Eighty Five Test Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

What About Angles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of a Portrait Lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bokeh vs Bokeh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing the Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fragile

By , November 30, 2015 12:14 pm

“We’re all one trade away from humility, Buddy.” ~Wall Street

“We’re all one phone call from out knees.” ~Mat Kearny

“Be careful.” ~my wife Abby, every time I leave the house.

This is a web archive image of the November 30, 1985 "Ice Bowl" football game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

This is a web archive image of the November 30, 1985 “Ice Bowl” football game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Saturday night Abby and I were watching the annual Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State football game, which has been known for decades in our state as the “Bedlam Bowl” or just “Bedlam.” I think it’s a lame moniker at best. The game, on the other hand, is often a good one.

Rebecca Kennedy poses with her camera in the late 1990s.

Rebecca Kennedy poses with her camera in the late 1990s.

I shot my first OU vs OSU game on November 30, 1985, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a game which earned legendary status as the “Ice Bowl.” You can read my short story about it here (link.)

Photographically, I was as green as I could get, having started my first full-time job as a news photographer for The Shawnee News-Star just a week earlier.

Working the game that night was unproductive, because of the ice, because of my inexperience, and because I was using a 1970s-era Canon 600mm f/4.5 with a Nikon adapter on it, lent to me by an Associated Press photographer. It was essentially junk, and at f/4.5, not nearly enough lens for the night game at Lewis Field. I have no memorable images from that memorable game.

It can be a bit perilous on the sidelines, particularly at the college and professional levels, where the athletes are bigger, faster, and more aggressive. In 1994, a friend and colleague from East Central University, Rebecca Kennedy, and I were on the sidelines in Durant for the annual ECU vs Southeastern end-of-season rivalry football game. I was shooting with my 300mm, and she had a 70-300mm zoom. When a play started coming toward us, I was overlensed right away, so I lowered my camera to see the runner and the defenders coming directly at us. I think I said something like, “Look out!” and backed up. Rebecca continued to follow the play by zooming out, and was at the center of 280 pounds of running back being tackled by 320 pounds of lineman. She was driven back six yards or so, and her camera and eyeglasses flew all the way to the fence.

Rebecca was okay, but later felt the effects of the incident.

Abby photographs Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in 2010.

Abby photographs Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in 2010.

“You’ve got be aware of your surroundings when you’re shooting. You could back off a cliff. It’s easy to get lost in the viewfinder. You have to be careful,” Abby reminded me as I wrote this.

Sometimes even heightened awareness doesn’t keep you safe.

On Halloween night 2003, as I was leaving my apartment for an Ada vs Glenpool football game, Abby told me, “Don’t get run over.” It was the only time she ever told me that, and sure enough, I did get run over, despite efforts to get away from the play. I wasn’t hurt, but the Nikon D1H I was using was knocked out of my hands and crushed by the players, and had to be replaced.

I made this image of fellow photographer Sarah Phipps a couple of years ago at a playoff baseball game in Oklahoma City.

I made this image of fellow photographer Sarah Phipps a couple of years ago at a playoff baseball game in Oklahoma City.

Again a couple of years ago, I was photographing the “spirit line” at an Ada High game, hoping to get players bursting through the paper poster during the runout, during which the players take the field. I thought I was in a good spot, but I was just a few inches too close, and a player knocked one of my cameras out of my hand. Fortunately, no one landed on it, so it rolled harmlessly down the field, only damaging the plastic lens hood, which was easy to replace.

So anyway, back to watching the game Saturday night, which is what brought all this to mind. After the Oklahoma State players took the field, we saw a brief shot of a photographer on the ground in the end zone, surrounded by medical personnel. I turned to Abby and said, “I wonder if that’s anyone I know,” since we couldn’t see the photographer’s face. It turns out that it was, in fact, an acquaintance of mine, Daily Oklahoman photographer Sarah Phipps. Before halftime, her boss, our friend Doug Hoke, posted on Facebook that Sarah had a broken tibia and fibula, and would require surgery.

The good news in this story is that she has since had surgery, and it was successful, so she’ll be okay. We all wish her a speedy recovery.

