The Light Can Make All the Difference

By , April 26, 2016 1:07 pm

Two nights ago as I mowed, I watched, as I always do, the maturing light. About 20 minutes before sunset, with bands of clouds on the horizon, the sun peaked through and struck an early stand of my wife Abby’s favorite flower, Indian Paintbrush, in the pasture. I ran inside to grab a camera with my new AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, and scampered back out to find that the bands of clouds had covered the sun and muted the light. I made a few images under the soft light, but really wanted the bright amber hues of the setting sun behind those flowers. Another day, maybe.

Then last night, I got an earlier start, and planned ahead by having my camera in the garage, readier to go. As sunset approached, I was able to make the image I originally pre-visualized.

As you can see from the results, both images are beautiful, but very different. They are both shot with the same camera, from the same spot, at the same time of day, with the same settings. The only difference is the light.

Indian Paintbrush, 85mm f/1.8 at f/2.5, cloudy light.

Indian Paintbrush, 85mm f/1.8 at f/2.5, cloudy light.

Indian Paintbrush, 85mm f/1.8 at f/2.5, sunny light.

Indian Paintbrush, 85mm f/1.8 at f/2.5, sunny light.

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Tested and Failed: the Sigma DC 17-50mm f/2.8 EX HSM

By , April 25, 2016 12:30 pm
I bought the Sigma DC 17-50mm f/2.8 EX HSM hoping it would be the answer to my need for a mid-range, fast zoom lens.

I bought the Sigma DC 17-50mm f/2.8 EX HSM hoping it would be the answer to my need for a mid-range, fast zoom lens.

One of my photography students recently bought a Sigma 24-70mm f/4 "Art" lens, which represents Sigma's efforts to improve their image quality and reputation for inconsistent manufacturing. 24-70mm on a 24x36mm sensor is both versatile and potentially boring.

One of my photography students recently bought a Sigma 24-70mm f/4 “Art” lens, which represents Sigma’s efforts to improve their image quality and reputation for inconsistent manufacturing. 24-70mm on a 24x36mm sensor is both versatile and potentially boring.

Like most professional photographers, I like equipment that is transparent. No, I don’t mean I want my cameras to be made out of clear plastic, though that might be really interesting. I mean that I want my equipment to get out of the way, do it’s job, and allow me to concentrate on the real meat of photography, the moment. I don’t want to worry about or struggle with my gear while the action and the intimacy and the light come and go. One lens I bought in 2011 in hopes of working within this paradigm is the Sigma DC 17-50mm f/2.8 EX HSM for use on my Nikon DSLR cameras with their 15x24mm-sized sensors. I originally picked up this lens just prior to my sister’s wedding (link.) Since my wife and I were traveling to New Orleans for just the weekend, and since the wedding was entirely at night indoors, I wanted a lens that would fill my needs for that event: it would have to be fast-focusing, sharp wide open (f/2.8), have optical image stabilization, and be reasonably well-constructed.

Another view of the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8; despite its optical shortcomings, it is a well-built, good-looking lens.

Another view of the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8; despite its optical shortcomings, it is a well-built, good-looking lens.

This is Michael's 24-70mm f/2.8 Sigma I borrowed to shoot my step-daughter's wedding in 2009.

This is Michael’s 24-70mm f/2.8 Sigma I borrowed to shoot my step-daughter’s wedding in 2009.

Part of the reason I thought this Sigma might be a good choice was my success with a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX-DG I borrowed from Michael to shoot my step-daughter’s wedding in 2009 (link). I liked everything about the lens except that it wasn’t quite wide enough, and it wasn’t mine. It was sharp wide open, handled well, and made gorgeous 14-point sunstars when stopped down.

My very first field testing of the 17-50mm seemed to go well, but every lens is sharp at f/8. I didn’t spend $600 for this lens to shoot at f/8. I spent this money so I could take low light to its limits, and that would come just a couple of weeks later at the wedding.

Hosted by the New Orleans Athletic Club, the venue was gorgeous, but lit by just four incandescent chandeliers. I shot it all at ISO 3200, at f/2.8, which put me in the 1/60th to 1/125th of a second shutter speed range. This is the low-light margin that tests everything: sensor noise, optical stabilization, lens sharpness, and photographer’s skills. If any one of these factors falls short, image quality suffers, and this lens was the weak link. It just wasn’t sharp wide open, at f/2.8.

Michael and Abby were my second shooters, with the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 and the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 lenses respectively, and they stuff was very sharp at apertures like f/2.5 and f/2.0.

This was the lighting for the first test of the Sigma 17-55mm, the New Orleans Athletic Club's ballroom, lit my four incandescent chandeliers.

This was the lighting for the first test of the Sigma 24-70mm, the New Orleans Athletic Club’s ballroom, lit my four incandescent chandeliers.

Of Note...
One item I hit hard in my Intro to Digital Photographer class is white balance. This might seem like an obvious teaching point, but readers might be surprised by how many images submitted to my newspaper have ugly colors casts, particularly yellow and red. The wedding in New Orleans was lit entirely with incandescent lights, and using the appropriate white balance setting saved us a lot of headaches in post-processing.

In the end, my images from New Orleans were great, and my sister and new brother-in-law were very happy with them, but I wasn’t pleased with the Sigma, which stood out as the weak link. I have since shot a couple more weddings with the 17-50mm, and while the images were acceptable, I want more from a big, heavy, expensive lens.

Another possible replacement for the Sigma might be the Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8.

Another possible replacement for the Sigma might be the Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8.

