The Baby Corn Diaries: A Farmer’s Tools

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My Fuji X-T2 and various lenses. It’s my get beat to hell in harsh conditions travel camera.

I once had a lot of GAS! And damn it was vicious!

Song of the day: Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf

I’ll admit it. I’m a camera nerd. I really like my cameras and I really like using them. I have different camera’s for different reasons and I use them all for those different reasons. I mean what is a baby corn farmer without his shed full of baby corn farming tools? A really crappy baby corn farmer I tell you…

All kidding aside, Gear Acquisition Synrome (GAS for short) is real. There are probably tens of thousands of photographers who surf the multitude of photography forums daily where they often see some amazing photos shot with some amazing equipment and automatically think “hell if I buy that camera and that lens I can do that too!” I too went through that phase early on and occasionally still get caught up in the hype but I’m usually able to control myself pretty well these days. I’d say most of that control comes from one simple reason: I’ve been shooting long enough now to know that a camera or lens alone won’t make me a better photographer. That said, boy it is really tempting at times…

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The Leica Q. One of my all time favorites.

“Remember, the best photograph you’ve probably ever seen was taken with a camera way worse than yours…”

Or something like that. It’s a meme that’s floating around the interwebz right now and it’s pretty damn true. And funny… When I first started shooting I was using some old canon point and shoot film camera that my parents had bought for my first trip to Cambodia when I was thirteen years old or so. It was a pretty important trip at the time because it was our first trip back to the motherland since my parents had fled Cambodia post genocide in the late 70’s. It was so important that my parents even went out and bought one of those expensive ginormous Panasonic VHS camcorders that were cool as hell back then too. 

The funny thing about my first shooting experience was that I had to harass the hell out of my parents to let me do it while we were in Cambodia. Since film was expensive and not available for instant review they always thought I would screw up the shots by not “framing” it properly. Thereby wasting precious film. I mean c’mon, I figured they’d at least give me some credit in that I’d know better than to chop off heads, arms and other various limbs. I think they let me take about half of the family group photos and that was only because I was the only who could take the picture since all the adults were in the photos themselves. Although I can’t blame them I suppose. If I was traveling with one of my younger nieces or nephews and only had my M6 loaded with one roll of film for a super-important-once-in-a-lifetime-moment shot I’d have doubts about handing them my camera too. I guess that’s just a sign that I’m getting old…

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My Leica Sofort Instax camera. No, I did not pay anywhere near full price for it…

Sometime in 2004 I picked up my first digital camera. I really don’t even remember what it was exactly other than it was some point and shoot camera with a little bit of a zoom lens. It might have been three megapixels. Might have been… Shortly after I picked up that camera I hopped on a flight to Florida where I spent a month flying around eight hours a night in a Beechcraft Duchess with either Michael Bolton Wannabe or The Soon to Be Skywest FO. We literally spent countless tiring hours boring holes throughout the night’s sky in an attempt to log 100 hours of multi-engine flight time so that we could eventually land a job with one of the low paying regional airlines at the time.

During my time in Florida I took what felt like a million pictures and gasp, video! Seriously my point and shoot did video and I actually put together a cool little video to Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” from our island hopping tour throughout the Bahamas and it was badass for it’s time. You gotta give me a little bit of credit here because that was way before all of these cool fancy 4k videos shot with today’s portable 4k DSLR/MILC cameras, drones and stabilizers that were edited with super computers that you see on youtube nowadays.

Shortly after I returned from my time building adventures in Florida I was lucky (maybe?) enough to be hired by my first regional airline with what was considered relatively low flight time. It was a crappy job to be sure but that job really taught me how to fly an airplane and it also gave me some lifelong friends and crazy memories to go with it. That job also gave me the opportunity to jumpseat my way out to Kauai for free on my future dream airline to hang with the Hofferbert’s for a few days where I also took what felt like a million photos with my little digital point and shoot. Those photos later changed my life.

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My Leica M6 paired with a silver Leica Summicron 50. I picked up both for a really good deal while in Japan when I suddenly decided to shoot film.

