It’s amazing how much difference it can make to shoot photos in the morning. Or in the evening. Or any time the sun isn’t higher in the sky. I have always enjoyed taking pictures at the extreme ends of the day, and not just because the light is better. In the morning the air feels fresh and there is a sense of newness about the day that falls away as the sun reaches into the sky, and in the evening you can feel the calm and order settling on the earth as things wind down before the final rays recede into the distance. Taking pictures during those times feels like a slightly more tangible way to explore the world, and try to capture just a glimpse of what it feels like in person. Not that I want to be melodramatic here; the point I’m making is that it’s really cool to go out and shoot pictures in the morning and the evening. But especially the morning.
This was a classic scenario of finding a good subject, but not seeing (at least immediately, anyway) a great way to shoot it. I literally walked around this rose for a minute or two thinking about what angle to use or what I wanted my composition to look like, and then I realized I could use the backlighting to my advantage. With the sun relatively low in the sky the petals on top had a really nice glow to them, and the background foliage was brilliant-lit as well. I spent a few minutes scooting from left to right and back again, taking photos the whole time, trying to get a good combination of a well-lit subject, an interesting background that complemented the subject, and placing other elements like the dark green branches of the rosebush in the frame in a way that accented everything else. It occurred to me as I was shooting this that I had taken a similar photo earlier this year which used not only backlighting, but the sun reflecting off passing cars to create bright spots of light in the background too. As I often do, I borrowed from that idea and tried to wait until some cars were going by on University Avenue to get a similar effect here, but with almost no traffic on the road that idea just wasn’t working out.
I think the photo is better off this way though, because the absence of background bokeh balls invites the viewer to focus more closely on the flower. I shot at f/2.4 to get a clean, crisp image and edited the final result just a touch in Lightroom to make the colors stand out a bit more. While this picture in and of itself isn’t really all that special, it was a fun shot to take and a good reminder of why it’s nice to take your camera out early to see what difference that can make for your photos. It might be a lot more than you think.
I took this picture eight days after one of the worst ice storms in a while, but you would almost never know it unless you look really carefully. After a week of intense cleanup most things on campus, and around town, are almost back to normal. There are piles of tree limbs and branches on almost every curb, but most of the debris is gone from campus thanks to the tireless efforts of the groundskeepers and cleanup crews. If you look carefully at the red tree you’ll notice that it seems incomplete, almost like someone took a pizza slice-shaped chunk out of the top. That is most likely a missing branch that broke off in the ice storm, but other than that this seems like a pretty normal scene for this time of year.
With one exception: there are no students. Not just an absence of pedestrians in the image, but an absence of evidence that any students are here at all. To be fair, I did shoot this picture at 7:25am (though if you look at the EXIF data on Flickr it probably says otherwise, since I had not yet adjusted my camera clock for Central Standard Time) but even so, it’s clear that this sidewalk has not seen much traffic. During a normal school year you would never see one of the main walkways on campus covered with so many leaves! That only happens when there are no people walking around to shuffle them around, but such is the nature of college during COVID. If this picture makes you feel a sense of calm or peace, that’s pretty much how the entire school year has gone. There’s a low hum of activity, but it’s a shell of what we normally see around here. Not that it’s a bad thing, and I’m glad both students and professors are finding ways to adapt to education during a pandemic. It’s just different, and something I’m still finding it a little strange to adjust to.
As I write this it’s about seven years after I got my D7100, which is the camera I used to get this shot. It’s really interesting to me how well that camera has held up over the years, and while I certainly prefer my D750 for image quality and D500 for sports and action, that D7100 remains a formidable photographic force especially when paired with some good glass. Or even average glass, as is the case here with my trusty ol’ 50mm f/1.8 lens. I kind of wish I had something a bit wider for this shot, but in hindsight I think the constrained field of view of a 50mm lens on an APS-C sensor fit just right.
Hope you’re doing well, and here’s to a better 2021 and the hope that we will get a vaccine soon.
I shot this on a Monday afternoon while my wife and I were out on our usual walk with the kids–the same walk, on the same route, that has netted several Weekly Photos this past year. The air was chilly and the rain was falling, and little did we know it but our state was about to get hit with the worst ice storm in a long time. When I shot this photo we didn’t know any of that was coming though, and all I was thinking about was how the lightly falling rain just bordering on sleet would make for some interesting photo opportunities. Unfortunately I didn’t really see anything until I noticed this lone read leaf as we were making our way back home. My wife and the kids went on ahead while I paused to see if I could capture a good shot, and I think it worked pretty well.
