Book review: The Photographer’s Guide to New Mexico: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them by Efraín M. Padró

The Photographer’s Guide to New Mexico: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them. Efraín M. Padró. The Countryman Press. Woodstock, Vermont. 96pp. $14.95

Even before I bought this book, I knew I was going to like it. My wife and I have taken two workshops with the author, one at White Sands and the other in Las Cruces, and are ready for another. I am a big fan of Efraín M. Padró’s.

Because he and I are on a first-name basis, I’ll refer to the author/photographer as Efraín.

Efraín, who’s based in Santa Fe, begins the book with a four-page section titled “How I Photograph New Mexico.” It’s right out of his workshops, and for those of us who want to be better photographers, I can attest that it’s a value-packed four pages. One thing Efraín recommends that I’ve started to do more of: If he’s not shooting something in motion, he usually sets his ISO to 100 and uses a tripod.

One very important section in the opening is a short piece on etiquette when photographing on Native American soil. For those accustomed to being around Amish or other insular groups, the information will be redundant. Nevertheless, it’s worth repeating.

Efraín has divided the book into geographical areas and within the divisions suggested places to photograph. So Northwest New Mexico lists Shiprock, El Morro and Acoma Sky City among the 11 sites. North Central includes Taos and Santa Fe. Albuquerque shows up in Central New Mexico, and the two places Paulette and I have been with Efraín, Las Cruces and White Sands, appear in Southwest and Southeast New Mexico.

The author, who includes many of his own photographs in here, not only provides seasonal ratings for each area, but suggests lenses and filters for shooting certain events. He warns you if you’re going to encounter a low-light situation (and would need a tripod) and he advises on the best times to photograph (morning and evening, which are fairly universal, as he notes). He also suggests where to stand to capture the best light depending on the time of day. Sunrises and sunsets in New Mexico provide different lighting depending on where you’re standing and what the cloud cover is like.

Efraín concludes with his list of favorite sites, which he acknowledges is subjective.

Even if you are not a serious photographer or a wannabe like me, the book is invaluable as a guide to the sites and sights of photogenic New Mexico. About the only thing missing is a restaurant guide, and given the high number of good restaurants in New Mexico, such a guide would be unnecessary.


Remembering Ed Leos

I try to imagine how many of the late Ed Leos’ students remember when they lift a camera’s viewfinder to their eye to snap a photo what he taught them so many decades ago. Ed belonged to the be-ready-at-all-times school of photojournalism and one of the second things he taught his students in his beginning journalism class was to carry their camera hanging by the strap from their left shoulder so if something worth photographing happened, the student could quickly swing his camera to his eye and take a photograph.

Of course, the first thing he taught his students was: Always have your camera with you.

Ed was my colleague in the School of Journalism at Penn State, and when his retirement was fast approaching in the spring of 1978, he allowed me to audit his beginning photojournalism class. It was more than a course in photojournalism.

Ed died in November at the age of 92. Born during World War I, he was a teenager during the Depression and served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theatre and stateside in World War II.

I still have the mimeographed handouts Ed gave us. They are the first thing I see when I open my initial three-ring binder of black and white negatives, a binder that grew to six in number before I stopped processing my own film and used a commercial developer. Two of the handout titles: “Control Of Temperature In Film Processing” and “On Submitting Assignments.” It wasn’t enough to turn in an assignment by deadline. “No deadline is met,” one handout says, “unless every print and contact sheet is fully identified.” Full identification meant name, address, location of photographs or name of subject, date, negative number.

Students would rush into class from the darkroom with wet prints just so they could make deadline. Then they would sit at tables while Ed stood at the front of the room and talked about photography. He didn’t talk about how to cover a three-alarm fire or a three-car accident. He talked about art.

One of his favorite examples was the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. He would show us her paintings and comparable photographs. He wanted us to see that we could take a photo that might resemble an O’Keeffe painting. But even while he was pushing us to aim high, he was still providing practical lessons, some that went beyond photography.

For example, while many photographers would make 8x10-inch test prints to see where adjustments were necessary, Ed made us cut the paper into narrow strips and we got several strips out of one piece of paper. Think of the paper we saved. (In those days, paper and film were given to students and the cameras were loaners.) We rolled our own film rather than buying film from a camera store. We recycled as much as we could.

I recall a story one of Ed’s contemporaries used to tell about him. In those days, the university was not allowed to roll over any money it had received from the state and so late in the year we would get a memo from the dean telling us that he had leftover money and if anyone needed supplies, put in a request. Well, a photojournalism course is more apt than, say, a history course to need supplies—new cameras, a paper cutter, trays, what have you.

But what my other colleague pointed out was that no sooner did the dean’s memo reach our mailboxes than Ed’s list was on the way to the dean’s office. Ed was ready. He carried his camera on his left shoulder and his supply list in his coat pocket.

Another thing I learned from Ed was how to see. Most people will take photographs one way and not consider changing the position of their camera from horizontal to vertical. He urged us to turn the camera and get a different view.

That wasn’t all. I recall bumping into him one day on the main walkway at Penn State. He was holding his camera in one hand with his arm extended to the sidewalk and more or less pointing the camera at passers-by. He was taking candid photographs just for fun. Since this was the pre-digital era, he couldn’t quickly check to see what he was getting but had to return to his home and develop the film. To my knowledge, he never exhibited any prints from that experiment. He just wanted to experiment, to get a different view.

