The Sky was Alive!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023 began as most Oklahoma spring days do, with a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms, and a marginal risk of severe thunderstorms.

Robert makes a couple of frames with his iPhone as we exit a restaurant in Ada.
Robert makes a couple of frames with his iPhone as we exit a restaurant in Ada.

As it happened, fellow photographer Robert Stinson was visiting from Tulsa to do some photographic negatives scanning and archiving. We took a dinner break, and when we stepped out of the restaurant we discovered that the evening sky was maturing into something photographable, so we sprang into action.

Our first stop was the Ada Regional Airport, so we could use the Beechcraft Bonanza on display at the entrance as a compositional element, and it worked out pretty well.

Golden sunset light strikes the aircraft on display at the Ada Regional Airport. Above and behind it, the sky is bulbous with mammatus clouds, which indicates turbulence.
Golden sunset light strikes the aircraft on display at the Ada Regional Airport. Above and behind it, the sky is bulbous with mammatus clouds, which indicates turbulence.

As we drove the rest of the way into Byng, we started to see lightning coming from the clouds some distance to the north. We wanted to photograph it, but the evening sky wasn’t really dark yet, so I walked my wolfhound, then thought about where I’d like to be to photograph lightning.

As the evening faded, I took the opportunity to walk Hawken, my Irish wolfhound.
As the evening faded, I took the opportunity to walk Hawken, my Irish wolfhound.

I put my dog in the back yard, then went inside to grab a hefty tripod and my Nikon D700 with one of my favorite lenses, the AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 on it. I set it up facing true north, but as you know, thunderstorms move, and this one was moving northeast.

If you’ve ever photographed lightning, you know how fickle it can be. By the time you get set up to shoot it, the last bolt could have faded, and you end up with images of dark blue sky.

Another factor is being sure you are safe. In Oklahoma, thunderstorms can get severe pretty quickly, and lightning itself is very dangerous.

Wednesday night’s storm, however, was an entire county to the north, and as I was photographing it, unknown to Robert and me, it was spawning a destructive tornado in Shawnee, about 50 miles away.

I turned my camera more to the northeast, as that seemed to be where the lightning was moving. I started making images with 10-second exposures at ISO 400 with an aperture of about f/8.

There were quite a few strikes, but since they were far away, they were small in the frame, so I started thinking about loading all the frames into Photoshop and blending them, which I have only done a few times.

Robert left to go back to Tulsa, so I loaded my images, more than 200 for the entire evening, into Adobe Bridge, where I selected only images that had visible lightning in them, 21 total, and opened them using Tools>Photoshop>Load Files into Photoshop Layers. I then selected all the layers in the layers pallet, and selected the blending mode “Lighten.”

This is Photoshop with all the layers selected, but before I applied the blending mode.
This is Photoshop with all the layers selected, but before I applied the blending mode.

Wham. It was that easy. I admit to being surprised by the result. I’ll definitely use this technique again.

With one drag of the mouse, Photoshop blended 21 mediocre lightning shots into one eye-catching image.
With one drag of the mouse, Photoshop blended 21 mediocre lightning shots into one eye-catching image.

 

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.

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.

What Will Become of Our Photographs?

I found this roll of film in with an old camera my wife gave me. It is unlikely I will have it processed, and even if I did, the images would probably be without context and meaningless.
I found this roll of film in with an old camera my wife gave me. It is unlikely I will have it processed, and even if I did, the images would probably be without context and meaningless.

A fellow photographer and I got into a very interesting discussion recently as I was walking my dogs.

I have a lot of interesting discussions while walking my dogs, since I can put in my ear buds and slip my phone into my back pocket, then talk through stuff as the Wolfhound and the Chihuahua take their turns around the patch.

The discussion was about the ultimate disposition of our creative work, especially photographs, for both of us, but also my writing. What will become of it all after we are gone?

I told my friend that my first box to check in preserving my vision was to get as many images as I could printed in the newspaper. That was an easy one for me to check off and continue to check off as my newspaper and I thrive.

He said that he had thought about archiving all of his photographs digitally and blasting them into space, to be found ten trillion years later by the Blargons.