I will look at options. My instinct is to shoot with my 12-24mm f/4 Tokina on one camera, and my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 on the other, but that still doesn’t give me a one-camera travel wedding solution. It will need to be a zoom, and it will need to be wide-to-portrait length. One possibility is picking up a 24x36mm sensor-sized camera on Ebay like the Nikon D700, and using something like my Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8, which is heavy but absolutely dazzlingly sharp. The 24-70mm, 28-70mm, 24-105mm focal lengths on a 24x36mm sensor are approximately equivalent to the 17-50mm, 18-55mm lenses on a 15x24mm sensor. While this is a versatile field of view range, it also has the potential to be bland and boring, and requires us to push hard at the short and long ends to make our images really interesting.

This is the most common lens in photography today, the so-called "kit lens." This is Nikon's Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, but every camera maker has one. If I have to shoot at f/4 or f/5.6 to get sharp results with my Sigma 17-50mm, why don't I just use a kit lens at a quarter of the price and half the weight?

This is the most common lens in photography today, the so-called “kit lens.” This is Nikon’s Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, but every camera maker has one. If I have to shoot at f/4 or f/5.6 to get sharp results with my Sigma 17-50mm, why don’t I just use a kit lens at a quarter of the price and half the weight?

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Getting Organized

By , April 14, 2016 8:58 am
For more than a decade I organized photographic negatives by month, in negative sleeves stored in empty Ektamatic 8x10 photographic paper boxes, mostly because I had so many of them.

For more than a decade I organized photographic negatives by month, in negative sleeves stored in empty Ektamatic 8×10 photographic paper boxes, mostly because I had so many of them.

In many of my classes, people want to know how to organize their photos. They are mostly lost about how to arrange files and folders on their computers. I’ve known many professional journalists – people who should know better – who have essentially no clue how to organize computer stuff. I don’t fault them, though, because the truth is that life in the information age is bafflingly complex, and photography is now an information technology.

An unhappy social media experience...
“Sorry facebook friends trying to get my photo’s [sic] back. Got new cell ph [sic] & when they were transfering  to my new Ph [sic] they lost my STUFF. Not happy…”
My use of photographic film dropped off dramatically from the arrival of my first digital camera, the Nikon D1H, in September 2001, through mid-2005, when we traded our remaining Nikon F100 film camera for a D70S digital camera. This image shows the last film I ever shot.

My use of photographic film dropped off dramatically from the arrival of my first digital camera, the Nikon D1H, in September 2001, through mid-2005, when we traded our remaining Nikon F100 film camera for a D70S digital camera. This image shows the last film I ever shot.

When I got my first professional photography jobs, in college, we organized our image files, which at the time were photographic negatives, in traditional containers like spiral notebooks or cardboard boxes. Even the busiest of us on the busiest days were unlikely to shoot more than six or eight rolls of film – maybe 300 images. I kept the same basic organization until the digital era, ending with my last photographic negatives in May 2005, the year my newspaper traded away our last film camera, a Nikon F100.

On a big news or event day now, I can shoot a thousand or more digital frames in my efforts to provide something for print, something for the web, and something apart from that for social media.

It can be baffling to look at that many images on a screen, and the temptation is to either make no effort to edit them, or to grab the best five or six from a shoot and orphan the remaining files. The worst possible option is to tell your computer to upload them all to your Flickr or SmugMug or 500px or Pinterest account, since, as I have pointed out before, no one has time or desire to look at a thousand photos of anything. And consider that if you don’t have time to look at all your photos, why would anyone else?

On our phones the situation gets even more baffling. I’ve stood in front of someone who searched her phone for two minutes or longer to show me a photo, only to finally just give up. The reason is clear: most people shoot many dozens of photos every day, then make no effort to organize them.

Overheard As I Wrote This...

“I’ve got these photos on my computer at home, but I don’t know how to get them off.”

This is one of my biggest peeves in the digital world: people who print digital photos and bring them to us to scan to make them digital. It represents, in my estimation, a kind of willful ignorance.

CDs and DVDs with analog labeling might seem anachronistic to some, but there have been a number of occasions when finding something organized in this fashion was much more obvious that searching a computer hard drive or a cloud service.

CDs and DVDs with analog labeling might seem anachronistic to some, but there have been a number of occasions when finding something organized in this fashion was much more obvious that searching a computer hard drive or a cloud service.

I discuss all this as I sit at my computer at home and work to finish folder after folder of images. It’s a pretty straightforward process of deleting the genuinely worthless images, grabbing and editing the really captivating pieces, then going back to look at the rest of what’s left behind to see if there might be a pearl among the swine. It’s not a bad workflow, but it comes with a couple of caveats. 1. As you get tired, you tend to get less clear about how you want to edit your images, and 2. If you get in a hurry, you tend to throw out more images so you don’t have to deal with them. This sort of “get finished itis” is one reason I make myself edit in random order sometimes.

I am still amazed sometimes when people come to my newspaper and ask for photographs or their family or friends, but have virtually no additional information, as if every reporter and editor remembers every word we ever published. Or maybe it’s that their world view is so myopic that they really don’t understand how much information is out there.

On our office wall at home is a rack of CDs and DVDs, all with the spines labeled clearly, with names like “Ashford Wedding 2012,” or “Perfect Ten, Anniversary 2014.” It’s an analog approach to organizing digital files, and might be worth consideration if you have difficulty keeping your computer world in order.

Getting organized might be one of the most difficult aspects of photography, as it seems to be in much of life.  Don’t rely on your phone, the cloud, or someone you know. Do it yourself. Take the time to learn how. It is hard work, but in the end, it’s worth it.

Everyone has a different editing style. Some need to see prints in their hands, other prefer slide shows. I have made my editing home the on-screen browser page, analogous to the contact sheet of the film days.

