Several years ago when I first got started getting serious about photography, my buddies Ryan and Kevin convinced me to forego a kit lens and instead purchase a 50mm lens. That decision was directly responsible for lighting a fire beneath my feet, photographically speaking, and immediately opened my eyes to the vast world in front of me that I was suddenly able to capture in my camera how I saw it in my mind. I always wanted to experiment with shooting in low light, isolating my subject, getting tack-sharp portraits, and of course get those oh-so-blurry backgrounds but until I got that Nifty Fifty I thought some kind of secret alchemy was required that only True Photographers possessed. Turns out all you need is a 50mm lens*

The more I used my D200 + 50mm lens, the more excited I got at the possibilities it offered to me as a photographer. However, one thing continued to confound me and not too long after I got started with photography I, somewhat infamously, told Ryan that a 50mm lens is ill-suited for wildlife photography. In fact I could have hardly been further from the truth, and Ryan told me as much at the time, but ever the over-eager newbie I, over the next few years, tried my  best to prove myself right. Thing is, I was wrong. The 50mm lens is great for wildlife photography, depending on the type of wildlife you want to photograph.

Case in point: today’s image of a turtledove peacefully resting in a nest. Could I have used a telephoto lens to get this shot? Sure, but that would have given me a more limited field of view compared to the comparatively wide angle afforded by a 50mm lens. All it took for me to get this image was patience and a bit of creativity, the limitations of a 50mm lens notwithstanding. Like so many photographic situations, it’s not the gear you have (or don’t have) but how you use it that matters, and a 50mm lens (or any lens, for that matter) can be perfectly suited to wildlife, landscape, sports, portrait, or any other type of photography so long as you are aware of its capabilities and limitations and allow yourself to work within that space.

Would a 50mm lens be ideal for getting close-up shots of lions while on safari? No, probably not. But could it capture lions on the horizon silhouetted against a sunset? Most definitely. Would a 50mm lens be ideal for getting tack-sharp images of a kingfisher diving for prey beneath the water? Not at all. But would it work to capture an intimate close-up of a turtledove sitting on her nest? Absolutely. This photo was taken right next to my house and the bird you see has gotten pretty used to a continual buzz of activity from my kids playing in the yard, which is probably why she didn’t mind when I climbed atop a stepstool just a few feet from her nest. She didn’t flinch much when I scooted closer…closer…closer with my camera while firing off a couple dozen shots. I even got down and moved the stepstool to reframe the shot, and she just sat quietly the whole time.

I guess my point is that this picture illustrates the same point I’ve been trying to make to myself for years here on Weekly Fifty: it’s important to know your limitations and then learn how to work within them to get the shots you want. Even if you don’t think the shots you want are possible, they probably are. It just might take a bit of patience and creativity :)

*ok…you don’t specifically need a 50mm lens since any lens will suffice. But read on to get the whole picture of what I’m trying to say.

The Early Flower

The Early Flower

Taking this picture was kind of fun because I’ve realized that I don’t really take a lot like this anymore, which is kind of a shame. In truth I rather enjoy taking photos of flowers, but lately I’ve been mostly doing it with a close-up filter and thus missing out on some of the context and fun lighting that can come into play when composing a more normal view of something like this. As often happens with my Weekly Fifty photos I shot this early in the morning on my way to work, and with the sun just peeking over the horizon it meant a nice even diffused light covering the whole campus while also catching things at a time when the street lights were still glowing. And that’s where the fun part of this photo really came into play.

One thing I’ve learned when it comes to composing shots is that every element in the frame ought to be considered, from the foreground to the subject to the background and even other elements on the periphery that might not appear to matter. In this case there’s not much in the way of foreground elements, but I as I knelt down to take this picture I wanted to carefully pay attention to the background objects and compose my shot accordingly.

The subject is clearly the flower in front, but I also wanted to use another flower behind it as well as the triple-topped light post way in the distance as intentional elements of the shot. This required a bit of moving and maneuvering on my part while also taking my lens aperture into account. I shot a few images at f/2.8 and even a couple at f/4 but soon realized that while the subject was tack sharp in these, the background elements were not as blurred out as I wanted and thus the viewer’s eye was distracted and listless with no clear focal point. Thus I spun the dial on the front of my D750 clear to the left to get as wide of an aperture as possible, knowing full well that shooting at f/1.8 would mean an almost-too-shallow depth of field.

