Essentials, Part 2

•May 27, 2020 • Leave a Comment

“This then: to photograph a rock, have it look like a rock, but be more than a rock.” – Edward Weston

No false humility here. I’m a photographic dilettante, just a dabbler in my opinion. I take the easy superficial way more than I care to admit. These Blogs are evidence. “A little dabble do ya” is my play of words originated by an old hair product, Brylcreem, their commercial, and it fits. It also reveals the ancient culture that informs my skewed point of view. Brylcreem is making a comeback.

Anyway, are you ready to ramble? I have a goal, and this will circle around it like a whirlpool.

I left Essentials, Part 1 with this image:

I promised to let you know how I arrived at the image at the top of the post.

It is very simple, and lazy. I use Adobe Lightroom for most of my photographic editing now. I used the adult version of Photoshop 3 years ago. It was expensive and wasted capability on mr. So I settled on Photoshop Elements. It is all I need, but I love Lightroom.

To be quick, so I can move on, I made the photo at the top within Lightroom using a free “vintage” preset that was offered online. I have downloaded several from Viewbug, Sleeklens, Presetpro, and others.

They are easy to install. Most come in zip files and other Lr compatible formats. Just click on their download links. The open Lightroom. Go to the File menu and click on Import Profiles and Presets. Select the downloaded file and open. You’ll see a Presets ribbon under your Edit menu.

The other great thing about presets, if you cannot find one already built and online, you can build your own in Lightroom. This comes in very handy if you find yourself performing the same actions repeatedly. In fact, if you are a seasoned Photoshop user, you are probably familiar with Actions, which are merely a collection of recorded editing steps. You load an image and run your action to get repeatable results.

Organizing presets in Lightroom is a pain in the rear and backwards in thinking, in my opinion. There are plenty of links out there and you can Google them.

Why did I do it? Why did I make it look antique? I think it returns to the quote from Edward Weston; that is to have it look like a bouquet, but be more than a bouquet. To emote. To bring back a memory, or to guide a thought.

I did not branch off into another topic under Essentials, about composition and simplicity, and that is for next time.


On the Cheap

•May 26, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Just a short blog here. 

Photography can be a very expensive hobby.  It is an expensive career unless your goal is to make money and have fun in the process.  You really do not have to spend a lot to get really good photographs that will print to wall size. 

We have several Southern magnolia trees at our house.  Magnolia grandiflora is aptly named.  Magnolias are strange trees as trees go.  They are evergreen, drop leaves all year long, but they do not have a fall season.  They are strong and resilient.  They grow tall.  They can live to be very old.  Their blossoms are very large, 10 inches or more petal tip to petal tip when fully open. They are quite beautiful and fragrant, with an aroma something like sweet citrus fruit. 

At the end of May throughout the summer, different varieties of magnolia will bloom in the South (United States).  The Southern magnolia blooms mid May to mid June or so here in Atlanta.

They have been the subject of artists for many years; Georgia O’Keefe, Ansel Adams, Frida KahloImogene Cunningham and others have presented their beauty to us.  I don’t consider myself worthy of those heights, but I like what I did with the subject. So does my wife, and that’s all that matters. 

Like I said, I want to keep this short.  Here’s the photograph:

The magnolia came from one of our trees.  I picked the bloom to bring inside.  They can fill a room with sweet perfume. 

The bloom was fully open very symmetrical.  The leaves projected from the stem like points on a compass.  It was as perfect as I could hope for, so I decided to photograph it. 

I tried five or so different poses.  I put this abused flower in a couple different bowls and on different material and ultimately decided to keep it simple and just place it on a dark cherry stained table. I placed something under the bloom to lift it from the table so I could have a better angle.

Here you go; there were very little cost in props.

Lighting came from a fairly large north facing window.  This is classic natural portrait light that artists have used for centuries, before there were any such things as studio lighting and flash.  I like this post

Here’s another cost-savings:  Use natural light.  Batteries not included.  It is beautiful light. It will compliment a person or a magnolia, and gently sculpt their features.  In this case I didn’t even use a reflector to modify the lighting contrast.  The white petals of the bloom are natural reflectors and filled in the shadows. 