Everyone has a different editing style. Some need to see prints in their hands, other prefer slide shows. I have made my editing home the on-screen browser page, analogous to the contact sheet of the film days.

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Software: The New Darkroom

By , March 15, 2016 4:04 pm
This is a screen shot of the Apple's Photos application in action. Although fairly basic in nature, it does have a few capable features.

This is a screen shot of the Apple’s Photos application in action. Although fairly basic in nature, it does have a few capable features.

For the last 15 or so years, the main terminal for delivering photographs to our audience has been the computer and its accessories instead of their predecessors, enlargers and chemicals. The interface between the photographer and the computer is software, computer programs that allow is to view, edit, and deliver images in the 21st century. Here is a rundown on some of the software with which I have become familiar.

Adobe Photoshop: this is the ultimate in image editing, graphic design, and desktop publishing. It’s power to manipulate every element of an image makes it very attractive, particularly for artists and designers, but also for photographers who want control over every pixel. The down side is that it is expensive and complex, requiring a steeper learning curve than its contemporaries. There are a couple of features that make Photoshop my first choice. One is actions, which allows me to assign a function key to do groups of things to an image all at once; for example, I can create an action that will add yellow, darken the blacks, filter noise, apply the unsharp mask, and save the image, all at the touch of one key. Another is history, which allows me to got back through my edits one step at a time to see what I did and how it worked.

Photoshop is integrated with Adobe Bridge, which acts as a kind of digital contact sheet and file manager. You can do some edits to one image, like noise reduction and white balance, then apply those edits to all the images in Bridge.

My first experience with Photoshop was in 1998, when I was given a beige Apple G3 computer and Adobe Photoshop 5. There have been a long series of incremental upgrades to Photoshop, and it is now part of Creative Cloud.

Adobe Photoshop is currently part of Adobe Creative Cloud, a marketing strategy that proposes to keep subscribers using the newest possible iteration of their software without having to go through versions.

Adobe Photoshop is currently part of Adobe Creative Cloud, a marketing strategy that proposes to keep subscribers using the newest possible iteration of their software without having to go through versions.

Adobe Photoshop’s little brother is Adobe Photoshop Elements, in version 14 and priced at $99 as I write this. In all honesty, unless you are a graphic artist or designer, Elements can do just about anything to an image you will need. For a lot of professional photographers, the biggest item Elements does not have is the ability to work with 16-bit files. There is a comprehensive list of the differences here, but in the end, for day-to-day photo editing, Elements is a powerful and impressive application.

My friend Michael often uses Elements because it starts up faster.

My class is photography, not software or editing, but I do touch on software, and the software I recommend for most of my students is Adobe Photoshop Elements.

My class is photography, not software or editing, but I do touch on software, and the software I recommend for most of my students is Adobe Photoshop Elements.

A pitfall of Photoshop is that it can, as I have discussed on a number of occasions, make pictures lie by adding or removing critical elements, over or under emphasizing elements of human features (from supermodels to war scenes to O. J. Simpson), and creating images that imply someone is saying or doing something they are not. Over the years, such editing has mislead readers and ended the careers of several leading photographers.

Increasing in popularity in recent years is Abobe Lightroom. This combines some features of Photoshop with some features of Bridge, fusing them into a somewhat simplified interface. To me, Lightroom seems like Everyman’s Photoshop. While it has some powerful image management tools, I find its interface less intuitive than Photoshop. I actively dislike the way Lightroom pops hidden toolbars up when you mouse over them.

One serious downside to Lightroom for me as a professional who needs to quickly edit images is the fact that you have to import images into Lightroom before you can work on them, then export them to a file to use them. The reason for this is that Lightroom keeps your edits in its database so they remain “non-destructive,” so you always keep your original photo, but that’s a little patronizing to those of us who figured out how to manage files and edit copies 16 years ago.

This is the Lightroom 6 interface. I'm getting more comfortable, and therefore better, with it since starting to use it last November, but given the choice, I'd still prefer Photoshop.

This is the Lightroom 6 interface. I’m getting more comfortable, and therefore better, with it since starting to use it last November, but given the choice, I’d still prefer Photoshop.

Lightroom provides “Publish Services” like Behance, Facebook, and Flickr, with the option of adding more, it seems to me that over the years, applications that try to hold your hand are destined for the scrap heap. Social media integration is both ineffective and etherial, meaning that one day AOL is on top, the next day MySpace is on top, the day after that Facebook is on top, and so on. As I wrote this, I had no idea what “Behance” was, and going to its web site didn’t clear it up much.

Essentially, I need to double-click a photo, smoothly and quickly edit it, save it, then send it where I need it, to a folder on a server usually. Lightroom fights me at every turn.

Apple computer users, particularly those who use the iPhone and iPad products, are familiar with Apple’s Photos, which until recently was called iPhoto. Apple retired their fairly good Aperture application and merged it with iPhoto to create Photos with the goal of integrating desktop editing with phone and tablet editing. If Lightroom is an amateur product, Photos is the kid’s product. It has the few basic controls, but beyond that doesn’t have the tools, particularly brushes, that are critical for professional editing.

Maybe in the end, the applications that try to do everything for you are for people who always struggled with that. That’s not me: my photos are organized by date, and indexed according to name and caption information, since we had to do this from the start of the digital age, long before Photos and Lightroom even existed, and this will probably be the only organization method that will stand the test of time. The reason for this is that software isn’t developed for your needs, but for the software company’s profits. If it doesn’t make money, it will disappear. Don’t believe me? Remember PictureProject? MyPictureTown? EasyShare? Microsoft Photo Editor?

In conclusion, my first choice for photo editing is Adobe Photoshop, followed quite closely by Photoshop Elements.

