On my work laptop, I use recent images from my news, sports, and feature photos as my screen saver.
My Screen Needs to Be Saved?
For you 21st century people who have no idea what a screen saver is, basically it is part of the operating system of a desktop or a laptop computer that activates when the computer is unused, dimming the screen, showing the time and date, making patterns, or, in this case, showing me a slide show of all the photos in my screen saver folder.
The images scroll past, showing years of events I’ve covered, some of it grim, some of it boring, but most of it was absolutely rippingly fun to cover. I hope I never took those events for granted, and I hope we can return to them one day soon.
In the middle of this, it occurred to me that one of my very favorite things to cover , graduations, won’t be happening at all this spring because of the coronavirus crisis. Nor will proms, spring festivals, sports playoffs, water seminars, pancake frys, quilt shows, wagon rides, land run reenactments, groundbreakings, dedications, food festivals, car shows, arts festivals, parades. Life has ground to a halt.
Neither my wife nor I, nor anyone close to us, is sick, and I am grateful for that, for every day, for every breath.
I just posted a few images here, but there are literally thousands in my files that have stories to tell. I want to keep telling these stories.
By now we all know about the social upheaval connected to the current pandemic. As a photojournalist, I normally cover breaking news, feature news, and sports. Right now, if things were normal, I would probably be shooting two or three baseball games and two or three softball games on typical afternoons.
Oddly, there seems to be a lot less breaking news – fewer car crashes, fewer house fires, fewer stabbings, fewer shootings – than normal, possibly because people are in their homes watching television, or maybe because they have less access to alcohol and drugs.
Last night I worked outdoors, not at a sports event, but because the Ada City Council’s meeting room only holds 10 people with enough space to be safe, so we the public and press watched it on a closed-circuit television just outside. It was a nice night, and I was glad to be outdoors instead of trapped with potential carriers.
The nature of my work is different, too. For one thing, I use my iPhone more, since it is connected to the cloud. The images aren’t as demanding as usual – it doesn’t take much camera power to photograph an empty shelf at a supermarket or a “closed” sign on a restaurant’s dining room.
It’s true that I am really missing covering sports, but that is an indulgence. People are scared. People are sick. Sports can wait. I can wait.
When I was about 16 I saw this movie, starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. Dunaway portrays Kathy, a photographer who gets tangled up in the intrigue. In her apartment, Redford, whose character is Joe Turner, looks at some of her images on the walls; deep, rich, low-light black-and-white images. He remarks that the photos aren’t really autumn, but they aren’t really winter. They are in between – November.
Kathy: Sometimes I take a picture that isn’t like me. But I took it so it is like me. It has to be. I put those pictures away.
Joe Turner: I’d like to see those pictures.
Kathy: We don’t know each other that well.
Joe Turner: Do you know anybody that well?
Kathy: I don’t think I want to know you very well.
This scene made a huge impression on the early years of my own photography.
Years ago, a fellow professional photographer and I were editing some of our images from a hiking trip from which we had just returned. He looked at me like he wasn’t pleased, so I asked him why.
“Because these were made with a kits lens. They shouldn’t look this good,” he answered.
It’s a bit of professional snobbery to regard inexpensive photographic hardware as bad or undesirable. When we encounter each other, we look down our noses at equipment we perceive as “amateur” gear. That’s a mistake.
For my entire career, I’ve been cultivating a style that usually includes two cameras, one with a telephoto lens, and the other with a wide angle lens. It’s a great one-two punch that many in my profession utilize, one that allows us to be ready to shoot what we need to shoot just by grabbing the camera with the right lens on it for the image.
For years, that wide angle was the excellent 12-24mm f/4 Tokina, a solid performer, but also a bit on the heavy side. I also had an 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 Nikkor that wasn’t a great performer, but weighed less than the Tokina. When, over the past few months, that lens died, I grabbed amn 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Nikkor, the lightest of them all.
If you watch photographers everywhere, you’ll see that this lens or some very similar iteration is easily the most popular glass in the photographic world. Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony, and others all have a lens in this class, and for good reason: this lens is sharp, lightweight, affordable, versatile, and fun to use. It’s downsides: they tend to be a bit on the flimsy side, and they don’t have a very large maximum aperture.
