Mammoth Cave

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Note: If you’re sick of me talking about my Fuji X100F and have gotten into the habit of rolling your eyes whenever you see it mentioned here…get ready to scroll past this post entirely and move on to a different blog :)

This photo was taken along the Historic Cave Tour in Mammoth Cave National Park during our 10-day family trip across the midwest United States earlier this year. As I mentioned in last week’s post the only camera I brought with me on this vacation was my Fuji X100F because I knew it would be small enough to bring everywhere we went but capable of handling almost anything I would want to take pictures of. Including, as it turned out, photos of near-dark caves hundreds of feet underground.

I’ve been in the habit of shooting in JPG mode on my X100F because I quite like the Classic Chrome film simulation and found that if I get my exposure right in camera (which is easier to do thanks to an electronic viewfinder) I don’t really need to adjust anything in Lightroom. But walking in caves would require something more so I shot in RAW the whole time we were on these tours. There was almost no light at all down in those ancient tunnels save for some sparsely-placed incandescent bulbs at intermittent spots along the way, which meant I shot almost every picture with very little light at all. I took every picture at f/2.0, ISO 6400, and even then most of the images needed shutter speeds of 1/20 or slower just to get something even worth salvaging. This picture, for instance, required a +.8 exposure adjustment along with shadows lifted by nearly 100 and it still looks dim.

Probably the trickiest part of shooting in the caves was the focusing, or lack thereof. Autofocus is not the X100F’s strong point and even in good light it can be a bit slow. (At least compared to my Nikons or pretty much every other camera available.) In the labyrinth of underground passages it was nearly useless and I had to focus manually at times which was also a bit of a sticky wicket because even looking through the viewfinder I could barely see anything. Most of the time I found myself autofocusing on anything even remotely bright which is what I did here–I focused on the white patch of light in the distance and hoped for the best. The results ranged from fair to midland with a couple standouts like this one here which I liked because the people (i.e. my son and his cousin) help give a sense of scale to the surroundings.

Bridge to Somewhere

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This is from a vacation my family took recently to several different locations in the midwest in order to visit family and friends, some of whom we had not seen for years. It was more of a 10-day midwest road trip and less of a vacation in the sense that it’s not like we spent a week and a half chilling out on a tropical beach or exploring exotic cities, but it was just the sort of trip my wife and I really like to take when we have the opportunity. With family and friends scattered around several different states sometimes the best way to see a lot of people at one time is to load up the kids and a bunch of supplies and just hit the road for a while, and even though the locations might not be all that special the people sure are. And that’s what really matters to us.

Ever since January of this past year I’ve been moving my Fuji X100F up a few notches in terms of its daily usefulness while my Nikon bodies are, more and more, occupying a spot on the shelf that is more specialized in nature. I’m using them for portrait sessions and unique shots of my own kids as opposed to daily drivers per se, and instead find myself using my X100F for just about everything else. When we left for our big family visiting extravaganza it was literally the only camera I took with me, aside from my iPhone, and instead of a bag full of cameras and lenses I only brought this one little pocket-sized beast. And man oh man did it ever deliver.

While most of the pictures I took were of family and friends, as one might expect, I did find a few opportunities to take shots of nature and man-made structures that I thought were interesting or otherwise somewhat noteworthy. This bridge, as an example, is in the middle of a nature preserve in St. Louis we visited with some college friends and their kids. I thought it looked like something out of a Tom Frye story so I hung back a bit while everyone else went on down the path and fired off a few shots with my Fuji.

I should pause here and say that none of this is a paid advertisement. There’s no way Fuji even knows about my blog and if they did there’s no way they would bother to have me write about their cameras. I bought my camera with my own money and happen to really really like it.

Even though this is a man-made bridge on a man-made path in a swath of nature specifically maintained and cared for by people, something about the scene just seemed emblematic of maybe a simpler time. This was a peaceful place of repose in the middle of a busy city and I hope I captured just a bit of the serenity of the scene.

Handout

Handout

Ah yes, another Theta Pond Squirrel photo. What can I say…I like taking (and sharing) these! One thing I’ve realized as I take squirrel photos is that they’re more interesting, to me anyway, if the subject in question is actually doing something. I’ve got plenty of squirrel photos where the little Sciuridaes are sitting or staring but while the images might be technically competent they aren’t as visually compelling. To wit: a sharp, focused, well-composed image of a squirrel just sitting around is, at the end of the day, just a shot of a squirrel sitting around. It’s not interesting or compelling and certainly doesn’t tell a story.

