Back to School Faces

By , July 28, 2015 11:53 am

I just completed a nice session with three kids at Hayes Grade Center here in Ada for the cover of our upcoming back to school edition. Principal Diana Clampitt was instrumental in getting this together for me, including the kids and the bus. The morning light and these beautiful children made the whole thing a success.

Aubrie Calvert, Zeoy Brown, and Jake Clampitt pose at Hayes Grade Center in Ada Tuesday, July 28, 2015.

Aubrie Calvert, Zeoy Brown, and Jake Clampitt pose at Hayes Grade Center in Ada Tuesday, July 28, 2015.

What We Thought it Would Be Like

By , July 26, 2015 11:55 pm

In the year 2000, the gravy days of newspaper publishing had just about peaked. Many publishing companies around the country failed to recognize the gathering storm of internet technologies and the way they would affect how we get our news. “People will always need the newspaper,” they’d say.

Photographers, particularly photographers like me, tend to be more technology oriented. We saw the storm coming sooner than some. But that storm was cloudy and chaotic, and we had a difficult time seeing what it would bring. For a while I remember quite clearly that most of us thought our newspapers would merge with local television stations, and we would all be converted into videographers. We would shoot video at everything we covered, and use frame-grabs as our photos for the newspaper.

This was in the time before high-definition video. Frame-grabs in 2000 would have been 640×480 pixels, which is just 307,200 pixels, or .3 megapixels.

Don't believe me when I say frame grabs from video weren't enough? Here is a video capture (vidcap) from the best consumer camcorder of 2001, the Canon GL-1.

Don’t believe me when I say frame grabs from video weren’t enough? Here is a video capture (vidcap) from the best consumer camcorder of 2001, the Canon GL-1.

Now You See It, Now You Don't
It’s amazing what the human brain can do with sketchy information. Until HDTV came along, we watched everything at 640×480, which wasn’t enough data to really show us the scenes. Our brains filled in the rest. If you don’t believe me, fire up a YouTube video of a sitcom from before 1999, and I think you’ll be amazed at the lack of detail in the image. Even coverage from 9/11 looks visually primitive compared to today’s programming.

No one in 2000 imagined the direction photographic technology would take. In particular, no one imagined a news gathering world in which major newspapers would do away with their entire photography staffs. But in all honesty, despite my newspaper background, if I were starting a news agency today, I would make it part of a web-only media conglomerate that included selling photos and producing web sites for clients, and I would make sure everyone on my staff understood how to use the internet in the 21st century. Everyone would have a smartphone with a high-resolution camera built into it, and they would all know how to use it.

An oddly vexing twist to this is that as we are able to produce more images more cheaply, we have less and less room to publish them in the printed daily newspaper. Being a web-only product solves that problem. Also, the upward spiral of resolution in both cameras and smartphones becomes, paradoxically, less and less important to a media increasingly viewed on hand-sized screens of phones and tablets.

My own internet experience is one of interest in the issues of our lives, and curiosity about images, but more than anything else these days, I am bored and annoyed with the seemingly endless downward spiral of mediocrity the web seems to offer. You could call me naive, but I really do think there is still a place for greatness in the world. Whether or not you could get the public interested is another issue. But if you can’t get the public interested, you can’t get them to pay for it. There’s the rub, really. News organizations don’t live on their high ideals and standards; they live on their income, just like any other business.

What then, is the answer? Do we keep spinning deeper into the mill of Facebook links to one-sided propaganda? Do we continue to slide more and more toward reporting what we hear first, whether it’s true or not? Do we really want to win the web war by carpet bombing our audience with thousands of photos and hundreds of short, shallow sound bites?

This screen capture of a television station's on-air list of prank names they received is a classic example of the public and the news media having absolutely no patience or concern for accuracy. And it is, by the way, incredibly funny to this day.

This screen capture of a television station’s on-air list of prank names they received is a classic example of the public and the news media having absolutely no patience or concern for accuracy. And it is, by the way, incredibly funny to this day.

There is another trend that I happen to think is darker and more evil than hurrying or making content short and shallow, and that’t the increasing practice of making web sites sufficiently cluttered and confusing that their visitors are likely to click on advertiser’s links accidentally. It is manipulative and dishonest.

Look at this mess. Not only is it cluttered into oblivion, it is deliberately unclear where to click to see the desired content.

Look at this mess. Not only is it cluttered into oblivion, it is deliberately unclear where to click to see the desired content.

As the last ten years have taken shape, newspapers have tried several strategies to help them thrive. Some worked – Ada Magazine, for which I am the editor, is our organization’s prestige piece, and, I am happy to say, makes money. On the other hand, starting in about 2006, many newspaper companies, including the one that owns our small newspaper, decided that putting video on our web sites was somehow the answer. I faithfully obeyed, and found that most of the videos we posted got very few views, and a small number of them, almost exclusively videos of human tragedies like fires and car crashes, got thousands of views, plus hundreds of complaints and requests for their removal. But in neither case did these videos equate with revenue of any kind.

As I penned this piece, a Facebook friend of mine and fellow photographer Lisa Rudy Hoke shared an article on the way photos were transmitted by phone lines before the network/datastream era. As equipment matured and brought us closer to the information renaissance, it work both for us and against us. In 1982, the day I transmitted my first photo over a phone line, it seemed pretty amazing. Few people in the world could share their pictures the way I just did. In 2015, just about anyone with a smartphone can share their pictures with everyone instantly. The technology we used as pioneers just 40 years ago now competes with us.

Not only was the interface awkward and the send time long, you had to call New York or Washington and try to get a time when they could receive your image, which meant waiting hours sometimes.