This class of lenses earned the moniker “kits lens” because they are often sold as part of a kit from retailers ranging from B&H Photo/Video in New York City to the sales jungle Amazon. Retailers might bundle a digital single lens reflex or mirrorless camera with an 18-55mm, a flash, a tripod, a cleaning cloth, a polarizing filter, and more.
I use this lens as a standard wide angle, almost always at 18mm. At 18mm, it is a nice, sharp, fast-focusing f/3.5 wide angle lens. I could put it away, embarrassed that I wasn’t shooting with a “more professional” lens, but the truth is, if you know how to use a kit lens, you can make great images with it.
It seems like an obvious truism that light and shadow are essential to every image, and that every scene looks a little different with variations in light. But compare the images in this entry with a couple of images in the previous entry, “Keep Your Eyes Open,” to see how profoundly this is true.
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.
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.
So we have all been around the block about “bokeh.” It is firmly entrenched in the photographic lexicon, and recently, I have been seeing many posts and videos that cite, “incredible dreamy quality.”
Could it be that simple? Is the goal of some of our photography to evoke dreams? Is that what I was seeking when I bought an amazing, beautifully-made AF-D Nikkor 85mm f/1.4? I have been experimenting with this “quality” using this lens. I also attempted to bring that “quality” to some of my images on our anniversary vacation last October using my AF-S 50mm f/1.4.
I will have more thoughts on this. What would you like to know or add to the discussion?
For some time now, I’ve been intent on making a preliminary attempt at focus stacking. It’s not critical to my work, but I often think I should add as many tools as I can to my photographic toolbox. I’m already pretty good with High Dynamic Range (HDR), which is a form of exposure stacking, so focus stacking seemed like the next move.
Stacking is a way to blend more than one image. Focus stacking is blending several images, each of which is focused at a different point. The idea is to use sharp portions of each image to create a new image with more in focus. This can be useful for landscapes that have compositional elements at locations both very close to the camera, and very far from the camera, but it is an exceptional tool when it comes to macro photography of very, very small objects, in which focus ranges are so close that depth-of-field is razor thin.
The basic process is to import images of different focus areas into Photoshop, then tell Photoshop to blend them. You can put it into search engine to find a step-by-step, which is what I did. It wasn’t at all difficult.
For this attempt, I made one image for every rifle cartridge in the image, moving focus from one to the next.
This is my first try, and it’s incredibly rough. Obviously I need to read more about how to finesse this technique, and I need to practice. There are many more applications available in addition to Photoshop, but I have Photoshop as part of my Adobe Creative Suite, so it seemed like a good place to start.
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 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!
I am a lens guy. I think photographic lenses are interesting and beautiful. They are one of my favorite things about photography.
Recently, a talented and respected Monterrey, California photographer friend of mine, Nic Coury, posted on social media that he switched to Nikon’s new mirrorless cameras and lenses and was selling an old favorite of his, the AF-D Nikkor 85mm f/1.4.
I love all the lenses in the photographic world, but if you pinned me down to name a favorite, it would be the 85mm, and I have always imagined what I could do with an 85mm f/1.4, so when Nic made me a very attractive offer, I couldn’t pass it up.
I certainly didn’t need another 85mm. In January 2016, I was able to add the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G to my bag. You can read more about it here and here and here (links.) And of course, I can get to 85mm with this zoom and that. Still, I always saw 85mm prime lenses as things of beauty that are capable of creating beautiful images, and there really is something magical about those huge apertures like f/1.4.
Compared to the AF-S 85mm f/1.8G…
Despite the two lenses being nearly identical in size, the f/1.4 weighs 20 ounces, while the f/1.8 weighs just 12.4 ounces.
The D takes more effort to coax it into focusing. Once it’s there, it’s sharp, but as you can imagine, at f/1.4 or even at f/2, the subtle aberrations mix with the super-shallow depth of field to challenge sharpness.
Autofocus is slow, and it often requires another push of the shutter release or back button to “restart” the focus. I shot a little basketball action with it the day I got it, but the percentage of useable images was way down compared to my usual basketball lens, the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8. AF-S really is the game changer it’s touted to be.
Compared to the AF 85mm f/1.8D, a lens I bought in the 1990s and used until it died, and the 85mm f/2.0 that I sold years ago…
The f/1.4D is much better made and sturier in-hand than the plasticky f/1.8D, and much more a pleasure to use.
