Pretentious Jonesing for Film

Blue light shines through a big, old Pentax K-Mount 50mm f/1.4 lens.
Blue light shines through a big, old Pentax K-Mount 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Periodically my photographer friends and I will talk about how much we miss film, particularly how much we miss certain cameras and lenses. Wouldn’t it be neat, we speculate, to get back into shooting film, if we only had a camera.

The top panel of the Pentax K1000 is a model of simplicity: shutter release, shutter speed dial, film counter and film advance lever.
The top panel of the Pentax K1000 is a model of simplicity: shutter release, shutter speed dial, film counter and film advance lever.

But, of course, film cameras are still around. I’ve got one in my hand as I write this.

I pulled the Pentax K1000 out of the display case in the entryway at our office. This camera is one of the most basic, simple, easy-to-use cameras ever. Its simplicity made it popular with photography teachers, since the camera is entirely manual, and required students to learn how to do everything.

I could shoot film right now if I wanted to, but the truth is, digital photography is overwhelmingly popular because it is overwhelmingly better than film. That wasn’t the case 15 years ago, but today, digital imaging technology has surpassed film tech in all respects.

Few things make photographers smile more than a large maximum aperture lens, like this Pentax 50mm f/1.4.
Few things make photographers smile more than a large maximum aperture lens, like this Pentax 50mm f/1.4.

So despite the fact that I have this perfectly-workable Pentax, I have no desire or intention to try to buy film, shoot it, and have it processed somewhere, then either print it or have it scanned.

We photographers are happy in our digital world, and despite Jonesing for the old days, we live in the new world of photography.

There are few cameras as straightforward and fundamental as the venerable Pentax K-1000. This one was used for many years by reporters at my newspaper before being retired to the downstairs display case. It works perfectly to this day.
There are few cameras as straightforward and fundamental as the venerable Pentax K-1000. This one was used for many years by reporters at my newspaper before being retired to the downstairs display case. It works perfectly to this day.
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Why Isn’t My Fifty Nifty?

What's the difference between this $440 50mm and this $80 kit lens? Nothing at f/11.
What’s the difference between this $440 50mm and this $80 kit lens? Nothing at f/11.

There is a saying among gun owners. “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people with guns.”

This slogan is an ideal analog to what I often see when people buy a new lens like the marvelous and under-recognized 50mm f/1.8. “Lenses don’t make pictures. People make pictures with lenses.”

For decades almost every SLR camera you saw at camera stores had a 50mm on it, often the cheap, light, forgiving, sharp 50mm f/1.8. To this day, they remain an excellent addition to anyone's camera bag.
For decades almost every SLR camera you saw at camera stores had a 50mm on it, often the cheap, light, forgiving, sharp 50mm f/1.8. To this day, they remain an excellent addition to anyone’s camera bag.

This lens has earned it the nickname “Nifty Fifty” over the years because it is affordable and capable of delivering beautiful results. But…

Any lens is a tool, and if you use a tool wrong, it won’t give you the results you want. All lenses are the same at f/11 in midday sun with your knees locked. A 50mm f/1.8 and an 18-55mm kit lens are the same at f/11. You might as well shoot with your phone or a point-and-shoot.

Taking advantage of tools like large-aperture lenses requires aggressive techniques, including moving yourself and using those large apertures. You didn’t buy an f/1.8 or f/1.4 lens to shoot it in Program mode or worse, green box mode, and have the camera choose every mediocre compromise it can.

So if you find yourself with a nifty little 50mm in your hands, take it to the limits – get close, shoot wide open, see the light. Only then can you discover why a lens like this is a great tool.

This image was made with a 50mm lens at f/16. Calling it lackluster is an understatement.
This image was made with a 50mm lens at f/16. Calling it lackluster is an understatement.
This was made with the same 50mm as the previous image, same position, same light, same ISO, same white balance. The only difference is it was shot at f/1.8. Suddenly the image is interesting.
This was made with the same 50mm as the previous image, same position, same light, same ISO, same white balance. The only difference is it was shot at f/1.8. Suddenly the image is interesting.
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A Long and Difficult Recovery

…or This Image is Full of Surprises

As I was writing a post for my social blog, The Giant Muh, I needed some images. I scrolled through the folder of stuff from our October anniversary trip with my wife Abby, The Endless Sky, and found an image I thought would be worthless because I overexposed it…

As you can see, the brightness value for the moon is off the chart. My hope when shooting it was to achieve a better balance between the bright moon and the cliffs as the predawn sky started to illuminate them.
As you can see, the brightness value for the moon is off the chart. My hope when shooting it was to achieve a better balance between the bright moon and the cliffs as the predawn sky started to illuminate them.

When I shot it, I was disappointed, but I kept the frame in-camera and continued my Canyonlands hike with longtime friend Scott Andersen. As the light matured and the day went on, we made many successful images, and had a great time.

Scott's image from that moment, made from a slightly lower angle, was a success.
Scott’s image from that moment, made from a slightly lower angle, was a success.

I didn’t give the image much more thought.

Today when I saw the image, I attempted to get some detail out of the moon using Adobe Photoshop’s recovery slider, without much effect.

Then I rather whimsically thought, “I’ll run it through my Nik Collection’s single image tone mapping high dynamic range (HDR) filter (which is free – read more here [link]) and see what happens.”

