We all cherish memories. Many of us have fairly accurate memories, while others struggle to keep dates and people and places organized in their heads.
I believe the very best way to preserve memories is to write down the events of your life. It can be in a journal or scrapbook, as text files on your computer (preferably then printed onto paper), or in some kind of personal web presence, like an online journal or blog, some of which, hopefully, can be marked “private.”
I also happen to think that if you let social media curate your memories, you are either dead inside, or are being played by global corporations. Think about it: social media has no idea what stirs you to tears, but it does know what you buy.
I thought about this as I was enjoying a different kind of memory visit: looking through computer folders of image files from some of those great times my friends and family had over the years.
I photograph and write about all our travels, both in my journal, and here on my web site. One I visited recently was a folder of only-lightly-edited images from the first vacation Abby and I took together in 2003, The High Road. (Click it.)
It was a great time for both of us, both as a couple and photographically.
As I searched these images, I found two instances of images I had passed over at the time, two of hers and two of mine, that both looked like they would be interesting to stitch into panographs.
Abby shot with the Nikon Coolpix 885, a tiny camera I bought two years earlier as a throw-in-a-travel bag camera. When we started dating, she adopted it, and it became hers. I shot with the Minolta Dimage 7i, which I still have to this day.
Both cameras came from the start of the digital photography era, and though they have some significant technological limitations, we made some amazing images, and, most importantly, we made memories.
I possess an increasingly rare skill: being able to focus a manual-focus lens.
In today’s autofocus-saturated world, this skill is particularly hard for younger photographers to appreciate. The truth is that for the first 20 years of my career, I neither had autofocus, nor did I need it. And to this day, I have several extraordinary manual focus lenses that I can manually focus swiftly and precisely. I bring them out once in a while to keep my game and my eye fresh.
I would urge anyone getting into digital SLR or mirrorless photography to learn to manually focus. There are times when you can’t convince a camera’s autofocus system to focus where you want, and there may be times when you use non-autofocus cameras. It’s a valuable skill.
Last summer I bought a Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless camera specifically to breathe new life into all manner of older manual-focus lenses, and that has been very rewarding.
I recently photographed some tiger swallowtail butterflies harvesting my cherry trees. The lens I had with me was my newest acquisition, the Nikkor 50-135mm f/3.5 AIs Nikkor of early 1980s vintage. Manual-focus zoom lenses are harder to focus than prime (non-zoom) lenses, since they tend to have smaller maximum apertures (thus, less-bright appearance in the viewfinder), and the focus throw (the amount you need to turn the focus ring) tends to be longer to accommodate different zoom settings.
Honestly, the challenge of focusing like I did in 1988 adds a layer of stress to shooting, but it also feels like the task is awaking and retraining my old skill.
Finally, my young friend Mac borrowed my blooming cherry trees for a photo shoot recently, and she shot digital and film, the film camera being an Olympus of 1980s, pre-autofocus vintage. She expressed a definite liking for the old camera and the technique required to focus it.
My readers know I love lenses for more than just photographic reasons. I think they are beautiful, art unto themselves, and worthy of having just because it’s fun to have them.
The trouble with a philosophy like this is that it can get pretty expensive, so I make a point to wait and wait and wait for bargains, hand-me-downs, and rough-looking but optically workable lenses.
Sometimes I will buy a lens I don’t need or even want all that much if it’s a really great bargain. Lately I am seeing rock bottom prices on 1980s-era Nikon lenses, usually zoom lenses I never saw in the field.
An interesting paradox about these lenses is that my fellow photographers and I regarded these lenses (particularly zoom lenses) as sub-standard back then, but in the nearly 40 years since that era began, there are tons of not very good, plasticky lenses being sold as industry standard.
My most recent purchase was a mostly-unknown lens, the Nikkor 50-135mm f/3.5 of 1983 vintage. The web seems to think it was made from 1982 to 1984. I paid $30 for it.
I was actually shopping for a 135mm from that period. At one time or another I actually owned three 135s, two f/3.5s and one f/2.8. They were all sharp and a pleasure to use, and I missed the focal length, despite being able to make 135mm with several zoom lenses.
This lens doesn’t doesn’t give me the amazing selective focus capability of a very fast prime lens like my 85mm f/1.4, since its maximum aperture is a modest f/3.5, and isn’t really quite sharp unless I stop it down to f/4.
It is a push-pull zoom, meaning you push the zoom/focus ring forward toward 50mm, and back toward 135mm. You turn the same ring to focus.
There is a macro setting; at 50mm, you can focus to two feet using an orange line on the focus scale. Calling it “macro” is stretch, since all the 50mm primes I own focus to 1.47 feet. Real macro lenses like my 60mm focus much, much closer.
It is well-built of brass and steel, common among lenses of that time, but quite rare today unless you are willing to pay for top-end lenses.
This lens was probably meant to be Nikon’s “real” offering to compete with their more consumer-focused 75-150mm f/3.5 Series E lens.
It is sharp, though it exhibits some of the usual pre-computer-designed aberrations like vignetting and color fringing, but those are easy to dial out while editing.
In early shooting, I found myself mostly starting at 135mm, but liking the fact that I could zoom a bit.
While getting this review together, I found other reviews online that, of course, employed the “brick wall, sturdy tripod, live-view focus” test, which, honestly, reveals nothing. When I review a lens, I shoot with it, in the real world, and I get a useful, real-world result.
In conclusion, this $30 lens is fun to use and makes decent images, and I am very glad I bought it.
The basketball season just ended in our community. It was a great one, though it was full of fits and starts because of the pandemic, and it kept me busy, and shooting really well.
All the sports action I shoot is made under existing light.
When sports scale back a bit, I have more time to concentrated on feature stories and photos, and I am almost always happier with my indoor feature photos if I include some flash.
I recently worked on two such features, one about Bladesmith Logan Morris, the other about Miss Oklahoma Kris Gonzalez. I photographed both of these people indoors under institutional fluorescent light, which is everywhere, from classrooms to businesses to warehouses. It is efficient in lighting these spaces, but can be somewhat unflattering to human faces.
To help with these images, I added some electronic flash. I almost always bounce the light from the flash into a wall, ceiling, or, if I am feeling particularly ambitious, a reflector. Bounce flash allows me to control the angle of the light striking the faces, as well as the color of the light.
Sometimes I add more electronic flash units to the lighting mix with a device called a slave unit, which is able to detect a flash and fire additional flash units simultaneously.
Also of note is the rise of ever-brighter, more efficient, more portable light emitting diodes (LEDs), that may soon replace electronic flash in many situations.
Finally, the Morris story is also one of contrasting worlds: a high schooler brings a knife to a small-town school and everyone is excited and proud of him. But imagine a similar situation at a big-city high school. A knife? Instant lockdown, call SWAT, send texts and social media posts saying to “shelter in place.”
It’s nice to know that small-town sensibility about such matters remains with us.
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.
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.