Respite

Respite

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

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

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

Evergreen

The Center

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

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

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

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

Foraging

Foraging

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

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

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

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

Whirlwind

Whirlwind

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

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

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

Frozen

Frozen

Something isn’t quite right here.

At first glance this might seem like a picture of a frozen river at the bottom of a canyon, but then you might notice the trees lining the rim on the left side of the picture. If it were a river those trees would be a lot smaller, which stands to reason since the withered branches and grasses on the right side would need to be much smaller too. You might also, upon further inspection, notice the prominence of trash in the picture–wrappers, bags, cardboard, and other sundry items that show evidence of a much more mundane and, I might say, boring scene.

What you’re looking at is actually just a ditch that flows from a culvert beneath the road I take to get to work each day. Here’s the same location a few days later on my way home on a much warmer day:

Weird how much of a difference there is, isn’t it? What’s actually just a lowly ditch becomes something else entirely when photographed at the right time, from the right angle, with the right exposure settings, and even when it’s processed in such a way so as to highlight different things based on what the photographer intended. And for me, all this just goes to show that you can take something entirely ordinary and make an interesting photo with a little creativity.

As I often do I initially disregarded the very idea of taking a picture at this location because I literally go past it almost every single day either in my car or on my bike. It’s just not interesting at all, and yet, when I saw the frozen water I thought I could maybe, possibly, hopefully get a picture that was worth looking at. The sun was just starting to come up so I didn’t have much light to work with, but I set my aperture to f/1.8 and let my camera calculate a shutter of 1/90 and ISO of 2500, which almost made the whole scene feel like it’s in mid-afternoon. I shot a couple images at smaller apertures but I liked the depth of field at f/1.8 and I think it lends the scene a bit more of a majestic feel than it otherwise might have–if majestic is even a word that can be applied to a tiny frozen runoff stream.

I also removed a couple bits of garbage in Lightroom just because…well, because it’s my picture and I can do what I want :) I thought they detracted from the rest of the image, though what I really should have done is actually remove them when I was taking the picture. It would have made for a more pleasing image and helped clean things up a bit too. Hmm. Now I think I’m going to do just that the next time I bike past here.

Weekly Fifty: Five Years Later

Good morning everyone,

I wanted to do something a bit different today and fill you in on a couple of things that have been on my mind regarding this blog. But first, lest you think otherwise, know that Weekly Fifty is not going anywhere. I have no plans to stop doing the blog any time soon but I do have a couple of changes that I will be making and as a result I wanted to let you know what might be different in the coming weeks, months, and years.

When I started Weekly Fifty on March 8, 2013, I had been interested in digital photography for about a year and I realized that unless I used my camera regularly I wouldn’t exercise the creative muscles I needed to in order to improve. I tried a couple online forums with challenges, daily/weekly image posts, and other such avenues for accountability but none of them really fit my style. I settled on the idea of doing a weekly photo blog because it was just the right amount of commitment I could handle given that my wife and I had a toddler running around at home along with work and school commitments. (I was getting my Master’s degree at the time as well, which means I didn’t have a lot of spare time!)

I also only had one lens at the time, a 50mm f/1.8, which I still use to this day. Because of these constraints, Weekly Fifty was born and continues mostly unchanged to this day. And oh my goodness what a fun journey it has been, thanks in no small part to the incredible community of commenters who take time to leave thoughts, feedback, questions, and other input every single week. I don’t know if I can quite convey how much I appreciate the thoughts of all of you who choose to share them, but just know that it’s your input that really does keep this blog going. I don’t know if I would have the personal sense of drive to do it otherwise, and your comments mean so, so much.

Thank you. Thank you. And thank you :)

So what’s with the changes? Well, the original goal of Weekly Fifty was to help me improve my photography and I can say, without doubt or hesitation, that it has absolutely done just that. I’m kind of horrified to look back on some of those early posts and see how bad I was at creating compelling compositions, using light and framing to showcase subjects, and even just simple things like manipulating aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to get the pictures I was looking for.

I hope it doesn’t sound conceited to say that I’m a much better photographer now than I was five years ago, though along with that is also a realization of just how much I don’t yet know and understand about photography. The more I learn the more I figure out that I don’t know, and I hope to continue improving until either my fingers or my cameras finally give out. Which hopefully won’t be for a very, very long time.

Along the way I have picked up a lot of new gear as well, and the more I use it the more I feel like I want to showcase some of the images here on the blog. But since I’ve limited Weekly Fifty to just the 50mm lens, I have to go out of my way just to use that one piece of gear in order to meet the constraints of the blog. I’ve taken images I really like with my other lenses such as my 70-200, my 85, and even my new Fuji X100f with its fixed 23mm lens, but I can’t share them here because they’re not 50mm focal lengths.