As you can see, the editing interface using Photoshop Elements is fairly comprehensive for day-to-day photography. This is version 10, but Elements is now for sale as version 14.

As you can see, the editing interface using Photoshop Elements is fairly comprehensive for day-to-day photography. This is version 10, but Elements is now for sale as version 14.

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Mistakes and Protocols

By , March 12, 2016 1:13 pm
In the days of film photography, one fairly common rookie mistake looked like this. We prevented this by making sure the film wound all the way around the takeup spool at least one full rotation before closing the back of the camera.

In the days of film photography, one fairly common rookie mistake looked like this. We prevented this by making sure the film wound all the way around the takeup spool at least one full rotation before closing the back of the camera.

Someone asked me the other day if I ever seriously screwed up at my job, and what did I do about it. By “serious” I assumed they meant something worse than spelling Marcy “Marcie.” I told them, in hushed tones, that yes, once, I did very seriously screw up. The hushed tones are no long necessary, obviously, since I am coming clean here in my public forum.

I knew at least one photographer who left the rewind crank extended so he could see it in his peripheral vision as it spun counterclockwise when the film fed out of the cassette onto the film plane.

I knew at least one photographer who left the rewind crank extended so he could see it in his peripheral vision as it spun counterclockwise when the film fed out of the cassette onto the film plane.

I once photographed someone with an unloaded camera. I know. Richard? A recruit trick like that? But yes, sure, anyone can make a fundamental mistake. When I discovered my mistake, I slunk back over to the woman I’d photographed and told her a half-lie: the image didn’t work out the way I wanted and could I shoot a few more.

I never made that mistake again, for two reasons: first, my reputation was on the line, and I might not be able to quietly fix it next time, and second, I started religiously using a protocol, which I use to this day. Simply put, I never ever ever closed a camera back (in the film era) or close a camera card door (in the digital realm) without new media installed. The same goes for batteries. Never close a battery door without a charged battery inside.

These protocols are fairly universal. Never start an airplane without removing the “Remove Before Flight” flags. Never holster an unloaded pistol. Never close a circuit breaker someone has opened.

It’s been years since I screwed up big enough to have to reshoot something, but life is full of potential mistakes, and if I do drop the ball, my hope and intention is that I will do whatever it takes to make it right.

It's obvious from their design that these card doors in our Nikon D300S cameras are meant to remind you not to rock and roll without locking and loading.

It’s obvious from their design that these card doors in our Nikon D300S cameras are meant to remind you not to rock and roll without locking and loading.

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In Conclusion

By , March 7, 2016 5:01 pm
Annette and Wil face off last Monday for our session.

Annette and Wil face off last Monday for our session.

I was delighted that one of my students was able to purchase a new Sigma 24-105mm f/4 lens, one of Sigma's new "Art" series.

I was delighted that one of my students was able to purchase a new Sigma 24-105mm f/4 lens, one of Sigma’s new “Art” series.

I finished teaching another intermediate/advance class last week, and I hope I was able to give my students what they needed. It’s an interesting tradeoff; I can show them what inspires me and I can show then how I did it, but only they can decide what inspires them and how they can do it. Photography is an art, and it is difficult and unfair to quantify.

It's always nice to have a cooperative sky.

It’s always nice to have a cooperative sky.

We discovered that my reading glasses made a very interesting shadow.

We discovered that my reading glasses made a very interesting shadow.

I felt we had fun and productive sessions.

Over the years, my students and I have made a few different iterations of this image in the security mirror in the main lobby at the Pontotoc Technology Center.

Over the years, my students and I have made a few different iterations of this image in the security mirror in the main lobby at the Pontotoc Technology Center.

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Up Close and Personal

By , February 14, 2016 5:30 pm
This is the screw thread gauge I photographed this afternoon.

This is the screw thread gauge I photographed this afternoon.

These are my macro lenses, the AF Nikkor 60mm f/2.8, and the Tokina 100mm f/2.8. Both are excellent, sharp, fun-to-use lenses.

These are my macro lenses, the AF Nikkor 60mm f/2.8, and the Tokina 100mm f/2.8. Both are excellent, sharp, fun-to-use lenses.

Recently my wife Abby and I were working on a multi-stage garage clean-out project. One result of this is that she finds things that belonged to her father, whose life as a machinist led to him collecting thousands of tools and other items for his craft.

This is the screw gauge in my hand to provide a sense of scale.

This is the screw gauge in my hand to provide a sense of scale.

In our dusty unboxings during the past weeks, we came across a very cool little item I didn’t even know existed: a screw thread gauge. The device has dozens of little steel fins that are marked with widths in fractions of millimeters, and those fins are stacked together on a spindle so you can fan them out and measure the pitch of the threads in a screw.

You can see a notable amount of color aliasing in this 100% view of one of my frames today, created by ultra-sharp rendering of minute details.

You can see a notable amount of color aliasing in this 100% view of one of my frames today, created by ultra-sharp rendering of minute details.

Not only did I think this was a neat tool that I would probably never use, I also thought I should photograph it. I got out my two macro lenses, the AF Nikkor 60mm f/2.8, and the Tokina 100mm f/2.8. Both are wonderful lenses, and both could do the job. I chose the 60mm for no other reason than I hadn’t used it recently.

I set the thread gauge on the glass surface of my iPad, and cranked up three flash units plus the one of the camera hot shoe. I pointed one flash into a reflector to my left, one into a reflector over my right shoulder, and one in front of me to the right.