Honestly, I didn’t think there was much detail in the image – the blacks looked black and the moon looked white. I was amazed, then, when the Nik filter was able to extract a very interesting and detailed image…

I'm not claiming that this is the definitive way to shoot the moon in predawn light. What this image illustrates is that there is often much more in our digital image files, particularly in RAW files, than we might initially think.
I’m not claiming that this is the definitive way to shoot the moon in predawn light. What this image illustrates is that there is often much more in our digital image files, particularly in RAW files, than we might initially think.
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Flare and Ghosting

I was shooting last night at a basketball tournament with a lens with a notable tendency to exhibit ghosting, the Sigma 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5. You can see the obvious blue blobs adjacent to the ceiling lights.
I was shooting last night at a basketball tournament with a lens with a notable tendency to exhibit ghosting, the Sigma 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5. You can see the obvious blue blobs adjacent to the ceiling lights.

You see the terms “flare” and “ghosting” bantered around a lot, particularly when reading the photography web about lenses. Put simply, these terms describe reflections that occur inside lens elements within lenses and filters, and reflections between the lens and the imaging sensor.

The Sigma 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5 is prone to ghosting because of its huge, bulging front element. The ghosts are usually blue because of the blue multicoating on the surface of the element.
The Sigma 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5 is prone to ghosting because of its huge, bulging front element. The ghosts are usually blue because of the blue multicoating on the surface of the element.

Flare, sometimes called “veiling glare,” is a tendency for light to fill the frame and obscure the subject, and ghosting is the appearance of objects in the frame often shaped like blobs or like the shape of the lens’ aperture.

Some lenses are resistant to flare, while others will flare with little provocation. Generally, but not always, single focal length (“prime”) lenses flare less than zoom lenses (which have more, often many more, lens elements inside), and generally, top quality lenses flare less than cheap lenses, and “fast” (large aperture) lenses flare more than lenses of more modest maximum apertures.

I hunted down this image today with the expressed purpose of creating flare. It wasn't hard, since I chose a lens, my Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8, notoriously prone to flare, and a subject, the blinding sun, one of the chief causes of flare and ghosting.
I hunted down this image today with the expressed purpose of creating flare. It wasn’t hard, since I chose a lens, my Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8, notoriously prone to flare, and a subject, the blinding sun, one of the chief causes of flare and ghosting.

Flare and ghosting are almost always a consequence of having bright light source in the frame; a window, a street light, the sun, or headlights, for example. Lens hoods, which I always use to protect my lenses, are not very effective at controlling flare because they are often not quite large enough, and you will often see me shading my lens with my hand when shooting into a bright light source.

Flare and ghosting are reduced by using smaller apertures.

Finally, flare and ghosting, while referred to as an aberration in technical talk, can often contribute to the success of an image. Some fine art photographers use older lenses, for example, to convey a sense of “vintage” in their images. I know a wedding photographer whose entire look is based on flare at sunset. In my own work, I often use flare and ghosting to convey a sense of brightness that might not otherwise be expressable.

This wildflower image works in part through my use of flare and ghosting, which you can see running top left to bottom right. This scattering of light helps express the brightness and slight dream-like quality of the moment.
This wildflower image works in part through my use of flare and ghosting, which you can see running top left to bottom right. This scattering of light helps express the brightness and slight dream-like quality of the moment.
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We’ve Only Just Begun

I have another Intro to Digital Photography class starting Monday, and I always get a little buzzed about it in advance. I think about arriving, writing my name and website on the dry erase board, looking around. I see people look up at me in anticipation, some of them with questions on the tips of their tongues.

Most of the people in my classes are equipped with this type of gear: a "kit." This is my wife's Nikon D3000, an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, and a 70-300mm f/4-5.6. In the right hands, a kit like this is capable of amazing things.
Most of the people in my classes are equipped with this type of gear: a “kit.” This is my wife’s Nikon D3000, an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, and a 70-300mm f/4-5.6. In the right hands, a kit like this is capable of amazing things.

Their cameras are old and new, expensive and austere, well-used and right out of the box. (Sometimes they are still in the box.)

On my way to cover basketball in Tupelo, Oklahoma a couple of nights ago, I spotted a colorful sunset and some trees by the roadside, and decided to add this 14x teleconverter to my 300mm.
On my way to cover basketball in Tupelo, Oklahoma a couple of nights ago, I spotted a colorful sunset and some trees by the roadside, and decided to add this 14x teleconverter to my 300mm.

Their experiences are as diverse as their cameras. Maybe they got that camera for Christmas. Maybe they shot film years ago and are just now deciding to enter the digital age. Maybe they have kids who they want to photograph. Maybe they want to make extra money with their cameras. Maybe their bosses want them to shoot photos for the business.

One thing they will have in common: they want to learn.

The Intro classes are nuts and bolts. How often should you charge the battery? What kind of media card do I need for video? What’s the best lens for shooting seniors and babies?

No matter what you are shooting, remember that no picture is worth the risk of injury or death, and you should always make safety a priority. I always, for example, pull all the way off the road when I stop to shoot something, as I did a couple of nights ago.
No matter what you are shooting, remember that no picture is worth the risk of injury or death, and you should always make safety a priority. I always, for example, pull all the way off the road when I stop to shoot something, as I did a couple of nights ago.

One of my goals in the Intro class is to take the magic and mystery out of photography, to let all my students that it doesn’t take a $10,000 camera, and it isn’t rocket science. Photography is fun, powerful, and exciting. You can do this. You can make beautiful pictures.

