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.

Fill Up the Frame

Coach Jeff Parnell talks to his starters prior to the Stonewall Lady Longhorns matchup with Earlsboro Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 at Murphy-Roberts Gym in Stonewall. Shot with my 20mm f/2.8 lens on a camera with a 24x36mm sensor, this is one way to "fill up the frame" to convey a complex visual message.
Coach Jeff Parnell talks to his starters prior to the Stonewall Lady Longhorns matchup with Earlsboro Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 at Murphy-Roberts Gym in Stonewall. Shot with my 20mm f/2.8 lens on a camera with a 24x36mm sensor, this is one way to “fill up the frame” to convey a complex visual message.

When I was just 18, I found myself interning at my then-hometown newspaper in Lawton, Oklahoma, under the supervision of a veteran photographer named Bill Dixon.

My first assignment on the first morning there was to ride along with Bill and photograph severe thunderstorm damage at Fort Sill. It was typical Oklahoma late spring tree damage, but that’s always news, so I photograph it to this day.

We drove a “radio car,” a giant, loping Chevrolet sedan with a two-way radio and a scanner. The two-way was on 173.275 Mhz, and we used the FCC-assigned call sign, KYK323. (Both of these are entirely from memory.) The scanner was a Bearcat III, a popular eight channel crystal-controlled police and fire scanner in the 1970s that was obsolete by 1982, but it still worked, since all police, fire and sheriff communications took up about five of those channels.

Bill pulled the car up to the headquarters on the base, a facility where my wife Abby’s uncle Dutch and his son Al commanded at various times in their careers. He told me to get out and photograph the trees on the ground next to a ceremonial cannon. My camera was a Nikon FM. At that time, I only owned three lenses, a Nikon Series E 28mm f/2.8, a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8, and a Nikkor 105mm f/2.5. The 28mm was on the camera, so I used it.

“Get in there! Fill up the frame!” he barked. I thought I was filling up the frame, but, like a lot of beginners, I wasn’t.

There was only so much room on the page at newspapers in the 1980s. Photos competed with news, graphic, ads, coupons, obituaries, and more, so there’s not a huge amount of room to fiddle around with photographs that don’t convey the message quickly and obviously.

Another key reason to fill up the frame is that we almost always shot on Kodak Tri-X 35mm film, which, while forgiving of exposure mistakes (we call that having “good latitude”), was grainy, and enlarging tiny portions of a tiny frame of grainy film resulted in kind of a mess.

It’s still a good idea to fill up the frame in the digital age, for many of the same reasons. We buy phones and cameras that have millions of pixels, yet too many of the images I see coming my way from every angle feature a lot of sky and grass, with the main subjects (mostly people) crowded into the center of the frame.

So try it yourself. Get yourself set to make a picture, then tell yourself to get closer and fill up the frame. You’ll be surprised how much it can improve your images.

It's easy to forget that before digital photography came along, studio and portrait photographers mostly stuck with medium format film, simply because 35mm film was so small, shown here with some coins to convey its size.
It’s easy to forget that before digital photography came along, studio and portrait photographers mostly stuck with medium format film, simply because 35mm film was so small, shown here with some coins to convey its size.

Conflict: The Essence of Sports Photography

The Allen Lady Mustangs and the Stonewall Lady Longhorns tangle in a game last week in Stonewall. As you can see, the competition can get pretty physical.
The Allen Lady Mustangs and the Stonewall Lady Longhorns tangle in a game last week in Stonewall. As you can see, the competition can get pretty physical.

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.

Games without conflict are boring. In this image, the Latta Lady Panthers and the Atoka Lady Wampus Cats tangle.
Games without conflict are boring. In this image, the Latta Lady Panthers and the Atoka Lady Wampus Cats tangle.

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.

The Ada Cougars took on Durant recently. You can anticipate the moment of conflict in this image from the player’s body language and facial expressions.
The Ada Cougars took on Durant recently. You can anticipate the moment of conflict in this image from the player’s body language and facial expressions.

The 2017 Solar Eclipse

I made this lunar eclipse sequence (six images placed in one frame using Adobe Photoshop) in September 2015, using my Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 lens with a Nikkor 1.4x teleconverter. Even with an effective 560mm focal length, most of the frame was empty.
I made this lunar eclipse sequence (six images placed in one frame using Adobe Photoshop) in September 2015, using my Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 lens with a Nikkor 1.4x teleconverter. Even with an effective 560mm focal length, most of the frame was empty.
The web is full of eclipse path maps like this one from NASA. Click it to view it larger.
The web is full of eclipse path maps like this one from NASA. Click it to view it larger.