Not only was the interface awkward and the send time long, you had to call New York or Washington and try to get a time when they could receive your image, which meant waiting hours sometimes.

Standing on Higher Ground

By , July 10, 2015 7:11 pm

“…I see the world
And I’m looking from a high place
Way above it all
Standing on higher ground…”
~Alan Parsons Project

Firefighters and police officers prepare to rescue a man who was wash downstream in floodwaters a few days ago near Stonewall, Oklahoma. I made this image from atop a flatbed truck.

Firefighters and police officers prepare to rescue a man who was wash downstream in floodwaters a few days ago near Stonewall, Oklahoma. I made this image from atop a flatbed truck.

This is the rocket ship playground piece in Ada's Glenwood Park.

This is the rocket ship playground piece in Ada’s Glenwood Park.

At this point in my career, the firefighters in my community know that I will ask if I can stand on their fire trucks, or if they have it deployed, their ladder truck, to make pictures. Just a few days ago, at the scene of a water rescue, I asked the owner of a flatbed trash truck if I could climb on it, and he obliged.

Your host poses for a selfie on the fourth stage of a playground rocket today.

Your host poses for a selfie on the fourth stage of a playground rocket today.

There are very few things I won’t climb on or ride in that are high up or flying. Not only is this an excellent strategy for getting a clearer view of everything in my photos, and a smart play for making images that are out of the ordinary, I love climbing on stuff.

This shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise for those who have read the pages of our travel blog or my photo blog and seen the extremes I’ll explore for an image. Even when I can’t get on something high or in something flying, I tend to try to get my camera as high or low as I am able to reach, for the same reason: seeing things and photographing them from a different perspective.

This is the view of Main Street in Ada from the fourth state of the Glenwood Park rocket ship.

This is the view of Main Street in Ada from the fourth state of the Glenwood Park rocket ship.

One of my assignments today was to photograph the venerable four-stage rocket ship playground piece in Ada’s Glenwood Park. It’s been around for decades. I remembered at least one previous occasions on which I squoze through the holes and ladders to reach the top to photograph a child who was playing up there, and today I decided to climb it again, just to be climbing. I vaguely remembered that it swayed back and forth with my movements the last time I was up there, and sure enough, I was right. I have to admit that as it was swaying, I thought it would be hysterically funny (in a tragic way) if it fell over and the headline in my own newspaper would say I was killed in a rocket crash.

This was the only artsy image I was able to conjure from the climb, since the view in all directions was mostly obscured by trees. Still, it was nice to be atop a rocket for a change.

This was the only artsy image I was able to conjure from the climb, since the view in all directions was mostly obscured by trees. Still, it was nice to be atop a rocket for a change.

Mirror Mirror

By , July 1, 2015 7:31 am
A young t-baller catches a fly in this image from the mid-1990s. Thanks to the characteristics of the mirror, or catadioptric, lens, the highlights in this image look like doughnuts.

A young t-baller catches a fly in this image from the mid-1990s. Thanks to the characteristics of the mirror, or catadioptric, lens, the highlights in this image look like doughnuts.

This is one of the optical telescopes at the McDonald Observatory in Texas. It uses the same method of folding the optical path as the Reflex-Nikkor 500mm does.

This is one of the optical telescopes at the McDonald Observatory in Texas. It uses the same method of folding the optical path as the Reflex-Nikkor 500mm does.

In the late 1980s through the mid 1990s, I had a Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 lens. The optical formula is known as a catadioptric, or mirror, lens. Astronomers know about this type of optic, but despite being a relatively cheap way to own a long-focal-length, lightweight lens, this design has fallen very much out of vogue with photographers because of a several significant shortcomings…

  • The maximum aperture is small, typically around f/8, and because of the optical design is the only aperture available.
  • Significant vignetting – darkening at the edges, so the f/8 is only f/8 in the center of the image, and the corners are more like f/16.
  • The “bokeh,” or quality of the background, isn’t just ratty or ugly, it can be, in some circumstances, downright unacceptable.

I found that in the years that I owned it, my 500mm sat at the bottom of a bag of “extra” lenses I kept in the trunk of my car, and I seldom got it out and used it. By 1997, I had the magnificent Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 ED-IF, which combined with a teleconverter to form a 560mm that was very sharp.

This is my Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 ED-IF, combined with a Nikon TC-14a teleconverter. I've had it since 1997. Even in the digital era, it creates super-sharp images with clean backgrounds.

This is my Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 ED-IF, combined with a Nikon TC-14a teleconverter. I’ve had it since 1997. Even in the digital era, it creates super-sharp images with clean backgrounds.

One of our reporters does a lot of nature photography on the side, including birds, and uses this Sigma 150-500mm f/3.5-6.3. It is quite superior to any mirror lens.

One of our reporters does a lot of nature photography on the side, including birds, and uses this Sigma 150-500mm f/3.5-6.3. It is quite superior to any mirror lens.

The 500mm’s only trump card was that it weighed a third that of the 400mm. When I did make a point to shoot with it, results were quite disappointing. I’m surprised to see that nice versions of the 500mm are as much as $600 on eBay, which tells me it’s more of a fetish property.

The bottom line: if someone gave me a Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8, I might play with it for a day or two, but in the end I think I’d give it back.

Years ago I used the 500mm f/8 to make this image of two girls playing at a local school. It was a bright day and the background was quite far off and not vey busy, making for a rare success with this catadioptric lens.

Years ago I used the 500mm f/8 to make this image of two girls playing at a local school. It was a bright day and the background was quite far off and not vey busy, making for a rare success with this catadioptric lens.

