Do your pictures pop?

Reading Sam Horn’s Pop - Stand Out In Any Crowd made me think about why some photos work and others don’t. 

Two of my Paris images came to mind. While the one of the couple kissing is a classic image street photographers look for on a Paris trip, something’s missing. 


The second image is my best selling photo ever. It’s allowed me to give back via the Friends of Anton, Secours Populaire Français, and a variety of causes. 


The missing element? Snap. Why does one pop and the other doesn’t?

 The light. We photograph light, not objects. 

Thank you, Sam, for the reminder on how to stand out.

Photos (c) 2008 and 2009 Bob Soltys - All Rights Reserved


What we can do for Lent to help improve our focus

Lent begins in less than two weeks on Ash Wednesday, March 5. Tradition calls for those who observe Lent to give something up. Giving up needless smartphone checking and compulsive updating was the first thing that came to mind - after thrift. 

A priest in San Diego remarked that “It’s not enough to just give something up - you should do something more.” So in addition to leaving the smartphone in the pocket, how about focus and truly being in the moment - like the cowhands in Wyoming pictured below?


Our photography and our relationships can’t help but improve. 

Photo: Wyoming, 2008. Tri-X film in a Leica M7, 35mm lens.  (c) Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved


A time when we thought things through and knew how to make change

Before there were iPhones, personal computers, and calculators, students used slide rules.

As I looked at this image of the captain of my late father’s air ambulance flight showing the first officer how to use my Keuffel and Esser Jet Log Jr. slide rule, it brought back fond memories of a time when we figured things out for ourselves or looked it up in a book instead of going online or relying on the cash register to figure out how much change the customer has coming back.

Time to resurrect the analog antidote project - capturing those devoted to slide rules and fountain pens. 


Photo: (c) 1998 Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved

Leica M6, Ektachrome E100S film, 35mm 1.4 lens


What dogs can teach us about focus

Lucky the Jack Russell Terrier has taught me much, and the complete attention that he gives to everything is a daily reminder. 


His singular focus on the morsel that awaited him at Eddie’s in Geneva on the Lake, Ohio and in Lusk, Wyoming, demonstrates the attention that we too can give to our photography, to our driving and walking, to the person we are with, and to whatever else we do in life.


To paraphrase the Belgian photographer Gabriel Delobbe, every moment that you spend looking down at your smartphone is a moment that you are denying yourself the gifts of life that are waiting to be observed. 

What will you see today? 

Photos (c) 2012 and 2006 Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved

Thanks to John Rehner for expertly scanning the gelatin silver print 


What’s missing from this picture?

A couple of years ago as I waited for “la femme qui marche chat,” I saw these Parisians enjoying the remains of the day along Quai de Bourbon on île Saint-Louis. 


They’re enjoying a baguette, talking with each other and being in the moment, with not a smartphone in sight. 

Dan Milnor’s Smogranch blog post today about social media addiction mentioned taking evasive action to avoid compulsive status updaters.  

Last November, one of those compulsive status updaters felled me a half block from where I made the Paris photo.  Fortunately, neither glass nor bones were broken, although my “snob” LHSA M6TTL has a bit of new patina. 


The hospital bill was in today’s mail - yes, unlike in America, the French take care of you first instead of worrying about the almighty dollar.  And it was less than ten percent of what it would have been had I landed on my hands and knees in Les Etats-Unis. 

The letter from France nourished the seed of freedom from Facebook that I planted before last September’s London trip for Stephen Bartels Gallery’s joint exhibit with Leica Gallery Mayfair. Dan’s blog post allowed the seed of just say no to FaceBook to bloom into the final nail in the coffin of my social media addiction.  

As Jackson put it in The Leader Who Had No Title, “There have never been so many useless distractions available to human beings.” 

Lucky the Jack Russell Terrier, my photography, and the books I’m writing are my priorities and deserve my undivided attention. So, adieu to social media, except Twitter and this BlkWhiteFilmPix blog. To me, LinkedIn is a networking tool, not social media. 

Black and white film photography, real paper books, fountain pens, and slide rules remain my refuge from the tyranny of technology. 

The Cleveland area is a winter wonderland in the wake of seven inches of snow today, and so I’m off to make a few pictures before the light is gone.

Happy Birthday Dan, and thanks for the encouragement!

Black and white photo:

Along the Banks of the Seine (c) 2011 Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved


Will You Embrace Greatness in 2014?


As the New Year approaches, many of us resolve to be better. To achieve this, we must set specific goals and put a deadline on them.