This picture though, with a squirrel in a tree holding a crust of bread, is compelling for a couple of reasons. First, the critter is in a tree and not on the ground which…I dunno. It seems more interesting to me somehow. Second, he (she? I have no idea) isn’t holding an acorn but a bit of bread so clearly he (I’m just going to run with it) must have got it from a person. Since this is Theta Pond and geese are everywhere, clearly this little guy had to act quick before an avian friend swooped in to snatch his prize. Finally, the bright green and white behind the squirrel make it stand out much more than if it were on the ground or set against some leaves. I shot this at 200mm with an f/2.8 aperture and was quite pleased with how sharp the resulting image ended up, though perhaps I should have erred on the side of caution just a bit and went with f/4. But all’s well that ends well, right?

One other aspect of this photo that you wouldn’t know just by looking at the image is that the person who gave the bread to the animal was, in fact, my six-year-old son. I was taking some photos of people and he was hanging out at the pond with me, and he was ecstatic at the opportunity to engage with some of the local fauna by way of a hot dog bun. He asked if I could take some shots of squirrels and I gladly obliged, and even let him take a few of his own which I normally don’t do when using the big camera and lens, but sometimes you just gotta go for it and let the kids experiment. All this results in a picture that hits all my check marks while also reminding me of a fun time I spent with my child, which is a nice bit of extra icing on the photographic cake :)

Prudence

Prudence

So…you know how it’s not too uncommon for me to talk about pictures I’ve posted here on the blog that were taken right near my building at work? This one kind of takes that concept to a new level: these birds are literally just outside of my building. Those bricks in the background are the outer wall of where I work :)

I shot this on a Thursday morning in June, which was the fourth day in a row that these two birds (doves, perhaps?) were sitting in this little shaded area together. I had seem there since Monday, sometimes with their mother, and I don’t know why she would choose this particular location for her babies but I’m just hoping everyone is OK. I saw them every day the rest of the week and while they do move around a lot, and tend to shift from one spot to another during the day, they don’t seem to be doing much actual flying. Why are there on the ground and not in a nest? Why aren’t they flying? Why are they so close to a place that clearly has people going in and out all day long? Who knows, but at the end of the day I just hope these little flyers are alright.

I took this with my D750 and 70-200 lens and even though I shot this at 200mm I still had to crop in quite a bit to get the final result. I really didn’t want to scare them away by getting any closer and even though 200mm isn’t a lot of zoom it was enough to get a sharp image of these two fledgling flyers.

Maelstrom

Maelstrom

Each year my family takes a vacation at Milford Lake in Kansas and each year I try to take a couple of images that would work well here on the blog. In the past I’ve made it a point to bring my 50mm lens, sometimes with accompanying close-up filters, to get shots of nature that are a bit different from my usual slew of Theta Pond pictures but for our 2018 trip I used (what else?) my Fuji X100F almost exclusively. Once again the 35mm (equivalent) focal length proved to be ideal for shots of what really matters: my wife, my kids, my siblings, all the nieces an nephews, and of course my parents and it was nice being able to use the same camera for pictures that would go here on the blog now that I’ve opened myself up to other focal lengths.

Last year my brother Andy and I went down to the boat launch as a storm rolled in and I was able to get this shot of some lightning with my 50mm lens. I thought it worked out pretty well and the longer focal length was nice since the clouds were so far away, but this year a few conditions gave me a little different photographic opportunity that resulted in a photo I think is much more interesting. For one, the storm was much closer than last year and a bunch of us just stood outside our cabins looking straight up at the sky to see a brilliant display of lightning overhead. Also because I had my X100F instead of a 50mm lens I was able to get a much broader view of the scene that simply would not have been possible otherwise. I used a Gorillapod instead of a standard tripod which turned out to work pretty well and actually kept my camera quite stable during longer exposures.

I shot about ten images of the clouds and lightning with shutter speeds around 30 seconds but then I decided to angle my camera down to get some trees at the bottom of the image as a way of providing a sense of scale and context. My shots of clouds with lightning bolts searing through the sky were interesting but not all that compelling because there was nothing to provide a sense of where this was happening in relation to the viewer, whereas this one and a couple others like it did a lot more to make the image seem more personal and relatable. I shot at f/14 to get a super wide depth of field, ISO 200 for a nice clean image, and held the shutter button down with my finger for about a minute in order to get several lightning bolts in a single image.

