This afternoon got its light together at the last minute, as I walked Hawken, our Irish Wolfhound.
In color, it was certainly something. In monochrome, it was definitely something else.
These images were shot entirely in monochrome capture mode, not shot in color and converted later.
I hosted a lunar eclipse party for the so-called Super Blood Wolf Moon Sunday night, Jan. 20 into the early morning hours of Jan. 21. I felt it went exactly as I had hoped, with between ten and 20 in attendance, some watching, some making pictures.
The evening was cold and got colder as the wind gradually picked up. My entourage stuck around in their camp chairs and blankets until the moon turned reddish with a touch of purple and blue, then packed up and went home as the wind continued to increase. The cold got sharp enough that I got my camp coat, the warmest garment I own.
I made the tight images of the moon in its phases with my 1985-vintage Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 IF-ED, mated to its excellent Nikon TC-14 teleconverter. On my Nikon D7100, a camera with a 25mm x 15mm sensor, the full moon still fills up less than a sixth of the frame.
As the totality approached, exposures changed drastically, from the bright-daylight values of the moon in total sun, to brightness values so dim it wasn’t always easy to find the moon easily.
This eclipse had a different look to it than the last lunar eclipse I photographed in 2015, which was yellow and orange, and more contrasty against the night sky.
I was so glad I was able to host an event like this.
Basketball season is in its peak, and my newspaper and I cover a lot of games. We have a great sports scene in our area, competitive and exciting.
I wondered as I was photographing one of those games last week, a tournament-heavy week with lots of games, how many photographers face the same thing I do all the time: overwhelming color casts in certain gyms.
In fact, there were at least six other photographers in last week’s mix: Steve Sisney, Josh Clough, Jeannie Neal, Courtney Morehead, Glen Bryan, and Lonny Dorman. I am always glad to see them.
The lighting problem comes from a combination of lights that are designed to be efficient (instead of color-neutral), and floor and ceiling colors that create a sort of color feedback loop. For example, several of the gyms I photograph have yellow school colors, painted on courts that are finished in yellowing varnish, reflected by yellowing ceiling tiles.
These are nice places to work, and I love the opportunity to work at these schools, but the color balance in my photographs requires some very aggressive correction. How do I do this?
- I always, always shoot raw files. We in the photographic community probably preach about this too much, but it really is a game-changer. Raw files contain thousands or even millions of times more color values than standard JPEG files.
- I don’t bother adjusting white balance in-camera, because…
- I will use Adobe Lightroom to fix the color, first with the eyedropper tool, which I click on a neutral spot; sometimes this is all the fix I need. It’s pretty dramatic, actually, sometimes accompanied by the word, “wow.”
- I use additional color adjustments in Lightroom’s excellent Hue/Saturation/Luminance (HSL) dialog, which allows me to change not only the amount of the offending color, but also the brightness and the hue of it. I can use this to take a bright lime green basketball court and make it appear a very natural pale tan.
- The most important aspect of this, of course, is to create normal-looking skin tones of the players and fans. This can sometimes requires some very aggressive application of color sliders in Lightroom or Photoshop.
- As tempting as it is to use the pop-up flash instead of existing light at these venues, you will always be happier with existing light for sports.
I see other people’s image from some of these places, and they all exhibit a common thread: difficult color balance. Take it from me: raw files plus aggressive editing can fix these problems, and result in very satisfying images.
I published this to social media recently and got almost no response. This might be due to the Christmas holiday, which is now over. If this interests you at all, I would urge you to share it on social media or create your own monochrome challenge on your web site. If you participate in PhotoLoco, don’t hesitate to post it there.
California-based Photographer Nic Coury recently acquired a Leica M246, a monochrome (black-and-white only) digital camera. He posted some images recently on social media, and they were very powerful, and perfect in black-and-white.
Thinking about this paradigm, I thought about how I sometimes like to shoot in monochrome mode to force myself to see things differently and take my photography outside its usual box.
Here is what I was able to conjure with my Minolta DiMage 7i in monochrome mode, on a recent short walk through the woods behind our home in Byng, Oklahoma…
My newspaper and I had another intern the last couple of weeks, a nice young college kid named Ashlynd. She is very enthusiastic about becoming a journalist, and we can already tell she’s going to be a good writer.