Intimate Moments

By , June 27, 2015 10:44 am

I hope my teaching points have not gotten redundant. I try to reinvent myself, like I try to reinvent my photography, every day. But I know it’s easy to fall into ruts, ruts we sometimes don’t even see.

I say that because four years ago I wrote a piece called “Intimacy,” about the value of using our images to explore intimacy in the moments of our lives. Then last night, working at the annual Relay for Life cancer fundraising event, I ran into long-time friend and cancer survivor Tresa Euper. We talked for a while, then both went in different directions when the opening ceremonies started. As I waited for the start of the “survivor lap,” that marks the start of the all-night walk, we were all set upon by smartphone photographers who were all making essentially the same photo over and over: the hold-away selfie. Grip, grin, snap. Grip, grin, snap.

Then I looked over and, with my 80-200mm f/2.8, shot about three frames of this…

Tresa Euper shares a moment with her husband.

Tresa Euper shares a moment with her husband.

I shared the image with her on Facebook (her only web presence), and she replied, “Oh Richard, you captured a special moment – one where I was thinking of just how much my ‘caregiver’ went through right alongside me in my fight. All survivors owe so much to all of our caregivers. Thank you so much for this. It’s a picture I’ll treasure forever. And it’s always so good to see you too!

Intimacy.

An Award for Just Showing Up

By , June 19, 2015 11:00 am
These are my coworkers Dejah Shea and Ladawna Fry, doing this thing they do absent mindedly sometimes. When I see them doing it, I call it "mustaching." Like a lot of my coworkers, I consider them my friends.

These are my coworkers Dejah Shea and Ladawna Fry, doing this thing they do absent mindedly sometimes. When I see them doing it, I call it “mustaching.” Like a lot of my coworkers, I consider them my friends.

I’ve won lots of awards over the years. Sometimes I think members of my profession have award-winning events and images thrust before them all the time.

My most recent award was one for just showing up, the Oklahoma Press Association’s Quarter Century Club award, given for 25 years of service at OPA members newspapers, presented to me in the middle of my 27th year in Ada. I started working at the Shawnee News-Star in 1985, so I’ve been in their system for 30 years, but they gave me this acknowledgment as soon as I applied for it.

A co-worker, Sports Editor Jeff Cali, got the same award, and posted it to his Facebook wall with the simple epithet, “Man I’m old.” I don’t believe it for a minute. I think both Jeff and I are still young enough and good enough to cover our beats for at least another 25 years.

Quarter Century Club award; for the photographically interested, I shot this award using three colored lights angled to pick up the frosted lettering in the back of the glass.

Quarter Century Club award; for the photographically interested, I shot this award using three colored lights angled to pick up the frosted lettering in the back of the glass.

First Look: the Nikon D300s

By , June 13, 2015 4:12 pm
This is the Nikon D300s with its MB-D10 battery grip attached.

This is the Nikon D300s with its MB-D10 battery grip attached.

Fit and finish on the D300s are very good, and all the buttons and controls are well-made.

Fit and finish on the D300s are very good, and all the buttons and controls are well-made.

My newspaper recently handed me a new Nikon D300s. I’ve been asking for a new camera for some time, and the corporation was able to get the D300s at a deep discount since it has been discontinued.

Despite being “older” technology (which in the tech world means “not the very latest”), I am finding out early on that this camera is very capable, and able to make the images I need.

Just two days after I got my hands on the D300s, I shot an all-star basketball game at ISO 6400, and was not disappointed with the result.

Just two days after I got my hands on the D300s, I shot an all-star basketball game at ISO 6400, and was not disappointed with the result.

  • It is well-built and has all the features I need

    Take your pick:  the battery holder for the MB-D10 grip (top) with the EN-EL3 battery, or the battery chamber cover mounted on one of my EN-EL4 batteries (bottom). The EN-EL4 battery lasts longer and runs the camera at 8 frames per second, but the smaller battery in the holder weighs half as much.

    Take your pick: the battery holder for the MB-D10 grip (top) with the EN-EL3 battery, or the battery chamber cover mounted on one of my EN-EL4 batteries (bottom). The EN-EL4 battery lasts longer and runs the camera at 8 frames per second, but the smaller battery in the holder weighs half as much.

  • Its sensor is about one full exposure value cleaner than my other work cameras; I was able to shoot some basketball at ISO 6400 and it was very usable
  • It controls are similar to my D200
  • The viewfinder and monitor are big and bright
  • I got the MB-D10 vertical grip; unlike grips for cameras like the D100 and D200, it only holds one battery, but with a BL-3 battery chamber cover, I can use the big, powerful battery from my D2Hs, which allow the D300s to run at 8 frames per second

So far the camera seems to have no vices at all, and I look forward to more reviews as I get more experience with it.

All the controls on the D300s are where I expect them to be. I had this camera out of the box and shooting in about five minutes.

All the controls on the D300s are where I expect them to be. I had this camera out of the box and shooting in about five minutes.

 

Test Driving Instagram

By , June 7, 2015 2:24 pm
I captured this raining morning shot in the parking lot of my workplace using my iPhone 5 and Instagram.

I captured this raining morning shot in the parking lot of my workplace using my iPhone 5 and Instagram.

One of the web’s fastest growing sectors is social media that allows users to take advantage of the very sophisticated, growingly excellent cameras built into their smart phones. These applications (“apps”) include Apple’s iPhoto and its successor Photos, Tumblr, Pinterest, Hipstamatic, SmugMug, Twitter, Posterous, Flickr, and Facebook, which owns the subject of this review, Instagram.

