Do Try This at Home!

By , August 26, 2016 8:21 am
Special effects photos always make more sense to the audience if we put something in them, like a mountain, a silhouetted fence, a camping tent, or, in this case, my car.

Special effects photos always make more sense to the audience if we put something in them, like a mountain, a silhouetted fence, a camping tent, or, in this case, my car.

I am a little late to this party, but it’s still a neat trick, one I finally tried last night: lighting steel wool and photographing it.

You will need:

Between the steel wool, the whisk, and some wire, this whole project cost about $3.

Between the steel wool, the whisk, and some wire, this whole project cost about $3.

  • The finest-grit steel wool you can buy. I found mine, labeled #0000, in the paint department at Wal Mart.
  • A large whisk, preferably with a handle or loop on the end, with a piece of string or wire tied to the loop.
  • An ignition source like a lighter. I use the long ones that are made to light a grill or camp fire.
  • A large, open area where it is safe and legal to have an open fire.
  • Some way to safely extinguish the fire and deal with hot embers.
  • A hat and gloves.
  • A tripod and a camera with a controllable shutter capable of an exposure of at least 15 seconds.

Unroll a pad of steel wool and fluff it out, then push it through the openings in the whisk. The looser the steel wool, the better it will burn because more oxygen can get to it.

The idea is to open the shutter and light the steel wool, then move the whisk with the burning wool inside to “paint” with the light its fire creates. Most internet tutorials recommend spinning the whisk, since it will move through the air faster and burn brighter and because it throws off neat-looking sparks. It did that last night and liked the results.

Working in the dark with an unpredictable medium like burning metal is slightly dangerous, which is why I wore work gloves and a hat. Coordinating shutter opening and lighting the metal is awkward too, since it doesn’t always light right up, and since brightness of the surroundings and the burning metal vary. These images were made with a 15mm lens at f/16, ISO 200, for 30 seconds.

I only tried about five pads of steel wool last night, and this ended up being the best of the bunch. I deliberately made these images at disk so there would be some color to the sky.

I only tried about five pads of steel wool last night, and this ended up being the best of the bunch. I deliberately made these images at disk so there would be some color to the sky.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Sensory Perception

By , August 22, 2016 3:10 pm
At the heart of every digital camera is one of these: an integrated circuit with tiny picture elements - "pixels" - that record light. Most have filters like anti-aliasing and infrared filters, and most have a Bayer Pattern Array filter. This is the modern equivalent of film.

At the heart of every digital camera is one of these: an integrated circuit with tiny picture elements – “pixels” – that record light. Most have filters like anti-aliasing and infrared filters, and most have a Bayer Pattern Array filter. This is the modern equivalent of film.

Yesterday afternoon after a brief electrical power interruption, I noticed that house wasn’t staying cool. I checked and found that the compressor and its fan outside the house were not running. A new compressor would be very expensive, and was not happy about it.

To help distract myself, I mowed and weed-whacked for a while, then when it got dark, I set out to complete a pointless but interesting (thus maybe not entirely pointless) task of taking apart a couple of long-dead digital cameras, a Nikon D100 and a Kodak DCS760.

This is the sensor board from the Kodak DCS760. That's not my handwriting, so I don't know if it was marked this way from the factory or by someone who repaired it at some point.

This is the sensor board from the Kodak DCS760. That’s not my handwriting, so I don’t know if it was marked this way from the factory or by someone who repaired it at some point.

Just a few steps into dismantling this camera already makes it look like a skeleton.

Just a few steps into dismantling this camera already makes it look like a skeleton.

I got both years ago on eBay for a small fraction of their retail price, shot several years of images with them, then stuck them in a box in anticipation of a day like today. Both cameras date from the early 2000s, when digital photography was still evolving by leaps and bounds.

Despite both cameras being rendered hopelessly outdated by the “futuretrash” paradigm, each made some amazing pictures in my hands.

This isn’t a step-by-step tutorial about how to tear these things down, but a look at what’s inside these two cameras, with a few observations about how they were put together.

I only had to remove about ten screws to get the back off the DCS760.

I only had to remove about ten screws to get the back off the DCS760.

The grip handle on the right side of the D100 holds this large flash capacitor.

The grip handle on the right side of the D100 holds this large flash capacitor.

  • The DCS760 was put together as what we used to call a “Frankencamera,” meaning it was two distinct things, a film camera and a digital sensor, stitched together clumsily.
  • The D100 seemed to be more elegantly designed, as though it was designed from the start as a digital.
  • Both seemed like a miracle of science when compared to cameras from the beginning of my career when I honestly had no idea this kind of technology would come along.
  • Both cameras had a lot of electronic bulk that I expect I would not see in newer cameras with more advanced design and assembly techniques.
  • Both cameras were sturdy, and put up a fight when I tried to get inside. I don’t envy anyone ever tasked with repairing them.
The "Frankencamera" aspect of the DCS760 is abundantly clear in this view showing empty space where a film cassette, on the left, and the space for film to wind, on the right, are empty.

The “Frankencamera” aspect of the DCS760 is abundantly clear in this view showing empty space where a film cassette, on the left, and the space for film to wind, on the right, are empty.

You can see many bulky capacitors and other circuits on the bottom of the D100.

