Software: The New Darkroom

By , March 15, 2016 4:04 pm
This is a screen shot of the Apple's Photos application in action. Although fairly basic in nature, it does have a few capable features.

This is a screen shot of the Apple’s Photos application in action. Although fairly basic in nature, it does have a few capable features.

For the last 15 or so years, the main terminal for delivering photographs to our audience has been the computer and its accessories instead of their predecessors, enlargers and chemicals. The interface between the photographer and the computer is software, computer programs that allow is to view, edit, and deliver images in the 21st century. Here is a rundown on some of the software with which I have become familiar.

Adobe Photoshop: this is the ultimate in image editing, graphic design, and desktop publishing. It’s power to manipulate every element of an image makes it very attractive, particularly for artists and designers, but also for photographers who want control over every pixel. The down side is that it is expensive and complex, requiring a steeper learning curve than its contemporaries. There are a couple of features that make Photoshop my first choice. One is actions, which allows me to assign a function key to do groups of things to an image all at once; for example, I can create an action that will add yellow, darken the blacks, filter noise, apply the unsharp mask, and save the image, all at the touch of one key. Another is history, which allows me to got back through my edits one step at a time to see what I did and how it worked.

Photoshop is integrated with Adobe Bridge, which acts as a kind of digital contact sheet and file manager. You can do some edits to one image, like noise reduction and white balance, then apply those edits to all the images in Bridge.

My first experience with Photoshop was in 1998, when I was given a beige Apple G3 computer and Adobe Photoshop 5. There have been a long series of incremental upgrades to Photoshop, and it is now part of Creative Cloud.

Adobe Photoshop is currently part of Adobe Creative Cloud, a marketing strategy that proposes to keep subscribers using the newest possible iteration of their software without having to go through versions.

Adobe Photoshop is currently part of Adobe Creative Cloud, a marketing strategy that proposes to keep subscribers using the newest possible iteration of their software without having to go through versions.

Adobe Photoshop’s little brother is Adobe Photoshop Elements, in version 14 and priced at $99 as I write this. In all honesty, unless you are a graphic artist or designer, Elements can do just about anything to an image you will need. For a lot of professional photographers, the biggest item Elements does not have is the ability to work with 16-bit files. There is a comprehensive list of the differences here, but in the end, for day-to-day photo editing, Elements is a powerful and impressive application.

My friend Michael often uses Elements because it starts up faster.

My class is photography, not software or editing, but I do touch on software, and the software I recommend for most of my students is Adobe Photoshop Elements.

My class is photography, not software or editing, but I do touch on software, and the software I recommend for most of my students is Adobe Photoshop Elements.

A pitfall of Photoshop is that it can, as I have discussed on a number of occasions, make pictures lie by adding or removing critical elements, over or under emphasizing elements of human features (from supermodels to war scenes to O. J. Simpson), and creating images that imply someone is saying or doing something they are not. Over the years, such editing has mislead readers and ended the careers of several leading photographers.

Increasing in popularity in recent years is Abobe Lightroom. This combines some features of Photoshop with some features of Bridge, fusing them into a somewhat simplified interface. To me, Lightroom seems like Everyman’s Photoshop. While it has some powerful image management tools, I find its interface less intuitive than Photoshop. I actively dislike the way Lightroom pops hidden toolbars up when you mouse over them.

One serious downside to Lightroom for me as a professional who needs to quickly edit images is the fact that you have to import images into Lightroom before you can work on them, then export them to a file to use them. The reason for this is that Lightroom keeps your edits in its database so they remain “non-destructive,” so you always keep your original photo, but that’s a little patronizing to those of us who figured out how to manage files and edit copies 16 years ago.

This is the Lightroom 6 interface. I'm getting more comfortable, and therefore better, with it since starting to use it last November, but given the choice, I'd still prefer Photoshop.

This is the Lightroom 6 interface. I’m getting more comfortable, and therefore better, with it since starting to use it last November, but given the choice, I’d still prefer Photoshop.

Lightroom provides “Publish Services” like Behance, Facebook, and Flickr, with the option of adding more, it seems to me that over the years, applications that try to hold your hand are destined for the scrap heap. Social media integration is both ineffective and etherial, meaning that one day AOL is on top, the next day MySpace is on top, the day after that Facebook is on top, and so on. As I wrote this, I had no idea what “Behance” was, and going to its web site didn’t clear it up much.

