Phonetography Phun

I found this interesting juxtaposition of a curved anthill and a red wall in downtown Ada recently, and made this image with my iPhone 7 using Instagram.
I found this interesting juxtaposition of a curved anthill and a red wall in downtown Ada recently, and made this image with my iPhone 7 using Instagram.
The iPhone 7 Plus is one of this year's models that has a dual-lens camera.
The iPhone 7 Plus is one of this year’s models that has a dual-lens camera.

As consumers and the camera industry are well aware, the most common type of photography in the world today is smartphone photography, and the most popular smartphone is the iPhone. My wife Abby and I have iPhones, and their sophisticated, convenient, built-in cameras have all but silenced our point-and-shoot cameras.

As I explore the most recent iteration of these, the iPhone 7 Plus, I am finding both its virtues and its flaws.

The iPhone is equipped with two lenses integrated with software to hopefully imitate the powerful selective focus of a large-aperture prime lens, but it has limitations and flaws, including this, a clumsy software implementation that resulted in a "gap" in the out of focus area behind the bush.
The iPhone is equipped with two lenses integrated with software to hopefully imitate the powerful selective focus of a large-aperture prime lens, but it has limitations and flaws, including this, a clumsy software implementation that resulted in a “gap” in the out of focus area behind the bush.

My favorite way to use my iPhone to make pictures is through Instagram, which includes interesting filter looks and makes sharing on social media easy. Instagram’s game changer for me, though, is its square format. It leads to me to compose images differently, since more of my photography involves choose between vertical and horizontal compositions.

The built-in LED flash built into your phone has the same drawbacks as the built-in flash on any camera: it's not ver powerful, it blinds the subject, and it produces very unnatural-looking light.
The built-in LED flash built into your phone has the same drawbacks as the built-in flash on any camera: it’s not ver powerful, it blinds the subject, and it produces very unnatural-looking light.

Some ideas that might up your phonetography game…

  • Keep your phone clean. In particular, keep that tiny lens free of fingerprints. I see tons of phone photos that are hazy and fog-like, and this is because the lens is covered in schmoogies.
  • Get closer. This has been an essential piece of my teaching for years, and it applies to phonetography as much as any other. The pixels for which you pined and paid over the years are wasted with sky above and floor below in most iPhone images.
  • Unless you are shooting square frames, pay attention to mode: portrait vs landscape. Most people hold their phone vertically out of habit, and it defines both their photographs and their videos, often inappropriately. It’s easy to turn a phone on it’s side, but too often we see horizontal scenes represented by vertical compositions.
  • Steady is better. Even the biggest phones are lightweight, so it becomes very important to hold them steady. If you don’t have a steady hand, consider a mass-based steadycam, tripod or monopod.
  • Don’t bother with the “pinch to zoom” feature. On most phones, it just crops the pixels in the same way you can when editing later.
  • Although trendy, getting a light source in your phone photos can make quite a mess, and this technique calls for more lens that the phone can muster.

All of the basic rules of photography apply to the phonetography. Keeping that in mind, the camera in your phone is another great tool in the photography toolbox.

A tiny, clear surface like the lens of your phone's camera is easy to cover with fingerprint, pocket lint, and dog saliva. Keep it clean.
A tiny, clear surface like the lens of your phone’s camera is easy to cover with fingerprint, pocket lint, and dog saliva. Keep it clean.
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More Stars, More Stripes, More Fun

Motorcyclists and police officers line up to escort runners in the 50th Annual Fireball Classic half-marathon, 10k , and 5k race Tuesday morning, July 4, 2017 in Wintersmith Park. This image was on the front page of the July 6 Ada News.
Motorcyclists and police officers line up to escort runners in the 50th Annual Fireball Classic half-marathon, 10k , and 5k race Tuesday morning, July 4, 2017 in Wintersmith Park. This image was on the front page of the July 6 Ada News.

On a couple of occasions before, I have described how much fun I have covering Ada’s Independence Day celebrations in historic Wintersmith Park. Our community goes all-out, starting with the Fireball Classic half-marathon, 10k, and 5k races (this year was the 50th), followed by kids games, then grown-up games, then fireworks at dark over Wintersmith Lake.