There is a fair amount of excitement building around the first total eclipse of the sun in the United States in 72 years, on August 21, 2017. Undoubtedly, millions of people will be attempting to view and photograph it, mostly with marginal success using their smartphone cameras.

My wife Abby and I have been planning for this for some time, and expect to include my sister Nicole and her husband Tracey. Our hope is to be in our mother’s home town, Park Hills, Missouri, (known as Flat River for most of her life) on the morning of the eclipse, to stake out a spot from which to witness, and photograph, this event.

Disposable paper eclipse glasses like these are available in ten packs on sites like eBay and Amazon.
Disposable paper eclipse glasses like these are available in ten packs on sites like eBay and Amazon.

Photographing a solar eclipse is challenging. I’ve never photographed, or even seen, one, though Abby and I have photographed several lunar eclipses, and many of the same principals apply.

  • A coworker of mine has a Sigma 150-500mm and a 200-500mm Nikkor, both good starting points for photographing the upcoming color eclipse.
    A coworker of mine has a Sigma 150-500mm and a 200-500mm Nikkor, both good starting points for photographing the upcoming color eclipse.

    Firstly, as you will read on most sites about the upcoming eclipse, don’t look directly at the sun, even for a second or two, and even if it is partially eclipsed by the moon. The only time it is safe to look at it with your naked eye is during the totality, when the disk of the sun (the photosphere) is completely covered by the moon.

  • The weather will play a huge role in viewing this event: read a forecast and try to be someplace with clear skies. Even with planning, there is a chance it might be obscured by clouds.
  • I bought some disposable eclipse glasses, and have looked directly at the sun with them on. They seem to be effective, although I don’t exactly trust them, so I won’t be staring through them at the sun for more than a second or two.
  • Though they appear large in the sky compared to stars and planets, the sun and moon actually occupy a very small area of the sky. Filling the frame with these celestial bodies requires either an astronomical telescope or a very long telephoto lens.
  • When the disk of the sun is visible, normal exposures are not effective without a neutral density filter, in these cases sometimes sold as a solar filter. These act as powerful “sunglasses,” since the photosphere (the surface of the sun) is much brighter than anything on earth.
  • When the sun is eclipsed by the moon, exposure values are hundreds of times darker than before. Camera settings can go from f/16 at 1/1000th of a second to f/4 at one, two, ten seconds or longer depending on conditions. The most interesting thing to photograph during the totality is the solar corona, which is very faint compared to the photosphere.
  • Cell phones, point-and-shoot cameras, and cameras with the ever-popular “kit lens” will be unable to fill the frame with anything useful during an eclipse, as we have see time and again during lunar eclipses.
  • A rock-solid tripod will be indispensable, particularly during totality when exposures will be long.
  • The ultimate solution to this photographic puzzle would be to use a real (and very expensive) astronomical telescope.
  • Someone recently told me the best approach of all would be to find a spot, relax, and enjoy the eclipse, then buy a photograph or enjoy all the posts on the web. That’s certainly a valid point of view, but I am a photographer, and feel like I should be shooting this, which I will very much enjoy.

There are maps and other useful information at the Eclipse 2017 web site.

Abby made this 2007 eclipse photo with her 75-300mm lens at 300mm, giving an idea of how small the sun and moon appear even with this long telephoto.
Abby made this 2007 eclipse photo with her 75-300mm lens at 300mm, giving an idea of how small the sun and moon appear even with this long telephoto.

Other Photographers and Our Egos

A passel of photographers photographs Antelope Canyon in May 2012.
A passel of photographers photographs Antelope Canyon in May 2012.

A friend of mine, who I regard as a very talented photographer, recently asked me for some advice about photographing the American West. Among her destinations was Mesa Arch, a beautiful, easy-to-reach attraction at Canyonlands National Park in Utah, which I have visited many times.

I told her that this feature is classically photographed in the morning, since the sun rises in the opening of the arch, with a beautiful canyon below and mountains in the distance. The light strikes to red wall of the canyon below and causes the underside of the feature to take on deep red hues.

Mesa Arch at Canyonlands is illuminated by handsome morning light in this 2002 image. The light bounces up from canyons below to causing the underside of the arch to take on a deep red. In the distance are the La Sal Mountains.
Mesa Arch at Canyonlands is illuminated by handsome morning light in this 2002 image. The light bounces up from canyons below to causing the underside of the arch to take on a deep red. In the distance are the La Sal Mountains.

