My wife Abby has been in the hospital for a couple of days. She’s getting better, and we hope she comes home tomorrow, but in the mean time, since I can’t visit her due to the pandemic, I have been fooling around with some Christmas Lights.
One of the core goals of sports photography is to capture the moment of conflict, which, by its very nature, is at the heart of athletic competition.
Presently, we are in the heart of the basketball season; finishing the regular season and moving into playoffs.
Capturing the moment of conflict can be elusive. Often inexperienced photographers will shoot dozens or hundreds of frames in a row trying to capture it, the so-called “spray and pray” method, but that usually results in a mess of inconsistent frames and an editing nightmare afterwards.
A better approach is to learn about the sport you are covering, and learn to anticipate when and where the action will happen. With basketball, there are a lot of places to be, but I have a lot of success watching players drive toward the basket, where the other team will try to stop them.
There are a lot of camera and lens options for photographing basketball, but in the last couple of years, I’ve been going to my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G. It’s not as versatile as a big zoom, but it’s lightweight, super sharp, and fast to focus. As I get older, the biggest selling point is its weight.
An unwritten rule in photojournalism for my entire career is that we like to have the ball in the photo somewhere. I’ve relaxed that rule somewhat in my photography, somewhat because we can use so many more photos in our newspaper than we could years ago.
I’m also all about faces and expressions, which tell the story better than anything.
Photographing sports is a lot of fun. It gets more fun when we start to get better results.
January 2021 has seen some extraordinary developments in camera technology, including the introduction of the 50 megapixel, 30-frames-per-second Sony A1, and the 102 megapixel medium format Fujifilm GFX100S.
It certainly represents interesting times in photography. Numbers like these are an answer where there wasn’t a question: photographers can rightly say they needed more pixels and higher frame rates 15 years ago, when the best cameras sported 8 to 10 megapixel sensors shooting at 5 frames per second. But today, we are adding layers and layers of overkill that most of us don’t really need.
Also of note is that if you started shooting with these hugely powerful cameras, almost immediately you would find that your computer speeds and storage space are presently inadequate. Be ready to buy a bigger, faster computer and tons of cloud storage. This is big data.
A mind-blowing comparison is that the first computer I used professionally at The Ada News would hold about eight images from one of these cameras. Eight.
A recent sales point for cameras like these is the rapidly-expanding video specifications. The most recent spec is “8K,” meaning each video frame is 8000 pixels wide. For me, especially when I see so many people consuming media on very small devices like smartphones, 8K is level after level of overkill. And I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: what almost all video needs more than anything else is a good script.
If someone handed one of these cameras, I would certainly give it a day in court, but I would not count on it to improve my photography, which, at this point, can only be improved by building its narrative, not by buying equipment.
All of this circles back neatly to one of the things I write on the board at the start of my Intro to Digital Photography class: “You can’t buy mastery. You have to earn it.”
A fellow photographer recently asked me if I would do a head-to-head comparison between an iPhone or iPad and the cameras I use every day as a photojournalist.
I felt this comparison to be an apples-to-lemons challenge, since, for me anyway, there are many things my iPhone does better, and many things my DSLRs do better.
I prefer to use my phone for video, since the video I get from it is smooth, clear, and has decent audio, while video with my DSLRs tends to require a lot more production – microphones, steadycams – than my phone does. I also love the way I can seamlessly send lightly-edited images from the field to my staff with little effort, and of course there is video streaming.
My DSLRs are better at sports, a big one for me since I cover a great sports scene at our newspaper. They are much, much better in situations in which I want to add light, like with a flash, or when I need to create selective focus by using shallow depth of field.
Finally, there is handling. This may be the veteran in me talking, but holding a big camera and lens up to my eye is infinitely more commanding in almost every photographic situation. I can compose and organize much better with a DSLR than I can holding a phone or tablet at arms length… in some ways, using a DSLR or even a film camera is making pictures, while using a phone or a tablet is like watching television.
Despite all the advances we see all the time in smartphone and tablet technology, a camera remains a better tool for photography.
Christmas is almost here, and that means photography. I recently grabbed some of my favorite lenses to help create these beautiful backgrounds. In some circles, these artifacts are called “bokeh balls,” after the largely misunderstood and over-emphasized feature of the out-of-focus portions of an image. You are welcome to download them and use them as you like.
These images were made with my Fuji X-T10 mirrorless camera and the Nikon 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/2.0, 85mm f/1.4, and the 200mm f/2.0.
Photographer Kyle Phillips at one of our sister newspapers, The Norman Transcript, was out of action recently, so he offered to let me borrow their new Nikon D500 digital SLR since I was slated to shoot the college football Big 12 Championship game in Dallas on December 19, and I accepted.
The D500 is a professional-level 20-megapixel camera. It is a neat camera, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a news or sports photographer in a minute, but it’s not a game-changer.
- The Nikon D500 is an incremental upgrade to the Nikon D300S, two of which I use every day. The main improvement the D500 makes is high ISO noise. Frame rate and pixel count are up, but not enough to really matter.
- The ISO dial has traded places with the exposure mode dial, which I really don’t like, and not just because I’m used to buttons where they are. The mode dial belongs on the right next to the shutter and aperture dial and the shutter release. I kind of think Nikon engineers move stuff arbitrarily. Real photographers set their file type once, mostly on the day they get the camera, and leave it there forever. Only dilletants and dabblers change file types regularly, so as far as I’m concerned, this button could disappear into the menu.
- I had to shoot JPEGs instead of RAW files, since my laptop at work has an older version of Adobe Lightroom that won’t read the newest RAW files. The D500 makes very decent JPEGs.