We all know that we face a level of risk in any photographic endeavor, whether hiking in the depths of the desert, climbing a scaffolding to get a better angle, ducking fowl balls in a dugout, standing on Lightning Ridge waiting for a tornado, or on the sidelines covering football. We do what we can to stay safe, but in the end, we correctly believe that some risk is necessary for us to make great photographs.

This is a broadcast screen capture of emergency personnel attending to Phipps. The photographer on the left looking on is her husband Bryan Terry.

This is a broadcast screen capture of emergency personnel attending to Phipps. The photographer on the left looking on is her husband Bryan Terry.

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

The Work We Do

By , November 28, 2015 1:27 pm
Photography students in last month's advanced class photograph each other at the fire training tower at the Pontotoc Technology Center.

Photography students in last month’s advanced class photograph each other at the fire training tower at the Pontotoc Technology Center.

This was my crew for October's advanced digital photography class.

This was my crew for October’s advanced digital photography class.

Here are a few images from the advanced class I taught in October. My students were attentive and engaged, and had many breakthrough moments.

Teaching photography is one of my favorite activities.

They photographed me photographing them through a practice welding hole.

They photographed me photographing them through a practice welding hole.

We climbed the fire training tower for sunset.

We climbed the fire training tower for sunset.

From high on the fire tower, we saw the last of the sunset reflecting on the main building of the Technology Center.

From high on the fire tower, we saw the last of the sunset reflecting on the main building of the Technology Center.

We spotted this tagged and peeling paint on a car used for rescue practice.

We spotted this tagged and peeling paint on a car used for rescue practice.

Sunset light cast these lines of shadow on a wall of the fire training tower.

Sunset light cast these lines of shadow on a wall of the fire training tower.

After sunset we were able to photograph excellent clouds.

After sunset we were able to photograph excellent clouds.

As darkness arrived, we worked by streetlight, as in the case of photographing this broken mirror on an old ambulance.

As darkness arrived, we worked by streetlight, as in the case of photographing this broken mirror on an old ambulance.

Finally, on our way back to the classroom, in almost total darkness, we made this image of our shadows.

Finally, on our way back to the classroom, in almost total darkness, we made this image of our shadows.

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

The Raw and the Cooked

By , November 27, 2015 10:05 am
This is how my images looked straight out of the camera at a Roff Tigers basketball game recently. As you can see, they are contaminated with a ton of yellow-green light that is hard to dial out.

This is how my images looked straight out of the camera at a Roff Tigers basketball game recently. As you can see, they are contaminated with a ton of yellow-green light that is hard to dial out.

I am in the middle of teaching another Digital Photography for Beginners class at the Pontotoc Technology Center. It’s a good group.

As my readers and students know, I am an advocate of the RAW file format. I feel that while JPEG is a robust and easy to use format, it can, in many situations, cheat us out of the imaging potential of our expensive, sophisticated camera.

What's the Difference?

JPEGJoint Photographic Experts Group, is a a lossy compression file format that almost every computer in the world can read. It is the default file format for nearly every new camera. It makes files with 8-bits of data per color per pixel, meaning each color is expressed by a number from 0 to 255. Additionally, too much JPEG compression can create JPEG artifacts, which can’t be easily fixed or removed.

RAW is a proprietary file type unique to each digital camera, that requires special software to access. It is a lossless, sometimes losslessly compressed, file format that creates up to 16-bits per color per pixel, meaning that each color is expressed by a number from 0 to 65535 or higher. Since RAW files don’t use the lossy compression that JPEGs use, it does not create compression artifacts.

One situation where shooting RAW is indispensable is sports in low light, particularly in weird low light. I was in that situation last week in Roff, Oklahoma, a small high school with a cozy gym that is always packed with fans. With lights that have a yellow-green spike, and yellow floor, chairs, uniforms and fan clothing, the yellow quickly overwhelms any effort to pick a correct in-camera white balance. The only solution I’ve found is to shoot RAW, then aggressively dial out the yellow-green in Adobe’s Camera RAW dialog. There’s just not enough color data in an 8-bit JPEG to accomplish this.

As you can see, between click-balancing with the eyedropper tool, and active correction and desaturation of the yellows, it is possible to convert a yellow mess into a very usable image…

Human at last: after using the eyedropper tool to set basic white balance, I then dug into the hue and saturation dialog and aggressively dialed down the yellow. RAW to the rescue.

