Whither

Whither

One of my favorite types of picture to take in the last few months has been close-ups of flowers, thanks to my +10 and +4 filters, but the trouble with shooting photos like that in the winter months is the relative lack of color and greenery. Such was the case when I took my camera out on a mini photo-taking expedition (read: a five-minute walk out in the cold) one afternoon in late December. I was determined to find a photo opportunity despite the relative lack of color and interesting subjects, and it wasn’t too long before I came across this wilted yellow flower.

The first few shots I took were from almost straight above, but the more I looked at these the less interesting they became. They didn’t have any depth or character to them, and the image of a wilted flower from above just wasn’t all that compelling. I soon knelt down and shot this from the side, intentionally composing the picture with another flower behind and to the left, and then it was a matter of which exposure settings to use. I have long since realized that my favorite filter is the +4 (I save the +10 for rare situations where I need to get reeeealy close to my subject) and I like the way it lets me hone in on a subject without getting too crazy, while also having a nice degree of control over depth of field. For this image I used the +4 filter on my 50mm lens at an aperture of f/4, and focused on the center part of the flower to get it nice and sharp. It worked pretty well except for one thing: the foremost wilted petals are not in focus. A quick check of my LCD screen on location would have told me as such and I could have easily stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8 and gotten almost exactly the same image without the blurry yellow petals…but alas, that’s how things go when you’re taking pictures. You always realize the one thing you could have done to kick your image up to 11 after you’re already finished. Well, maybe not always, but sometimes it feels that way. And in those situations it’s best to learn from your mistakes, enjoy the pictures you got, and promise yourself you’ll do better next time.

I mentioned at the top of this post that when I set out to take a picture I didn’t think there was much in the way of natural photo opportunities available, and one thing I have learned over the years is that it’s often these types of situations when my mind tends to get a little more creative. If ample photogenic situations present themselves readily in a given setting, such as on a walk through a park on a summer afternoon, I tend to find myself shutting down and retreating to a place of mental incapacitation. If, as the saying goes, everything is a good photo opportunity then nothing is. Or so my mind tells me from time to time. So ironically I have found that in situations where I have to work harder and look closer for pictures, it’s those times when I find myself seeing things I would not normally notice. It’s a fun experiment to try and I recommend it the next time you think you are in a situation with nothing interesting to photograph. Grab your camera anyway, look closer at the world around you, and see what you can find :)

Soldering Onward

Soldering Onward

The idea for this picture came to me when I was showing my soldering gun to my two boys recently, and letting them see how the solder melts and drips when exposed to a heat source but soon afterwards becomes cool to the touch and quite strong. To illustrate this I brought out a piece of 1/4″ plywood I had lying around and let them watch as I dripped some bits of solder on to it, which they thought was pretty neat. As we sat there on the floor of our kitchen I realized that the drips of solder might make for an interesting picture so the next morning I got out the same board and a few balls of solder that were still left, put them on the counter with some task lighting shining down (this was about 5:45am, long before my wife and kids were awake), and busted out the ol’ D750, 50mm lens, and set of close-up filters. The result, what you see here, is not really all that cool and a big part of me didn’t even want to post it here because it’s kind of a blurry mess but I figured I would anyway because it fits with the spirit of Weekly Fifty which is all about getting out there and taking pictures, trying new things, and not letting my camera collect dust on a shelf.

The main issue I have with this image is that I had to get super close to the solder drops, which meant I had to use a +10 and +4 filter, which then meant that I had to use a wide enough aperture to get any decently-large depth of field…but I was shooting handheld so all this was quite challenging. On a tripod in a more controlled environment I could have used a self-timer along with a small aperture and lower ISO and not worried about shutter speed at all, but as it stands this picture was taken at f/9.5, ISO 2000, at 1/125 second to minimize handheld blur. Even then the depth of field was, as you can see, about 1/8 inch and I would really have liked to have it be much wider but a smaller aperture would have meant a slower shutter or higher ISO–neither of which was something I wanted to do.