The only drawback, I told her, is that it’s been “discovered,” so she should expect to see a large number of photographers there at sunrise.

“I really want to see Mesa Arch, but I hate the idea of a lot of photographers because I will feel inferior,” she replied.

Years ago I wrote a piece about how I can sometimes be tempted to get outside my game when I am in the presence of other professional photographers. I’m sure this is true for other professions as well, and why conferences and think tanks are useful for showing us way of doing things we might not see.

The other side of that, of course, is that we don’t want to let the herd mentality take us to what I like to call the “force op,” or forced photo opportunity, in which you let other photographers define you creatively.

I told my friend that the Grand View Point at Canyonlands is "better than the Grand Canyon," which I think it is for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there are far fewer visitors.
I told my friend that the Grand View Point at Canyonlands is “better than the Grand Canyon,” which I think it is for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there are far fewer visitors.

But there is a little trick that will help relieve you of the burden of feeling competitive with other photographers. Now that digital imaging has taken some of the mystery, and particularly the surprise,  out of photography, all we have to do is stand behind someone and look at their monitor to see what kinds of images they are making. Often, even most of the time, I am surprised and discouraged by how badly photographers are composing their pictures. “Why is this guy even here with his $10,000 worth of equipment,” I ask myself, “when he can’t compose his way out of a wet paper sack?”

In some ways, painters and sculptors are freer than photographers because their art starts with vision and imagination, and I admire that.
In some ways, painters and sculptors are freer than photographers because their art starts with vision and imagination, and I admire that.

Also, don’t let anyone’s equipment intimidate you, and even more importantly, don’t let them talk about their equipment to you. If they do, it will be all they talk about, and they will have nothing interesting to say about the art of photography.

Ultimately photography should be about expressing ourselves and sharing our vision of our lives and our worlds, not worrying about how we look when we’re making our images or what others might think about our equipment or skills. When it comes to comparisons, it is certainly worth looking at the work of others, but not with the purpose of copying it. I should serve as inspiration.

Everyone takes pictures now. The only genuine value in them is your vision.

Despite the traditional "best" shot of Mesa Arch being a sunrise shot, my favorite image of it so far is one I made right after sunset. Not only was the light beautiful, but there were no other photographers present, and I feel the image is unique. When you see this image, or another you admire, don't try to copy it. Ask yourself how you and your creative vision might express it.
Despite the traditional “best” shot of Mesa Arch being a sunrise shot, my favorite image of it so far is one I made right after sunset. Not only was the light beautiful, but there were no other photographers present, and I feel the image is unique. When you see this image, or another you admire, don’t try to copy it. Ask yourself how you and your creative vision might express it.

Fact and Myth: “Full Frame” vs “Cropped”

I recently sold some older gear to get ahold of this Nikon D700. With 94,325 frames through it when I bought it, it is about halfway through it's life expectancy. The D700 is larger and heavier than most of my other cameras, and it is a luxury to look through a film-sized viewfinder.
I recently sold some older gear to get ahold of this Nikon D700. With 94,325 frames through it when I bought it, it is about halfway through it’s life expectancy. The D700 is larger and heavier than most of my other cameras, and it is a luxury to look through a film-sized viewfinder.

For a couple of decades now, a cacophony of myth and misinformation has stemmed from digital photography regarding sensor size. This all started because professional and advanced amateur digital photography was rooted, for economic reasons, in 35mm film photography.

Not only does the Nikon D700 have a bigger sensor, it has a bigger, and much heavier body.
Not only does the Nikon D700 have a bigger sensor, it has a bigger, and much heavier body.

Driven mostly by the engines of sales and popularity, not necessity or creativity or technical superiority, the 35mm film frame, at 36x24mm, and originally derived from an industrious camera maker wanting to take advantage of surplus film from the burgeoning 1930s motion picture industry, became the standard bearer for image size by the end of the 20th century.

I recently decided to do a little used-for-used sell-and-buy on Ebay to get my hands on a Nikon D700, one of Nikon’s earliest digital cameras equipped with a sensor the size of a 35mm film frame, 36x24mm, sometimes referred to by the misleading name “full frame” because it is the same size as a full frame of film. Nikon calls it “FX,” in contrast to their smaller 24x15mm sensors, which it calls “DX.” 24x15mm sensors are often mistakenly called “cropped” sensors by laymen who don’t fully understand the origins of image size. If it has to have a name, it is most accurately described by its size in millimeters or by the film size closest to it, APS-C (Advanced Photo System type-C).

