Horizon

FUJI8927.jpg

This is the second in a series of long-exposure sunset pictures I’m sharing here on Weekly Fifty. I shot this at Milford Lake on June 23, 2019.

After I shot a sunset photo on the night before this, I had a better idea of what kind of image I wanted to capture as well as what settings I might need in order to do it. To get this picture I walked to the west edge of Acorn’s Resort about 9pm, found the spot I wanted, set up my tripod and camera, and waited. My mom was with me at the time and I was trying to describe the photo to her that I was attempting to get, and she was clearly having some trouble wrapping her mind around it because I kept telling her I needed less light.

“But don’t you need light to take a picture?” she asked, a little confused.

“Yeah, but in this case I want less light so I can leave the shutter open longer. That will make it look like there’s more light.”

To which she had a quite logical response: “Why not just take your picture now before the sun goes down?” I tried to explain it to her but without actually showing the end result it was a little tricky. Eventually, she went back to the cabin and I settled in for some long exposures. I set my Fuji X100F to 30 a 30-second shutter, f/16, and activated the ND filter while I waited for the meter to read 1, 2, and then 3 stops underexposed.

I eventually got to the point where I was able to take a nearly four-minute exposure, which I thought would look aaaaaaawesome and have the water super silky smooth. Well, I was right about the latter but not the former. True, in my 4-minute exposure the water was polished to a mirrorlike shine, but the photo just wasn’t that interesting to look at. The issue, I realized, had to do with the sky.

In this 30-second exposure, which I took almost as a practice picture while I waited for things to get really dark, you can see a mass of clouds moving that gives a sense of kinetic energy to the frame which was almost entirely gone in later pictures. Soon after I took this picture the clouds blew away leaving the sky a deep, empty blue. The water was smoother but the resulting image felt dull and lifeless, especially compared to this particular shot. It felt strange, but despite my efforts to capture a super long exposure I ended up preferring this one by a wide margin.

Funny how things turn out sometimes, isn’t it?

Outpost

FUJI8660.jpg

This is the first in a series of long-exposure sunset photo I’m going to share with you, all of which were taken in June of 2019 at Milford Lake, Kansas. Each year since 2012 our family has spent a few days at a resort on what is, apparently, one of the largest lakes in Kansas and it has yielded some really nice photo opportunities in the past. This year I wanted to try something a bit different and do some long exposures, which were only made possible thanks to the purchase of a cable-release for my Fuij X100F. It’s a simple, no-frills piece of gear I had been thinking about buying for quite some time, and I’m so glad I finally got one. I don’t see myself using it every day, but it sure was fun to see the creative possibilities it unlocked when shooting long exposures.

This was shot on the evening of June 22, and earlier in the day my kids, some of their cousins, and I came across this scene while out walking around:

What you might not know from looking at this is that there should not be any water here at all. When we visited the resort this year the lake was at almost-historic levels, and everything in this picture used to be either dry ground or a parking lot. In fact if you look really closely you can see, just to the right of the tree, a metal railing leading downward alongside what used to be a staircase. So yeah, it was kind of an interesting year at the lake.

When I saw this scene with a tree in the middle of what looked like a lake I thought it would make for an interesting picture, so I returned that evening as the sun was setting and tried to capture in my camera what I was seeing in my mind. Calculating exposures when shooting in Bulb Mode is a little tricky, but I started by setting my aperture at f/16, activating the three-stop ND filter in my camera, and metering the scene based on a 30-second exposure. When that was showing about one stop of underexposure I switched to Bulb mode and left the shutter open for 77 seconds, which smoothed out any motion in the water along with giving the sky a bit of a painted feel, with clouds showing a bit of a wispy look. The slight breeze also gave the tree leaves a bit of a blur which I didn’t like too much, but it’s not nearly as bad in this shot as it was in some of the others I got.

All in all I had a lot of fun taking this picture, and it set the stage for two more long-exposure images that I would go on to capture over the next two nights.