I dug around in the morgue and found this page, my first opportunity to cover Ada's July 4 fun, 1989. "PYAT" in the headline refers to the long-defunct group Proud Young Americans for Truth.
I dug around in the morgue and found this page, my first opportunity to cover Ada’s July 4 fun, 1989. “PYAT” in the headline refers to the long-defunct group Proud Young Americans for Truth.

Having shot this event year after year has been more than a pleasure, it’s been a privilege to offer my view of this historic family-friendly piece of Americana.

A happy coincidence of ads and free space let us use a nice package of my images in color on pages 5 and 6 Thursday. It is my hope that everyone enjoyed the images, and that they spend many years tacked to bulletin boards and stuck on refrigerator doors.
A happy coincidence of ads and free space let us use a nice package of my images in color on pages 5 and 6 Thursday. It is my hope that everyone enjoyed the images, and that they spend many years tacked to bulletin boards and stuck on refrigerator doors.
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From Paper to Papers

From my first day on the job as a news photographer in May 1982 until The Ada News bought a scanner in September 1998, I made prints like this, using Kodak Ektamatic SC paper and an Kodak Ektamatic processor.
From my first day on the job as a news photographer in May 1982 until The Ada News bought a scanner in September 1998, I made prints like this, using Kodak Ektamatic SC paper and an Kodak Ektamatic processor.
While working an Ada High baseball game I shot a frame of this airplane landing at the Ada airport. The next day I took my pilot check ride in this very aircraft and became a licensed private pilot.
While working an Ada High baseball game I shot a frame of this airplane landing at the Ada airport. The next day I took my pilot check ride in this very aircraft and became a licensed private pilot.

For the first 16 years of my career as a photojournalist, starting with my first newspaper internship in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1982, my craft was entirely mechanical and analog. I made pictures exclusively on photographic film, and printed them on photographic paper using a darkroom, an enlarger, and processing chemistry of various kinds.

A dominant part of this process for the newspaper industry was the Kodak Ektamatic print processor. Designed to be a very quick way to make prints, the Ektamatic processor used activator and stabilizer instead of developer and fixer. Instead of a properly fixed and washed black-and-white print, it produced a damp, ready to use, supposedly temporary print in just eight seconds.

Toughman contest fans react to the action at the Pontotoc Country Fairgrounds in April 1998. Because sticky labels wouldn't adhere to the damp surface of a fresh Ektamatic print, we often just wrote names and places on the prints with felt tip pens or paper-clipped a note with caption information to the print.
Toughman contest fans react to the action at the Pontotoc Country Fairgrounds in April 1998. Because sticky labels wouldn’t adhere to the damp surface of a fresh Ektamatic print, we often just wrote names and places on the prints with felt tip pens or paper-clipped a note with caption information to the print.

Anyone who used one of these, and most of us did, remembers one thing about these prints more than anything else: the smell. The stabilizer used a potent mixture of acetic and boric acids to rapidly neutralize the developer and make the image temporarily light safe. It was a vinegar-like smell, only somehow sharper.

A young women reacts with dismay at the scene of a quadruple-fatality accident involving a funeral procession west of Ada Friday, May 29, 1992.
A young women reacts with dismay at the scene of a quadruple-fatality accident involving a funeral procession west of Ada Friday, May 29, 1992.
It wasn't all "good old days," particularly when you consider the thousands of head shots I had to print over the years for products like our football special.
It wasn’t all “good old days,” particularly when you consider the thousands of head shots I had to print over the years for products like our football special.

Cleaning this processor involved taking it apart and scrubbing the rollers, then adding fresh chemicals using bottles that sat upside down on top of the machine so they could refill the trays using valves that screwed onto the bottles. It needed to be cleaned a couple of times a week, but I can tell from my prints when I waited five or six days because there are streaks on the prints.

Vanoss fans Norman Hurley and Randi Jean Hurley cheer for the Wolves during state championship action at the Oklahoma State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City March 6, 1998.
Vanoss fans Norman Hurley and Randi Jean Hurley cheer for the Wolves during state championship action at the Oklahoma State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City March 6, 1998.
I worked with four Ektamatic print processors over the years, like this one, in the lower center part of the frame in the darkroom in Shawnee, Oklahoma in the late 1980s.
I worked with four Ektamatic print processors over the years, like this one, in the lower center part of the frame in the darkroom in Shawnee, Oklahoma in the late 1980s.
For most of my career, I received my photo assignments on cards like this. Each newspaper had a slightly different iteration, but they all conveyed the same information. Only in the last few years have I switched us to an application-based photo assignment system.
For most of my career, I received my photo assignments on cards like this. Each newspaper had a slightly different iteration, but they all conveyed the same information. Only in the last few years have I switched us to an application-based photo assignment system.

