We Love Lenses

My photographer friend Robert was in town this weekend, and we did the photographer thing, including a photo shoot Robert did for some of his fellow church friends.

Robert and I share a slightly out-of-balance love for lenses. Lenses are beautiful and interesting. Lenses tease our imaginations. We desire lenses, all lenses, even lenses we don’t really think we will use.

Robert made this image of me yesterday at Ada's Wintersmith Park. I am holding his Nikon D300 with a well-used 50mm f/1.8 on it. On my left shoulder is one of my Nikon D300S cameras with the excellent 35mm f/1.8 lens, and my right should has my Nikon D3 slung with no lens, as a camera in reserve.
Robert made this image of me yesterday at Ada’s Wintersmith Park. I am holding his Nikon D300 with a well-used 50mm f/1.8 on it. On my left shoulder is one of my Nikon D300S cameras with the excellent 35mm f/1.8 lens, and my right should has my Nikon D3 slung with no lens, as a camera in reserve.

Add this to the fact that I currently have a photography student who has designs on owning the entire line of current Fujifilm lenses, and the fact that Robert brought essentially all of his lenses when he visited, and that today I received a delivery of a very cool lens I bought on eBay, and the result is a kind of lens mania.

This is the front view of the Fujifilm X-T10 with my new used 18mm f/2.0. First glance use of this lens is all positive.
This is the front view of the Fujifilm X-T10 with my new used 18mm f/2.0. First glance use of this lens is all positive.

The lens I bought is one of the oldest Fujifilm lenses, an 18mm f/2.0. I was interested in it for several reasons: it is very small and lightweight, it wasn’t very expensive, it’s a nice wide angle without being ultrawide, and, lastly, because I was very inspired by the work my young friend Mackenzee has been doing with her Fuji X100V, which is equipped with a 23mm f/2.0 lens.

The 18mm f/2.0 is a ten-year-old design, which is why it was so inexpensive. It includes an odd-looking square tunnel hood, which works fine for me.
The 18mm f/2.0 is a ten-year-old design, which is why it was so inexpensive. It includes an odd-looking square tunnel hood, which works fine for me.

I’ve only had this 18mm for a couple of hours, but it’s appears to be the lens I expected it to be. On my Fuji X-T10, it makes a very small package that is as light as it is inconspicuous. Focus is quick but a bit chattery, and the few frames I put through it look great.

At least one internet review of this lens says it is only for the Fuji X-Pro1 and X-E1, but that is not the case. It appears to work fine on my X-T10.

Here is a "test frame," which barely counts as a photograph since I believe in shooting with a lens in the real world to get a feel for its strengths and weaknesses, but you can see it has nice sharpness and selective focus. This was shot at f/2.0, which I expect will be the most common aperture I use with this lens.
Here is a “test frame,” which barely counts as a photograph since I believe in shooting with a lens in the real world to get a feel for its strengths and weaknesses, but you can see it has nice sharpness and selective focus. This was shot at f/2.0, which I expect will be the most common aperture I use with this lens.

I expect I’ll make it part of my travel kit, not my news kit, since I tend to be pretty rough when shooting news. But watch this space for many more efforts to come with this combination!

This side view emphasizes how compact the 18mm on the Fuji X-T10 is. Build is sturdy like all of Fuji's mirrorless lenses.
This side view emphasizes how compact the 18mm on the Fuji X-T10 is. Build is sturdy like all of Fuji’s mirrorless lenses.

Few and Far

Here are some images that I generated over the past few months around the house and the patch of Oklahoma where I live.

Counting out .22lr rounds before some target practice
Counting out .22lr rounds before some target practice
Bird house at the neighbor's, shot with Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 at f/1.8.
Bird house at the neighbor’s, shot with Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 at f/1.8.
This parfait glass was stored upside down for a decade, and collected a thick patina of dust.
This parfait glass was stored upside down for a decade, and collected a thick patina of dust.
A shiny metal kettle hangs in a tree, waiting for a bird to occupy as its new home.A shiny metal kettle hangs in a tree, waiting for a bird to occupy as its new home.
A shiny metal kettle hangs in a tree, waiting for a bird to occupy as its new home.
This view of my living room is both bold and evocative.
This view of my living room is both bold and evocative.
Ball point pens grab morning light.
Ball point pens grab morning light.
A spider's web catches some sun at the golden moment, shot with the Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 at f/1.8 on my Fuji mirrorless camera.
A spider’s web catches some sun at the golden moment, shot with the Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 at f/1.8 on my Fuji mirrorless camera.
Tiny bubbles form in a wine glass.
Tiny bubbles form in a wine glass.