- The D500 has a swinging/tilting rear display as well as 4K video capability, a feature that makes little difference to me, since I make short videos to go with news and sports, but would make a big difference to videographers.
- The D500 is equipped with SnapBridge, but I tried several times and got the message, “Pairing unsuccessful. Make sure D500_XXX is turned on, in range, and is ready to pair.” That’s typical in a world of incompetent coding. My Fujifilm X-T10, a camera of the same era as the D500, did it without a hitch.
- The D500 has two card slots, one for SD, and one for XQD, a high-speed replacement for CompactFlash cards, but I don’t have any of these cards and have never used them, and I find that the photography community regards this format as a dead end.
- The D500 isn’t a particularly popular camera. I have only seen one other one, in the hands of Coalgate High School yearbook advisor Kathy Ingram.
- I found that 10 frames per second and a nearly unlimited buffer resulted in shooting a lot more frames than I usually do, with little impact on the quality of my product. So many files of the same thing just tends to choke my workflow.
At the Big 12 Championship game, I brought my AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8, betting on needing the f/2.8, but the lights were very bright and even. If I had to do it again, I might use my AF-S 300mm f/4, a much newer and somewhat sharper lens.
I pressed the D500 into service, and found that it does what a digital camera should: make photography easier by getting out of the way of the photographer. I was very glad to use it for a while, and really enjoyed it. Thanks again to Kyle for offering to let me use it. I know he will make many great images with it over the years.
I worked for a short time at The Daily Times in Ottawa, Illinois, in 1988, with a very talented young photographer named Harold Krewer. We often challenged each other to feature photo shoot-offs, and it raised us both up in quality, and it was very fun.
I worked in Student Publications at the University of Oklahoma in 1983, 1984, and early 1985, where I met some very talented artists and photographers, notable R. E. Stinson and Scott AndersEn, with whom I am friends to this day.
We shared darkroom facilities at Copeland Hall in the School of Journalism. Because many student journalists shared the darkroom, it was frequently full. There were two small, light-tight rooms for film processing, and around a corner through a black curtain was the room with five enlargers in it. Only one of the enlargers, which you can see in the image above, had a color head on it, so if you wanted to use it, you waited in line or showed up in the middle of the night.
I talked about these days before (link), but I chose this entry to include my entire black-and-white portfolio from college.
Chemicals were often contaminated, since young photographers often didn’t understand the difference between developer and fixer, or why you can’t “back contaminate,” so I brought my own chemicals.
I frequently found myself mentoring pretty college girls, hoping to kindle some romance, and took a few out, though none of those efforts lasted.
I found I preferred working for the Sooner Yearbook rather than the OU Daily, thinking I was making higher-quality, longer-lasting work. I preferred Microdol-X film developer, with the idea that I was making sharper, finer-grained images.
I was the swing-shift photographer at The Shawnee News-Star from November 1985 through April 1988. I was partnered with a talented former Vietnam Air Force member Ed Blochowiak. Between us we made some great images and won some awards. Ed spent his entire career at the News-Star, and, sadly, died just two months after retiring in October 2016.
I had been at The Ada Evening News (now, The Ada News) just six weeks when I photographed the Ada Cougars winning their 15th state championship in December 1988 at Oklahoma State University’s Lewis Field.
Most of the action and trophy photos were published in the sports section that Sunday. I was looking through a box of black-and-white negatives from that month and decided to write my column about scanning film, and scan many of these images, which have not been published since that time.
My readers will recall that after the first hard freeze of the year, Hawken the Irish wolfhound and I expand our walk to include a large area of woods to the west of our home. If we exhaust all the trails in a single walk, which we often do, it comes to about three miles round trip. We are never bored.
For this edition of the Monochrome Challenge, I brought my tiny, seldom-used Olympus FE-5020.
Fellow journalist Ashlynd Huffman texted me recently asking how to create a silhouette. It occurred to me that it would be worth it to have my own tutorial about it.
Silhouettes are essentially lithographs, and are usually created with a bright background that is correctly exposed, with something underlit or unlit in the foreground that forms a shape without having much detail.
Most of my silhouettes are happy circumstances of natural light, but it doesn’t take a lot to construct one. Throw some light on a background, and leave your foreground figure in the shadows.
If you are shooting in manual exposure mode, move up and down the exposure scale until you get the background about right, and the foreground item, person, or figure, very dark or black.
If you are shooting in an automatic exposure mode like Program, Shutter Priority, or Aperture Priority, use exposure compensation aggressively to get the look you want. Green Box Mode usually won’t let you control your exposure.
If you are shooting film, bracket: shoot a series of frames at widely different exposure settings.
Silhouettes imply shape and anonymity.
Silhouettes should never take the place of strong narrative, but if used correctly, can contribute to a strong narrative.
Readers might recall that I recently bought a long-ago favorite lens, the Nikkor 85mm f/2.0, and that I mentioned that this lens has an undeserved reputation as not very sharp, especially when compared to the 85mm that preceded it, the 85mm f/1.8 of 1970s vintage.
I have made a point of shooting with this pearl of a lens, especially since this autumn has been among the most beautiful ever here in Oklahoma, and not only have I enjoyed the excellent build quality and handling characteristics, which come from an era of superb camera craftsmanship, I can say without reservation that this lens is as sharp as I could want, even at wide open at f/2.0.
If you get a chance to pick up this lens and are either a Nikon shooter, or have a Nikkor lens adaptor for a mirrorless camera, by all means get it. It is a pearl.