In my mind this picture is less about the photo itself but more about the process required to get it, and someday it would be fun to revisit this with a lot more control over the elements. Until then I’m going to keep shooting away, hopefully trying new things and keeping my camera off the shelf, and see what happens :)

At the Knee

At the knees

Working on a college campus is nice for so many reasons, and one of my favorites is how things always seem to be in a state of flux. Visit a campus at any time of the year and things are likely to be quite different from the previous time you were there. In the fall the whole place is buzzing with excitement and anticipation; in the spring students are anxious and eager for graduation; in the summer you are likely to hear sounds of marching bands practicing, sports teams playing, or the steady rhythm and honking of construction equipment moving earth and pounding steel. However one of the most interesting periods is that time when fall semester ends but spring semester has not yet begun. Traffic is light, students are sparse, and staff are busy finalizing documents and preparing for spring while professors huddle in their offices trying to finish up grades or hammer out the finishing touches on a research paper.

It was during that time when I went out on a chilly afternoon with my D750 + 50mm lens combination for (you guessed it!) a quick walk around Theta Pond, determined to get a few pictures of…something. I wasn’t quite sure really, but given that the sky was overcast and the students were gone I thought I might as well try and get a picture just to keep the creative juices flowing. I came back with several, which may or may not show up here on the blog in the coming weeks, but one stood out to me for a reason that I did not expect. It was two cypress knees nestled in a bed of brown needles, and it seemed very much like two people offering comfort to one another on this chilly December day. Something about the image really hit home but I was also bothered by the composition since I was not quite happy with the background and, since I shot the original at f/1.8, the two roots which formed the subject of the picture were not in focus due to a crazy shallow depth of field. In short the photo was good, but a few steps away from one that I really liked.

To remedy the situation I grabbed my buddy who works down the hall and the two of us went back to Theta Pond with the sole purpose of taking a picture of the cypress knees, but done properly. I knew exactly what I had in mind and had a much better sense of the exposure settings I would need, and the result is what you see here. To me it looks like a scene of sorrow, and while I don’t intend to bring anyone down by reading this, that’s just how it comes across to me. It’s a wife being comforted by her husband, with a small crowd of mourners and sympathizers (most likely friends and family) in the background who are there to offer support but know that this couple needs a minute to themselves. I don’t know why the couple is sad, and I’m not sure if they are looking towards the camera or away from it, but I like the intimacy of the picture and the sense of comfort it conveys. Well, to me anyway, but your own interpretation might vary.

I wavered a long time between posting the f/2.8 and f/4 versions of this photo but eventually settled on the former. This meant that there is just a slightly smaller depth of field than I would prefer, and as a result the foremost part of the shorter root is not quite in focus, but the tradeoff is a higher degree of background blur which helps separate the subjects from everything else. Often I find myself taking pictures of something that looks fun, interesting, or even just a bit artsy but this particular image meant something (or illustrated something) that was a bit more than just a pretty-looking picture of nature. I don’t know if it does the same for you, but I hope you at least enjoy it :)

Camera Dads

This isn’t a traditional Weekly Fifty post, but kind of a public service announcement letting you know about a new show I’m doing with my brother Phil. (Perhaps you could say it’s an advertisement? Except I’m not selling anything!) It’s a monthly video, also available as an audio podcast, where he and I talk about a particular camera-related topic. Both of us are fathers, and both of us enjoy photography, so we thought we would put our heads together and do a show involving both of these elements of our lives:

Camera Dads

One thing we want to do is make input from the community a part of our show, and on the right-hand side of the website you’ll see the topic that we are going to discuss on our next show along with a way for you to provide input. If you have anything you’d like to say, or questions to ask, about the upcoming topic we’d love to hear from you! And of course if you’d like to leave us a comment on the current show we always welcome those too.

Thank you!

Colors of the Season

Colors of the Season

I shot this photo after work in November 2016 while walking to my car (not my bike. it was chilly that day!) and happened to see a patch of colorful leaves on the ground which looked like it could make for a halfway decent photo opportunity. And really, that’s about all this is. It’s a picture I would consider not especially good, but halfway decent. I like it but wouldn’t frame it, and I think it’s OK but could be better. So why am I posting it here on Weekly Fifty? Because this picture represents what my blog is all about: growth, progress, and forcing me to keep taking pictures even if I don’t think they will be all that noteworthy.