Aperture-for-aperture, the f/1.4 is always sharper. (This in in contradiction with Ken Rockwell’s assertion that the f/1.8 is sharper… my f/1.8D was never all that sharp.)
The manual-focus 85mm f/2.0 was a gem, both mechanically and optically, and one of the lenses I miss the most, but adding the autofocus f/1.4 makes up for it.
I took that very photo tour in May 2012. It was a photographic opportunity I wanted to cross off of my to-do list, but after the experience, I felt sure I never wanted to do it again.
Antelope Canyon is a spectacular, narrow, short, easily-traversed slot canyon in far northern Arizona. It is close to the town of Page. A huge industry has built up around touring this feature.
The article includes, “According to Navajo National Parks, they have made the decision to stop running photo tours in Upper Antelope Canyon following the negative reviews and feedback from many attendees.”
I can assure you this assessment of the experience is accurate. Even seven years ago, this feature had been discovered and became overwhelmingly crowded.
The tour is phony and commercialized as well.
The guides rush you through, almost bullying you to get the shot and get out in a hurry.
At one point about halfway through my tour in 2012, a nice lady in our group put away her camera. When I asked her why, she said, “This just isn’t relaxing.”
The magical “shaft of sunlight” and the magical “falling sand” we see in so many images from this feature are both the result of a tour guide throwing a ladle of sand in the air.
There were many times in that two hour tour during which my fellow photographers and I had to turn sideways and inhale to let 30 tourists pass through the narrow passages.
On the same trip as the Antelope Canyon tour, I found and photographed a much smaller canyon, which I had entirely to myself, and which not only made much better pictures, was relaxing and fun.
The Antelope Canyon “photo tour” costs more and offers more, but by this point in history, it’s definitely not worth it to me. Not only are all the images from this feature essentially the same, they are too prevalent. I have these shots. Every photographer I know has these shots. Every photographer in the country has these shots. Every photographer in the world has these shots.
It’s a hard wheel to reinvent.
Saying that implies that most photography is repetitive, and that’s true in a lot of ways. The trick to keeping your own imaging fresh is to give it a unique narrative. Make your images tell your story instead of the story everyone is telling. Yes, Antelope Canyon is beautiful, and yes, maybe your Antelope Canyon photos are beautiful, but an eight second web search can find images that are better. Always.
So, I’ve circled back to the point where a lot of my columns start: storytelling. I need to tell my stories. You need to tell yours. If you are true to that mission, your images will be unique and beautiful on their own.
I recently bought a couple of lenses for my iPhone’s Camera. Made by a company called Moment, these accessories attempt to improve on the quality of the tiny lenses and camera in smartphones. I thought I’d give them a try, and I was surprised at how good they are.
Each lens is about the size of a golf ball, and attaches to the phone via a shaped opening in the proprietary Moment case. They are heavier than they look like they’d be. They mount firmly, and stay attached through the shooting process.
Both lenses seem to be very well-made from steel and optical glass, and the lens surfaces seem to be multi-coated.
The phone with a Moment lens mounted is awkwardly unbalanced, but I was able to work around that.
The real reason I love these new toys is image quality. The default lens on my smartphones isn’t very wide, and the wide angle Moment lens is supposed to be equivalent to an 18mm on 35mm photography. I love a good wide angle because it allows me to bring the viewer deeper into the scene, creating a sense of intimacy and expressing near-far relationships more effectively.
The only flaw with the 18mm is its tendency to exhibit flare and ghosting with the sun in the frame or near the edge of the frame. Some photographers find this intolerable, but so far, I’ve been able to use it as a narrative tool to illustrate the brightness of a scene.
I haven’t played with the Moment 58mm (equivalent) as much, but I expect it will be a great tool in the toolbox as well.
When reading reviews before purchasing, I read about a small grey bag that came with the lenses, and thought to myself that I would probably not use them, or if I did, I would probably lose them, which I promptly did. Accessories like bags, pouches, lens caps, and cleaning clothes are distractions to my photography, and I never use them. They get in the way, and when I’m ready to shoot, I’m ready to shoot.
In conclusion, I’m having a great time with these small, well-made lenses, and recommend them to anyone wanting to up their phonetography game.