My analog craft tapered off somewhat after September 1998, when my company bought a Nikon LS-2000 film scanner and an Apple PowerMac G3 computer to run it. I still processed film, but instead of printing it with an enlarger, I scanned the negatives and saved the files on a service for the newsroom to use.

I cite this transition as part of the impetus for one of my earliest photographic trips to the desert, Villanueva.

Reviewing these images started late last year when my coworker LeaAnn Wells was looking for an old newspaper in the storage are we call the “morgue.” It’s a smallish room, and had filled with so much clutter that when LeaAnn tried to stand on something to reach papers on a high shelf, she almost came crashing down. She and I vowed to clean up the place, which was filled with, for example, 300 copies of the 2006 football preview section, where we really only need about five copies.

This whole project started when a coworker nearly fell while trying to find an old newspaper in the "morgue," the storage room where we keep old printed copies of our newspaper.
This whole project started when a coworker nearly fell while trying to find an old newspaper in the “morgue,” the storage room where we keep old printed copies of our newspaper.
When a reporter shot some film, he or she would attach this little slip of paper to it, which I would paperclip to the print.
When a reporter shot some film, he or she would attach this little slip of paper to it, which I would paperclip to the print.

Knowing that if everyone is in charge, no one is in charge, I took point in this cleanup effort, and have thrown away maybe a ton of worthless duplicates of newspapers, dust mites, rat turds, and even 50 bags of cooking show coupons and free chicken broth.

In the midst of all this, I found, near the bottom of the piles, a huge box full of my own Ektamatic prints from many years ago, and decided to try to get them in some order and preserve them.

Making Me Look Bad...
One thing I despised was being caught between management urging me to use less material and editorial demanding I use more. Publishers and accountants would tell me something like, “We used too much film and paper last month. Try to use less.” Which I would. Then editors would say something like, “Why can’t I get more shots from this?” or “Why are you printing this so small?”
For a while at The Ada News in the late 1980s we published a picture page of my sports images every Monday. The public loved them, but we never have that kind of space in the daily any more.
For a while at The Ada News in the late 1980s we published a picture page of my sports images every Monday. The public loved them, but we never have that kind of space in the daily any more.

One thing I was able to affirm by looking through these thousands of images is that I was good. It’s easy for me to forget that I have done solid work for my entire career, particularly during periods when I wasn’t appreciated by management. But I look through these slicks and see that I shot well year after year after year.

Colby Jackson and Johnny Jackson play sword fight in their yard in Ada on Feb. 14, 1998.
Colby Jackson and Johnny Jackson play sword fight in their yard in Ada on Feb. 14, 1998.
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Old Tricks Still Work

Just because some loudmouth Millennial rolls his eyes and dismissively says, “That’s the oldest trick in the book!” (with an implied “old man!”), doesn’t mean it’s not a good trick. I used one of the oldest tricks in my lexicon recently in class: the hair shake. This works well with people who have long hair that is looking too stiff. Have the subject/model throw their head forward and shake their hair, then quickly sit up, letting their hair fly back. Nine times out of ten it will result in their hair looking wild, free, fun, beautiful. Don’t let them touch it – it will feel strange to your model because they never comb or brush it that way, but it will look amazing.

Karen holds a light and Amber prepares to photograph Jill, who is doing the hair shake trick.
Karen holds a light and Amber prepares to photograph Jill, who is doing the hair shake trick.
Jill smiles after doing to hair shake. She thought it felt odd and wrong, until she got a look at the results.
Jill smiles after doing to hair shake. She thought it felt odd and wrong, until she got a look at the results.
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A Long and Difficult Recovery

…or This Image is Full of Surprises

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

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

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

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

I didn’t give the image much more thought.