You can see many bulky capacitors and other circuits on the bottom of the D100.

This image shows three sizes of image sensor. On the left is the Minolta DiMage 7i at 5mm x 7mm, in the middle is the Kodak DSC760 sensor at 28mm x 19mm, and on the right it Nikon's D100 sensor, which measures 24mm x 15mm. All three sensors deliver approximately six million pixels.

This image shows three sizes of image sensor. On the left is the Minolta DiMage 7i at 5mm x 7mm, in the middle is the Kodak DSC760 sensor at 28mm x 19mm, and on the right it Nikon’s D100 sensor, which measures 24mm x 15mm. All three sensors deliver approximately six million pixels.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Decisions, Decisions

By , August 21, 2016 11:31 am
A Stonewall Lady Longhorn base runner dives back into first base at yesterday's Tupelo Invitational Tournament. This image was made with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.

A Stonewall Lady Longhorn base runner dives back into first base at yesterday’s Tupelo Invitational Tournament. This image was made with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.

Trade-offs: I made this image with the 70-300mm f/4-5.6, zoomed to about 120mm. It's solid action, but as you can see, this lens doesn't have the magic selective focus that an f/2.8 lens offers.

Trade-offs: I made this image with the 70-300mm f/4-5.6, zoomed to about 120mm. It’s solid action, but as you can see, this lens doesn’t have the magic selective focus that an f/2.8 lens offers.

Regular readers will recall that much of July is a very slow period for me, followed by a nothing short of frantic period in August when my newspaper and I cover all manner of news and sports at area high schools and the college.

Among other challenges, I ask myself at every turn about which lenses will work in which circumstance. Although I am in possession of industry-standard lenses, I ask myself this for a very important reason: my body. I am not 26 any more – in fact, I am twice that age, and though I am in great health, it is now a very legitimate consideration to try to carry lighter gear when I can. It’s hard for young photographer to appreciate this idea, since their bones and joints recover faster and hurt less than someone my age when we carry 15 pounds of hardware vs when we carry 1.5 pounds.

Paityn Corcoran and Colby Anderson take turns making faces with each other at National Night Out at Crabtree Plaza on the ECU campus Tuesday night, Aug. 2, 2016. I made this image with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 of 1987 vintage, which I bought for just $74 from an eBay seller in 2011, who warned me that "something is definitely up with this lens." In the five years since then, I have made thousands of great images with it.

Paityn Corcoran and Colby Anderson take turns making faces with each other at National Night Out at Crabtree Plaza on the ECU campus Tuesday night, Aug. 2, 2016. I made this image with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 of 1987 vintage, which I bought for just $74 from an eBay seller in 2011, who warned me that “something is definitely up with this lens.” In the five years since then, I have made thousands of great images with it.

But Richard, what about image quality? Don’t you want the very best? That’s the rub, really: knowing when a lighter, smaller lens can deliver a top-quality image, and when it can’t.

I have four lenses of various focal lengths that I use for shooting fall sports…

I shot this last night at the Tupelo Invitational baseball tournament, with my 300mm f/4, from the third base dugout. Since it is not a zoom lens, it forces you to be in the right place when the action happens.

I shot this last night at the Tupelo Invitational baseball tournament, with my 300mm f/4, from the third base dugout. Since it is not a zoom lens, it forces you to be in the right place when the action happens.

  • The AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8. This lens is big and heavy, versatile, focuses instantly and accurately, and is sharp at f/2.8 at all focal lengths. It is indispensable in low-light situations where I am at the margins of every element, like high school football at night.
  • The AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8. This lens is the dark horse winner for its lighter weight, sharpness wide open, and superb selective focus. Its main drawback is lack of versatility: no zoom means I need to be in the right place or get there in a hurry.
  • The AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6. This lens is even lighter than the 180mm, and the bigger zoom range than the 80-200mm makes it an apparent winner for sports action. But the fact that so much is crammed into such a small package, and the fact that it’s so inexpensive, means that everything is a compromise. This lens isn’t very sharp at the longer focal lengths unless it is stopped down to f/6.3, meaning that it is really only useful in bright daylight. It also doesn’t create particularly appealing selective focus.
  • The AF Nikkor 300mm f/4. I love this lens for the long reach it gives me for far-away sports like baseball, tennis and soccer, but my back and neck hate it because it is heavier than other options, and it is front-heavy. For some, a monopod might seem to be in order, but I find that monopods are too restrictive of camera movement, and add to the weight of the entire package, which is noticeable when moving, which is all the time.

So what’s the answer? Smart selection. Bright daylight softball? The 70-300mm. 6 pm-start football? The 300mm. Friday night lights? The 80-200mm. Feature photos when I need f/2.8 but not the weight? The 180mm.

All in the family: my fall sports lens selection. From left to right are my 70-300mm f/4-5.6, my 80-200mm f/2.8, my 300mm f/4, and my 180mm f/2.8. At the botton of the frame is a Tamron 1.4x teleconverter, which I sometimes add to my 300mm to make it a 450mm f/5.6.