Therefore I have decided to shift gears a little bit and post images here on the blog that I take with any of the cameras and lenses I own. I’ll still use the 50mm lens of course, but I have found that I enjoy using other focal lengths too and I’d like to showcase those pictures here as well. I’m not changing the name of the blog but it will become kind of irrelevant since it won’t be limited to just a 50mm lens, but the idea will still be the same: one picture each week, posted at 1am CST on Wednesday morning, along with audio commentary.

So here’s to many more weeks, months, and years of Weekly Fifty. The name and format won’t change, but the pictures might look a little different, and I hope that’s OK with you. I’m excited for the future, and I’m so glad to have you along for the ride.

-Simon

Peanut

Peanut

My kids have a habit of calling rodents and squirrels by the name “Peanut” ever since reading the Magic Tree House books where the two protagonists, Jack and Annie, adopt a mouse by that name. (Turns out the mouse is much more than meets the eye, but you’d have to read the books to find out why.) Hence the name of this week’s picture which is really just a quick snapshot I happened to fire off before this squirrel scampered off to find food, shelter, or maybe just a playmate elsewhere on campus.

I often talk about the benefits of having your camera with you and here’s a prime example of why it matters so much. In the four and a half years I’ve been at my current position at OSU I’ve seen squirrels wander outside on the ledge of my third-floor office maybe a half-dozen times. It’s just not something that happens very often, and when it does I always like to pause what I’m doing and just sort of watch the little creatures do what they do. It’s a fun little distraction to see them up close, and they usually just stick around for ten or 15 seconds before going back to whatever it was that they were doing.

When I took this I had my D7100 + 50mm lens with me and even though there are two panes of glass between me and the squirrel (with about four inches of space between the panes) I was able to get a fairly decent image. I didn’t have time to do much in the way of composition but I knew I wanted to get his (her?) eye in the shot so I crouched down low, put my aperture at f/2.8, and focused right on the eye with the hope of getting a nice sharp shot. There was a ton of glare from the window in the original RAW file but nothing that a little Lightroom editing couldn’t fix–mostly by adjusting the Highlights/Shadows/Lights/Darks sliders.

Original photo. Thank goodness for shooting in RAW!

It might be a while before this opportunity presents itself again and if so, I’m happy to have gotten this shot while I was able to. It’s fun to try things like this (I almost didn’t even reach for my camera, thinking there’s no way I could get a good picture) but I’m glad I went for it anyway.

I also want to note that this picture marks five years of doing this Weekly Fifty blog. Five years. I must admit that when I set out to do this blog so long ago I had no idea what was in store at all, and the entire time my goal has been simple: I wanted to use this blog as a way of holding myself accountable for taking pictures on a regular basis. Has it done that? Absolutely. But it’s turned in to so much more, with a fantastic group of followers and commenters who have such nice things to say both here and on other social media platforms. (Mostly Instagram, though I try to keep the Facebook page updated too.) I can say with certainty that I am a better photographer now than when I started, and I appreciate all the comments, tips, kind words, and helpful suggestions so many of you have left for me over the past five years. I’m excited for the next five years and I’m so thankful to have all of you along for the ride :)

Remember the Four

Remember the Four

On November 17, 2011, a small four-person airplane carrying Oklahoma State University women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke along with his assistant Miranda Serna crashed in Perry County, Arkansas, killing the two individuals along with the pilot, Olin Branstetter and his wife Paula. I remember the incident mostly because I was taking a graduate class here at OSU at the time and one of my fellow students was on the basketball team, which gave the tragedy a more personal connotation than it otherwise might have. The days and weeks after the crash were difficult for many people on campus especially since it was almost exactly ten years after another plane crash took the lives of ten individuals on the men’s basketball team, whose lives are celebrated each year at OSU’s annual Remember the Ten Run.

In any tragedy such as this we have to figure out a way of going forwards with our lives while also memorializing those who were lost, and learn to hold on to the past while not letting ourselves become crippled by it. Easy words to type, certainly, but a lot more difficult in practice, and I don’t know that there’s ever going to be an easy or simple answer for how to move on after the loss of loved ones. And if there is, I’m not sure I even want to know it.

In the wake of the plane crash in November 2011, OSU sought a way to pay respect to the fallen and honor their memories and the memorial you see pictured above is the final result. Construction was finished a few months ago and I have biked past many times while also stopping to look at the pictures and read about each one of the individuals via the epitaphs engraved on each of the markers. It’s a somber scene, but serves as a way for me to think back on these lives while also serving as a reminder to hug my wife and my two kids a little closer each day when I get home from work.