Natural light from the north means that you probably must set your camera on a tripod.  If you want to do street photography or sports, gin up the ISO, get a fast lens, and go for it.  If you are photographing still life, like this flower, you should use the lowest ISO available to your digital camera, or the slowest film if you are still shooting film.  I think ISO 100 is about as slow as it goes today.  As a general rule, the lower the ISO, the greater the detail you will capture.

What do I mean by slow film speed? Check it out here.

The camera I used for this photograph is a Nikon D3400.  The lens is a 35mm f1.8 Nikon AF DX G lens.  The D3400 is Nikon’s consumer APS-C, cropped sensor, DSLR.  It has been surpassed by the D3500.  Mirrorless is all the rage, so you can expect DSLR prices to hold steady or drop.  Check out DPReview reviews of both the cameras and the 35mm lens.  You can get the D3500 for about $400, and the 35mm f1.8 AF-S DX G lens for about $175, brand new with a full warranty.  $575.00 US is relatively inexpensive compared to the rest of Nikon’s product line and other brands.  That is for 24 mp also.  The camera  and lens specs are pretty impressive, and the D3400/3500 are best buys.   If you purchase used from a reputable company, you can get it for even less money. 

The 35mm focal length on the APS-C camera is what is called a “normal” lens.  That is, the image circle and angle of view is roughly equivalent to the perspective a human eye can gather, albeit not as wide a view. On a full frame digital camera like a Nikon FX series, D6 or D610 a normal lens would be about 50mm.

My strategy for equipment for many years has been, buy Nikon (my preference), buy a lower priced body and spend more for the lenses.

There will be a visible difference some people will notice between full frame and APS-C cameras; that is, between Nikon FX and DX. Why would I opt for less detail? Size and weight are two reasons. The FX cameras are bulkier.

FX cameras cost more. The entry price of FX is about $900.00 US for the D610. The entry price for DX is about $400.00 US for the D3500. The top of line DX APS-C, the Nikon D500 is $1500.00 US. The top of line FX, full frame, D6 is $6,500.00 US. Granted you will see and feel a difference at the price. And if you are selling images for $10k each then you need full frame and larger format. Consider your return on investment. For stock photography, websites, and small size prints most people will not see the difference. I hike, take nature photographs, and I enjoy street photography. For me lighter is better. However, when I can afford it, I plan to get a full frame Nikon compatible with some older lenses I own. For advertising and architecture, I better be shooting with some honkin’ glass to it.

I just cannot make things short, can I.

Anyway, the camera exposure settings for the magnolia were ISO 100, f13, 2-4 seconds. I set the camera to aperture priority and let it decide the shutter speed. Regarding focus, I set the camera to manual focus first, and then to dynamic area and moved the focus point around to the center of the flower. It focused better than my aging eyes could in manual mode.

I imported the RAW image to Adobe Lightroom. There I applied exposure (Light) controls. When I had a darkroom and printed on silver paper, I used selenium toning. Depending on the paper emulsion, the selenium gives the gray tones a slightly bluish tint. I used a free B&W selenium toner preset.

I exported the image for printing on matte paper. I used Strathmore Matte Photo inkjet paper. It gives the image a little more “presence” than Epson Matte Presentation paper, although Epson is very good. The effect is more three dimensional on the Strathmore paper. When printing on matte paper you will need to adjust the contrast of the final image so neither highlights nor shadows get lost.

That’s it. I hope this has been informative.


I Went for a Walk – Sweet!

•May 23, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I did a baaad ting. I went for a walk when I am supposed to “shelter in place.” Wuh Woh!

Actually, Georgia has been a much more liberal state regarding freedom of movement than other more notorious states. Unless it is extended, the shelter in place order lifts on June 12 anyway, come hell or high water, SARS-2 not withstanding. In fact, going out to exercise is legal and desirable in Georgia. We don’t have to be concerned about the police fetching us from the ocean or mountain trail. For that I am thankful.