Essentially, I need to double-click a photo, smoothly and quickly edit it, save it, then send it where I need it, to a folder on a server usually. Lightroom fights me at every turn.

Apple computer users, particularly those who use the iPhone and iPad products, are familiar with Apple’s Photos, which until recently was called iPhoto. Apple retired their fairly good Aperture application and merged it with iPhoto to create Photos with the goal of integrating desktop editing with phone and tablet editing. If Lightroom is an amateur product, Photos is the kid’s product. It has the few basic controls, but beyond that doesn’t have the tools, particularly brushes, that are critical for professional editing.

Maybe in the end, the applications that try to do everything for you are for people who always struggled with that. That’s not me: my photos are organized by date, and indexed according to name and caption information, since we had to do this from the start of the digital age, long before Photos and Lightroom even existed, and this will probably be the only organization method that will stand the test of time. The reason for this is that software isn’t developed for your needs, but for the software company’s profits. If it doesn’t make money, it will disappear. Don’t believe me? Remember PictureProject? MyPictureTown? EasyShare? Microsoft Photo Editor?

In conclusion, my first choice for photo editing is Adobe Photoshop, followed quite closely by Photoshop Elements.

As you can see, the editing interface using Photoshop Elements is fairly comprehensive for day-to-day photography. This is version 10, but Elements is now for sale as version 14.

As you can see, the editing interface using Photoshop Elements is fairly comprehensive for day-to-day photography. This is version 10, but Elements is now for sale as version 14.

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Mistakes and Protocols

By , March 12, 2016 1:13 pm
In the days of film photography, one fairly common rookie mistake looked like this. We prevented this by making sure the film wound all the way around the takeup spool at least one full rotation before closing the back of the camera.

In the days of film photography, one fairly common rookie mistake looked like this. We prevented this by making sure the film wound all the way around the takeup spool at least one full rotation before closing the back of the camera.

Someone asked me the other day if I ever seriously screwed up at my job, and what did I do about it. By “serious” I assumed they meant something worse than spelling Marcy “Marcie.” I told them, in hushed tones, that yes, once, I did very seriously screw up. The hushed tones are no long necessary, obviously, since I am coming clean here in my public forum.

I knew at least one photographer who left the rewind crank extended so he could see it in his peripheral vision as it spun counterclockwise when the film fed out of the cassette onto the film plane.

I knew at least one photographer who left the rewind crank extended so he could see it in his peripheral vision as it spun counterclockwise when the film fed out of the cassette onto the film plane.

I once photographed someone with an unloaded camera. I know. Richard? A recruit trick like that? But yes, sure, anyone can make a fundamental mistake. When I discovered my mistake, I slunk back over to the woman I’d photographed and told her a half-lie: the image didn’t work out the way I wanted and could I shoot a few more.

I never made that mistake again, for two reasons: first, my reputation was on the line, and I might not be able to quietly fix it next time, and second, I started religiously using a protocol, which I use to this day. Simply put, I never ever ever closed a camera back (in the film era) or close a camera card door (in the digital realm) without new media installed. The same goes for batteries. Never close a battery door without a charged battery inside.

These protocols are fairly universal. Never start an airplane without removing the “Remove Before Flight” flags. Never holster an unloaded pistol. Never close a circuit breaker someone has opened.

It’s been years since I screwed up big enough to have to reshoot something, but life is full of potential mistakes, and if I do drop the ball, my hope and intention is that I will do whatever it takes to make it right.

It's obvious from their design that these card doors in our Nikon D300S cameras are meant to remind you not to rock and roll without locking and loading.

It’s obvious from their design that these card doors in our Nikon D300S cameras are meant to remind you not to rock and roll without locking and loading.

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In Conclusion

By , March 7, 2016 5:01 pm
Annette and Wil face off last Monday for our session.

Annette and Wil face off last Monday for our session.

I was delighted that one of my students was able to purchase a new Sigma 24-105mm f/4 lens, one of Sigma's new "Art" series.

I was delighted that one of my students was able to purchase a new Sigma 24-105mm f/4 lens, one of Sigma’s new “Art” series.

I finished teaching another intermediate/advance class last week, and I hope I was able to give my students what they needed. It’s an interesting tradeoff; I can show them what inspires me and I can show then how I did it, but only they can decide what inspires them and how they can do it. Photography is an art, and it is difficult and unfair to quantify.