The result was pretty satisfying. Not only is the repeating pattern on the gauge intriguing, but the image ended up being dazzlingly sharp. It is so sharp, in fact, that despite my efforts to clean the gauge with compressed air before the shoot, you can see a fair amount of grime in the tiny spaces between the fins. It’s also sufficiently sharp that it created aliasing, the mixing of minute frequencies to create colors in areas of complex detail, right at the focal point.

It was fun doing this, and a nice departure from the kinds of things I shoot every day in my work.

This is another view of the screw thread gauge I photographed this afternoon.

This is another view of the screw thread gauge I photographed this afternoon.

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Yes, but What Then?

By , February 11, 2016 12:29 am
Few uses of my photographs move people more than big, powerful prints. In addition to this wall of prints in my immediate workspace at my office, the walls downstairs are covered with prints, and I seldom go more than a day or two without seeing a customer or visitor slowly strolling along looking at them.

Few uses of my photographs move people more than big, powerful prints. In addition to this wall of prints in my immediate workspace at my office, the walls downstairs are covered with prints, and I seldom go more than a day or two without seeing a customer or visitor slowly strolling along looking at them.

The third night of my Intro to Digital Photography class built around what we can do with what we have learned on the first two nights: the basic theory of how cameras work, and how to use some of our tools to create images.

Although I teach in a very Socratic fashion, I make sure that the last point I hit in the beginner class is that we can do all kinds of great things with our images, including printing them for display or publishing them in books.

Although I teach in a very Socratic fashion, I make sure that the last point I hit in the beginner class is that we can do all kinds of great things with our images, including printing them for display or publishing them in books.

In the digital age, we make a lot of images, and often that’s the end of it, because no one, absolutely no one, has time to look at 500 or 1000 of our images. I’ll go even farther and say that if you do with your images the same thing as everyone else in the 21st century, post them to social media, very few people will see them, and even if they do, they have little chance to make an impact.

Call me old school, but it is my opinion that top quality printing is the best way to create an impressive, expressive photographic product that has the potential to last for decades. The printed work not only looks great, it feels great in the hands, and when it’s new, it even smells great. It has a sense of permanence, importance, significance.

For prints, particularly display prints up to 13×19 inches, Abby and I have owned several photo-quality inkjet printers over the years, our current one being the Epson Stylus Photo 1400. It’s not at the top of the line, but we buy the best paper and ink for it, and the results are spectacular.

Creating items like books and calendars, we use Apple’s Photos app, the latest iteration of what was long-known as iPhoto. Abby’s daughter had the wedding photos we shot for her made into a book at mypublisher.com, and we were all pleased with the result, and there are many other options.

A photo book could be about anything: weddings (here or here or here, all made into books), memorials, holidays, vacations, family reunions, family and community history, anything.

I show some of our prints and books to my students not to brag on our accomplishment, but to say to them. “You can do this with your photography.”

I know so many people with collections of great images of great moments that are hiding inside a smart phone or computer, waiting to be made into something genuinely beautiful.

My wife Abby and I have books of our images made for various purposes, from travel images to individual weddings, and the look and feel of a real, printed book is much more powerful than any web gallery can ever be.

My wife Abby and I have books of our images made for various purposes, from travel images to individual weddings, and the look and feel of a real, printed book is much more powerful than any web gallery can ever be.

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2015: The Year in Pictures

By , January 20, 2016 12:07 pm

What does a year of my images at The Ada News look like? Here are some samples of my work from 2015. Assembling this entry took a lot of work, but I absolutely love it. As I worked on it, I kept thinking, “This is what I do.”

January

Wildfire, Union Valley

Wildfire, Union Valley

Teacher, Ada

Teacher, Ada

Basketball Action, Vanoss

Basketball Action, Vanoss

Sunrise, Byng

Sunrise, Byng

Basketball, Byng

Basketball, Byng

Youth Rodeo, Ada

Youth Rodeo, Ada

Wildfire, Ahloso

Wildfire, Ahloso

February

Coach, Stonewall

Coach, Stonewall

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Konawa

Basketball, Konawa

Cheerleaders, Ada

Cheerleaders, Ada

Record Breaker, Ada

Record Breaker, Ada

Selfie, Latta

Selfie, Latta

Basketball, Byng

Basketball, Byng

Manners Party, Vanoss

Manners Party, Vanoss

Basketball, Allen

Basketball, Allen

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Face Paint, Vanoss

Face Paint, Vanoss

Basketball, Byng

Basketball, Byng

March

Basketball, Stonewall

Basketball, Stonewall

Thunderstorms, Ada

Thunderstorms, Ada

Basketball, Latta

Basketball, Latta

Basketball, Latta

Basketball, Latta

Blue Heron, Ada

Blue Heron, Ada

Basketball, Stonewall

Basketball, Stonewall

Basketball Fans, Henrietta

Basketball Fans, Henrietta

Crime Scene, Ada

Crime Scene, Ada

Bulldog, Stonewall

Bulldog, Stonewall

Peach Blossom, Byng

Peach Blossom, Byng

April

Baseball, Ada

Baseball, Ada

Dog, Ada

Dog, Ada

Baseball, Vanoss

Baseball, Vanoss

Little Red Schoolhouse, Ada

Little Red Schoolhouse, Ada

Baseball, Roff

Baseball, Roff

Class, Ada

Class, Ada

May

Baseball, Byng

Baseball, Byng

Graduation Prep, Ada

Graduation Prep, Ada

Softball, Shawnee

Softball, Shawnee

Fire, Byng

Fire, Byng

Baseball, Shawnee

Baseball, Shawnee

Softball, Shawnee

Softball, Shawnee

Graduation, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Bees, Ada

Bees, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Softball, Shawnee

Softball, Shawnee

June

Baseball Camp, Byng

Baseball Camp, Byng

New Football Coach, Ada

New Football Coach, Ada

Camp Out Day, Ada

Camp Out Day, Ada

Night of Worship, Ada

Night of Worship, Ada

Flooding, Union Valley

Flooding, Union Valley

Baseball, Ada

Baseball, Ada

Splash Park, Ada

Splash Park, Ada

July

Baseball, Ada

Baseball, Ada

Band Practice, Ada

Band Practice, Ada

Back-to-School, Ada

Back-to-School, Ada

Wildfire, Byng

Wildfire, Byng

Splash Park, Ada

Splash Park, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Peach Festival, Stratford