So I decided to take advantage of our freedoms and I went over to Cheatham Hill trail, part of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield. It is a very pleasant walk in the meadows and woods. And today was absolutely glorious.

Today was the first time I had walked in the woods since the virus from hell pandemic arose and national parks were shut down. The proverb goes “… to a hungry man even bitter herbs taste sweet.” Oh! It was so sweet, I almost skipped down the trail.

I did not realize how much I missed just walking in the woods, breathing the air, seeing the sky and clouds uninhibited by our communal fear. I counted nearly a dozen different wildflowers and other flowering plants in my dance within the bower.

I had previously decided to photograph on film. What? Yes, film. There’s a resurgence of late. I took my trusty Nikon FM2N (almost 40 years old and still kicking photographic butt), loaded it with 1 roll of Fujicolor 200, 36 exposure color negative film, attached a 50mm f1.8 lens, pocketed my Nikon 4T closeup lens, and hauled my equally trusty and heavy Bogen monopod out for a walk. Guess what. You’ll have to wait to see those photographs, as will I. Ya can’t beat digital for immediacy.

Having thought of the immediacy factor, and being afraid to totally ditch my well hone digital skills, I also took my Canon G7x Mark II, just in case. Guess what again. I remembered everything except loading said Canon with a SD card, which I had removed earlier to share the photo below. Another story may be coming about our friends at the funeral home. There is a funny side to dying. The owners here apparently have developed a grave sense of humor.

(I think “funeral home” is more a Southern thing in actual usage. Commercial funeral homes came into being when people began to feel uncomfortable with Uncle Joe lying amolderin’ in the tea parlor, and someone with an eye to a perpetual income stream, if not to an eternal home among the Saved said, “Here, I can handle those remains for you in a modern non-colloquial manner.” Simply dumping Joe’s dissolute and well spent mortal coil in a six board box, and summarily depositing it upon yon non arable hillside, within the lower back forty was just so… gauche.

Southerners don’t use the word “mortuary” so much I think, unless the dearly departed was a Yankee. I say “was a Yankee.” Joe’s personal eternal home in Heaven is contingent on complete contrition and conversion from his previous mode of life. And that’d be from New York in particular, and one who was only familiar with I-95, and who decided against all proper etiquette to remain here. Out of courtesy to the deceased we’ll allow foreign tongues to be spoken. Who cares. That war has been over 150 years. I just wrote the last two paragraphs for a couple cousins of mine. God bless ’em.)

Anyway, I’m a dufus. I forgot the SD card and I was forced to use only film. First World problem, right? Except. Hello. I have a smartphone in my pocket and I can still remain connected to my digital universe, and take crumby photographs to share online.

Below are the crumby photos to share online. Honestly, I do not see how anyone can just use a smart phone camera. The quality is non-existent in my opinion, and if the sun is anywhere around, just how can you see what you are photographing?

But here they are. Enjoy. The film photographs will come in a week or two. And there you have in ten words of the previous sentence the reason the world went digital.


F8 and Be There

•May 19, 2020 • Leave a Comment
Artist and Flower Mural

Always have your camera ready. I was returning home from an appointment and opportunity presented itself, twice.

You may have seen the flower mural painted on the wall that runs along the west side of West Paces Ferry Road, between Atlanta Road and I-285. I spotted the artist this morning. I made a quick loop around and I did a drive-by photograph. That’s not exactly how I like doing photographs, but given the circumstances, I still made the shot.

Then as I continued through Smyrna I noticed the young Osborne HS graduates in the park by the Community Center. So I quickly parked, grabbed my camera and called out to them.

So the creepy old guy with a camera asked if they wanted him to photograph them. They were happy about it. The virus from hell has caused most graduation ceremonies to be cancelled. These kids had been cheated by COVID-19.

I emailed one of the girls the photo to share, large enough to print at least 8×10.

Young Graduates

The best photographs are the ones you actually take.

I remember we were driving through Gainesville, Georgia to the mountains. This was years ago. There was a record store on a corner. (“Record Store.” An ancient commercial establishment engaged in selling large disks of recorded music in analog format. Another discussion.)