Late Summer Monochrome

The small dog casts a long shadow.
The small dog casts a long shadow.
Balloons can be pretty without their colors.
Balloons can be pretty without their colors.
This little girl was at the family reunion.
This little girl was at the family reunion.
I spotted this in a museum, so it is technically someone else's art.
I spotted this in a museum, so it is technically someone else’s art.
Mirrors in a deep blue sky are bold in black and white.
Mirrors in a deep blue sky are bold in black and white.
I don't know who else is listening, but I am.
I don’t know who else is listening, but I am.
Knock knock.
Knock knock.
My tiny dogs looks very small at the start of this long hallway.
My tiny dogs looks very small at the start of this long hallway.

Prints Make Pictures More Real

This is one of several renderings of images I made three years ago in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. It prints beautifully.
This is one of several renderings of images I made three years ago in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. It prints beautifully.

As anyone and everyone knows, most pictures viewed by human beings every day are viewed on screens of one kind or another. Important exceptions are, of course, my own newspaper, which is always better viewed in print, and many more visually-oriented publications.

It’s fun to share images on social media or, preferably, here on my own website, but without a doubt, when I have an image that I really love, a nice big print of it can really bring it to life.

For a long time, I had a very nice large-format printer, and printed quite a few images, but it died a couple of years ago, so I switched to ordering prints online, which, though they lack to immediacy and quality-control of in-house printing, are actually very good, and, when you consider the cost of inkjet ink, quite a lot cheaper.

Both my home and my office are filled with my images. I love the feeling of living in a gallery.
Both my home and my office are filled with my images. I love the feeling of living in a gallery.

Recently, my printer of choice for paper prints, and items like calendars and books, has been shutterfly.com.

While looking over prints to hang on my walls at home, I remembered a product that was all the rage when it came out in the early 1980s: Kodak Elite Fine-Art Paper. It was a wonderful product, and delivered on its promise of super-rich tonal qualities on an extra-luxurious fiber-based paper. But like all great things from Kodak, it is just a memory, and, at least on the web, not a well-preserved memory. My photographer friends in college tried it, but it was so expensive that we could only buy a few sheets at a time. As far as I know, I don’t have any images in my collection made with this product.

If you have an image or three that you really love, consider having it printed really big, frame it, and display it in your home or workplace. Or if you are not a photographer, consider purchasing art from a local vendor at something like an arts festival, gathering place, or even on the street, then display it. I promise it will mean so much more than something you flashed past on your phone.

I lighted and shot the San Francisco de Asís Mission Church in Rancho de Taos for nearly an hour in various light and compositions, and many of them, including this one, looked great. A fresh print of this scene hangs in my living room right now.
I lighted and shot the San Francisco de Asís Mission Church in Rancho de Taos for nearly an hour in various light and compositions, and many of them, including this one, looked great. A fresh print of this scene hangs in my living room right now.

Terrifying and Wonderful

On evening photo walks, I tend to follow the same path on which I walk the dogs, counterclockwise as seen from above, mostly out of habit. The first thing I found were these overgrown Virginia creeper vines on the backyard fence.
On evening photo walks, I tend to follow the same path on which I walk the dogs, counterclockwise as seen from above, mostly out of habit. The first thing I found were these overgrown Virginia creeper vines on the backyard fence.

“For you life is a long trip
Terrifying and wonderful
Birds sing to you at night
The rain and the sun
The changing seasons are true friends
Solitude is a hard won ally
Faithful and patient…”
~Henry Rollins

This week our patch of the world is looking especially green and healthy. In it, I walk my dogs, trim branches, mow, and, if there is time and the light looks inviting, grab a camera.

One of my favorite focal lengths is 85mm. In fact, not counting zoom lenses that pass through the 85mm focal length, I own three 85mm lenses. The one I grabbed for this walk in the pasture was the 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor of 1980’s vintage, a wonderful lens with virtually no vices. It’s sharp, bright, light, and is so well made that just holding it in my hands reminds me why I love cameras and lenses.

This was the lens combo I grabbed for my evening pasture walk: the Nikon D7100 with the 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor on it.
This was the lens combo I grabbed for my evening pasture walk: the Nikon D7100 with the 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor on it.