However…

The more I look at this image the more I actually do think it bears a little closer examination especially due to the shallow depth of field which resulted from shooting a close subject (the curled leaf in the center) at a wide aperture of f/1.8. As I have said repeatedly here on this blog I generally don’t like shooting wide open especially with close subjects because the depth of field goes from an interesting compositional choice to a blurry distraction, but I actually think it works quite well here for one reason: it creates a sense of motion. Even though there was virtually no wind when I took the picture, the blurred foreground and background combined with the bent and twisted nature of the various leaves and grasses imparts a sense of kinetic energy into the picture which I kind of like. Then again, perhaps this is all just in my mind and I’m imagining something where nothing actually exists, but when I look at the picture now it’s hard for me to not envision leaves actually swirling around like you might see on a crisp autumn day.

Backlight Sunshine

Backlight Sunshine

I’ve noticed a theme developing with some of the pictures I take when out walking around, often on campus during a short break, which is less about the types of images I’m recording with my camera and more about the way in which I find them. This picture is the most recent example but I’ve seen it plenty of other times too, and the idea is that I often find photographic opportunities on the latter part of a walk. And I’m not talking some kind of milti-mile hike here, but just a short 5-minute walk around Theta Pond on the OSU campus. During the first few minutes I often look for picture opportunities but, and it’s weird how often this happens, I don’t usually find any. I end up just walking around looking at the trees, flowers, ducks, squirrels, and taking it all in for a little while. (Which, I might add, is one of the nice parts about working on a college campus.) I often snap some pictures here and there but rarely does anything strike me as interesting, creative, or…good.

However near the end of one of these walks as I get close to my building I have often found myself noticing more than I did at the outset, and this is when I get the shots I’m most happy with. This week’s picture, for instance, was taken just across the street from my building after I had walked around the pond and was headed back to my office. I saw a cluster of short, thick grass by the edge of a sidewalk and realized it would make an interesting picture. I crouched down low with my D7100 and a +4 filter attached to the 50mm lens and took a few photos with the grass severely backlit by the overhead sun, and was super happy with the result.

I think what’s happening here is that during the first part of one of these 5-minute walks my brain is just starting to clear itself from the tasks on which I have been concentrating and I find myself less open to artistic or creative forms of expression. After a little while of ambling around and just being a part of nature I think my mind starts to reset itself and by the end I am much more likely to see subjects, colors, and details that I had entirely missed at the outset. Of course all this is anecdotal and a conclusion cannot be drawn from just one person’s experience, but it does make me wonder about whether this is a legitimate phenomenon.

So my advice to you, readers of this blog, is the next time you feel yourself eagerly searching for a photo opportunity but coming up empty-handed, put your camera away and just exist for a little while–outdoors in nature if at all possible. Let your mind relax, wander, and soak in the sights around you and then pick up your camera and see what you can find. I can’t say it will work for sure, but I do think it might and I’d be eager to hear your thoughts about all this in the comments below :)

CEAT Racing

CEAT Racing

This image is quite a departure from the close-up shots I was posting during the final months of 2016, and it’s been kind of fun to take those filters out of my bag and force myself to sue my 50mm lens as just a plain ol’ lens once again without any additional modifications. I shot this with my D7100 when I spotted the vehicle while biking through campus on the way to work a little while ago and really liked how the morning sun was casting such a nice glow on the car while keeping the whole scene overall somewhat subdued. I tried to keep in mind a few things I learned when taking this shot of a Tesla Model S but ran into a couple of issues that made this a little different.

1. Lighting…or the fact that there simply wasn’t much. It meant I had to shoot at f/1.8 which I normally don’t do, but it worked out fine here since I needed a shallow depth of field for the type of shot I was going for.

2. Crop vs. Full Frame. I shot the Tesla with my D750 which meant that I could get much closer to the vehicle and, as a result, get a shallower depth of field. I shot this off road racer with my D7100 so I had to stand back a bit farther in order to fit the whole thing in the frame so my DOF was a little wider.

3. Shooting position. I tried using the viewfinder to get this shot but ended up literally laying down on the ground and shooting in Live View. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

4. Camera shake. Since the lighting was so dim I had to use a slow shutter speed which meant the image was most likely going to be blurry. I wanted to keep the ISO low (I used 200) because I knew I would be doing a lot of editing in Lightroom, and I also dialed in -2EV for exposure compensation so the overall scene would be a bit dark but the highlights would be properly exposed. This allowed me to raise the exposure and bring out details in the shadows while maintaining the integrity of the bright spots on the car.

