Autumn, Sierra Nevada, 2013

In September of 2013, a new friend and fellow photographer Mike Giomi and I wandered up the I-80 freeway. We were on the lookout for fall color. Specifically aspen trees.



One minor grievance I have living on the west coast is the lack of fall color. The majority of the native trees are either conifers or oaks. While there are some colorful deciduous trees, they tend to be mixed in among many others. Not the beautiful variegated groves of the east.

High up in the Sierras, above 5000 feet, is where the gold is. Aspen trees will turn beautiful gold, orange, and red. The color is dependant on how quickly the seasons turn to cold. Aspens will propagate by root runners. So it is common to find them in large groves.

Tip: get setup before the sun rises.

This particular morning I needed to wake well before sunrise. 3am. I slept through the alarm did not wake until Mike called me at about 5. Then I had trouble finding the park-and-ride we were supposed to meet at. But finally we meet up and headed up the hill.

We did not have any particular destination. I had found some photos that were tagged and had a general idea where to go. But sometimes, just go and let your eye guide you.

Tip: use online tools to find interesting places. Google earth, stuck on earth/customs.

Our first stop was a turnout that overlooked Donner lake. Of course, the lake was obscured by a blanket of fog. The sun was just rising and warm light turned the fog orange. We spent quite a bit of time there. Unfortunately the clouds were not the best, and there were some jet trails.

Fog at Sunrise. photo of fog and trees

Moving on, we found some promising groves of aspens right off the freeway. It was still early morning, and the light was still warm. The aspens were all golden.


In one of the groves stood an old disheveled shack. This was used by a sheep herder.  Mike and I took many photos of the shack. But it proved difficult to present the shack in an interesting way. There were some trees right in front of the building. To close actually and the light was bright shining their white trunks.

Tip: If you find something interesting, spend extra  time exploring all sides and angles.

I wandered all the way around the shed. Eventually I found a composition I was quite pleased with, behind the structure, somewhat back-lit.


From there, we moved further up the road. But by then, the golden light had faded and we were in to late morning.

We crossed the Truckee Meadows. There was a thin veil of fog still lingering in the emptiness. I had Mike pull over, practically in the middle of the street.


We stopped in the town of Truckee for some coffee. Then decided to turn back to Donner lake to see if there was any fog left. But by then it had burned off. The road skirted the lake but ended before making a complete loop. More aspens there but again the light was not effective.

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Ugly Vitessa

In 2014 I visited the local camera swap meet. One of the booths there was run by local high-school photography class members. I was pretty late for the swap meet, there was not much left. But I did find one tattered leather case in the back of a junk box. I lifted it out of the box, expecting it to house an Argus or Kodak brownie. But inside was probably the saddest Voigtlander Vitessa I have ever seen. The chrome was badly pitted, and there was green corrosion in many places. The viewfinder was so dirty i could barely see through.

I previously owned a Vitessa in nice shape. I sold it because comparing it to a Retina IIA, the Vitessa is heavy, bulky, and awkward to load film. But this previous experience allowed me to open up this ugly Vitessa and reveal its inner beauty. To my surprise I found a glimmering Ultron f2. Equally surprising was the fact that the shutter and film advance seemed to work. The slower shutter speeds were lagging behind what they should be, but that is fairly normal for vintage cameras.
So I offered $20. They drove a hard bargain and got me to go to $25. Hey it was for a good cause right?

Ugly Vitessa

I brought the Vitessa home and cleaned it up. I was able to remove most of the corrosion, but there’s nothing to be done for the pitted chrome. So I loaded it up with Ilford FP4 and took it for a spin.

The results are fantastic!

Miranda in November

Miranda in the Fall

Tower Bridge, Sacramento CA

Tower Bridge




The Resonator

The Resonator



Admittedly, half the shots from that roll turned out quite blurry. But that is likely due to my own poor technique. I am not a experienced rangefinder user, and it is likely I mis-focused or set the shutter too slow.

This Vitessa’s Ultron is a six-element 50mm f2,  lens similar to the Schneider Xenon used in the Kodak Retina series. It has a reputation for being one of the best lenses available at the time. While I hear similar claims about all manner of different lenses, I think the Ultron deserves this reputation and is easily in the top 1% of its class.

These images show just how well engineered the cameras and lenses of the 1950’s could be. A testament to the fine craftsmanship of the German industry.  So don’t ever judge a camera by its cover!