The one downside to this technique was that successive lightning strikes illuminated the clouds at different times which shows up in the final image as a kind of ghosting, especially with the clouds on the left. It’s not something I noticed initially and while I kind of wish it wasn’t there, I do think the tradeoff is well worth it. Shorter shutter speeds resulted in images that just weren’t all that interesting because they only contained one or two lightning bolts, and if longer shutters meant some ghosting artifacts…well, it’s all part of the fun :)

Frozen Motion

Frozen Motion

I didn’t think a whole lot of this photo when I originally took it, but over time I’ve come to like it quite a bit. It was almost an afterthought really, and not planned in any way, but I think it’s one of the better motion-capture images (is that a real thing?) I have taken. Not necessarily because of the technique or composition or anything like that, but because of the colors and the way the image implies a movement that’s not really present at all.

One rainy Friday morning in May I brought my camera to work to see if I could get some shots in the drippy overcast weather and made a deliberate choice to bring my X100F instead of my Nikon for a couple reasons. First, it has a built-in 3-stop ND filter that is perfect for situations like this, as it cuts down the existing light even more which allows for really slow shutter speeds in broad daylight. Or, in this case, broad overcastlight :) Also, the sheer size and weight (or lack thereof) combined with my little Gorillapod (aka small flexible tripod) meant that I knew I would be able to get up close and personal with a particular channel of water near Theta Pond. I thought this particular gear setup would help me get some fun pictures that I don’t normally get to take, and things ended up working out pretty well to that end.

After the rain let up I took a quick jaunt over to the pond and found the spot I was looking for, and took a couple pictures with my lens stopped down to f/11, shutter set to 1 second, ISO set to 200, and ND filter activated which resulted in some pictures where the water was silky-smooth as it rushed over the rocks. Then I saw this particular yellow magnolia leaf and thought it would look good as the focal point of one of these types of pictures, and I really like how it turned out. It was a fun little experiment to try and it makes me want to do more shots like this in the future.

Antelope Springs

Antelope Springs

One reason I like my X100F so much is that it’s basically the ideal everyday camera as well as a professional workhorse, and a lot of this is due to its size and featureset. When my family took a trip to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in May the X100F is the only camera we brought and it was so nice to know we had a full-fledged professional camera that was so small and light I barely even knew I had it with me. We spent the afternoon hiking and wading in the streams and at one point came upon a spot called Antelope Springs which, as it turns out, is the source of a lot of the water through which were just walking.

The boys spent a little while climbing on rocks near the springs and then we made our way west down a path where we came across this scene here. I didn’t have a tripod (I brought one but left it in the car…oops) so I set my camera down on some rocks, held it steady with my hands, activated its built-in 3-stop ND filter, put it in burst mode, and took several shots with about a 0.5 second shutter speed.

Most were horribly blurry due to camera shake but this one came out pretty nice, even though if you zoom in on the rocks in the background you’ll see that there still is a bit of wobble visible. It’s the kind of thing most people won’t ever notice but I know it’s there, and it’s a good reminder that the next time I set out to take a picture like this I’ll make sure to come prepared!

Butterfly Morning

Butterfly Morning

This was one of those photos where everything just worked.

I took this on a Friday morning. Two days prior my wife and I were out biking around the neighborhood with our kids and we went past a pretty large field full of yellow and red flowers, and at the time I told her that I’d like to return the next morning to take a picture. We talked about how the red flowers might really stand out against the yellow ones, and in the right light it might look pretty cool. Sunrise was about 6:20am and I knew if I left for work at 6:45 I would have time to drive past this field, hop out, snap a few pictures before the sun was too high in the sky, and then get to work right on time.

Things didn’t work out for a photo opportunity the next morning but when Friday rolled around I was able to get out the door with a few minutes to spare–enough to drive past this field and stop to take some pictures. I brought my D750, 50mm lens, and +4 close-up filter just in case I wanted to get a few macro images. The flip-out screen on my D750 made compositing much easier since I was able to put my camera in Live View, hold it close to the ground, and see precisely what the scene would look like as I took some pictures. (Even though I normally prefer the optical viewfinder when using DSLRs, Live View does have its advantages.)