Mini Harvest

DSC_6182.jpg

I was out in my backyard with my youngest son one day earlier this year when we both noticed a large patch of very small strawberries that had appeared almost overnight. Ever since we moved in to our house here in Oklahoma we have had wild strawberries show up at roughly the same time each year, in roughly the same location, but I’ve never thought to photograph them or really notice them much at all. But it’s interesting what comes to mind when you’re with a child, and seeing the world through their eyes can help open yours a little larger to take in things you never previously considered.

Once again, as in last week’s photo, it was my Nikon D750 and 50mm lens, along with some close-up filters, that allowed me to get this image. I forget which filter I used here but it might have been the +10 again, which is one that I have traditionally not liked all that well compared to the +4. And yet, here we are :) It’s difficult to tell from the photo but this particular strawberry was about 1cm in diameter and I really liked how it was nestled in between green leaves and yellow flowers. I shot some other images where strawberries were on their own or paired with just greenery, but this one felt like I was peeking into a hidden world of sorts.

This shot, and the one from last week, were fun reminders that sometimes you need to go back to basics as a way to reset yourself. I’ve got a collection of cameras and lenses I’ve acquired over the years but it’s nice to go back to the classic 50mm lens to get shots that really are special.

Snail’s Pace

DSC_6166.jpg

Once again I have my friend Gina to thank for this photo, who has given me several other picture ideas over the years and whose input I always appreciate having when it comes to photography. With all the rain we had this past spring there were all sorts of animals around that we don’t normally see, or perhaps just don’t notice, especially the creepy crawly variety. As we were chatting at work one soggy morning in May she asked if I had my camera with me and suggested that I go out and take some pictures of snails that were hanging around on a particular sidewalk near our building. I didn’t, but I thanked her for the suggestion and the very next morning I showed up with my Nikon D750, 50mm lens, and (you know it) my set of close-up filters to see what I could find.

Sure enough, I soon found a whole rout of snails so I got out my camera, attached the +10 filter, and set to work. The first thing I realized is that height was definitely going to be an issue: my camera was too far off the ground to get a really good look at any of the snails head-on! I would have liked to get some shots that were more at eye level, but that wasn’t really an option given the equipment and time I was working with, so I made the most of the situation anyway. I don’t normally use my +10 filter because it’s just too close for most situations I encounter, but it proved quite adept at capturing pictures of snails. I was able to get really close to this one, and others, and shot with a fairly small aperture of f/8 to get a wide enough depth of field so you could actually see what was going on. And even then, as you can see in the picture, the total in-focus area was only as wide as a few grains of sand! Thankfully these snails moved really slow or else it would have been a total wash.

At one point I went so far as to pick up one of the snails, set it on a leaf a few inches off the ground, and wait for it to come back out of its shell for a photograph. Sadly it did not oblige, though I can certainly understand its trepidation, and the best I could get in that scenario was a picture its shell sitting on the leaf:

While this picture was a little more colorful it was also a lot less lively, and in the end I decided I would rather have a photo that shows the actual snail and not just its portable abode. But who knows…one day maybe I’ll get a picture that does both :)

Enter Light

DSC_5822.jpg

Contrary to last week’s image, this was one that definitely involved some thought and planning. My neighbors have a two-acre yard, part of which they let go untended and un-mowed because it ends up fostering a huge swath of yellow and red flowers, so after a rainstorm in mid-May I figured it would make a good setting for some pictures. I stopped on my way to work the next morning armed with my Classic Combination of a Nikon D750 and 50mm lens, and set about capturing a picture of red flowers surrounded by glistening grass.

I really did have this specific shot in mind when I set out with my camera that morning, and I was glad I could make my vision come to life pretty much how I planned. I shot this with the sun directly behind me just coming up over the horizon, which cast a nice even light over the whole scene. I also used a pretty wide aperture of f/1.8 which I normally tend to avoid, but gosh darnit, sometimes it’s fun to just open things up all the way and go for it. I knew I would be sacrificing a bit of sharpness and a few flower petals wouldn’t quite be in focus, but the tradeoff in terms of blur and subject isolation were worth it to me. I also liked how I was able to create a red horizontal blurry band of red flowers near the top of the picture, which was something I did no initially intend but really liked when I saw it.

