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

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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

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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

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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…

The Right Direction

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I don’t know quite what I was going for here, so I can’t say if it worked or not, but I do kind of like the image I was able to capture. I shot this right before the autumnal equinox (almost exactly one year after I captured this similar photo) and didn’t plan on taking any pictures at all until I was out the door on my bike and heading to work. As soon as I got to the end of my driveway I looked to the east and saw a fantastic sunrise just beginning, with nary a camera on me. I quickly turned around, ran back inside, and grabbed my D750 + 70-200mm lens to see if I could capture even the faintest hint of what this scene looked like in real life.

In the one minute it took me to get my camera and return to my bike the sun was already well over the horizon, and the view I saw from my driveway was already subsiding so I frantically rode my bike south a few blocks and was able to take some pictures looking down the east/west road that I take to campus. I don’t like that there’s so many power lines crisscrossing the entire image but after a few shots I tried to embrace the urban elements a little bit since there was no way to actually get rid of them. To that end I specifically tried to take some pictures with cars in them, as a way of adding a bit of life and activity to the sunrise. I mean, if it’s clearly an urban scene anyway (power lines, street signs, etc.) then why not embrace it all the way?

I underexposed the image while shooting at f/2.8 and ISO 100 in order to get a clean picture, not overexpose the sun, and add a bit of foreground blur just for fun. Shooting at a smaller aperture might have resulted in a bit sharper image overall but it would have made the Jeep more in-focus, and I like that it ended up being just a bit blurry in the final image. If you click on the picture and view the full-size original you might notice a glow on the undulating power lines extending to the horizon which was certainly not intended on my part but ended up being kind of interesting as well.

It’s always fascinating to me how quickly scenes like this disappear. Five minutes later this was entirely gone and it was just another sunny morning like any other, but for a brief window it was downright inspirational and a great way to start the day. It’s a good reminder that from the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord God is to be praised.

Orion

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Sometimes you will hear people talk about how it’s possible to get great pictures in your own backyard, but the term backyard is used somewhat loosely and what people really mean is you don’t have to travel very far outsize of your normal daily travels. In this case though, I was able to get what I think is kind of a cool picture literally in my own back yard. Or, my back porch to be more specific.

Every morning my routine follows a somewhat similar pattern: Get up, shower, and sit in a particular spot in our living room to spend some time in prayer before making breakfast. Two days before taking this picture I was praying while looking at the night sky through the sliding glass door to the back porch and noticed that I could clearly see the Orion constellation hanging low above the neighbor’s tree. The temperature was mild, the wind was quiet, and the sky was crystal clear which, I thought, would make for a cool photo. I brought my X100F and tripod outside, took a few shots, and wasn’t really happy with the results. It seemed kind of boring and uninteresting, which was kind of the opposite of what I was aiming for.

The solution, I realized, was to take a long-exposure shot of the same scene with clouds moving across the sky to add a sense of motion and scale to the image. The next morning I set out to do just that, but was foiled due to the total lack of clouds for the second day in a row. While normally it’s kind of neat to be able to see a clear late-summer sky and gaze up at the stars, I was hoping for some clouds to obscure things just a bit. Thankfully the third day, the morning of September 13, I got just what I was hoping for.

After experimenting with a couple different exposure settings I found that 15 seconds at f/8 and ISO 1250 was giving me an ideal mix of starry sky and cloud movement. Much longer and the trees started to show too much motion blur, while much shorter shutter speeds didn’t give me the kind of cloudy streaks I was aiming for. Of the ten images I shot on my back porch I liked this one the best because it seemed as though the clouds were drawing my attention to Orion while also showing the silhouettes of the two trees for a sense of space and context. When I processed this image in Lightroom I found that the clouds were a bit too noisy for my taste so I moved the Luminance slider all the way to 100 (which I almost never do as it gets rid of far too much detail and texture) and that gave the clouds a smooth, dreamlike quality that I thought was really cool.

Game Day

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I’m not the biggest football fan in the world, and if there were a sliding scale of total apathy to insane fandom I would definitely be closer to the former than the latter. I do think it’s fun to watch and I admire the strategy inherent in the game, and I’ll watch a game if it’s on TV but I don’t really go out of my way to cheer for a particular team or deck myself out for tailgating. That being said, there is something cool about working on a college campus and being a part of the excitement and hubbub that starts to swell soon after the school year begins. And yet, none of that sense of activity is captured here at all.

Instead we have a serene scene not with the football stadium but the Spears School of Business building which is just south of where the Cowboys toss the pigskin around. Truth be told as I biked around the west side of the stadium on the morning of August 30, the day of our football season opener, I wasn’t thinking about a picture at all. I was just heading to work like any other Thursday with the exception that on this particular day there were already signs that game day fever would soon be felt around campus. For the moment, however, things were calm and the sun was rising and the weather was a mild late-summer 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

So when I saw the Business Building basking in the morning glow of the sunrise I stopped, hopped off my bike, and shot a few pictures to try and capture the sense of calm-before-the-storm. Or maybe not even that, but just a sense of calm and peace. It felt still on that summer morning and even though it wouldn’t be long before the whole campus (and this spot in particular) would be buzzing with activity, here was a slice of time that was just kind of tranquil. I did just a bit of retouching on the file to get a slightly bluer sky and slightly richer red on the building, but otherwise what you see here is a good reflection of the morning as I saw it. Hopefully the orange glow and long shadows give you a sense that a new day has just begun, and hopefully this picture might even bring just a tad bit of peace to your Wednesday before things get hectic with life.