Instagram isn’t for everyone. It takes rectangular photos from your phone’s camera and makes them square, which is a little odd, and resizes them to 640×640. (It does leave the original image in your photo library.) Odder still are the filters, which go by pretentious and not-very-explainatory names like Lark, Slumber, or Perpetua. The filters are all subtle variations of about four or five motifs, like vignetting, fading, contrast enhancement, and grayscaling.

I made this image using Instagram in Ryan, Oklahoma, and applied one of the app's grayscale filter options.

I made this image using Instagram in Ryan, Oklahoma, and applied one of the app’s grayscale filter options.

For reasons that are still little nebulous to me, Instagram’s square format and faded-print-look filters tend to encourage the use, and overuse, of negative space. I also find that with me, at least, Instagram is not my first choice for “everyday” photos like snapshots, but is my go-to app when I am trying to appear artistic to my audience.

This is one of the shots I made with my iPhone and Instagram yesterday, but I fought the sun the whole time, and find these shots much, much easier and better using a camera with a viewfinder.

This is one of the shots I made with my iPhone and Instagram yesterday, but I fought the sun the whole time, and find these shots much, much easier and better using a camera with a viewfinder.

Any smartphone app, even the built-in camera app, as well as any live-view cameras that don’t have a viewfinder, make it difficult, sometimes approaching impossible, to shoot in bright sun, since the sun can shine on your viewing surface and overwhelm the image. Yesterday at the Ada Air Expo I ran into that exact problem, and found it slowed me down and gave me a headache. Even when I succeeded in making the shot, I usually walked to a shady spot to edit and post it.

Keep in mind that with any photo sharing service, even your own web site, keeping all your photos in one place, like one album on Facebook, will eventually, even with broadband internet and a modern browser, slow to a crawl if visitors are looking at the whole album. In fact, as I write this, I am seeing this very problem on someone’s Facebook page. And now might be a good time to reiterate what I tell my students again and again: no one will look at 1200 photos of anything. This might not seem important to you, unless you post your photos with the intention of sharing them.

One of the toughest tricks about taking the dive into any new image, blogging, or social media item is not letting yourself neglect all your other good creative outlets. In the same way we saw Facebook extinguish countless excellent blogs, Instagram can lead a photographer by the nose away from far nobler, more creative pursuits. My recommendation to anyone who faces this dilemma is to expand, not replace, your creative efforts.

You can see all of my Instagram images here (link).

This is the desktop view of my Instagram profile. The smartphone/tablet view is significantly simplified.

This is the desktop view of my Instagram profile. The smartphone/tablet view is significantly simplified.

The Plus-X Conundrum

By , May 31, 2015 2:06 pm
This is an image I made early in my senior year in high school. Made with direct flash on Kodak's Plus-X Pan Film, ISO 125, it has that ugly, hard look with a blacked-out background.

This is an image I made early in my senior year in high school. Made with direct flash on Kodak’s Plus-X Pan Film, ISO 125, it has that ugly, hard look with a blacked-out background.

Compare the last image to this one: it's the same girl (Teresa Belcher), having a laugh at an event called "Little Mac Night." Thanks to it being early in the year as well, and outdoors, I was able to shoot with the existing light, creating a vastly more natural-looking image.

Compare the last image to this one: it’s the same girl (Teresa Belcher), having a laugh at an event called “Little Mac Night.” Thanks to it being early in the year as well, and outdoors, I was able to shoot with the existing light, creating a vastly more natural-looking image.

In April 1979, I was quite proud to be selected to be on the Talon Yearbook staff the following year. At that time, I imagined I would be a writer. During the following year on the staff, however, I discovered that I wasn’t at all interested in writing feature stories, but very much was in interested in being a photographer. I actually wrote very little for the Talon in 1979-1980, but I hung out in the darkroom constantly.

Our yearbook advisor doled out film to us with the eyedropper of necessity. Film was expensive compared to the yearbook’s budget.

However, on a yearbook staff picnic, our advisor’s toddler daughter started chasing some bubbles, and all three of us photographers took pictures. It was a precious moment, but back in class on Monday morning he spent considerable time and effort shaming us about “wasting” film. Thirty years later when I sent him a scan of one of those frames, he was incredibly grateful for it. Ugh.

This was made on a memorably cold, rainy night at a playoff football game in November 1980. Shot with direct flash on Plus-X, it fails to capture the rain falling, or that bright-and-dark stadium light that so many of my football images in my career exhibit.

This was made on a memorably cold, rainy night at a playoff football game in November 1980. Shot with direct flash on Plus-X, it fails to capture the rain falling, or that bright-and-dark stadium light that so many of my football images in my career exhibit.

Here's how we make fan photos in the latter-day, with sky-high ISOs that allow us to express not only what's going on, but where and in what conditions. And do you know who cares that this image is grainy? Other photographers and computer geeks.

Here’s how we make fan photos in the latter-day, with sky-high ISOs that allow us to express not only what’s going on, but where and in what conditions. And do you know who cares that this image is grainy? Other photographers and computer geeks.

Anyway, the film we were issued was Kodak’s venerable Plus-X Pan Film, described in its day as a “medium-speed [‘speed’ referring to sensitivity] panchromatic film with fine grain.” It’s easy to look at its ISO of 125 today and express dismay that it was regarded as “medium speed,” but it was partnered with Panatomic-X at ISO 32 on the “low” side, and Tri-X at ISO 400 as the “high speed” offering. So yes, it was a medium speed film in the world of film, but in trying to capture the movement, motion and energy of high school, it was, in reality, quite slow.

