Luminescence

FUJI2888.jpg

Here’s an interesting case of finding a photo opportunity in a somewhat unexpected scenario. I was out for a short walk around Theta Pond in the afternoon when I came across this…uh…plant? I don’t know what it is, but there’s a lot of them around the pond here at OSU and I’m no botanist as you probably know by now. Anyway, the scene was altogether unremarkable, except for one interesting twist: the sun was already getting low on the horizon which made for a unique mix of colors and light.

Normally when I’m taking pictures I tend to put myself between the light source and my subject, but in this case I did the opposite. By positioning the subject (i.e. this withering, brown, and mostly unremarkable leaf) between my camera the the light source (i.e. the sun) it created a neat effect where it almost seems like the leaf is glowing. I didn’t think about this at first, mind you, and it was only after a few minutes of playing around with different compositions that I stumbled across this particular angle and figured I would give it a try.

The first thing I did was put my camera (in this case, my Fuji X100F) in RAW instead of JPG because I figured I would need the leeway when editing. Then I had to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it. I realized that if I got down low, shot at f/2.8, and tried to compose the shot in such a way that there would be a bit of foreground as well as background, it might look interesting. I put the leaf slightly off center and I think the end result works quite well. To give you an idea of what I was working with I returned a few hours later on my way home from work and took a picture after the sun had gone down a bit farther. You can see it below, and the leaves in the shot above are circled in red.

Pretty boring, eh? I guess it just goes to show how much of a difference lighting can make when taking photos. And I would challenge you to keep this in mind as well, especially at times of the year such as winter (for those of us in the northern hemisphere, that is) when the sun is often much lower on the horizon compared to the summer months. You might find that otherwise ordinary scenes become transformed into rich photographic opportunities.

Homemade

FUJI2837.jpg

I have taught a class called Information Technology Project Management at Oklahoma State University for the past four and a half years and it really is one of the standout parts of my job. While I do miss teaching high school, which I did in Minnesota for several years, I have really come to appreciate working at a university and also teaching college-age students. Many of them in my class are near graduation and they are getting ready to move away, start careers, or take a year off to just go see the world. It’s a fun opportunity to be able to teach them and each semester I cap off my class with a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

I always like to involve my kids in this process and usually make their consuming of said cookies contingent on their willingness to pitch in with the creation process. Normally I would just stand near them, hold my camera at eye level, and take a photo but this time I wanted to try something a bit different. I stood on a chair, held my Fuji X100F out at arm’s length, set the aperture to f/2.8, and fired off a few shots from directly above. I rather like the result even though I wasn’t entirely sure where to focus, and as such my son’s head on the left is a bit blurry but I do think it works to draw the viewer’s attention to the mixing bowl and other baking implements.

As I look back at photos of my kids that my wife and I have taken over the past seven years the ones that seem to have the most impact are the ones that also convey a sense of time, place, and activity. A headshot is great but if that headshot can be part of a larger story that’s even better, and I think that’s one reason I’m happy with this picture. I like that both boys are intently staring at the mixer, I like that there’s a bit of a mess on the counter, and I like that it clearly tells a story of something that’s happening. Plus I like that it involves homemade chocolate chip cookies :)

Towering

DSC_2388.jpg

If last week’s post was about the end of one year, this week’s image is about the beginning of a new one. It’s a bit ironic though, since I shot this in November 2018 and what you’re seeing here isn’t the beginning of anything. In fact it’s the last gasp of light and life from our Chinese Pistache tree in our back yard, and the very next day after I took this photo the scene here was one of dull, lifeless brown. Still, the picture represents renewal for me despite what is actually happening in it, and I like to think that with the onset of another trip around the sun it’s pictures like this that are going to mean something a little more.

So a bit of background here. It was a chilly Saturday morning and I was eating breakfast with my kids while my wife slept (I like to let her sleep in on the weekend if possible) and noticed the sun peeking over our fence. Our trees had been losing their leaves and the green grass was riddled with spots of yellow and orange, and the early morning sun cast an almost otherworldly glow on the whole scene that was accentuated even further bit near-frozen dewdrops on nearly every surface. I wondered if it would even be possible to capture some of the scene with my camera but knew I only had a few minutes to try, so I grabbed my trusty Nikon D7100, popped on my 50mm lens, and set out to see what I could get.

One of the nice benefits of a newer camera like my D750 (which, as a model released in late 2014, isn’t even all that new anymore) is a tilting rear screen which makes composing low or high shots in Live View a lot easier. My D7100 doesn’t have any such feature so I simply held it as low to the ground as I could, focused as best as I was able to given the constraints of the situation and the fact that I was working in Live View as opposed to the optical viewfinder, and fired off a handful of shots hoping one of them would turn out. The trickiest part was finding a scene to shoot, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I didn’t want just a generic image of grass and leaves; I needed a focal point to draw in the viewer and serve as the subject of the image. After moving around a bit I found it in this leaf that you see above, which was poking upwards amidst the green grass and morning dew.

