How Do You Work This Thing?

 After going through all the boxes of old photos and discovering some pretty cool hidden gems, I decided there was only one thing left to do. I carefully unzipped the camera bag that had been sitting in the corner of my room for weeks, took a peek inside, and immediately knew I was going to need some help. Besides the camera, which was carefully laying on a bed of deteriorating green foam, there were disks, canisters, attachments, lenses…

There was nothing like what I’d been used to; no battery, no charger, no memory stick.

Since I had already made plans to get some slides developed, I thought it’d be best to bring my newfound treasures to Mike’s Camera and ask “the experts” for some guidance. Despite feeling completely stupid, I gathered the courage to ask one of the photo technicians for help and she graciously went through each of the items one-by-one.

First, we went checked out the inventory:

  • One Minolta SR-T 101 camera
  • Two lenses
  • One flash
  • One release cord
  • One roll of 35mm Kodak film
  • Four filters
  • One cleaning kit
  • Some rings and tubes (I don’t know what they are)
Blast from the past

Ok, not too scary so far… but how does it work?

Next, the technician, Heather, gave me a quick walk-through. She showed me how to remove the lens and check the mirror, went over the numerous dials, replaced a battery for some meter, and — most importantly — showed me how to load and remove the film. She pointed out that one of the foam pieces inside the camera’s door was falling apart, so suggested I put some yarn in the crack to help keep the camera light-tight.

After buying a few rolls of film, I left the store feeling excited and eager to experiment. Luckily, I had a weekend getaway planned and knew it’d be a great place to take some test shots.


The weekend destination, Fort Ross, is about two hours from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area and is described best on its website.

Fort Ross, one of the main tourist attractions between Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg, is a California State Historic Park showcasing a historic Russian-era fort compound that has been designated National Historic Landmark status. Located eleven miles north of Jenner on California Highway One, one of the most scenic coastal routes in the world, Fort Ross is surrounded by sandy beaches, panoramic coves, and redwood forests, with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

The 3,400 acre park offers pristine natural landscapes as well as historic structures and exhibits that bring to life the former Imperial Russian settlement, early California Ranch era, and Kashaya territory.

But before jumping into the weekend’s history lesson, I needed to find a settlement of my own. I stayed a few minutes North of the fort, at Fort Ross Lodge, which had an amazing view of the ocean. 

Despite being only a short distance away, the walk to the cliffs felt like an eternity since the camera bag seemed to weigh as much as a small child. I tried to snap some photos along the way, in order to get my mind off of the discomfort — and the heat! (Key word: “tried“).

All that headache, for this!?

When I finally found a little shady spot, I crouched into a catcher’s stance, aimed for a cluster of pinecones, and pressed down on the button.

But nothing happened! No clicking, just resistance.

Luckily, before having a complete mental breakdown, I realized that the button wasn’t working, because the film wasn’t advancing, because I didn’t pull the lever far enough. I had pulled it enough to feel it start to resist, but did not follow through. Talk about a momentum killer…

I laughed it off, continued the walk, and eventually made it to the cliff where I was able to take quite a few photos of the view. I did my best to focus the lens, but I wasn’t paying any attention to shutter speed or much else. I just watched the guides through the viewfinder, tried to get everything aligned by rotating the different parts of the lens, and hoped for the best!

I aimed for the crashing waves, fully aware that it was too bright out. There were times when the guides would not align, but I took the pictures anyway. Looking back, I realize that I kept the shutter-speed dial at 60 the entire time, because I wasn’t trying to change the speed. I had no idea how it was all related.

Overexposed; I wish this came out more clear



I knew the evening shots would be more risky, but I can’t resist a sunset!

Overexposed again, but I kinda like it!2342734_2342734-R1-050-23A

The following day was spent at the fort, where there were plenty of photo opportunities.

Here’s the history in a nutshell:

In the early 1800’s, Russian fur traders, hoping to expand, made their way down the Pacific Coast from Alaska. Though the Spanish had closed California’s ports to foreign trade, one of the Russian traders was polite and persistent, which eventually led to a friendly trading relationship with the Spanish. By 1812, Fort Ross (most likely named for Russia – “Rossiia”) was completed and remained colonized by the Russians until 1842.

I was careful not to take photos too frivolously. Unlike digital photography, where it’s normal to take 30 selfies or 42 pictures of your food, film feels more exclusive. I’m not going to start taking random snapshots all willy-nilly! — I mean, it’s $3.99 for 24 photos (maybe 36? I’m not sure…).

My plan of attack was the same as the previous day. Point. Focus. Shoot.


Since I wasn’t sure how the quality or light-tightness would be, I only used one roll that weekend. When I returned home, I rushed out to the camera store to get the film developed — the anticipation was killing me! I was nervous that the pictures wouldn’t come out, but was pleasantly surprised with the outcome despite some of the photos being overexposed or slightly blurry.

But none of that mattered… The camera works and the journey continues!

I swear this looked better in person


View all the photos from this outing on my Flickr

*Update: In my original post, I mentioned that the technician had also “warned me not to switch lenses in the middle of a roll of film, because the film would get exposed.” A helpful reader questioned this, and after further research, I see that this statement might not true. As such, the comment has been removed from this post — Many thanks!