What specific goals might we set? What do we want to be? To get started, we could work toward being:

Focused - Captain Sullenberger’s extraordinary concentration on getting Flight 1549 down safely remains the gold standard for attention to the task at hand.

Attentive - as in the undivided attention Bill Clinton gives everyone. He doesn’t look at his watch or his iPhone when he’s talking with you. Give that kind of focus to your photography, your work, your clients, and everyone you meet and work with, and you’ll be far ahead of the rest of the pack.

“The biggest obstacle to productivity is connectivity” - Tova Payne

Thanks to John Rehner for encouraging me to leave my phone off, and to and to Lucky [the Jack Russell Terrier] for always reminding me it’s time to disconnect.

Paying attention to what’s around you (instead of a smartphone screen) will enrich your life as well as the lives of those you encounter. 

Positive - if, like Robin Sharma, we look at bumps in the road of life as opportunities to rise to a challenge and improve ourselves and the process, we’ll remain on track while achieving greatness whatever we do.

By looking on the bright side of what life hands us, we can turn a negative into a positive, as Josef Koudelka said about why he loves black and white photography. 

 Inspiring - St. Francis said “Preach often, occasionally with words.”

Pope Francis’ life of humility inspires everyone because he’s down to earth and focuses on what’s really important while ignoring the chaff.

Nelson Mandela invited his jailers to his inauguration. Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King stood by their principles of nonviolence. During the Depression, FDR taught that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

When President Ford was asked during his first days in office if he would make new ethics rules in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation, he replied, “The standard will be the example I set.” 

Others like Jack Canfield inspire us with great stories and with their obvious enthusiasm that makes us want to be better.

Photographer Bill Allard pointed out that as photographers, we’re always taking pictures. One of his photos was so powerful that it inspired National Geographic’s readers to send money to replace a flock of sheep killed by a speeding car in Peru.

To paraphrase Mother Teresa, we can inspire others by doing small things with great attention and love. 

Relating - relating well to others, and relating what happens to us with photographs or words makes us pay attention while sharing the greatness that is there if we make time to see it. 

One of the most inspiring photographers I know, David Hume Kennerly, continues to make pictures that tell great stories while inspiring us to go out, make great photographs showing what the world wants to see, thereby making it a better place. 

For more words of inspiration, Dr. Mollie Marti’s Walking With Justice tells how Judge Max Rosenn’s life inspired everyone around him. Judge Rosenn is no longer with us, but thanks to Dr. Mollie (as her friends call this gifted psychologist, lawyer and servant leader) his gifts of grace and gratitude live on to teach us.

What have you noticed that you want to share?

Grateful - Being grateful for all that you have is the prime ingredient of your greatness cake. If you appreciate what you have, more will come your way. One way to be grateful is to give back. Giving back isn’t about money - it can be time or things. 

Giving Thanks, the Art of Tithing, explains how giving back empowers you as well as those with whom you share, and makes room for more. (A tip o’ the pin - ala Zippy - to Dr. Mollie Marti for sharing this wonderful resource with me last year).

Trustworthy - you know what you’re talking about, you speak the truth, and you act with integrity by doing what you say.  This is the mark of a mensch. To paraphrase Gandhi, your life is your message. 

With just a few words, Cow boss Gerry Endicott’s thundering velvet hand* reminded the crew it was time to get to work: “Guys, we’re wastin’ daylight!” 

* hat tip to the late great Dan Fogelberg’s tribute to his father, Leader of the Band.

Start right, end right: Instead of picking up your phone and checking texts or email, begin the day by making time for an “hour of power” - 20 minutes of reading or listening to inspirational books, 20 minutes of exercise or yoga, and 20 minutes of meditation or prayer. Continue the flow as you work with attention to detail (note to self - on framing), honesty, integrity, and a positive outlook based on gratitude, for a great day, every day. End the day with thanks for the things that went right, and look forward to a better tomorrow.

Or would you rather be wastin’ daylight and wishing on a star?


Photo “Cow boss”  (c) 2008 Bob Soltys, All Rights Reserved

Tri-X film in a Leica M7, 35mm 1.4 ASPH lens, Bondurant, Wyoming May 2008


How to get the best exposures photographing snowy scenes

Winter is upon us, bringing the chance to take photographs that demonstrate the true meaning of “black and white.” 

A hand-held incident meter is best for snowy conditions, as it is not fooled by all the light reflected from the snow.  An incident meter measures the luminance of light falling on the subject and gives the correct exposure. If the light is steady, one reading and you’re done, whether its owls or a wedding.  