The results turned out pretty well, and though the yellow-orange petal closest to the viewer is a tad out of focus I’m glad that the rest of the flower is quite sharp. Ideally I think I would have physically separated the three elements of the shot (foreground flower, background flower, and light pole) with a bit more space instead of crowding things so close in the center of the frame, but overall I think the image is decent and a good reminder of why it’s fun to un-screw the close-up filters and just go take colorful pictures from a more normal point of view sometimes.

Gently Weeping

Gently Weeping

Taking this picture felt, in some ways, like the culmination of so many thing I have learned about photography over the years. From composing the shot to controlling the exposure to postprocessing…and even just seeing the photo opportunity in the first place, it all sort of coalesced into the picture you see here. I hope you don’t mind me saying that I quite like it and, at the risk of sounding a bit self-aggrandizing, I think it’s one of the better macro-style shots I have taken in a while.

So here’s kind of the play-by-play of how this shot came about. I was walking across campus one afternoon recently, following some light spring showers that had blanketed the city in a warm mist earlier in the day, and saw this tiny little…something. You all know by now that I’m no botanist and have little to no clue about what various plants actually are, but this thing was about the size of a quarter and I thought it looked so pretty, and delicate, with beads of water clinging to those fine white-and-red strands. Thankfully I had my D750, 50mm lens, and my usual set of close-up filters handy though I should let you know that I actually walked right on past this thing at first because I didn’t think it would really be worth photographing. I’m sure glad I was wrong.

I took one shot with my +4 filter and immediately realized I would need my +10, so I put that on and took a few shots at f/8. I didn’t bother with anything wider since I knew (after a lot of trial and error which has been well documented here on the blog) that f/8 would make sure much of the subject would be in focus while still getting a nice amount of background blur and also result in a sharper picture overall. The only real question was the angle at which I was shooting, and I moved my camera around a bit to get a couple of different viewpoints but in the end I only spent about two minutes on this shot before moving on, confident that I had something I would like.

Sure enough, when I loaded the images in Lightroom I found that I was perfectly pleased with most of them, so then it came down to a matter of personal preference. What ultimately did it for me on this particular shot was how sharp it turned out. If you click on the image and zoom in to 100% on Flickr you will notice that even the smallest wisps in the middle of the image are extraordinarily sharp, which doesn’t often happen when I do close-up shots like this. Of course there are plenty of strands that are not sharp due to the shallow depth of field (even at f/8) but right in the middle, where I hope the viewer’s eyes are drawn, is precisely what I was hoping it would be.

And so there you have it: a reason to keep practicing, trying new things, and taking pictures even when you don’t think you have anything around you worth photographing. Pause a moment and look at the world around you, and you just might find yourself in the presence of something beautiful.

Flying Aggies

Flying Aggies

Sometimes I write about how unique and fascinating it can be to work on a college campus, and this shot is a good example of what I mean by that. There I was, walking to work on a drizzly Wednesday morning when lo and behold I came across an airplane sitting in the lawn just north of Theta Pond. (Look closely in the background and you can see one of its fountains.) At first I was a bit confused, and then when I noticed a tent on one side and a hammock on the other side, I was even more befuddled. Then I remembered that about this time in 2016 the OSU aviation students, otherwise known as the Flying Aggies, had parked the same plane at the same spot in order to spread the word about who they are and what they do.

I had a few minutes before I was supposed to be at work so I crossed Monroe, got out my D750 + 50mm lens, and took a few pictures. At first, like most people, I stood and shot from eye level and ended up with a couple images like this:

It’s not a bad shot and in some ways I kind of prefer it to the one I actually posted for this week because the trees and tents serve to create a somewhat unique and compelling story. Ultimately I decided that there was just too much going on in the frame, and with the colors of the tents being so similar to the surrounding scenery anyway I thought it would be best to just focus on the airplane. Basically, the one taken from eye level looked more like a snapshot whereas the one I decided to actually use felt more like an actual composition. I don’t know if I’m just grasping at straws here, and I might be, but I really do feel like there’s a substantive difference between the two.