Last week I found a largish water snake in the back yard. To me, snakes are beautiful and very helpful in keeping nature in balance, and the only time I ever destroy a snake is if I think it is venomous or threatening my neighbor’s chickens.

A lot of people are afraid of snakes, but this one, probably a common watersnake, is doing its job controlling the rodent population. I would rather have him in the shed than mice.
A lot of people are afraid of snakes, but this one, probably a common watersnake, is doing its job controlling the rodent population. I would rather have him in the shed than mice.
It's nice to see Indian paintbrush in the pasture. It was my wife Abby's favorite flower.
It’s nice to see Indian paintbrush in the pasture. It was my wife Abby’s favorite flower.
The wild blackberry bramble at the back of the property grows bigger each year. These blackberries are starting to ripen.
The wild blackberry bramble at the back of the property grows bigger each year. These blackberries are starting to ripen.
I have cherry, plum and peach trees just south of the house by the garden, and this year it looks like I'll have quite a few peaches. Mine aren't ripe yet, but my neighbor's are just now ripening.
I have cherry, plum and peach trees just south of the house by the garden, and this year it looks like I’ll have quite a few peaches. Mine aren’t ripe yet, but my neighbor’s are just now ripening.
My neighbors have this gorgeous great pyrenees / mastiff named Oscar who loves my dogs and follows us around when I walk them. Oscar looks especially majestic in this patch of black-eyed Susans.
My neighbors have this gorgeous great pyrenees / mastiff named Oscar who loves my dogs and follows us around when I walk them. Oscar looks especially majestic in this patch of black-eyed Susans.

At the end of the evening, I came across a large tarantula. Despite a lizard-brain, visceral fear of spiders, I know these, like snakes, are part of a healthy ecosystem, so I shooed him out of the yard into the pasture.

This is an example of athe Texas brown tarantula, also known as Oklahoma brown tarantula or Missouri tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi). We didn't shoot it; the gun barrel is held up for scale.
This is an example of the Texas brown tarantula, also known as Oklahoma brown tarantula or Missouri tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi). We didn’t shoot it; the gun barrel is held up for scale.
Rose-of-Sharon is a beautiful, easy-to-grow shrub that I never get tired of photographing.
Rose-of-Sharon is a beautiful, easy-to-grow shrub that I never get tired of photographing.

Children of a Lesser Nikon

One of the biggest reasons my generation of photographers started with Nikon was their absolutely fantastic lenses. They were well-built, solid, heavy, and made incredible images.

Abby Barron photographs prairie dogs with the AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G at Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming, in the summer of 2005.
Abby Barron photographs prairie dogs with the AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G at Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming, in the summer of 2005.

To stay competitive starting in the late 1990s, however, Nikon had to take some serious shortcuts, one of which was the extensive use of plastic in the bodies of many of their lenses.

The AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G is one such lens. I originally bought this lens for my wife as part of a “kit,” married to a Nikon D70S and an 18-70mm lens. For years, she shot with these lenses at family reunions or on road trips. Eventually, we replaced her two-lens kit with a single lens, a Tamron 18-250mm, which, while not all that great optically, greatly simplified the logistics of her photography: every lens she needed was at her fingertips with a simple turn of a zoom ring.

I spotted the modest 70-300mm sadly gathering dust on a shelf recently, and put it into my workflow, only to be instantly reminded of its shortcomings.

So why is the 70-300mm, and other lenses like it, weaker than other lenses in this same category? It is missing a single item: extra-low dispersion glass. Nikon calls this “ED” glass, and even though my other 70-300mm had just one small ED glass element, it makes a noticeable difference.

ED glass fixes one of the most vexing problems with telephoto lenses: secondary chromatic aberrations, which are green and magenta color fringes on some edges of some images.

I made this image of Ada tennis coach Terry Swopes at a recent tournament. You can see all the flaws of the AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G in this image: it isn’t very sharp, it is littered with green and magenta fringing, and the “bokeh,” the quality of the out-of-focus area, is incredible ratty.
I made this image of Ada tennis coach Terry Swopes at a recent tournament. You can see all the flaws of the AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G in this image: it isn’t very sharp, it is littered with green and magenta fringing, and the “bokeh,” the quality of the out-of-focus area, is incredible ratty.

One thing this lens has going for it is it’s weight: it is so light on the camera that you might think it’s not even there.