I remember returning home after an amazing trip to Kauai and loading my photos onto my old home built PC for the first time. Man was I ever disappointed. Most of the photos were either blown out or completely dark and they really sucked. There were still quite a few good pictures but I couldn’t believe that I had lost so many memories because my camera sucked. Completely sucked! Or so I thought anyways because you know, it couldn’t possibly have been me…

Shortly after my Kauai trip I flew with a Captain who had a fancy new Canon Powershot S2. I remember how he was taking pictures as we were flying over Navajo Mountain on our way to Page, Arizona and thinking that thing was badass. Or so I thought anyways. Afterward said Captain allowed me to play with his camera for a bit and I knew that I just had to get one. The only problem was that I was paid less than a fast food worker to fly a multi-million dollar turboprop passenger aircraft at the time and I couldn’t quite afford it just yet. That didn’t stop me though because I hit the internet hard shortly thereafter to do all the research that I could in an attempt to find the best camera that would get those super awesome pictures from Kauai that my old camera didn’t get the last time around. 

That research led me to a Panasonic superzoom digital camera. I don’t even remember which one it was but it had a larger sensor and many more megapixels than my old digital point and shoot so I figured it had to be better. I also started to learn about depth of field at this time because I saw all the cool shots with a subject in focus and a blurry background behind it. I started to become obsessed with figuring out how I could do that with my new fancy Panasonic camera so I dived deeper into the rabbit hole of photography forums and the yahoo search engine.

It wasn’t long before all that research led me to one realization: I sucked. It wasn’t the camera’s that sucked, I sucked. I learned that I knew nothing about photography other than that I had a vague notion on how to compose a photograph because it just seemed to look ok after the fact. My old point and shoot didn’t produce crappy shots because it sucked, it put out crappy shots because I sucked. Okay, you get the point. I realized that if I wanted better photos I needed to learn more about photography and that it wasn’t the camera that was holding me back.

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My Leica M10 that I got for an incredible deal paired with a Voigtlander 40 f1.2 VM.

I remember seeing my first Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. It was an original old school silver Canon Rebel that Da was carrying around CamHC I believe. I knew what it was right away because I after all my countless hours of research and countless hours of “practice photography” I felt like that camera was the next step in my quest to become a better photographer. I spent months scheming on how I could afford to buy one of my own and knew that I would have to wait till I upgraded to Captain at my current regional airline because quite frankly my dear, peanut wages would’t pay for a new fancy doodad DSLR. 

Fortunately for me, it didn’t take too much longer before I was able to reward myself with a brand spanking new Canon Rebel XT paired with an 18-55mm zoom kit lens. I had finally made the big death defying jump and was able to upgrade to Captain at my regional airline. That upgrade came with a pay raise that allowed me to save up and buy my long awaited dream DSLR. From that point on I spent I don’t know how many hours on the photography forums learning on how to improve my craft. That of course gave me my first case of GAS. And many more vicious cases of GAS there after…

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My Sony A7RII paired with a Leica Summicron 35 ver IV.

GAS must be like the herpes of photography. It may disappear and stay dormant for awhile but you can never really cure it. GAS will show up when you least expect it too, or want it too but when it does it show up it comes with a vengeance. GAS will empty your entire savings account or rack up debt on your credit cards like no woman (or man for you ladies) ever could. Once you’ve had GAS I don’t think you can ever really cure it, only tame it by challenging yourself to be a better photographer by using less. Less is more as they say right?

My first case of GAS came in the form of a Canon 24-70 f2.8L zoom lens. It was the shit back then because well, Canon didn’t have anything else comparable to it other than the older 28-70 2.8L lens. I went through the endless online debates about it’s merits and spent many a sleepless nights deciding on if I wanted a full frame L lens on a crop body or if I should do the rational thing and go with the new 17-55 f2.8 EF-S lens that was designed for cropped sensor camera’s such as my Rebel XT. I got caught up in the status and class of owning a famed L lens and went with the 24-70L instead of the EF-S 17-55. And I didn’t regret it one bit, even if it took two returns to B&H for substandard copies with me finally having to fly all the way out to NYC personally to exchange my bad copy for a suitable one after UPS almost lost my last lens. That’s what GAS and spending too much time on all the photography forums will do to you. The herpes of photography I tell you. The herpes of photography…

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My Sony FE 100-400 GM telephoto zoom lens. An excellent landscape lens.

GAS struck hard again as my next purchase was a Canon 30D. Followed by the original OG full frame DSLR: The Canon 5D. If the original Canon 24-70L was the shit then the Canon 5D was Mother Theresa because you could actually shoot at ISO 1600 due to the full frame CMOS sensor and have usable shots! Not to mention that 24mm on the wide end of the 24-70L was actually wide for once! I fell in love with that camera right away and that also started my love affair for full frame cameras. One that still exists to this day even if I am willing to cheat every now and then with a crop censored camera such as the Fuji X-T2.