Here's a safe bet: not only has this picture been done better than this, it's probably been done better than this today.
Here’s a safe bet: not only has this picture been done better than this, it’s probably been done better than this today.

Then we sort of settled into the idea that some photographers have made themselves extendedly remembered (though not “immortalized” and all that word entails) by creating large, archival prints of their photographs and selling them throughout the world. The great Ansel Adams comes to mind. You can go to Washington D.C. or Moscow or Santa Fe and to see his work, in a form that will last for many years, real, tangible silver photographic prints.

Yet even those will someday be dust.

Also, what photographs are the most significant? Nature and landscape? Portraits? “Fine Art”? News and sports?

As we spoke, he spotted a sunset shot and hung up to make a picture.

Thus, is that the real art and value of the creative things we do? The process? Is our work in writing, photography, sculpting, music, painting, teaching, film making, acting …  really just building sand castles?

I know we are all taking a lot of pictures, and I know we all see a lot of pictures every day. Does that huge number of images dilute and diminish each one?
I know we are all taking a lot of pictures, and I know we all see a lot of pictures every day. Does that huge number of images dilute and diminish each one?

Pictures and Egos

This week I put together a collection of images I made at my newspaper this year under the title “2021: The Year in Pictures.” As I was doing it, I got to feeling pretty good about the work I’ve done in the last twelve insanely stressful months.

But it wasn’t always that way. Earlier this month, various news agencies and photographers across the world were assembling similar collections of their work or the work of their entire staff. Looking at them online, it was easy to lose sight of the value of my work, and to throw up my hands and say, “I give up. I’ll never be as good as these men and women.”

Then I circle back to my folder of photos, and feel better about it.

Why is it so easy to forget the work we do, and why are we threatened by those we perceive as doing it better? Wouldn’t it make more sense to appreciate our successes, learn from our mistakes and/or inadequacies, and build on the great ideas and techniques we see in others?

All that aside, I hope my readers enjoy seeing our community through my photographer’s eyes.

So that leads us to my favorite picture of the year. Many of my friends and readers know that my wife Abby has not been well this year, so my picture of the year is of her, happy and pretty at her family’s annual reunion in October.

Abby smiles for my camera at her family's annual reunion in October. She and I had a great weekend there, and a great time traveling the two hours there and back both Saturday and Sunday, just being together. I love this photograph.
Abby smiles for my camera at her family’s annual reunion in October. She and I had a great weekend there, and a great time traveling the two hours there and back both Saturday and Sunday, just being together. I love this photograph.

The Absolute Magic of Photojournalism

Journalism is a lot of things. It is stressful, urgent, raw, demanding, exciting, dangerous, exhausting, engaging, rewarding.

My particular slice of journalism is slanted toward photojournalism, storytelling with images. I love it. I absolutely love it.

These thoughts came together as I was being courted by a potential employer. I saw a job on Indeed.com and thought it might be worth exploring. The job was in the area of corporate social media, and it was tempting; more money and better benefits. But as I was considering it, this happened…

A magnificent bright double rainbow appeared in the eastern sky just prior to the start of Ada High School's football game against Blanchard Friday, Oct. 1. The game was also Ada's Pink Out Night for breast cancer awareness.
A magnificent bright double rainbow appeared in the eastern sky just prior to the start of Ada High School’s football game against Blanchard Friday, Oct. 1. The game was also Ada’s Pink Out Night for breast cancer awareness.

I am part of a scene, part of a community, part of events like these, beautiful and fun and intimate. I am Richard R. Barron, who has been at The Ada News for 33 years.

Photographer Jim Beckel told me a story about me once: he was covering a high school state golf tournament in Oklahoma City a few years ago, and photographed a girl from Latta. Knowing Latta is in our coverage area, he asked the golfer, “Do you know Richard Barron?” She answered, “You mean ‘Richard R. Barron’?”

So sure, it would be nice to make more money and have better job security and benefits, but what could ever take the place of being Richard R. Barron, photographing double rainbows on the sideline at an Ada Cougar football game?

Pink Out Night under the rainbow: how does photojournalism seem to get better every year?
Pink Out Night under the rainbow: how does photojournalism seem to get better every year?