The 300mm plus a 1.4x converter equals 420mm, which really fills up the frame, adding real drama and beauty to things like sunsets.
The 300mm plus a 1.4x converter equals 420mm, which really fills up the frame, adding real drama and beauty to things like sunsets.
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First Look: AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G

Our new AF-S Nikkor 50mm F/1.4G is pictured mounted on my Nikon D7100.
Our new AF-S Nikkor 50mm F/1.4G is pictured mounted on my Nikon D7100.

It seems that every January my wife Abby and I log in to our credit card rewards site to see how many points we have accumulated in the past year. She then picks out a couple of items and gives the rest of the points to me. This year I was able to purchase a new iPad Pro, as well as the topic of this post, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G.

I consider this lens to belong to both of us, which is true for everything we own, really.

I let Abby have the first turn with it, and she was delighted. She remarked that it showed fast, decisive autofocus and a nice bright viewfinder image, and it felt about right in her slender hands. She photographed Max the Chihuahua with it first, and as you can see, the results were pleasing…

Max looks up at me from Abby's lap is this image made with our new 50mm f/1.4 lens set at f/1.8 and about 1/125fh of a second at ISO 800. As you can see, it is tack sharp, and the background melts away gracefully.
Max looks up at me from Abby’s lap is this image made with our new 50mm f/1.4 lens set at f/1.8 and about 1/125fh of a second at ISO 800. As you can see, it is tack sharp, and the background melts away gracefully.
The AF Nikkor f/1.8D, left, sits next to its replacement, the larger and more modern AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G.
The AF Nikkor f/1.8D, left, sits next to its replacement, the larger and more modern AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G.

I know what you’re going to say: Richard, don’t you always recommend the much cheaper 50mm f/1.8? Yes I do, and the truth is that I would never have paid cash for the f/1.4, but with a large number of accumulated rewards points made it easier to spring for its luxury. And the more I thought about it, the more I decided I wanted to have at least one f/1.4 lens in my bag.

Considerable larger than the f/1.8 it replaces, this lens comes with a large plastic bayonet-mounted hood. Mounted on my D7100, it makes a handsome, well-balanced package.

The 50mm f/1.4 is a smart-looking lens, seen here mounted on my Nikon D7100.
The 50mm f/1.4 is a smart-looking lens, seen here mounted on my Nikon D7100.
From left to right are my next-generation large-aperture lenses, the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G, and the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.8G.
From left to right are my next-generation large-aperture lenses, the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G, and the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.8G.

Though there was nothing wrong with my old 50mm f/1.8, it is missing a feature common to the new Nikkors, AF-S, which uses motors inside the lens to move the focussing elements. This benefit is twofold, with focus being faster and internal, as well as allowing the photographer to turn the focus ring any time to focus manually.

Finally, we usually own and shoot with large-aperture lenses at their largest apertures, since we didn’t pay a premium price to shoot them at f/11, which even the cheapest 18-55mm kits lens does with ease. One of my goals with the lens will be to push the limits selective focus at very large apertures. I’ve only shot a few frames with it wide open (f/1.4), but early tests indicate what I expected: depth of field of just a few millimeters, powerful selective focus, and pleasing bokeh.

I am excited to have this tool in my toolbox.

After Christmas I kept these lights out of the decoration boxes in the rafters for just this purpose: experimenting with very large apertures. As you can see, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 exhibits acceptable sharpness in the focus area, and beautiful out-of-focus regions. I look forward to experimenting with it more, then putting this lens into service for things like weddings, night photography, and portraits.
After Christmas I kept these lights out of the decoration boxes in the rafters for just this purpose: experimenting with very large apertures. As you can see, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 exhibits acceptable sharpness in the focus area, and beautiful out-of-focus regions. I look forward to experimenting with it more, then putting this lens into service for things like weddings, night photography, and portraits.
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2016: The Year in Pictures

What does a year of my images at The Ada News look like? Here are some samples of my work from 2016…

January

House Fire
House Fire
House Fire
House Fire
Basketball
Basketball
Basketball
Basketball
Basketball
Basketball
Sunrise
Sunrise
Basketball
Basketball
Little Mustang
Little Mustang
Basketball
Basketball

February

Senior Night
Senior Night
Train
Train
Basketball
Basketball
Basketball
Basketball
Painting
Painting
Stray
Stray
Sunset
Sunset

March

Dejection
Dejection
Baseball
Baseball
Windy Day
Windy Day
Baseball
Baseball
Baseball
Baseball

April

Tornado Damage
Tornado Damage
Baseball
Baseball
Color Run
Color Run
Senior Night
Senior Night
Candlelight Vigil
Candlelight Vigil
Sunshine after Rain
Sunshine after Rain

May

Soccer
Soccer
Softball
Softball
Baseball
Baseball
Dejection
Dejection
Manhunt
Manhunt
Manhunt
Manhunt
Graduation
Graduation
Graduation
Graduation
Graduation
Graduation
Basketball Camp
Basketball Camp
Basketball Fan
Basketball Fan
Red Nose Day
Red Nose Day
Playing in the Park
Playing in the Park

June

Playing in the Park
Playing in the Park
Splash Park
Splash Park
Relay for Life
Relay for Life

July

Art in the Park
Art in the Park
Baseball Mom
Baseball Mom
Young Cowboys
Young Cowboys
Giant Turtle Races
Giant Turtle Races
Dog in the Park
Dog in the Park
Peach Parade
Peach Parade
Sunset at Ball Park
Sunset at Ball Park
State Champions
State Champions

