2016: The Year in Pictures

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

January

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

February

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

March

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

April

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

May

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

June

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

July

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

August

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

September

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

October

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

November

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

December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do I recommend?

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

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

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

As provocative as this image is, I am sure that 99% of the images made at this spot on this day were grinning-like-apes selfies, and nowhere nearly as interesting as this.
As provocative as this image is, I am sure that 99% of the images made at this spot on this day were grinning-like-apes selfies, and nowhere nearly as interesting as this.
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Who Do I Want to Be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The result of the search included this image…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s Changed, If Anything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do Try This at Home!

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 dusk 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 dusk so there would be some color to the sky.
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Sensory Perception

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.
0

Point and Watch

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.
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Cities of the Interior

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.
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Yes, It’s 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.
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.
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In Conclusion

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

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?

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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Down the Infraroad

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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Bokeh vs Bokeh

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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