Welcome to Minnesota

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Even though I often talk about living in Oklahoma, I’m actually a transplant to the state. I was born in central Minnesota and lived most of my childhood in Nebraska, but once or twice a year my family would load up the minivan and head north to see relatives and go fishing at the lake. Back in the early 90’s most of the roads we took on that trip were two-lane undivided highways which meant the drive would take about 8 hours on a good day, and a lot longer in the winter.

On these trips there was a stretch of Highway 60 between Le Mars, Iowa, and Worthington, Minnesota that held a bit of a special place in my heart because it was on this road that we passed the border between those two states. It was a milestone of sorts, and even though nothing about the road or scenery was any different all of us kids knew were were just that much closer to seeing our cousins and playing in the lake. Just across that imaginary line was a tiny little town called Bigelow that we never stopped in, but always thought was kind of cool simply because of its proximity to the border.

The last time I took that stretch of road was probably 15 years ago on a drive up north from Nebraska, and I haven’t really thought about it much in the years since. But on my way back from a recent visit to my hometown I found myself driving southbound on Highway 60 and when I saw a green road sign informing me that Bigelow was a few miles ahead, I knew it would be a good opportunity for a picture.

From a technical standpoint this image was a little tricky because, as you can tell, I was shooting almost directly into the sun. I shot at f/8 and underexposed by -1EV so as to not blow out the sky entirely, but that meant the sign itself was really dark and underexposed. No problem though, that’s what RAW is for :) I played around with the file in Lightroom for a while and got it to be about 90% of the way to where I wanted it, but struggled to get that last 10% which you can still see in the image here. If you look at the edges of the grass you’ll notice a white haze of sorts that extends into the sky and makes the picture look kind of…well, photoshopped I guess. And that’s because it is. I played around with auto-masking and other tools in Lightroom and eventually just decided that I was fine with the image as-is, even though it’s not perfect. It works fine for me and it gets the point across, and that’s plenty good for Flickr and this blog :)

Dewdrops

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Yet another picture in the long line tradition of finding photo opportunities on my way to work. This one was just off the sidewalk between two buildings on campus about 7:25am as the sun was just peeking over the horizon and the grass was still wet with morning dew. I had my Fuji X100F with me in case the chance to take a picture arose, and wouldn’t you know it, I straight-up ignored this one that was right in front of my eyes. I saw this patch of grass, thought about taking a picture for roughly one and a half seconds, and then kept on walking because…well, I don’t really know why.

A little while later I thought to myself Why didn’t I just take a picture? and since I had no good answer, I turned around, pulled out my camera, and fired off a couple of shots. I was using the Classic Chrome film simulation which is why the greens look a little cold and, dare I say it, washed-out compared to if I had shot this with my Nikon and edited the RAW file in Lightroom. Though I might have made different choices regarding color rendition using the latter process, I’ve really tried to embrace the simplicity of shooting JPG and have appreciated spending less time fiddling with sliders on my computer than I used to. And so, what you see is what you get and I’m fine with that.

I really wanted to get some shallow depth of field with this, but when shooting with a 23mm lens you have to a) use a really wide aperture and b) get pretty close to your subject. Thankfully I was able to do both but that meant a trade-off in overall sharpness because using the X100F at its maximum aperture of f/2 gives close-up subjects a bit of a wistful, dreamy quality. Or as a lot of internet reviewers point out, a lack of sharpness. It doesn’t bother me that much since you have to zoom way in to see that the edges of the piece of grass in the center aren’t razor sharp, but it’s something that most people (myself included) probably won’t notice.

What makes this image unique for me is the dew in the foreground and the yellow sunlight glow in the background, both of which create a sense of calm and peacefulness and hopefully help the viewer feel, in some small way, something similar to what I felt on that chilly humid morning in late August when I shot this. A few seconds later I was back on my way to work but it felt nice knowing I was able to capture a small slice of what the morning had to offer :)

Turbine

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In some ways this is a picture I’ve been trying to take for quite some time. I’ve long been a fan of looking at the giant wind turbines that dot the landscape in the midwest, but it’s hard to realize just how massive they are when you pass them on the freeway doing 75mph. Occasionally we’ll find ourselves at a rest stop or gas station with wind turbines on the horizon, but it’s not really easy to get up close and personal. However when I drove from Oklahoma to Minnesota earlier this year I was able to do just that and thankfully I had my camera with me to document the occasion.

I shot this on a stretch of Highway 36 between St. Joseph, Missouri, and I-35 going through Iowa and it really was a spur-of-the-moment picture. Unlike interstates you can leave state highways just about any time you want (as opposed to waiting for the nearest exit which could be several miles down the road) and when I saw this turbine looming ahead of me on the south side of the highway I turned off on a dirt road and drove about a quarter mile until I was within spitting distance of this massive monolithic energy-harnessing machine.

I actually didn’t get super close to these turbines because my goal was to take a picture of them, not to literally touch them (which I’m fairly certain would have been trespassing) but it was neat hearing the creaks and moans of the turbines as a slow breeze turned the giant blades. Since the only camera I had with me was my Fuji X100F I couldn’t exactly zoom in or out so instead I had to drive up and down the dirt road just a little in order to find a spot that would let me get the shot I was looking for.

I took dozens of pictures on burst mode because I wasn’t sure what would look best in terms of the position of the blades, and of all my images this one turned out to be my favorite. It captures a lot of what makes these turbines so interesting: the sheer size, the quantity (especially if you look towards the horizon) and the fact that they often just protrude hundreds of feet from the middle of a cornfield. Or, whatever kind of field this is :)

I know there are disagreements about the usefulness of these turbines, the noise they create on windy days, the eyesore that they can be, and even the way in which they can harm birds and other wildlife, but it is cool to see such massive machines turning air into energy that powers our homes and businesses. Also, they’re just really huge which makes taking pictures of them kind of neat.