I’m sure our yearbook advisor was attracted to the “fine grain” aspect of the film. Yearbooks are printed on glossy paper and with finer screens (higher resolutions) than newspapers, and there are times when the photos are used quite large. In recent years, I have quite a lot of experience with glossy, high-quality magazine printing as the editor of Ada Magazine, and every edition of my magazine has several images that are “full-bleed double-truck,” meaning they fill the two pages that face each other all the way to the edges of the pages.

These experiences, as well as many years in newspaper using film and later digital, has made it pretty obvious that our yearbook advisor couldn’t have been more wrong in making us use Plus-X. The biggest shortcoming of Plus-X is its ISO of 125. In the studio or in bright sunlight, that’s fine, but so many of the events in the lives of high school kids, their events and classes and plays and games, are at night, indoors, and otherwise in very limited light, and at ISO 125, our only option for shooting these events was direct flash.

Another big downside to direct flash is the unnatural and unflattering way it renders faces, which are the most important thing we are photographing as photojournalists. I made this image in a park at dusk, and the Plus-X ISO 125 film in my camera ruled out shooting with existing light.

Another big downside to direct flash is the unnatural and unflattering way it renders faces, which are the most important thing we are photographing as photojournalists. I made this image in a park at dusk, and the Plus-X ISO 125 film in my camera ruled out shooting with existing light.

For those readers of the smart-phone-only ilk, direct flash happens when we put an electronic flash (in high school I had the ubiquitous Vivitar 283) on the hot shoe of our camera. It provides light that I have previously described as “worst light ever.” It didn’t take much of a search of my high school negatives to find examples that adjudicate this assertion.

Direct flash has that blacked-out-background look because light obeys the inverse square law, so each time you double the distance from the light source, it’s four times darker, and often the backgrounds are two or three times farther away than the subject.

Another downside to direct flash is that you have to wait, sometimes as long as eight seconds, for the flash to recycle and flash again, and eight seconds is an eternity when telling moments are happening in front of you.

Imagine how difficult it must be to capture peak action at a football game if you take this picture (September 1980), then wait eight seconds for your flash to cycle before you can take another.

Imagine how difficult it must be to capture peak action at a football game if you take this picture, then wait eight seconds for your flash to cycle before you can take another.

There’s the rub. Using a 125 ISO film forced us to use direct flash. But in our yearbook advisor’s eyes, anyway, a higher ISO film like Tri-X would make our images “too grainy.” Our choices, then, were fine-grained, direct-flash non-moments, or grainier, better-lit images of real moments.

The choice to me, as a career photojournalist, is obvious. If I had it to do over again, I would load up with Tri-X, and for much of the night and indoor stuff, I would expose it at ISO 1600 and increase the development time, which is known as “push processing.” The results would be grainy moments, but there would be so many more moments.

In the end, of course, yearbook readers don’t care about fine grain, they care about their memories, and shooting like a photojournalist, not like a studio photographer, is the way to capture the best of them.

Boy Scouts present the colors at the first Ada Cougars football game I ever covered, October 28, 1988. It was still quite early in my career, but it was already very clear to me that fast films (in this case, Kodak T-Max P3200), even when they are grainy, made images like this possible. This image was later awarded first place in feature photos by the Oklahoma Press Association.

Boy Scouts present the colors at the first Ada Cougars football game I ever covered, October 28, 1988. It was still quite early in my career, but it was already very clear to me that fast films (in this case, Kodak T-Max P3200), even when they are grainy, made images like this possible. This image was later awarded first place in feature photos by the Oklahoma Press Association.

Pomp and Circumstance

By , May 21, 2015 8:58 am
Byng High School graduation, 2010

Byng High School graduation, 2010

Your humble host receives his high school diploma, May 31, 1981.

Your humble host receives his high school diploma, May 31, 1981.

In 1982, I had my first newspaper internship, in Lawton, Oklahoma. A friend of my mom’s was friends with the publisher, and got me an interview for a news writing position. But I had just spent the entire semester focusing my energy on being a photographer, and spent all my allowance money on a Nikon FM, a 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor, a 28mm Nikon Series E, and the legendary 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor. In my interview, I kept circling back to how much I wanted to be taking pictures, and I guess my mom’s friend had enough clout that I got my way, because the next Monday I reported to long-time news photographer Bill Dixon.

This was my first published news photo, of downed trees at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in May 1982.

This was my first published news photo, of downed trees at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in May 1982.

Latta High School graduation, 1992

Latta High School graduation, 1992

My first assignment was on my first morning: ride with Bill out to the nearby Fort Sill Army base and photograph minor storm damage. That was on a Monday. As I recall, Lawton’s three high schools, Lawton High, Eisenhower High, and MacArthur High, (military town?), all graduated on that Friday night. I lobbied to be allowed to shoot my alma mater, Eisenhower, but was overridden by another photographer, and went to McArthur. I had no experience shooting graduations of any kind, so I made a couple of assumptions… 1) That I needed to shoot direct flash, which we almost always did when I was on yearbook staff in high schoolm (more about this later), and 2) that I needed to shoot pictures of actual graduations, which to me meant kids being handed their diplomas. The second assumption was based on my own graduation a year earlier, the only photo from which was of me being handed my diploma, shot by a commercial photographer who did only that.