I walked a bit closer to the plane, crouched down on the ground, and fired of a couple shots that I still wasn’t quite happy with. I was using f/1.8 to really bring the front of the plane in focus while getting a bit of foreground and background blur, which is difficult to do when your subject is so large and you’re standing several feet away, but something about the perspective just wasn’t working for me. Thankfully my D750 has a little flip-out screen which I rarely use, but when I need it oh boy does it ever come in handy. I literally set my camera on the sidewalk, angled it up, switched on Live View, popped the screen out, and voilà. I got the shot I was aiming for. The low angle and closer perspective helps isolate the plane and give it a sense of power and presence that the other shots lacked, and I’m happy with how the tail is perfectly visible but slightly blurry too.



Ah, yet another in the long-running series of shots brought to you by my set of close-up filters. This one was a bit of a surprise for me for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is the sheer amount of pink and red in the image. I mean, wow. It kind of hurts my eyes just to look at it which is why I nearly dismissed the picture entirely upon seeing it in my Lightroom catalog. And yet I decided to keep it, edit it, and ultimately post it here on Weekly Fifty because of reason two. When I was looking around one of the gardens on campus armed with my D7100, 50mm lens, and close-up filters I was only looking for some flowers and not anything in the way of animal life since at this point I’ve basically ruled out the possibility of capturing bees, bugs, flies, or anything of that nature with the skill and equipment I have. I mean seriously, when there are photographers who can do stuff like this, it simultaneously inspires me while also making me want to chuck my camera in the trash because I’ll never be that good.

But as I often tell my five-year-old son, it’s not a competition. If I’m using my camera to capture images I like, then it’s all good. Hopefully I’m also getting inspired and challenged by other photographers and using their works as creative outlets to explore personally, and that all goes back to Reason Number Two which you might have noticed I haven’t exactly articulated  yet.

See that little bug in the lower-left of this photo? I kid you not, I didn’t even notice it (he?) was there when I shot the image. He must have been about 1/8″ long and I was concentrating so much on the center of this rose that I didn’t even notice the insect crawling outwards towards the sunlight. It was only afterwards in Lightroom that I saw the little fella boldly bolting towards the outskirts of the flower, and thought it added an interesting dynamic element to an otherwise fairly simple shot. I’m a little disappointed that the bug is not in focus, but it’s close enough and while I wouldn’t go with close enough when working with clients, it’s just fine here since I see it as a demonstration of my learning and photographic progression.

I do think I need to take more time and really see the world around me, especially when shooting subjects at close distances, and now I wonder how many other little hidden secrets like this I’ve been missing. It makes me want to get my camera out and start crawling around on the ground just to see what I can find :)



Keen readers may recognize this picture, or have a sense of déjà vu when seeing it, because it’s not the first time I’ve used a shot of a drop of water on a blade of grass as the subject for a photo. There’s something about the act of capturing the organic elements in a state like that that I really enjoy, and I think the contrast between the bright whites of a drop of water and the deep greens of the grass on which it sits are always fascinating to me. On another level, it’s just a lot of fun to shoot photos like this and I find it to be a fun and interesting way of exploring the ways in which such a tiny, singular object can be photographed.

The name of this week’s picture comes from the black hole in the movie Interstellar, which came to my mind as I was editing this picture in Lightroom. The way the light curves and bends around the droplet really struck me, and I like how if you look closely (click on the picture and zoom in to 100% on the Flickr version) you can get a sense of the trees and clouds overhead that are being changed and distorted when reflected in the drop. It’s a cool thing to think about, that such a tiny drop of water (it was probably about 5mm in diameter) could contain, in a sense, the vastness of the sky above. I mean, I get that this is wading perhaps a bit too far into the deep end of the interpretational pool, but looking at such a huge expanse reflected in such a tiny drop is kind of humbling.

Anyway, when I shot this I was kind of on a mission to explore what I could do with my 50mm lens and +10 filter–a creative mechanism that I don’t often find myself employing on my photographic endeavors due to how unwieldy it can be to use given its super thin depth of field. I spent about 10 minutes walking through the garden near the Alumni Center on the OSU campus with no particular photographic vision in mind, but curious to see what I could see. After shooting some flowers I was about to leave the area when I saw the drop-of-rain-on-grass scene and wanted to give it a try. I had a couple of things to consider such as the angle of view (I ended up almost laying on the ground) and my position in relation to the sun, as well as what aperture to use. I often use my +10 filter at f/8 because any shallower results in a degredation of overall sharpness as well as a much-too-shallow depth of field, and on the afternoon I shot this there was plenty of light to give me a good shutter speed despite the constricted aperture.

