Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why I Photograph Every Day

Ready For Adventure - South Weber, Utah
I try to photograph every day, if I can. I don't always accomplish this goal. Sometimes things happen. But I try to capture at least one image daily.

I love creating photographs. Photography is how I best express my creativity. I can communicate things through exposures that I have a hard time putting into words. There is not much that I would rather do instead. Why would I continue to photograph if I didn't love it? I enjoy photography, and so I want to do it as often as I can.

One reason that I try to photograph each day is to improve my photography. The more I do, the better I become. Each exposure offers lessons (what did I do good and bad and what could I do better in the future?), if I'll consider each one for a moment. Photography takes practice. I like to get my daily photographic exercise in.
Fuji Film - South Weber, Utah
It also prevents "rust" when I photograph daily. If I let some time go between photographing, I find it takes longer to get into a zone. I have to work through my rustiness in order to start creating good images.

There are plenty of things that prevent me from taking pictures. There are plenty of obstacles to photographing daily.

Life can get busy sometimes. Work pulls in one direction. Family pulls in another direction. There are tons of chores and tasks and obligations and such. Sometimes photography just isn't a priority. And there is only so much time in a day, only so much of me to go around. Somethings got to give, and sometimes that "something" is photography.
The First Day of School - South Weber, Utah
I try not to let life get in the way of photography for too long. If a day or two goes by where I didn't make an exposure, that's not a real big deal. If a week or two goes by, that's a much bigger deal, and I need to reconsider what's going on in my life and make photography a little bit higher of a priority.

Sometimes it's myself that gets in the way of photographing daily. Maybe I'm not feeling inspired. Sometimes I don't think there is anything worth photographing around me. Perhaps I don't feel like carrying around the bulk of a camera. Whatever the reason, I have found that the best thing for me in these cases is to force myself to go out a capture something. I typically get out of my "funk" pretty quickly as I begin making exposures.

One thing I started doing recently when I don't think I have the time or inspiration to photograph is to make still life images using my cheap and simple homemade studio. It only takes a couple of minutes of my time and allows me to get some photography practice in. I'm able to create some interesting images even when there is seemingly nothing interesting to photograph. All of the photographs in this article were captured that way.
Pumpkin Chestnut - South Weber, Utah
Another thing that has kept me from photographing daily is my backed up workflow. My post-processing workflow got backed up a ridiculous amount this year, thanks (in part) to a move from California to Utah. I didn't want to photograph because I didn't want to add more to the overwhelming pile of editing work. I have (guesstimating) about 10,000 RAW files on my computer right now waiting for me to go through.

Recently I purchased a gently used Fujifilm X-E1, which can produce great out-of-camera JPEGs that rival edited RAW images. I find that about 95% of my photographs captured with this camera don't require any post-processing. That saves me so much time and takes away my backed up workflow as an excuse for not capturing images. I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders.

When excuses keep me from capturing images, I do what I can to remove the barriers. I want to photograph and it's good to photograph. So I try to make exposures each day. I don't always succeed, but it's better to try than to not try.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Fuji X-E1 & Dynamic Range

Sunset Over Riverdale - Riverdale, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 55mm, f/10, 1/125, ISO 1000, out-of-camera JPEG.
I captured Sunset Over Riverdale last night. It wasn't the greatest sunset by a long shot, but due to some clouds and smoke (form a nearby wildfire), it was decent enough for me to stop and make an exposure. I had my Fuji X-E1 with me, so that's what I used.

When I viewed the image, which is an out-of-camera JPEG, I was impressed by the dynamic range. With other digital cameras that I've had, I could have created this image, but only by significantly manipulating the RAW file. With the X-E1, I got this straight out of the camera, no further editing required.

The scene was very contrasty. I shot directly into the sun, which had some smoke and clouds and atmosphere to diffuse it a little, but was still bright. And the lower part of the image is in a valley and so was in a shadow. My previous experience shooting this type of scene is that details are easily lost in the highlights and shadows, and it takes either a lot of manipulating of the RAW file or even HDR (with multiple exposures) to make something that looks like this.