Human at last: after using the eyedropper tool to set basic white balance, I then dug into the hue and saturation dialog and aggressively dialed down the yellow. RAW to the rescue.

 

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

Game Night in the Small Town

By , November 24, 2015 12:21 pm
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.

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

Can I Get a Copy of That?

By , November 15, 2015 12:13 pm

As I go about my job as a photographer, I am often asked by the people I am photographing if they can “get a copy” of the photograph. When I tell them they can purchase anything I shoot for the newspaper at our SmugMug site, they sometimes seem a little disappointed, as though the images I make should be free for some reason. Others excitedly tell me they will purchase the image, but only a fraction of them follow through.

I dusted off my wonderful 1985-era 400mm f/3.5 Nikkor ED-IF supertelephoto lens yesterday cover a college football game in Durant. I wanted a picture of me using it, so I handed my phone to my friend Meredith and asked her to shoot this. It was the one way I could be certain I would have the image.

I dusted off my wonderful 1985-era 400mm f/3.5 Nikkor ED-IF supertelephoto lens yesterday cover a college football game in Durant. I wanted a picture of me using it, so I handed my phone to my friend Meredith and asked her to shoot this. It was the one way I could be certain I would have the image.

I have often noticed that the reverse is true: if someone makes an image of me and I asked them email it or bring it to me, even if I offer to pay for it, and even if I give them my card with my email address on it, I almost never see it. In fact, I make a point, if I want to possess a picture of myself, of having someone make it with one of my cameras. Even photographers with whom I have travelled …Robert, Jim, Greg… have been reluctant to share images they have of me.

I’m not quite sure what to make of all this, except to say that if I tell someone I will email a photo, I will email that photo.

I expect social media has something to do with it. People think that if they put something on their Facebook wall, somehow between the conspiracy memes and the deep fried cheesecake recipes, we’ll be able to find the photos we want, even though they will be too small and subject to Facebook’s brutal compression algorithms. Or maybe it’s just that most people are so poorly organized that they can’t weed through their tens of thousands of redundant images to send you that one photo you requested.

Forgive me if I sound a bit cynical, but it’s true. “Sure, I’d be glad to sent it!” really means you will never hear from them again.

I made this image yesterday with my 30-year-old manual focus 400mm f/3.5 Nikkor ED-IF. Another photographer asked me about it and could hardly believe what I told him, that it remains one of the sharpest, most powerful tools in my photographic toolbox, as you can see. (Click it to view it bigger.) For you technophiles, this image was made in aperture priority mode at f/3.5 ("wide open"), at ISO 200 with the shutter speed falling at about 1/1500th of a second; the player is near midfield, and I shot it from the south end zone, and, of course, it was focused manually.

I made this image yesterday with my 30-year-old manual focus 400mm f/3.5 Nikkor ED-IF. Another photographer asked me about it and could hardly believe what I told him, that it remains one of the sharpest, most powerful tools in my photographic toolbox, as you can see. (Click it to view it bigger.) For you technophiles, this image was made in aperture priority mode at f/3.5 (“wide open”), at ISO 200 with the shutter speed falling at about 1/1500th of a second; the player is near midfield, and I shot it from the south end zone, and, of course, it was focused manually.

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

Why Beautiful Moments Are Beautiful

By , October 16, 2015 1:01 pm
I've made various iterations of this image over the years, but it never gets old. This view looks north from the south end of the pond at the vo-tech, and while we were making it, showed us the value of moving, particularly up and down, to fine tune a composition.

I’ve made various iterations of this image over the years, but it never gets old. This view looks north from the south end of the pond at the vo-tech, and while we were making it, showed us the value of moving, particularly up and down, to fine tune a composition.

As photographers, we have a tendency to get a bit on the self-important side. For example, we often scoff at soccer moms with cell phones. We also tend to classify cameras as “amateur” or “professional” while losing sight of the fact that it is we who are amateurs or professionals.

We spotted this image early in our walk. It features on of my favorite tricks: locking my exposure with the sun hidden, then moving slightly to bring it into the image at the just the right brightness. It is very effective at expressing the brilliance of sunshine.

