Make your own free website on
Click here for Home


by Genghis


I gave my lecture on retinal photography and fluorescein angiography this past week in Chicago, for the Joint Commission On Allied Health Personnel In Ophthalmology (JCAHPO), which is a satellite group of the American Academy Of Ophthalmology (AAO), which held its annual meetings a few days ago. There are many satellite groups under the umbrella of the AAO, such as JCAHPO and the Ophthalmic Photographers Society (OPS), which I'm also a member of. All of these satellite groups hold their annual courses, in conjunction with the AAO, which oversees the entire convention week. My specialty is photography of the retina, which I've performed for 39 years, and lectured on for 35 years. My professional photography has dovetailed with my personal photography for as long as I can remember. The Academy holds its meetings in different cities every year. This year marked the 30th year that I've been giving lectures on retinal photography for JCAHPO. This year I streamlined my lecture from the two hours that it had been to one hour. I find that the attention span of audiences in hotel ballrooms, wanes considerably after the one hour mark. The one hour duration of this talk, seems just right.

One note about my lectures: I always dedicate my lectures to my late brother, Don Wong, whose influence in my life moved me greatly in photography in general, and in medical and ophthalmic photography professionally. Don was a true pioneer in retinal photography, who co-founded the Ophthalmic Photographers Society with Johnny Justice Jr. in the late 1960s. Don was legendary in New York freelance photography circles in the early 1960s, for owning his own retinal camera as a freelance commercial photographer for hire. This was unheard of, and Don's name was bandied about in the corridors of the Zeiss headquarters on Fifth Avenue, in hushed and reverent tones. He organized and ran one of the first hospital ophthalmic photography departments in the United States, at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City in the mid-1960s. The norm back then was for a general medical photography department to encompass all photographic functions in a hospital. The ophthalmic photography department as a separate entity, was a new idea then.

Don taught me all about shooting and darkroom work when I was a teenager, and it was those skills that allowed me to move into professional photography with jobs in professional labs at first, then a medical photography job, and finally into photography of the retina in ophthalmology. It goes without saying, that Don's guidance in photography was instrumental in developing my passion for street photography, that began in the early 1960s. Without Don's guidance, I never would have found my way in either street photography or retinal photography---that much is certain. Don was a charismatic personality who was also a dynamic speaker, who was unflappable at the podium. I remember one famous story about Don who was just about to give a lecture, when his assistant who forgot to secure the locking mechanism on top of the slide carousel with Don's lecture slides in it, overturned the tray of slides, dumping the slides onto the ground. Naturally, there wasn't time to reorder the slides (they weren't numbered) in the slide tray, so Don gave the entire 30 minute lecture off the cuff, without the benefit of his slides.

When I arrived at the Chicago Hilton where I was giving my lecture, I found a picket line at the front of the hotel. It was a hotel workers' strike. The hotel workers were striking in protest of the Hilton buying back millions of dollars in debt from the Federal Reserve, while the workers have not agreed to a new contract. Local news described the contracts being offered the workers as, "cheap recession contracts," quoting the terminology used by the negotiating union. It is a given in street photography, that photographic opportunities present themselves as a constant, often when one doesn't happen to have one's camera on hand. I therefore am rarely without my camera. Usually, the hotel where I stay is close to the hotel where the meeting is taking place, but not in this case. This year, the hotel where I gave my lecture, the Chicago Hilton, was about a mile and a half walk from my hotel. The task of carrying my lectures to meetings, has been greatly simplified after converting my lectures from photographic slides to PowerPoint. Now, instead of carrying several carousel trays of slides to meetings, I carry my very compact Dell laptop that I have my PowerPoint lecture on. That one and a half mile walk with seven trays of slides would've been arduous, the laptop not so much. Call me cheap (but do not call me late for dinner), but I rarely take taxis. I do after all, walk 20 miles a week to and from work, so I'm accustomed to walking.

The switch to PowerPoint is an indicator of how dead and buried film slides have become as a visual aid tool in the lecture realm. Meetings no longer will accept slide lectures---only PowerPoint is allowed now. Curiously, my lecture teaches principles of technique that are applicable to either digital or film retinal photography, because the underlying techniques that guarantee sucessful imaging are universal to both---just as underlying basic technique is essential to success in general digital or film photography. Exposure, focus and framing, it all falls under the same apple tree whether the image returns to a film plane or digital sensor. This is why the debate among street photographers as to which modality---digital or film, is superior for our art of street shooting, is silly and irrelevant. It ain't the means of imaging, baby---it's the mind of the shooter.

I had my camera with me as I made my way to the Chicago Hilton, on the day I gave my lecture. As I walked along Michigan Avenue and spotted the chanting, striking throng in front of the Chicago Hilton, I checked and manually preset my exposure, which was 1/30th second at f/4. I keep my lens set at f/4 so that I may have the maximum shutter possible for each given exposure. In street photography, speed is far more important than depth of field. It was around 8:00 AM, so the shadows were long and the light not at a zenith. On my approach, I previsualized a horizontal composition encompassing the entire picket line, so this dictated a shooting position of 7 feet from the nearest strikers on line. Once I "see" the composition in my mind's eye, I'm able to, due to experience, determine the camera-to-subject distance required for that given composition.

Effective street photography requires split-second planning and decision-making after spotting subject matter, and before arriving at the point where one makes the exposure. The sequence is (1) spot the subject. (2) previsualize the composition. (3) determine camera-to-subject distance required. (4) set focus and exposure parameters. (5) arrive at shooting position. (6) and finally, frame and make the exposure. It is imperative not to waste time when one arrives at the correct camera-to-subject shooting distance by worrying about focus and exposure. One's mental focus at that point, must be strictly allocated to only expeditiously framing and making the exposure, because in street photography, that subject matter may be gone if there is any hesitation. Unlike landscapes or flowers where the subject is static, in street photography the subject matter is dynamic and in a constant state of flux and movement. Blink, and they are gone, man.

I preset focus to 7 feet using the distance scale of the lens by twisting the focusing ring. The setting of the camera-to-subject shooting distances are gauged, by eyeballing the ground between me and the subject. This allows me to mentally count off the number of feet that is required. This guesstimation of distance is an acquired skill that is honed with practice. My shooting distances vary from 3 feet to 15 feet, with occasional trips to infinity. As always, by the time I arrived at my predetermined camera-to-subject shooting distance spot, the focus and exposure were already preset, leaving me with just the framing and exposure to make. Equipment was a Nikon D1x with 20mm Nikkor lens.

Before I gave my lecture, I called my friend Jim Knipfel, who is a well-known author and one of the great iconoclastic thinkers of our time. I was killing time in the faculty lounge before my lecture time, and thought of Jim because he has some roots to Chicago. I called Jim and said, "Hey Jim---are ya hung over?" Jim said, "Of course." I think you get the gist of the tone of our very deep conversations. In case you didn't know it from Jim's documenting of his visual handicap in his autobiographical writing, Jim is legally blind from retinitis pigmentosa. This however, doesn't excuse his being a Chicago Bears fan---just kidding. Actually, Jim was originally from Green Bay and his family are rabid, season-ticket holding Green Bay Packers fans. Can you say, "Jenn Sterger" and "tasteless photography" in the same breath?

I rarely take protest photographs such as "Lucky Strike." It is rare for the opportunity to take such street pictures to present itself to me, because I don't seek-out such subject matter. Some street photographers routinely seek and travel to these events to shoot, but they flow more in the vein of documentary photography, whereas my usual modus operandus is to shoot more intimate street pictures (all strangers, and none posed) of ordinary people from close ranges of down to 3 feet away from these subjects. I find close photography of street subjects greatly challenging (for obvious reasons of logistics and subject emotions) and rewarding. The type of street photography that I do is very difficult to shoot, and requires a certain type of personality to execute well. Subjects such as the picket line protestors are more malleable than my usual street subjects. Protestors after all, welcome attention and exposure. However, the picket line did afford me the chance to make some exposures which aren't my normal subject matter. Street photography is many things to many people, and like the chameleon, can morph according to the street photographer you're talking to. Later.