Peach Festival, Stratford

Peach Festival, Stratford

Peach Festival, Stratford

August

Softball, Tupelo

Softball, Tupelo

Baseball, Roff

Baseball, Roff

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

Picture Day, Allen

Picture Day, Allen

Camel Rides, Ada

Camel Rides, Ada

Camel Rides, Ada

Camel Rides, Ada

Picture Day, Ada

Picture Day, Ada

Thunderstorms, Ada

Thunderstorms, Ada

Fire, Ada

Fire, Ada

Sunset, Konawa

Sunset, Konawa

Family Fun Night, Ada

Family Fun Night, Ada

Wildfire, Galey

Wildfire, Galey

September

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Football, Stratford

Football, Stratford

1901 Fest, Ada

1901 Fest, Ada

CPR Class, Ada

CPR Class, Ada

Softball, Latta

Softball, Latta

Softball, Stonewall

Softball, Stonewall

Baseball, Latta

Baseball, Latta

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Fall Festival, Tishomingo

Fall Festival, Tishomingo

Bulldog Mascot, Sulphur

Bulldog Mascot, Sulphur

Sunrise, Ada

Sunrise, Ada

Football, Allen

Football, Allen

Wildfire, Union Valley

Wildfire, Union Valley

Pasture, Byng

Pasture, Byng

Sunset, Stratford

Sunset, Stratford

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Byng

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Byng

October

Softball, Sulphur

Softball, Sulphur

Softball, Sulphur

Softball, Sulphur

Football, Tecumseh

Football, Tecumseh

Candlelight Vigil, Ada

Candlelight Vigil, Ada

Softball, Oklahoma City

Softball, Oklahoma City

Football, Tecumseh

Football, Tecumseh

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Blue Heron, Ada

Blue Heron, Ada

Softball Fans, Oklahoma City

Softball Fans, Oklahoma City

Zombies for Piece March, Ada

Zombies for Piece March, Ada

Crepuscular Rays, Ada

Crepuscular Rays, Ada

November

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Veterans Day, Ada

Veterans Day, Ada

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Basketball, Roff

Basketball, Roff

Football, Stratford

Football, Stratford

Autumn Sunshine, Ada

Autumn Sunshine, Ada

December

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Bonfire, Byng

Bonfire, Byng

Carolers, Ada

Carolers, Ada

Foggy Morning, Byng

Foggy Morning, Byng

Parade of Lights, Ada

Parade of Lights, Ada

Parade of Lights, Ada

Parade of Lights, Ada

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Down the Infraroad

By , January 13, 2016 1:16 pm
My Sony F828 camera makes an exposure through a 720nm infrared filter yesterday.

My Sony F828 camera makes an exposure through a 720nm infrared filter yesterday.

Four years ago I posted a piece about experimenting with infrared imaging, making photographs with visible light filtered out to some degree. The camera I used at the time was the bulky, heavy, cumbersome Kodak DCS720x, which I selected because it has a removable infrared filter, which, when removed, allowed infrared energy through to the sensor.

That camera, though, is a dinosaur, and while I was getting to know its infrared abilities, I simply never brought it anywhere.

I made this far-infrared image at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa a few years ago, and was intrigued by the result, but not as happy with the camera, the heavy, cumbersome Kodak DCS720x.

I made this far-infrared image at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa a few years ago, and was intrigued by the result, but not as happy with the camera, the heavy, cumbersome Kodak DCS720x.

With my infrared experiments at a standstill, I was searching for something else not long ago and came across a YouTube video of a photographer who showed us how to make infrared images with the Sony Cybershop F828, using a magnet to move the IR-blocking filter out of the optical path. I was interested.

I grabbed my F828, which I bought on eBay for $50, a tripod, and my 720nm filter, and set out to see if this camera might be the one to deliver. I played around with it for a few minutes, making a few images from the front porch. Unlike the Kodak, the Sony is a live view camera, so I could actually see an image in the viewfinder.

I’ll let my readers decide if the result is interesting.

This is the result of yesterday's quick infrared experiment. It only required a few simple steps in Photoshop to make it visually interesting.

This is the result of yesterday’s quick infrared experiment. It only required a few simple steps in Photoshop to make it visually interesting.

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Eighty Five Test Drive

By , January 11, 2016 3:11 pm
This is the lens we are test driving today: our new AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G.

This is the lens we are test driving today: our new AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G.

This is classic spherochromatism, as you can see in this image of my old 85mm: the close numbers on the aperture ring have a red cast, and the far letters on the lens barrel are green. This aberration is common to large-aperture lenses.

This is classic spherochromatism, as you can see in this image of my old 85mm: the close numbers on the aperture ring have a red cast, and the far letters on the lens barrel are green. This aberration is common to large-aperture lenses.

Readers know that earlier this week my wife Abby and I took delivery of a new AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G, a lens that replaced my dead 1994-era 85mm. I’ve only had a short time to play with it, but I managed to take it outside this afternoon to make a few frames, both because I wanted to get a feel for what to expect from the lens, and because it was a beautiful day.