We spotted this image early in our walk. It features on of my favorite tricks: locking my exposure with the sun hidden, then moving slightly to bring it into the image at the just the right brightness. It is very effective at expressing the brilliance of sunshine.

I made these ripples by throwing a stick into the pond.

I made these ripples by throwing a stick into the pond.

One of the most significant aspects of professional photography is having our audience in mind at all times, whether the audience is readers in a publication, attendees at an art expo, visitors to our home, viewers of web sites, or just us trying to explore ourselves through imagery.

With our audience in mind, the purpose of our photography is almost always to illicit an emotional response. Maybe, as is sometimes the case in my work, our goal is to bring the feelings of triumph or tragedy to the reader. Maybe, as in the case of a wedding photographer, our goal is to bring joyful and intimate moments of the event to the viewer.

In either case, and many more, the central idea is use our cameras to translate moments into images, which then bring those moments to the audience.

I had four students in this most recent session, which is a good number. I feel like they got a lot out of it, and were excited to return for two more nights.

I had four students in this most recent session, which is a good number. I feel like they got a lot out of it, and were excited to return for two more nights.

What about beauty? Flowers. Sunsets. Canyons. Forests. Essentially, beautiful photographs work because they elicit an emotional response in the viewer. A snowboarder flying off a cliff edge elicits excitement. Sunlight filtering through a tree elicits memories of childhood. Grey-black clouds of a thunderstorm illicit feelings of foreboding.

I thought about these ideas recently as my intermediate/advanced class went on our walk to the pond at the Pontotoc Technology Center. Ostensibly intended to guide them from the nuts-and-bolts in the beginner classes to putting those tools to work, invariably we discover much more to photograph, often in the beauty of nature. When we do, it has a way of feeding itself, such that I can stand back and act as advisor, and let my students grow and explore their imaging potential.

Even after the light was mostly gone, the sky offered this silhouette. It shows the value of patience, and waiting for the light when other photographers might be long gone.

Even after the light was mostly gone, the sky offered this silhouette. It shows the value of patience, and waiting for the light when other photographers might be long gone.

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

New Tools of the New Trade

By , October 13, 2015 2:58 pm
This is my new iPhone 6s. When we got them, one of our staff members bought a number of different cases for them. I opted for the bigger, more-padded Otterbox case since I expect to use it as a camera much of the time.

This is my new iPhone 6s. When we got them, one of our staff members bought a number of different cases for them. I opted for the bigger, more-padded Otterbox case since I expect to use it as a camera much of the time.

It’s not exactly news that newspapers are, like the rest of the world connected by the internet, changing. When I started my first internship at a newspaper in 1982, the internet didn’t even exist. But today, it is in the hands of everyone. In fact, I recently read that more people on the planet have access to smartphones than have access to clean water. It seems absurd and immoral, but it is economic and social reality.

My own newspaper recently hired a new publisher, one who is far more comfortable with technology than her predecessor, one who is aggressively pushing for our product to be part of the 21st century game plan.

In furtherance of this strategy, the newsroom staff and I all just received Apple’s iPhone 6s, the latest iteration of the iPhone product. It is a powerful tool that lets us keep in touch with each other and the wired world, and also contribute to our online product instantly, from almost any location in our coverage area.

Honestly, I am very excited about this development. In the past, we often didn’t have a reliable way to communicate from the field, and it was implied that we should use our own phones (and their service costs) to communicate and contribute. Our new publisher clearly recognizes how unfair this was, and the first remedy, these iPhones, are now in our hands.

The learning curve for using a sophisticated tool like this is variable depending on how one wishes to use it, but I intend to learn everything I can about it, and milk it for all its potential. I want to put it to work for us.

I made this image at the Stratford Bulldogs football game Friday night with my iPhone 6s. If you work within its limitations, this device can produce some pretty impressive images.

I made this image at the Stratford Bulldogs football game Friday night with my iPhone 6s. If you work within its limitations, this device can produce some pretty impressive images.

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

Picking a Camera for Kodak Moments

By , October 11, 2015 9:22 pm
At my wife's family reunion last weekend, I made a number of images like this one. Do you think that in 15 years when these kids are showing these photos to their kids that anyone will say "that was shot with the new iPhone 6" or "this was made with a 24 megapixel sensor"?