The lazy-writing web world often calls full frame “FF” in forum posts.

  • Do full frame sensors have “better depth of field”? No. I was eager to debunk this one because I already knew the answer, and because it is an embarrassment to photography that everyone is so eager to believe this. Depth of field is controlled by two factors: magnification and aperture. The reason this myth seems to be true is that to get the same composition on a 36x24mm as on a smaller sensor, one has to either get closer or use a longer focal length, both of which increase magnification to create shallower depth of field. At identical distances, focal lengths and apertures, depth of field is identical. If you don’t believe me, here is the proof…
To prevent confirmation bias, I won't say which of these images is made with which sensor size. 50mm @f/1.4, cropped to show the books in the center of the frame. Vs...
To prevent confirmation bias, I won’t say which of these images is made with which sensor size. 50mm @f/1.4, cropped to show the books in the center of the frame. Vs…
... 50mm @f/1.4, cropped to show the books in the center of the frame. Can you tell me which one is which?
… 50mm @f/1.4, cropped to show the books in the center of the frame. Can you tell me which one is which?
  • Is an aperture of f/2 on a larger sensor “equivalent” in light gathering capacity to f/1.4 on a smaller sensor? No. I heard this one asserted by Tony and Chelsea Northrup on their YouTube channel, and I couldn’t believe my ears at the time. (They also refer to “ISO” as a name – “Eyesoh,” which it is not). I have no idea how they came to this conclusion, but this and the popularity of their channel has done nothing but muddy the waters on issues like this. Simply put, f number is a fraction describing the ratio between the focal length of a lens and the diameter of the opening. A 50mm f/2, for example, has an opening of 25mm. 50 divided by 2 equals 25. A specific aperture value lets the same amount of light through the lens regardless of what size of film or sensor is on the other side.
  • Will a larger sensor give life back to my wide angle lenses? Yes, with some caveats. A 20mm lens that was a mediocre lens on a smaller sensor has now been restored to its film-days glory as an ultra wide lens. While this is certainly nice if you have a bunch of old wide angle lenses, today many manufacturers make very wide angle lenses for smaller sensors. I have several myself, and I am able to get as wide as I need, including ultra-ultra-wide using my 10-17mm fisheye and uncurving it in Photoshop.
I shot this today with my 18-35mm at 18mm on the D700.
I shot this today with my 18-35mm at 18mm on the D700.
I shot this today with my 12-24mm at 12mm on the D300S.
I shot this today with my 12-24mm at 12mm on the D300S.
  • Will my telephoto lenses will be less telephoto-y on a larger sensor? Yes. This is the reason sports and wildlife photographers got away from large and medium format film as soon as 35mm was available: just as larger sensors make wide angles wider, they make telephotos wider, since they are projecting their images onto a larger surface. Many top sports and bird photographers very much prefer 24x15mm sensors for just this reason, and this has been a leading marketing tag for Nikon’s flagship 24x15mm camera, the D500.
These are some of the wide angle lenses my office and I own that will see the light of day more now that I have a 36x24mm sensor. From left to right are the AF-S Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8, the AF Nikkor 20mm, the AF Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5, the AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8, and the Sigma AF 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5.
These are some of the wide angle lenses my office and I own that will see the light of day more now that I have a 36x24mm sensor. From left to right are the AF-S Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8, the AF Nikkor 20mm, the AF Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5, the AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8, and the Sigma AF 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5.
  • Are larger sensors better at capturing low-light scenes due to the pixels themselves being larger? Yes. If you compare a 36x24mm sensor against a 24x15mm sensor of the same pixel count, assuming the sensors are of the same era and treated with the same renderings, noise will be lower in the larger sensor. This is true because the pixels themselves, the tiny light-sensing devices inside the integrated circuit in the middle of the camera, are larger, and can gather more light, thus requiring less amplification of the signals they produce. In practice, though, this rule doesn’t hold much water. There are many smaller-sensor cameras that make incredibly low-noise images, and most cameras with larger than “full frame” sensors do not.
Though quite rare, I was able to spot this Nikon D700 "street photographer" on the Plaza in Santa Fe, one place you would expect to see a jillion street photographers. Of note is the not-very-good lens he has mounted on it.
Though quite rare, I was able to spot this Nikon D700 “street photographer” on the Plaza in Santa Fe, one place you would expect to see a jillion street photographers. Of note is the not-very-good lens he has mounted on it.