Some of us on the faculty got together with Ed a couple of times after he retired. One time he exhibited in the student union building at Penn State and I have photos of the event. There’s Ed wearing his bolo. Later, we had lunch and I remember Ed telling us that he no longer took photographs. His eyesight was fading. It has to be the worst thing that can happen to a photographer.

He had seen a lot in his day and accepted the dying of the light. He was frugal, practical, aesthetical and philosophical. He made for a great photojournalism instructor and colleague. I still practice what he preached.


Haiku Afternoon

I recently took a four-hour class in haiku, which as most of you know is a form of Japanese poetry. As you probably also know, it’s three lines of five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables—and no rhyming. (I’m using the word syllables loosely because there’s a translation glitch between the Japanese phrase and English.) I wrote three right off the bat.

the minimalist

searches for his meter

and finds it here

Albuquerque box

above the city below

hot air balloons rise

I stand up without notice

Lucy leaps to all four feet

time for her walk

The Albuquerque box haiku was inspired by a photo I had in my folder and which appears here.

Then we had to write a haiku about something first (first kiss, first, ah, you get it).

awaken to a rocking feeling

not there the night before—

I need my sealegs now

Back to a photo I had taken on the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday.

two ravens in a tree

backlit by the rising sun—

his 200th anniversary

Then we had to write a tanka, which is a haiku with an additional two lines of seven syllables. Even though I confessed to having used a previous (but unread) haiku, my instructor liked my tanka:

two ravens in a tree

backlit by the rising sun

his 200th anniversary—

a playoff game the night before

Ravens of a different sort

Finally we watched some nature slides and wrote one more haiku. In my housing development when it rains really hard during the summer and the holding ponds fill up (we call it the monsoon season), toads come out and croak loudly as a way of attracting a mate. My wife says it sounds like Jurassic Park.

monsoons upon us

the holding ponds fill up

the mating toads sing

At least I didn’t call them horny toads.

We ended the afternoon by writing two renkus. A renku begins with one person writing a haiku and the next person adding two lines of seven syllables followed by someone adding a haiku followed by someone adding two lines of seven syllables until we run out of people. Our instructor said she would try to get both poems published.

a gathering of words

assembled by a group

published poets all


One Man’s Newspaper History

I fell in love with newspapers when I was in senior high. Yes, I had looked at newspapers before that and had even been a newspaper boy (as they were called before the gender-neutral term “carrier” went into effect). But love came in my senior year when I realized that the only way I could get close to the girl I had a crush on was to join the staff of my high school newspaper.

She was the editor.

Alas, nothing came of the romance, but consider what it did for me. While still in high school, I became a stringer for my local newspaper in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, The Evening Courier, and then, upon graduation, its only sportswriter. The publisher said he hired me partly on the strength of a recommendation from his next-door neighbor, who said I had a good work ethic.

The neighbor was, in one of those life coincidences, the editor of my high school newspaper. Although I never got to first base with the high school editor and haven’t seen her since graduation day in 1961 (she became a missionary, and if you know me, you can see that would have never worked), I did end up with a great career because of the newspaper business. Now retired, I sit on the sidelines and watch as newspapers continue their downward spiral. And while many people are lamenting the current situation, I need to point out that the spiral did not start yesterday, but can be traced back nearly 100 years.

In my academic career, I helped chronicle the decline, starting with my master’s thesis, “The Death of a Small-Town Daily.” The thesis examined the demise of the Courier, the newspaper that gave me my first paying job in 1961 and disappeared in 1971, subsumed by a neighboring newspaper that subsumed two others and became a regional newspaper. Later I assisted Ben Bagdikian in a national study on why newspapers did or did not survive in the 1960s. That’s enough to make me an expert.

I checked my master’s thesis and found that the highest number of daily newspapers in the United States was recorded in 1910. Then we had 2,200 dailies. The latest figures I can find put the number at around 1,400.

The signs have always been there, although perhaps not as dramatically as they are now, when it’s not small-town dailies being subsumed, but metropolitan newspapers going bankrupt. Of course, today all businesses are suffering. Given that newspapers rely on advertising for revenue and businesses don’t advertise as much in bad economic times, newspapers are taking a hit from which many probably will not recover. Let’s face it: As long as the populations grows, there will be people to buy cars and houses and furniture, but whether or not those businesses advertise in newspapers is not so certain.

As I write this on my computer, having already skimmed headlines in six online newspapers (two from Australia) and having read the hard copy of my local newspaper while eating my breakfast, I worry more about the future of news rather than the future of newspapers. When I was a young city editor, we used to joke about the local radio station using our stories on the air—without credit—even though you could hear the reader turning the pages of the newspaper to read the rest of the story. (It was also funny when the story didn’t continue to the designated page and the reader was left to figure out how to go on from mid-sentence.) Today I note to my wife as we watch the news on television how many stories were first reported in that morning’s New York Times. If it weren’t for The New York Times, conservative talk-show host Bill O’Reilly would be at a loss for words, lacking a simultaneous source and target.

Google News and similar news collection sites use stories from the AP and papers such as the Times, but they cannot replace them. Can you imagine a Google News reporter going to a hot spot to cover a story? No way. News organizations such as the AP and the Times devote time and money to in-depth articles that Google News merely aggregates rather than develops on its own. That’s the strength of newspapers and that’s what we’re going to be poorer for as the downward spiral continues.