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

Respite

Respite

Isn’t it weird how the seasons work? In January it can be so cold that you long for warmer times of summer, but then in summer your mind can do a one-eighty and wish it were cold. In general I prefer warmer months to their winter counterparts, but at least here in Oklahoma we don’t often get buried under snow when it’s cold! (Such was not the case back in Minnesota…)

I shot this picture on an unseasonably warm day in January when it was about 50 degrees and felt like heaven. I was so thrilled with the nice weather that I went for a walk just to get out and be in nature for a bit instead of the office, and as luck would have it along the way I ran into my department head who I think was doing the very same thing! I had my X100F camera, still very new to me at the time, and was thrilled to be able to take pictures in public places without feeling too self-conscious about my big camera–something with which I have always struggled when using my Nikon DSLRs. The wide lens on the X100F makes it ideal for casual street-type photos like this one, and I used the Classic Chrome film simulation because I have found I really like the colors it gives me especially when shooting outdoors.

To get this image I sat on the ground, composed my shot, set my camera to 8fps drive mode, and waited for a biker to come across the scene. (Since it’s a college campus I knew I wouldn’t have to wait too long!) A few minutes later I saw this person approaching and as soon as they entered the scene I held down the shutter button, which resulted in about a dozen images taken in rapid succession such that I was able to pick this one picture out of the lot and feel really happy about it. I like how the cyclist is positioned in the space between the bell tower and the tree on the right, and also how the tree on the left gets close to (but doesn’t quite encroach on) the tower. Everything, as Sam Abell would say, occupies its own space within the frame and it’s one of those rare shots that came out looking pretty much exactly how I imagined when I set out to take it.

Evergreen

The Center

It seems as though every year, usually just once, we get hit with some kind of ice storm here in Oklahoma. It can range from mild to severe, and while it’s usually not enough to fell trees or topple structures, schools generally shut down and drivers tend to avoid the roads and my kids and I invariably end up outside just experiencing the change in weather. That’s what happened here, on a chilly Wednesday afternoon in mid February when ice from the previous day caused both OSU and the public schools to close halfway through the day. The boys, ages four and six, were itching to get outside so we bundled up and just spent a while messing around in the yard.

They were fascinated at the way the whole world was coated in ice, and it was fun to see them experience it as much as they possibly could. They ate icicles and whacked tree limbs with sticks and shovels to see what would happen and hear the sounds of ice clinking. We went to the back yard and they marveled (I’m not kidding. They really were amazed) at the way our deck chairs and swingset were encased in ice, and they wanted to take their gloves off and feel every surface before running on to the next fixture. I had my Fuji X100f with me and took several pictures of them romping around on the ice, and also shot a few close-up images of nature just to see what would happen.

The 23mm lens on the X100F focuses closer than my Nikon lenses (natively, that is. My 50mm Nikon lens with close-up filters gets much better macro shots) so I was able to get some pictures of flower buds, tree leaves, and other flora in a way that I don’t normally get to see. Most were kind of unremarkable but I liked the way this one turned out, with a bit of foreground to add some depth to the image instead of the focal point itself being right front and center. I shot this at f/2.8 because when the 23mm lens is stopped down clear to f/2 it gets a little soft when shooting close-up, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out even though the colors aren’t quite what I would like.

Confession time, folks: on my X100F I have been shooting almost exclusively in JPEG mode as opposed to RAW, and using the Classic Chrome film simulation because nine times out of ten I just like how those colors look when I’m taking pictures of my kids. For this picture I should have either shot in RAW so I could tweak the colors a bit more or used a different film simulation, but to be honest I’m not even sure what that would be (I think the camera has about a dozen built-in simulations but I’ve only used a couple of them) and I didn’t want to spend five minutes fiddling with the camera. I took a few shots and quickly put the camera away so I could get back to what really matters: playing with my kids :)

Foraging

Foraging

This is not the first time I have used a picture of a squirrel here on Weekly Fifty, and it won’t be the last either. I’ve realized over the years that I really like photographing these little rodents and even though the overall nature of many of the pictures is kind of similar (i.e. a squirrel sitting or eating or both) it’s fun to actually go out and get the shots. Kind of like how some people go to Starbucks (or if your up north, Caribou Coffee) and order the same thing each morning: it’s not fancy, but it’s familiar and it’s something you just enjoy doing. That’s kind of me when it comes to squirrels, especially the ones at Theta Pond because they are a little less skittish around people than most wild animals.

When I shot this it was a particularly warm day in mid-February and I brought my D750 + 70-200mm lens to campus simply because I knew it would be a nice day out and I figured I would get the chance to go out and shoot some pictures with it. Sometime in the early afternoon I did just that–I went on a five-minute walk around the pond with my camera, taking pictures of squirrels and maybe a duck or two. Nothing fancy, but it was fun, and that’s what matters to me. I also tried to pay attention to the types of shots I was getting, and look for squirrels that were doing something interesting or positioned in a way that made the photo more compelling to look at.

As I went through my pics I liked this one the best because something was actually happening in it, as opposed to a squirrel just standing around. I caught this little fella in the middle of a snack and it looks like he paused a bit to let me take his picture, though more likely he was spooked by the giant lens pointed in his direction. I like that it’s kind of a 3/4 angle shot where he’s not fully sideways but not fully…uh…looking right at me either, which was more visually compelling than some of the other pictures I ended up taking.

I shot this at 200mm, I think f/2.8 or f/4, which gave me a nice shallow depth of field while keeping the focus squarely on the squirrel. I don’t think I would have had a snowball’s chance in Houston of getting this shot with my Nifty Fifty :)

Whirlwind

Whirlwind

This is a great example of a picture I’d never be able to get with my usual setup of a DSLR and 50mm lens. On a rather warm date in late February I took my kids to the playground at a local elementary school while my wife stayed back to get some work done, and at this particular location one of the boys’ favorite toys is a spinner device kind of like the old sit-and-spin toys from the late 80’s. (Full disclosure: it’s also one of my favorite toys at this playground!) It’s really just made for one person but I asked my four-year-old if he would mind attempting to help me get a picture, and the result is what you see here. It’s not perfect and there’s some things I wish I could have composed differently, but it’s hard to juggle a camera, a playground spinner, and a little kid all at the same time so I guess I can’t complain :)

I took this with my Fuji X100F which had a couple things going for it that would have made the shot nearly impossible with a DSLR. The X100F is designed to be used with the rear LCD screen for composing and focusing, whereas on most DSLR cameras the rear screen focusing is much slower and less reliable than the viewfinder due to the common implementation of contrast-detect autofocus as opposed to phase-detect through the viewfinder. The size of the camera made it much easier to work with as well, and I was able to shoot one-handed while I held my boy with my other arm. Finally, the wider 23mm (35mm equivalent) field of view on the X100F made a picture like this possible whereas shooting with a 50mm lens would have resulted in basically only getting a single foot in the shot.

I knew I wanted a slow shutter speed to get motion trails, but any slower than 1/30 would have been nearly impossible to get a sharp picture and any longer would have given me motion trails that were too short. 1/30 worked just fine, but even then it took several tries to get this shot because my son was kind of fussy (wouldn’t you be?) and the constant shifting between light and shadow as we spun around did tend to confuse the focusing system on the camera. I like how it turned out though and it gave me some ideas for other shots I might try in the future.