If GAS had one positive effect on me, it was that it pushed me to shoot more because of all my new doodads and thereby improved my photography dramatically. Of course you didn’t really need the new doodads just to shoot more, but it definitely made my shooting adventures more exciting. It was about the time when I first picked up my old Canon 30D that I started writing and shooting for an online magazine. I won’t mention the name of it here because quite frankly, I feel like my worked sucked and I got caught up in other things and never got past the first few articles for the column that I was writing. My vision for what I wanted to do with the column was also different than that of what the editor of the online magazine wanted so that put a damper on some of my enthusiasm as well.

However, what my work for that online magazine taught me was that I really loved travel photography and I really loved shooting people. The thought of travel photojournalism mixed in with my real job was extremely intoxicating and it really made me want to push myself to improve in that genre of photography. The only problem was that I got another major case of GAS once again. I felt like I needed more fancy gear to get the shots that I had wanted and of course that costs A LOT of money. I couldn’t afford to outright buy all of the doodad lenses and cameras that I had wanted so I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do next: shoot weddings.

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The Bahamas Boy. Taken with my old Canon 30D and 24-70 f2.8L I. This photo is the essence of why I love travel photography and one of my all time favorites.

Any wedding photographer will tell you how stressful it is to shoot a wedding. Many others will tell you that they never ever want to shoot a wedding. Personally I loved the thought of using photos to capture those raw wedding day emotions in a story telling format. I saw wedding photography as the next step that I needed to move forward with my photography. I also loved the challenge that shooting a wedding presented. But making the decision to do so was the easy part. Getting started with it all and being successful was a whole other issue…

I failed as a part time wedding photographer. I really wanted it to work out at the time but in the end I didn’t accomplish my end goal: shoot between 8-10 weddings per year in the specific market that I was targeting to supplement my annual income. Some of you might be confused here as you know I shot weddings for two plus years and heard my reasons for giving it all up. Those reasons are still valid. I failed as a part time wedding photographer because I wasn’t good at being the businessman that I needed to be. I didn’t think it was worth the time that my part time business demanded because it was interfering with my real job. I hated the thought of getting off of work only to have to go back to work when I was supposed to be enjoying my days off. My real job was extremely stressful and fatiguing at the time so coming home to spend twelve plus hours shooting a wedding on the weekends followed by the countless hours I spent in front of my computer editing those photos wasn’t worth it to me. In the end; however, I did hit my goal of how much I wanted to charge per wedding to justify the work I was putting in. But even at that point, I didn’t think it was worth it for me to continue shooting weddings and ended up turning down multiple bookings for the next wedding season.

I also had the stress of having to worry about getting a specific weekend off months down the road which ate at me. I knew deep down there was a very real possibility that I wouldn’t be able to get those days off and I’d have to find someone else to cover a wedding for me. I had that clause built into my contract but that wasn’t how I wanted to run my business. When all was said and done however, I did nail several of the major goals that I had set out for myself when I first started and I’m proud to have accomplished them.

I should also add that I never liked the idea of marketing myself in the manner that I would have had to in order to have reached the numbers that I would have liked. It wasn’t that I couldn’t market myself that way, it was simply that I didn’t want that type of attention. I know, sounds bad for a guy trying to start a successful business but it also taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted in life. The irony with it all now is that I’m here with this not a blog story book putting myself out there for the whole world wide web to see. But that’s another story for another day.

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From my Portraits of an Apsara series. Taken with my old Canon 5D and Canon 85 1.2L lens.

Perhaps the greatest gift I got from my time as a wedding photographer was learning how to see light. Learning how to see light then translated into learning how see a picture before I ever pressed the shutter button. That meant that I saw my end product in my mind before I ever lifted a camera up to my eye.  That includes how I was going to post process the photo. That process all started because I was fortunate enough to work one wedding as an assistant for Apertura, who at the time had recently been named as two of the Top Ten Wedding Photographers in the world by American Photo. I never even pressed the shutter button once for them but they gave me the greatest thing I could have asked for: an education on how to see light.

I remember the burnout from shooting weddings. I was so burnt out that I stopped shooting all together. I eventually had all this expensive camera gear, the stuff I had always dreamed of and had always wanted, sitting there unused in storage deep inside my closet. I lost my inspiration and even when I would take my camera to work with me I couldn’t get myself to put it to use but with the exception of a few occasions. I honestly couldn’t tell you the exact reason why this happened. I suppose it’s simply a combination of life outside of photography and my burnout from the wedding photography gig. Well that’s the easy answer anyways.

