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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
The occasions that come to mind are three hiking trips I made with three different photographer friends, one in 2011, one 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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
I’ve won lots of awards over the years. Sometimes I think members of my profession have award-winning events and images thrust before them all the time.
My most recent award was one for just showing up, the Oklahoma Press Association’s Quarter Century Club award, given for 25 years of service at OPA members newspapers, presented to me in the middle of my 27th year in Ada. I started working at the Shawnee News-Star in 1985, so I’ve been in their system for 30 years, but they gave me this acknowledgment as soon as I applied for it.
A co-worker, Sports Editor Jeff Cali, got the same award, and posted it to his Facebook wall with the simple epithet, “Man I’m old.” I don’t believe it for a minute. I think both Jeff and I are still young enough and good enough to cover our beats for at least another 25 years.
In April 1979, I was quite proud to be selected to be on the Talon Yearbook staff the following year. At that time, I imagined I would be a writer. During the following year on the staff, however, I discovered that I wasn’t at all interested in writing feature stories, but very much was in interested in being a photographer. I actually wrote very little for the Talon in 1979-1980, but I hung out in the darkroom constantly.
Our yearbook advisor doled out film to us with the eyedropper of necessity. Film was expensive compared to the yearbook’s budget.
However, on a yearbook staff picnic, our advisor’s toddler daughter started chasing some bubbles, and all three of us photographers took pictures. It was a precious moment, but back in class on Monday morning he spent considerable time and effort shaming us about “wasting” film. Thirty years later when I sent him a scan of one of those frames, he was incredibly grateful for it. Ugh.
Anyway, the film we were issued was Kodak’s venerable Plus-X Pan Film, described in its day as a “medium-speed [‘speed’ referring to sensitivity] panchromatic film with fine grain.” It’s easy to look at its ISO of 125 today and express dismay that it was regarded as “medium speed,” but it was partnered with Panatomic-X at ISO 32 on the “low” side, and Tri-X at ISO 400 as the “high speed” offering. So yes, it was a medium speed film in the world of film, but in trying to capture the movement, motion and energy of high school, it was, in reality, quite slow.
I’m sure our yearbook advisor was attracted to the “fine grain” aspect of the film. Yearbooks are printed on glossy paper and with finer screens (higher resolutions) than newspapers, and there are times when the photos are used quite large. In recent years, I have quite a lot of experience with glossy, high-quality magazine printing as the editor of Ada Magazine, and every edition of my magazine has several images that are “full-bleed double-truck,” meaning they fill the two pages that face each other all the way to the edges of the pages.
These experiences, as well as many years in newspaper using film and later digital, has made it pretty obvious that our yearbook advisor couldn’t have been more wrong in making us use Plus-X. The biggest shortcoming of Plus-X is its ISO of 125. In the studio or in bright sunlight, that’s fine, but so many of the events in the lives of high school kids, their events and classes and plays and games, are at night, indoors, and otherwise in very limited light, and at ISO 125, our only option for shooting these events was direct flash.
For those readers of the smart-phone-only ilk, direct flash happens when we put an electronic flash (in high school I had the ubiquitous Vivitar 283) on the hot shoe of our camera. It provides light that I have previously described as “worst light ever.” It didn’t take much of a search of my high school negatives to find examples that adjudicate this assertion.
Direct flash has that blacked-out-background look because light obeys the inverse square law, so each time you double the distance from the light source, it’s four times darker, and often the backgrounds are two or three times farther away than the subject.
Another downside to direct flash is that you have to wait, sometimes as long as eight seconds, for the flash to recycle and flash again, and eight seconds is an eternity when telling moments are happening in front of you.
There’s the rub. Using a 125 ISO film forced us to use direct flash. But in our yearbook advisor’s eyes, anyway, a higher ISO film like Tri-X would make our images “too grainy.” Our choices, then, were fine-grained, direct-flash non-moments, or grainier, better-lit images of real moments.