All in the family: my fall sports lens selection. From left to right are my 70-300mm f/4-5.6, my 80-200mm f/2.8, my 300mm f/4, and my 180mm f/2.8. At the botton of the frame is a Tamron 1.4x teleconverter, which I sometimes add to my 300mm to make it a 450mm f/5.6.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Sitting on Your Pictures

By , August 15, 2016 10:18 am
My photographer friends are among the most talented I know, and we made many wonderful images on adventures like this one at Canyonlands National Park, but where are their images now?

My photographer friends are among the most talented I know, and we made many wonderful images on adventures like this one at Canyonlands National Park, but where are their images now?

One aspect of my Intro to Digital Photography class is on the third and final night, during which I talk about what to do with our images. I show and tell about how to organize, edit, save, archive, share, and display our images. Since I am about to start another class, I’ve been recently pondering something that troubles me a bit: photographers or picture-taking civilians who take hundreds or thousand of images and then fail to do anything with them.

This is your host exploring a badlands area in New Mexico. If I wasn't going to share at least some of my images from an adventure like this, why would I even bring a camera?

This is your host exploring a badlands area in New Mexico. If I wasn’t going to share at least some of my images from an adventure like this, why would I even bring a camera?

The occasions that come to mind are three hiking trips I made with three different photographer friends, one in 2011one in 2013. and one in 2014. We had great times, and these three photographers are three of the best I have ever known, so it is utterly baffling to me when they tell me that after we spent all that time on the road and the trail, and captured thousands of images of what I thought were some amazing moments, that they haven’t done anything at all with their images.

I honestly don’t understand this line of reasoning, and I would be happy to hear a real explanation.

Part of why it bothers me is that I know their images are head and shoulders above the everyday images made in those places when we were there, and that their elegance and beauty would enrich us all.

Instead, they sit in a folder on the desktop of a laptop computer somewhere.

Maybe the point of this entry is to encourage anyone who has a folder full of great unshared images to open it and start to explore their potential. Even if most of the images in that folder are throw-aways (most of mine are), there are certainly pearls amongst them. Set them free!

A fellow photographer was standing right next to me when I shot this, and almost certainly has something similar, or different and better. I want to see those images.

A fellow photographer was standing right next to me when I shot this, and almost certainly has something similar, or different and better. I want to see those images.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Point and Watch

By , August 15, 2016 9:32 am
I photographed this cicada on the fence in our front yard this morning with the Fujifilm AX-655.

I photographed this cicada on the fence in our front yard this morning with the Fujifilm AX-655.

I recently inherited an orphaned Fujifilm point-and-shoot camera from the dusty drawers of my newsroom. A previous editor bought it last September without consulting me, just prior to the company issuing everyone in news, sports and photography (me) a new iPhone 6S. Now everyone in the building shoots with their phones (even me, sometimes), so there was no reason at all to buy this camera. EXIF data shows that fewer than 300 images were made with this camera. I imagine this kind of oddly wasteful spending happens at every business on the planet.

My Olympus FE-5020 is the best point-and-shoot camera I've ever owned, because it has a sharp lens capable of a very effective wide angle of view.

My Olympus FE-5020 is the best point-and-shoot camera I’ve ever owned, because it has a sharp lens capable of a very effective wide angle of view.

So I’ve been carrying this thing around for a few days, thinking I’ll use it. The point-and-shoot vs the smartphone contest isn’t quite settled yet, despite the overwhelming prevalence of smartphones. The point-and-shoot camera’s trump cards are its more intuitive and available controls, and real optical zoom lenses. A less but still real consideration is how shooting pictures with your phone, particularly in groups, makes you look like a trend-follower, and the most disturbing trend is seeing people making smartphone images of their lives instead of experiencing their lives firsthand. In some ways, it’s like watching your children grow up on a television screen.

I’ve made one or two images for my newspaper with this camera, the Fujifilm Finepix AX-665. There’s nothing special about the camera, and I’m actually glad about that, since I find it frustrating that controls on digital cameras have constantly been repositioned by engineers, often ending up back where they started, to stimulate interest and sales instead of serving the real needs of photographers.

The AX-665 has the welcome four-way selector under the right thumb, and the equally welcome zoom rocker just above it, so I don’t have to hunt for them. The lens is sharp and focuses close (though not true-macro close), but the zoom range only covers the blandest coverage angles. It’s easy to understand how smartphones are taking market share from these cameras, given their zoom ranges. That’s why I like my Olympus point-and-shoot so much better: it has a nice wide angle at the short end of the zoom, wider than any smartphone.

For me, the bottom line is, despite the shortcomings of one machine of photography vs the other, is this: every camera is a tool in the toolbox of photography, and the most important thing you can do with it is express yourself.

This is the orphaned Fuji Finepix AX-655 that has fallen into my hands. I hope to have some fun making great pictures with it.

This is the orphaned Fuji Finepix AX-655 that has fallen into my hands. I hope to have some fun making great pictures with it.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Nik Knack

By , July 20, 2016 3:17 pm
This is the full-screen dialog using Nik Collection's Silver Efex Pro 2 filter.

This is the full-screen dialog using Nik Collection’s Silver Efex Pro 2 filter.

Installing the Nik Collection creates this floating selective tool pallet when used with Adobe Photoshop.

Installing the Nik Collection creates this floating selective tool pallet when used with Adobe Photoshop.