August

School Circle
School Circle
Baseball
Baseball
Media Day
Media Day
Media Day
Media Day
Baseball
Baseball
Girls Playing
Girls Playing
Police Shooting
Police Shooting
Injury
Injury
Baseball
Baseball
Foggy Morning
Foggy Morning
AdaFest
AdaFest
Tetherball
Tetherball
Sideline
Sideline
Football
Football

September

Baseball
Baseball
Baseball
Baseball
Bonfire
Bonfire
Fumble
Fumble
Baseball
Baseball
Selfies
Selfies
Game Night
Game Night
Press Box
Press Box
Halftime
Halftime
Free Fair
Free Fair
Free Fair
Free Fair
Softball
Softball
Sunrise
Sunrise
Royalty
Royalty

October

Alumni Softball
Alumni Softball
Coin Toss
Coin Toss
National Anthem
National Anthem
Pink Smoke
Pink Smoke
House of Horrors
House of Horrors

November

Football
Football
Football
Football
Champions
Champions
Flags
Flags
Salute
Salute
Little Dribblers
Little Dribblers
House Fire
House Fire

December

Basketball
Basketball
Christmas Tea
Christmas Tea
Basketball
Basketball
Wax Museum
Wax Museum
Basketball
Basketball
Basketball
Basketball
Photographer
Photographer
Christmas Parade
Christmas Parade
Christmas Parade
Christmas Parade
Ribbon Cutting
Ribbon Cutting
Christmas Lights
Christmas Lights
Christmas Decorations
Christmas Decorations
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Everyone Is a Photographer

While the part-time "photographers" were staring at their phones, I was making this picture.
While the part-time “photographers” were staring at their phones, I was making this picture.
Prayer banners catch morning sunshine at H2O Church in downtown Ada Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. The banners were placed in honor of Avery Anderson who was injured in a two-vehicle accident July 27 at the intersection of County roads 1570 and 3610 in the Lovelady area, and remains hospitalized in Oklahoma City. This seems like a fairly straightforward image, with two glaring exceptions... 1. The caption is factual, and written by a professional journalist, and 2., no one else thought to shoot it this way.
Prayer banners catch morning sunshine at H2O Church in downtown Ada Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. The banners were placed in honor of Avery Anderson who was injured in a two-vehicle accident July 27 at the intersection of County roads 1570 and 3610 in the Lovelady area, and remains hospitalized in Oklahoma City. This seems like a fairly straightforward image, with two glaring exceptions… 1. The caption is factual, and written by a professional journalist, and 2., no one else thought to shoot it this way.

The film era of photography, which despite the epic surge of digital is the largest era of imaging, was filled with institutions. Kodak. The Brooks Institute. Winona School of Photography. They are all gone now, relics of both a bygone era and their lack of vision for the future. They were all part of a mentality that a professional photographer was like a doctor or a lawyer: someone with special training and knowledge who could do things with film, chemistry, and printing that others could not.

Then, digital. Affordable digital photography meant that many of the mysteries and specialties of photography disappeared. There is still some tech to it, but most of the things about photography that were out of reach for the average person – a darkroom, and enlarger, some knowledge of chemistry – are arcane.

More significantly than all that, though, is cost. Once we have a device or two in our hands – a digital SLR and a smart phone, typically – there are no additional costs. No film. No processing. No printing. No photo albums. The hobby of photography is, to a degree, free where it used to be expensive.

There's no "I" in "team," and there aren't any photographers in it either. Dare to step away from the crowd and make something unique.
There’s no “I” in “team,” and there aren’t any photographers in it either. Dare to step away from the crowd and make something unique.

This giant paradigm shift led to a perception shift, an illusory one, one represented by the piano paradox: what kind of piano should I buy so I can play like Chopin? We see this paradox invading many other areas of our lives: preppers buy expensive sights for their rifles and think they can shoot like Navy SEALS. Soccer moms buy expensive kitchen accessories and think they can cook like Wolfgang Puck. Joggers buy expensive running shoes think they can run like Usain Bolt.

The fallacy of this line of thinking is that photography is not usually about the tools used to create photographs, but about the vision of the person making the images.

In some ways, this is, at its core, about the idea that money can take the place of talent, hard work, and training, but I have said again and again: You can’t buy mastery; you have to earn it. It’s not the equipment in your hands that makes you a photographer; it’s the equipment between your ears.

A man who authorities say struck an Ada police officer with a vehicle was shot by the officer Aug. 17. As I photographed this, two things happened. 1: I was surround by people with phones who were taking pictures, none of which looked anything like this, and 2: these people around me at the scene were telling me things about the scene that I knew were not true.
A man who authorities say struck an Ada police officer with a vehicle was shot by the officer Aug. 17. As I photographed this, two things happened. 1: I was surround by people with phones who were taking pictures, none of which looked anything like this, and 2: these people around me at the scene were telling me things about the scene that I knew were not true.

So what do I recommend?

  • I urge you to quit reading about cameras and software and start reading about making pictures. The first book I would tell you to read is Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams. There is nothing about pixels or bokeh in it, but you can follow the process of turning a vision into an image.
  • When you daydream about photography, look at pictures made with cameras, not of cameras.
  • Stop patting yourself on the back for buying something, and start making an effort to see light and shadows, lines and motion, color and form.
  • I would urge you to take my class: once we have learned about our equipment, we can forget about it and learn about how images can move the human heart and change the human condition.
  • I would urge you to put down your phone and look up, look around, see the world in a different way.
I dug out my long-retired Kodak DCS720x the other day. I was its only owner, which means that all these scratches and worn-off paint are mine. Doing this to a camera might be a sign that your really are a photographer.
I dug out my long-retired Kodak DCS720x the other day. I was its only owner, which means that all these scratches and worn-off paint are mine. Doing this to a camera might be a sign that your really are a photographer.

