Savage Gulf

Last month I went hiking at Savage Gulf. Savage Gulf is part of the South Cumberland State Park located in TN. Specifically, I hiked 20+ miles in one day, my personal longest, from the Savage Gulf Ranger station, to Hobbs Cabin and back. This would usually make a great overnight backpacking trip however my faithful hiking companion, my wife Tammy, would not be available this day. This is a hike I have been wanting to tackle for quite sometime but various factors have prevented me. See, to do this mileage in one day, I would need plenty of daylight. However, the hot summer months are not conducive to long hikes. So, late spring appeared to be the best time. I was graced with spectacular weather this day as well. Partly cloudy most of the day with temperatures in the low to mid 70’s.

I did bring two companions with me. They were begging for a long hike. Literally. My trusty dog Noah and my new puppy Howie (6-7 months old at that time) would experience this with me. Noah I knew could handle it however this was Howie’s longest by 15 miles to date. He appeared eager and I brought him plenty of Tammy’s homemade dog biscuits. Due to the rain the night before, I knew the wet weather springs would provide them water.


This hike appealed for numerous reasons but foremost was due to the fact I had not done it! I also knew that though long, it would not be overly strenuous as it stayed up on the plateau. Additionally, there would be a diversity of sites I had not experienced. Perfect to help myself document sections of the park I had not previously done. So I packed up my gear and headed out long before daylight.

Gear for this trip was simple. Plenty of water (3 liters and a diet redbull for a lunch recharge), food for the dogs and myself, headlamp for caution, 2 sources of fire, knife, and two lightweight cameras with plenty of film. Film you say! Yes film. You see, my digital slr, though a compact (canon 5dmkii) compared to a a 1d series canon, is still very heavy compared to a comparable film kit. Add to that a zoom like the 24-105L and I would be weighted down with more than I was willing to carry. I also prefer c-41/negative film for daylight shooting as it handles highlights more effectively due to it’s almost infinite shoulder characteristic, it’s tonalities and predictability. I was not chasing magic light. I was documenting the rich natural beauty of this hike. And I was carrying one of the lightest camera setups ever made. A cheap (in case I trashed it in a fall) Nikon FG-20, a series e 50/1.8 pancake lens and a series e 28/2.8 lens. My backup camera was an Olympus XA4 (28/3.5 lens) loaded with black and white film (kentmere 400). Film for the Nikon was a mixture of Kodak Gold 200, Kodak proimage 100 and Fuji 200. I was set.

The trail began upon a path I knew very well. After the first junction, the trail began to cut across the plateau following the old Dinky Line Railway bed.
Dinky Line
10 miles of trail would meander through the forest with one climb of Cagle mountain. The scenery was very pleasant and without a soul in sight, peaceful. The following are images capture along the way.

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Eventually we came up on Hobbs Cabin, but not before a spectacular view of the gulf! The mountain laurel was also out in full bloom.

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As I had my lunch and the dogs their rest, we headed back out. I knew this section would be beautiful and was not let down. View upon view, overlook upon overlook was provided with endless viewing pleasure. Though as is natural for me, my image taking slowed down as my endurance began to slacken. Regardless, I still burned another couple rolls up. Here are a few more images from the second 10 mile leg.

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I made it out by around 5pm. Sore and tired, I was glad we made. The dogs were too. At a later date, I will expand upon my journey’s through the South Cumberland State Park.

Is film coming back?

My response to a thread on Fred Miranda. Is film coming back? Just some of my thoughts on the subject. My response as follows…

I have moved from 100% digital to 95% film. I pull my 5dmkii out of the bag about 1x per month. Probably the reason I have yet to upgrade this body (though I continue to add nice L glass). How has this happened? I like to figure things out and like a challenge, I enjoy the process, nothing like shooting a an old film body (my leica iiif is an absolute tactile joy) and film is a completely different medium from digital providing completely different results. But this evolution has been a process and I will elaborate.

