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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

The best of 2020 as told by me

I didn’t want to get too deep into 2021 before I compiled my best of list for 2020. I usually begin to compile this list somewhere near the beginning of December and publish it before the new year starts – but I didn’t get that chance this year.

The most difficult part about making this list each year is the fear of leaving some one or some thing out. I compile it based solely on memory. Maybe for 2021 I’ll keep a running file of things that delight me and review that near the end of the year. Perhaps I’ll simply pull from my links that I publish here somewhat weekly. I think it is time for a change to this format. But, for now, here is this years totally random pulled from memory list.

You can review other years I’ve made similar lists in 2008, 2009, 2017, 2018, 2019.

Best Blog: Kottke.org

I’ve been subscribed to Jason’s blog for decades. Kottke.org made last year’s best blog runners up list. And it should likely be in that list in perpetuity. I’m giving Kottke.org the award this year because of how many times I linked to it from my blog and the amount of content I enjoyed on it in 2020.

Runners up: Julia Evans, Ton Zijlstra, Dan Mall (I like what he’s doing with his week notes)

Best (new to me) Blog: All film photography blogs.

Rather than a single winner in this category this year I’m going to highlight the dozens of film photography blogs that I subscribed to this year and have gleaned a lot of insight and enjoyment from. I would like even more (especially those covering the darkroom) so if you have suggestions please send them my way.

Best Twitter account: @pinot

The amount of content Pinot W. Ichwandardi puts out on Twitter is really amazing. He takes older tech and makes contemporary art with them. Some things seem like an incredible amount of work. What a fun account to follow!

Runners up: @3eyedmonster, @FlakPhoto, @cabel.

Best place: Home

We bought a house this summer. And we’ve really enjoyed being here. We’ve done a lot of renovations and yard work already with more planned for this year. I’m very grateful we found this place during such a hard time.

Runners up: The only places we went this year; Georgia, Virginia, and the Finger Lakes.

Best book: Contact by Carl Sagan.

I liked the movie. In fact, I watch it at least once or twice a year. But I hadn’t read the book until this year and I’m glad I did. My new computer is now named The Machine as a result. I think I’ll read it again in a year or so.

I read at least 6 or 7 photography-related books this year and perused about a dozen more. So this kept me from my now not-so-normal reading schedule. I’m hoping to pick up the pace a bit in 2021 but, like I said last year, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

Runners up: Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline.

Best hardware: Canon AE-1 Program from 1984.

Last year I noted that a film camera would likely be the winner this year and I was right. While I’ve been able to shoot with a wide variety of cameras this year the Canon AE-1 Program has stood out as the most fun to use. It was also a gift from my brother-in-law who bought it new in 1984 and kept it in very good shape. I’m thankful for his generosity as I hope to have this camera for many years to come.

Next year I hope to list a medium format camera that shoots 6×4.5 but I don’t own one yet.

Runners up: The Canon Rebel G (a very inexpensive and solid film camera), and my Beseler enlarger that I’ve been making many of my prints from.

Best desktop app: NetNewswire.

I use this app almost every weekday to keep up with all of my interests. It is a fantastic break from the pall felt within social media apps.

Runners up: Silverfast 8, Simplenote (still hanging in as my go to note taking app despite so many incumbents), Zoom (unsure how I can’t mention this app this year), 1Password (for the Apple Watch integration).

Best mobile app: Untappd

I mentioned Untappd in September. I’ve had the app installed for years and didn’t really lean into utilizing it until a few years ago. I’m very happy that I have. The more you use the app the more useful it is to you. But it also has several features that you need to remember to use in certain circumstances. If you’re into beer, and even moreso if you have specific tastes, I highly recommend investing the time to using the app.

Runners up: Pocket Casts, Chess, Flickr, Walmart (for curb side pickup).

Best podcast: The Large Format Photography Podcast

I’ve learned a lot from LFPP. It is laid back and my style. I also help manage the Flickr Group.

Runners up: Vision Slightly Blurred, All Through A Lens, ATP (I’ve listened to more episodes this year than previous years).