Pinch, Poke and The Mighty Hound

The sun setting behind these Rose-of-Sharon flowers creates a beautiful pallet of haze and flare that helps express the light and the moment.
The sun setting behind these Rose-of-Sharon flowers creates a beautiful pallet of haze and flare that helps express the light and the moment.

I worked outside for a while after walking the dogs last night. We had a very wet spring and summer, so I had let some vines and trees in the back yard get thick and out of control.

Our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken plopped down in the middle of the elm branches and vine clippings. He even tried to eat a Rose-of-Sharon branch. Wow, he is a gorgeous dog.
Our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken plopped down in the middle of the elm branches and vine clippings. He even tried to eat a Rose-of-Sharon branch. Wow, he is a gorgeous dog.

Lately I’ve been very much enjoying my new/used Fuji X-T10 with an ancient and very well-used Pentax 50mm f/1.4 on it. This camera/lens combination creates a look that reminds me of older color slides made with older lenses.

The Fuji X-T10 is shown with the Pentax 50mm f/1.4.
The Fuji X-T10 is shown with the Pentax 50mm f/1.4.

After lopping branches and playing tug-of-war with some very beautiful but tenacious vines, the light started to mature, and, as I often do, I grabbed a camera.

I took a minute to walk over the the Nipps' house to photograph Mike's chickens.
I took a minute to walk over the the Nipps’ house to photograph Mike’s chickens.
These two big roosters took a keen interest in my presence.
These two big roosters took a keen interest in my presence.
The vines I trimmed had these tiny purple berries on them.
The vines I trimmed had these tiny purple berries on them.
The Pentax 50mm f/1.4 shot wide open gives me a very painterly look, which expresses the light and the mood of the evening well.
The Pentax 50mm f/1.4 shot wide open gives me a very painterly look, which expresses the light and the mood of the evening well.
This image shows what a bit of a jungle I have allowed to grow in the back yard.
This image shows what a bit of a jungle I have allowed to grow in the back yard.

Photographic Doings

A tiny green spider hunts atop one of my marigolds in the garden.
A tiny green spider hunts atop one of my marigolds in the garden.

I often ask my photographer friends on the phone, “Hey, what are you doing photographically?”

The idea is to trade ideas, think creatively, and to encourage each other in our efforts to bring more to our photographic games.

I come to this party ahead of the curve, since I am a photojournalist my trade, but I am often trying to get out of that box and make different images, which I hope have some element of fine art to them. Here are a couple of items I shot this week around our patch of green in Oklahoma.

A large grasshopper clings to some of my marigolds in the garden.
A large grasshopper clings to some of my marigolds in the garden.
A tall thistle sways in late afternoon light.
A tall thistle sways in late afternoon light.
Condensation clings to the transparent lid of our coffee maker.
Condensation clings to the transparent lid of our coffee maker.
Tangled morning glory vines reach for late afternoon sunshine.
Tangled morning glory vines reach for late afternoon sunshine.
Dusty power cables cast long shadows in the garage at last light.
Dusty power cables cast long shadows in the garage at last light.
Marigold blossoms stretch to reach sunlight.
Marigold blossoms stretch to reach sunlight.
Mimosa branches are silhouettes against the red summer sun at sunset.
Mimosa branches are silhouettes against the red summer sun at sunset.

Experiments Keep Us Moving Forward

In my last post, I talked about buying a nice used mirrorless camera and some adaptors so I could experiment with older lenses. It got me thinking about some of the very first images, and very first experiments, I tried.

I had a microscope as a kid, and spent a lot of time looking through it at everything from ants to onions. Photographing it with a homemade macro lens yielded very shallow depth of field.
I had a microscope as a kid, and spent a lot of time looking through it at everything from ants to onions. Photographing it with a homemade macro lens yielded very shallow depth of field.

Ignorance is bliss, and some of my most successful early photographic experiments wouldn’t have happened if an expert had told me why they wouldn’t work. One, for example, is one I tried with a garage-sale Exa camera of 1962 vintage. I was drawn to it by it’s beautifully-made all-metal Exacta removable / interchangeable lens. It was the only lens I had for it, but it occured to me as I watched how the focus mechanism moved the lens farther from the film to focus closer that if I could move it ever farther from the film, I could focus even closer.

