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.

Country Roads

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This is the kind of picture that, if you don’t live in the midwest, you might think anyone in Nebraska, Kansas, or Oklahoma could take any time they wanted to. After all what could be more emblematic of the Great Plains than a dirt road, corn fields, and an endless blue sky? Interestingly, scenes like this are not actually all that common here and most of the time a picture like this would also include farm houses, silos, tractors, barns, or even buildings and cities on the horizon. You’ll also notice that the scene here isn’t exactly flat either. Rather it’s a slow undulation of earth that feels casual, homely, and downright comfortable.

True, there are plenty of flat spots in the midwest United States but there’s a lot of variation too which is why I stopped to take this photo on a recent trip from Minnesota to Oklahoma. It kind of hits several Midwestern stereotypes in a single frame, none of which are a true representation of what we’re all about here but all of which are parts of the whole. We’ve got corn and dirt roads but that’s not all there is. Though no matter where you go up and down and across these plains you’re sure to find a great blue sky, provided it’s not storming at the time :)

I shot this with my Fuji X100F which is great for many different purposes but perhaps not quite ideal for landscapes as you can see here. A wider lens would have been nice but alas, the Fuji is stuck firmly at 23mm (unless you have a wide-angle adapter, which I do not) and as such I had to make the best out of what I had available. The bigger questions for me when taking this shot were what angle do I shoot at, what height do I position the camera, and how far down the road do I travel? Truth be told I didn’t really consider the final issue that much since I just wanted to get on with my trip (Highway 75 is about 1/4 mile behind me in this shot) but I did take a handful of shots at different angles and positions before getting one I was really happy with.

Wiretree

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Every time we go on a trip out of town I like to keep my eye open for possible photo opportunities beyond just taking snapshots of friends and family. Sometimes they present themselves plain as day, but other times I have to look just a bit harder which was the case here. This is a small wire tree at my in-laws’ house where we spent a few days this summer reading, relaxing, watching the kids play, and solving a communal crossword puzzle too :) We mostly spent time at their house with the exception of going out to eat, attending church, and taking some walks around the neighborhood and after a little while I was starting to wonder if I would be able to spot any potential Weekly Fifty images.

The last evening we were at their house I took note of this little wireframe creation on a table in their living room and wondered if it might make for an interesting photo, so I took a few minutes to play around with the idea. I tried not to alter the scene except for just scooting the glass paperweight over a few inches, lest it come across as blatantly artificial. It would have been fun to shoot this with a 50mm lens but all I had was my X100F so I did what I could to make that work.

I used my Gorillapod tripod with its legs wrapped around the back of a kitchen chair which allowed me to use a slightly longer shutter speed of 1/30 second. Depth of field was an issue because I wanted a bit of foreground and background blur but also wanted as much of the tree branches in focus as possible, and after trying a couple different aperture values I settled on f/2.8 which turned out to be a decent compromise. Focus was entirely manual but the focus peaking on this camera (which is also available on a lot of other cameras–check your manual to see if you have it too) helped mitigate some of the issues I might have had otherwise. ISO was as low as I could get it in order to give me as smooth and noise-free of an image as possible.

I don’t have a grand story to tell about this photo, though perhaps my mother-in-law (who is a frequent reader of this blog) might leave some information in the comments :) I just thought it would be a cool picture given the interesting subject and late-night lighting, and overall I quite like the results.

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

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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.