Secret Garden

Secret Garden

Another example of how photography, as Forrest Gump might have said, is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. A few weeks ago I was walking past the School of Geology, as I’ve done many many times before, and happened to notice something strange about a little brick wall that I had seen before but never really thought much about. I paused and saw that there were openings on either side of it large enough for a person to pass through, so I stopped and took a short detour to check out what, if anything, was on the other side. What I saw wasn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things, but it was a nice little patio with kind of a mini arboretum, if you will, that I would imagine most people on campus (just like me) didn’t even know was there.

If you’re curious, click here and zoom in a bit on the School of Geology. The black rectangle where the sidewalk jutting out from the curved rode hits the other north/south sidewalk is right on the other side of this week’s picture. And ask yourself: would you ever think to look behind the wall? I sure didn’t!

When I first stumbled across this tiny oasis I had my X100F with me and took a few shots from about waist level, but they didn’t really look how I was hoping they would turn out. I returned the next day and took a couple more shots with my camera right on the ground and pointed upwards in order to capture the garden as well as a bit of sky, and got just the shot I was envisioning. And once again the 35mm focal length of that camera proves to be just about perfect for the type of shooting I like to do on a casual everyday basis.

I had to edit the sky just a bit to bring out some of the color (I used a gradient filter in Lightroom and then erased parts of it on the tree leaves using the filter brush with auto-masking enabled) and made a few other color adjustments, but the one thing I really wish I could get rid of is the…uhm…white markings on the wall. Let’s just say it’s not paint :) I suppose someone with a lot of time and Photoshop skills could remove those but I’m content to leave the image as-is and enjoy the story behind it of discovering a hidden gem right in front of me. And now that you know about it too, maybe you’ll check it out next time you’re at OSU :)

Open for Business

Open for Business

I spent my first few years at OSU working as kind of an all-in-one tech guy for the distance learning program at the Spears School of Business. I made videos, took photos, ran a/v equipment for conferences, and did tech support for our learning management system and made a lot of good friends in the process. Just as I was transitioning to another job on the other side of campus the Business School jump-started their plans to construct a new building and four years later, in the spring of 2018, it was finally completed. Classes were held in the new location starting in January of 2018 but it wasn’t until the middle of April that the building was officially declared “Open for Business” by Dean Eastman at a ceremony involving hundreds of alumni, staff, students, and donors.

Like most days I had my camera with me when I went to work that morning but didn’t really plan on getting a shot like this during the ceremony, and in fact through most of the speeches and video presentations I was standing on the north side under balcony trying to avoid getting rained on! Thankfully the storms just grazed Stillwater that afternoon and as the clouds were lifting and the events were starting to draw to a close I ran over to the middle of the second floor balcony, switched my Fuji X100F to RAW, and fired off a couple shots before heading back to join some of my friends where I had been standing. A few minutes later the program ended and everyone dispersed to see the new location.

Once I loaded this image up in Lightroom I was a little worried that I didn’t quite get what I was hoping for, mostly because the sky was kind of an overexposed horizontal patch of white. Thanks to the magic of RAW I was able to recover a huge amount of color information and, along with a couple other editing tweaks, ended up with the picture you see here. Sure a wider lens would have been nice like the 17-40mm that one of the Spears photographers used on these shots, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as portable and unobtrusive as my little X100F.

It was fun to get this shot and see the new home of my former workplace, and more importantly to spend time with so many good people who help make the OSU campus a great place to work :)

Micro

Upbeat

This was a fun opportunity to get out the 50mm lens with some close-up filters, and also an example of why it’s important to to look around you and see what’s happening so you don’t miss a shot if one presents itself. These flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser and they are on a tree that’s about 20 feet from my building at work, and I don’t think I would have taken much notice had circumstances not lined up just right. I went across campus one afternoon with a coworker who pointed out the super tiny but really pretty petals on this one particular tree, and I realized right away that this would be a fun photo opportunity with the right gear. The next morning I returned to work with my 50mm lens and +4 close-up filter in order to see if I could capture these flowers on film. (Digitally speaking, that is.)

As I walked around the tree looking for some shots there was a bit of an issue in that there were almost too many opportunities from which to choose. Flowers just like the one you see here were everywhere on this tree, which made things a little difficult because virtually any of them could have resulted in good pictures. I soon realized that despite having a thousand potential subjects, I had to really look close to find one that would actually work for a photo.