The building was painted white. On the side of the building on the white paint, someone had painted musical notation of the treble clef staff, lines, and notes in black. It was artistically done, not graffiti. A young woman was sitting on the hood of a car parked there, and leaning back against the windshield, enjoying the sunshine.

The image has been unforgettable. There she was, leaning back on the hood of the car with those notes painted on the wall appearing like they were pouring out of her dream.

I was driving the car. It was full of our kids being loud as usual, and us talking, and traffic was moving. I missed that photograph, and I have seen it in my mind for 40 years.

But I got these two today.


Essentials, Part 1

•May 16, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Bear with me here, and don’t be judgemental.

I understand people go through all kinds of circumstances, both good and bad throughout their lives. That is just part of life, part of “the human experience” as we say. Woody Allen is quoted, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.” Ain’t it the truth?

We know people who have lost jobs, lost fortunes, lost health, lost their lives, and lost their loved ones, all compressed within the past four months of this virus from hell, which is an infinitesimally short period of time. I hardly recall Christmas and New Years Day. I don’t recall specific days of the week now, but groups of days and weeks. It all runs together as we “shelter in place.” I call it the The Wuhan Hunker Down Syndrome.

However, I have to say, in spite of all the woe in the world, this has been one of the most pleasant spring seasons I remember. I almost feel guilty for enjoying it. Almost. I don’t share the the guilt of being happy that some relish out of misplaced, ill defined doctrines of fairness and perpetual victimhood. “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof,” Jesus says, in King James 1620 English. There’s enough evil to go around for each of us to endure in our own time, and enough good as well.

This year, the air around Atlanta is clearer and the sky more blue, definitely a collateral benefit of a virtually dead economy, with little automobile traffic for eight weeks. Isn’t it amazing how quickly the earth recovers.

The trees seem greener, the birds happier, the hardwood forest in which I live more fragrant. I may with gratitude be living in a bubble only for a moment, but I intend to enjoy it.

So that brings me to this. In my shelter in place, I’ve been photographing things very close by; flowers, things in my house, close-ups and details. There’s nothing more happy than flowers. There are many photographers much better at this kind of work, who can get to the essence of things and present them graphically. There are photographers way better than I am at Lightroom. I am a blogging dweeb in comparison to many. That doesn’t mean I won’t give it a try and then try to explain what I did. We’re all searching for the essence aren’t we?

So take a look at this photograph of a bouquet that one of my daughters gave my wife for Mothers Day. I’ll explain how I got to this one.

Here’s the back story. I converted from film to digital in 2002 with the Nikon D100. The studio I worked for converted to digital and the owner told me I had a choice to convert or I would get no work. So guess what I did.

The D100 cost a whopping $2000.00. The salesman at the old Wolf Camera on 14th Street, told me I was the #5 customer in Atlanta who had ordered a D100 from them. Great. I was on the bleeding edge of the digital revolution down South, but two grand was expensive to me. I had to cost justify it, expense it, use it, and produce something with it. Today, expect to pay between two and ten grand for a professionally capable, full frame, DSLR or mirrorless camera body.

I converted rather than die professionally. My workflow completely changed as did my love of photography.

I had my personal darkroom for my own black and white processing and printing. I sometimes rented a darkroom for custom color printing. I loved the smell of developer at 5 AM. Film and silver paper have their own aroma. It’s part of the mystique.

It was fun to struggle over print contrast, the Zone System – that whole Ansel Adams and Fred Picker thing. I was immersed in silver based, analog media. I learned a lot of ancient technology. (It’s come back in style too; Lomography.)

However in 2002, I could not easily transfer much of what I learned about film exposure and printing to the new tools. I felt that I had lost control of the medium and I fell out of love of photography. It had lost a lot of its mystery and magic. I could make money and be somewhat creative, it was certainly much faster and convenient, but it just was not the same. I regret deeply I sold my Leica during my transition. They are way too expensive to replace.

I moved into Adobe Photoshop, then simplified to Photoshop Elements and some of the fun came back. I could play with curves and levels directly in ways Ansel Adams never dreamed of. I also had layers and filters to help manage shadows and highlights. I could do contrast masking.

