Books, books, books.

“Reading maketh a full man.” ~ Francis Bacon

Fuji X100s in front of books. Red background.

To be a better photographer, one should read books. Many books.

I noticed the other day there was yet another book list making the rounds on the intertubes. You know the kind, the top fifty or one-hundred essential books. Always with the tag line “How many have you read?” I’m a sucker for these. Even though I never agree with all the books on the various lists, I like to discover where the curators and I do find accord. But as I was scrolling through this latest and shaking my head or rolling my eyes at the inclusion of this book or that book, it occurred to me I should just make my own damn list! Why not, right? My parents raised an avid reader who’s reached a nice ripe middle age and has lost track of how many books he’s read. You can continue to mock other people’s lists, but what’s the point? Time to come up with your own, Mr Smartie-pants.

OK then, for what it’s worth and in no particular order…

Michael Kircher’s 50 Essential Books™
Sure To Make You A Better Photographer. 
(also Spouse, Parent, Friend, Lover … You can thank me later. ) 

  1. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  2. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  3. Sabbath’s Theater – Philip Roth
  4. Lie Down In Darkness – William Styron
  5. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  6. To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  7. The Shipping News – Annie Proulx
  8. Empire – Gore Vidal
  9. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  10. Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
  11. The Sea Wolf – Jack London
  12. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
  13. Couples – John Updike
  14. Candide – Voltaire
  15. Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry
  16. A long Way Down – Nick Hornsby
  17. Priority – Iselin C. Hermann
  18. For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  19. Democracy – Henry Adams
  20. One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  21. Europa – Tim Parks
  22. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  23. The Elegance of The Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
  24. The Clothes They Stood Up In – Alan Bennett
  25. Frenchman’s Creek – Daphne du Maurier
  26. The Fermata – Nicholson Baker
  27. The Razors Edge – W. Somerset Maugham
  28. The Quiet American – Graham Greene
  29. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  30. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  31. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  32. Bunker Hill – Howard Fast
  33. The Girl Of The Sea Of Cortez – Peter Benchley
  34. The Cheese Monkeys – Chip Kidd
  35. West With The Night – Beryl Markham
  36. Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt
  37. Guerrillas – V.S. Naipal
  38. Tropic Of Cancer – Henry Miller
  39. The Magician’s Assistant -Anne Patchett
  40. The Farewell Party – Milan Kundera
  41. Lady Chatterly’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
  42. Centennial- James A. Michener
  43. A Prayer For Owen Meany – John Irving
  44. The Killer Angels – Michael Shaara
  45. On Photography – Susan Sontag
  46. The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow
  47. Angel Of Lucifer – William Kircher
  48. Beach Combing At Miramar – Richard Bode
  49. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  50. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo


Please feel free to share the books that most influenced you in the comments. The more the better.

Key West, Still groovy after all these years.


key west. fishing at fort zachary taylor


Talk to anyone who went to Key West in the 1970s or early 1980s and you will, without question, hear some version of, “Oh you should have seen it back when I first went down there! It was so cool back then. No chain restaurants, no Starbucks, no fast-food joints, everything was local and unique. Now it’s just a big tourist trap!”

Everyone laments the commercialization of their favorite vacation spots, it’s true. Its never fun to go back years later and discover the bar you thought was so choice, and that probably only you and a few locals even knew existed, is now an Au Bon Pain. Jimmy Buffett, one of the original troubadours of Key West, the man who many times in concert complained about the commercialization of this once funky, drunken town…even HE opened a cheesy restaurant/bar/gift shop down on Duval Street, naming it after one of his songs!

But in spite all of this, Key West is still Key West. It still has groovy, local-flavor joints to hang out in. Little hideaways. Quiet places that the large crowds never seem to find. Sure, the Weekend Warriors from Miami descend most Friday nights, turning Duval Street into The French Quarter during Mardi Gras for a couple days. But big deal. Who really wants to hang out on Duval Street anyway?

