Thoughts on Photography

I have been shooting photos for over 40 years.  I started with a Nikkormat 35mm and got my 1st darkroom setup when I was about 10 years old. I moved up to a Nikon FE with a motor drive and then later to a Nikon F3 with a motor drive. Wow what a camera. It was a work horse. It has dents and scuffs all over it, but it just works. It has climbed mountains, lived on the beach, and generally had a rough-but-loving life.Tig bib


In 2001, I made the switch to my first digital camera, a 3 megapixal Nikon 995 with a swivel body. At the time, it was a pretty decent camera with full user control meaning it never went into Automatic mode ever in my hands.  At the time, digital had not surpassed film and the costs for the better SLR’s was prohibitive.  There are many shots on that were shot with this camera and many will blow you away to think that a 3mp camera could produce such results.  Camera’s are like golf clubs, it is how you use them, not the equipment that makes them come to life.

One of my first jobs ever was as a medical photographer at the University of Tennessee. The pay was terrible, but I learned my craft.  I became a master in the darkroom, as  the first digital camera’s were not yet on the market.

Cades Tree in Fog

Cades Cove – Great Smoky Mountains National Park – © Andrew Allen Photography

I created quite a collection of quality lenses back then, some of which are far superior than most of the lenses sold today.  My favorite lens still today is well over 40 years old and is a true 1:1 lens with superb glass.  The photos is produces are mind-blowing.

My 995 could not take advantage of the many lenses I owned so I knew an SLR was mandatory.  When the D200 came out, it was able to use any Nikon lens ever created so I moved up to it. At 10.2 mp, it still shoots super shots today. The only real weakness is low light / high ISO.  Nikon has since fixed that issue.  Today that camera has well over 100,000 shots and is still doing great.  I have a motor drive and a top of the line tripod and ball head with quick release which take care of the major weaknesses in the type of photography I do as a rule.  The D200 fits my hand like a glove, I still really like this camera, but will soon upgrade.

I have had a darkroom since I was a kid and always loved B&W. I have a really nice 4×5 darkroom setup, but digital photography has relegated film photography to an art form now.

Working photographers are rough on equipment, not because they don’t care, but because they put themselves into positions where it can’t be helped to get that perfect shot. There are times where getting yourself into the right spot can be dangerous, so if the camera is bounced about a bit, it has to be able to handle it.  My D200, with it’s magnesium body and hermetic seals has proved pretty damn strong too.

Tigers of Memphis Zoo -  © Andrew Allen Photography

3 Tigers, Sister is attacking brother, Albino sitting this one out.

When making a decision to buy a digital SLR, please take my advise; go pick it up and hold it in your hand. Reading about the features and image capabilities is not enough. When you spend a lot of money on a camera, it should feel like a quality piece of equipment in your hand. For what a good DSLR costs, I want something I can wrap my hand around and hold onto very well.  Most newer DSLR bodies are too small in my opinion. From a purely image standpoint many of these cameras are outstanding, but ergonomics and feel should be carefully considered if you are serious about your photography.

Both Nikon and Canon make great equipment. Pick one and stick with it. The money is truly in the lenses.  Bodies come and go, but good glass is where the quality of the output is measured.  All of my lenses except one are 2.8 aperture or better, this costs on the front end, but it is worth it.  As I said, I still shoot with lenses my father purchased in the 60’s that are just amazing.

Good glass holds its value as well. When I researched my Nikon 70-200 2.8, the 1980’s version was still selling within a couple of hundred dollars of a new one in 2009. I have sold a few older lenses that brought me more than I paid for them 30 years ago.

Quality never goes out of style

Learn to shoot fully manual. Automatic may have it’s place on occasion, but you won’t ge the same results.  Light and exposure is the key to good photography. My high school photography teacher used an example of filling water buckets.  You can dump the contents of one into another or you can dribble it in carefully. The same principle works with light.  Longer exposures give better saturation and clarity, provided you have a stable tripod.