It's always nice to have a cooperative sky.

It’s always nice to have a cooperative sky.

We discovered that my reading glasses made a very interesting shadow.

We discovered that my reading glasses made a very interesting shadow.

I felt we had fun and productive sessions.

Over the years, my students and I have made a few different iterations of this image in the security mirror in the main lobby at the Pontotoc Technology Center.

Over the years, my students and I have made a few different iterations of this image in the security mirror in the main lobby at the Pontotoc Technology Center.

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Up Close and Personal

By , February 14, 2016 5:30 pm
This is the screw thread gauge I photographed this afternoon.

This is the screw thread gauge I photographed this afternoon.

These are my macro lenses, the AF Nikkor 60mm f/2.8, and the Tokina 100mm f/2.8. Both are excellent, sharp, fun-to-use lenses.

These are my macro lenses, the AF Nikkor 60mm f/2.8, and the Tokina 100mm f/2.8. Both are excellent, sharp, fun-to-use lenses.

Recently my wife Abby and I were working on a multi-stage garage clean-out project. One result of this is that she finds things that belonged to her father, whose life as a machinist led to him collecting thousands of tools and other items for his craft.

This is the screw gauge in my hand to provide a sense of scale.

This is the screw gauge in my hand to provide a sense of scale.

In our dusty unboxings during the past weeks, we came across a very cool little item I didn’t even know existed: a screw thread gauge. The device has dozens of little steel fins that are marked with widths in fractions of millimeters, and those fins are stacked together on a spindle so you can fan them out and measure the pitch of the threads in a screw.

You can see a notable amount of color aliasing in this 100% view of one of my frames today, created by ultra-sharp rendering of minute details.

You can see a notable amount of color aliasing in this 100% view of one of my frames today, created by ultra-sharp rendering of minute details.

Not only did I think this was a neat tool that I would probably never use, I also thought I should photograph it. I got out my two macro lenses, the AF Nikkor 60mm f/2.8, and the Tokina 100mm f/2.8. Both are wonderful lenses, and both could do the job. I chose the 60mm for no other reason than I hadn’t used it recently.

I set the thread gauge on the glass surface of my iPad, and cranked up three flash units plus the one of the camera hot shoe. I pointed one flash into a reflector to my left, one into a reflector over my right shoulder, and one in front of me to the right.

The result was pretty satisfying. Not only is the repeating pattern on the gauge intriguing, but the image ended up being dazzlingly sharp. It is so sharp, in fact, that despite my efforts to clean the gauge with compressed air before the shoot, you can see a fair amount of grime in the tiny spaces between the fins. It’s also sufficiently sharp that it created aliasing, the mixing of minute frequencies to create colors in areas of complex detail, right at the focal point.

It was fun doing this, and a nice departure from the kinds of things I shoot every day in my work.

This is another view of the screw thread gauge I photographed this afternoon.

This is another view of the screw thread gauge I photographed this afternoon.

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Yes, but What Then?

By , February 11, 2016 12:29 am
Few uses of my photographs move people more than big, powerful prints. In addition to this wall of prints in my immediate workspace at my office, the walls downstairs are covered with prints, and I seldom go more than a day or two without seeing a customer or visitor slowly strolling along looking at them.

Few uses of my photographs move people more than big, powerful prints. In addition to this wall of prints in my immediate workspace at my office, the walls downstairs are covered with prints, and I seldom go more than a day or two without seeing a customer or visitor slowly strolling along looking at them.

The third night of my Intro to Digital Photography class built around what we can do with what we have learned on the first two nights: the basic theory of how cameras work, and how to use some of our tools to create images.

Although I teach in a very Socratic fashion, I make sure that the last point I hit in the beginner class is that we can do all kinds of great things with our images, including printing them for display or publishing them in books.

Although I teach in a very Socratic fashion, I make sure that the last point I hit in the beginner class is that we can do all kinds of great things with our images, including printing them for display or publishing them in books.

In the digital age, we make a lot of images, and often that’s the end of it, because no one, absolutely no one, has time to look at 500 or 1000 of our images. I’ll go even farther and say that if you do with your images the same thing as everyone else in the 21st century, post them to social media, very few people will see them, and even if they do, they have little chance to make an impact.

Call me old school, but it is my opinion that top quality printing is the best way to create an impressive, expressive photographic product that has the potential to last for decades. The printed work not only looks great, it feels great in the hands, and when it’s new, it even smells great. It has a sense of permanence, importance, significance.