Ashlynd told me she didn’t much care for her college photography classes, echoing a number of students who came to me over the years needing help with very basic photographic skills, skills they should have gotten from previous instructors.
Yes, I understand that college is held to a different standard than other fields of instruction. At the same time, I wonder how college students get into photography classes without demonstrating some understanding of their prerequisites. I remember being vetted by an instructor in college before I was allowed to get into her class, though I don’t know how a lot of my classmates managed to get in.
Seriously. Students tell me all the time, “That professor didn’t tell me about aperture or shutter speed or ISO or…” You get the idea.
I appreciate the idea that the purpose of college is to educate at the next level, but I also appreciate that if you don’t learn the very basics, it’s difficult to advance. I also appreciate all the really great college photography instructors who can set aside their egos and cater to their students. The students and their families, after all, are paying for it.
I’ve been teaching since 2007. When I teach Intro to Digital Photography at the Pontotoc Technology Center, I start at the beginning. That’s the only way it can work. Almost everyone in those classes is holding a camera that is set to shoot the way it was when they opened the box, attached a lens, charged the battery, and started shooting. In the biz we refer to this setting as “green box mode,” since most cameras have a big green box or icon on the exposure mode dial, often marked with an “A” or the word “Auto.” This setting essentially takes over almost all the settings, making a potentially powerful camera into a point-and-shoot.
Is there a solution to college kids who don’t get what they need from classes? Is there such a thing as remedial photography?
I’ll marry this idea to one I experienced in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2013. Oklahoman photographer Jim Beckel and I were photographing the historic plaza when we came across a group of photographers shooting with some very expensive, very new-looking equipment, who seemed to be struggling to express what they were seeing. They asked us to make a group photo for them when they told us they’d just taken a class from someone (I don’t remember his name or the name of the class or school.) They all rolled their eyes simultaneously, and one of them said, “He was quite a character!”
I hope no one I am instructing ever refers to me that way.
Finally, I am a firm believer that students who are having fun taking pictures are dramatically more likely to remain engaged, and retain more of the craft we are teaching.
I have a revelation for you: the night of January 20 into the very early parts of January 21, all of North America that has clear weather will be able to see, and photograph, a total lunar eclipse. I hope to photograph it myself, as does my wife Abby.
Here are a few tips and tricks…
- Longer is better. If you have a telephoto lens, consider that despite its impressive appearance in the sky, the moon is actually quite small, about 0.5 degrees, smaller in apparent size than your fingernail held at arm’s length. To fill up the frame with the moon, you need as much telephoto as you can get. If you have a 300mm, you will probably be disappointed at how small the moon is in the frame. Adding a teleconverter can help, but a cheap teleconverter can rob so much sharpness, the image ends up much worse.
- If there is an astronomy club near you, consider joining. You will have shared access to real astronomical telescopes that eclipse (pun intended) photographic lenses.
- The moon moves surprisingly fast across the sky. Exposures of more that a few seconds will likely result in the moon appearing as an oval blur instead of an amber disc. Larger apertures and higher ISO settings are your friend, but the next level is to put your camera on a telescope with a drive mechanism that tracks objects across the sky, leaving you free to use lower ISOs and longer shutter speeds for maximum sharpness.
- It’s January. It will probably be cold outside. Bundle up. You’ll probably spend some time standing around waiting unless you’re lucky to live in a dark area…
- Find a dark area. The full moon is quite bright, but by the time it’s in full eclipse, it might be dim enough that you have trouble locating it; I did a couple of times three years ago. If you are in the city, it might be difficult to get around all the light pollution.
- Don’t believe the absurd things you hear about eclipses and other stellar phenomena. Eclipses aren’t omens. Mars will never look as big as the moon. Asteroids are not going to crash into the earth. There are no space ships hiding behind comets. The world is not flat… eclipses are obvious proof of that. Before you spread bad memes, learn some good science. And have fun photographing the eclipse next month.
The Nikon D200 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera is a sturdy, capable, good-looking camera from the mid-2000s. It has a 10.2 megapixel sensor that will shoot from ISO 100 to 3200, a decent autofocus system, and it fits just right in my longish hands.