Earlier this year, Google started offering a collection of plug-in filters under the name Nik Collection. Prior to this move, I was hesitant to spend the $499 for this software, which Google later lowered to $149, feeling that I could accomplish most of the looks it offered without spending the money. But Google’s offering is now free, so many photographers, myself included, downloaded and installed this software.

This is an image of the Pecos National Forest from our June trip to Santa Fe, as it came directly out of my Fuji HS30EXR.

This is an image of the Pecos National Forest from our June trip to Santa Fe, as it came directly out of my Fuji HS30EXR.

This software isn’t a stand-alone application, but a set of plug-ins that work with Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom, and Apple’s out-of-production Aperture.

I have only begun to play around with these filters, but so far, I’ve found them to be capable and fun, and I recommend you get them here (link) and try them. The only caveat is one I have stressed since the days of high dynamic range (HDR) overuse: these filters are just a tool in the toolbox, and can easily be used too often and too strongly. But with discretion and taste, they are a good tool.

This Pecos image was made using Nik Collections's HDR Efex Pro 2 single image tone mapping function. I would say that it created an improved, but not spectacular, image.

This Pecos image was made using Nik Collections’s HDR Efex Pro 2 single image tone mapping function. I would say that it created an improved, but not spectacular, image.

This rendition of the Pecos image was created using the Nik Collection's Color Efex Pro 4's "Indian Summer" setting, creating a very different feel from the same image.

This rendition of the Pecos image was created using the Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro 4’s “Indian Summer” setting, creating a very different feel from the same image.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Pictures at an Exhibition

By , July 13, 2016 9:14 am

Yesterday I posted this photo on Facebook of myself showing many of the new images I recently printed and hung in the halls at my newspaper. Cue Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition…

Your host turns up the welcome vibe in the entry hall at The Ada News.

Your host turns up the welcome vibe in the entry hall at The Ada News.

Props to our Publisher Amy Johns for facilitating getting these big prints made.

One Facebooker asked me how I go about picking images for such a display, and the answer is one I have always stressed when teaching: ruthless editing.

One reason I photographed myself yesterday was that I dressed up. My tie has little cameras on it.

One reason I photographed myself yesterday was that I dressed up. My tie has little cameras on it.

Like all of us in the 21st century, I make a lot of pictures. But unlike almost everyone else, I know the value of editing, and how an audience is able to view and enjoy images, and how that comes together to express a message.

These principals were essential as I gathered images for this project, which I am pleased to say is a work in progress. As it stands today, there are 32 new images on the walls, culled from a folder of about 300 images.

The process isn’t easy; over the years I have been privileged to cover thousands of events in our community, and the result is tens of thousands of images. The subset of these images for this project is recent digital color images.

This is also the difficult process we face each year when contest time rolls around.

With that in mind, I decided to challenge myself even farther and get this collection down to just five images, taken from the collection of 32 pieces that are now on the walls. I decided to find an image that represents each broad class of photography: portrait, sports, spot news, feature, and nature.

Portrait: Back to School Kids

Portrait: Back to School Kids

Sports: Softball Celebration

Sports: Softball Celebration

Spot News: Fire in a Snowstorm

Spot News: Fire in a Snowstorm

Feature: AdaFest Girls

Feature: AdaFest Girls

Nature: Waterfall in the Park

Nature: Waterfall in the Park

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

“Preserve Aspect Ratio”

By , July 6, 2016 12:26 pm

also known as “Constrain Proportions.”

If you keep the "constrain proportions" box checked in Adobe Photoshop, it will automatically retain the correct aspect ratio.

If you keep the “constrain proportions” box checked in Adobe Photoshop, it will automatically retain the correct aspect ratio.

I was amazed and disappointed recently when I had to reject a number of poster-sized prints my office and I had printed at a profession printer, because despite my exact words “preserve the aspect ratio” of the photos, eight of the 22-image batch had been squished to fit the poster. My disappointment came from the fact that a professional print ship should know better.

But I am aware that many of my readers might not know what this means. In short, almost all of the images of news and sports that I shoot are cropped to a custom aspect ratio for compositional purposes. Aspect ratio is the relationship between the width and the height of an image. Some of my images are square, some are long, thin rectangles, and so on. What the printer did wrong was to either let their machine resize the images, or did it manually, to fit inside a 20×24-inch box so it would fit to the size of the posters I ordered. I was clear in my order that if an image was a square, it should stay square, and if it was long and thin, it should stay that way, and they could trim the print to match the aspect ratio of the image.

My guess is that one employee took my order and another filled it. I’m not terribly upset about it because they understood their mistake and fixed it at once, but it did mean lost time and productivity for me even though I was perfectly clear when placing my order.

The image on the left is the way it should have been printed, followed by trimming off the grey areas. The image on the right is what they actually did.

The image on the left is the way it should have been printed, followed by trimming off the grey areas. The image on the right is what they actually did.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Summer Breeze

By , July 5, 2016 4:32 pm
Carolyn Ross and her daughter Gracie Ross play the Banana Eating Game during the kid's games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.

Carolyn Ross and her daughter Gracie Ross play the Banana Eating Game during the kid’s games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.

