Animated loop of floppy disk from 1997 Sony Mavica digital camera being loaded into vintage laptop computer.
^ Do you remember the days when digital cameras used…floppy disks?

Twenty years ago, the most popular digital cameras had almost half-a-megabyte of resolution and used floppy disks for image storage. Truly. Watch this fun video from ‘The 8-Bit Guy’ on YouTube. He presents a great history lesson in the state of digital photography circa 1997.

Looking forward, I can’t imagine how archaic our current DSLRs and iPhones will look to photographers in 2037. Will they even call it digital photography then?

A Manual of Photography 4th Ed Robert Hunt 1854

Fig. 1 – Frontispiece and title page to 1854 (4th) edition of Robert Hunt’s A Manual of Photography. This book was contributed to by Ryerson University.

Students of photography can read iconic works from the earliest years of photography on This is a huge resource for anyone looking for old formulas or to research the arc of approaches to photography over time. As an example, I’ve posted the Table of Contents from Robert Hunt’s 1854 edition of A Manual to Photography just below (which I found here on When you consider that this book (it’s fourth edition!) was published just 15 years after the first practical discoveries of photographic processes, I think you will agree that this approach provides historic insights that cannot be gleaned from second- and third-generation histories of photography.

Figs. 2-5 – Table of Contents from 1854 (4th) edition of Robert Hunt’s A Manual of Photography. is an amazing resource provides free access to millions of titles and other types of media from collections around the world. Older books, those either out of copyright or published before the era of copyright, are available for download as a PDF (see below) and in formats specific to many eReaders. More recent titles, especially those from the mid-20th century on, can be “checked out” via download for 14 days without charge.

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Syl Arena Turtle 4671 600px

I remain confident that most people want to do right in any given moment. Sometimes however, in the absence of enough information, we must call upon intent as our guiding star.

During a recent walk along the uncrowded beach near my home, I came upon a 6-inch turtle at the surf’s edge. I’ve walked hundreds of miles on this beach and have never heard of anyone coming upon a turtle. Yet, there it was in the beautiful golden hour light. Another passerby stated that it must be a baby sea turtle. I’m always open to witnessing a miracle, so I stayed to see a bit of nature unfold.

The little turtle seemed very focused on swimming out to sea. Yet, again and again the wind-blown waves pushed the creature back onto the sand. Occasionally the surf beached the turtle on its back—which required the luck of another few waves to flip it right side up.

Thinking that I was being a good turtle Samaritan, I eventually waded out into the 54º water and gently tossed the turtle beyond the near-shore breakers. Much to my dismay, it washed back ashore several minutes later—still determined to get off the beach and into the ocean.

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Something was clearly wrong here. So I phoned a nearby friend who teaches high school biology. No answer. As the turtle kept heading out into the waves and washing back onto the sand, I searched my phone for info on turtles on the central coast of California.

There was an article on a leatherback that spent some time in the area a few years ago. But the kayaker’s photo of the sea turtle showed that it had long, curved fins. My turtle had webbed legs with claws. Slowly an idea emerged…that this was a freshwater turtle and not a baby sea turtle.

The web eventually pointed me to local chapter of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club (yes, there are clubs for everything!). I proposed my quandary to the fellow who answered the rescue line. After a few texted photos, I was advised that indeed this struggling turtle was a southwestern pond turtle that likely had washed to sea from a local creek. Pond turtles, while not yet endangered, are considered a threatened species in coastal California.

Following the rescue line’s instructions, I carried the turtle up the coastline to the mouth of the creek and then inland a quarter-mile or so from the surf. In contrast to its vigor on the beach, the turtle stayed hidden within its shell after I set in on a gravel bar next to the water. Then, after five quiet minutes, the turtle slowly stuck out its neck. After another long minute, it extended its legs and walked into creek. With the vigor that I had witnessed on the beach, it swam to the bottom of the deep pool and stayed there.