The craving for lower noise at higher ISOs is a symptom of photographers being too lazy to master what matters most, light. Additionally, there is a lot of pretense on the photo forums (like photo.net, which recently changed formats and is now unviewable) about, “wanting to do more street photography.” The truth is that most of time people who make this claim just want to be able to say, “I have this camera and that lens,” and don’t make very many photos. All you have to do to discover this truth is walk the streets and count the photographers: ≈ 0.

  • Are “multiplier” or “crop factor” numbers useful? No. These numbers are all over the place, and only exist so camera makers can muddy the waters of what you should buy. 1.5x “crop factor” or 2x “multiplier” is only helpful if you go from one format to the other constantly while shooting. A far better way to understand this is to know your camera, and know what does what. For example, suppose your camera is a “four thirds” format (18x13mm). A 14mm is a wide angle lens, and a 200mm is a super-telephoto.
  • Is it worth it to “upgrade” to a larger sensor? No. Anyone who asks this question isn’t ready to take advantage of the subtle differences offered by a larger sensor, and larger sensors are disproportionally more expensive. If you need a larger sensor, you already know it.
You can see from the brassing and smoothing of the working surfaces of my "new" used Nikon D700 that it's been put to work. This is how I prefer to buy cameras, since I am going to wear them out myself in short order.
You can see from the brassing and smoothing of the working surfaces of my “new” used Nikon D700 that it’s been put to work. This is how I prefer to buy cameras, since I am going to wear them out myself in short order.

How to Rock the Sunset

I made this super-telephoto sunset image a couple of years ago on the north side of Ada, Oklahoma. One reason it works so well is that I hurriedly (because the sun sets faster than you think) found a compositional element - the tree - to anchor the image. Without it, it's just a mug shot of the sun.
I made this super-telephoto sunset image a couple of years ago on the north side of Ada, Oklahoma. One reason it works so well is that I hurriedly (because the sun sets faster than you think) found a compositional element – the tree – to anchor the image. Without it, it’s just a mug shot of the sun.
In my corner of the world, southeast Oklahoma, the sky can do magic, like this after-sunset image that resembles musical notes.
In my corner of the world, southeast Oklahoma, the sky can do magic, like this after-sunset image that resembles musical notes.

Those who follow me on social media might recall that my current batch of students were disappointed that it rained during last week’s class, forcing us inside.

Tonight’s forecast is more likely to produce a sunset opportunity.

In addition to the sun and sky, objects around us take on very different, and often beautiful, appearances at sunset, like the windows of this bus in Latta, Oklahoma.
In addition to the sun and sky, objects around us take on very different, and often beautiful, appearances at sunset, like the windows of this bus in Latta, Oklahoma.
Sunset is lovely time to photograph people too. In addition to highlighting their hair and creating depth around the shoulders and head, "edge light" as it is sometimes called also means the face is illuminated by the open sky, and is softer. Also, the subject, in this case my wife Abby, doesn't have to squint into bright daylight.
Sunset is lovely time to photograph people too. In addition to highlighting their hair and creating depth around the shoulders and head, “edge light” as it is sometimes called also means the face is illuminated by the open sky, and is softer. Also, the subject, in this case my wife Abby, doesn’t have to squint into bright daylight.

All photographers with any experience know that a good sunset can be difficult to pin down, and it’s always a smarter move to be ready to shoot sunrises and sunsets when they come to you, not when you come to them.

Readers also know that I like to use the sun itself as a compositional element, often trying to emphasize its brightness by choosing a lens that makes good “sunstars” at small apertures.

Judicious use of exposure compensation can make a huge difference, since your camera doesn’t know if you are going for shadow detail or highlight detail, and will often split the difference. Don’t be afraid to crank in +3 or -4 or any other value to tell the camera what you want. I’ve seen too many disappointing sunset attempts by photographers with disappointed faces asking me, “What did I do wrong?”

There is a lot to be said for sticking around after the sun dips below the horizon as well. The so-called “blue hour” can sometimes offer amazing color values as the sun’s light strikes clouds high in the atmosphere.