I shot this at f/2.8 instead of f/1.8 to give myself just a bit of leeway in terms of overall depth of field, and I think my favorite part is the bokeh ball just to the right of the pair of yellow leaves. It has the rather unique and, altogether unplanned on my part, property of being divided into three sections because of the way the light is altered by some grass. I didn’t notice that at the time I took this shot but realized, as I was looking through the pictures afterwards, that I rather liked that little bit and thought that it served as kind of an interesting added touch to the image.

So here’s to a happy, healthy, prosperous, and joyful 2019. Today is a day, and this year is a year, full of possibilities. So let’s go exploring.

Wonderland

FUJI2211.jpg

To close out 2018 I thought I’d share this picture that I took in November on a rather unusually snowy morning here in Oklahoma. Where as the classic Christmas tune speaks of walking in a Winter Wonderland, we don’t usually get scenes like that down here and instead it’s more common to have temps in the 40’s with a smattering of snow every now and then. It’s a welcome sight, then, to wake up to snowfall and chilly temps even if it’s only temporary, and as such I figured it would make an appropriate image for the time of year as well as the Christmas season.

Most of the year I don’t really post pictures that have much in common with the dates on which they are published, usually because I schedule posts many weeks in advance and don’t have any kind of grand master plan behind the photos I take and share. As the year winds down though I do like to take a minute and reflect on things, if you will, and that sentiment is kind of echoed in this image. In some ways 2018 was a difficult one and while I’m not going to get into the details here, suffice it to say that as the year is drawn to a close I find myself really taking to heart the old adage of live each day to the fullest. Not in the sense that I have to do extreme skydiving or run triathlons or anything like that, but that partly because of some losses my family and friends have endured this year I really have made more of an effort to use my time more intentionally. Some would say wisely, but I would say that I just hope I’m not being lazy or sitting around and waiting for things to happen and instead trying to make sure the people in my life know I love them and that I’m doing things that matter.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Heart’s Cry by Steven Curtis Chapman, and there’s a line in it that goes like this:

This is my heart’s cry – to stand before the Father one day and hear Him say well done – this is my heart’s cry.

We don’t have a lot of time on this earth, and when I finally meet my maker I hope to stand before Him and know that I did well with the time He gave me. That I was a good father, a good husband, and a good friend. That we trained up our children in the way they should go, such that as they grow old they will not depart from Him. The scene in this week’s image, that of a path going into the distance on a snowy morning, to me represents both the mistakes of the past and the promise of the future, and while the way might be blurry at times we are never far from the love of Christ. The same Christ whose birth, and life, and death, and resurrection, we celebrate at Christmas and throughout the year.

So while this picture represents the end of one year it also, hopefully, shows the beginning of a new one as well. And while we can’t ever be sure of what the future will hold, we can do our best with the time we have right this very moment. So do what you can to make this day count.

As a bit of a postscript, I will say that my sister lost her three-year battle with breast cancer this past March. You can view my eulogy for her at the link below, and if you or anyone you might know would find a sense of comfort in the message please feel free to share it.

 

Butterfly Effect

DSC_2346.jpg

Lately I’ve been return to my roots a bit, photographically speaking, and doing a bit more shooting with my D7100 + 50mm lens and honestly, it’s been really really nice. As much as I like my Fuji X100F (and you know I like that camera!) there’s something about going back to where it all started and using my crop-sensor camera and the first lens I ever bought. The very same lens, in fact, that got me to start this Weekly Fifty blog way back in the spring of 2013.

When one of my friends from work suggested I bring my camera to get a picture of some of the monarch butterflies that were alighting on the flowers in the garden in front of the Student Union, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get a classic 50mm shot. Due to their sheer size these butterflies make good photography subjects since you don’t have get in super duper close like you might with smaller creatures. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get a shot like this one earlier in the year due to the time of day and different lighting conditions, but I figured I would at least be able to capture something interesting and colorful nonetheless.

After a few shots at f/4 I decided to go all-in and leave my aperture firmly at f/1.8 because…well, why not. Depth of field at f/1.8 is so unwieldy I knew I would likely get shots that were slightly out of focus, but I really wanted to focus the viewer’s attention firmly on any butterflies I was photographing which called for a super wide aperture despite the issues that situation sometimes causes. I got plenty of images I liked, and sure enough several were front- or back-focused, but this one was one of my favorites because of all the color as well as the interesting foreground element. Which was, I might add, an intentional compositional choice on my part. I specifically shot this with those two branches in between my camera and the butterfly to create a sense of depth and perspective that just wasn’t present in most of my other pictures. It turned out pretty well focused too, and even zoomed in all the way you’ll notice that the butterfly is nice and sharp right where it counts.