I deliberately shot this such that the droplet was slightly backlit in order to catch a glint of sunlight on the left side, and I think it worked out well despite the ugly dark shadow you can see next to it. I guess you could say the sun was more overhead than behind it, but still, I tried moving around to get a different angle but I didn’t like the lighting in those tests, and I also appreciated how in this version you can see the blade of grass receding into the background along with the bokehlicious heptagon of light in the top-right corner.



If the title of this week’s photo seems rather unremarkable, it’s because the subject matter depicted in the picture is equally unremarkable. It’s a pair of sunglasses I got at Ross for $11, and behind them you can kind of make out my car keys while the foreground contains a document I had printed off for a meeting. I snapped this picture after I got to work on a recent Thursday morning when the sunlight was just beginning to creep in through my eastward-facing window, which cast a calm yellow glow over everything in my office and pretty much the whole of Stillwater for a few precious minutes. I realized that the stage had been set for a quick photo opportunity, so I grabbed my D7100 + 50mm lens and started clicking away.

My first thought was “I need to move those keys!” but then I started thinking about where that would lead, and I didn’t like how it ended up. I thought if I moved the keys around it might create a more pleasing composition. Then I thought I might move the paper a bit. And while I’m at it, I should reposition the sunglasses to catch some more like. And I could shift the entire scene a bit to capture more of the sun’s rays. And the background should probably be changed too…and on and on. I had this little internal debate for about 15 seconds before I shut the whole thing down and just took a few pictures of the scene as-is without changing anything. I realized I didn’t want to create a scene, so much as I wanted to capture a scene. What you’re seeing here is exactly what my desk looked like when I walked through the door and set my keys and sunglasses down, and I think there’s something to be said for photos that capture an image of things as they are as opposed to how we would like them to be.

Granted this is just one little example with a few inanimate objects, and one could of course argue (quite correctly) that there is still a great deal of manipulation going on here. I chose to shoot this at f/2.8 in order to get a shallow depth of field. I chose to have the foremost nose guard in focus. I chose to shoot from a low angle, a short distance away, in order to get one particular perspective. I even chose to edit the picture in Lightroom and make a few tweaks to the white balance and other settings. And if I’m being entirely honest I did actually move a couple of miscellaneous office trinkets (I think one was a binder clip, perhaps) out of the way so as to not clutter the frame.

What you have, then, is an artificial construct that represents an organic scene. In one sense nothing was manipulated, and what you see here is as it was. But in another sense, lots of things were manipulated and what you’re seeing here is not at all like how things actually were. But that’s the beauty of photography and indeed all art: it is what you want, and others can interpret it however they see fit.

I realize this is kind of a lofty discussion over what is, essentially, a quick snapshot of a pair of cheap sunglasses, but sometimes I do get to thinking about the power we wield as photographers, the artistic choices we make often without thinking, and the message we are choosing to convey simply by snapping the shutter. And with that I hope you, after you’re done reading this, go grab your camera, take a few photos, and see how you can convey the world around you :)



I hope you don’t mind yet another picture in what’s now a three-week series revolving around flowers. I promise this wasn’t planned, and yet I like how things have turned out with these pictures. This picture most certainly was not planned, and it has not been altered in Photoshop (though I did perform my usual basic Lightroom adjustments like white/dark levels, clarity, etc.) but I’m super happy with how it turned out. I was literally just walking from the car to my building at work when I happened to pass in front of Murray Hall on the OSU campus. I saw a tree filled with purple leaves that was also sprouting some new buds which were, strangely, the opposite color.


Click to see the larger version. If you look super closely you can almost see the tiny yellow leaves poking out all over.

Since I had my camera with me, as I often do, I paused for a little bit to see if I could get a photo. I’ve tried taking a picture of trees like this one before but they usually ended up kind of messy and incoherent because it’s hard to make out a clear subject or focal point if you just have a bunch of purple leaves. All you get is a sea of color with nothing interesting, even though it might seem like a good photo opportunity at first. Well, that’s been my experience anyway. This time was different though, all thanks to (what else?) my close-up filters. Whee!

I started by using my +4 filter and focusing on a small yellow leaf, but the result wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.