A few minutes later and I just wasn’t having much luck. I had plenty of shots of flowers but nothing that really stood out to me though perhaps I might share one here in the coming weeks anyway. I liked the lighting, I liked the colors, and the dew drops covering the grass were a really nice added touch that helped lend some unexpected sparkles to the pictures. The problem wasn’t necessarily finding a good scene, it was finding a good composition. How could I use the various elements to create a solid photograph? And that’s when I saw this butterfly.

I now had a clear subject and focal point for a photographic composition, and I carefully made my way over to the place it was resting in order to take a couple of pictures before it flew away. Once again Live View and the articulating screen helped immensely, and I took several shots at various apertures in order to play around with background blur and overall subject sharpness. No matter what I wanted the butterfly to be as sharp as possible so I shot some at f/1.8, others at f/2.8, and a couple more at f/4 just for good measure.

What I didn’t expect when I loaded the image into Lightroom was how much I liked the bright spots of light thanks to the dew on the grass. They added so much to the image that I ended up choosing this as my favorite picture form the morning even though the butterfly is just a tad soft compared to the shots at smaller apertures. Even stopping down to f/2.8 had a hugely noticeable effect on the bokeh balls (is that what they’re called?) on the left side of the composition, and that was a compromise I just didn’t want to make.

This image also reminded me of one I shot nearly five years ago with the exact same lens, but on my old Nikon D200. It’s fun to revisit old photos as a way of seeing how much you can learn with a little time and experience :)

Secure

Secure

This picture is very similar to one I posted a few years ago, and while I guess you could say this is a remixed version of the original I don’t know which one I prefer. I kind of like them both :) There’s something cool about a length of thick twine tied to a post that makes for an interesting photograph, especially when you can get close. Maybe it’s because it creates a sense of nostalgia or conjures up thoughts of simpler times, or possibly it could be that pictures like this invite the viewer to create a larger story in their own minds. Whatever it is, I like photos such as this and fortunately they’re not too difficult to find either.

This was taken (where else?) right near Theta Pond on campus and even though it’s similar to its 2016 counterpart I like how this one offers more context, more life, and more of a story to tell. I had my Fuji X100F with me, partly because I really like shooting with it and partly because it’s so much smaller than a DSLR that I end up carrying it more places, and even though it’s not designed to take close-up shots it does offer some degree of macro capability such that I can often get decent results without using my 50mm lens and a close-up filter. It’s not the same as a true macro lens but the X100F does have a close focusing range of about 5 inches which is enough for what you might call macro-lite photos.

I think what attracted me to this particular scene was how the rope and post were somewhat hidden amidst the leaves of a gingko tree. It created a bit of a sense of mystery, even though the actual scene in real life wasn’t all that noteworthy. I shot this at f/4 partly to get a slightly wider depth of field but also because the X100F does get a little soft when using wider apertures to focus at close distances. I also shot this in JPEG using Classic Chrome and I don’t think I did much in post other than possibly add a bit of vignette. I really like the JPEG files straight out of the X100F and sometimes I think it’s fun to deliberately try to get things right in camera and not postprocess at all (or just a tiny little bit). This is a classic case of me forcing myself not to over-think things and just go with the results I get.

Fountainhead

Fountainhead

Ah, the classic Theta Pond Fountain shot. You can’t go wrong with pictures like this, and even though there have probably been thousands of images just like this one taken by thousands of photographers over the years here at OSU…this one is unique and this one is mine and I like it just the same. It’s something I’ve written about before here on Weekly Fifty and something I still struggle with–the idea that my photos have to be new and original or they won’t be of any inherent worth, and that’s simply not the case at all. Of course it’s good to try new things and experiment with new techniques, but there’s nothing wrong with going out and taking pictures of familiar subjects at familiar settings just because it’s what you like. And this is something I happen to like :)

I’ve had the Fuji X100F for about half a year now and I’m still kind of amazed at how useful this little camera really is. I went out for a walk on at work an overcast afternoon in the middle of May and the conditions were perfect for getting a shot like this–lighting was good, there was no wind, and campus was basically empty since graduation was the previous weekend. With the built-in ND filter on the X100F I was able to set the camera down on a rock, set a 2-second timer (to eliminate shake from pressing the shutter) and fire off a short burst of 1-second images that left the water silky smooth and the background tack sharp too. I shot this in RAW, unlike a lot of pictures I take with the X100F, so I could adjust the exposure and some other settings in Lightroom, and the result is the kind of picture I really like to have in my catalog.

And I guess I should say a disclaimer here too: I don’t mean to come across as someone shilling for one particular brand of camera, but good gravy I sure do like that X100F :)