This is Zach Gray, who was making pictures of his July 4 experience with a mint condition Mamiya C220 twin lens reflect film camera. I'll have more to say about that later.

This is Zach Gray, who was making pictures of his July 4 experience with a mint condition Mamiya C220 twin lens reflect film camera. I’ll have more to say about that later.

The public might not realize that news photographers live a life of feast or famine. At the first of March, we spend twelve hour days darting between basketball playoffs, car crashes, assignments for special sections, and baseball team photo days.

Then when school’s out, editors impatiently tap their feet as we can only give them a photo of a kid in the splash park or somebody running a weed eater.

Then, July 4 happens. In Ada, it’s a huge deal. It starts in Wintersmith Park at 7 am with the Fireball Classic 10k/5k race, Oklahoma’s oldest such event. That’s followed by kid’s games in the park in the morning, then grow-up’s games in the afternoon. Finally, Wintersmith Lake is surrounded by spectators for the traditional Independence Day fireworks display.

For me, it is one of the busiest days of the year, and one of the funnest. It always makes great photos, everyone is always glad to see me, and I always have a great time.

Kids scamper down Scenic Street in Ada's Wintersmith Park during the kid's race at the annual Fireball Classic 10k/5k run.

Kids scamper down Scenic Street in Ada’s Wintersmith Park during the kid’s race at the annual Fireball Classic 10k/5k run.

Children participate in "giant" turtle race during the kid's games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.

Children participate in “giant” turtle race during the kid’s games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.

Lana Glover hula-hoops covered in colored powder during the kid's games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.

Lana Glover hula-hoops covered in colored powder during the kid’s games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.

One of the teams in the "Water War" takes aim at a plastic barrel mounted on a cable. They and their opponents try to push the barrel to the opposite end.

One of the teams in the “Water War” takes aim at a plastic barrel mounted on a cable. They and their opponents try to push the barrel to the opposite end.

A woman uses a phone to record the fireworks display in Wintersmith Park.

A woman uses a phone to record the fireworks display in Wintersmith Park.

As I was photographing fireworks, I saw a drone above Wintermith Lake. This morning, I had a CD from the operator, Tony Matthews, with some of his photos from the drone, including this one.

As I was photographing fireworks, I saw a drone above Wintermith Lake. This morning, I had a CD from the operator, Tony Matthews, with some of his photos from the drone, including this one.

Loud, bright and colorful, fireworks burst over Wintersmith Lake. I always enjoy them, both photographically and as the kid inside.

Loud, bright and colorful, fireworks burst over Wintersmith Lake. I always enjoy them, both photographically and as the kid inside.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Cities of the Interior

By , June 30, 2016 4:05 pm

Readers will recall I recently posted about the power of a good macro lens. Just a few days ago, a coworker expressed an interest in macro photography, particularly in taking it to an extreme. He says he is interested in extreme close-ups of spiders and insects.

Dedicated macro lenses (which Nikon calls “micro”) are indispensable for this purpose. Such lenses are also the only lenses optically fit to take advantage of extension rings, which sit between the camera and the lens, allowing even closer focusing.

I attached my 32-year-old Nikon 27.5mm to my Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, allowing me to make super-macro images.

I attached my 32-year-old Nikon 27.5mm to my Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, allowing me to make super-macro images.

It was with this in mind that I got out my Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro and attached it to my 32-year-old Nikon 27.5mm PK-13 extension ring. Originally sold to go with the manual focus 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikko (a great lens I sold about 12 years ago), this accessory doesn’t have any electrical contacts, so it won’t talk to modern cameras, but it will operate in manual exposure mode. In most situations at the magnifications this combination provide, manual focusing is definitely recommended.

For comparison, here is an image of one of the stainless steel rings I wear on the opposite hand from my wedding ring, shot at the closest focus distance with a regular non-macro lens.

For comparison, here is an image of one of the stainless steel rings I wear on the opposite hand from my wedding ring, shot at the closest focus distance with a regular non-macro lens.

I also mentioned reversing rings a couple of years ago, and while you can certainly get super-close-up with a reversing ring, it would be difficult photographing living creatures with one because it requires the slow process of focusing with the lens wide open, then setting the aperture before shooting.

Extension rings are available in various sizes, and can be stacked to add even more extension.

My coworker who wants to explore this option is also an accomplished bird watcher and photographer. I will be interested to see what he can do with this setup, particularly with spiders, and what lens and/or extension tube combination he ends up buying.

I made this image of one of my stainless steel rings at the maximum magnification I can make, combining the excellent Tokina 100mm f/2.8 with an old Nikon 27.5mm extension ring. This image rivals the abilities of the naked eye.

I made this image of one of my stainless steel rings at the maximum magnification I can make, combining the excellent Tokina 100mm f/2.8 with an old Nikon 27.5mm extension ring. This image rivals the abilities of the naked eye.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

What to Carry When Your Phone Isn’t Enough…

By , June 26, 2016 8:28 pm

… but your cameras are too much.

Abby leans out the passenger-side window of her truck to take pictures of a brooding thunderstorm near Groom, Texas on our last vacation, with her Fujifilm HS30EXR.

Abby leans out the passenger-side window of her truck to take pictures of a brooding thunderstorm near Groom, Texas on our last vacation, with her Fujifilm HS30EXR.