Pump on the Prairie

DSC_1115.jpg

The third and final image from my series of photos taken while traveling from Nebraska to Oklahoma, this one is a bit different in that it’s actually not off the beaten path at all. It’s not taken from a dirt road, winding highway, or secret spot of any kind. In fact it was taken on a very busy stretch of Interstate 35 just south of the Oklahoma border, and this is a scene I have probably driven past dozens of times over the years and never really thought about very much. But when you look at the world around you in terms of photography opportunities, it’s interesting what can really jump out at you.

If you saw last week’s photo you know the sky was kind of overcast on this day but at this point it had stopped raining outright, leaving some good lighting conditions for taking photos. Since I was on the interstate at this point, having left Highway 77 in favor of faster speed limits, I was really just wanting to get back home and not really interested in taking pictures anymore. But when I noticed this oil pump just west of a rest stop (one of those parking-only deals where you can pull off the road and stretch your legs, but not much more) I really wanted to get a picture of it because…well, once that photography bug bites you it’s hard to ignore.

It wasn’t until I got out and was framing the shot in my camera that I noticed the wind turbine in the distance behind the pump, and I thought the contrast between old and new would make for an interesting image. I wasn’t really sure about the aperture to use though, because I didn’t want to blur the windmill too much but I also wanted to make sure the pump was firmly established as the focal point. I ended up shooting this at f/4.8 but to be honest it didn’t turn out that different from others shot at f/2.8. What really mattered to me in the end, as I was looking through the images on my computer, was the position of the blades on the turbine.

It’s difficult to explain, but in a lot of the pictures the blades just didn’t look interesting. They seemed static and lifeless, or just plain weird such as one blade pointing straight down with the other two angled upward. This picture somehow conveys a sense of movement and depth in the turbine blades, which combined with the pump fully above the horizon (this was also moving up and down as I took pictures) resulted in an image that seemed much more interesting to me than some of the others.

Weekly Fifty is now on YouTube

All my photos and audio commentaries are now available at the Weekly Fifty YouTube Channel:

Weekly Fifty on YouTube

When I started Weekly Fifty nearly six years ago I also included a podcast with my audio commentary tracks, but I did this more as a curiosity than anything. I always knew it wasn’t super practical to have audio-only tracks where I would talk about pictures that the listener wouldn’t be able to see, but I figured it wouldn’t really hurt to make this sort of thing available anyway in case some people happened to prefer it. Occasionally I thought about putting my photos and accompanying commentaries on YouTube but the longer the blog went on the more this seemed like an insurmountable task: it would require me creating a QuickTime file for every single picture and audio track, now numbering over 300, and then uploading them and including a link back to the blog for each one as well. It just didn’t seem like it was worth the effort.

Over time though I started to think a little more about this and eventually realized that the work required for each individual image wouldn’t be that much, it would just take a while to do it for every photo. So as with any daunting task I started with a single picture and slowly expanded over time until I had all my images online. I’m going to do this for every photo from here on out as a way of offering these images and commentaries for people who want a more convenient way of accessing them other than the blog, and doing it on YouTube means people are (in my estimation) more likely to go back and look at images from past years instead of just the most recent one.

This isn’t going to change anything about the blog, and the best place to see these images is always going to be here where you can also click through to the high-resolution Flickr version and read the commentary as well as listen to it. But for those people who prefer to see all of these images and hear what I have to say on YouTube, well…now you’ve got a way to do that :)

Bridge Over Calm Waters

DSC_1073.jpg

The second in my series of images shot on my way home to Oklahoma, this one was in Beatrice, Nebraska, looking east from where Highway 77 crosses the Big Blue River. If you click on that link it will load the Google Maps Street view of this scene which, as you might notice, is vastly different in terms of lighting and overall colorization compared to what you see here. Just like last week’s image the weather here was overcast and drizzly, and since I had driven over this bridge many times in recent years I certainly wasn’t expecting to stop and take pictures. But as I crossed the river and looked off to the west I realized that the scene could make for an interesting photo opportunity.