Buy a quality tripod, it will be the best money you will spend.  I spent nearly $700 for a carbon fiber tripod with a Markins ball head. I then added Arca-Swiss quick release plates to my zoom lens and my motor drive.  This setup is 100% rock steady with a heavy rig and the quality of the output is light years better.  I shoot a lot of 10-40sec exposures and they are amazing.  A normal tripod just can’t produce the same results and perfect focal clarity.

My carbon fiber tripod weighs 1.4 lbs, the ball head actually weighs more.  The greatest part of a pro tripod is the legs work independently of each other and can move to any angle. This really helps out in nature when you can’t put 3 legs down, often 1 ends up on a tree or dirt embankment.

I shoot everything in RAW mode. In RAW, the camera settings are not processed into the image as they are in a jpg image. As a result the images need to go through a digital darkroom process. Raw photos just don’t have the out of the camera pop you think they should. I personally use Bibble Pro as my digital darkroom.

This does take time and you MUST have a fast computer.  Video and Photography editing is the most processor intensive apps I have ever run by a large margin. The latest and greatest video games don’t begin to push my pc like my camera editing software.  I also use Photoshop quite a lot as well.

By its very nature, RAW turns off many people, even pros. Your job has just begun when the shot is taken. In Raw, you have the ablility to change White Balance, exposure, shadows, contrast, and noise and much much more. Bibble will even correct lens distortion caused by the different focal length lens you used. It actually works by correctly the image for the exact lens the photo was shot with originally. This feature is amazing on wide angle lenses.

Peyton and Cranberry

Peyton and Cranberry at the Memphis Zoo

A digital darkroom gives you the abilitiy to be creative. I often process the same image in multiple ways with drastically different results. This is something that can’t be done in JPG. (the original raw image is not altered in the process)

The great Ansel Adams got his tremendous effects in the darkroom, not out of  the camera. Of course he had a great base shot, but the final output was a very personal and creative process he achieved in the darkroom. Many of Ansel Adams most memorable shots were actually taken decades before they became famous. He took many of his old negatives back into the darkroom years later and added a creative foreboding effect to them with his skills in the darkroom. Raw imagery gives the digital photographer that very ability. It is Awesome, but be warned, it does take time, patience and skill…. did I mention Time.

Mega Pixals are marketing.  A 10mp phone and a 10 mp camera are not the same. The CCD the image is captured on is the key.  Nikon’s new $7000 D4 is only 16.4 mp, but is as good as any camera on the planet.  It uses a CCD the size of a 35mm negative from the old film days ( 24-36 mm FX sensor). My D200 uses a DX sensor that is 16x24mm.  Phones use a very small sensor, 2-4mm’s.  The size means you can hold more data.  This is similar to film, a 35mm is good, a 2 1/4 in format is better, a 5×7-8×10 peice of film is just amazing.

Both DX and FX make superb shots.  Their are pro’s and con’s of each.  DX lenses effectively give your lenses more reach in the upper ends. This means a 200mm photo is more like a 300 on a DX camara such as the D200 or D300s. The reverse is true however in wide angles where they are not as wide.

My 10 megapixal photos are quite large; nearly 20mb per shot. That is a lot of data to process and handle, even on the fastest of computers.  Many of the newer camera’s go to 24-36mp or higher. This can mean 75mb or more per shot. This takes a huge amount of space, both in the camera and on your computer’s hard disk drive.  Editing becomes problematic even on the fastest computers.  This was Nikon’s thinking in limiting their flagship D4 camera to 16.4 mp. The D800/810’s shoot at 36mp. They are amazing, but unless you really need that, it can present problems for all but the rare few who need it.

Digital SLR’s have reached and surpassed film now.  Any good consumer grade Nikon or Canon will shoot fabulous photos, but for some of us, we need the subtle extra’s that push it to the next level.  This is not for everyone, for many, their cell phone will be the only camera they will ever use again and that is fine. Their are shots on this site shot on my phone as well.

I hope you enjoy the many photos that are posted on This is a living site that will continue to grow as I continue to shoot.


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