Ada High School graduation, 2005

Ada High School graduation, 2005

Stonewall High School graduation, 1995

Stonewall High School graduation, 1995

Predictably, my images from MacArthur were weak. The other photographer’s stuff was really good, and included a mom straightening her son’s cap and tassel. For me and my bloated ego, him outshooting me was a hard lesson, but one I did learn. To this day, my graduation feature photos (three of which are on the front page of The Ada News as I write this) are influenced by that first experience. (That’s what potential employers mean when they ask about your experience.)

East Central University graduation, 2003

East Central University graduation, 2003

What all my graduation coverage photos now have in common is that my cameras and I remain a distant, even invisible observer. That point of view sets my images apart from the maelstrom of grip-and-grin photos a million parents shoot at graduations. There are moments at every graduation – happy ones, sad ones, funny ones – that are interrupted by someone wanted to make a photo. They stop what’s going on and order the subject to smile or “say cheese.” My goal is to stay in the background enough that I don’t interrupt the moment and don’t make anyone, “say cheese.”

It’s not always easy. Everyone in my community knows who I am and what I am doing, so I sometimes need to play a little hide-and-seek with my cameras and my intentions. But it’s worth it to capture real, telling moments.

Ada High School graduation, 2006

Ada High School graduation, 2006

A Dark Cloud on the Horizon

By , May 2, 2015 12:51 pm
Cloud computing is convenient and ubiquitous, but can be just as etherial as real clouds.

Cloud computing is convenient and ubiquitous, but can be just as etherial as real clouds.

The third night of my Intro to Digital Photography class could be called our “what to do with our pictures” class. The first night coveres the nuts and bolts of cameras, and the second night touches on the basics of exposure, lighting, lenses and composition. With that done, the third night’s “what to do” is a perfect fit.

In addition to the basics of printing and web sharing of images, I talk about how to store and archive them. Despite a huge uptick in recent years in the popularity of “cloud storage,” the practice of keeping your digital files on a computer provided by a remote service accessed via the internet, I still don’t recommend it as your primary digital storage method. The reason is pretty straightforward: I have seen cloud storage disappear, crash, get sold to bad companies, have legal issues, and change terms of service for the worse.

A sloppily-labeled spindle of CDs or DVDs is almost worse that no archiving at all, since it makes finding a file or folder of your images nearly impossible. The task of archiving requires getting organized and being thorough.

A sloppily-labeled spindle of CDs or DVDs is almost worse that no archiving at all, since it makes finding a file or folder of your images nearly impossible. The task of archiving requires getting organized and being thorough.

I’m sorry to see that optical media drives, CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray, are beginning to disappear from new laptop and desktop computers. It’s tempting to say that this is because optical media isn’t keeping pace with the volume of data being stored, which is true, but the real reason is that Microsoft, HP, Apple, Dell, Lenovo – everyone – wants to sell you cloud storage. Google’s Chromebook brand is the worst of the pack because its whole strategy is to sell you a computer with little storage and have you keep your data in their cloud.

This isn’t just supposition on my part. My office is presently dealing with just such a cloud issue: CableOne, our internet service provider, is apparently going through an ugly divorce from Google, and all the Google Drive accounts we used by logging into CableOne are gone. CableOne, a company I use and like, pitched this to us as an “upgrade” to our email service, but this weasel language isn’t fooling anyone.

So what, if not the cloud, is the best way to manage our data as the 21st century moves forward? The answer is not as easy as the typical semi-literate consumer would like: learn about computers and how they work. Sure, it would be nice, as the Chromebook site says, to, “just log in with your Google account. No long load times, just flip it open and get busy doing anything other than waiting.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? And surely Google is too big to fail. But remember your Geocities site? Your Lycos blog? Your AOL home page? AOL was as giant in 1995 as Google is today.

If this sounds a bit preachy, keep in mind that this is advice for those of you whose data is important to them. If you are satisfied with the possibility that Instagram could be sold to Yahoo next week and discontinued as easily as Google discontinued Google Reader, this entry might not be for you. Their bottom line, after all, isn’t you and your data, it’s their profits.

Self-reliance is the key to protecting your data. My choice would be a combination of solid state drives, optical media, and even a little cloud storage just for convenience. In any case, data doesn’t stand still, not does its storage options. Punch cards. Magnetic tape. 5.25-inch floppies. 3.5-inch floppies. Zip disks. They’re all in the trash now, and if you didn’t find a way to migrate your date, it’s in the trash too. I recommend you keep up with current technology, and move your data from old storage to new often and diligently.

There are two kinds of hard drives: the ones that have failed, and the ones that will fail. Migration of data to new storage is one of the pillars of data archiving.

There are two kinds of hard drives: the ones that have failed, and the ones that will fail. Migration of data to new storage is one of the pillars of data archiving.

Unbending the Lines

By , April 12, 2015 11:58 am
This is a five-frame high dynamic range image blended using Photomatix Pro, but you can see a distinct fisheye curvature of the horizon.

This is a five-frame high dynamic range image blended using Photomatix Pro, but you can see a distinct fisheye curvature of the horizon.

I applied a Photoshop filter called "Lens Correction" to this image, then selected my lens from the list. The filter instantly straightened out the curves and gave me the sweeping image I originally envisioned.

I applied a Photoshop filter called “Lens Correction” to this image, then selected my lens from the list. The filter instantly straightened out the curves and gave me the sweeping image I originally envisioned.

The modern photographic lexicon owes a lot to electronic technology. I’m not just talking about digital cameras; in fact, the technology to which I refer can apply to film as well. This technology is broadly discussed as “post-production,” often simple shortened to “post” on photography web sites. I don’t think this is a particularly good moniker because I think of all the steps of photography as part of the production process, so editing and printing are “production,” not “post-production.”