Whenever I’m driving solo I have to balance the time I spend driving with the time I spend stopping, and all the little 5- and 10-minute respites to take photos can really add up and have the unfortunate side effect of stretching a 6.5-hour drive into an 8-hour drive, and that was certainly on my mind here. Was this bridge really worth stopping for? I didn’t know for sure, but after I parked my car in a nearby lot I literally ran over to the spot where I shot this photo so I could make this little side jaunt as brief as possible. I had my D750 and 70-200 lens and as I took a few images I quickly realized that it wasn’t necessarily the old rail bridge that was going to make for an interesting picture but also its reflection. Somehow that seemed to add a unique element to the photo, so I zoomed out and took a few more pictures at about 75mm which is what you see here.

In thinking about this image after the fact I realized that this same photo could have been taken with my Nikon D200 and 50mm lens, since the focal length I ended up using on my full-frame camera is very close to shooting 50mm on a crop-sensor camera. Basically, even though I was shooting with a couple thousand dollars worth of camera gear I could have done the same thing with a camera/lens combination one-tenth the price. It was a healthy reminder to me, even after all these years, that good pictures don’t require fancy cameras or expensive lenses. Certainly those elements can help, but often it’s just seeing the opportunity for a picture and then taking the time to capture it that really makes all the difference.

Vista

DSC_1062.jpg

This is the first in a series of three photos I’m going to be posting here over the next few weeks that were all taken on the drive home from a recent trip to Nebraska. When I left for this particular visit I switched things up just a bit by bringing my Fuji X100F as well as my Nikon D750 + 70-200 2.8 lens, partly because I wanted to have the ability to switch things up from the Fuji but also because I don’t think I have ever travelled with that particular camera combination before. That particular combination of cameras and lenses is my go-to setup when I do portrait photography but the idea of taking the D750 and that particular lens with me on a trip was something that hadn’t really occurred to me before. And while the results weren’t always what I was expecting, in truth I didn’t really know what to expect so in that sense I suppose you could say that everything worked out great :)

When I left Nebraska on a foggy Sunday morning to begin the drive back to Oklahoma I thought that the overcast skies and rainy weather would preclude me from taking any photos of significance, but then I realized that this was somewhat of a unique opportunity since it’s usually bright and sunny when I make this particular drive. That said, as I was driving south on Highway 77 between Lincoln and Beatrice I saw this scene on the west side of the road that was quite unlike most other scenes I can recall photographing. The gray sky gave an otherworldly feeling to the prairie, and the tree poking up in the middle of the horizon helped give a nice clear focal point to what otherwise might be a somewhat less-than-interesting image.

I shot this at 200mm, f/4, ISO 100 and even though that gave me a nice clean image with plenty to work with in Lightroom I found that I didn’t need to do much at all to get the image to look like the scene I can recall seeing so vividly from the side of the highway. Of the ten or so pictures I shot before I got in the car I chose this one as my favorite because of how much empty space there was at the top, as opposed to other images where the horizon basically bisected the frame. The empty gray space seemed like it added to the otherworldly feeling of the picture as a whole, and I hope the image captures a sense of calm and stillness that was almost palpable as I stood there on the side of the road.

Sunflower State

FUJI0835.jpg

If I had to define the word serendipity I would use this picture as an example. I shot this when I was on my way to Nebraska recently to see family, and as I often prefer to do I took back roads and highways instead of main roads and interstates. Those routes are often more direct as the crow flies but take a little longer due to reduced speed limits and small towns, but they more than make up for it (in my opinion) simply due to the scenic nature of the drive. Case in point: I had no idea that my trip through Kansas would end up taking me past a vast field of sunflowers, and because I was on a barely-paved two-lane highway I was able to easily stop, get out, and shoot some photos.

First off: I don’t really want to say exactly where in Kansas I got this picture because of stories like this where tourists and Instagrammers overwhelmed and basically destroyed a similar location in Ontario. But it was definitely off the proverbial beaten path, and not at all something that most people would end up driving past. And as I got out my camera I quickly realized one problem: I had no idea how to capture this scene.

When I first drove past the field on my way to Nebraska I got out my D750 + 70-200 lens because…well, I don’t really know why. I thought that it would be a way to capture the vast scene in front of me but when I got to my parents’ house and looked through some of my images I realized that even shooting at 70mm was far too narrow to really showcase the scope of the sunflowers, and my shots at longer focal lengths mostly looked like a yellow and green mess. Depth of field was all weird too, and even shooting at f/11 the DOF was so narrow that much of the sunflower field looked blurry and uninspiring.

On my return trip to Oklahoma I made a point of driving past the same field but this time used my Fuji X100F and was able to get what were, in my opinion, some much better images. I had to move physically closer to the sunflowers but this gave me the best of both worlds: I realized that I could make one single sunflower the focal point of the image while still showing the vastness of the sunflower field as a whole. Or, at least that was my goal here. I expect the next time I drive past this scene the flowers will be long gone, but it’s kind of cool knowing where to find this spot for similar shots years down the proverbial road…