Some of the the magic returned, but it was still hit or miss to me. Much of the time my processing was inconsistent and one of a kind.

Finally Adobe Lightroom arrived and a lot of the magic is back, and I have been able to resurrect much of my analog printing experience and apply it through Lightroom. I still miss the darkroom mystique and even the stinky smells, but Lightroom is a joy. And it is much less stinky.

After playing with Lr for about a year, the epiphany came. I read a blog and something said about one of the controls connected my old skills to the new tools.

I am able to transfer my analog film and darkroom skills and controls to Lightroom very easily if I start by photographing in digital RAW format in camera. I produce what is called the “digital negative.” This is not something new. Photographers have talked about it for years.

I may be late but I like my personal application of the tools: A RAW file contains all the information I originally recorded on the camera sensor, without applying digital sharpening and jpeg conversion artifacts. If my exposure is correct then I have everything necessary to produce a beautiful photograph. RAW allows me to make decisions if I want to.

Caveat: The camera and Adobe software may be much faster than I am at producing a final usable jpeg image. Exposures are spot on usually. There is a big difference between that and producing my ideal, “visualization”, of what I saw, which may be very different from a evenly distributed range of color and contrast.

Below is the original, a jpeg converted from the original Raw. Yep, I shot it originally as a vertical. You may ask, “Why didn’t you just make a horizontal shot to begin with?” I don’t know. This one worked better after the fact than the horizontals I originally did.

Nikon RAW format file extension is NEF. What you got is what you see. Photoshop has a very nice RAW editor which accepts RAW files from many cameras including iPhone and Android smartphones. I can crop, sharpen, apply contrast, filter out “noise” etc. However, I usually just open the file, convert it to an unmodified jpeg and then go to work in Lightroom, especially when I have many photographs to process. So I use the RAW editor and Photoshop to quickly produce a jpeg that I import to Lr.

Why don’t I just create a jpeg in camera and then go directly to Lr? I shoot with Nikon, Sony, and Canon. Each camera produces its own jpeg and its own set of artifacts. If I shoot RAW I can remove some of the camera variables, and standardize on Adobe’s jpeg artifacts. It is a choice I make.

I cropped it, after deciding I liked the horizontal rendition. I then applied Lightroom (Lr) controls. The one-step conversion RAW to jpeg actually looks okay, and would probably be acceptable to many people. I’m persnickety.

So… crop!

There are automatic controls, color and B&W buttons at the top of the editing window. I can go full automatic if I like. You can choose various Adobe color profiles like standard, portrait, or landscape. You can import different profiles. They will vary the contrast and color intensity. They work very well and I’ll use them if I just need to “git ‘er done.”

What is most like my darkroom, analog days is applying what I learned in Ansel Adams’ Zone System and Fred Picker’s Zone 6 Workshop. I can do very similar things using Lr Edit control sliders under “Light”; that is, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks.

Here goes. I slide the Exposure control slider to the left until I arrive where I want shadow detail to appear. I like low key images with colors or highlights that pop and have detail. I end up with a lot of dark tones. Sometimes I let the shadow detail drop out. You’ll notice in the lower right side of the image the dark green leaves in the shadows. I adjust overall exposure down (move the slider to the left) until I barely can see the leaves.

Then I adjust Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks. That is what I love. I set the shadows and adjust the highlights through the use of the Lr control sliders. This, my friends, is essentially Ansel Adams’ Zone System! Much has been written about the Digital Zone System, but Lr makes it simple. (There are alternatives to Lightroom. I read good things about Luminar.)

Instead of going through calibration after calibration of cameras and different films and different paper contrasts, and even different lenses, I can visually fine tune an image and interpret it multiple ways all within a few minutes each. I miss the darkroom, but I don’t miss the drudgery of it. What used to take me hours or days, now takes me minutes.

Lr also has built in camera and lens profiles. It knows what to apply because the information is transmitted via the EXIF data in the image. It will automatically correct lens aberrations, barreling and pin cushion, color fringing, and other annoyances. The downside of that is Adobe applies its own imaging standards. So you may lose the Nikon look, or Canon look, or the Leica look or a specific lens look.