In 2009 or 2010 I picked up some film camera from several different places adding to the old ae-1 of my dad that I shot with during the digital revolution. I could never get the quality scans I wanted on my old Epson flatbed and figured bigger was better moving to medium format. However could never get c-41 colors that looked right. Enter the Kodak pakon in late 2012. I bought the f135+ pakon scanner. Initial setup was a bit of a pain but settled eventually on using a VM XP on my Windoze 7 machine. It has been rock solid. The biggest bonus is 2 fold. Speed and color. I can scan a whole roll of film in 2.5 minutes flat and get the baked in Kodak color profiles. Win win. So much so I now only shoot 35mm film. Which leads to the 2nd reason I shoot film:

I love the tactile feel of old film cameras. The simplicity of a Nikon FM, the rangefinder of my Leica M’s and barnack, the compact size and solid feel of my pentax me, the old rokkor glass from a dead Minolta system, I love it all! And for pennies literally. I have 20-30 film cameras ranging from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Mamiya, Minolta, Leica with glass for all. These cameras are a joy to use. I even use my modern L glass on a canon 7ne (eye control AF!). This is for me to enjoy. This is what I shoot most of my personal work on. My family, what matters to me. Paid jobs I shoot digital. Critical work (stuff I plan on selling) I shoot digital though this is starting to change. I shot my last wedding shooting both digital and film (portra and triX). Guess which images I prefer

I also develop my own film, both c-41 and b&w. I am also in process of setting up a darkroom (have a besseler 67 given to me) and will hopefully begin learning this side of things.

I also roast my own coffee beans. Yes I can buy them in a store (poor quality). I can order online from a micro roasting company (pricy) or I can have the ultimate in cup quality from my own roast.

My experience. I am sure I am not alone. A lot of people moving back to a more traditional slow process to move away from our instant society. I am about to order 3 100′ rolls of film. I doubt film is going anywhere.

Fiery Gizzard to Foster Falls

This fall, my wife and I did a 13+ mile hike from Fiery Gizzard to Foster Falls. This area is part of the larger South Cumberland State Park system up on the lower portion of the Cumberland Plateau. Fiery Gizzard is a place I have been visiting my entire life. It is a most beautiful and diverse place that abounds with natural beauty. The reason for our hike was somewhat bittersweet. You see, as of Dec. 1, 2015 a portion of the trail was re-routed as trail access through an easement based on a handshake across private property was revoked. I wanted to hike, document and experience the trail in it’s original splendor. This year I will probably hike it again experiencing the new trail section that bypasses the old.

This hike is a tough one and is not a loop requiring my wife and I to both leave a car at each end. 13-14 miles is tough for anyone and I new that sections of the trail were challenging. We did this hike in its entirety a few years back in late May. It was brutal then coupled with running out of water (my mistake, only brought 2 liters) and ended up getting attacked by a swarm of bees. Stings were had all over including head, face, chest, back and butt. I did not want a repeat needless to say. Late fall and carrying extra water assured pleasantness. It proved to be a good hike.

I took one camera with me, a canon A1 with 3 rolls of film and 3 lenses. 1 roll of Kodak ektar (wish I had brought more) and 2 rolls of Kodak gold. I shot all 3 rolls as the late fall foliage was absolutely stunning. Lenses brought were the canon 50/1.8 and 24/2.8 and a vivitar 28/2.8. Noah, are faithful hiking dog companion came with us. This was a long journey with many images so I am sharing quite a few of them. I will try and go in order from beginning to end so you can get an idea of the journey we had. If anyone wants to know more about this park, visit the parks WEBSITE and for the conservation minded folks who would like to participate in assuring park protection, visit the FRIENDS OF SOUTH CUMBERLAND STATE PARK website.  And last but not least, visit beautiful Fiery Gizzard!