For prints, particularly display prints up to 13×19 inches, Abby and I have owned several photo-quality inkjet printers over the years, our current one being the Epson Stylus Photo 1400. It’s not at the top of the line, but we buy the best paper and ink for it, and the results are spectacular.

Creating items like books and calendars, we use Apple’s Photos app, the latest iteration of what was long-known as iPhoto. Abby’s daughter had the wedding photos we shot for her made into a book at mypublisher.com, and we were all pleased with the result, and there are many other options.

A photo book could be about anything: weddings (here or here or here, all made into books), memorials, holidays, vacations, family reunions, family and community history, anything.

I show some of our prints and books to my students not to brag on our accomplishment, but to say to them. “You can do this with your photography.”

I know so many people with collections of great images of great moments that are hiding inside a smart phone or computer, waiting to be made into something genuinely beautiful.

My wife Abby and I have books of our images made for various purposes, from travel images to individual weddings, and the look and feel of a real, printed book is much more powerful than any web gallery can ever be.

My wife Abby and I have books of our images made for various purposes, from travel images to individual weddings, and the look and feel of a real, printed book is much more powerful than any web gallery can ever be.

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2015: The Year in Pictures

By , January 20, 2016 12:07 pm

What does a year of my images at The Ada News look like? Here are some samples of my work from 2015. Assembling this entry took a lot of work, but I absolutely love it. As I worked on it, I kept thinking, “This is what I do.”

January

Wildfire, Union Valley

Wildfire, Union Valley

Teacher, Ada

Teacher, Ada

Basketball Action, Vanoss

Basketball Action, Vanoss

Sunrise, Byng

Sunrise, Byng

Basketball, Byng

Basketball, Byng

Youth Rodeo, Ada

Youth Rodeo, Ada

Wildfire, Ahloso

Wildfire, Ahloso

February

Coach, Stonewall

Coach, Stonewall

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Konawa

Basketball, Konawa

Cheerleaders, Ada

Cheerleaders, Ada

Record Breaker, Ada

Record Breaker, Ada

Selfie, Latta

Selfie, Latta

Basketball, Byng

Basketball, Byng

Manners Party, Vanoss

Manners Party, Vanoss

Basketball, Allen

Basketball, Allen

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Face Paint, Vanoss

Face Paint, Vanoss

Basketball, Byng

Basketball, Byng

March

Basketball, Stonewall

Basketball, Stonewall

Thunderstorms, Ada

Thunderstorms, Ada

Basketball, Latta

Basketball, Latta

Basketball, Latta

Basketball, Latta

Blue Heron, Ada

Blue Heron, Ada

Basketball, Stonewall

Basketball, Stonewall

Basketball Fans, Henrietta

Basketball Fans, Henrietta

Crime Scene, Ada

Crime Scene, Ada

Bulldog, Stonewall

Bulldog, Stonewall

Peach Blossom, Byng

Peach Blossom, Byng

April

Baseball, Ada

Baseball, Ada

Dog, Ada

Dog, Ada

Baseball, Vanoss

Baseball, Vanoss

Little Red Schoolhouse, Ada

Little Red Schoolhouse, Ada

Baseball, Roff

Baseball, Roff

Class, Ada

Class, Ada

May

Baseball, Byng

Baseball, Byng

Graduation Prep, Ada

Graduation Prep, Ada

Softball, Shawnee

Softball, Shawnee

Fire, Byng

Fire, Byng

Baseball, Shawnee

Baseball, Shawnee

Softball, Shawnee

Softball, Shawnee

Graduation, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Bees, Ada

Bees, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Graduation, Ada

Softball, Shawnee

Softball, Shawnee

June

Baseball Camp, Byng

Baseball Camp, Byng

New Football Coach, Ada

New Football Coach, Ada

Camp Out Day, Ada

Camp Out Day, Ada

Night of Worship, Ada

Night of Worship, Ada

Flooding, Union Valley

Flooding, Union Valley

Baseball, Ada

Baseball, Ada

Splash Park, Ada

Splash Park, Ada

July

Baseball, Ada

Baseball, Ada

Band Practice, Ada

Band Practice, Ada

Back-to-School, Ada

Back-to-School, Ada

Wildfire, Byng

Wildfire, Byng

Splash Park, Ada

Splash Park, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Independence Day, Ada