So no, not everyone is a photographer. Everyone is taking pictures, yes, but in all the most important ways, they aren’t photographers. Their pictures are self-referential noise, and aren’t expressive in any important way.

You can make your images expressive, impressive, important. Once you open your heart and start to understand the purpose of self-expression, you can be a photographer.

As provocative as this image is, I am sure that 99% of the images made at this spot on this day were grinning-like-apes selfies, and nowhere nearly as interesting as this.
As provocative as this image is, I am sure that 99% of the images made at this spot on this day were grinning-like-apes selfies, and nowhere nearly as interesting as this.
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The Gift of Aperture

Someone asked me the other day which shooting mode I use most, and I told them 90% of the time I shoot in Aperture Priority.
Someone asked me the other day which shooting mode I use most, and I told them 90% of the time I shoot in Aperture Priority.

It’s Christmas time again, and with it we photographers find ourselves photographing something very pure to our imaging instincts: Christmas lights. Beautiful and dazzling to the eyes, we love photographing them for several reasons. They are everywhere, they are fun to shoot, and they summon the children inside us who looked on them with amazement all those years ago.

I think about this as I photograph lights for a living, and last night as I photographed the Christmas tree and lights at home. I did a fun little experiment that illustrates the value of mastering aperture: shooting the same scene at apertures through the entire range. It is powerfully illustrative of the effects of aperture…

Christmas Lights on the Front Porch, f/1.8.
Christmas Lights on the Front Porch, f/1.8.
Christmas Lights on the Front Porch, f/2.8.
Christmas Lights on the Front Porch, f/2.8.
Christmas Lights on the Front Porch, f/22.
Christmas Lights on the Front Porch, f/22.

Made with my 50mm f/1.8 lens, one of the best and most affordable lenses in anyone’s bag, these three images are identical except for aperture, which, as you can see, makes a huge difference. Wide open, the out-of-focus highlights are round, at f/2.8, they take on the heptagonal shape of the aperture blades, and at f/22, each bright point of light takes on the classic “sunstar” look.

All three of these unique looks has a place in our photography, and all are right there at our fingertips.

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Why Format?

A friend on social media recently sent me a private message saying he had trouble with a storage media card. He asked which brands and types I use, and if I ever had any trouble with them. I told him without hesitation that I very rarely have storage media problems, and if I do, it always shows up in a step everyone should do every time they insert a card into a camera: formatting your storage media card.

Formatting is accomplished in as many different ways as there are cameras, but the concept is simple: format your card every time you insert it into your camera.
Formatting is accomplished in as many different ways as there are cameras, but the concept is simple: format your card every time you insert it into your camera.

The idea is simple. Have the computer inside the camera “reset” the card, creating what computerists call a file allocation table (FAT) exactly the way  the camera needs it.

The camera creates the data (folders, tables, markers, etc.) that meets its needs, and marks your card as empty. It also checks for any errors (“bad sectors”) on the card, and if there is a problem, it will let you know then, before it’s time to shoot.

Your card then behaves as if it was brand new.

This also has a very significant benefit of forcing the photographer to establish the workflow of saving their files to a computer instead of storing them in-camera, since formatting a card will erase all the images on it. I’ve known many photographers over the years who can’t find their photos because they are buried among thousands of other photos somewhere on their cards in their cameras. I’ve also known many students and fellow photographers who are ready to shoot except the instant they trip the shutter, they see the “Card Full” massage.

But errant technology management isn’t new or at all uncommon. I find a surprising number of students have their cameras set to medium or small file size. I’m not even sure why – their cameras don’t arrive that way, and they haven’t changed much else. Maybe someone told them they could cram more photos onto their cards that way, which is true, but sadly, they have changed one of the few menu items in their cameras that can completely destroy their images.

Put simply, when you change the size of the image in your camera, you are telling it to throw away pixels, pixels you bought. Never, ever change the file size in your camera.

If you shoot JPEG files, you will see this dialog somewhere in the menu system of your camera. Leave it set to "Large" or "Maximum." When you shoot RAW files, which I recommend, this menu item is disabled, and the camera gives you all the available pixels.
If you shoot JPEG files, you will see this dialog somewhere in the menu system of your camera. Leave it set to “Large” or “Maximum.” When you shoot RAW files, which I recommend, this menu item is disabled, and the camera gives you all the available pixels.
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Who Do I Want to Be?

There are all kinds of photography instructors: temperamental, detached, arrogant, nurturing, impatient, narcissistic, moody, thoughtful, energetic. I once ran into some photography students in Santa Fe who described their instructor as “quite a character.”

In all the teaching I’ve done, I never wanted to be remembered like that.

Near the end of my beginner class, I bring some of my photographic product – books, posters, prints – to class. It’s not to show off, though I have to admit there is a little show-off in it. The real reason is to say to my students that you can do this. It’s not a magic trick. It didn’t cost $10,000. It’s photography, and you can do it!

Yes, I want to teach them the nuts and bolts of photography, but we all know there is much more.
Yes, I want to teach them the nuts and bolts of photography, but we all know there is much more.
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Props to These Guys

It’s not often I get to say something positive about the internet. Such was the case in my recent dealings with Hike Moab, a trail guide service in Moab, Utah.

