Old School Film Hack


Ghost town interiorBodie, California (October 2016)Contax T + Zeiss Sonnar 38/2.8Kodak Ektar 100 + Commercial C-41 processing

Ghost town interior
Bodie, California (October 2016)
Contax T + Zeiss Sonnar 38/2.8
Kodak Ektar 100 + Commercial C-41 processing

I’ve been interested in seeing Bodie, California, for decades… having heard about it for the first time when I was still in high school some forty years ago.  Did it meet my expectations?  Oh yes — very much so!

I don’t know what the total count may be of complete, semi-complete, and foundation-only buildings that remain visible there (somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 structures, supposedly…), but it’s easily the largest ghost town I’ve ever seen and is chock full of cool photo opportunities.

If you ever have a spare day available to go and explore it, here are my recommendations:

  • Take a bottle of water with you while walking around the buildings.  Bodie is much bigger than it seems and hiking back to the vehicle for water gets old quick; also, the only water fountain available is just off the parking lot — so you’d be hiking almost all the way back either way.
  • Wear a wide-brim hat.  It’s in the desert (duh); it’s hot, even in the cooler months.  Wear a baseball cap only if you want your neck and ears to get totally cooked.  Keep in mind that proper medical care is at least an hour away, so plan accordingly.
  • Wear enclosed shoes.  I can’t emphasis this enough.  There is broken glass, sharp pieces of scrap metal and old cans, ceramic shards and chunks of brick, rusty nails and screws, wild animal scat, and other foot hazards everywhere you walk.  I wore running shoes instead of my heavy hiking boots and regretted my decision when a rusty roofing nail came through the sole of my shoe; it didn’t pierce my skin, but it was a close call.  Had I been wearing flip-flops or sandals, we would have had to cut the visit short to find someplace to get a tetanus shot.
  • Bring lots of film, or lots of spare batteries and memory chips.  We arrived right when the park opened, stayed all day and took hundreds of photos, and STILL didn’t see everything.

Highly recommended.

26 thoughts on “Inside/Outside

  1. Robin S. Kent

    That’s a great place to photograph and all of your suggestions are right on the mark. I had the opportunity to take a light painting/star trails workshop with Michael Frye and so our little group had exclusive access at night. It was a really cool experience.


  2. Larry McGraw

    The elevation is 8300 ft with clear sky so sunscreen is recommended. The nearest food is with the medical services one hour drive away so take something to eat as it would be a shame to have to leave because of a empty tummy. A unique window into people who won the west.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Exploratorius finds the Ghosts of Bodie- | Live Free 2 Sail Fast

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Each building is locked (though a small number are open for viewing), there are rangers posted at the site, and they have live video feeds that you can spot here and there.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Thanks, Frank! 🙂

      One thing I really like about film is the highlight recovery that it’s capable of. If you look through the window in the background, you can still see other buildings and foliage, with a little sky detail. With digital, that would not have been recoverable, given that the interior was so dark.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      In many ways digital IS more flexible, Frank; it does FAR better with shadow recovery; it’s the preferred medium for sports and animal shooters; it excels with telephoto, macro and strobe shooting; it offers instant feedback; etc. I could go on and on extolling the positives of digital, which just keeps getting better and better every year.

      However, while analog may not be as flexible as digital, it also has virtues that digital simply can’t match. Film has amazing dynamic latitude, particularly with over-exposure; the tiniest full-frame film cameras are still much smaller than the smallest full-frame digital cameras; film is particularly desirable with people shots and mood imagery, particularly if grain is wanted as part of the end product.

      Please note that while I’m shooting a lot more with film (especially people and landscapes), I have not given up on digital and continue to use it as I see fit (hand-held macro imagery, strobe for product shots, action, and low-light shots).

      I just like keeping my options open. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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