I set myself up for a significant editing challenge on a recent road trip to the desert. I photographed Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado near Page, Arizona. On a previous occasion, I shot it with my 12-24mm Tokina lens, which gave me fairly good results, but despite being zoomed out as wide as possible, I still wasn’t getting the epic, broad, expansive panoramas I was seeing on the web by other photographers.

My solution depended heavily on software: shoot the scene with my 10-17mm Tokina fisheye, and “unbend” the curved lines characteristic of the fisheye lens using Adobe Photoshop to create a sweeping panorama. I’d never done this exact edit before and hadn’t checked it out, but felt I could achieve it one way or the other.

As it turned out, Adobe Photoshop made it quick and easy, and the result was exactly what I wanted.

This is the same image at Horseshoe Bend, straightened using Adobe Photoshop, and is the result I wanted.

This is the same image at Horseshoe Bend, straightened using Adobe Photoshop, and is the result I wanted.

The Walls

By , March 21, 2015 3:40 pm
I get points for style for converting these pot lights - originally meant to hold safelights for black-and-white printing - to accent lights using colored compact fluorescent bulbs.

I get points for style for converting these pot lights – originally meant to hold safelights for black-and-white printing – to accent lights using colored compact fluorescent bulbs.

Readers of my social blog know that I recently moved from one office, formerly the darkroom, to another office, formerly composition, at work. I talked about the work it required and a bit of the history of my workplace. One aspect I didn’t explore much is how I make my work environment feel like home.

When I first arrived at The Ada News in late October 1988, I was fairly impressed with my new darkroom. Despite being neglected and mismanaged, it had originally been constructed by a skilled carpenter with a fair amount of foresight. The tops of the cabinets had overhangs in which ports were milled to hold real Kodak safelights, which for years held the standard type OC amber-colored safelight filters so familiar to every photographer who printed black-and-white images from film.

This is my darkroom just four months after I arrived in Ada. As you can see, I hadn't yet decorated at all, and the space doesn't really look like home. Also note the Omega D2 enlarger. I lobbied for a replacement and got a Beseler 23CII not long after this image was made. (Click it to big it.)

This is my darkroom just four months after I arrived in Ada. As you can see, I hadn’t yet decorated at all, and the space doesn’t really look like home. Also note the Omega D2 enlarger. I lobbied for a replacement and got a Beseler 23CII not long after this image was made. (Click it to big it.)

Readers might be curious why safelights were amber, and it’s because most black-and-white photographic paper is dichromatic, meaning it is sensitive to two colors, green and blue, but not red, so it could be safely handled (for reasonably short periods) under the amber safelights. The dichromatic properties were refined over the years in the form of multiple-contrast papers (Kodak called theirs Polycontrast, and Ilford called their Multigrade), which used two emulsions, one high contrast and one low contrast, so the photographer could control contrast by filtering out green or blue light. It worked pretty well, though some photographers, including me, felt that single-contrast papers offered an edge in tonal quality.

This seven-panel panograph was made in my darkroom sometime in 1990, just before I added a color enlarger. As you can see, it looks a lot more like home than it did at the beginning of 1989. (Click it to big it.)

This seven-panel panograph was made in my darkroom sometime in 1990, just before I added a color enlarger. As you can see, it looks a lot more like home than it did at the beginning of 1989. (Click it to big it.)

The countertops featured two extensions that held an enlarger and a paper processor, so the photographer could stand between them. When I first came to Ada, the enlarger was a ratty Omega D2 of 1960s vintage, which I replaced almost immediately with a Beseler 23CII.  The processor was the ubiquitous Kodak Ektamatic. Although the Ektamatic processor would ingest any paper with an developer-incorporated emulsion (meaning it had developer in it, so all it needed was to be “activated”), it was intended to use Ektamatic SC paper, a single-weight, fiber-based, developer-incorporated stock that came out of the processor in nine seconds after being activated and “stabilized” (not “fixed” like when you put most paper into the fixer tray) still damp and stinking of acetic acid, ready to be dumped on an editor’s desk and sent right to the production room. It was rough, but fast, which is what we needed for newspaper back then.

One of the first things I noticed and liked about my darkroom at The Ada News was this custom cabinet arrangement, which allowed me to stand between the enlarger and the processor with everything I needed within reach.

One of the first things I noticed and liked about my darkroom at The Ada News was this custom cabinet arrangement, which allowed me to stand between the enlarger and the processor with everything I needed within reach.

In 1991, my newspaper bought a used system for producing in-house color images for the daily, so I got a Road Warrior tank system for processing color film, and a Fujimoto enlarger with a dichroic color head for printing it. I was never as good at printing color as black-and-white, since I only made three or four color prints a week. Still, I could make a passable print, and it was fun.

Mention of 1991 bring us back to the subject of making my workspace feel like home. Starting less than a year after arriving in Ada, I began sticking photos on the walls and cabinets of my darkroom. By 1991, the walls were covered with everything from news and sports to images I thought expressed my fine art skills. But all was not well at our little newspaper. We had an editor no one liked, kind of a bully, who had no talent. A couple of reporters quit that spring. By July, I felt like I’d had enough, and told that editor, “I’m taking all the rest of my vacation starting today.” I went into my darkroom and ripped every print off the walls and threw them in the trash, left the building and drove to Tulsa, where I interviewed with The Tulsa Tribune. I was one of several experienced photographers applying for that job, and it was probably just as well I didn’t get it, since the Tribune closed just six months later. (Which brings up the question: why would you hire anyone if you are going out of business in six months?)

The grain and tonal qualities of this black-and-white Kodak T-Max P3200 image from 1989 summon a look from a different era.

