll tabulate the results and the winner gets posted to my gallery. But that’s not all!

Whoever winds up voting in the winning category will get a special discount code emailed to them. The code will be good for 50% off anything in my online store! Happy voting, everyone!

Lonely Barn

^^ View #1: The Lonely Barn ^^

Surreal Barn

^^ View #2: The Surreal Barn ^^

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Construction Site: To B&W or Not to B&W?

Construction Rig

Immediate apologies for the Shakespeare pun (couldn’t resist).

Here’s a blast from the past. Does anyone besides me remember that old children’s story about Mulligan and his steam shovel? I think it might be the art in that book that gave me a love of industrial sites.

And speaking of the past, on the way back from Providence after our honeymoon JoDee and I stopped at a rest area to take a breather from driving. This site was right across the street from us, and whether I was tired or not, I meant to shoot it. The sun shone brightly through the spotty cloud cover and contrasted sharply with the iron and steel structures.

When considering whether or not to make any photograph into black and white, always make sure that the scene has a very distinct and sharp balance between light and dark. Those make the best monochrome shots. Scenes with less contrast generally rely on their color to give them character.

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/8, 1/80

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A Cell of My Own – The Fisheye Effect

Fisheye Prison CellFairly early through my recent tour of Eastern State Penitentiary, I was allowed to enter this cell. The fisheye lens I used makes it appear larger than it was. In reality it wasn’t much bigger than a walk-in closet. To think that someone actually lived in here once. To be fair, the door at the far end actually used to open up on a small enclosed outdoor area where an inmate could get some sun and fresh air. A good thing too, considering the toilet was only able to be flushed once a day!

Charles Dickens once said that the solitary confinement of this prison was enough to drive a man insane. It’s easy to agree with him. No one should have to live like this. But boy, does it make for a great photo opportunity!

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/16, 4″

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Event Photography: A Look Into my Workflow


I’m always up for event coverage. And this past weekend, I was retained by a local community church to photograph their Easter activities. In addition to the usual that you’d expect for this holiday, there was a great neighborhood function they call the “Eggstravaganza.” Basically they put about twenty thousand plastic eggs into a roped off area and offer free bags of Easter candy and toys to every child who can fill their basket or bag with the multicolored treasures!

Chasing400Free stuff? That was the magic phrase. The minute that tape was lowered, I knew to use a very long lens if I wanted to stay out of the line of fire! That being said, I stationed myself more or less in the center of the quad and panned my 7D around to get as many candids as I could.

This brings up several interesting points about event photography. In order to be successful, a good capture technique and an efficient workflow are essential if you want repeat business.Worship Team400

First, try to arrive early if you can to allow yourself time to scope out the location and find the best opportunities for shots. Pack extra batteries, memory cards and your flash (for those poorly lit situations). Have two camera bodies, one with a normal or wide-angle length, the other with a versatile telephoto zoom. For bright outdoor scenes, set your mode to shutter priority between 1/100 and 1/200. Or go to manual for indoors, being sure to set shutter speeds at or below your flash’s sync speed (usually around 1/250 or slower). Then get to your selected spots and look for opportunities.It's Cold!400

As for post-processing, try to keep this to a minimum by getting it right in the field as much as possible. Most event clients want a turnaround time of 24 hours or less, because they want the event to still be fresh in everyone’s mind. So have a simple post workflow. Cropping and basic filters only are what I use.

Event photography can be a lot of fun. Here’s hoping you’ll give it a try soon.


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Creepypasta: The Haunted Corridor

Haunted Corridor

He knew he was alone. He had to be alone. There were no voices, no living breaths in this place. Only the echoing drumbeat of his footfalls to beat syncopated time to the dripping accompaniment of the steam pipes. But he was about to learn that even dead places have a kind of life, and a way of disliking strangers.

Behind the ragged arias of machinery, leather and stone the lyrics of the past were sung by every pock-mark mouth in the crumbling walls. Strikes of the cane, clatters of tin cups, shouted orders and screamed protests devilishly documented by the traumatized chroniclers of history. He knew what had been done here and what might still lurk in the places where light still feared to pierce. He felt insubstantial tentacles of dead thoughts writhing out of every cell to clutch, pick and paw at him: dark dendrites from the mind of this place, given life by the nightmare stories he’d read. They made memories take form here, compelling glances over his shoulder, fearful of unknown presences that followed him but always just beyond the corners of his vision.

The more he lingered in this decaying spot, the more he felt the cold wind of a passing form. Something was coming. Coming for him. And if he stayed here long enough, it would find him. He cast widened pupils toward the distant light of the entrance, near and yet not near enough. Did he have time to reach it?

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My Day in Prison: An Urbex Adventure

Prison Chair

For those of you who are subscribers to my email list (you know who you are, thanks so much!!), you’ll know that we visited Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia last weekend. As of this writing, I’m still in the “wow” stage. What a place! Known as a “stabilized ruin,” the old prison seems frozen in the midst of its own death. Every cell block is filled with chilling reminders of a life spent in a tiny room.

The picture above was taken in a place in the women’s block where prisoners could get a haircut. Now it looks like a torture chamber. As I shivered before the cold wind blowing through Block 2, it wasn’t hard to understand why the place is reputed to be haunted.

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/16, 5″/1.3″/20″

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