Getting this shot required looking at all elements within the frame: the subject, the lighting, the background, the aperture size, and even the direction that the flower was pointing. I ended up shooting almost straight into the sun which resulted in quite a lot of backlighting, but the tradeoff was a nice blurry background and a white backdrop for the pink flower in the center. Most of the other angles from which I tried taking pictures resulted in images that were too muddled, too bright, or too disjointed to really function as proper photographs.

The very next day when I walked up to my building I saw that most of these pink flowers were gone–they fell off, closed up, or turned a light shade of brown. I was able to get this picture in a relatively fleeting moment that won’t come around for another year, and when it does you can bet I’ll be there with my camera to see it :)

Daybreak

Dogwood

I took this not too long after shooting another photo of a similar flower, but I much prefer this image to the former which you can see if you scroll back a couple of weeks here on the blog. When these flowers open up in early Spring you don’t have much time before they whither away–maybe two days at the most–so when I brought my 85mm lens to campus I specifically sought out these flowers as photo subjects. Luckily I was able to get this image before I even got to work! I was biking past the east side of Low Library and saw one of these trees in full bloom with this particular flower right at eye level, and I really liked how it caught the morning light which made the colors have a richness to them that I don’t always see at other times of the day.

I shot this wide open at f/1.8 which can be a bit of a gamble on the Nikon 85mm lens since it’s a bit stronger and sharper at slightly smaller apertures, but I’m glad I went all the way on this because I really wanted to isolate the subject from the background. A smaller aperture might have resulted in a slightly sharper image but at the cost of some background blur which was a tradeoff I did not want to make.

More than anything I’m happy with how the compositional elements came together on this one. The flower is very close to (but doesn’t quite touch) the branch on the left, nor does it encroach on the purple flower in the background. It does overlap the green leaf behind it but that serves to make the purple stand out even more. I don’t know how well I actually planned those elements when I took the shot and though I wish I could take credit for all the stylistic elements of this picture I think simple luck might have been in play too :)

Break

Lunch Break

It’s safe to say you can file this under the category of “Pictures you can’t get with a 50mm lens.” And as I’ve said before it’s not that any one lens is better or worse than any other lens, just that each lens, with its unique combination of focal length and aperture, has its own strengths and weaknesses that need to be taken into account when shooting photos. In this case I had my 70-200 lens and wanted to get kind of a different type of picture compared to what I normally shoot, and I wanted to see if I could use it to put the Low Library on campus in a bit of a different context.

I’ve taken pictures of the Library before, but it’s hard to convey a sense of scale with just little image on a blog or website so for this picture I wanted to give viewers an idea of how massive and imposing the library is, even though you can only see just a small part of it. To get this picture I stood back….waaaaaay back…and used back-button-focus to lock focus on the path on which the woman is walking. Then I waited for people to walk across it and, with my camera set to continuous high-speed shutter, snapped several images in quick succession. For comparison, I took this picture with my iPhone at the exact same spot:

I was standing about 400 feet away from the library and about 100 away from the path, but zoomed in to 200mm on my crop-sensor D7100 helped create a picture that, I hope, really put things in perspective. It’s an interesting way to look at a familiar building and one that I hope conveys a sense of scale without actually seeing much of the library itself. I don’t know how our minds process these sorts of images, but by seeing the woman clearly in focus with the doors out of focus behind her it gives a sense of scale and distance that isn’t really present in other pictures I have taken.

I also shot this at f/2.8 in order to get the smallest possible depth of field which, even at these distances, was still a relatively small 8.5 feet. Shooting at f/4 would have increased the DOF by about 50% to just over 12 feet and made the building less blurry too, which would have resulted in a noticeably different picture. In the end I don’t know that there’s a whole lot to this picture other than just me playing around with a particular camera and lens combination I happen to like, but then, if photography isn’t fun and interesting why bother doing it in the first place? :)

Dogwood

Blooming

I’ve been talking a lot about my Fuji X100F on the blog lately, but for this week’s photo I wanted to take things in kind of the opposite direction. I didn’t shoot this with my Fuji or even a 50mm lens. Instead instead I used my 70-200 lens on my D7100, and even though that combination is overkill for getting pictures of flowers it’s so much fun to go out and shoot with I figured…well, why not?