On the morning I took this picture I had just biked past the memorial when I noticed the buildings in front of me, as I faced west, turn a deep orange almost like the Lord pushed the saturation slider all the way to the right. I stopped, turned around, and saw one of the most stunning sunrises I can recall in recent memory which I quickly attempted to capture with my D7100 and 50mm lens. I reversed course and crouched down in the parking lot just to the west of the memorial, moving myself around a bit so as to position the slabs of granite between two trees while also getting a good view of the sky behind them.

If this picture looks photoshopped, I promise you it’s not. Well, not very much anyway. I adjusted the black levels just a bit but otherwise what you see here is pretty much exactly what I got to see on this chilly January morning. The memorial is bathed in a perpetual white thanks to the light fixtures installed around it, which highlights them in stark relief next to the brilliant orange and purple sky.

As I got back on my bike and continued my ride around the stadium I was struck by how quickly the scene changed, and in less than two minutes the sun was over the horizon and the richness of the morning colors had faded away. It was a quick reminder of how fleeting so many things in life are, and also how important it can be to pause for a minute and spend time to appreciate what we have right in front of us before it’s gone.

Two Degrees

Two Degrees

This was a picture that I had in mind from the moment I grabbed my camera on a chilly January morning earlier this year, and I think the end result is just about what I hoped it would be. The mercury bottomed out at nearly zero overnight and before I left work work (in the car, not on my bike!) I grabbed my D750, attached my 50mm lens, and tossed my Gorillapod in the front seat for good measure. I knew that Theta Pond would have a nice coat of ice when I arrived on campus and would hopefully give me an interesting photo opportunity as a result. I also knew that if I got there before the sun came up I could get some nice motion trails on the fountain by stopping my lens way down and shooting at ISO 100.

Most of the time when I shoot photos at Theta Pond I can’t get motion trails like this since I don’t have an ND filter for my 50mm lens and the light is so bright that exposures of longer than 1/30 of a second are kind of impossible. This was one of the big reasons I was excited about taking this particular photo–I knew the dim daylight would permit a longer exposure and I also knew that the ice would add an interesting element that you don’t normally see at this particular location.

Even though I was born in Minnesota and spent five years living there in my 20’s I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to cold weather, and I was certainly eager to get this shot and put my camera away as quickly as possible to warm my fingers up. I walked to the edge of the pond, set down my tripod with camera attached, and took two pictures at about 1.5 seconds each (I used the self timer to eliminate any vibration from my jittery fingers as I pressed the shutter button) before packing up and heading to my building at work. I like this picture but I do think it would be fun to revisit with an ND filter which would let me get similar results at wider apertures, thus giving the scene a shallower depth of field as opposed to this which was shot at f/16.

All in good time, I suppose, and if I ever do get myself some proper ND filters it would be fun to revisit this scene and see what I could get. But hopefully on a warmer day!

Eruption

Eruption

I didn’t really know what to expect when I shot this, and I guess that kind of makes sense because I didn’t even plan on taking this picture at all in the first place. This was on a Sunday afternoon in January when, oddly, we were caught in a bit of a spring rain as opposed to winter snow. My wife was running a few errands and I had just returned home from the hardware store with our kids when they asked if they could ride their bikes around in the rain. Even though it was a bit chilly I told them to go right ahead since, let’s be honest, there’s few things more fun when you’re a kid than tearing through puddles on a bike :)

I did some work in the garage as they were zooming around and soon noticed a steady drip-drip-drip near the corner of the driveway where a bit of water was falling from the gutters overhead. I ran in to get my camera to see if I could capture one of the drops as it hit the tiny pool of water gathered below the gutter, and ended up with what you see here. It’s an interesting image but has some technical issues that are difficult for me to overlook, mainly the prominent back-focusing and the fact that I ended up using a slightly higher ISO than I’m normally comfortable with on my D7100. But it served as an interesting proof-of-concept and is something I’d like to explore a bit more in the future.

To get this shot on my D7100 I held it low to the ground and flipped over to Live View in order to get it focused properly. I could have used the optical viewfinder but didn’t feel like laying down on the soaking ground, and Live View turned out to work just fine especially considering that I’m a back-button focuser anyway :) I put my camera in Continuous High Speed mode and held the shutter down every time a drop was about to hit, which fired off a half-dozen pictures before filling the painfully small buffer on the camera. Doing all this in Live View was painfully slow so eventually I just used Live View to nail focus and then switched it off to fire off my bursts of shots. That’s probably what caused the focusing on this particular picture to be off by just a bit, and even though I wish I could have gotten a slightly clearer image I guess I don’t mind all that much and it’ll help me to work just a bit harder next time to make sure I really get things right.