I came across this site in a recent image search I made while composing a post for another entry in this blog. I searched for “the fiery furnace arches,” hoping to discover not only some new ideas about photographing it, but also which of my own images showed up in the search. I do this periodically not just out of vanity, but also to weigh my search engine optimization (SEO) success.

The result of the search included this image…

The Fiery Furnace, a maze of sandstone fins in Arches National Park, takes on amber hues as sunset approaches.
The Fiery Furnace, a maze of sandstone fins in Arches National Park, takes on amber hues as sunset approaches.

I made this image in April 2011, on a trip called Art in Every Stone, which I made with Robert Stinson. I moused-over the image, expecting to see richardbarron.net. Instead I saw moabhiking.com. I clicked through to find my image on a page promoting the site’s Fiery Furnace guided tour. Obviously they did an image search as well, found this image, and grabbed it for their page.

I composed an email to the address on the site, politely asking them to remove the image, which is good practice. I didn’t expect to hear back from them.

I did think it odd that a company that gives guided tours of amazing places like The Fiery Furnace didn’t have their own images of it.

I heard back the next day with this refreshingly upbeat and respectful reply…

“My Apologies Richard! Consider it removed! -Mac, Hike Moab.”

I checked the site, and it was, in fact, removed. It wasn’t what I expected, but something I definitely appreciated. In the digital age, we expect intellectual property theft to be rampant and unchecked, but once in a while it’s great to find someone who does the right thing because it’s the right thing. Props, Mac!

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What’s Changed, If Anything?

This is a five-frame high dynamic range image of the Needles Overlook at Hatch Point, Utah, made this October with my 10-17mm fisheye, uncurved in Photoshop.
This is a five-frame high dynamic range image of the Needles Overlook at Hatch Point, Utah, made this October with my 10-17mm fisheye, uncurved in Photoshop.

In October 2016, my wife Abby and I traveled to the American West for our twelfth anniversary, a journey we make as often as we are able. We love the west, and were married in southern Utah in 2004 at Arches National Park.

The trip report, The Endless Sky, posted on our travel blog, was among my favorites, but I didn’t expect to hear this from two of my photographer friends…

From Wil C. Fry
These photos are tremendous, somehow better than your usual. It has me wondering whether you learned some new technique, or used a different camera, or processed them with new software. Or perhaps the light was simply better this time… Or maybe it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
From Dan Marsh
I too am curious, have you learned something new and different, or are you simply getting better with each trip? These are some of the best you’ve ever done.

So to answer their question about what’s changed: essentially, nothing. I don’t exactly agree that these are head and shoulders above my past efforts. I will say that yes, it is an evolving craft, and one I hope I continue to hone and improve. But part of me says that my audience sees only the new product, and only half-remembers some of our great trips in the past.

This is one of the variations of an image I made at Delicate Arch in 2014 on our tenth anniversary trip, an image I think competes with any I have made before or since.
This is one of the variations of an image I made at Delicate Arch in 2014 on our tenth anniversary trip, an image I think competes with any I have made before or since.

I think, for example, that our 2014 anniversary trip A Perfect Ten was as good as The Endless Sky. Some of my recent solo hiking trips Siren Song, Off the Map and My Two Cents, compete well too.

In fact, while reviewing the travel blog, I have to say that there are many pages from many trips that compare favorably, but those pages have faded somewhat into history. It’s easy to do in the internet era, particularly one that is so trend-centric, but paradigms like “that’s so 2013” or “what have you done for me lately” are troubling because they can dismiss an entire body of work for no valid reason.

As far as technicalities go, no, I haven’t made any important changes to my workflow. I mostly shoot RAW files and edit them in Adobe Photoshop, though sometimes I make JPEG images, following the same basic editing strategies. My priorities are color, light, composition, and location, location, location. The images in this entry also speak volumes about equipment and how much less important it is that the photographer. Some of these images were made with cameras such as the Nikon D100 and the Minolta DiMage 7i, incorrectly regarded as unable to deliver. As you can see, particularly from the earlier images, great photographs are made by great photographers, not by expensive equipment.

Year after year Abby and I go to southern Utah and the Colorado Plateau, but I would love to expand our reach: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Death Valley, and many more locations are on our short list.

That’s the rub, really. My best images from our travels come from visiting the best places. And that’s what makes the adventures, not just the images, great.

Here are some images from over the years, from adventures I think competed well with my most recent efforts. I look at each of these images as one of those moments of success for which we as photographers all strive. They are chronological from oldest to newest, and you can click them to view them larger…