One thing I ask myself when taking a photo, almost any photo, is what I want the viewer to focus on. If the answer isn’t immediately apparent, it’s usually not a great photo. (Though not always, as there certainly are exceptions to this.) I saw a lot of trees, leaves, branches, twigs, and other things on our walk that looked interesting in person but didn’t make for great pictures. Without a clear subject, or contrasting elements between the subject and the other elements, nearly all the things I saw just didn’t turn out to be great photographs. This one leaf sure did though, and by itself I think it would have been just fine but the rain and ice added a bit of a shine to it (as well as subtle touches to the surrounding scene) that elevated the image to a better place. At least in my opinion anyway.
I didn’t have long to take this shot since I didn’t want to make my family wait in the rain and cold, so I had to make a few quick compositional and exposure decisions on the fly. I shot it so enough of the leaf was against a green background to make it really stand out, especially the bottom tip with the drop of ice. I also shot this at f/2.8 to get a good compromise between sharpness and background blur, and when I looked at my two or three version that I shot at f/1.8…sure enough, the background was smooth but the leaf was just a bit too blurry. I also got this with my trusty D7100 and 50mm f/1.8 combo, and as I have said many times recently it’s still fun to shoot with that even after all these years.
I don’t mind being more than a little out of the loop. I’m usually not the first person to jump on new social or technological trends, and I can’t really tell the difference between a DVD and a Blu-Ray. It’s nice existing relatively free from the one-upsmanship that sometimes exists in other circles, but this photo is kind of a very small example of how it’s a little weird at the same time.
I was biking to work on a cool morning in mid October when I saw the fountain outside the Low Library on campus filled with…pink ducks. Why pink ducks? I dunno. Strange things happen on a college campus sometimes, and you just have to go with the flow or go mad trying to make sense of it all. I didn’t really try to make sense of it or figure out these ducks’ raison d’être, but I did think that the scene might make an interesting photo. I hopped off my bike, busted out my Classic Combo (D7100 + 50mm f/1.8) and got to work.
One thing I didn’t want to do was create some type of artificial scene. I’m not sure exactly why, but I felt like it wouldn’t be right to pose the ducks or otherwise alter the scene just to get a photograph. Even though the entire ordeal was artificial, I wanted to essentially just work with what I was given and not create some type of false photogenicity. (Is that even a word? If not, it should be.) I looked around to see if I could spot a single duck isolated from the rest, and soon I settled on the one you see here. As luck, and time of day, would have it there was a bright yellow bulb in the background which showed up as a really cool bokeh ball when shot with a wide aperture. Really the only thing I changed in this picture was the aperture; I didn’t move my camera forwards or backwards, and once I lined up my shot in Live View (because I had to set my camera on the edge of the fountain which made it tricky to see through the optical viewfinder) the only question was which aperture to use. I cycled through the old standbys: 1.8, 2.4, 2.8, and 4 and wasn’t really sure which one I liked best. It never hurts to have some options though. In the end I ended up picking the f/1.8 image because the silky smooth background was just too good to take a pass on. The other shots were fine but the more the pink ducks in the background became clearer as the aperture got smaller, the more distracting they got and the less interesting the composition became.
My only regret with this image is that I didn’t take the duck’s reflection into account. If I had been more careful I would have scooted my camera back an inch or two in order to get the full reflection in the frame, but I’m just glad I got its eyes.
Side note: A week later I did find out why these ducks were in the fountain. The OSU Wellness Center organized an event to raise awareness for breast cancer, and I happened to stumble on the scene right before all the ducks were cleaned up later that day.
For a good long while now, one of my favorite subjects to photograph on an annual basis is (are?) magnolia seeds, particularly those on the periphery of Theta Pond on the OSU campus. It’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel, because it’s almost difficult to not get a good picture of these brilliant red and brown husks: just point your camera and press the shutter. The brilliant reds contrasting with the rich browns, with deep greens in the background, almost always come together to create a brilliant composition of light and nature. My challenge, then, becomes one of growth and change. How can I take a new look at a similar subject and turn the familiar into something a little more interesting compared to what I might have photographed in years past?
Part of the answer lies in something I have been using more on my DSLRs lately: Live View. Traditionally I have relied on the optical viewfinder to compose my shots, finding the Live View to be a bit clunky and in some ways not exactly a good representation of reality. Plus, Live View on DSLRs (generally speaking, that is) just isn’t up to speed with traditional Optical Viewfinders in terms of autofocus and some other aspects that often matter to me. But I’m learning that for still subjects, particularly those found in nature like flowers and, well, magnolia seed pods, Live View holds some highly compelling creative possibilities. In fact, Live View is what made this shot possible.