Despite its flaws, I’m not going to get rid of this lens. If you know what to do, you can make pretty decent images with it. 1. Don’t shoot it at 300mm. Optical quality starts to deteriorate at about 200mm, and 300mm is a wreck. 2. Always stop it down a little. “Stopping down” means using a lens with the aperture set smaller than wide open. Most lenses are sharper stopped down a little, but it makes a big difference with this class of lenses. 3. Be patient with autofocus. Lenses with smallish maximum apertures tend to cause autofocus to hunt and wander, looking for right right spot to be in focus.

If you have a lens like this, shoot with it and decide if it is doing the job for you, or if you should think about replacing it with something larger, heavier and more expensive, but much more capable.

AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G set to 300mm.
AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G set to 300mm.

Four Decades with Nikon

Last week at the Oklahoma City Tennis Center, I was photographing a young Ada High School Cougar named Eden Boggs competing in the state tournament. Her opponent’s coach looked over at me and asked, “What lens is that?”

I told him it was a 300mm, and it was my workhorse lens for all sports in the spring and fall.

My workhorse long lens is the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4.
My workhorse long lens is the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4.

“It’s a Nikon?” he asked. I told him it was, and that I’d used Nikon equipment my whole career.

“Well,” he said, “I started with Sony so I still have Sony.”

I told him it was the same for me, ever since I bought my first Nikon camera, a Nikon FM, when I was in college in the spring of 1982.

Hm. 2022 minus 1982 = …yeah, my math must be off. Does that really equal 40?

Fun fact: since I had only my allowance and a part-time gig selling photos to Student Publications, I seldom had much money, so one month I bought the Nikon FM, then the next month I bought a 50mm for it, then a 28mm, then a 105mm. By the time I had my first newspaper internship, in May 1982, I had just barely enough gear to do the job.

The photography scene has certainly changed since then. In college, there was usually a week or two between shooting an image and actually seeing it. For the two summers I worked as a newspaper photography intern, shot-to-print times, due to deadlines, were usually a matter of hours or minutes. But neither offered the obvious advantage of instant review that digital gives us.

In the early digital era, there was a tendency for photographers to switch systems – sell all their gear from one brand and buy new gear from another brand – as technology matured very quickly, and camera companies introduced technically better products, leapfrogging over the competition for a while. That still goes on, but not like it did in the early-2000s, since some of the first digital cameras (the Nikon D1, the first Canon 1D, the Fujifilm Finepix S1 Pro) were quickly eclipsed by newer models with dramatically improved performance.

I never switched systems, since I was busy making pictures with what was in my hands, and since I started with Nikons, I stayed with Nikons.

This is a collection of some of my earliest Nikon cameras and lenses.
This is a collection of some of my earliest Nikon cameras and lenses.

How to Get a $5000 Camera for $500

One might think that this is an ad for one of those auction sites that claims, “I got this name-brand laptop for just $37!” But it’s not. Yes, I am up to my oldest trick: buying used gear for a small fraction of the original price.

The Nikon D3 sits tall on a tripod in my home studio tonight.
The Nikon D3 sits tall on a tripod in my home studio tonight.

What is it this week? I bought a Nikon D3 for just $500, thanks to some credit sitting in my Paypal account. Originally in 2007 it went for the actual MSRP of $4,999.95 (who imagines this is less than $5000?). The Nikon D3 is an absolute dream camera for someone like me who shoots news and sports in all conditions at all times of day. It’s got everything I need: clean high-ISOs, fast autofocus, long battery life, great handling, super-fast frame rate, good color, rock-solid build, and on and on.

If you use any Nikon DSLR made in the last 20 years, you will have no problems running the D3.
If you use any Nikon DSLR made in the last 20 years, you will have no problems running the D3.

Cameras like this are getting rock-bottom cheap thanks to the migration to mirrorless cameras. I have a camera in the mirrorless class, a Fujifilm X-T10, which I really love, but despite it being new just six years ago, it, too, was cheap on the used market.

Read more thoughts about that camera and mirrorless here (link).

The Nikon D3 has two Compact Flash (CF) card slots. You can program most two-card cameras to use the cards how you want, and I program mine to both write the same data so if one card dies, the other is a back-up.
The Nikon D3 has two Compact Flash (CF) card slots. You can program most two-card cameras to use the cards how you want, and I program mine to both write the same data to each card, so if one card dies, the other is a back-up.

Nikon’s latest mirrorless, the Z9, is incredible, as is Sony’s flagship camera, the A1, but I am finding that in recent years, cameras are quickly outclassing most photographers, whose photography, like mine, could be done with cheaper, uglier gear.