The grain and tonal qualities of this black-and-white Kodak T-Max P3200 image from 1989 summon a look from a different era.

When I returned after my vacation, that editor must have seen that I’d cleaned out before I cleared out, because he was much nicer to me.

Over the years I’ve had many different images on those walls, and when it came time this winter to move out of the old darkroom, one thing I knew I wanted to do was make my new workspace as much like home as the old one was. In addition to quite a bit of cabinet and drawer space, my new office also has a large blue bulletin board that is covered with stains. Filling it with my images was twofold: it covered the stains, and it made the space into my space.

This is the wall of images in my new workspace. Filling it with images of everything from news to landscapes to portraits of my lovely wife makes my new workspace feel like home. (Click it to big it.)

This is the wall of images in my new workspace. Filling it with images of everything from news to landscapes to portraits of my lovely wife makes my new workspace feel like home. (Click it to big it.)

Being There: Triumph and Heartbreak

By , March 14, 2015 3:18 pm
Ada Cougar star athelete Cory Kilby smiles as he is congratulated by his teammates after breaking Ada's all-time scoring record at Ada High School's Cougar Activity Center, Feb. 21, 2015.

Ada Cougar star athelete Cory Kilby smiles as he is congratulated by his teammates after breaking Ada’s all-time scoring record at Ada High School’s Cougar Activity Center, Feb. 21, 2015.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my career as a photojournalist is capturing moments in the lives of those around me. It’s also one of the most difficult, because it requires me to be present not only at some of the best moments in people’s lives, but also at some of the worst.

These moments don’t usually sneak up on photographers, so we can be ready: We know that time will run out at the end of a game. We know the Teacher of the Year is about to get her award. We know the police will tape off the crime scene. We know the ball is on the 1-yard line.

I thought about this the other day as I was looking at some images from the 2014-2015 area basketball season. There were many great moments, as there are every season, but a couple stood out. The first happened when Cory Kilby was poised to break Ada High School’s all-time basketball scoring record, and another was when the Stonewall Lady Longhorns lost an area playoff game to Rattan. The two were connected for me because I shot them from almost the exact same spot.

I made the image of Cory Kilby from the west baseline of the court at the Cougar Activity Center, using my AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8, a big, heavy zoom lens that excels at low-light sports, feature and news photography. I tried to count the goals he scored, but lost track. I was still ready when the moment happened, and the image it made, of Kilby unable to contain his elation in the moment, is one he, and our readers, will remember and save for a long time.

That image also stands out as an excellent example of the value of photojournalism and the imaging it provides: we make pictures of moments that can’t be repeated or reproduced. You can’t tell Kilby to look that way again after the game for the cameras. The images after the fact are, by their nature, posed and contrived.

Just nine days later, I stood in that same spot as the Stonewall Lady Longhorns battled for a place in the state tournament. The game was close and emotionally engaging, but the Stonewall girls couldn’t hold on for the win. Again, I was on the west baseline, shooting with the same lens, and in the same light, of the same sport, and the emotion the image conveys, of Lauryn Humphers walking dejectedly toward the bench with the Rattan Lady Rams celebrating in the background, is completely opposite from the Kilby image.

My take-away for you and your photography is this: whenever you can, make pictures of real moments as they happen. There is nothing as wonderful as a genuine moment recorded forever, and few things as awkward as trying to pose them after they happen. Have your camera (or, in many instances, phone) ready, and be ready to grab that moment in time.

Stonewall roundballer Lauryn Humphers walks toward her team's bench after the Lady Longhorns lost to Rattan in area tournament play at the Cougar Activity Center March 1, 2015.

Stonewall roundballer Lauryn Humphers walks toward her team’s bench after the Lady Longhorns lost to Rattan in area tournament play at the Cougar Activity Center March 1, 2015.

Doing an Exploratory

By , February 23, 2015 2:00 pm
This is the view out the kitchen window this morning; more snow and cold weather are on the way.

This is the view out the kitchen window this morning; more snow and cold weather are on the way.

As I might have mentioned before, I am in the process of editing, in my spare moments, the hundreds of images I shot on our October anniversary vacation, A Perfect Ten. Working on these images has been a very satisfying experience, since so many of my jaunts yielded excellent images, most of which I was not able to include in the trip report. I am, however, publishing many of them on my photo blog, and here on the teaching blog.

Today, as my wife sleeps in her recliner because snow and sleet kept her from going to work, I am again chewing on some of those images. In that process, I ran across one in particular that seemed to reach into my sense of adventure, an image I made in an area I visited for the first time, just north of Delicate Arch in the vicinity of Echo Arch (according to the kiosk at the visitor center – if you know better, please let me know.)

The reason I like this image so much is…

  • Its monochromatic lighting resulted in an excellent black-and-white red-filter rendering
  • It is an angle from which I never shot before and yields a new view of an old haunt
  • It shows Echo Arch at the very bottom of the frame and the Delicate Arch area (though the actual arch is concealed by terrain) at the top
  • It invites me to come and romp in the adventure playground of southern Utah
  • The utter complexity of the image is intriguing, and invites the eye to explore it

Editing these images is great fun. I’m sure I will come across many more teaching points as I explore them.

This image was made just above Echo Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, last October. The more I look at it, the more interesting it gets. You can see it bigger by clicking on it. I shot it with my Nikon D7100 and the excellent AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm .

This image was made just above Echo Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, last October. The more I look at it, the more interesting it gets. You can see it bigger by clicking on it. I shot it with my Nikon D7100 and the excellent AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm .

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