What separates this particular shot of a magnolia seed pod from other similar photos I have taken over the years is the attention I paid to the background. Not just the blurriness, but the specific areas of light and shadow–particularly the bright white circles framing the seed pod on the left side. If you know what to look for (and I have, to some degree, learned what to look for) you can look for the conditions that will create these light artifacts and then shoot accordingly by using the optical viewfinder. But the thing about an optical viewfinder is, you can’t really see what you finished shot will look like until you check it on the rear screen. The OVF simply doesn’t show a true representation of what the final photo will look like because the aperture of the lens changes from the time you focus your shot and the time you take your shot the very next instant. Because of that, Live View becomes exceedingly useful for situations like this and it’s one reason the transition to fully mirrorless shooting excites me so much.
To get this shot I first found a seed, then found an angle from which to shoot it, then used Live View to compose my shot, and then adjusted my aperture to f/2.8 to retain subject sharpness while still giving enough background blurriness. It also helped that I could hold my camera above my head to get the shot, whereas the optical viewfinder would have required me to hold my camera up to my face instead of at arm’s length. The result is an image unlike any other magnolia seed I have shot, not because of the seed but because of everything surrounding it. The background is what makes the shot here, and even the foreground to some extent. It was a fun picture to take, and it gives me some creative ideas about how to get more shots like this in the future.
I’ll give you three guesses as to where I shot this photo, and the first two don’t count. Unless Theta Pond was one of the first two, in which case, you win! Not sure what you win, but I’ll let you know when I find out. This was taken about 50 feet away from last week’s image of a duck sitting on the sidewalk, and even though it’s not actually that great of a picture I wanted to use it here on Weekly Fifty because I just like taking shots of things in the rain. There’s something about the way everything in this image glistens and sparkles that, despite the relatively monochromatic nature of the photo, gives it a sense of life and vibrance. Normally I would prefer that the subject, in this case the seed on a Cypress tree, would have something to make it stand out from the rest of the composition. A different color, certainly, but maybe a greater sense of contrast or even a bit of kinetic energy. Something, anything, besides a green ball against a (mostly) green background.
Even so, I like to see even mundane pictures like this as a chance to grow and learn, and usually there is something to appreciate even if it doesn’t always present itself right away. In this case even though this is not one of my top ten (or even top 200) photos I’ve ever posted here on Weekly Fifty, I do like the bright spots of light on the left side and the streak of brown going across the middle. Almost like it’s bisecting the image, and in some sense the blurry dots of light almost make it seem like the picture is shimmering. If you look close enough you can even see some very tiny spider silk threads around some of the needles.
It’s just that the picture as a whole is so…unremarkable. But it was enjoyable to take, and it gave me a chance to use my camera which is always a good thing.
I’ve said before that sometimes it feels like photos of ducks by Theta Pond on campus feels a bit like cheating. Visit the pond on any given day and you’re liable to get at least one good shot of a duck or goose doing something interesting, and if not you can always just bring some food with you to get their attention. A minute later and you’ve got yourself an instant photo-op. Still, there are a few types of waterfowl photos that are a little trickier to get, particularly with a 50mm lens. Even though these animals live on a college campus they are still a bit skittish around people and it’s hard to get a great shot of a duck or goose really close up, and even when they do get close they’re often moving around so quickly you can’t really get a great photo. All that leads me to this week’s shot.
I took my Classic Combo (D7100 and 50mm f/1.8 lens) to work with me on a rainy day in mid-September, thinking I might be able to get a shot of a flower or thistle glistening with precipitation. I brought it in my bag when I went to teach my class and after the students left I took the long way around Theta Pond back to my office. It had stopped raining but the sky was still quite overcast, and I was hoping I could get a shot of some kind of bright, colorful flower amidst all the gray. As I walked along the edge of the pond I stepped quietly past this duck who, in a rather strange twist of fortune, barely acknowledged my presence. Normally any ducks on the footpath scatter when they see people coming, but not this one. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the calm weather, maybe it was the relative lack of college students thanks to a semester in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Who knows. But for some reason this duck just stayed put while I walked by, so I thought I might as well try to take its picture.
I held my camera pretty close to the ground, engaged Live View, set the aperture to f/2.8, focused, and took a shot. It was OK, but I knew I could do better.
I put my camera on the ground, tilted it up, engaged Live View, set the aperture to f/2.4, and took a shot. It was a little better, but I knew I could keep going.
I scooted a few inches closer and repeated the same process, but with the aperture varying between f/1.8 and f/2.4. I knew 1.8 would give me a super blurry background, but at the cost of overall sharpness, and yet I found myself taking more than a few shots wide open nonetheless. I kept the framing in mind, making sure to get the entire duck in the shot with a little space on either side, and much to my surprise the duck just sat there unmoving, except for a bit of preening. I wonder if it was just as curious about me as I was of it, but for some reason it just stayed there while I took my photos, quietly minding her business while I went about mine.
A minute later I got up, grabbed my bag, and went on my way. When I loaded my images into Lightroom I could hardly believe the results: the most important part of the image–the duck’s eye–was sharp. Tack sharp. The background had a beautiful mix of rich greens and light accents, and the foreground was as smooth as butter. Everything really seemed to come together and work out with this shot, and I don’t imagine I’ll get the opportunity to take another photo like this again anytime soon.
Thank you, Duck, for letting me take your picture. It’s really cool when things just work out :)
Photographing the fountains at Theta Pond is so overdone it’s practically cliché, and yet, just because a million and one pictures have been taken of these fountains at this pond doesn’t make any additional pictures any less valuable. Whether you’re new to the OSU campus or you’ve been here ten years, there’s a good chance at least one picture on your camera roll will have the Theta Pond fountains in it. We all know I’ve had my fair share of such images here on Weekly Fifty over the years, and yet, that doesn’t mean I don’t like photographing them. Especially when I come across a new way of doing so.
That’s kind of what happened here: I was looking for a shot of some magnolia seed pods which are always a favorite subject of mine at this time of year, but I kept coming up empty. Sure I got a few photos here and there but nothing that really stood out to me as all that interesting. Or even good, if I’m being honest. That’s when I noticed, almost as if for the first time, these cypress tree fronds dangling with one of the two main fountains in the background. Let’s be clear: I’ve been around this pond, and probably stood in this exact spot, many times over the years. But I never thought about using the fountains as the background to accentuate a subject in the foreground quite like this.
After a bit of looking around I realized I could essentially frame one particular branch with the fountain serving as a brilliant white background much like you see here. At least that was the idea, but I wasn’t sure how it would look in an actual photograph. Having never taken a shot like this before I didn’t quite know what aperture to use, only that I wanted the background to be obliterated with the leaves as crispy and crunchy as a bowl of dry breakfast cereal. F/2.8 was the logical choice for maximizing background bokeh with subject sharpness, but I also shot a half dozen frames at f/1.8 just in case. Turns out those final images were the real keepers.
When I got back to Lightroom I noticed that while I liked the f/2.8 versions, the f/1.8 shots were on a whole other level. The images, and this one in particular, turned out precisely how I had hoped they would…with one glaring exception: that classic photographer foe known as chromatic aberration. If you look closely (or maybe even not all that closely) you’ll see that many of the wisps of green have a strange purple fringe around their edges, which is what happens when a camera lens tries its level best to bend and warp the incoming light at the largest possible aperture. In low-quality glass like my classic 50mm f/1.8G lens the tradeoff for a cheap price is the presence of this type of optical imperfection especially at maximum apertures, and while Lightroom can do a bit to fix it you’ll never get rid of it entirely on a picture like this without a lot of time spent in Photoshop. And that was time I didn’t really want to spend.
I ended up picking this image as my favorite despite the optical abnormalities because from a purely compositional standpoint this picture was everything I wanted it to be. I decided I could live with the tradeoff, and use it as a challenge to try and find a way to improve my shot the next time.
While this picture might seem, at first glance, somewhat similar to the two images posted in previous weeks I can tell you that any overlap is (mostly) coincidental. Contrary to how the two previous images were shot, this one was a bit more planned-out. If not the specific details, at least the general idea. To be sure I didn’t set out to get this exact image, but I did have some ideas in mind and I’m happy with how everything turned out.
It’s always fun to photograph sunflowers: big, bright yellow petals, lots of contrast with the greens and browns, and they bloom in a nice time of year when the seasons are changing and the weather takes on a certain crispness that you can practically feel in the air just by breathing deeply. It makes the act of photographing sunflowers much more than just snapping the shutter, and lets you step back and think about nature and your place in the world if only for a little bit. And perhaps that’s reading a bit too much into it, but in a post-COVID world it can be the little things like this that add a lot of meaning and perspective to what might otherwise be just another normal day.
This was taken by a ditch behind next to a parking lot behind a strip mall not far from my house–not exactly a nature preserve or wildlife refuge. Still, this hopefully illustrates a point that I have made repeatedly on Weekly Fifty over the years: you don’t need exotic locations to get great photos. Just a good eye and a bit of creativity. My family biked past this spot on a Monday evening and thought it would yield some interesting photographs so I made sure to pass by it the next morning on my way to work. There were dozens of small sunflowers all in fairly close proximity, so I had to scoot around a bit to find a good vantage point from which to capture just a single one. It was a little tricky since many of their heads were turned downwards while also being grouped together, but after a minute or two I saw this one that I was pretty sure would work. I shot a handful of pictures at f/2.4 and f/2.8 and liked this one the best, mostly because of the angle. By stooping low and shooting upwards it gave a sense of character and, if I may be so bold, even a hint of majesty to this relatively ordinary flower. I think I might have also had this shot in mind, at least on a subconsicous level, so maybe today’s image could be seen as an homage to one of my earliest photos from Weekly Fifty.