That is one reason I am unhesitant about buying well-used gear, especially gear that really looks used: I will be beating up on it from the moment it arrives, and every new camera I get looks like an old camera in less that six months.

I guess the question is: what if it breaks in six months or a year? New cameras have warranties and last longer! For $500, I’ve gotten my money’s worth in no time, and could replace it if I needed to with another $500 beater. And because I don’t feel like I have to treat it like a Ming dynasty vase, I’m not afraid to take a $500 camera to the house fires and severe thunderstorms and football sidelines in the rain.

I intend to throw this camera into the mix starting tomorrow.

With my use of the Nikon D700 in the last couple of years, my older AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D has rapidly become my favorite wide angle lens, and I expect it will see plenty of use on my new used Nikon D3.
With my use of the Nikon D700 in the last couple of years, my older AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D has rapidly become my favorite wide angle lens, and I expect it will see plenty of use on my new used Nikon D3.

Another Walk in the Park

The sun peeks through grey clouds, with just a trace of color.
The sun peeks through grey clouds, with just a trace of color.

You can say many things about Ada, Oklahoma, but one thing everyone says about it is that Francis Wintersmith Park is a jewel, an asset many communities don’t have.

Last week I had the chance to poke around Wintersmith Park with my photographer friends Mackenzee and Robert (link). We had fun, and it was a sunny afternoon I felt was best expressed by shooting in monochrome.

Later in the week, photographer Dan Marsh visited, so we walked in the park again, this time in the evening as it matured into the blue hour. I shot the entire walk with my Nikon D3000 and it’s perfectly-matched AF-S 35mm f/1.8 Nikkor.

These numbers were carved in the back of a park bench behind WIntersmith Lodge.
These numbers were carved in the back of a park bench behind WIntersmith Lodge.
As the blue hour progresses, streetlight begins to shine more on the water of Wintersmith Creek.
As the blue hour progresses, streetlight begins to shine more on the water of Wintersmith Creek.
This view looks straight down at a rusty stand that had been cut off many years before and allowed to rust. I guess this was the mount for an outdoor charcoal grill.
This view looks straight down at a rusty stand that had been cut off many years before and allowed to rust. I guess this was the mount for an outdoor charcoal grill.
As on the walk earlier in the week, we found more locks on the fence above Wintersmith dam.
As on the walk earlier in the week, we found more locks on the fence above Wintersmith dam.
I went a little wild in this single-frame High Dynamic Range image of a tree I have tried to photograph mostly unsuccessfully for more than 30 years.
I went a little wild in this single-frame High Dynamic Range image of a tree I have tried to photograph mostly unsuccessfully for more than 30 years.
This water fountain near Firefly Cabin takes on blue light from the sky.
This water fountain near Firefly Cabin takes on blue light from the sky.

Monochrome Challenge: A Walk in the Park

Robert Stinson photographs Mackenzee Crosby during our photo walk in Ada's Wintersmith Park last week.
Robert Stinson photographs Mackenzee Crosby during our photo walk in Ada’s Wintersmith Park last week.

With the recent death of my wife of 17 years, Abby, I had a few days off to unwind and organize.

Robert discusses composition as we make our way through Ada's WIntersmith Park.
Robert discusses composition as we make our way through Ada’s WIntersmith Park.
It has become a "thing" in recent years to write your name or initials on a lock and lock it to the fence on the bridge over Wintersmith dam, probably to the annoyance of City officials.
It has become a “thing” in recent years to write your name or initials on a lock and lock it to the fence on the bridge over Wintersmith dam, probably to the annoyance of City officials.

Fellow photographers Robert Stinson and Mackenzee Crosby met last week for a bite, then a photo walk in Ada’s famous Francis Wintersmith Park.

Mackenzee photographs one of the drain pipes at the base of Wintersmith dam.
Mackenzee photographs one of the drain pipes at the base of Wintersmith dam.

I make pictures with a lot of different photographers as a photojournalist, which is very fun, but I also like stepping out of that box and being a different photographer sometimes.

Robert and Mackenzee look up for me as we photograph the base of Wintersmith dam. The water shapes on the face of the cement remind me of ancient native American pictographs.
Robert and Mackenzee look up for me as we photograph the base of Wintersmith dam. The water shapes on the face of the cement remind me of ancient native American pictographs.