The choice to me, as a career photojournalist, is obvious. If I had it to do over again, I would load up with Tri-X, and for much of the night and indoor stuff, I would expose it at ISO 1600 and increase the development time, which is known as “push processing.” The results would be grainy moments, but there would be so many more moments.
In the end, of course, yearbook readers don’t care about fine grain, they care about their memories, and shooting like a photojournalist, not like a studio photographer, is the way to capture the best of them.
The third night of my Intro to Digital Photography class could be called our “what to do with our pictures” class. The first night coveres the nuts and bolts of cameras, and the second night touches on the basics of exposure, lighting, lenses and composition. With that done, the third night’s “what to do” is a perfect fit.
In addition to the basics of printing and web sharing of images, I talk about how to store and archive them. Despite a huge uptick in recent years in the popularity of “cloud storage,” the practice of keeping your digital files on a computer provided by a remote service accessed via the internet, I still don’t recommend it as your primary digital storage method. The reason is pretty straightforward: I have seen cloud storage disappear, crash, get sold to bad companies, have legal issues, and change terms of service for the worse.
I’m sorry to see that optical media drives, CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray, are beginning to disappear from new laptop and desktop computers. It’s tempting to say that this is because optical media isn’t keeping pace with the volume of data being stored, which is true, but the real reason is that Microsoft, HP, Apple, Dell, Lenovo – everyone – wants to sell you cloud storage. Google’s Chromebook brand is the worst of the pack because its whole strategy is to sell you a computer with little storage and have you keep your data in their cloud.
This isn’t just supposition on my part. My office is presently dealing with just such a cloud issue: CableOne, our internet service provider, is apparently going through an ugly divorce from Google, and all the Google Drive accounts we used by logging into CableOne are gone. CableOne, a company I use and like, pitched this to us as an “upgrade” to our email service, but this weasel language isn’t fooling anyone.
So what, if not the cloud, is the best way to manage our data as the 21st century moves forward? The answer is not as easy as the typical semi-literate consumer would like: learn about computers and how they work. Sure, it would be nice, as the Chromebook site says, to, “just log in with your Google account. No long load times, just flip it open and get busy doing anything other than waiting.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? And surely Google is too big to fail. But remember your Geocities site? Your Lycos blog? Your AOL home page? AOL was as giant in 1995 as Google is today.
If this sounds a bit preachy, keep in mind that this is advice for those of you whose data is important to them. If you are satisfied with the possibility that Instagram could be sold to Yahoo next week and discontinued as easily as Google discontinued Google Reader, this entry might not be for you. Their bottom line, after all, isn’t you and your data, it’s their profits.
Self-reliance is the key to protecting your data. My choice would be a combination of solid state drives, optical media, and even a little cloud storage just for convenience. In any case, data doesn’t stand still, nor does its storage options. Punch cards. Magnetic tape. 5.25-inch floppies. 3.5-inch floppies. Zip disks. They’re all in the trash now, and if you didn’t find a way to migrate your date, it’s in the trash too. I recommend you keep up with current technology, and move your data from old storage to new often and diligently.
The modern photographic lexicon owes a lot to electronic technology. I’m not just talking about digital cameras; in fact, the technology to which I refer can apply to film as well. This technology is broadly discussed as “post-production,” often simple shortened to “post” on photography web sites. I don’t think this is a particularly good moniker because I think of all the steps of photography as part of the production process, so editing and printing are “production,” not “post-production.”
I set myself up for a significant editing challenge on a recent road trip to the desert. I photographed Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado near Page, Arizona. On a previous occasion, I shot it with my 12-24mm Tokina lens, which gave me fairly good results, but despite being zoomed out as wide as possible, I still wasn’t getting the epic, broad, expansive panoramas I was seeing on the web by other photographers.
My solution depended heavily on software: shoot the scene with my 10-17mm Tokina fisheye, and “unbend” the curved lines characteristic of the fisheye lens using Adobe Photoshop to create a sweeping panorama. I’d never done this exact edit before and hadn’t checked it out, but felt I could achieve it one way or the other.
As it turned out, Adobe Photoshop made it quick and easy, and the result was exactly what I wanted.