  • The selective focus capabilities of the large maximum aperture are everything I’ve come to expect from a lens in this class.
  • Even at f/1.8 (“wide open” in industry parlance), it is very sharp.
  • Bokeh, the character of the out-of-focus areas in the image, seems to be even better with this new lens that with its predecessor. I was, however, able to coax it into a giving me a few ratty bokeh spots.
  • Spherochromatism, an aberration that produces red color fringes on out-of-focus areas in front of the focal point and green color fringes on out-of-focus areas behind the focal point, is quite noticeable wide open and near the closest focus distance. This aberration is well-controlled by stopping down to about f/2.5.
  • Focus was quick and quiet, and the lens felt very at-home on my Nikon D7100.
This is a piece of rope I use to tie tomato plants in the summer, dangling from our fence. You can see that the selective focus potential of this lens is quite impressive.

This is a piece of rope I use to tie tomato plants in the summer, dangling from our fence. You can see that the selective focus potential of this lens is quite impressive.

I made this image last night of a metal lizard I brought home to my wife from a hiking trip to Utah. As you can see, the out-of-focus areas of the image melt away gracefully.

I made this image last night of a metal lizard I brought home to my wife from a hiking trip to Utah. As you can see, the out-of-focus areas of the image melt away gracefully.

On the other hand, if you challenge this lens with enough clutter, its bokeh can get pretty ratty, seen here on the left side of the image in particular.

On the other hand, if you challenge this lens with enough clutter, its bokeh can get pretty ratty, seen here on the left side of the image in particular.

In many circumstances, though, this lens delivers gorgeous results. This image of rusted chicken wire on our back fence is an example of exactly how I wanted this lens to perform.

In many circumstances, though, this lens delivers gorgeous results. This image of rusted chicken wire on our back fence is an example of exactly how I wanted this lens to perform.

 

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What About Angles?

By , January 11, 2016 2:46 pm
I shot tonight's example images with my AF 60mm Micro-Nikkor, a lens I own because it came with a camera I bought on Ebay. Despite its accidental service, I find that it is an extraordinarily capable macro lens.

I shot tonight’s example images with my AF 60mm Micro-Nikkor, a lens I own because it came with a camera I bought on Ebay. Despite its accidental service, I find that it is an extraordinarily capable macro lens.

There’s a lot of talk, usually to, rather than among, photographers, about angle. People on the street tell me they “loved the angle you got” in a photo on the sport page, or they’ll see me working and say, “trying to get just the right angle, huh?”

Honestly, the whole angle thing is made up by television. We photographers don’t ever use the word “angle” in our work, mostly because we don’t need to use it. Instead of thinking about an angle (15º, 37º, 55º, what?), real photographers decide where to be and move there much more organically, even instinctively. Instead of thinking “I need to shoot this from a high angle,” we just climb on something. Instead of thinking “I should move 30º to the left,” we just move and watch until the image comes together.

But with everything creative and artistic, there are exceptions, and the most important exception about angle in photography is in lighting. Sometimes the slightest change in the angle of the light, either by moving the light or moving the camera, can change the entire character of an image.

Consider then, the next two images, which I made after changing a small 12-volt light bulb and finding the burned out bulb visually interesting.

Both images are made at the same exposure, with the same lens, and without moving the lights. The only change was movement slightly down as I searched for exactly what I wanted, but as you can see, it didn’t change the composition much, but it did change the light, both in the subject, and in what was illuminated in the background.

This was my first shot at the broken bulb, lit with three flash units, two behind and one into a reflector over my right shoulder. I was very pleased with the result.

This was my first shot at the broken bulb, lit with three flash units, two behind and one into a reflector over my right shoulder. I was very pleased with the result.

The next frame I made was shot with the same lights, lens, and exposure; the only thing that changed was that I moved down a few inches to get a better view of the filament. As you can see, it brought a brighter background into the frame, and the character of the image is quite different than my first try.

The next frame I made was shot with the same lights, lens, and exposure; the only thing that changed was that I moved down a few inches to get a better view of the filament. As you can see, it brought a brighter background into the frame, and the character of the image is quite different than my first try.

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Portrait of a Portrait Lens

By , January 8, 2016 12:56 pm
A welcome addition to my photographic tool kit is the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G. Fit and finish on this new lens, shown here mounted on my Nikon D7100, are excellent, from the wide, smooth focusing ring to the oversized barrel of the lens, which fits my hands just right.

A welcome addition to my photographic tool kit is the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G. Fit and finish on this new lens, shown here mounted on my Nikon D7100, are excellent, from the wide, smooth focusing ring to the oversized barrel of the lens, which fits my hands just right.

Last year one of my favorite lenses, the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, died. Its autofocus linkage was built with plastic bushings, and as they aged, the focus mechanism got increasingly stiff and rough. Both manual and auto focus were effected.

Then last week, Abby and I were talking about some after-Christmas shopping, and I mentioned that we had a large number of credit card rewards points, and that I wanted to replace my dead 85mm.

The 85mm to 135mm focal length range is classically thought of as “portrait length,” meaning that while these lenses do many things well, what they do best is help create portraits. You can read more of my talking points about portrait lenses here (link), and you can view some of my favorite portraits here (link).

The old 85mm sits next to the new, larger 85mm. I bought the old one in 1994.

The old 85mm sits next to the new, larger 85mm. I bought the old one in 1994.

The 85mm is a wonderful focal length, and f/1.8 is a wonderful maximum aperture. I wanted to a replacement with these qualifications, so I looked around and did a little research, and while there are some other great choices, I went with Nikon’s successor to my 85mm, the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G.