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

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

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

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

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.
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Pictures at an Exhibition

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
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“Preserve Aspect Ratio”

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.
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Getting Organized

For more than a decade I organized photographic negatives by month, in negative sleeves stored in empty Ektamatic 8x10 photographic paper boxes, mostly because I had so many of them.
For more than a decade I organized photographic negatives by month, in negative sleeves stored in empty Ektamatic 8×10 photographic paper boxes, mostly because I had so many of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overheard As I Wrote This...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone has a different editing style. Some need to see prints in their hands, other prefer slide shows. I have made my editing home the on-screen browser page, analogous to the contact sheet of the film days.
Everyone has a different editing style. Some need to see prints in their hands, other prefer slide shows. I have made my editing home the on-screen browser page, analogous to the contact sheet of the film days.
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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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2015: 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 2015. Assembling this entry took a lot of work, but I absolutely love it. As I worked on it, I kept thinking, “This is what I do.”

January

Wildfire, Union Valley
Wildfire, Union Valley
Teacher, Ada
Teacher, Ada
Basketball Action, Vanoss
Basketball Action, Vanoss
Sunrise, Byng
Sunrise, Byng
Basketball, Byng
Basketball, Byng
Youth Rodeo, Ada
Youth Rodeo, Ada
Wildfire, Ahloso
Wildfire, Ahloso

February

Coach, Stonewall
Coach, Stonewall
Basketball, Ada
Basketball, Ada
Basketball, Konawa
Basketball, Konawa
Cheerleaders, Ada
Cheerleaders, Ada
Record Breaker, Ada
Record Breaker, Ada
Selfie, Latta
Selfie, Latta
Basketball, Byng
Basketball, Byng
Manners Party, Vanoss
Manners Party, Vanoss
Basketball, Allen
Basketball, Allen
Basketball, Ada
Basketball, Ada
Face Paint, Vanoss
Face Paint, Vanoss
Basketball, Byng
Basketball, Byng

March

Basketball, Stonewall
Basketball, Stonewall
Thunderstorms, Ada
Thunderstorms, Ada
Basketball, Latta
Basketball, Latta
Basketball, Latta
Basketball, Latta
Blue Heron, Ada
Blue Heron, Ada
Basketball, Stonewall
Basketball, Stonewall
Basketball Fans, Henrietta
Basketball Fans, Henrietta
Crime Scene, Ada
Crime Scene, Ada
Bulldog, Stonewall
Bulldog, Stonewall
Peach Blossom, Byng
Peach Blossom, Byng

April

Baseball, Ada
Baseball, Ada
Dog, Ada
Dog, Ada
Baseball, Vanoss
Baseball, Vanoss
Little Red Schoolhouse, Ada
Little Red Schoolhouse, Ada
Baseball, Roff
Baseball, Roff
Class, Ada
Class, Ada

May

Baseball, Byng
Baseball, Byng
Graduation Prep, Ada
Graduation Prep, Ada
Softball, Shawnee
Softball, Shawnee
Fire, Byng
Fire, Byng
Baseball, Shawnee
Baseball, Shawnee
Softball, Shawnee
Softball, Shawnee
Graduation, Ada
Graduation, Ada
Graduation, Ada
Graduation, Ada
Bees, Ada
Bees, Ada
Graduation, Ada
Graduation, Ada
Softball, Shawnee
Softball, Shawnee

June

Baseball Camp, Byng
Baseball Camp, Byng
New Football Coach, Ada
New Football Coach, Ada
Camp Out Day, Ada
Camp Out Day, Ada
Night of Worship, Ada
Night of Worship, Ada
Flooding, Union Valley
Flooding, Union Valley
Baseball, Ada
Baseball, Ada
Splash Park, Ada
Splash Park, Ada

July

Baseball, Ada
Baseball, Ada
Band Practice, Ada
Band Practice, Ada
Back-to-School, Ada
Back-to-School, Ada
Wildfire, Byng
Wildfire, Byng
Splash Park, Ada
Splash Park, Ada
Independence Day, Ada
Independence Day, Ada
Independence Day, Ada
Independence Day, Ada
Independence Day, Ada
Independence Day, Ada
Peach Festival, Stratford
Peach Festival, Stratford
Peach Festival, Stratford
Peach Festival, Stratford

August

Softball, Tupelo
Softball, Tupelo
Baseball, Roff
Baseball, Roff
AdaFest, Ada
AdaFest, Ada
AdaFest, Ada
AdaFest, Ada
AdaFest, Ada
AdaFest, Ada
Picture Day, Allen
Picture Day, Allen
Camel Rides, Ada
Camel Rides, Ada
Camel Rides, Ada
Camel Rides, Ada
Picture Day, Ada
Picture Day, Ada
Thunderstorms, Ada
Thunderstorms, Ada
Fire, Ada
Fire, Ada
Sunset, Konawa
Sunset, Konawa
Family Fun Night, Ada
Family Fun Night, Ada
Wildfire, Galey
Wildfire, Galey