My inspiration for this picture was a similar photo I took almost exactly one year prior, but I figured I wouldn’t get the same results with butterflies. And even though that assumption was correct, there are some things about this image I prefer over the original too. That’s the fun part about photography: you get the opportunity to revisit your creations and learn from them, and hopefully improve your images over time :)

Bright Spot

FUJI6964.jpg

It’s been a rough couple of months here in the Midwest, and hopefully by the time you read this the sun will be shining and the waters will have receded a bit! We capped a chilly winter with a very wet and rainy spring that saw rivers well over their banks, lakes swelling, and farmland inundated with more water than it could handle. The day after I took this image we got yet another all-night downpour and Theta Pond, which was right behind me as I shot the picture, was more like Theta Reservoir and a little waterfall was pouring onto University Avenue because of it. And thus the name of the picture reflects the conditions in which it was shot, which was an abnormally sunny day in the midst of lots of cloudy ones.

My inspiration for this photo was a few images that I recently posted which I took with my niece when she was in town. It’s weird how the simple act of going out to take photos of flowers can be so soothing, and a good way to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life. There’s flowers all around, especially at this time of year, and yet how many times have I thought to myself “There’s nothing to take pictures of?” (Answer: way too many times.) So I figured I would do just that, and it was a nice way to slow down for a bit which also resulted in a cool photo.

As is normal for me when I use my X100F I shot this in JPEG and used the Velvia film simulation so I wouldn’t have to do a lot of RAW editing. I shot wide open at f/2.0 to get a bit of foreground/background separation, and I think (though I’m not exactly sure) I used the electronic shutter so I could get a proper exposure despite shooting wide open. I used to activate the ND filter for situations like this, but that often slowed down the focusing so I’ve been using the electronic shutter instead and for the most part it works quite well, especially outdoors.

Zoo Therapy

FUJI6969.jpg

Each semester during dead week (aka the week right before final exams) OSU hosts a petting zoo for the college kids on campus. And I know what you’re probably thinking…a petting zoo for college students? That sound so stupid! But I’m telling you, it’s not. Every time this petting zoo shows up I’m amazed at how many students surround the animals, interacting with them and spending a few minutes getting lost in the moment before heading back to their studies and other obligations. And not just students, but staff and faculty members too. It might seem silly but a handful of barnyard animals can do wonders for people of all stripes and walks of life during an intense and often stressful part of the year.

When I visited the Finals Week Petting Zoo during May of 2019 I was on my way to a faculty meeting but stopped long enough to get a few pictures. I would have loved to stick around for a while just petting the goats and rabbits (and one llama, I think) but, as they say, it was not meant to be. Still, the few minutes I did have were pretty relaxing and I tried to get a few shots of the occasion as well. The X100F is perfect for this type of scenario since the 35mm (equivalent) focal length lets you isolate a subject while also showing plenty of surrounding context, which is what you see here. The sheep is clearly the subject of this image while behind it you can see students, a building, trees, and more. I shot this wide open at f/2.0 to get some background blur, which incidentally meant I had to use the electronic shutter since the mechanical shutter on the X100F has a max speed of 1/1000 second at f/2.0, but a proper exposure required 1/2000 second.

One thing you’ll notice about this photo is the colors look a bit…odd. Over-saturated, perhaps. I shot this in JPEG using the Velvia preset and I’m not entirely happy with how it turned out. It’s a little overdone for my taste, but rather than shoot and tweak in RAW I’m finding that I prefer to customize my JPG settings and just let the final picture be what it is. So this was definitely a learning experience for me, and it will continue to be so as I play around with the JPG settings.

May Day Mushroom

FUJI6926.jpg

I’m not sure why, but I kind of have a fascination with photographing mushrooms. They’re not around for long, and when you get down low to the ground to take a picture it feels a bit like you’re sneaking a peek into some kind of hidden kingdom. You don’t see them out in the open very often, and something about the conditions in which you often find them (i.e. musty, damp, kind of dark) just seem kind of…different. When my wife and I took our kids to the local botanic garden for their annual May Day event we were about to head to one of the art pavilions when I spotted this mushroom poking through some mulch near the base of a tree, so I told them to go on without me for just a minute.