I continue to think about how we respond to subtle clues. In hindsight, the facts that this turtle had claws and was so buoyant in saltwater that it could not dive under waves, seem like obvious telltales that it did not belong in the ocean. Yet, the context of the moment and the rarity of seeing a turtle on the beach provided plenty of distraction.

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^ Click this photo for more info on the RMSP flash photography workshop.

The passage of April into May is exciting for many reasons. Among the foremost is that the summer photo workshop season will soon be upon us.

For the fourth summer in a row, I will be teaching an introductory class on flash photography at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana. I love heading to Missoula and completely understand why they say that “Montana is Big Sky Country.”

If you’ve been frustrated trying to learn flash techniques on your own, consider joining us. The week-long workshop starts with the fundamentals and then gently moves on to a variety of creative techniques. We use models as our primary subjects, but the techniques apply equally well to other types of photography (nature, food, product, etc.) As you can see in the photos below, we shoot every day on a range of locations — both indoors and outside.

This is the only flash workshop that I’ll be teaching this summer. Beyond the workshop, Missoula is a treasure-trove of great restaurants and a center for outdoor activities like whitewater rafting, fly fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, etc. Glacier National Park is a couple of hours to the north. If you’re on the east coast, don’t worry about getting to Missoula. There are several major airlines (including Alaska, Delta, and United) that fly in.

Have a question about the workshop? Just ask via the comment form.

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I’ve taken the past six months off from social media—no Tweeting, blogging, etc. (although I did occasionally post a noteworthy #Crocs&sox photo on Instagram). There is so much noise on the web (the electoral noise may be over, but the consumerist noise will continue to rise). I’m thinking about how not to contribute to the din of it all.

I recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of my brain aneurysm. Of course, it’s not the aneurysm that I celebrated, but my 1-in-10 survival. Today is the day that I came home from Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, still in need of tremendous healing, but able to join my family around the Thanksgiving table. A year later, I’m doing fine. There seem to be no long term disabilities.

Understandably, I think a lot about the spaces in my mind. The following are several self-metaphorical photographs that I created in my studio this fall. They are part of the work that I’ve been doing for my MFA (which I’ll write about soon). Contrary to the suspicion that everything is digitally manipulated these days, they are straight photographs created with a 4×5 camera and a vintage BetterLight scanning back. They represent where I’ve headed with my trichroic lighting since I first wrote about it here.


Syl_Arena_BL_161009__022, 10/9/16, 4:35 PM, 16C, 9000x12000 (0+0), 150%, Custom, 1/25 s, R47.6, G30.0, B54.3

Fig. 1: Syl Arena, Ela, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 2: Syl Arena, Loak, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 3: Syl Arena, Prin, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 4: Syl Arena, Venk, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 5: Syl Arena, Schen, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 1: Syl Arena, Color Ribbon 9775, Digital C print, 24″ x 36″, 2016.

I am very proud to announce that my Color Ribbon 9775 will be exhibited this summer in New York as part of the Aperture Foundation’s “Summer Open 2016.” CR 9775 is part of my trichroic series in which I use separate red, green, and blue light sources to illuminate common materials. For a behind-the-scenes look at my early trichroic work, check out this post from February, 2015. For peek at recent trichroic work, click on the photo below to hop to an online gallery.

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Fig. 2 – Click through ^ to see recent works in my Trichroic series.

Charlotte Cotton served as curator for the show.  Charlotte is the Curator In Residence at the International Center for Photography in New York. The theme the Aperture show, “Photography Is Magic,” ties in with the title of Charlotte’s recent book by the same name. The exhibition includes the work of 50 photographers. It opens on July 14 and runs to August 11, 2016 at Aperture’s gallery in Chelsea. For details, click here.

My Artist Statement for the Aperture Summer Open

Visual ambiguity creates the magic in my ‘Color Ribbon’ series. These images play with the viewer’s perception of spatial organization. Questions of what is truly in front and what is behind reveal themselves slowly in these images.

In photographs, we interpret depth largely through clues provided by perspective and shadow. My slight-of-hand in this series is that I use three separate light sources in pure red, green, and blue. The merger of these three primary colors creates the secondary colors (yellow, cyan, and magenta). The separation of the sources and the resulting mergers of colored light cast multiple shadows that are often visually disconnected from the illuminated surface.