Sunsets aren't always about color. The light as dusk approaches can take many forms, as in this low-angle shot of wheat grass in our pasture. This scene looked nothing like this just an hour earlier.
Sunsets aren’t always about color. The light as dusk approaches can take many forms, as in this low-angle shot of wheat grass in our pasture. This scene looked nothing like this just an hour earlier.
Springtime in America's midsection can produce some absolutely amazing visuals, like this developing thunderstorm near our home in Byng, Oklahoma.
Springtime in America’s midsection can produce some absolutely amazing visuals, like this developing thunderstorm near our home in Byng, Oklahoma.
Although temping to shoot sunsets with a wide angle lens to see a sunset from one edge of the horizon to the other, sometimes sunsets can be about subtle, fleeting moments of light, like the last rays of the sun glimmering through our walnut tree.
Although temping to shoot sunsets with a wide angle lens to see a sunset from one edge of the horizon to the other, sometimes sunsets can be about subtle, fleeting moments of light, like the last rays of the sun glimmering through our walnut tree.
My photography students and I made this image a few years ago. Using an element as a shape for silhouette can completely change the look of an image.
My photography students and I made this image a few years ago. Using an element as a shape for silhouette can completely change the look of an image.
A branch of a tree combines with subtle after-dusk clouds to make an elegant, evocative image.
A branch of a tree combines with subtle after-dusk clouds to make an elegant, evocative image.

The light changes quickly at sunrise and sunset, so we need to be ready to change quickly as well.

As with any photograph endeavor, the best results are achieved through a willingness to explore and experiment, and the realization that not every evening will deliver magic, but with persistence, we can eventually capture  magic and share it with our audience.

If you can be near a body of water or other reflective surface at sunset, you can throw that into the mix. This image, made at our home in Byng, Oklahoma, was made about 20 minutes after sunset.
If you can be near a body of water or other reflective surface at sunset, you can throw that into the mix. This image, made at our home in Byng, Oklahoma, was made about 20 minutes after sunset.

Decapitation

It’s true. I am a “lopper.” I cut off heads.

One of the most common criticisms amateur photographers and non-photographers spout is, “You cut off their heads,” or, “I can’t believe you cut off the top of my head!”

The idea is that all images of people should always include the entire person, head to toe, I guess. It’s one of the dumbest criticisms we face. Composing a photograph as a work of art or self-expression is a lot different than shooting grade school head shots in front of a green screen. Take, for example, this image of my wife Abby, made many years ago…

Abby wears a pair of my red sunglasses, which I use exclusively as a prop.
Abby wears a pair of my red sunglasses, which I use exclusively as a prop.

But but but… where’s the top of her hair!?

Honestly, when people say this, politely walk away. Don’t accept their offers to hire you for their next wedding. They are visionless and uninspired. They expect your images to fit in their cookie cutters.

So why, Richard, did you crop this image the way you did? Simply put, intimacy. We, the viewers, are closer to her, and in particular, we are closer to her eyes. This composition invites you into the moment, like we just looked up and saw her smiling at us. And it works so well.

So if you face this kind of addle criticism, take heart. There are still those of us who understand how images really work.

What About Angles?

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.

Doing an Exploratory

This is the view out the kitchen window this morning; more snow and cold weather are on the way.
This is the view out the kitchen window this morning; more snow and cold weather are on the way.

As I might have mentioned before, I am in the process of editing, in my spare moments, the hundreds of images I shot on our October anniversary vacation, A Perfect Ten. Working on these images has been a very satisfying experience, since so many of my jaunts yielded excellent images, most of which I was not able to include in the trip report. I am, however, publishing many of them on my photo blog, and here on the teaching blog.

Today, as my wife sleeps in her recliner because snow and sleet kept her from going to work, I am again chewing on some of those images. In that process, I ran across one in particular that seemed to reach into my sense of adventure, an image I made in an area I visited for the first time, just north of Delicate Arch in the vicinity of Echo Arch (according to the kiosk at the visitor center – if you know better, please let me know.)

The reason I like this image so much is…

  • Its monochromatic lighting resulted in an excellent black-and-white red-filter rendering
  • It is an angle from which I never shot before and yields a new view of an old haunt
  • It shows Echo Arch at the very bottom of the frame and the Delicate Arch area (though the actual arch is concealed by terrain) at the top
  • It invites me to come and romp in the adventure playground of southern Utah
  • The utter complexity of the image is intriguing, and invites the eye to explore it

Editing these images is great fun. I’m sure I will come across many more teaching points as I explore them.

This image was made just above Echo Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, last October. The more I look at it, the more interesting it gets. You can see it bigger by clicking on it. I shot it with my Nikon D7100 and the excellent AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm .
This image was made just above Echo Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, last October. The more I look at it, the more interesting it gets. You can see it bigger by clicking on it. I shot it with my Nikon D7100 and the excellent AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm .