Painting Partner

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This picture is a good example of why I set up this blog so many years ago. The photo isn’t all that remarkable on a technical level, nor is it going to win any awards for creativity, but when I saw this little grasshopper sitting on top of a roll of painter’s tape I knew I had two options:

  1. Leave it be, and go on with my work
  2. Get my camera and take a picture

The first option is much easier and requires almost nothing in the way of added effort, whereas Option 2 would mean putting down my painting supplies, going inside, getting my camera, attaching a close-up filter, and actually taking some photos. It’s not a lot, but things like that are enough of a barrier for me to, more often than not, choose solutions like Option 1.

So I chose Option 2.

While this isn’t a life-changing photograph or anything really noteworthy of its own accord, the simple act of taking it was a fun, quick experiment with close-up photography and, it turned out, a brief but welcome distraction from my work in the garage. The grasshopper didn’t seem to mind my (relatively) gigantic camera and lens being thrust in its face, and was mostly content to just hang out on his blue perch for a minute while I fiddled with some settings to get the shot. I think I used the +10 filter for this, but I don’t remember for certain, and shot at f/8 to get a depth of field that was wide enough to clearly see the subject but shallow enough to have a bit of background, and foreground, blur. Shutter speed was 1/30 and ISO was 6400, which still impresses me on my D750 even years after getting that camera.

A few heartbeats later and this grasshopper had clearly had enough of my photographic shenanigans, so he/she/it hopped away leaving me to return to my painting. Thanks little buddy for letting me take your photo. It was fun :)

Gathering

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In September 2018 a new park opened up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called The Gathering Place. It was the culmination of years of work to turn a blighted stretch of riverfront into a center for kids to play, adults to walk, and people of all ages to learn, grow, and explore. It wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that we finally made it to this park and we were certainly not disappointed. My family was there for several hours and I would guess we saw about one-third of the park, and we are already looking forward to our next trip where we can hopefully experience a lot more of what The Gathering Place has to offer.

That brings me to this week’s photo, which you would never know was shot at this particular location. It could have been taken almost anywhere and nothing about this indicates that it’s part of a much larger recreation area, but I think that’s what I like about it. The picture is kind of a metaphor for the park as a whole: it’s a spot of calm in the midst of a sea of urban activity, and within that park this little butterfly (moth, perhaps?) found its own little nexus of peace and quiet.

As I often do, I had my Fuji X100F with me and immediately put it in “kind of close-up” mode, which is to say I dialed the aperture to f/2.8, made sure the Manual+Electronic shutter was engaged so I could shoot with as fast of a shutter speed as I needed to, and made sure Auto-ISO was set with the proper minimum shutter speed (just in case!) to freeze motion. I learned a while ago that shooting close subjects at f/2 on the X100F is kind of a nonstarter because the lens loses a lot of its sharpness, and f/2.8 mitigates most of that while still giving you plenty of background blur so you can focus on your subject. While this is certainly no macro lens, it does let you get decent shots like this without too much effort.

Spectator

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I know it’s a bit of a cliché to take pictures of fireworks, but this was the first time in my life I actually got the opportunity to do it so I was pretty excited to see how they turned out. The thing is, most years on July 4 we put our boys to bed around 7 or 8 and then watch Netflix or do household chores (that laundry isn’t going to clean itself, after all) before heading to bed. We don’t live close enough to the spot where our city has its big fireworks display, and while I have taken pictures of the sparklers and ground bloom flowers we light in the driveway it’s a far cry from a big display of aerial explosions.

This year we were visiting some friends over Independence Day and we took the opportunity to do something special by letting our boys stay up late for the big show. Our friends live a few blocks away from the park where most of the city gathers to see the fireworks, so I thought it would be a fun opportunity to get some shots of the action. Having never done this before I didn’t really know how to set up my camera or how things would turn out, but I was pretty happy with the results.

First, my camera settings: F/16, ISO 200, 23mm focal length (which, on the Fuji X100F translates to 35mm equivalent), and shutter speed of 10 seconds. I quickly realized after the first few shots that longer shutter speeds would result in messy streaks in the sky compared to what you see in this photo, and for the rest of the event I hovered between 8 and 13 seconds.

I also want to note that I was standing directly behind my kids and next to my wife. I didn’t want photos of the display to detract from the experience of seeing fireworks, so I mostly just watched and ooh’d and ahh’d with my kids while pressing the shutter casually.

The reason I like this particular shot isn’t necessarily because of the fireworks, but because of the moon peeking over the trees. It felt like our celestial friend decide to stop by and watch the bombs bursting in air in a show of celestial patriotism :) The moon moves pretty quickly though and a minute after this picture it had gone behind the trees again, almost as if it stopped by to pay its respects and then continued on its journey.

Sunset Cove

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This is the third in a series of long-exposure sunset pictures I took at Milford Lake in June, 2019.

Alright, first things first: I know this isn’t Sunset Cove. The real Sunset Cove is located on Cass Lake in northern Minnesota and it’s where my extended family went for a week each summer from roughly 2000-2012, give or take. That being said, the name seemed quite à propos for this week’s photo give that there is both a sunset and a cove.

The fun part about taking this particular photo was that there was basically no wind at all, which meant that I could leave the shutter open for a good long while and still get perfectly sharp leaves, twigs, and trees. In setting up the image I used what I learned from the two previous nights as far as metering, time of day, height from the surface of the water, etc., and I was also quite careful to place my camera in such a way that the various components of the image (such as the tower on the right and the tree sticking out of the water just to its left) were right where I wanted them to be. I focused manually, as on the previous images, which made me really appreciate the X100F’s ability to use focus peaking.

I used similar settings too, such as f/16, ISO 200, and a 30-second exposure to get the metering right before switching to Bulb mode. To get this shot I left the shutter open for almost 3 minutes and even in that time you can see how little movement there was in the trees, as each leaf is basically tack sharp. Even though this picture doesn’t exactly show the sunset, which was out of the frame on the left side, it still clearly shows a warm orange glow as the sun worked its way down and the cool night air began to settle in.

This was a fun way to end our annual trip to the resort, and a good reminder of what was really important: family. I purposely didn’t spend too much time here taking the photo, and as soon as I got this shot I ran back to the cabin to play cards with my wife and siblings. Because all the pictures in the world aren’t worth a good night of cards, chips, and queso dip with family.

Side note: For reference on how full the lake was this year, here’s a shot from roughly the same location in 2013. Everything you see in the foreground was completely underwater.

Horizon

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.