To create just a bit more visual magic, I use small, irregularly shaped mirrors to reflect light back onto the cut paper. For instance, redirecting red light coming from behind onto a green surface facing the lens creates a patch of yellow that distracts the viewer, thereby enhancing the illusion of the photograph’s spatial organization.

Of course there are small tells in each image—small clues that reward the viewer’s attention to detail. Bumps along the cut edges of the paper, in places, reveal that I have indeed photographed a sheet of paper that I cut into strips and rearranged as a jumbled bow. There are also spots where the paper’s texture becomes apparent through a highlight. Rather than hide these tells through digital manipulation, I leave them in plain sight to honor the sense of magic that is photography.



On the outside, the new 600EX II-RT Speedlite looks like the original 600EX-RT.

Canon recently announced an upgrade to its flagship Speedlite: the 600EX II-RT replaces the original 600EX-RT. My initial impression is that the new model is well-suited for power shooters who need faster recycle times. While the 600EX II-RT maintains the external layout of the 600EX-RT, the internal heat resistance has been improved to allow for longer runs of continuous shooting. For the fastest recycle times, you’ll want to pair the 600EX II-RT with the new CP-E4N battery pack.


Canon’s new CP-E4N battery pack provides the fastest recycle times when used with the 600EX II-RT Speedlite.

Rapid-fire shooters also will be glad to know that the “Quick Flash” feature (which fires the flash when only partially recharged) can now be used when the camera is set to Continuous drive. Also, when the 600EX II-RT is used as a radio master, off-camera Speedlites that are recycled will fire when others are not yet fully recycled. Previously, the system would not fire any off-camera Speedlites until all had checked in as ready-to-go.

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Art Camera Google Cultural Institute

Google’s Cultural Institute is providing their Art Camera to museums around the globe. The camera brings the gigapixel zoomability of the Google Earth experience to paintings and drawings. The detail of brushstrokes is amazing…better than sticking your nose up close and having a guard tap you on the shoulder. Plus, you can hop from museum to museum with just a few clicks.

Check the Art Camera out here on Mashable.

Click here to see the collection of Art Camera pix on the Google Cultural Institute site.

Google Art Cam example

Above: an example of the brushwork that can be seen in Cezanne’s painting Quarry at Bibémus.

Syl Arena Glad To Be Alive

Left: The day after brain surgery. Right: ten days later with my son, Tony.

Just a quick thanks to all who have offered up prayers and sent words of support over the past few months. I am now in that class of people who have walked away from a medical train wreck. Literally I am one in ten.

On November 10, 2015, I had a seizure at home which lead to a CT-scan at the local emergency room which lead to a 150-mile flight in a medical helicopter to a regional medical center in Santa Barbara (no, I did not have a window seat). At Cottage Hospital, the world-renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Alois Zauner, and his team injected me with radioactive dye and then drove a catheter from my groin into the center of my brain to seal a leaking aneurysm (a bubble on the side of an artery). Effectively, I underwent brain surgery without losing any of my trademark crazy, red locks.

Specifically, I had a subarachnoid hemorrhage; which is a type of stroke. I spent two weeks at Cottage, mostly in the neuro-ICU. As is typical after brain events, my body chemistry was whacked. My pituitary gland persistently instructed my kidneys to hold onto lethal amounts of sodium. My blood pressure, in response, stayed at stratospheric levels that causes strokes. Eventually the doctors and dedicated  NICU nurses at Cottage helped me find a path to recovery.

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On This Week In Photo #434, I join Frederick Van Johnson and Sara France for a spirited, hour-long conversation about recent events and announcements in the world of photography. You can watch (or listen) to it right here on TWiP.

Speedliting Events In NYC This Week During PhotoPlus

Heading to PhotoPlus this week? Click here for info on my free Speedliting events. And…when you see that guy with the crazy red hair, be sure to come up and introduce yourself as a PixSylarian.