I’ve made tens of thousands of images with my D200s. I own three, all gotten cheap on Ebay, though one of them died earlier this year. In 2018, I don’t consider the D200 a front-line camera, but I still grab them from time to time, and they still deliver.
At the end of the film era, many of us used the excellent Nikon F100 SLR, often with the MB-15 vertical grip. I had two of them at my newspaper from 1997 until I retired the last one in 2005, when I only shot a handful of film negatives.
We waited eagerly for its digital equivalent.
The F100, sometimes nicknamed the “Baby F5,” was everything we could want in a film SLR, viceless, well-built, and a pleasure to use. When the D100 appeared, it didn’t deliver on the promise to be the digital F100. The D100 was slow to shoot, slow to think, and sported some very awkward controls, most notably the badly-implemented exposure mode dial. See my D100 review here (link.)
It wasn’t until November of 2005 that we got a look at what would be the “digital F100,” the Nikon D200.
- Though the rubber coating on Nikon D70s is disintegrating into a sticky mess, the same-era D200’s rubber grip panels are fine.
- Image quality at modest ISO settings (below about 1600) is excellent, with sharp details, accurate color, and low noise. ISO 3200, which is “Hi-1” on the display, is pretty noisy, and it’s not good-looking noise, tending toward blotchiness.
- With the MB-D200 multi power battery grip, it holds two batteries, and adds a vertical shutter release. This combination feels and looks very professional.
- Media storage is the Compact Flash (CF) card, which I have always liked because it is about the right size for my workflow and in my hands. SD cards seem a little small and easy to lose, although I now use them all the time and have never lost one.
- The D80, introduced a few months after the D200, uses the same sensor, but is constructed of plastic.
- The D200 viewfinder is large and bright, and the monitor is big for its time at 2.5 inches diagonal.
- The D200 has a pop-up flash on the pentaprism, a feature I occasionally wish was on pro models for use as fill light in sunny situations.
Unlike all models aimed at amateur photographers, the D200 does not have an exposure mode dial, but an exposure mode button, which I very much prefer. It doesn’t need the mode dial because it doesn’t offer “green box” mode or scene modes, which are used almost exclusively by amateur photographers.
- Also unlike current amateur Nikon cameras, the D200 has a focus motor in the lens mount, so it will focus older AF Nikkor lenses.
- The D200 has an aperture indexing ring around the lens mount, allowing it to use automatic exposure with non-autofocus lenses.
- Color out of the D200 is adequate, but even using the “vivid” setting, it can be a little on the muted side. Both noise and color rendering are vastly improved by shooting raw files.
- The D200 can be converted to shoot infrared.
Overall, I would say that the Nikon D200 was an excellent camera for news, sports and magazine photography, and though it is older technology, I have no intention of retiring or selling mine; for one thing, they cost nearly nothing, and I couldn’t get anything for them if I wanted to sell them. Ebay shows D200s in good condition for less than $200, sometimes less than $100. It’s also worth noting that if someone gave me one, or I saw one at a garage sale for $25, I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to snatch it up.
An article on Petapixel recently brought to my attention the fact that due to recent invasions by huge numbers of tourists at an easy-to-access but previously only sparsely visited location, Horseshoe Bend, which I have visited twice, now has a new $750,000 steel railing at the overlook.
I’ve been aware for some time that crowds are discovering and choking places that were once only inhabited by a few dedicated naturalists or photographers.
The worst of these, in my opinion, has to be Antelope Canyon, which I saw in 2012, and to which I have no intention of returning. It has been taken over by geotaggers and their phones, and because it is so popular, holds little appeal to me. On that visit, a women in our tour group put away her camera halfway through the tour. When I asked her why, she said, “This isn’t relaxing.”
Geotagging is using the GPS coordinates to mark the location associated with your photos, allowing others to easily find it and visit it.
It is also significant that locations swarming with visitors dilute the value of photos you might make there: sure, you have a nice image, but so do all the hundreds or thousands of people huddled around you. Instead of creating a unique image, you are part of a group of stenographers.
Even our beloved Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park, which I have had the privilege of visiting nine times, including when Abby and I got married there in 2004, may soon have restricted visitation or even require a permit.
There is a little bit of good news, though: if it takes a fair amount of physical effort, like hiking 10 miles for example, most of the population are too lazy and out of shape to do it.
