The big, wide world of photography

photo of passport and nikon camera, with filson bag

You don’t have to go to the four corners of the globe to find good photographs. However, there is something uniquely exhilarating about photographing virgin territory. When you explore new places with your camera every photograph is a discovery. Every click of the shutter is like unearthing a new fossil or an unknown society. You are more than a photographer you are an anthropologist, an archaeologist.

Few places are left on earth that human beings haven’t explored. But that takes nothing away from the thrill one gets from one’s own discoveries. Documenting those discoveries with the camera lifts our spirits and stokes our inquisitiveness. It pushes us to seek and find more.

Durango, COolorado. At the train station, Jeremy Wade Shockley photographs Rachel Klein-Kircher.

At the train station, Jeremy Wade Shockley photographs Rachel Klein-Kircher.

Whether it’s 300 miles down the coast or on the other side of the planet, traveling to new lands stimulates your inner Indiana Jones. Adventure is around the next bend. Everything is new and different. The people, the food, the music, the art. The geology and the landscape. All there for you to discover for yourself. To fill your brain and broaden your mind; to stimulate your curiosity. It may not be a first for humanity but it’s a first for you!

That adrenaline rush, that increased heart rate, those hairs standing up on the back of your neck…that is real.

Telephone post, cable and electric wires. On the road, somewhere in Colorado.

On the road.

So what are you waiting for? Pack up the camera gear and get to discovering.


Don’t listen to the snobs, the pop-up flash is not an amateur’s tool.

I think it’s unfortunate that you can still find people out there bad mouthing the built-in or pop-up flash as a feature only “amateurs” use. They think a true “pro” would never waste their time with it. I think that’s snobbish and self defeating. Don’t listen to them.

The pop-up flash is an important and useful tool.

Fill Flash: Portrait in a non-formal portrait setting. Main light coming from window, camera right. One side of face lit, other side shadow. Dial down the pop-up flash to -1.3 EV. I find this puts just the right amount of light in there. Catch light in the eyes. It just fills in, doesn’t overwhelm. ( -1.3 EV worked for me in this case. Do some experimenting and see what works best for you.)

Portrait of John. Fuji X100S. 1/125 sec f 5.6. Built in flash fired at -1.3 (I believe!) Fills in shadow side of face just a touch. Small catch light in eyes.

Portrait of John. Fuji X100S. 1/125 sec f 5.6. Built in flash fired at -1.3 (I believe!)
Fills in shadow side of face just a touch. Small catch light in eyes.


Main Flash: Flowers in the shade. Sure, lovely colors. But flip the flash up, dial it down to about -0.3 EV and shoot. All those colors will now pop. More vibrant than without.

Flowers without flash.

Flowers without flash. Fine image. Nice colors.

Flowers with flash.

Flowers with flash. A little more vibrant.

Modified: This is useful for all kinds of flash/strobe photography, so I thought I’d toss it in here for a little extra tip. Using gaffer tape or, as I do, small strips of velcro, affix a 1/4 CTO gel to the flash and you get a more natural color temperature. Not that cold bluish/white color. It’s a slightly warmer tone and is usually very pleasing. I like this for almost everything, but definitely when shooting people.

Amber gel affixed to the pop-up flash of a Nikon D700 using custom cut velcro strips.

Amber gel affixed to the pop-up flash of a Nikon D700 using custom cut velcro strips.

Getting creative: Follow this link to a previous post on how to get an off camera soft-box look using your pop-up flash, a spoon and a white piece of paper (or–in this case–the back of an 8X10 print)!

Pop-up Flash Trick

Did you know that with nothing more than your pop-up flash, a soup spoon and the back of an 8×10 photo you can make a pretty decent softbox-like product shot?

It’s true. Here’s how: First, you’ll need to put the flash on manual and crank it up to quarter or half or full power depending on all your other settings (I’ll leave it to you to figure all that out, as each situation may be different).

Next, place the spoon in front of your pop-up flash and angle it in such a way as to redirect the light backwards onto the backside of an 8×10 photo which itself is angled to re-redirect that light forward onto your product. It takes a little practice to get the angles correct, but when you’re in a pinch it’s worth the effort!

Here’s an example:

Pop-up flash technique with spoon and white 8X10 paper.

Portrait of a Fuji X100S using the pop-up flash, spoon and 8×10 print technique.

Pop-up flash technique with spoon and white 8X10 paper.

Straight pop-up flash.


And here’s an example of the set up:

Michael Kircher taking a picture of a fuji X100S.

Primitive, but effective!

Give it a go and feel free to share your results. Happy shooting!



Marin County

If all goes accordingly (and doesn’t it always?) Marin County in Northern California will be my final resting place. OK, that sounds kind of morbid… let’s say rather that my wife and I would love to die there! Uh… wait… what I mean is we hope Northern California is where we’ll live out our days. You know, retire. Or something like that.

“Retire” is such an ugly word, though, isn’t it? Maybe “repurpose” is what I want. Rachel and I hope to one day repurpose ourselves in Northern California. Yeah, that’s better.

So why Northern California? Well…

Did this artist find her spot or what!

Did this artist find herself a spot or what!

The No Name Bar at night.

Bar. Yes, that’s the actual name. Bar. It’s old and gritty and has no kitchen; but you can bring in a burger
from down the street if you like. Like a 1967 VW it sits among the Rolls Royce establishments of Sausalito.
No frills, no food, no name. It’s almost perfect.

 posted about this fellow earlier this year. His name is Matt Jaffe. Super cool.

I posted about this fellow earlier this year. (do a search) His name is Matt Jaffe. A troubadour; storyteller.
The Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley hosts big names and locals.
We happened upon this open mic night and it was pure fun.

Found this motif in the patio of a great place in Bolinas. The Coast Cafe. Had fried oyster benedict for breakfast. I will never forget it. (I mean that in a good way!)

I could not pass up this nautical motif in the back patio of a joint in Bolinas. The Coast Cafe.
Had fried oyster benedict for breakfast. I will never forget it. (And I mean that in a good way!)

For a different view at sunset, drive down to Fort Baker on the east side of the GG Bridge. Less crowds and unique view.

The sky changes by the second this time of the evening. Magentas and violets fight for supremacy. Darkness wins, ultimately.

Redwoods in Mill Valley. Majestic is an over-used word... but really, that's what these are.

Majestic is an over-used descriptor… but really, that’s what they are. Mill Valley Redwoods.

Howard was his name. As you might guess, totally laid back and groovy.

Howard. As you might guess, totally laid back and groovy.

Surfers show off their shit at Rodeo Beach.

This dude at Rodeo Beach had some stuff going on. Dancing across the waves like some manic ballerino.

A city nestled in the fog. San Francisco viewed from Mt. Tamlapais.

San Francisco viewed from Mt. Tamlapais; a city nestled in the fog.


There is no better place to goof off in the evening than Stinson Beach.

The interplay of light and shadows at Stinson Beach.


A sunset not to be missed. Stinson Beach.

The warm sunset of a cool evening.


Northern California. Works for us.

Matt Jaffe, Open Mic Night at the Sweetwater Music Hall & Cafe

Open Mic Night at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, CA.

Quite a turn out. Good music, bad music. Quirky characters, serious artists. Young and old. Lots of regulars and locals on stage and in the audience.

Then there was this kid.

Matt Jaffe at the Sweetwater Music Hall open mic night. Mill Valley, CA.

Matt Jaffe at the Sweetwater Music Hall open mic night. Mill Valley, CA.

He’s Matt Jaffe. An impressive young rocker who is kind of a cross between Elvis Costello and Brian Setzer. His two song set really stood out. It would not surprise me at all if you were to hear from him in the near future.

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.