At my wife’s family reunion last weekend, I made a number of images like this one. Do you think that in 15 years when these kids are showing these photos to their kids that anyone will say “that was shot with the new iPhone 6” or “this was made with a 24 megapixel sensor”?

It is often temping to try to quantify our lives. In a world of chaos and the unknown, it is comforting to remember that 2+2=4, and imagine that our existences make that kind of straightforward sense.

Brothers Darrel and Daniel horse around; this is the kind of moment you can never pose.

Brothers Darrel and Daniel horse around; this is the kind of moment you can never pose.

I have written on a number of occasions about the value of intimacy in photography, and I have also talk about the idea that many people buy and talk about photographic equipment much more than they actually use that equipment to make pictures, or if they do make pictures, they are emotionally dead and technically perfect, or are simply aimed at proving a technical point. Super-sharp pictures of cat whiskers come to mind.

But why is it so hard to make intimacy at the center of photography?

Computers, pixel counts, sharpness charts, noise ratings, buffer sizes, and so on are concrete and specific, and most importantly, are not intimate. It’s easy enough to master noise reduction software and defragging hard drives, but it’s not as easy to find genuinely intimate moments, and even harder still to photograph them.

One serious problem with photographing human moments, as I have discussed before, is that the camera itself can interfere with moments, causing people to lock up and pose. It’s difficult to keep that from dominating your imaging, but it can be done. The world is full of emotionally empty images, particularly in the age of the ubiquitous “selfie.”

I’ll tell you who cares about noise, sensor size and bokeh: computer geeks and other photographers.

Abby made this image of Paul and Heather playing with some kittens, using the Fuji HS30EXR.

Abby made this image of Paul and Heather playing with some kittens, using the Fuji HS30EXR.

The Fujifilm HS30EXR is small and light, and makes it easy to capture the fun.

The Fujifilm HS30EXR is small and light, and makes it easy to capture the fun.

I thought about these ideas last weekend at my wife’s family’s annual reunion. Abby and I have been making pictures at this event since we got married 11 years ago. In all that time, we have made a priority out of capturing genuine, intimate moments. As the years have flown by, we’ve used a variety of cameras, but the actual camera has never made all that much difference. The only thing that really matters is that we are comfortable using it, and that we are comfortable not using it when we want to be part of the action.

In the last three years, Abby and I have gotten very comfortable with the Fujifilm HS30EXR, a small, lightweight “crossover” camera that never gets in the way of taking pictures or getting in them. This year’s reunion was no different; we both had a great time and made great images, never worrying about frame rates, noise factors or sensor size. We freely handed our cameras to other family members, who were instantly comfortable using them in both the “viewfinder mode,” like a DSLR, or in “monitor mode,” like when shooting with a smartphone, since the camera automatically switches between the two modes using a small sensor on the eyepiece.

I handed my camera to Abby's niece Amber, who knows nothing about photography, and she had no trouble at all making this image of Darrel harassing me, my stepdaughter Chele, and Ryan, as we teamed up for the hexapede game.

I handed my camera to Abby’s niece Amber, who knows nothing about photography, and she had no trouble at all making this image of Darrel harassing me, my stepdaughter Chele, and Ryan, as we teamed up for the hexapede game.

The Fuji might not be the camera for you, but consider that the best camera for you might be the one that gets out of the way and lets you and your subject have fun.

In the end, as the years go by and Abby and I capture more and more of these great memories, no one will ever ask which camera we used, and no one will talk about shutter speed or aperture. They will take about the great times we all had, and recorded, of those people we loved, and the ones who are no longer with us, but who were with us over the years, in our memories and our images.

The best thing about this image isn't the shutter speed or the white balance. The best thing is the smiles on their faces.

The best thing about this image isn’t the shutter speed or the white balance. The best thing is the smiles on their faces.

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

The Nikon D300S at 7500 Exposures

By , September 10, 2015 10:58 am
Your host shoots a college football game with the Nikon D300S and the AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 ED-IF.

Your host shoots a college football game with the Nikon D300S and the AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 ED-IF.