When I checked the forecast on this particular morning and saw that it would be in the low 70’s I decided to bring out the big guns, photographically speaking, just for the fun of it and see if I could get any interesting pictures during the day. As sometimes happens I ended up going for a short walk around campus in the early afternoon and soon came upon the dogwood trees just to the west of Low Library. These flowers only appear for a couple days during the year and it’s fun to get pictures of them while they last, and even though it was quite windy I thought I would give it a try.

As much as I like prime lenses (and you know I like prime lenses!) there is something nice about having a zoom lens sometimes, and because this flower was pretty high up from the ground there was no way I could have gotten this shot with my usual 50mm. I stood back about ten feet, zooming in and out until I had the composition I was looking for, and snapped a couple pictures before the wind started whipped the flower back and forth again. I ended up shooting at 165mm, f/2.8, using a 1/250 second shutter and I think the end result worked out fairly well, though from a compositional standpoint I do wish I would have been able to get the purple flower just a bit to the right so it was not encroaching on the visual space occupied by the branch behind it. I do like the image as a whole though, and even though I tried a couple shots with a brick background I much prefer the purple standing out like a splash of color against a sea of green.

Spring Break

FUJI2760

First, a disclaimer: I did not plan on doing two back-to-back photos of very similar scenes at the OSU campus. When I wrote this post I didn’t even realize that last week’s post was taken at almost the exact same spot using the same camera, but facing a different direction. So if you’re tired of pictures of OSU with the sun in the background, just wait until next week when I’m sure there will be an entirely different image :)

The act of taking this photo was somewhat serendipitous, as I didn’t intend to take it at all but things just sort of worked out to allow it to happen. I was biking to work on March 22, one day after the start of Spring, and saw that the clouds in the eastern sky were lit up like a fireworks show because of the sunrise in the west. I thought it might be an interesting photo opportunity so I parked my bike on the west side of Boone Pickens Stadium, got out my X100F…and it was a total bust. The lens on that camera is so wide that in addition to the clouds the picture also contained construction equipment, street lights, cars, and a host of other distracting elements in the foreground that detracted from the majesty of the scene. Plus, it was kind of cold and I just wanted to get to the office.

I hopped back on my bike and continued across campus when I saw another sight that I thought would make for an interesting photo: some tree flowers budding in the early morning light. So once again I got off, pulled out my camera…and it just wasn’t happening. What seemed like a scene that would make an interesting picture in my mind just wasn’t all that compelling when I tried to capture a photo with my camera. Then, as I was about to finish riding to my building, I turned around, looked to the east, saw the sunrise over the new Spears School of Business building and about lost my mind.

As with most sunset images this one doesn’t do justice to the actual scene, but I did take a few lessons into account that I had learned from earlier attempts at photographing similar settings. I shot RAW, underexposed the scene to preserve the highlights, used a smaller aperture of f/5, shot at a low ISO of 200, and most importantly, I didn’t spend too much time putzing around with my camera because in a few seconds I knew the scene would disappear as the sun crept over the horizon.

I did tweak the image a bit in Lightroom (you pretty much have to when working with sunrise/sunset photos to make the most out of the dynamic range captured by the image sensor) and removed a couple distracting elements like the blue campus emergency lights and…well, you can see the original here if you want:

Does my editing ruin the integrity of the image? I don’t think so, and even if it does, it’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make to get a picture like this. I hope you like looking at it as much as I liked taking it :)

Sunset

Sunset

This was a bit of an unexpected photo that didn’t really turn out how I was hoping, but then, I’m not exactly what I was even aiming for in the first place so I can’t really complain. I took this when my wife and I were walking around campus with some friends in mid-March and I noticed these flowers on a tree which, combined with the setting sun and the relatively empty brick pathway, made for what I thought would be an interesting composition. I had my X100F with me since it’s my go-to camera for everyday casual shooting and while it worked OK on this image I think using a 50mm on my D750 would have been a little better for what I had in mind.

Nevertheless, they say the best camera is the one you have with you, so I tried to make the most of what I had. Using my X100F I stopped down to f/11 to get a bit of lens flare and also keep the background blur from getting too out of control, and also switched from my usual Classic Chrome simulation to Velvia which is, as I understand it, better suited for nature and landscapes. I actually shot a couple similar images using Classic Chrome and didn’t really like the colors that much but Velvia gave me an image that was at least closer to what I was imagining. I also overexposed the image by more than two stops in order to keep the white flowers from being too dark.