An odd observation about that: photographers relax by being different photographers, airline pilots relax by flying their Cessnas and Piper Cubs, writers relax by setting aside their novel and working on their poetry instead.

Mackenzee flashes a smile at something funny and/or sarcastic Robert said. This image has everything in it I love about my vintage manual-focus 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor.
Mackenzee flashes a smile at something funny and/or sarcastic Robert said. This image has everything in it I love about my vintage manual-focus 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor.

Robert, Mackenzee and I are three very different photographers from each other, though we share some common ground, the love of image-making and self-expression.

Robert and Mackenzee prowl the creek bed below Wintersmith dam.
Robert and Mackenzee prowl the creek bed below Wintersmith dam.
Tree roots mimic snakes in the creek.
Tree roots mimic snakes in the creek.
Mackenzee runs her Fujifilm X100V at the creek. I had the chance to review her camera last year, and concluded it was an amazing piece of hardware.
Mackenzee runs her Fujifilm X100V at the creek. I had the chance to review her camera last year, and concluded it was an amazing piece of hardware.
Robert holds his iPhone upside down to get the lens as close to the water as possible.
Robert holds his iPhone upside down to get the lens as close to the water as possible.

For this occasion I decided to shoot in monochrome, both because the type of images I was making were less about color and more about light and composition, and because both cameras I was using, the Nikon D7100 and the Fujifilm X-T10, both have excellent monochrome rendering capabilities.

Robert leans on a tree as the three of us explore the creek below Wintersmith dam.
Robert leans on a tree as the three of us explore the creek below Wintersmith dam.

My Fuji wore the 16-50mm kit lens, and the Nikon wore the 1980s-vintage 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor. I especially love the look of images made with the 85mm, and it’s good to keep my manual focusing skills sharp.

Robert uses caution. The light in this image is amazing because the air was so clear and the flora had not yet filled out for spring.
Robert uses caution. The light in this image is amazing because the air was so clear and the flora had not yet filled out for spring.

At one point we did an old familiar challenge: each of us picks another one to pose for a portrait. Mackenzee photographed me, Robert photographed Mackenzee, and I photographed Robert.

This is my "portrait" of Robert.
This is my “portrait” of Robert.
Robert photographed Mackenzee and me as we review some images over a cold drink at Starbucks after our photo walk.
Robert photographed Mackenzee and me as we review some images over a cold drink at Starbucks after our photo walk.

When HDR Goes Oops!

I use a couple of high dynamic range (HDR) programs to give an edge to my images once in a while. I really like Photomatix Pro, but I also take advantage of HDR in apps like Lightroom Classic.

HDR works by taking highlights from underexposed images and shadows from overexposed images and blending them together. The more exposures of a single scene you have, the more an HDR program can help. I usually shoot about five images of a scene at five different exposures when I am planning to use HDR.

I tell my photography students that HDR can be very useful, but it can also wreck an image pretty easily.

I wrecked an image just today, with interesting results…

Note how the out-of-focus highlights have shapes within their shapes, and a huge amount of noise in the gaps between the two shapes.
Note how the out-of-focus highlights have shapes within their shapes, and a huge amount of noise in the gaps between the two shapes.

I set up to photograph a handheld Citizens Band radio in my home studio, using a combination of window light, LED lights, and, in the background, Christmas lights. I made the first exposure mostly accidentally, shot at a super-low ISO and a very small aperture, as it had been set for an entirely different scene. On the camera monitor, I saw it was almost black and might have grumbled at myself for missing the exposure. The next frame was about right, using a higher ISO and, more significantly, a much larger aperture.

When I saw the frames next to each other in Lightroom, I told myself that I would merge these images just to see how bad the result might be, and yes, it’s bad. But, I always tell myself, it doesn’t hurt to try different things.

The internet got kinda crazy years ago with HDR when it first hit the scene, but  it simmered down after a year or two and became a useful tool in the toolbox.

HDR is a great tool to have in the toolbox, as long as you use it wisely. HDR made this image possible, helping me blend the brighter evening sky with the contrasty details of the adobe church in Rancho de Taos, New Mexico in June 2021.
HDR is a great tool to have in the toolbox, as long as you use it wisely. HDR made this image possible, helping me blend the brighter evening sky with the contrasty details of the adobe church in Rancho de Taos, New Mexico in June 2021.

The Ethics and Reality of News Photography

There was a fair amount of concern and consternation this week about a photographer who had re-staged a moment in a news coverage situation.