So what is the essential cause of this issue, why does it matter, and what can we do? Is this just a symptom of an Earth with 7.7 billion people on it? Do we have the internet to blame? Social trends? The selfish selfie scene?
By their very nature, people are destructive to many of the natural phenomena we hold in high regard, not just by their appearance, but also by their consumption and erosion of natural features. Their footfalls and Twinkie wrappers are far more damaging than their appearance in our images.
A truth to remember, though, is that we all want to create beautiful photographs, we all want to record and preserve our memories, and we all want to show off our experiences. It’s hard to be too critical of tourists and photographers while being one of them.
What can we do to both protect and experience these beautiful places?
- Visit during off-peak seasons
- Visit when the weather discourages visitors, like when it’s super-cold
- Get to the trail head before the sun comes up, and get off the trail before the crowds start to thicken
- Obey and defend the Leave No Trace paradigm
Despite some locations being “discovered,” there are still wild, unspoiled spots in the world, worthy of our exploration and our respect.
Portions of this entry are from my Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018 column in The Ada News.
I started at The Ada Evening News (The Ada News since 2012) October 24, 1988, 30 years ago today. In that time, a lot has changed, mostly for the good. A few notes…
- In the 1980s and most of the 1990s, all my newspaper photography was on film, most of it black-and-white…
- Most of those images were printed using a system invented in the 1950s, the Kodak Ektamatic processor, which used activator and stabilizer with papers that had developer incorporated into their emulsions, like Ektamatic SC, which…
- …was a single-weight, fiber-based photographic paper offering very fast turnaround at the expense of quality and longevity. Although there are literally thousands of Ektamatic prints in within my reach as I write this, none are worth saving. Additionally, because the prints had only been stabilized, not washed and dried, they smelled like vinegar.
When I first came to The Ada Evening News, we had no capability to reproduce four-color images on our own, and had to send images to an Oklahoma City first to have color separations made, so having a color photo in the paper was relegated to holidays and special events. In 1991, we inherited a primitive color separator (its software was stored on a microcassette), and could then have a color picture on Sunday.
- A lot of more of my shooting in the film era involved flash photography for the simple reason that we couldn’t change ISO settings like we can today. I would shoot two or three assignments on one roll of film, usually T-Max 400.
- The digital era began for me in 1998, when my newspaper bought a 35mm film scanner (a Nikon LS-2000) and a computer (an Apple PowerMac G3,) which had a floppy drive, and a Zip® disk drive, but only a CD-ROM, so I was unable to archive scanned images from that era. The editor during that period was too cheap to buy Zip disks for archiving, which was very seriously short-sighted,
though we still have the negatives on file.
It was around this time that my newspaper got its first imagesetter, a device that printed the page-sized negatives of newspaper content, replacing the downstairs process camera and fundamentally advancing our layout, design and publishing methods.
- In 2000, I asked for and received a Minolta medium format film scanner, which I used as often as I could, but which gave poor color scans.
- My first digital camera was the Nikon D1H, purchased by my newspaper in August 2001. Despite its 2.66 megapixel sensors, the D1H was a great addition to my toolbox, and despite having film cameras and scanners in my bag, digital became increasingly prevalent in my work. My last photographic negatives were made in 2005.
- By the middle of the 2000s, the scanners we had slid into obsolescence due to their SCSI interfaces, which stopped being supported my modern operating systems. Although I could scan with USB-based flatbed scanners, I was never able to get a true high-resolution film scan again.
- Since 2007 I have been teaching photography at the Pontotoc Technology Center, and I hope being a news photographer has made me a better teacher, and that teaching has made me a better news photographer.
- We sold our press in 2012 or so, and began printing our product at our sister paper, The Norman Transcript, and delivering it by mail. With the departure of our press crew and our carriers, our building became mostly vacant. Portions of it were so poorly cared for that they are probably beyond rehabilitation, and will remain closed off and used as storage.
- One of the best developments in these three decades has been my relationship with the community. While it’s true that bosses and coworkers have been unkind to me on occasion over the years, the public is overwhelmingly glad to see me, impressed with my work, and regards me as the face of The Ada News.
- According to a count by a few long-lasting co-workers and me, in my time at our newspaper, there have been eight publishers and 14 managing editors.