Using my fingertips to hold the lens on the camera with a piece of cardboard toilet paper core between them required some patience.
Using my fingertips to hold the lens on the camera with a piece of cardboard toilet paper core between them required some patience.

In the world of photographic equipment, this is done with a device called an extension tube, which mounts between the camera and the lens. I didn’t have one, and I was 15, so the only money I had was a few bucks from mowing a few lawns, and my allowance. So I decided to put the cardboard core from a used-up toilet paper roll between the camera and the lens. It worked!

This spring of wheat grass grew in the pasture behind our house in Lawton when I lived there in the 1970s.
This spring of wheat grass grew in the pasture behind our house in Lawton when I lived there in the 1970s.

Most lenses aren’t designed to focus close, and neither was the 1960s-era Exacta. The images I got have a dream-like softness about them, and are loaded with vignetting, which is darkening of the edges of the frame. The vignetting was so dominant that my mother called the images “vignettes.”

Experimenting with the creative aspects of photography goes so far beyond camera and lens reviews and specifications. Sometimes I can get better, more interesting, more compelling images with a broken camera, a toy camera, or an ancient camera.

This tiny statue made of corn husks is a representation of my mother and her sister singing together, which was their favorite thing to do.
This tiny statue made of corn husks is a representation of my mother and her sister singing together, which was their favorite thing to do.

The Yard Session

Years after the Nikon D100 digital camera has been retired from my workflow, it's easy to talk about its shortcomings. Despite those, the D100 actually was able to create beautiful images.
Years after the Nikon D100 digital camera has been retired from my workflow, it’s easy to talk about its shortcomings. Despite those, the D100 actually was able to create beautiful images.

My wife Abby and I have made many great photographs of each other over the years, both at our home in the bucolic splendor of Southern Oklahoma, and on our dozens of road trips over the years.

I bought the Nikon Coolpix 885 in the summer of 2002 as a small alternative to the Nikons I was using professionally at the time. By the time Abby and I had been dating a few months, she had made it her own.
I bought the Nikon Coolpix 885 in the summer of 2002 as a small alternative to the Nikons I was using professionally at the time. By the time Abby and I had been dating a few months, she had made it her own.

One session that stands out among them, and always makes me smile to view and remember, is “The Yard Session.” We shot these images on February 26, 2004 (thanks, EXIF data!) It was a warm late afternoon in our friend Michael‘s front yard in Norman, Oklahoma. The light was beautiful, and I’d asked Michael to photograph us with his Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro. His images are great, but the ones that stand out and bring us the fondest reminiscences are the ones we made of each other.

Abby photographed me with our Nikon Coolpix 885, and I photographed her with my Nikon D100 with the manual-focus 85mm f/2.0 lens. Because the D100 lacked an aperture indexing ring, it couldn’t talk to manual-focus lenses, so exposure was based entirely using histogram on the monitor on the back of the camera.

Images like this happen organically, often without  planning or effort, and the result is a very natural, telling, intimate photography session.

Looking back on that moment more than 16 years ago, we were young and in love, engaged to be married, and so very happy. I hope these images show that.

Keep Your Eyes Open

Light from the rising sun strikes the shades in our living room this morning.
Light from the rising sun strikes the shades in our living room this morning.

Sometimes very beautiful photographs happen unexpectedly before our eyes. Such a scene appeared before me last night as my wife Abby and I were watching television before my departure to photograph Friday night basketball.

Sunset lights streaks through the boards on our front porch last night.
Sunset lights streaks through the boards on our front porch last night.
This squirrel's nut isn't lit; it's catching sunset light.
This squirrel’s nut isn’t lit; it’s catching sunset light.

I grabbed a camera, my very old Minolta DiMage 7i of 2002-vintage, that I felt might help express what I was seeing, a rather remarkable moment of purple, pink and orange sky and land just at sunset. I’ve been shooting sunsets with the Minolta since 2002, and despite its obsolescence, I still turn to it for something intangible I like about the images it makes.

The salient point of this post, though, is to remind everyone who wants to make better images to stop the car, mute the tv, put down the phone, and go make the picture.