Best browser: Safari

Firefox has won this award multiple years but this year I’ve switched to Safari. I’m giving it this award based on the fact that it is more of a Mac app than Firefox, it is fast, and it keeps your privacy as its main priority. I do miss Containers however. I don’t know what the future of Firefox looks like but I’m thinking 2021-2023 will see massive changes at Mozilla.

Best YouTube channel: ScreenCrush

OK, hear me out on this one. I watched The Mandalorian on Friday mornings at around 6-6:30am. I believe Disney published them at midnight. By the time I was done watching the episode I was able to log onto YouTube and see the episode broken down, explained nearly frame-by-frame, with clips from old movies, past Star Wars films, etc. I still do not know how they did it so fast.

Runner up: The Dark Shed, Rolf Nylinder, Rainfall Projects, Nico’s Photography Show, ILFORD Photo, Borut Peterlin.

Music at Lucky Hare Brewing – March 2020

Just prior to lockdown, we were able to listen to this lovely chap play some music at Lucky Hare Brewing in upstate New York.

I rescanned this 35mm negative to get a better quality version than my first scan.

Shot on Kodak Ultramax 400 using the Canon AE-1 Program.

Experiments in light metering

Update April 27, 2020 – I’ve now published a podcast episode related to these photos.

As a follow-up to my previous post regarding my journey to-date in film photography – here is an example of how I’ve approached learning the light metering of a scene.

Here are several exposures, taken fairly close in time to one another, using several different camera settings (and in the case of a few, a different lens) on the Canon AE-1 Program and an expired roll of Kodak Color Gold 400.

50mm f/22 1/125
50mm f/22 1/250
50mm f/22 1/500
50mm f/22 1/60
~80mm f/22 1/25
~80mm f/22 1/60
~80mm f/22 1/30 – metered for shadow

As you can see, the last image was taken after a fair amount of time had past and so likely could be excluded from this test. However, I’ve included it to show how metering for shadows really can blow out the hightlights on such a well-lit subject.

I’ve taken tons of photos for the express purpose of learning how they will come out first hand. I use Simplenote to write down all of my settings on the camera and a short description of the photo so that I can remember (because, unlike digital no EXIF information travels with the negative or digital file unless you write it yourself).

Why I’m shooting with film

Nearly a decade ago Eliza and I began to make our own wine and beer. We started out making quick batches in buckets, carboys, or other small containers. It allowed us to get more familiar with the process of fermenting fruit or barley into one of our favorite drinks.

Pressing grapes, 2013

Eventually we graduated to making a more serious batch of wine that started as grapes still on the vine that were shipped by boat from Chile and ending up as 80 gallons of a Cabernet Sauvignon / Carménère blend that – to this day – is the best wine we’ve ever made or had.

When we began to learn this process it gave us a deeper appreciation for other wines and beers we had. We started to understand what each ingredient, what each stage, the temperature, and many other factors played into the end result. We also honed our tastes in so far as to know, without ever having a sip, what beverages we liked and didn’t like.

The process of learning to make wine feels very similar to the process of learning film photography.

San Francisco, July 2007
One of the first photos I took with the original iPhone

I’ve been shooting digital images for many years. I’ve always had an interest in making photographs as memories of our experiences, as well as an outlet for my creativity. But it wasn’t until the iPhone debuted that I began to explore photography as an art medium. Or as a documentary medium for that matter. With the iPhone I would have a camera with me everywhere I went and I ended up taking tons of photographs with my mobile phone for the next decade. Which led to me taking photographs with other digital gadgets like GoPros and drones.

A few years ago though I began to study photography. Looking up its history, looking at examples from the last hundred or so years, and trying to learn different techniques. Prior to this time period I only had very surface knowledge of the photographic process – digital or film. I knew the basics of composition and how an image sensor worked. Apart from that I had no idea.

For whatever reason, the desire to try film – like the desire to make our own wine – became stronger and stronger. I started to follow film photographers on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. People like Dan Rubin, Bijan Sabet and a few others were nearly daily reminders that I should give it a try. Which ate at me for over a year. Then, about 6 months ago or so, I stumbled across Nick Carver on YouTube. What he was doing with film photography was much different than Dan or Bijan – he was trying to create the highest quality digital file and print he could from a scene. This interested me greatly.

My current digital cameras are already over 10 years old (not counting my current iPhone 11 Pro Max). So my ability to create high quality images on digital is non-existent. Looking at film it appeared to me (knowing almost nothing) that I’d be able to get a much higher quality result without the budget needs of upgrading my digital cameras. It turns out I was only part right on this.

So, as you may have listened to in this episode of my podcast, I decided to pick up a few inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras to get my journey started in film. That was four months ago. I figured I’d buy a camera or two, fire a few rolls, see what the results were and learn. Little did I know the rabbit hole or the ride I’d be on over the next several months – and likely for the rest of my life.

One of my first exposures
Canon AE-1 Program, Kodak Tri-X expired in 1982

Since then I’ve purchased, or been gifted, well over a dozen cameras ranging from point-and-shoot 35mm film cameras to 100-year old medium format cameras that no longer have film compatible with them. I’ve read a few books on the history of photography as well as the complete photographic development process. I’ve shot dozens of rolls of film and developed them on my own, either in my kitchen sink or in my bathroom tub. In fact, I never sent away a single roll to be processed by someone else. I’ve even modified existing film stock to fit into that 100-year old camera.

I went a little off the deep end in an effort to give myself a crash course in film photography.

Radisson Station, Scranton PA
Canon Rebel G, Kodak Color Gold 400 expired in 1982
Lake Lanier Georgia
Canon AE-1 Program, Kodak Color Gold 400 expired in 1983, converted to mono
Garden fence, South Carolina
Canon AE-1 Program, brand-new Kodak Color Gold 400
Garden path, South Carolina
Canon AE-1 Program, brand-new Kodak Color Gold 400
Reedy River, Greenville, South Carolina
Canon AE-1 Program, brand-new Kodak Color Gold 400

I still have a long way to go and a lot more to learn. I still haven’t created a high quality result that I’d be happy with for, say, a fine art print like Carver’s work. But I haven’t tried yet either. Most of the film I’ve shot, with the exception of 3 brand-new rolls of inexpensive Kodak Color Gold 400 (or Ultra Max) that I purchased in an Atlanta camera shop, has been film that is well past its expiration date. In fact, some of it didn’t work at all. Also, the cameras I’ve been using all have their little quirks. One doesn’t have a battery (so I have to meter for light using my iPhone or just guess). It also has moisture in the viewfinder so I can’t focus the image so again I’m left guessing. And the rest has been downright bad film.

Why go through all of this? Because it has cost me almost no money so far. All in I’ve spent less than $500 to shoot film for 4 months on many different setups with different speed films and process them all on my own. I consider this a very inexpensive education so far.

Tree, medium format
Ansco Rediflex 1920s, Kodak Tri-X 120 400 expired in 1982
Warming up C-41 chemicals in my kitchen sink to develop color film
Ansco Rediflex
I had to modify 120 film to fit
Canon AE-1 Program, gift from my brother-in-law
At a great brewery in Virginia

But I’m about to level up. I’m ready to move onto the next phase in my education and that is to use the skills I’ve learned so far to create high quality images using both 35mm and medium format film. I need to buy a bunch of brand-new film, which I’ll likely ruin or mess up in some way, and I still need to track down the medium format camera (maybe a Rolleiflex?) that I want at a price I can afford. But all that I’ve learned these last months will hopefully help to cut down on the mistakes I’m about to make. I’m on a budget after all!

I’ll check back in here in a few months time to see if, like the wine Eliza and I made, I’m making photographs that are now my favorite I’ve ever taken.

I’ll be publishing a lot more photos here on my site that I’ve taken over the last few months as well.

35mm • Canon AE-1 Program • Kodak CG 400

Rain over the Virginia Hills – 35mm – February 2020

Eliza and I pulled off the road to get this shot while we were driving north through a gorgeous area of Virginia a few weeks ago.