When I was blessed to spend forty-five minutes in this great grey owl’s world a few years ago, I ignored the camera’s internal reflected meter settings and set it manually based on what my trusty Gossen Luna Pro F hand held meter told me. Knowing the exposure for Tri-X on an overcast day at Midwest (and Paris) latitudes is usually about 1/250 at 5.6 confirmed that the meter reading was correct. 

Thanks again, Rob Nackman, for driving five hours in a snowstorm so I could get this picture. Thanks to Labwork in San Diego for expertly developing and printing the Tri-X – alas, this fine lab fell victim to gentrification in the wake of yet another semi-publicly funded stadium relocation. Thank you, George Sutton, God rest you, for the Luna Pro F.

Take advantage of the opportunity the Universe just handed us for some great pictures, and be careful out there!

Great Grey Owl, Dairyland Wisconsin

Great grey owl photo (c) 2005 Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved

proceeds from the sale of this photo go to the Owl Research Institute


Be thankful for your vision and keep pursuing it, no matter what the “experts” say

Two weeks ago I participated in portfolio reviews at FotoFest Paris, and showed several photos from my ongoing projects on street life in Paris and “a Lucky Life.”

Although the Paris work has been exhibited four times in galleries from Durango to London and my trademark image of Paris has been a favorite at charity auctions and with everyday buyers alike, the reactions ranged from “The bar is very high for Paris street photography” to “This isn’t reality [over here],” to “If you believe in a body of work, do what you need to get it out there.”

Item last - Bingo - and thank you!


So while I’m grateful for the observations and suggestions, and was heartened by the warm response to and request to see more images of Lucky, I’ll remember what my friend Guy Kawasaki learned from Steve Jobs, and remain true to and pursue my vision while keeping the experts suggestions in the proper perspective.

Be thankful for your vision, thank those who appreciate it, and stay true to your vision while continuing to work on your personal projects. 

"Seeing isn’t enough - you have to feel what you photograph" — Andre Kertesz


Photos (c) 2008 and 2006 Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved


A Photographer’s Best Friend

Ten years ago September 30, someone tied a Jack Russell Terrier to a light pole in the parking lot at the South County shelter in San Diego, and left him there in the middle of the night.

He didn’t have a tag, so the shelter gave him three days. When no one came to get him, at the 11th hour on the third day the shelter prepared to put him down. Jack Russell Rescue arrived and saved him. Given the close escape from the needle, the rescue folk named him Lucky.


A month later, I saw his photo on Jack Russell Rescue’s website. After references were checked, Jill Aguilera (God rest her) gave the okay to adopt him, and I did, ten years ago today, October 26. 

Since that time he’s made friends all across the country, brought smiles to countless faces, been an ice breaker with the Amish and others, willingly posed for so many pictures, gained a following on Twitter, and asked for nothing except that he come along whenever possible. And of course, as Elliott Erwitt likes to say, he doesn’t ask for prints. 


Lucky has brought much luck and taught me a lot about patience. I’m grateful for his companionship and for his welcome when I return home from London, Paris, or from somewhere local that ain’t dog-friendly. 



More information about the photos is in A Lucky Life, one of my Blurb books. Proceeds go to Russell Rescue, as do those from a coffee mug with the RCA Victor Dog picture.

In the meantime, may I keep in mind …

"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion"   … 

and live up to his opinion of me. 

Photos (c) Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved


Vin chaud

The onset of cooler weather this week, my upcoming trip to Paris, and trouble sleeping due to a cold prompted me to make some vin chaud (hot wine), with which I first became acquainted at Paris’ Le Brasserie de île Saint Louis. 


Perfect for warming up on a rainy fall day, it also makes a great hot toddy:

One bottle red wine

4 cinnamon sticks

1.5 x .5 inch piece of orange zest (white pith removed)

4 tablespoons honey

2 cardamon pods

5 whole cloves

1/3 cup cognac

Mix the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to simmer on the lowest burner setting. Do not boil. Strain the spices with a mesh sieve or cheesecloth liner. You can add another teaspoon of cognac to a mug of the mulled wine. 

Bon appetit!

Thanks to Le Brasserie de île St-Louis for the warm atmosphere, vin chaud, and being photographer friendly. 

Photo (c) 2011 Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved

Caution: alcohol can interact with and cause unwanted side effects if you’re taking benadryl, cough syrup, and other cold remedies.