A summer thunderstorm starts to clear over the Pecos River near Villanueva, New Mexico, July 1999.
A summer thunderstorm starts to clear over the Pecos River near Villanueva, New Mexico, July 1999.
The Very Large Array radio telescope facility in New Mexico gathers sunset light in September 2000.
The Very Large Array radio telescope facility in New Mexico gathers sunset light in September 2000.
The seldom-visited gypsum dune field on the west end of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, collects warm evening light in April 2003.
The seldom-visited gypsum dune field on the west end of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, collects warm evening light in April 2003.
I photographed this mission graveyard on the Bisti Highway south of Farmington, New Mexico on a bitterly cold morning in November 2003.
I photographed this mission graveyard on the Bisti Highway south of Farmington, New Mexico on a bitterly cold morning in November 2003.
The last rays of setting sun catch snow in the La Sal Mountains with the Windows Section of Arches National Park, Utah, in the foreground, in March 2004.
The last rays of setting sun catch snow in the La Sal Mountains with the Windows Section of Arches National Park, Utah, in the foreground, in March 2004.
A tree branch takes on the appearance of a bird set against the setting sun at Arches National Park, Utah, on our wedding day, October 12, 2004.
A tree branch takes on the appearance of a bird set against the setting sun at Arches National Park, Utah, on our wedding day, October 12, 2004.
A large boulder forms a passage for the trail through Little Wild Horse Canyon in the San Rafael Swell in central Utah, March 2005.
A large boulder forms a passage for the trail through Little Wild Horse Canyon in the San Rafael Swell in central Utah, March 2005.
The shelf of a thunderstorm show extensive mammatus clouds at Badlands National Park, South Dakota, July 2005.
The shelf of a thunderstorm show extensive mammatus clouds at Badlands National Park, South Dakota, July 2005.
This classic version of the northern approach to Monument Valley was made in October 2006.
This classic version of the northern approach to Monument Valley was made in October 2006.
This image of Big Bend National Park in Texas, shot in March 2007, shows a thunderstorm that tried to drown us just an hour before.
This image of Big Bend National Park in Texas, shot in March 2007, shows a thunderstorm that tried to drown us just an hour before.
My second visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado was in July 2007, and included this image showing hikers as very small figures ascending the highest of the dunes.
My second visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado was in July 2007, and included this image showing hikers as very small figures ascending the highest of the dunes.
I made this image at sunset at the Green River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in October 2008.
I made this image at sunset at the Green River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in October 2008.
Early morning sun shines through a doorway on a frigid November 2009 morning at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
Early morning sun shines through a doorway on a frigid November 2009 morning at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
This image was made at the moment of sunset at the Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park, Utah, in October 2010.
This image was made at the moment of sunset at the Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park, Utah, in October 2010.
This sunset view looks west down Interstate 40 in east central New Mexico in April 2011.
This sunset view looks west down Interstate 40 in east central New Mexico in April 2011.
The Strip at Las Vegas lights up as dusk settles on the City in October 2011.
The Strip at Las Vegas lights up as dusk settles on the City in October 2011.
Illuminates by open sky, Waterholes Canyon is a seldom-visited slot canyon near Page, Arizona. This image is from May 2012.
Illuminates by open sky, Waterholes Canyon is a seldom-visited slot canyon near Page, Arizona. This image is from May 2012.
Many features across the country bear the name Chimney Rock, including this one at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, photographed in March 2014.
Many features across the country bear the name Chimney Rock, including this one at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, photographed in March 2014.
Also from March 2014, in Northern New Mexico, I thought this image was an extraordinary expression of both a wonderful moment, and the tradition of great photographer of the American West.
Also from March 2014, in Northern New Mexico, I thought this image was an extraordinary expression of both a wonderful moment, and the tradition of great photographer of the American West.
Of all the times I have visited Delicate Arch (including getting married there), the signature formation of southern Utah and beyond, I made this image before dawn in October 2014, and it might be my favorite of them all.
Of all the times I have visited Delicate Arch (including getting married there), the signature formation of southern Utah and beyond, I made this image before dawn in October 2014, and it might be my favorite of them all.
This is an April 2015 sunset shot of Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona.
This is an April 2015 sunset shot of Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona.

In conclusion, I encourage all my readers, and everyone wanting to learn and grow photographically, to dig deeper into my rather extensive content, not only on the travel blog, but at the photo blog as well. It is my hope there is greatness deep within.

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More Praise for the “Travel Lens”

This image didn't succeed because of my lens choice. The lens was just a tool in the tool box. The most important factor for this image was being at the right place at the right time, and being willing to get out of my car and shoot it despite traffic and the cold.
This image didn’t succeed because of my lens choice. The lens was just a tool in the tool box. The most important factor for this image was being at the right place at the right time, and being willing to get out of my car and shoot it despite traffic and the cold.

My wife Abby and I just returned from our 12th anniversary vacation. We had a great time, and made a lot of great images. Most of those images were made with a lens that has become indispensable for travel, the so-called “walk around” or “travel” lens.

There are a number of iterations of this lens for the various formats (seniors sizes.) In my case the Nikon D7100 sensor is 24mm x 15mm, so my travel lens of choice is the AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G II. On other occasions (and for Abby on our most recent vacation), we use the Fuji HS30EXR “crossover” camera with a non-interchangeable 4.2mm-126mm, which performs a very similar role. For Nikon’s 24mm x 36mm sensor, there is a 28-300mm fits the same role.

The more I use the Nikon D7100 paired with the AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G II for travel photography, the happier I am with them.
The more I use the Nikon D7100 paired with the AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G II for travel photography, the happier I am with them.

In summary, we ask a lot of this class of lenses: be a good wide angle, be a good telephoto, be lightweight, be convenient. In exchange, there are some things we don’t ask of these lenses and they can’t deliver: no large maximum aperture, not very sharp wide open, not quick-focusing enough for sports, and so-on.

Our friend Scott Andersen adopted a slightly different philosophy for travel and hiking, electing to carry more equipment for more specialized work. He joined me for a long hike on this most recent vacation, and carried a Tokina 11-20mm, a Nikkor 50mm, a Nikkor 18-140mm, and a Nikkor 55-300mm, obviously hoping to take advantage of the different strengths of each lens.

If broad overviews are you thing, the 18mm end of the 18-200mm can deliver. Compare this image to the next one, made from the same spot with the same lens...
If broad overviews are you thing, the 18mm end of the 18-200mm can deliver. Compare this image to the next one, made from the same spot with the same lens…

Only you can decide what you like to shoot and what you need in your bag, but I strongly recommend a lens like the 18-200mm for travel, hiking, casual street photography, and more. If I were going to Europe for a month, for example, I would bring this lens and maybe my AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 for the occasional low-light scenario.