In addition to making great video and very cool fisheye-angle stills, my Ion AirPro3 is waterproof to 50 meters.

In addition to making great video and very cool fisheye-angle stills, my Ion AirPro3 is waterproof to 50 meters.

Readers might recall from our travel blog that my wife Abby and I just returned from a New Mexico getaway. Fewer readers might be aware that despite being professional photographers with access to a fair amount of heavy pro gear, neither Abby nor I bring any of that.

For years now, Abby and I have embraced a doctrine of traveling light. Our goal is to have fun, and the less we can carry, the better. Whether for hiking and camping, or, like on our most recent trip, driving around exploring northern New Mexico, we have settled into having our matching Fujifilm HS30EXRs as our main cameras, with occasional help from my Ion AirPro3 action cam, my tiny but very apt Olympus FE-5020, and very occasionally, our iPhones.

Nothing about your gear is as important as your willingness to make pictures even in adverse conditions, like this New Mexico rainbow I shot in a blowing rain. You can ever see raindrops on the lens, but the message of the beauty of the moment is still conveyed.

Nothing about your gear is as important as your willingness to make pictures even in adverse conditions, like this New Mexico rainbow I shot in a blowing rain. You can ever see raindrops on the lens, but the message of the beauty of the moment is still conveyed.

The Olympus FE-5020 is smaller and lighter than a smartphone, and has a much better lens.

The Olympus FE-5020 is smaller and lighter than a smartphone, and has a much better lens.

Why would I go to a point-and-shoot like the Olympus instead of my iPhone? Quick answer: the lens. A dirty little secret of the camera phone scene is that the “zoom” doesn’t actually “zoom” at all, but simply crops the existing image. The Olympus has an excellent 4.3-21.5mm lens equivalent to 24-120mm (in 35mm film terms) that no phone can touch.

Also, aside from making action movies, why bring an action cam? Quick answer: the lens. My Ion’s lens sees 170º, and is the equivalent to a fisheye lens.

This image was made with my Ion AirPro3's still-frame function, shot with the camera clipped to the driver's-side visor. As you can see, the view is super-wide.

This image was made with my Ion AirPro3’s still-frame function, shot with the camera clipped to the driver’s-side visor. As you can see, the view is super-wide.

Our Fuji cameras are equipped with non-removable 4.2-126mm lenses equivalent to 24-720mm in film terms, allowing me to explore scenes like a sunset we shot near Santa Fe on our first travel day…

This is the wide view of a beautiful New Mexico sunset. Compare it to the next frame, made with the same camera just a second or two later...

This is the wide view of a beautiful New Mexico sunset. Compare it to the next frame, made with the same camera just a second or two later…

The sun touches the edge of the mountains in this super-telephoto view made with the Fujifilm HS30EXR.

The sun touches the edge of the mountains in this super-telephoto view made with the Fujifilm HS30EXR.

At the end of the day, I empty my pockets and dump everything on the motel night stand: it's all small and none of it gets in the way.

At the end of the day, I empty my pockets and dump everything on the motel night stand: it’s all small and none of it gets in the way.

Our Fuji cameras are no longer made, but Fuji’s current line of Finepix cameras is similar. Nikon makes a line they call their “premium compact” cameras. Canon makes Powershot cameras that are in this class.

Abby and I always travel with our dogs, and between checking in at motels, letting the dogs do their business at rest stops, bringing luggage here and there, and handling all our affairs, it makes a big difference having small, lightweight cameras. We also carry our smallest laptop computer (a Macbook Air), our smallest concealed carry sidearms (her Kel-Tec P32 and my Ruger LCP) and our smallest, most compact luggage. Fun is our goal, and with this philosophy, we always have it.

In addition to being fun, lightweight and easy to carry, gems like our matching HS30EXR cameras make great images.

In addition to being fun, lightweight and easy to carry, gems like our matching HS30EXR cameras make great images.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

A Tale of Two Twenty-Eights

By , May 24, 2016 2:58 am

I was digging though my lesser-used gear the other day, looking for a filter. I didn’t find it, but I did pull out a couple lenses that I seldom use: the AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8,  and the AF-S Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8D.

The AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 is small, lightweight, decently sharp, and cost just $74 on Ebay.

The AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 is small, lightweight, decently sharp, and cost just $74 on Ebay.

The 28mm, a fixed focal length lens, known in the game as a “prime” lens, is made mostly of plastic, and weighs just seven ounces. The 28-70mm, which is constructed of steel and brass to professional standards, is huge, and weighs 33 ounces, which is just shy of two pounds. The weight is a huge factor if, like me, you carry two or three camera for long periods, like when I am covering events.

The reason I don’t use them much is that my camera sensors are the so-called APS-C size, approximately 24x15mm, making these focal lengths fairly uninteresting. In fact, in some cases I find that the featherweight 50mm f/1.8 is a good stand-in for either of these, particularly given its nice, big maximum aperture. Additionally, even with 36x24mm sensors, 28mm is only just at the edge of wide angle territory, and 70mm is only just at the edge of telephoto.