One day I decided to sell off almost all of my gear because I wasn’t using it. I also needed some extra cash to help with my down payment on a condo that I was about to purchase so that was a big motivator too. I had decided to downsize since I was no longer shooting professionally and jumped into the new Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC) market. I was able to quickly sell off all my old Canon gear and picked up a new Sony A7II, a Sony/Zeiss 55mm 1.8 prime and a Sony RX1 with it’s gorgeous Zeiss 35mm f2 Sonnar lens. I absolutely fell in love with the Sony RX1. It was small, it was a full frame camera and although it came with a permanently fixed 35mm lens it was the perfect camera for me. I had learned long ago that I was a 35/85 shooter. Meaning I saw the world best through the 35mm or 85mm field of view on a 35mm camera. My old Canon 35L quickly became my favorite lens when I was shooting weddings and I knew that if I had one lens to document life with, it would be a fast 35mm prime.

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Jetset. From Sabrina and Jon’s engagement session aboard a Citation X Business Jet. Taken with my old Canon 5dIII and Canon 35 1.4L I lens.

The art of simplicity. The beauty of the RX1 was that it was small but it punched way above it size with regards to image quality. I loved the way it’s 35mm Sonnar lens drew and I loved the dynamic range that came with the newer Sony sensors. The camera had its quirks to be sure but the RX1 was exactly what I needed at the time. Chicken soup for my photography soul so to speak. I ended up carrying that camera with me everywhere due to its size and simplicity. It was relatively inconspicuous and no one really ever noticed it. Because of its size and because I ended up carrying it around everywhere I started slowly shooting again. What started out as a few simple shots of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s old childhood farmhouse slowly turned into my rediscovery of a passion that eventually led me to this not-a-blog-but-a-story-book known as theflyingkimchi.

As is with most good things, my time with the RX1 eventually came to an end. I was sad to see the RX1 go and for awhile there I regretted selling it but I needed to fund my next travel camera, the Fuji X-T2. But fear not, I will once again own an RX1R II or possibly RX1R III if Sony ever decides to update the RX1R line once again. 

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Hawaiian Sunrise. I literally got up before the crack of dawn and put Google maps to serious use to find this spot in the dark. Taken with my old Canon 5DII and Canon 17-40L lens.

So what do I shoot now and why do I shoot it? I currently have a mixed bag of Sony, Fuji and Leica cameras with various Sony, Fuji and Leica lenses. Plus some other old school legacy manual focus stuff that I used adapted on my Sony A7RII for landscape stuff. While I save my A7RII for pure landscape photography, I have two other travel setups: just my Leica Q if I really want to keep it simple or my Fuji X-T2 if I need a bit more flexibility. Sometimes I’ll bring both the Q and the X-T2 with two small primes but I’ll only take one of the cameras out shooting with me. I did that while traveling through Cambodia and Thailand last fall and it worked out perfectly for my needs. Of course I had to throw a wrench into all of this by acquiring a pair of used, but new to me Leica M6 and M10 cameras. I’m still experimenting with both cameras at the moment but I really love the challenge of shooting film as well as the simplicity of shooting with a rangefinder camera.

Now I haven’t quite cured my lust for more gear but I have tamed it. While I’ve purchased some used but new to me cameras, I haven’t bought a brand new camera in a very long time and I rarely buy new lenses. I typically buy my camera gear used off the interwebz for a pretty good deal and I will sell stuff off before I buy the new stuff. Usually anyways. Given how camera’s have become almost expendable every few years I just see it as a long term rental for a small expense rather than an expensive long term purchase. That said, I know I still have too much stuff as it is because I’ve been experimenting with multiple brands these last few years in an attempt to find my “perfect” travel setup. But rest assured, I’m currently in the process of purging all that excess gear right now. Less is more because that is the art of simplicity right?

So that leads me to one other final point to end this novel of a story. As a photographer it’s way too easy to watch life go by through the view finder while everyone else is busy enjoying it. It’s also way to easy to pack every lens for every conceivable situation for fear of missing that once in a lifetime shot. Only to have it be a burden on you and everyone else traveling with you. I say this as I’ve been there, done that and quite frankly it sucks. At least in my opinion it does. I know that some photographers can and will argue the need to always bring everything including the kitchen sink, but unless that trip was purely for photography reasons I can’t see how that’s enjoyable anymore. To each their own; however, I just simply feel that sometimes the world is best seen through your own naked eyes rather than trying to capture it with a magic box for some else to see. Even if it might have been that once in a lifetime shot.

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Lifestyles of the rich and famous. Taken with my old Sony RX1