September

Football, Ada
Football, Ada
Football, Ada
Football, Ada
Football, Stratford
Football, Stratford
1901 Fest, Ada
1901 Fest, Ada
CPR Class, Ada
CPR Class, Ada
Softball, Latta
Softball, Latta
Softball, Stonewall
Softball, Stonewall
Baseball, Latta
Baseball, Latta
Football, Ada
Football, Ada
Fall Festival, Tishomingo
Fall Festival, Tishomingo
Bulldog Mascot, Sulphur
Bulldog Mascot, Sulphur
Sunrise, Ada
Sunrise, Ada
Football, Allen
Football, Allen
Wildfire, Union Valley
Wildfire, Union Valley
Pasture, Byng
Pasture, Byng
Sunset, Stratford
Sunset, Stratford
Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Byng
Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Byng

October

Softball, Sulphur
Softball, Sulphur
Softball, Sulphur
Softball, Sulphur
Football, Tecumseh
Football, Tecumseh
Candlelight Vigil, Ada
Candlelight Vigil, Ada
Softball, Oklahoma City
Softball, Oklahoma City
Football, Tecumseh
Football, Tecumseh
Football, Ada
Football, Ada
Blue Heron, Ada
Blue Heron, Ada
Softball Fans, Oklahoma City
Softball Fans, Oklahoma City
Zombies for Piece March, Ada
Zombies for Piece March, Ada
Crepuscular Rays, Ada
Crepuscular Rays, Ada

November

Football, Ada
Football, Ada
Veterans Day, Ada
Veterans Day, Ada
Football, Ada
Football, Ada
Basketball, Roff
Basketball, Roff
Football, Stratford
Football, Stratford
Autumn Sunshine, Ada
Autumn Sunshine, Ada

December

Stratford Football, Choctaw
Stratford Football, Choctaw
Stratford Football, Choctaw
Stratford Football, Choctaw
Stratford Football, Choctaw
Stratford Football, Choctaw
Stratford Football, Choctaw
Stratford Football, Choctaw
Basketball, Ada
Basketball, Ada
Basketball, Ada
Basketball, Ada
Basketball, Ada
Basketball, Ada
Bonfire, Byng
Bonfire, Byng
Carolers, Ada
Carolers, Ada
Foggy Morning, Byng
Foggy Morning, Byng
Parade of Lights, Ada
Parade of Lights, Ada
Parade of Lights, Ada
Parade of Lights, Ada
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Game Night in the Small Town

This is my iON action camera mounted on the hot shoe of one of the two cameras I used to shoot Latta at Vanoss basketball Saturday night.
This is my iON action camera mounted on the hot shoe of one of the two cameras I used to shoot Latta at Vanoss basketball Saturday night.

My readers know that as a small town news photographer, I cover a lot of, well, small town stuff. One thing I have always loved is small town sports, and how the whole town comes out to the games and has a great time. Saturday, I worked a basketball twin bill, girls and boys basketball at Vanoss High School, who was hosting nearby rival Latta.

I felt inspired for some reason to bring my iON action cam and mount it on the hot shoe of my cameras and made a short video of game night…

 

The girls on the Vanoss bench celebrate a fourth-quarter score Saturday night.
The girls on the Vanoss bench celebrate a fourth-quarter score Saturday night.
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What We Thought it Would Be Like

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

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

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

Don't believe me when I say frame grabs from video weren't enough? Here is a video capture (vidcap) from the best consumer camcorder of 2001, the Canon GL-1.
Don’t believe me when I say frame grabs from video weren’t enough? Here is a video capture (vidcap) from the best consumer camcorder of 2001, the Canon GL-1.
Now You See It, Now You Don't
It’s amazing what the human brain can do with sketchy information. Until HDTV came along, we watched everything at 640×480, which wasn’t enough data to really show us the scenes. Our brains filled in the rest. If you don’t believe me, fire up a YouTube video of a sitcom from before 1999, and I think you’ll be amazed at the lack of detail in the image. Even coverage from 9/11 looks visually primitive compared to today’s programming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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