The point of this entry is a concept known as diminishing returns. This concept is the bane of other endeavors, such as space travel: putting a man in space took a 66,000-pound rocket, while putting a man on the moon took a 6,540,000-pound rocket. This concept speaks to the value of economy of scale. You can accomplish 90% of your photographic goals with the bottom 10% of your gear.

So the next time you find yourself drooling over a $2400 zoom lens, take a moment to think about what you already have in your bag that could do the job, and instead of spending money, go make pictures.

David and Goliath? No, it's the AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 vs the AF-S Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8.

David and Goliath? No, it’s the AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 vs the AF-S Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Coloring with Lights

By , May 24, 2016 2:00 am
When in doubt, photographers photograph their equipment. This particular shot, you may notice, has a pleasing color balance, thanks to being lit entirely by white light flash units.

When in doubt, photographers photograph their equipment. This particular shot, you may notice, has a pleasing color balance, thanks to being lit entirely by white light flash units.

By now we should all be getting comfortable with concepts dealing with color, like white balance and saturation. If not, and I don’t mean this sarcastically at all, go back and look at your pictures of people, and ask yourself why most of their faces are too orange or too blue, which, in all honesty, they are. I say this based on the enormous number of images I see every day with bad flesh tones.

When you’re done with that, read on.

Shooting with just the red and blue lights gives about what you'd expect: a purplish image.

Shooting with just the red and blue lights gives about what you’d expect: a purplish image.

This looks like a red gel filter, but it is actually a magenta gel and a yellow gel sandwiched together.

This looks like a red gel filter, but it is actually a magenta gel and a yellow gel sandwiched together.

The other day I was scavenging an abandoned office at my workplace. I came across some Kodak Wratten filters (colored gels) in that search. These 3×3-inch plastic filters were originally used in by the production department to control the various renderings of the halftone products used to reproduce images in our newspaper. Despite the fact that they were damaged and obsolete, I decided I had a use for them: to change the color of light.

I brought them home and cobbled them together with clear tape. I was able to assemble a blue filter and a red-magenta filter, and I taped each one on a flash in my home studio.

Despite looking a bit purple in-hand, this filter is an honest photographic blue.

Despite looking a bit purple in-hand, this filter is an honest photographic blue.

I made a few images, and found I was glad to have this tool in my tool kit. Of course, you don’t necessarily need Wratten filters to change the color of the light. One excellent way to achieve this is by bouncing a flash into something colorful. Often one of the best items for this is the shiny foldable sunshade you see occasionally covering dashboards of parked cars on hot days. You can buy them with the other side in various colors, like red, gold or purple.

This is two white-light flashes with a blue flash as an accent.

This is two white-light flashes with a blue flash as an accent.

This image is lit with two white flash units and a red accent light.

This image is lit with two white flash units and a red accent light.

All-American lighting: a perfect balance of red, white, and blue.

All-American lighting: a perfect balance of red, white, and blue.

Altering the color of portions of your light can fundamentally change the look of your images, and the ability to do so is an excellent item to have in your bag. It can be a lot of fun, and it can throw some fuel on the embers of your creativity.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Yes, It’s Bokeh

By , May 22, 2016 11:19 am
I made this image of necklaces for sale at the Pontotoc County Free Fair a couple of years ago with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 at f/2.8. I consider this image to exhibit "good" bokeh.

I made this image of necklaces for sale at the Pontotoc County Free Fair a couple of years ago with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 at f/2.8. I consider this image to exhibit “good” bokeh.

It’s not every day that I get to experience really terrible bokeh in the viewfinder.

Bokeh, as I have discussed before, and with which the internet is obsessed, is originally a Japanese word meaning “blur” or “haze,” is used to describe the quality (not the amount) of the out-of-focus portions of an image. About a grazillion factors influence bokeh, but the most significant is optical design of a lens.

I shot this image of a Bradford pear tree in bloom with my 1993-era AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8. As you can see, the bokeh is a bit disappointing.

I shot this image of a Bradford pear tree in bloom with my 1993-era AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8. As you can see, the bokeh is a bit disappointing.

I made this image in Santa Fe, New Mexico in October 2014, with my iPhone 5. Many photographers are under the misapprehension that cameras in cell phones don't produce images with bokeh, but in fact all images that have out-of-focus elements have bokeh, just not necessarily appealing.

I made this image in Santa Fe, New Mexico in October 2014, with my iPhone 5. Many photographers are under the misapprehension that cameras in cell phones don’t produce images with bokeh, but in fact all images that have out-of-focus elements have bokeh, just not necessarily appealing.

Bokeh, like anything that falls into the hands of the soulless nitpickers and techno-fanboys of the internet, can become a pointless goal unto itself. The rest of us, who have a reason for taking pictures other than showing off our knowledge of specifications and resolution charts, keep bokeh in the toolbox of photography, and bring it out when we need it to help us express ourselves.

But back to the topic at hand: seeing bad bokeh right there in the viewfinder. I was shooting the final home game of the year for the softball team at the college last month with my broken Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3. I carry this lens as a lightweight second to my AF Nikkor 300mm f/4, with which I shoot the bulk of my action photos. At one point, I anticipated a play at first base, which was quite close to me, so I switched to the camera with the Tamron on it and focused on the first baseman…

This is what I saw: a bluntly obvious example of terrible, crosseyed bokeh. Don't believe me? Look at the word "soft" in the next image...