This is the first image I made with our new 85mm, of Sierra the Chihuahua in Abby's lap. As you can see, the image is sharp, and features nice selective focus, thanks to shooting at f/2.

This is the first image I made with our new 85mm, of Sierra the Chihuahua in Abby’s lap. As you can see, the image is sharp, and features nice selective focus, thanks to shooting at f/2.

Compared to my old 85mm, the new lens is larger but lighter, has a larger focus ring, and uses the AF-S autofocus system, meaning that the focus motor is built into the lens. It is supposedly optically different from the old 85mm, which I hope addresses some of the shortcomings of its ancestor.

I took the time yesterday to make a few images around the house, and initially I was very happy with the feel, handling and performance of the lens. The results were sharp as anticipated, and the selective focus power of f/1.8 was obvious. Bokeh, the character of the out-of-focus areas, seemed pleasing.

Abby and I have big plans for this lens. I expect it will become a favorite for weddings, Christmas lights and other nighttime events, particularly when combined with our excellent AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G. Of course, you can count on more in-depth reviews of this item as I expand my practical experience with it, but I can tell you that my initial impressions of it are very positive.

I definitely see the new 85mm f/1.8 partnered with, among others, the excellent 35mm f/1.8, for all kinds of low light and night imaging opportunities.

I definitely see the new 85mm f/1.8 partnered with, among others, the excellent 35mm f/1.8, for all kinds of low light and night imaging opportunities.

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Bokeh vs Bokeh

By , December 12, 2015 12:16 am
The tools of the holiday trade: a digital SLR, a lens with a nice, large maximum aperture, and my own elegantly decorated Christmas tree. The lens is one of my favorites, Nikkor's AS-S 35mm f/1.8.

The tools of the holiday trade: a digital SLR, a lens with a nice, large maximum aperture, and my own elegantly decorated Christmas tree. The lens is one of my favorites, Nikkor’s AS-S 35mm f/1.8.

As I have taught in the past, “bokeh” is an elusive and often misunderstood aspect of photography. Roughly translated as “blur” or “haze” from it Japanese language origins, it refers to the quality, not amount, of the out-of-focus portions of any photograph. It is an important sub-category of selective focus, using shallow depth of field to govern how the audience perceives the message of the image.

The other dog in today's fight is the 50mm f/1.8, noted as small, lightweight, inexpensive, and viceless.

The other dog in today’s fight is the 50mm f/1.8, noted as small, lightweight, inexpensive, and viceless.

Selective focus can be created using all kinds of techniques, from using lenses of long focal lengths, to shooting at large apertures, to working at very close distances from the subject. All can create an image with a narrow area of sharpness and a very blurred foregrounds and backgrounds. The degree to which we use these methods can control how deep the blurring is, but it is the lens and its optical design that controls the bokeh.

I thought of this as I learned that our friend Scott recently picked up an AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, a lens noted for it’s ability to created strong selective focus with its large maximum aperture of f/1.4. I look forward to seeing some of his stuff and evaluating its bokeh.

And this all comes at the holiday season, when it is inviting to try to photograph all that glitters using some aspect of selective focus, and that can be very fun.

Santa with Christmas tree behind him shot with my 35mm f/1.8 at f/1.8. Note the smooth, even out-of-focus highlights, though they tend to get football-shaped near the corners of the image.

Santa with Christmas tree behind him shot with my 35mm f/1.8 at f/1.8. Note the smooth, even out-of-focus highlights, though they tend to get football-shaped near the corners of the image.

Compare the highlights in the previous image to the ones made in this one from the same spot using the same aperture, but with the 50mm f/1.8 lens. Note the slightly crosseyed bokeh and the slight tendency for them to look like doughnuts.

Compare the highlights in the previous image to the ones made in this one from the same spot using the same aperture, but with the 50mm f/1.8 lens. Note the slightly crosseyed bokeh and the slight tendency for them to look like doughnuts.

As you can plainly see from these examples, bokeh is not imaginary, and it does play a significant role in the character of our images.

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Missing the Big Picture

By , December 3, 2015 9:03 pm
I found this image of a Canon 600mm online, and it looks exactly like the one I used that night. It focused using knobs, like a telescope.

I found this image of a Canon 600mm online, and it looks exactly like the one I used that night. It focused using knobs, like a telescope.

My last entry included my reminiscences about a very significant moment in sports history, the infamous Ice Bowl football game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in 1985. After I wrote that, I got to thinking about that night and how memorable it was, and searched YouTube for it. Thankfully, someone had a VCR going that night, and posted the entire game.

Watching it filled me with an odd sense of loss and regret, and here’s why: it seemed to us at the time that our goal was to photograph the game in spite of the weather, when, in fact, the weather itself was much more significant, particularly now when we look back on the moment. That moment wasn’t about a football game. We covered football games every week. That moment was about the coldest, meanest, messiest night out that 44,000 fans ever experienced.

When I get my time machine working (it’s really only missing a couple of hard-to-find vacuum tubes) and go back to that night, the game on the field would become very secondary. I think I would bring just a 28mm and a 180mm, leave the motor drives off the cameras (since the cold slowed them to a crawl), and concentrate on the icy experience of fans, coaches, and even us photographers. I would love to have an image of myself from that night better than this one…

The only lens I had with me was a 600mm, which is why I am not shooting at this moment. This is at the 1:10:36 on the YouTube video.

The only lens I had with me was a 600mm, which is why I am not shooting at this moment. This is at the 1:10:36 on the YouTube video.

That’s the rub, really: to see and understand what is meaningful and memorable when we photograph the moments of our lives. The game is what brought us to Stillwater, Oklahoma that night in November 1985, but the freezing rain, the cold, the wind — that was the memory.

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