Go down for a week and do things when everyone else isn’t. Don’t go to Mallory Square for sunset. Don’t eat at Sloppy Joe’s. (Or worse, Cheeseburger In Paradise!) Don’t let the crowds coming in from cruise ships bother you. They’re only there for a while. The place will settle down again once they’re gone.

The unique and funky version of Key West is still there. You just need to dig a little deeper to find it. Guide books have their place, for sure, but the great thing about traveling is the exploring, searching and discovering. You never know what might be just around the corner.


key west. city signs on tree

key west. street artist.

key west. woman at butterfly and nature conservatory

key west. beer delivery to Green Parrot bar.

key west. Woman looking out Capt. Tony's doorway.

key west. shipwreck treasures museum.

key west. B.O.s fish wagon.

key west. Sunset at Simonton Street.

Above sunset not at Mallory Square.

A little lowdown, Northeast, cigar-box Blues

Last June we took a four day road trip and headed north on I-95 aiming for Chester, CT. It was someone’s (ahem!) 50th Birthday and a get away was in order. We’re fairly familiar with the area having spent time over the years in Mystic, Essex and other parts along the coast there.

Every third Thursday from May to September the Nilsson Spring Street Gallery in Chester holds their Concerts In The Garden series. Music and the occasional play are enjoyed once a month by locals and sporadic vagabonds like us. The gardens are gorgeous, the amphitheater nice and intimate. It was a relatively cool evening the night we were there. Perfect for drinking beer (BYOB), eating pizza (homemade at the gallery) and listening to some blues.

Ramblin’ Dan Stevens and his band gave us some downright righteous Americana that night. His rapport with the audience is comfortable and easy going. His blues guitar is straight up bad-ass, no doubt about it. He’s toured all over, bringing his take on traditional American blues to audiences in the U.S., Europe and even the Virgin Islands.

In addition to his six-string acoustic, he often pulls out his homemade axes: a three-string cigar box guitar and a one-string Diddly Bow. With these, and using what looks to be a 3/4″ socket, he’ll bore down deep into some slide guitar mojo that would make Duane Allman even crack a smile.

The new season at the Nilsson Gallery is soon upon us, and a return visit is likely. Until then, here are a few images from last year’s groovy show.

Ramblin' Dan Stevens, bluesman. Nilsson Gallery. Chester, CT.

Ramblin' Dan Stevens, bluesman. Nilsson Gallery. Chester, CT.

Ramblin' Dan Stevens, bluesman. Nilsson Gallery. Chester, CT.

Ramblin' Dan Stevens, bluesman. Nilsson Gallery. Chester, CT.


And by the way, the art in the gallery is by Leif Nilsson. Worth a visit all itself.

Photography at the Summit


william albert allard and david alan harvey at the summit series of workshops in jackson wyoming.

At the Cowboy Bar on Jackson’s main drag, Bill Allard gives a little extra body english
to his shot. David Alan Harvey and workshop attendees watch from the other end.

In 2006 I attended a workshop in Jackson, Wyoming. The Summit Series of Photography Workshops. It was an experience that will live with me forever. I met and learned from the likes of William Albert Allard, David Alan Harvey, Mary Ann Golon and James Hill. I met one of my best friends there, fellow attendee and now photojournalist Jeremy Wade Shockley.

It was a week of all out exploration. And not only the world of photography, but equally important, of our selves as well.

Early morning shooting, daily critiques, workflow and post processing classes, portfolio reviews. Every evening a lecture from one or two photographers and/or editors. Afterward, dinner and drinks at one of the local bars. These moments of unscripted, off the cuff, freewheeling conversations that arose when everyone was “off the clock” were some of the most important and enlightening. The refrain of the attendees quickly became, “Eh, we can sleep next week.” It was a nonstop buffet of photographic nourishment.

Rich Clarkson created this amazing workshop series. Here he explains his idea of Team Teaching and its benefits.