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A stroll at Old Stone Fort State Park

A few weeks back I took a stroll at Old Stone Fort State Park.  This is a park my wife and I visit weekly as it backs up behind our house.  One of our favorite places and one I have shot at extensively.  This day I decided for a different approach.   To take a slow walk and limit my self with option, carrying only a Nikon FM, e series 28/2.8 lens and one roll of Kentmere 100 black and white film.  My tripod came along as well.  I walked slowly and with purpose, looking for what caught my fancy, finding new compositions and exploring off trail.  This approach always brings me delight as I have to really pay attention to my surroundings.  My creative juices flow so to speak.  I was pleased with this walk.  Very relaxing allowing myself to feel a part of.  Nature, the outdoors has always provided a sense of connection, a very spiritual experience, one I seek out routinely.  This was a needed excursion to Old Stone Fort State Park.  Here a few images from my walk.  I hope you enjoy it and remember to come by and visit my website sometime JPBuffington Photography.

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Ranger Falls

Ranger Falls is part of the South Cumberland State Park and is found in Savage Gulf.  It can be accessed by hiking from the Stone Door Ranger Station and requires about a half day’s time allotted due to the 7+ mile round trip hike.  This is a falls I have not frequented all that often due the remoteness and the fact it is on a 1 mile spur trail from the main trail.  In the summer and early fall, it is just a trickle but in spring when the frequent rain keeps the creeks full, the falls are quite impressive.  This falls is interesting in that it goes underground at the base.  Several falls within the park due to this only to reappear later.  Sinks and caves are common due to the limestone.  Horsepound Falls (also in Savage Gulf) is similar in this respect.  The pool at the base is small and quickly flows into a cave to the side and behind the falls.  This particular trip was almost a disaster twice.  The spray from the falls had made the rim rocks ultra slick and I about lost my camera, lens and myself to a nasty fall.  Somehow I managed to keep myself upright.  The second near disaster involved the hike out and a very large, fat cotton mouth that I almost stepped on and my dog did.  Ooops!  Anyways, thought I would share a few images.  These were taken last spring.
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The ability to serve others is a gift.  Many encounter this through their profession (in a service occupation).  However, nothing brings as much joy as doing for others without compensation, without expectation, just simply because you can.

This fall I had the joy of providing my wedding services to by step daughter and now son in law on their big day.  I do not shoot as many weddings as I used to (other commitments have take precedent) but am still proficient at the craft and was honored to be asked.  I wanted this to be something special so I chose a timeless medium for a good portion of the wedding: film.  I shot polaroids (impossible B&W instant film) to give all something to view during the reception.  A mixture of B&W (shot through a 63 year old leica) and color images.  Digital was also used.  I could not have been more pleased with the outcomes and wanted to share a few here.







What’s in the bag? Edition 1

What’s in the bag?

As I get ready for my 4th and my wife’s 3rd return trip to beautiful Big Bend National Park, I am of course planning on what camera gear I will be traveling with.  Each piece of equipment has it’s purpose and thought went behind the selection of every piece.  As if selecting specialized tools for a specialized purpose, this trip will require (at least in my mind…that’s all that matters, right?) different tools.  Each trip brings about it’s own unique requirements and the high desert and mountain terrain of the upper Chihuahuan Desert presents it’s own unique set of requirements.  As you may be aware, I don’t just shoot digital or film, but both (for a variety of reasons I won’t discuss here).  So on to my selection and my methodology of madness in this selection.

Digital selection:  This is simple, my canon 5dmkii (my primary digital body).  This will be used for critical work, primarily sunrise and sunset when I have a specific purpose in mind.  I imagine it will be used lightly.  As a side thought, it will also be used for shooting HD video to document my trip.  Lens selection for this setup includes a 17-40L, 24-105L, 70-200/2.8L and two primes consisting of the lowly 50/1.8 and the pancake 40/2.8 stm (a very fine lens I will have to blog about later).  That’s it.  A quite capable setup that could be used on it’s own the entire trip.

Film selection:  I am bringing 3 camera bodies, each with a purpose. First up is the canon 7ne.  This will be used as a backup for the 5dmkii (they both are EOS mount cameras) and I can share lenses between the two.  I will also be shooting color with this setup, probably some Fuji Velvia (color slide film) as I am quite confident in the metering of modern canon’s and will need this confidence in shooting such a film with such limited dynamic range.