I used a 2-second timer and set my camera to take 3 shots with half-second intervals because I figured that would increase my chances of getting a blur-free image. And for the most part it worked, though if you zoom in super close you’ll notice that the lettering on the car is just a bit blurry. Oops :) I ended up with an exposure of 50mm, f/1.8, 1/6 second, ISO 200 and it really was just dumb luck that the shot turned out as clear as it did.

My editing on this image was a bit more heavy-handed than usual, and you can see the original here:

dsc_7624-2

I purposely kept the door in the frame because I liked the sense of context it added, and went so far as to remove the two signs behind the car (albeit in Lightroom, not Photoshop, because I didn’t really care enough to do a pixel-perfect job on the Reserved Parking sign) which I normally avoid altogether. All in all this was a fun image to take and edit, and who knows…maybe one day I’ll get to see this car actually driving around instead of just sitting there :)

Proximus Photographus

Proximus Photographus

I thought this image of a red yucca flower might be a fun way to ring in the new year here on Weekly Fifty. It’s not a lily despite its similar appearance, because what you’re looking at is a very big image of a very small flower. I shot this using my D750, 50mm lens, and +10 close-up filter (f/8, 1/250, ISO 1400) which means the actual object is only about the size of a dime. What I found somewhat fascinating about this particular plant, other than all the beauty and detail contained in such a small entity, was that it was literally right outside my building at work. I took this picture on an unremarkable day outside an unremarkable brick office on the campus at Oklahoma State University. Before shooting the picture you see here I had walked around for about 10 minutes looking at trees, flowers, leaves, people, bicycles, and other subjects that I thought would make for interesting pictures but came back without any noteworthy images. Not that I took zero photos, but just that none of them were all that compelling to me.

When I walked past this yucca plant (which has been the subject of a few other Weekly Fifty images over the years) I was struck not just by the flowers but by the rest of the colors in the scene. I think that’s probably what made me want to share this image here instead of letting it gather digital dust in my Lightroom library, and it’s something I want to keep in mind with other images too. There are basically three swaths of color in the frame: green on the left, crimson in the middle, and dull brown or purple on the right. Initially my idea was to photograph the flower in such a way that the deep red color would stand out against the red brick of the building behind it, but those resulted in images that seemed too plain and uninteresting. Then I re-framed the shot so the flower was in front of a sea of green (which are other bushes and the leaves of a golden rain tree) but that didn’t work either since the flower kind of appeared to be hovering awkwardly in the middle of the frame. This one works the best, in my opinion, because the green and burnt umber tones show that the flower is part of a much richer context than just a field or just a building. As an example, here’s the same flower (image is mostly unedited, with just a few basic color tweaks) with my building showing much more prominently in the background:

yucca

It just doesn’t look as interesting, and the flower punches through the middle of the frame without much else to help weave it into the larger tapestry of the image as a whole. The cross-hatches of brick and mortar in the background create an awkward sense of angular geometry which contrasts severely with the rich texture and curves of the flower. In short, this image just doesn’t work–at least not in the same way that the top one does.

So anyway, with all that being said..happy new year to you! I hope your 2017 is off to a bright start and things are only looking better. Cheers, God bless you, and here’s to another turn around the sun :)

Set

Set

And here we are, the final photo of Weekly Fifty for the 2016 year. I’m posting this one in particular for a couple of reasons, and it’s designed to be somewhat of a companion piece to last week’s image. First off, you might note that its composition bears a striking resemblance to last week’s image in that the photo is horizontally composed with the subject along the right-hand third. In both images I am standing below and looking up, and there is a vast expanse of sky on the left side. Both pictures involve the sun as a key element even though in last week’s you see the effects of its light and not the solar object itself. And both pictures, I hope, present a sense of awe, wonder, and possibly even inspiration. They did for me, anyway, and I dare to think they just might do the same for you the viewer.