The incident in question happened at an anti-mask protest in January. The photographer is accused of staging a photograph of a child throwing a mask into a smoldering trash can where protesters had burned their own masks.

Oddly, much of the time, manipulating a photo of a moment fails to improve on the real image or session.

So, have I ever manipulated a news photo? By the standard of the National Press Photographers Association’s Code of Ethics, no.

But.

Often my own presence and the presence of other journalists directly affects the event. In a strictly feature situation, people are tempted to pose for me. Sometimes they’ll tell their children to pose for me. That’s fine, but it does interrupt the moment, and changes the image from a photo of what’s going on to a photo of people posing for a photo.

But in a straight news situation, that is less likely. Firefighters aren’t likely to stop rolling up their hoses to pose for me. Police aren’t likely to grin at me when they’re stringing crime-scene tape.

But I have noticed a tendency in my journalistic environment for people who know me, and know what I’m doing, to move out of the way without my asking them to. I know they’re just trying to help, but sometimes that can be frustrating, especially when I am shooting with a very wide angle lens and am using people in the foreground to express that near-far relationship that can help lead the reader/viewer into the image.

But then, the water of photojournalism can get a little muddy: what if I move one direction or another to emphasize the smoke at a wildfire? What if I choose a super-telephoto to show how far traffic backed up at a car crash? What if I use a slow shutter speed to express motion?

To some degree, in those ways and more, every photograph we make has some element of manipulation.

My photographer friends Courtney Morehead and Abby Machetta make pictures at a basketball game last year. They aren't strictly news photographers, so the rules about manipulation don't really apply to them.
My photographer friends Courtney Morehead and Abby Machetta make pictures at a basketball game last year. They aren’t strictly news photographers, so the rules about manipulation don’t really apply to them.

Lightroom Presets

As a professional photographer, I spend nearly as much time editing images as I do in the field shooting them. My main photo editing tool is Adobe’s Lightroom.

Most of my editing is very straightforward, leaning heavily toward preserving editorial integrity. As a result, like hopefully many photographers representing themselves as journalists, I will be producing content that tells the truth.

History is full of pictures that lie. You only have to rewind one generation to find a photograph that was used both ways, as a true record of history, and as a manipulated, tainted fabrication: the Time vs Newsweek use of the police booking photograph of O.J. Simpson. One was right out of the police files, and the other was very obviously changed to create a prejudicial, unfair, compromised impression. I’ll leave it to you to look up the offending images; it only took me 10 seconds to find them side-by-side.

To that end, I have always been hesitant to over-edit my images. It is one thing to crop an image and clean it up with color balance, noise reduction, and sharpening, and entirely another to doctor an image to fool our readers. All photography is manipulation to some degree, but I don’t doctor images for our newspaper.

Personal photography remains more flexible, especially when I am trying to create moods, atmospheres, and memories. One interesting aspect of this kind of editing is the inclusion of dozens of presets that come with Adobe’s Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, and Photoshop, with the ability to buy and install thousands more. These presets can control any aspect of editing, from white balance and vignetting, to saturation and noise reduction.

Here is the original image of my wife with her Chihuahua Summer on a beautiful summer night in 2019.
Here is the original image of my wife with her Chihuahua Summer on a beautiful summer night in 2019.

Adobe users can also create their own presets, which is the way I’ve operated in the Adobe ecosystem since my first Photoshop experience in the mid-1990s.

Downloadable, installable presets are often bundled as specific packages, like night photography presets, landscape presets, or portraiture presets.

Between having COVID in January, and being cooped up for a few days here and there with inclement weather, I’ve had the opportunity to play with hundreds of these presets, and it’s been more fun than practical. I think for most of my photography, I’ll probably stick to creating my own presets, which I hope to expand in the coming months to include better color, noise, and sharpening settings.

If you get the chance to play around with Lightroom or Photoshop presets, by all means, give it a try. It’s fun!

Of course there are about a zillion black-and-white options in the presets.
Of course there are about a zillion black-and-white options in the presets.
This preset emphasized dynamic range of the image, somewhat bringing out the shadows and subduing the highlights.
This preset emphasized dynamic range of the image, somewhat bringing out the shadows and subduing the highlights.
This image was made with a downloaded “Orange and Teal” preset.
This image was made with a downloaded “Orange and Teal” preset.
This preset amped the contrast and desaturated the color; very interesting.
This preset amped the contrast and desaturated the color; very interesting.