Next up is the Minolta xg-1.  Now this may seem an odd selection.  The xg-1 was a cheap, low end bodied compared to other Minolta bodies of the vintage.  I have other Minolta backs and a far more capable srt102.  Here is my reasoning though.  We will be going into Mexico one day and I do not want to take a high end body.  Secondly, this body is light and for 2 of our long day hikes planned, I want to keep weight to a minimum.  I learned long ago carrying a full dslr setup for 10+ mile day hikes is not worth it.  I end up not using the camera and wishing I left it back in the car.  I also don’t like digital during harsh daylight hours.  Add to this Minolta lenses are superb.  Coming along for the ride is the 50/1.7 rokkor x, 35/2.8 rokkor, 28/2.8 celtic (the 28 and 50 are my hiking setup) and the vivitar 135/2.5 (a fine portrait/telephoto lens).  I will be shooting color film primarily with this setup.

Included is a 1952 Leica IIIf with the Leica 50/2 summitar, canon 28/3.5 (w/ external viewfinder) and the canon serenar 50/1.8 (backup for the summitar).  This setup is mighty compact and will probably go most places with me (short hikes, etc) and will be my black and white setup.  These old leica and canon lenses draw particularly well with traditional B&W film.  On harsh/bright days, I may use this for color as these lenses are light in the contrast department and give color a pastel look, cutting the contrasty (is that even a word?) harshness out of midday sun.

For film, I am bringing color and B&W.  Why even bring film in the first place?  Well, I will share.  Daytime photography is not optimum.  The first and last hours of the day are ideal for best light.  However, I am on vacation and while I will be shooting in the magic light, most of my time will be with my wife exploring the park.  I find digital camera’s to wash out colors, block shadows and blow out highlights in harsh light leading to blah photos and way too much time in front of the screen trying to salvage something.  Color negative film shines in this department.  Easy peasy to shoot.  Meter for the shadows and don’t worry about the highlights and the natural shoulder of color negs will tame those bright areas.  If any highlights blow, it will be graceful.  And color will be rich and vibrant (especially with ektar).  Color film choice is kodak ektar.  This iso 100 daylight film works wonderfully for landscapes.  Rich, vibrant colors, extremely detailed and extremely fine grained.  Requires almost no post work (just develop and scan).  I have an extra roll of portra 160 and a roll of Fuji xtra400 (if I need the speed and as backup).  I also will be shooting two rolls of Fuji velvia100.  This will be my first foray into slide film as all I buy and shoot are negs but these were a gift and what better way than to try it out with some desert drama.

Black and white film will be a mixture of Kodak TMAX100 (for supreme detail and tonal range) and Ilford delta400 (when I need more speed).  An odd roll of Kodak Tri X will also be included.  Why?  Because it is Tri X.  If you look to the left of the screen, that desert scape was shot on Tri X last year.  Anymore questions?  I thought not.

Also included are an array of filters and filter systems for both color, B&W and a polarizer for the digital setup.  Of course a tripod will be brought, my bogen manfrotto with ball head. I may add an Olympus XA to the list because, well, it is tiny and I love it.  The perfect travel companion and could be a backup to a backup.  Oh, and the Nikon L35AF that lives in my glove box.  That is it,…I think.  I will be sure to update this blog when I get back with images from this excursion.


Summer is long gone

Summer is long gone as fall is well under way. Next summer feels like a distant dream with winter on the horizon. Early evenings are still warm but will a cool chill just barely in the background, waiting to spring us full force into the dreary season. With the changing of seasons, I like to reflect upon the previous and nothing quite fits summer better than sunflowers. So this short post is just to show off some various sunflower images to remind of us of what was and will be again. The images are a mixture of both film and digital and from a local sunflower field and the one that was in my backyard. Enjoy one last vestige of summer!