I've never had a camera-created JPEG ever show this much dynamic range. It's almost unbelievable, yet I wonder why we all shouldn't expect results like this from out-of-camera JPEGs? If one company can do it, why not the rest?

I made some crops--I did this on the X-E1. I'm not sure what percentage the crops are (as the camera doesn't indicate), but I believe they're more than 100%, perhaps somewhere near 150% or 175%, but that's just a guess. Nobody will ever look at your images this closely. Depending on how big these crops are displayed on your monitor, what you are viewing is roughly how large you'd see them if you were looking closely at a 20" x 30" print. When people view large prints they naturally step backwards to take the whole thing in and don't view them from 18" away (or however close your eyes are to the monitor).
Massive Crop from Sunset Over Riverdale
Massive Crop from Sunset Over Riverdale
Massive Crop from Sunset Over Riverdale
Massive Crop from Sunset Over Riverdale
Massive Crop from Sunset Over Riverdale
Massive Crop from Sunset Over Riverdale
Notice that the sun is slightly clipped. I think a third stop less exposure and it would have remained yellow instead of a little white on the top half. It's not unexpected to clip the highlights when you're pointing the camera directly at the sun.

There is shadow details in almost all of the dark areas. There are some blocked up shadows here and there in expected places (such as the underpass), but it's very minimal. If I had underexposed by a third stop to prevent the sun from clipping, I probably wouldn't have been able to retain the shadow details quite as well. It was a trade off.

To barely clip the highlights and barely have blocked up shadows in this extreme light situation is nothing short of amazing. It's not unheard of for processed RAW files (especially from full-frame cameras), but for a camera-made JPEG from an APS-C sensor it's not what one expects whatsoever.

Notice how the sun is round and without weird artifacts or banding. A lot of digital cameras struggle with this, especially regarding the out-of-camera JPEGs (but sometimes even with the RAW files). The X-E1 handled it like a champ.

Digital noise is pretty minimal. You notice it in the massive crops, but otherwise it's no issue at all. I really like the way the camera renders digital noise--it's much more film-grain-like than other digital cameras I've used.

The lens is pretty sharp--much sharper than a typical 18-55mm "kit" zoom. You see a little bit of diffraction setting in from the small aperture, but not enough to worry about. There are some prime lenses that aren't as sharp as this.

In conclusion, the Fujifilm X-E1 handled this tough light situation with ease, producing a nice camera-made JPEG with an unexpectedly large dynamic range. I could make a 20" x 30" print of this photograph and be happy with the results. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Street Photography With The Fujifilm X-E1, Part 2: Color

Urban Bicyclist - Salt Lake City, Utah

In the first part of this two-part series I showed you the black-and-white street photographs that I've captured using the Fujifilm X-E1, which I've owned for a little less than a month now. I really love using this camera and it has rejuvenated my photography. I've been creating images like mad, and I feel great about the photographs. And because the out-of-camera JPEGs are so good, I rarely post-process my exposures anymore.

In Part 2 we'll look at the color street photographs that I've captured using the X-E1 and the "kit" 18-55mm lens. This lens is not your ordinary kit lens, but something noticeably superior to any cheap zoom I've ever used before. It's like a sharp prime lens that can zoom. I'm happy to use it, and I don't feel the need to go out and buy something else.

These photographs are all out-of-camera JPEGs. If I had post-processed the RAW files, I would not have made the images look any different. That's one of the amazing aspects of the X-Trans cameras.

I think the color set is a little stronger than the black-and-white set. I really like a couple of the monochrome street images, and one in particular is a favorite, but overall the color photographs are stronger.