This is what I saw: a bluntly obvious example of terrible, crosseyed bokeh. Don’t believe me? Look at the word “soft” in the next image…

As you can see, this is the real appearance of the word "softball" at the college field; when it's out of focus, it is a bokeh nightmare.

As you can see, this is the real appearance of the word “softball” at the college field; when it’s out of focus, it is a bokeh nightmare.

I broke this 18-200mm Tamron lens while shooting my grandson's Christening in Baltimore in 2011. Abby and I both use newer lenses in this class for travel and event photography, so this one got relegated to a bang-around lens for me at work.

I broke this 18-200mm Tamron lens while shooting my grandson’s Christening in Baltimore in 2011. Abby and I both use newer lenses in this class for travel and event photography, so this one got relegated to a bang-around lens for me at work.

The reason lenses like this tend to have the photography world’s worst bokeh is that they are designed to do it all: be light, small, easy to use, wide-angle , telephoto, and finally, and maybe most importantly, cheap. Lenses with better bokeh tend to be best at just that. Lenses like my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, is not light or small or a versatile zoom or cheap, but lays down beautiful bokeh when used at close range with large apertures.

I have a buddy at work who sometimes uses the word “bokeh-y” to talk about some of my work. The term isn’t exactly correct; what he’s seeing is the use of selective focus with large-aperture lenses.

He’s toying with the idea of buying a AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8, which wouldn’t be my first choice, but is cheap, and can deliver nice bokeh when using selective focus.

This is the setup for the image below.

This is the setup for the image below.

I have a another buddy, Scott Andersen, who just bought an AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, and he seems to love it, though I am seeing a slightly ratty bokeh in some of the images he posts. I would love to take a close look at his files one of these days and divine if I am seeing it correctly.

The downside to the 50mm f/1.8 (at least the two examples I use) is that it’s not very sharp at f/1.8, which is why I think the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 is a better choice.

I made this image this morning to show the powerful selective focus capability and the pleasing bokeh exhibited by the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. To make the in-focus details of this image look sharp, though, required quite a bit of unsharp mask.

I made this image this morning to show the powerful selective focus capability and the pleasing bokeh exhibited by the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. To make the in-focus details of this image look sharp, though, required quite a bit of unsharp mask.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Friend or Foe: The Unsharp Mask

By , May 19, 2016 4:47 pm
I made this image at a soccer match earlier this spring. The moment of action was just right, but it's slightly out of focus. Since there is little clutter in the background, I filtered it with a fair amount of unsharp mask. It made the image noisier, but sharp enough to look good in the paper and online.

I made this image at a soccer match earlier this spring. The moment of action was just right, but it’s slightly out of focus. Since there is little clutter in the background, I filtered it with a fair amount of unsharp mask. It made the image noisier, but sharp enough to look good in the paper and online.

In the ocean of photography, there are few waters as muddy as the use of the unsharp mask. This filter, commonly found in Adobe editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom, but also used by a myriad of other programs, uses an algorithm of contrast enhancement to, typically, increase the perceived sharpness of an image. I won’t go into to much detail about how this is accomplished, but I will give some guidelines about its use.

Here is a direct A/B comparison showing what unsharp mask does.

Here is a direct A/B comparison showing what unsharp mask does.

  • Unsharp mask does not add any actual detail to an image. In fact, it is somewhat destructive, particularly if overused.
  • Unsharp mask should never be applied to an image being archived for your files.
  • Unsharp mask should never be applied to an already sharp image, except…
  • Unsharp mask is usually a necessary step when printing images, since most printers yield images with a slightly soft look, and…
  • Some degree of unsharp mask can make photos for web look better on most monitors, most of which don’t display enough pixels per inch to make unsharpened images look good.
  • Unsharp mask will sharpen everything, not just details. It is difficult to use unsharp mask on noisy images, since it sharpens the noise along with the details.
  • With that said, it is possible to use a combination of noise reduction and unsharp mask together to create a usable image from a not sharp file. This combination sacrifices resolution to make an image appear sharper in print on the web.
  • Occasionally I can rescue a not-very-sharp image with unsharp mask. Often this is the case in my work since I shoot news and sports and sometimes get images of great moments that aren’t quite sharp. It’s easy to take it too far, or to hopelessly pound a bunch of unsharp mask into a really soft image.

I use some kind of sharpening on all the images for my web site and social media. In addition to giving my work a little more “pop” than most of the images on the web, it helps overcome the image compression algorithms used by social media sites.

Finally, don’t let any know-it-alls on the internet (including me) tell you to “never” or “always” use the unsharp mask, or tell you your use of it was somehow wrong. It is a tool in the toolbox, for use as your creativity demands.

This close-up of a Minolta shutter speed dial is a 100% pixel view right out of the camera with no unsharp mask applied. Compare it to...

This close-up of a Minolta shutter speed dial is a 100% pixel view right out of the camera with no unsharp mask applied. Compare it to…

...the same shot of a shutter speed dial with way too much unsharp mask.

…the same shot of a shutter speed dial with way too much unsharp mask.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

Panorama Theme by Themocracy