In this image you can clearly see the leaf but there’s too much else going on to distract you. There’s a sea of purple behind the leaf and with the other ones poking out below and to its right, it’s easy to get distracted and lose a sense of clarity. That’s when I decided to bust out the Big Guns and switched to my +10 filter, while also stopping down to f/8 to get a usable depth of field, which resulted in the photo you see at the top of the post. Perhaps it’s a bit overexposed, which I guess I could fix in Lightroom, and I do wish the white splotches in the background weren’t quite as prominent as they are, but nonetheless I really like the final result and it was fun to see all the elements of this shot come together in the way they did. One of the keys was the early morning light which added a nice soft glow to the scene which would not be present at all during midday, and I think it’s kind of cool to see two completely contrasting colors so closely linked like this. I’d like to revisit the tree soon and see how it has changed, and maybe even take another photo or two to document things.

A Little Closer

A Little Closer

Here we have yet another in the long line of pictures I’ve taken which was directly inspired by my cousin Beth, who often posts close-up photos of flowers to her Instagram feed. Go ahead and follow her–you’ll be glad you did, and I’m sure you will see where I’ve gotten some ideas for my own pictures over the years :) I forget exactly which picture she posted that led to me taking this one, but sometimes it’s the idea of going out and taking pictures more than an individual photo that really gets to me. Occasionally I need a little mental nudge to get my camera out of my bag and go out and shoot some pictures, which is what I really like about using software like Instagram, Flickr, and even Facebook. Seeing what other people post helps give me ideas for my own photography, which can be a really col thing.

This picture is, as I have learned over the years, a class Simon Flower Photo: subject is off-center, viewing angle is slightly off to one side, the center is sharp, and there is a bit of context in both the foreground and background to give the subject a sense of depth and perspective. These particular compositional choices have come to define my particular style when it comes to taking pictures like this, and I like the idea of iterating, and improving, on these traits. I of course also used my close-up filters to get this shot starting with a +4 and then a +10. I didn’t like the results I was getting from the latter so I went with an image taken with the former, and even though I thought shooting at f/8 would result in an image that had too wide of a depth of field, it turned out to be not the case at all. In fact the shots I took at f/4 and f/2.8 had a depth of field that was so shallow it was a muddy purple mess, hence the f/8 shot you see here.

Something about the colors in this photo is a little off to me, and I’m not quite sure what’s causing it or what to do about it. The whole image seems to have somewhat of a yellow tint to it, but adjusting the white balance and overall tint (in the Basic panel of the Lightroom Develop module) didn’t really help. Maybe it had something to do with the time of day at which this was taken, or maybe even the close-up filter causing some type of aberration with the incoming light. It almost looks like this picture was sent through some kind of Instagram filter but I can assure you that’s not the case :) I almost didn’t post this picture because of the weirdness with the colors, but then figured I’d take the same as Spike from Cowboy Bebop: whatever happens, happens. This is how the picture turned out, so I might as well use it. And you know what? I kind of like it.

Carnation Shadow

Carnation Shadow

So this is a different sort of take on the traditional picture of a flower, and it’s an idea that came to me while I was eating breakfast with my kids one morning in March. My son brought home a carnation from school about a week prior to this picture as some sort of fund raiser where students could support the PTA (or other such organization) by buying a flower and having it delivered to a friend. He was thrilled with the flower and my wife found a nice simple vase to hold it, and it had been sitting on the window sill for several days afterwards. My wife called it “The Little Carnation that Could” because it just kept hanging in there long after we would have predicted its demise, and I thought it would make an interesting photo opportunity.

The trick, though, was in figuring out how to photograph a flower against a window and make the resulting image look interesting while also not being too over- or under-exposed. I thought about a couple different compositions before settling on what you see here, which was taken just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. I don’t often take pictures that exclusively feature shadows, and the idea of taking a bright pink carnation and reducing it to nothing more than a black-and-white silhouette seemed anathema to me and yet I quite like the result. It’s a different sort of way of looking at something familiar.

If the image appears somber, sad, introspective, or even depressing I promise you that’s not my intention at all. Take from it what you will, but before and after I shot this photo I was helping my two boys (ages 5 and 3) pour cereal and get dressed for school, and much of that involved the typical sorts of goofing around and odd noises one might expect on any given morning with kids that age :) The resulting image is a bit unique in my collection of photographs and I am happy with how it turned out, even though it takes a rather bright and cheerful flower-by-the-window scene and turns it into something else entirely. I guess that could be a statement about the power of photography, but for me it was really just about experimentation and trying something new. And I think it worked :)