Last week’s image was titled “Rise” and this one is “Set” not just because the sun is on its way down but because the year is coming to a close. I shot this in the middle of October but have saved it until now because it represents, to me, a sense of closure while also a sense of hope and even anticipation for the year ahead. Now, it’s also important to remember that this is just a simple picture I snapped one day while walking around Theta Pond and I’m not trying to change the world or anything like that. The image is not fancy and did not require special effort, and I’m not trying to make a big statement or anything. I just thought it would be nice to use as an end-of-year photo and I hope it serves that purpose decently enough.

Keen readers might see echoes of similar sunburst-style images that I have posted in the past and while this is not meant to be a retread of familiar territory, I do think it is worth revisiting a certain style, subject, or type of photography in order to practice and get better at it. Ever since I learned how to take pictures with starburst patterns it is something I have enjoyed repeating and this is yet another example. I tried a couple different ways of composing the image and moving around so the sun was placed at different spots, but I kept coming back to this one where it was peeking out from where the branch extends from the main trunk. I can’t exactly say why other than it just seems to fit nicely, and I like that the sky is somewhat clear in the area surrounding the sun and darker on the left side with the overhanging cypress branches. I shot this at f/11 to get several rays to appear without being overwhelming, and just like last week the only major adjusting I did (which turned out to be quite minor) was to adjust black levels and saturation.

And with that I big a fond farewell to 2016 and raise a glass of Mt. Dew, my drink of choice, to a happy, healthy, and productive 2017. It’s going to be a fun ride, folks. I can’t wait to see you there :)

Rise

Rise

For this picture we’re going to go back to the basics with a fairly simple composition and some tried-and-true photographic techniques. No close-up filters, no long exposures, no full-frame-vs-crop tangents…just a horizontal photo with a single subject on the right-hand third dividing line. And like many other images I post here on Weekly Fifty, this one almost didn’t happen and would not exist at all if I had not brought my camera to work with me on a crisp Tuesday morning. There was even a moment before I left the house that I had my D7100 in hand and was about to put it on the shelf because I knew I had a busy day ahead of me, but decided I might as well bring it anyway just in case I happened to come across a photographic opportunity. Little did I know that such an opportunity would present itself before I even got to work :)

As I rounded the west side of Boone Pickens Stadium and turned south onto Monroe avenue I saw, about a block away to the east, this cross rising from the top of the University Parish of Saint John the Baptist. (You can see, using Google Maps Street View, the spot where I was standing to get the photo.) The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon which cast a nice orange glow on the clouds, and served to create a fantastic backdrop for this backlit monolith. I knew I had just a few minutes in which to take a picture, partly because I did not want to be late for work but also because I knew that the sunrise would soon be over and the deep oranges would be entirely washed out.

I parked my bike in the empty Gallagher-Iba lot and ran over to Hester street to take the picture. I shot it at f/4 along with my usual auto-ISO setting which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/180 and ISO 220. I know photos like this are best when taken at the lowest possible ISO and if my camera was going to go past 400 I would have shot in manual or just disabled Auto ISO, but as things turned out I was quite happy with the exposure my camera gave me. This is also one of those instances in which shooting with a 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera turned out to be a benefit since I didn’t really want the rest of the church, or the powerlines in front of it, in the shot at all and they would have been unavoidable if I was using my full-frame D750.

This didn’t require much postprocessing either, and what you see here is pretty much exactly what things looked like on the morning I made the image. I dialed down the black level to get a monochromatic silhouette, and adjusted the saturation just a bit, but otherwise this image hasn’t been changed much at all. Not that Lightroom adjustments are a bad thing, but in general I like to use a style of editing that gets the final image as close as possible to what I saw in my mind’s eye when I took the shot, rather than creating some kind of hyper-real HDR-style image that couldn’t actually exist in real life.

Finally, it is no coincidence that I am posting this image a few days before Christmas. In a few days we will celebrate the birth of our savior Jesus Christ, and while the image of a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger is certainly worth treasuring and pondering, as Mary did many years ago, it’s also important to remember the reason He was born in the first place. It was so He could take the punishment for our sins all the way to the cross, where he would die not for anything He did but for everything we have done. You can’t have Christmas without the cross; the two are forever intertwined and the one leads directly to the other. So in a sense, this image of Jesus’ instrument of crucifixion could be said to be the best Christmas greeting I could offer to you, my readers. Merry Christmas to all of you, and may you reflect on both the manger and the cross now and throughout the new year.