Notice the settings. In this case, they are not extreme.

Now for texture and detail. I like the Texture and Vignette controls under Effects, in the Edit tools. I use texture instead of sharpening. It appears to introduce fewer digital artifacts. If I use sharpening, then I almost always have to apply the noise reduction controls. They soften the image and may nullify the sharpening.

Here are three image snips that show the effect of texture versus sharpening; the original, then with texture and no sharpening applied, and then with sharpening no texture applied.

Original without texture or sharpening
Texture applied
Sharpening applied

The differences are subtle. Use the magnifying tool in Lr to see effect. What I notice with the Sharpen control is more noise. I obtain more “detail” without noise using the Texture control… I think. Shutterstock will not tolerate any noise or other digital artifacts, common in jpegs, in your submissions.

I finally apply just a little dark vignette. It has a similar effect to burning in edges of a print. If judiciously applied, it will draw attention to the subject. Too much isn’t attractive to me. Now I could do such fine adjustments in Photoshop or Elements with the Burn and Dodge tools, but if all I want are the edges darkened a bit, then the Vignette control well.

Below is the final image, in full color. In Part 2, I’ll discuss how I arrived at the muted and antique colors in the image at the top.



We Went for a Walk

•April 25, 2020 • Leave a Comment

My current project is to review all the photographs I have taken in the past 50 years, toss out the chaff, select ones that mean something to me, note it, and store it in a safe place. Each of my children will get a digital copy.

Some images which seemed important at one time don’t seem so much now. Family snapshots are much more prized to me, as they should be.

In this current period of heightened uncertainty, the work becomes more urgent.

The one included in this blog is not of my family, but it is important, to me. And I took it while on vacation with my wife.

It was in 1981. We were driving in Yosemite, over the top, heading for Wawona and the big trees. 

The landscape is rocky and hard. This juniper was only about 3 feet tall.  Looks taller in the photograph.  All gnarly and twisted.  No telling how old it was then. No telling if it is still there now, because I wouldn’t know where to find it if I went looking.

Judging by the twists and textures, and the gray weathered wood it had seen a few hard seasons.

The trite symbolism is still appropriate; the lessons of life, hard knocks. suffering in a harsh world, finding a spot to grow only in the barest of soil, it leaves us bent and spent. Nothing wrong with timeworn symbols when they are truly timeworn.

(Nikon FM2, 55mm lens. Kodachrome 25. Scanned using Nikon D7500 and 28-105 zoom macro. Edited in Lightroom).


A plug

•April 25, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I’m tired of posting Corona stories on Facebook.  This is a quick post from my phone.

Returning to my mono-dimensional earthly pursuit, photography, and an earlier post about family photo archives I did.

Someone asked me how to save photographs. I’ll repost it later.

Treasure hides. Obscure sites are fun to find. I found this lovely site of Ultrafine. 

For fun, check out the Diana and Holga toy cameras.  I got to find my wife’s Diana camera.  That cheap piece of plastic is going for nearly $100.

They have a number of products for both digital and film (a.k.a. “analog”), including archival inkjet paper. The paper base will probably last longer than the ink unless you invest considerable money in a printer that uses pigment ink. 

The link below is to their proprietary 100% cotton rag, acid and lignin free inkjet paper.  I have not tried it.  I have used Strathmore acid free paper.  First, these are heavy papers.  You have to feed them single sheet through the feeder, not through the cassette.  Next, you will have to adjust your printer settings.  Most likely you’ll set them to something “ultra”. 

I recommend matte papers, not glossy. The non-dedicated, off brand glossy papers, at least with Epson printers, that I have used have trouble absorbing the ink and drying.  They have not been “instant dry.”

  If you are into it, they also have scrapbook supplies. The prices seem okay.

One other thing.  When printing on matte paper, you may need to adjust your shadows and contrast. Shadow detail gets lost, and the dark tones may appear subdued and less punchy; those being highly technical terms for I don’t know what the heck I am talking about.