This is the view from our front porch last night.
This is the view from our front porch last night.
Last light catches the treetops last night in our front yard.
Last light catches the treetops last night in our front yard.

Sweet Suite

This look was made using a preset for Adobe Lightroom Classic called "Red from Left." It's an obvious name and look, but it is a tool in my photographic toolbox.
This look was made using a preset for Adobe Lightroom Classic called “Red from Left.” It’s an obvious name and look, but it is a tool in my photographic toolbox.

Thanks to my relationship with the Pontotoc Technology Center, I have access to all the applications in the Adobe Creative Cloud 2020 suite. This software is super powerful, versatile, and complex. The suite includes applications for photo editing, video and motion production, design and layout, augmented reality and 3D, user experience and user interface, and social media.

I had a recent teaching job that required me to learn some additional video editing skills.
I had a recent teaching job that required me to learn some additional video editing skills.

I am essentially a photographer, photo editor, and writer, and have literally never even opened some of these very powerful programs, though I have a cursory knowledge of Adobe Premiere Pro I made myself learn so I could integrate it into teaching a class.

For day-to-day photo editing, I use an older version of Lightroom Classic at my office every day, which I don’t love, but the newest iteration of Lightroom Classic has become my go-to photo editing application. It’s not the image-altering behemoth that Photoshop has become, but it’s easy to stay organized and work to edit images in it.

Adobe struggled with their naming conventions when advancing the suite, so Lightroom is Lightroom “web,” and Lightroom Classic is the real thing. Yeah, lame, I know.

One thing I like about Lightroom is the ability to add “looks,” in the form of presets, which are available both for purchase and for free. I can also build my own “look” presets and save them… honestly, I expect that will be how I end up using presets in Lightroom Classic.

My bigger goal, though, is to learn, learn, learn. I want to learn how to use more of these software applications, but also how they can improve my storytelling narrative. Great things are ahead!

Adobe Photoshop has certainly come a long way since I first started using version 5 in 1998 on my beige Apple Macintosh G3 computer.
Adobe Photoshop has certainly come a long way since I first started using version 5 in 1998 on my beige Apple Macintosh G3 computer.

Always Be Ready to Make the Picture

The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a wide angle lens.
The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a wide angle lens.

Anticipating an early voter turnout Tuesday, I drove directly from our home in Byng to Konawa to cover the school bond issue election. It was just after seven in the morning, and the sun was still below the horizon. I immediately noticed that farm ponds had fog above them and anticipated that the Canadian River, which I would shortly cross, would as well.

I drove across the U.S. 377 bridge, parked in a safe spot, put on my highway safety vest, grabbed three cameras and walked to the center of the bridge over the river. For the record, I don’t recommend this, and I did it as a journalist. I know, I know — do as I say, not as I do, but drivers can get distracted in a moment, and it’s not always easy to see in early morning light.

The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 70mm lens.
The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 70mm lens.

Sunlight caught the rising fog exactly as I had anticipated, and the scene did not disappoint. I shot it with all three cameras — one with a 300mm lens, one with an 80-200mm lens,and one with a wide angle. All three scenes expressed something slightly different about the scene, and I was glad I lugged all the hardware with me.

How many times has someone come up to me with their phone in hand and started telling me, “I didn’t have my camera with me, but…” They then show me an image they made with their phone that tells only part of the story. Despite constantly improving technology in smartphones, they lack something. Maybe they lack the attitude of a camera.

The lesson is: Always have your camera with you. I know this is easy to say if you’re like me and have had cameras within arm’s reach since I was in high school, but it can really pay off.

The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 300mm lens.
The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 300mm lens.

The Sweet Morning Fog

I shot this on my way to work this morning, fortuitous that my first assignment required a different route to work than I usually take. I jumped out of my car and half-ran across a mostly-empty four-lane highway to get into position.

Steam billows over a farm pond between Byng and Ada, Oklahoma Saturday morning, March 16; shot with the Nikon D300S and the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8.
Steam billows over a farm pond between Byng and Ada, Oklahoma Saturday morning, March 16; shot with the Nikon D300S and the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8.