My newspaper bought a Nikon D300S digital SLR for me in June. I posted a first look at the camera and made some initial observations. Here, then, are my impressions of the camera after its first 7500 frames.

Clean images at ISOs in the 800-1600 range have breathed new life into my AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6.

Clean images at ISOs in the 800-1600 range have breathed new life into my AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6.

  • The autofocus is fast, but isn’t as well buffered as I like, and has a tendency to bite on the background instead of the subject. Tweaking and patience has made it work.
  • Despite the promise of 8 frames per second with the bigger EN-EL4 battery, I suspect it barely runs at 7 fps.
  • The buffer with RAW files is just 12 frames, and while it flushes files quickly to the class 10 SD card, the buffer is still not quite big enough for sports, particularly baseball.
  • Image quality in the ISO stratosphere is pretty good; I’ve shot football at ISO 4000 and the result has been decently clean.
  • Cleaner medium ISOs in the 800-1600 range have breathed new life into an old lens, my 70-300mm f/4-5.6 ED. Since this lens needs to be stopped down to f/6.3 to be sharp at 300mm, higher ISOs save the day for softball and baseball action. My 300mm f/4 ED AF is a great lens, but the 70-300mm is three times lighter, and more versatile.
  • The D300S is lighter than my older D2H, but not any smaller. Larger cameras are fine for my hands, but the lighter body is definitely appreciated.

7500 frames in two months equals 45,000 frames in a year, but that’s only my primary camera, and June and July are our slowest months. If you add to that what I shoot with other cameras (I always shoot with two, sometimes three), the total might be about 100,000 frames a year, which doesn’t surprise me.

In conclusion, the Nikon D300S is an excellent addition to my photographic toolbox.

The Nikon D300S is pictured here with the MB-D10 vertical grip, with the EN-EL4 battery installed.

The Nikon D300S is pictured here with the MB-D10 vertical grip, with the EN-EL4 battery installed.

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

Hearts and Bones

By , August 21, 2015 6:41 pm
Putting our heads together: Ada City Schools teacher and part time photographer Jeanie Neal and I simultaneously shoot pictures of the coaches at Ada High School's media day Saturday. She and I made a game of it to see if we could trip our shutters at exactly the same moment.

Putting our heads together: Ada City Schools teacher and part time photographer Jeanie Neal and I simultaneously shoot pictures of the coaches at Ada High School’s media day Saturday. She and I made a game of it to see if we could trip our shutters at exactly the same moment.

It’s mid August, and our newspaper is doing what all newspapers do this time of year: working on our football preview section. It’s a pretty big deal in our community, since the schools in our coverage area have long and storied Friday Night Lights histories.

One thing we do for the football preview is what we call “media day.” Parents, teachers and students know it as picture day or photo day, and it involves getting the entire football team for each school dressed out and lined up for a group photo, head shots, senior photos, coach groups, and feature images. Honestly, it doesn’t challenge me photographically, but I understand its importance to my newspaper and our community.

We cover seven high schools and a college, so I probably photograph close to 400 kids each year. In the film days, that meant shooting a lot of film, and souping and printing it all, but these days, digital has powerfully streamlined the process. Also in the film era, I shot these media days using two cameras and a camera bag with loads of film in it; big, heavy cameras and lenses. I was younger then. I am 52 now, and every chance I get, I lighten my load. My neck, shoulders and back are telling me more than ever to take care of them.

My go-to camera/lens combo for media days is a Nikon D80 with an 18-55mm “kit” lens. It is smaller and lighter than anything else I have, and still gives me the color and sharpness I need. The lens isn’t exactly a performer, but I don’t really demand much of it, since these media days are in bright daylight.

I guess if you added up around 400 kids by 27 seasons, you get 10,000 or more players. That’s a lot of kids. The work of photographing them can seem mundane and tiresome at times, but I am happy to do it when I remind myself that I am making memories and recording history.

The Nikon D80 and the ubiquitous 18-55mm "kit" lens is a small, lightweight solution to shooting our area football media day photos.

The Nikon D80 and the ubiquitous 18-55mm “kit” lens is a small, lightweight solution to shooting our area football media day photos.

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

Panorama Theme by Themocracy