Finally, a lot of internet forum members, and I, urge anyone in a lens-buying mood to consider that if paying for more lenses means going on fewer trips or seeing fewer things, that’s probably a mistake. Sitting at home with eight lenses will never be as satisfying as spending ten days on the road with one lens and your imagination.

This image of Candlestick Tower at Canyonlands National Park in Utah was made at the 200mm end of my 18-200mm "travel" lens.
This image of Candlestick Tower at Canyonlands National Park in Utah was made at the 200mm end of my 18-200mm “travel” lens.
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In Praise of the 300mm

The 300mm has the kind of reach that can make the difference between ordinary sports photos and impressive ones, like this image shot earlier this year at Sulphur, Oklahoma.
The 300mm has the kind of reach that can make the difference between ordinary sports photos and impressive ones, like this image shot earlier this year at Sulphur, Oklahoma.

Earlier this year I “bought” (using credit card thank you points) a new AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8. Regarded as a portrait lens both for its natural perspective at face-filling distances and for its ability to throw backgrounds out of focus when shot at apertures close to its maximum, I am delighted with it. I recently shot a wedding with it, and the images were amazing.

But if you are outdoors and want a lens that will take all this to a new level, you might consider a large-aperture super telephoto. For me, few lenses rival the 300mm, both for its amazing reach and for its ability to render backgrounds completely out of focus.

In April 1985, Scott Andersen and I were walking around New York City when we came across a photographer with a 300mm f/2.8 Nikkor on a monopod. At first we couldn’t quite figure out what he was shooting, but a half a block down the street we saw his pouting fashion model. He was using the 300mm to isolate his subject on the street and throw the background well out of focus.

This is the kind of reach you can get with a 300mm lens, in this case my personally-owned AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8. Notice that the background is beautifully out of focus and flattering. No matter how hard you try, you'll never get gorgeous selective focus like this with a zoom.
This is the kind of reach you can get with a 300mm lens, in this case my personally-owned AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8. Notice that the background is beautifully out of focus and flattering. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never get gorgeous selective focus like this with a zoom.

Flash forward 31 years. For years I’ve used a wonderful AF 300mm f/4 Nikkor that my newspaper got used on eBay. It was a workhorse, and occasionally combined with a Tokina 1.4x teleconverter and the so-called 1.5 “crop sensor” factor of my cameras, I had all the reach I needed.

Worth Repeating...
I know I say this a lot, but I am seeing a distinct uptick in a number of people around me who think they can buy a skill by buying a lens, and that’s just not true. Remember: You can’t buy mastery; you have to earn it.
I photographed the workhorse AF 300mm f/4 at a baseball game last spring, showing much of the paint on the metal surfaces showing brass from years of service. This lens died last week.
I photographed the workhorse AF 300mm f/4 at a baseball game last spring, showing much of the paint on the metal surfaces showing brass from years of service. This lens died last week.

Last week the old 300mm f/4’s focus locked up and wouldn’t budge, just as my outdoor playoffs – baseball, soccer, softball, and daytime football – were starting. I tried to fill the gap with hope and a cheap consumer 70-300mm, but I was really feeling the loss. When the repair estimate came back at nearly $500, about what we paid for it in the first place and certainly more than it was worth, I urged my publisher Amy Johns to buy me a new one, and she agreed without hesitation. Props to her for recognizing the value of photography and the equipment it requires, and the value of respecting her staff and their needs.

I had the lens shipped overnight, and put it right into service at a regional playoff baseball game. That’s the way I roll. No test frames. No “playing with it.” Trial by fire.

Before I shot with this beautiful new lens, I photographed it on my desk at work. I later removed the tripod collar, and will probably never use it again.
Before I shot with this beautiful new lens, I photographed it on my desk at work. I later removed the tripod collar, and will probably never use it again.
A closer look at the AF-S 300mm f/4 shows the simple, straightforward controls, including the focus ring, the auto/manual focus switch, the focus limit switch, and the aperture ring. Aperture rings are on their way out of Nikon lens design to save weight and complexity, but still remain on some older designs.
A closer look at the AF-S 300mm f/4 shows the simple, straightforward controls, including the focus ring, the auto/manual focus switch, the focus limit switch, and the aperture ring. Aperture rings are on their way out of Nikon lens design to save weight and complexity, but still remain on some older designs.

I wasn’t disappointed, though I knew I wouldn’t be. Lenses aren’t magic wands. I have a career of experience with the 300mm, and I knew this new one, the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4 ED-IF, would do the job, and due to improvements in autofocus and lens coating technology, it would do it better. Focus is quick and on the money, images are tack sharp, backgrounds are super-clean, and although it is not Nikon’s lightest 300mm, it is lighter and feels better in my hands than the old 300mm.

A coworker saw this lens as I was unboxing it and asked, “It’s just a 300mm?” The prevailing view among many photographers is that a fixed focal length lens, a so-called “prime,” isn’t versatile or exciting enough, but my experience is that my use of prime lenses is responsible for most of my really great images. The 300mm is one of those lenses.

Here is the first frame through my new AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4. Thanks to the f/4 maximum aperture, you'd never guess this was shot through the backstop net.
Here is the first frame through my new AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4. Thanks to the f/4 maximum aperture, you’d never guess this was shot through the backstop net.
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