Peach Festival, Stratford

Peach Festival, Stratford

Peach Festival, Stratford

Peach Festival, Stratford

August

Softball, Tupelo

Softball, Tupelo

Baseball, Roff

Baseball, Roff

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

AdaFest, Ada

Picture Day, Allen

Picture Day, Allen

Camel Rides, Ada

Camel Rides, Ada

Camel Rides, Ada

Camel Rides, Ada

Picture Day, Ada

Picture Day, Ada

Thunderstorms, Ada

Thunderstorms, Ada

Fire, Ada

Fire, Ada

Sunset, Konawa

Sunset, Konawa

Family Fun Night, Ada

Family Fun Night, Ada

Wildfire, Galey

Wildfire, Galey

September

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Football, Stratford

Football, Stratford

1901 Fest, Ada

1901 Fest, Ada

CPR Class, Ada

CPR Class, Ada

Softball, Latta

Softball, Latta

Softball, Stonewall

Softball, Stonewall

Baseball, Latta

Baseball, Latta

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Fall Festival, Tishomingo

Fall Festival, Tishomingo

Bulldog Mascot, Sulphur

Bulldog Mascot, Sulphur

Sunrise, Ada

Sunrise, Ada

Football, Allen

Football, Allen

Wildfire, Union Valley

Wildfire, Union Valley

Pasture, Byng

Pasture, Byng

Sunset, Stratford

Sunset, Stratford

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Byng

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Byng

October

Softball, Sulphur

Softball, Sulphur

Softball, Sulphur

Softball, Sulphur

Football, Tecumseh

Football, Tecumseh

Candlelight Vigil, Ada

Candlelight Vigil, Ada

Softball, Oklahoma City

Softball, Oklahoma City

Football, Tecumseh

Football, Tecumseh

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Blue Heron, Ada

Blue Heron, Ada

Softball Fans, Oklahoma City

Softball Fans, Oklahoma City

Zombies for Piece March, Ada

Zombies for Piece March, Ada

Crepuscular Rays, Ada

Crepuscular Rays, Ada

November

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Veterans Day, Ada

Veterans Day, Ada

Football, Ada

Football, Ada

Basketball, Roff

Basketball, Roff

Football, Stratford

Football, Stratford

Autumn Sunshine, Ada

Autumn Sunshine, Ada

December

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Stratford Football, Choctaw

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Basketball, Ada

Bonfire, Byng

Bonfire, Byng

Carolers, Ada

Carolers, Ada

Foggy Morning, Byng

Foggy Morning, Byng

Parade of Lights, Ada

Parade of Lights, Ada

Parade of Lights, Ada

Parade of Lights, Ada

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Down the Infraroad

By , January 13, 2016 1:16 pm
My Sony F828 camera makes an exposure through a 720nm infrared filter yesterday.

My Sony F828 camera makes an exposure through a 720nm infrared filter yesterday.

Four years ago I posted a piece about experimenting with infrared imaging, making photographs with visible light filtered out to some degree. The camera I used at the time was the bulky, heavy, cumbersome Kodak DCS720x, which I selected because it has a removable infrared filter, which, when removed, allowed infrared energy through to the sensor.

That camera, though, is a dinosaur, and while I was getting to know its infrared abilities, I simply never brought it anywhere.

I made this far-infrared image at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa a few years ago, and was intrigued by the result, but not as happy with the camera, the heavy, cumbersome Kodak DCS720x.

I made this far-infrared image at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa a few years ago, and was intrigued by the result, but not as happy with the camera, the heavy, cumbersome Kodak DCS720x.

With my infrared experiments at a standstill, I was searching for something else not long ago and came across a YouTube video of a photographer who showed us how to make infrared images with the Sony Cybershop F828, using a magnet to move the IR-blocking filter out of the optical path. I was interested.

I grabbed my F828, which I bought on eBay for $50, a tripod, and my 720nm filter, and set out to see if this camera might be the one to deliver. I played around with it for a few minutes, making a few images from the front porch. Unlike the Kodak, the Sony is a live view camera, so I could actually see an image in the viewfinder.

I’ll let my readers decide if the result is interesting.

This is the result of yesterday's quick infrared experiment. It only required a few simple steps in Photoshop to make it visually interesting.

This is the result of yesterday’s quick infrared experiment. It only required a few simple steps in Photoshop to make it visually interesting.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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