I had (what else?) my Fuji X100F with me which isn’t super sharp at maximum aperture when photographing subjects up close, but in this case I cared more about blurring the background than getting an ultra-sharp image, so I didn’t care too much about the technical details and just went all the way to f/2.0. I shot this in JPEG, as I usually do with my Fuji, and used the Velvia film simulation which is really well-suited for nature photography because it has a rich but not overly-saturated color palette. I positioned the mushroom slightly off-center to get some greenery behind it, and even though there’s some weird smudging along the left side of the stem I’m really happy with how it turned out. It’s got a nice sense of time and place, and the overcast sky lent a nice even lighting to the whole scene.

I think one of the things that draws me to these types of pictures is the transient nature of the subject. If I would have come back to the same spot the next day, the mushroom would have been gone. These things come and go so quickly you really don’t have much time to photograph them, which means you get a nice little slice of time captured on camera that’s somehow different from a lot of other pictures.

All Things New

DSC_5310.jpg

You probably know by now that I’m no arborist, and my knowledge of plants and vegetation is about the same as my knowledge of particle physics. Which is to say, not exactly stellar. All I know is that flowers can be really pretty, and when I see interesting shapes and colors in nature I like to have the opportunity to capture them with my camera. About a week before I took this shot last April I noticed trees all over town exploding with bright purple flowers and while the effect was fascinating to see, I was never able to really get the kind of picture I wanted. Everything I tried just wasn’t quite able to capture the image I had in my mind, until I took a closer look and found what I was missing.

The key to getting the picture, I realized, was to give the viewer something to focus on. With an entire branch full of purple and pink there was no one clear spot to look at, but after realizing that many of the trees also had tiny little leaves sprouting from amidst the puffs of violet I knew I could use that to my advantage. I used my Nikon D750, 50mm lens, and a +4 close-up filter to get close to the leaves, and shot at f/5.6 to get a reasonably wide depth of field. This let me get the leaves to be sharp and focused while still giving me plenty of background blur, which hopefully helps the viewer see that there’s a lot more going on than just some leaves.

This is another example of the continuous learning process that is basically required of anyone who wants to learn more about photography. Or any given pursuit, for that matter. I had the equipment to take this picture about three years ago but none of the knowledge and experience, either on a technical level or from an artistic standpoint. It’s fun to see what happens as you refine and hone your craft over time, and I’m sure not too long from now I’ll revisit a scene like this and take a picture that’s even better. And it’s this cycle of continuous learning and improvement which makes this hobby so much fun :)

Stalwart

DSC_5723.jpg

In last week’s post I wrote about how the flower photo which was showcased came about as a result of a short drive down the street with my niece to experiment with, and learn more about, photography. This picture also came from the same event, and it’s also an illustration of how sometimes people can see things that you might not notice even though they are right in front of you.

After my niece and I spent about 20 minutes taking pictures of purple tulips we got in my car and drove down the road a little ways to see if there might be any other scenes worth photographing. The sun was rapidly descending on the horizon and after going about a half mile and coming up empty I turned around in a parking lot and we headed for home. That’s when she spotted this lone tulip poking up in the middle of a boulevard, all by itself, and excitedly told me to pull over so we could get a shot. I didn’t even realize this flower but she had no trouble spotting it, so I found a safe spot to park and we ran over to see if we could get any pictures before we lost all the light we had.

As we looked at the scene from different angles and played around with different apertures (She had my Nikon D7100 + 50mm lens, I had my D750 + 85mm lens) I noticed something that we could use to our advantage despite the quickly-dimming sunlight: headlights from passing cars. I showed her how, by getting close to the flower and shooting wide open, she could transform headlights into big blurry balls of orange and yellow. You can see the effect in the photo above, which is quite pronounced even when shooting at f/2.8 instead of f/1.8, and it was neat seeing her eyes light up when she realized that these effects were a result of controlling her camera, not adding a filter on her camera. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter method, but sometimes it’s just kind of neat to learn that you can do it yourself :)