The Truth about Sensor Size

Life is full of foolish myths, ideas that get planted into our brains by rumor or gossip or misperception, and seem to endure.

One of those myths in photography is that sensor size affects depth of field. I hear it all the time in class, in the field, and, of course, on the internet.

The widely held notion is that larger imaging sensors create shallower depth-of-field, and that’s simply not the truth.

Take a look at this example.

Cameras and Christmas lights.
Cameras and Christmas lights.
Christmas lights and cameras.
Christmas lights and cameras.

Okay, here is the real truth: these images are identical… same focal length, same aperture, same shutter speed, same ISO, same lighting, same distance from camera to subject. Literally the only difference is the sensor size. Look all your want, and then try to guess which one is 36x24mm sensor, and which is made with a 24x16mm sensor.

But how can these images be identical? Doesn’t everyone, everywhere know that larger sensors create shallower depth of field? Shouldn’t I “upgrade” to a bigger sensor to get shallower depth of field?

No. What’s really happening is that when you switch from a smaller sensor to a larger one, in order to create the same composition, you either have to move closer, which creates shallower depth of field, or you have to use a longer focal length, which creates shallower depth of field.

I know I’m not going to change the world’s mind about this, since it is so ingrained in the psyche of photography, but maybe at least a few curious, budding photographers out there will figure it out.

Did 35mm Film Revolutionize News Photography?

In this screenshot from the movie We Were Soldiers, a photographer makes pictures of a U.S. flag after the battle. 35mm news photography matured in the 1960s due in part to the demands of photographing the Vietnam War.
In this screenshot from the movie We Were Soldiers, a photographer makes pictures of a U.S. flag after the battle. 35mm news photography matured in the 1960s due in part to the demands of photographing the Vietnam War.

For my entire career photographing news and sports, I have thought again and again about doing more of my work on medium format film as a supplement to the day-to-day 35mm film product.

Medium format is a class of film sizes between 35mm and large format sheet film.

I tried it for a while in the 1990s with my Fujifilm GW670iii, and way back in the day at the Shawnee News-Star, with a Rolleiflex T and Mamiya C330.

I bought the Fujifilm in the early 1990s as kind of a “fine art” camera, but I also shot some news with it.

The Fuji was bulky, only had one focal length, made just 10 frames on a roll of 120 film, and created some fairly significant obstacles when shooting by not having a light meter in it, and by its skinny aperture and shutter dials mounted on the lens. In addition, it had a lot of plastic; I once had to send it away to fix the wind knob.

Rolleiflex T and Mamiya C330 were even more awkward to use with the waist-level viewfinder, which required a special skill set to shoot looking down into the viewfinder hood, where everything is reversed left-to-right.

Most 120 and other medium-format cameras have very cumbersome systems for loading film compared to the ease of 35mm.

But the good thing about these cameras is that the negatives I got from then were beautiful, with gorgeous detail and tonal qualities that 35mm never quite mastered.

One thing all these medium-format cameras have in common: by the time we got rid of them, they were garage-sale junk, but today are commanding very premium prices because they continue to get scarcer, and have found a niche with millenials, who seem willing to pay anything to be sometimes pretentiously edgy and/or nerdy.

I thought of this lately as I have been rewatching the amazing 10-part documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, which features a lot of news photography.

The parts are chronological, and if you put the images in context with other cameras and photographers in the scene, there is a very obvious change in the number, and quality, in these images. As news photography matured, it moved inexorably toward 35mm.

The fact that there were more images available was due to the fact that 35mm rolls can be 36 exposures in length, where medium format’s longest rolls were, depending on the camera, 15 frames.

And better quality? Wait, Richard, don’t you get better pictures with large film? Yes, you do, but the process slows you down too much for covering news (which is also a reason digital took the market away from film.) In many ways, quality in news photography is the quality of being there and getting an image.

When I left the Shawnee News-Star I should have bought or borrowed those TLR’s from the News-Star. My hope is that some collector has those cameras, and my fear is that they, like thousands or millions of old, perfectly good, cameras are gather dust in the bottom of a closet somewhere, or rusting at the bottom of the dump.

This is my Nikon F3 with my rare and excellent 25-50mm f/4 on it. I sold it about 15 years ago, and kinda miss it ever since.
This is my Nikon F3 with my rare and excellent 25-50mm f/4 on it. I sold it about 15 years ago, and kinda miss it ever since.