Workshop founder Rich Clarkson on Team Teaching from Summit Series of Workshops on Vimeo.

I will attest to the concept of team teaching. Getting such a comprehensive review of your work, receiving the wisdom of a variety of top notch professionals, each with vastly different experiences from their own photographic lives… these benefits just are not found in a one-on-one setting.

That one grueling week challenged me in so many ways. It tested my confidence and my abilities. And it pushed me to challenge myself. Clarkson and his team got me to consider new ideas and thought processes even before I look through the viewfinder. Ultimately, the workshop instilled in me a desire to be more than just a better photographer.

Oh, and hey, they’re running a contest right now. The winner receives free tuition to the workshop of his or her choosing! Go on over to their site and sign up.

Keep shooting.


Fuji X100S in Black & White

Found myself in the ever snowful Washington, DC the other day.

Thought I’d put the camera through it’s paces in B&W mode. Went with the Yellow filter effect. Not much post processing in Lightroom. Little contrast here and there and a couple needed lightening. Otherwise all just out of camera.

washington dc, lincoln memorial with tourists

silhouette of man at Lincoln Memorial taking a photo of Washington Monument. Washington DC

lincoln memorial interior, washington dc

woman walking out of Lincoln Memorial visitor Center

vendor showing off his stars and stripes

tree shadows on snow

seagull near Lincoln Memorial, washington dc

washington dc, c & o canal, cross country skis, man with dog

To filter or not to filter…

You never know when or where or why a discussion about lens filters will pop up, but one thing you can count on: Strong, long-held, unmovable opinions… for and against. “I would never put a cheap piece of glass between my high quality lens and my subject.” “You’re crazy not to take that extra step to protect your expensive high quality lens!”

When I first started out I was influenced by the “protect the lens” camp. It just made sense to take every precaution against damage to the front element of my lenses. I always used a lens hood, my lens cap (when I wasn’t losing it!) and always had a decent UV filter attached. Because, you just never know.

Later on I started to lean more towards the “nothing comes between my lens and my subject” camp. I saw big name photographers walking around with the most expensive glass in the world with no filter of any kind! Most of them were content to rely on the lens hood for protection. Up until fairly recently, I’ve remained in that camp. No cheap glass over my quality lens. I came to take for granted that if you put another piece of glass in front of the lens it’ll degrade the image, even if by just a small amount.

As mentioned above these conversations can manifest anytime, anyplace. As like the other day over at Burn Magazine. After reading a few comments, and being the scientifically minded person I am, I decided to do my own obvious experiment. Something, inexplicably, I’d never done before. Take two identical photos, under identical conditions and compare. (what a novel idea, I know!)

I made the photos. One filter on, one filter off. (BTW, I used a B+W UV filter) Brought the images into Lightroom, blew them up to 100% and… I could discern no difference. I toggled back and forth several times. First slowly then more quickly and there was just nothing that stood out. No degradation that I could tell with my own naked eyes.

When I first thought to make this post, I thought for sure I’d post the images so you the reader could download and do you’re own comparison. But now I honestly think it’s best that if you want to know for sure, if you really want to challenge your own current thinking, you should do you’re own experiment. It’s easy and costs nothing. Now, there are good quality and not so good quality filters out there. So that has to be a consideration.

Personally, I still think I’ll use filters sparingly. When on a job site (with lots of dirt) or at the beach with sand and salt blowing around, I’ll keep the UV filter attached. There is the issue of flare, but that’s easily seen when it’s happening and you can just remove the filter. Or, as some do, take advantage of it for effect.

The UV filter has its uses, for sure.

But if you decide go the route of the purists (no filter ever!) you’d be wise to at least use the lens hood, and if you can keep from losing it, your lens cap as well. Except when you’re shooting, of course. 🙂


Looking through a B+W UV filter.

A good quality UV filter? Not a bad idea.