Remembering our Fallen Heroes – July 16th

July 16th started out just like any other day for me. It was a normal work day on a hot and muggy July day. I left for my lunch break to run some errands around Chattanooga and was listening to the news. There were reports of a shooting but no specific details. Unfortunately, gang shootings are all to common in Chattanooga and I didn’t think much of it other than the typical disdain for a senseless killing. Then another reports of another shooting, possibly the same shooter. I got back from lunch and saw our Psychiatrist walking to his car in the parking lot leaving work and I said “You be careful Dr. ______, there are a bunch of crazies out there shooting up the place.” I had no idea the reality of the situation. I found out in a training a bit later the reality of what had happened, that a lone gunman had shot and killed our servicemen attacking a recruiting center and a base. We all paused for a moment to collect our thoughts. The rest of the day was a whirlwind.

A week later I had just arrived home from work and through the power of social media, saw that in my hometown of Manchester, there was a makeshift town vigil assembling at an overpass awaiting one of the fallen being returned for the eventual burial the next day. I was unsure where exactly this was and if it had already happened but I decided to go investigate. I grabbed my Olympus OM10 which was loaded with a roll of Ilford HP5+ hoping I might get some documentary style photos. What I got was much more.

As I arrived, I noticed our town’s Fire Department there the fire truck’s ladder raised with a flag hanging at the interstate overpass. The EMS was there with their lights as well as the police representing. Maybe a 100 or so citizens gathered along the sidewalk of the overpass waving flags awaiting the motorcade to pass through. I began to become very emotional and was brought to tears, pulling my sunglasses down over my eyes to cover my emotions in public. A very patriotic feeling I have not felt since that fateful day of 9/11/2001 came over me as well as a subsequent feeling of a community and nation united. Very much the polar opposite of what our propagandist media and government would have us believe. I was here to honor this serviceman and to be a part of something bigger, this great country. As I took it all in, many of the big rigs passing underneath on the interstate would blow their horns in salute. I wondered if the one’s driving were veterans. A few cars did as well.

Reports were coming in via Facebook and text messages from the folk around stating what mile markers the motorcade was at. The anticipation heightened and then, in a short moment, the motorcade came and passed. We had done our duty. We had honored our fallen heroes in the only way we could, by showing our appreciation through action. I feel it is my duty to share a few images of what this appreciation meant to the citizens and what it means to me. It is a moment I will not forget, neither that July 16th or this day.






and the motorcade driving by in the distance
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The lens as a tool

The lens as a tool in photography is like the type of brush used in painting. Different lenses “draw” differently or render the image in a different manner than other lenses. Neither choice is better. Rather, a specific tool (lens) provides a specific result. Once fully understanding the traits and characteristics of your tools, you can create a desired effect.

I will elaborate briefly with some follow up examples. As the Day Lilies were blooming around the house, I wanted some close portraits of the blooms with the background rendered blurred to isolate the subject. Now one can approach this in several manners. One can use a very “fast” lens and/or a lens with a longer focal length. Generally the combination of both is desirable for best effects. Generally. Other times a macro lens or lens with extension tubes can be used for a closer approach which may be advantageous for a subject as small as flower’s bloom. However, there are always trade offs. Using a longer focal length compresses the image. This leaves a flat, two dimensional feel. I wanted the blooms to express the depth, the contours, the robustness if you will of the bloom. A shorter focal length lens then is called for. However, I wanted an almost ethereal feel with just a very fine/small depth of field with just a portion of the petal in focus to create a dreamy image. This would require a lens that focuses closely, has a short focal length, is a very fast lens and sharp wide open. A tall order in deed. I chose a lens from 1971. I chose to shoot on film (negative/c-41 film). I chose the “chrome nosed” canon fd 35mm f2 lens. Not the “new” version but the concave front element first version with a slightly yellowed element from the radioactive Thorium in the lens. I will create a later in depth blog post about this special lens. I knew this lens would give me what I needed. It creates a very “3-d” image, sharp, with creamy bokeh and focuses very close. And, it is fast with an f/2 aperture wide open. It performed as expected. Here are three examples:

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Film used was some cheap Fuji consumer 200 iso film on a canon AE-1 developed at home in my sink and scanned on a Kodak Pakon f135+ with minor adjustments in lightroom 5. If you have any questions about this lens, don’t hesitate to contact me.