This image represents a departure from the workflow I’ve used for several years now, which has been like this:

• Shoot in RAW, import to Lightroom, edit, export

Lately I just haven’t been as interested in the painstaking process of editing so I’m using JPEG more and more, and trying to get as much right in camera as I possibly can. So for this, and most of my casual (i.e. not for clients) shots my workflow is now this:

• Shoot in JPG, import to Lightroom or my phone, export

I know I could use RAW+JPG on my camera but in truth I just don’t care about editing the RAW files mostly because it takes so much time, and if I can get the picture right when I take it then I’m perfectly happy to forego the editing process altogether. It’s fine for casual shooting but on a picture like this, which probably should have some editing done to it, I’m finding that my new workflow isn’t quite ready for prime time. Perhaps I need to find more of a middle ground, or learn to use my camera better, or even just be happy with the results and move on. Either way it’s a fun process and I’m enjoying the ride :)

Concentric

Concentric

A few years ago my parents decided to replace their aging clothes washer with something a bit more modern and efficient, and they ended up getting one of those top-loading models without the giant central agitator that most washing machines have had for decades. My dad, his feet firmly planted in the concrete foundations of The Old School, didn’t trust that thing at all. When they first got it he was appalled at how little water it used and he thought there was no way it could clean his clothes, so he removed the magnetic latch from the top door in order that he might inspect its handiwork firsthand. He literally sat on a stool and watched it do an entire load of laundry just to make sure the washer was doing its job and, while they still have the machine, I’m not entirely sure he trusts it even to this day.

So, when we were visiting in March of this year my boys were fascinated at how they could watch the device clean clothes with the lid open. Just like their grandpa, they sat and watched it as it went through a load of laundry (fill-swish-rinse-drain-etc.) and I thought it would make for an interesting photo opportunity since you don’t normally get to see the inside of a washing machine. I used my Fuji X100F to get this shot which was great since the lens was wide enough to get a good view of the washer and I could use the rear screen to compose my shots too.

The only major issue was focusing, since the constant spinning motion confused my camera and never quite allowed for good autofocus. I ended up focusing manually and just kind of eyeballing it (even the focus-assist features, like peaking, were having trouble with the washer) and got several shots at various shutter speeds–some too fast, some too slow, and other like this one that were juuuust right. But you know what did it for me in this particular image? The fact that the three center…uh…arms, or whatever they are, are sitting right about at 10, 2, and 6 o’clock. I had other shots where they didn’t have that kind of symmetry and it just didn’t look right, but something about the way they lined up here was really pleasing from a visual standpoint.

So yeah, the next time you want an interesting photo-op, just try doing a load of clothes!

Cozy

Cozy

You can thank the Winter Olympics for this one. This past February my kids, as well as my wife and I, were caught up in the excitement of the various competitions especially the luge, the bobsled, the speed skating, and of course the snowboarding. We had a couple of snow days in the mix too which meant the kids were home from school and, as a bonus, I was able to burn through a ton of wood in our fireplace. (Some winters we don’t burn any wood at all since it’s so warm here in Oklahoma!) On this particular evening our boys were ready for bed early having taking their baths, brushed their teeth, and put on their PJs so they spent a little while just watching the fire before the Olympics came on and then, about a half hour later, heading for bed.

The kiddos were a little squirrelly so I must confess this image is just a bit staged in that I had to ask them to hold still for just a few seconds so I could take their picture, but overall I think it captures the general essence of the scene fairly well. Normally they’re not so quiet and serene but they knew I was trying to get a picture so they complied without too much fuss, and I was able to get just a couple of shots with my D750 + 50mm lens before they started jumping around and tackling each other. This was a bit unique in that I used my little Gorilla Pod tripod so I could shoot with a longer shutter of 1/6 second, hence the motion trails in the fireplace, and normally there’s no way I would ever get a decent image of my kids with such a slow shutter! I shot at f/2.8 to get a shallow depth of field which, compared to my other pictures shot at f/4, added a nice soft touch to the scene.

You might also notice a weirdly-colored blotch on the right side where I had to remove some pictures of my kids’ faces, along with their names, which were prominently displayed in a frame. I don’t like to show their faces here on Weekly Fifty so I used Lightroom to remove that part of the image and while I probably should have used Photoshop to make the edits a little less blatantly obvious, I just didn’t want to take the time to get too detailed. I hope it doesn’t mess with the overall impact of the image too much, but it’s the kind of thing I’m guessing you won’t see unless it’s specifically pointed out to you. #fingerscrossed