I don't get out to shoot street images all of the time. It's fun when I have the chance. Some of my favorite photographs are in this genre. With the X-E1 I may just have to do it more often.
Phone Conversation - Salt Lake City, Utah
Posing For A Picture - Salt Lake City, Utah
The Fragile Kitchen - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Waiting In The Shade - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Time Square Hearth - Ogden, Utah
Maintenance Man - Ogden, Utah 
25th Street Reflection - Ogden, Utah
I Could Use A Beer - Ogden, Utah
25th Street After Dark - Ogden, Utah
Blue Umbrella At The Lake - Antelope Island State Park, Utah
At The Vast Salt Lake - Antelope Island State Park, Utah

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Street Photography With The Fujifilm X-E1, Part 1: Black & White

Steps - Salt Lake City, Utah
I've had my Fujifilm X-E1 (and 18-55mm "kit" lens) for almost a month now. This camera is no longer manufactured, and the X-E2s (which is two models newer) is now old news. For those who've wanted to try an X-Trans camera but never found room in their budget (like myself), now is a great opportunity to get a gently used "older" X-Trans like the X-E1 for a really good price. While the camera is four-years old, which, in digital terms makes it ancient, it's actually still a relevant and capable photographic tool.

Street photography is not my "main" genre, but it is something I enjoy sometimes. If you are not sure what exactly street photography is, the best definition I've found is: photography that features the human condition within public places. Note that it doesn't require a street or even a human, but simply (and vaguely) "the human condition" as seen from "public places." Street photography can mean different things to different people.

I've used the X-E1 with the 18-55mm lens attached to capture some street images. It's well suited for this type of photography. I've not had problems with the auto-focus (which was one of the early complaints about this camera when it first came out). Manual focus (and, in turn, zone focus) are easy. All the controls are laid out well--better than other cameras I've used.
Making Sense of Poverty - Ogden, Utah
The camera does well in dark situations (which you run into often in this genre). I've gone as high as ISO 12800 and had reasonably good results. In fact, Making Sense of Poverty was captured at ISO 6400 but underexposed by one stop, and so I pushed it to an equivalent ISO of 12800 after the exposure (I did this in-camera by reprocessing the RAW file).

Out-of-camera JPEGs are great on the X-E1! I rarely post-process my photographs anymore. I love it! It frees up so much time. And I'm not sitting in front of a computer monitor messing with curves and such. This is how photography should be!

Black-and-white images fit street photography especially well for some reason. I often prefer monochrome when shooting this genre. But color sometimes works even better. Part 2 will feature my color street images. For now, enjoy these black-and-white street photographs, all captured with the Fuji X-E1 and 18-55mm lens.
Workday - Salt Lake City, Utah
Glass Roof - Salt Lake City, Utah
The Exact Opposite of Old School - Salt Lake City, Utah
Inside - Salt Lake City, Utah
Walkway Reflection - Salt Lake City, Utah
Dead Plant - Salt Lake City, Utah
Downtown Light Post - Ogden, Utah
Statue Couple - Salt Lake City, Utah

Monday, August 15, 2016

Taking The Fuji X-E1 To The Streets ...At Night (Hand-Held Night Street Photography)

Historic 25th Street Dragon - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/160, ISO 800, 50mm.
I've always loved photographing at night. The artificial light can make for amazingly weird colors. Neon lights come on downtown. The shadows can add a mysteriousness to a scene. Different people walk the streets. Places transform into something different when the sun goes down. 

One of my first night photography experiences was a train yard outside of Dallas. I'm not sure why, but the railroad employees allowed me surprising access to the place--they let me go anywhere I wanted, just as long as I didn't climb on any equipment. I'll I did was ask. I was young and I had a 35mm SLR and tripod, and times back then were different, so perhaps I seemed harmless. A few weeks later when the film came back from the lab, I was blown away by the images!

Back then I shot on film. I mostly used ISO 100 or less and relied on long exposures. I considered ISO 400 to be "high ISO" and rarely used films with a higher ISO than that (although I would occasionally push-process ISO 400 a stop or two). A tripod and shutter-release-cable were essential tools. I used Kodachrome 64 that night.
Downtown Light Post - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/125, ISO 1600, 18mm.
Photographing after dark is a completely different experience today. Digital camera technology has made high ISO photography no big deal. Add to that image stabilization, and hand-held low-light photography is quite practical now. You almost don't even need to think about camera settings.

The Fujifilm X-E1 (really, any Fuji X-Trans camera) is especially good for this type of photography, because it has high-ISO capabilities that are right up there with expensive full-frame cameras. You can go right up to ISO 6400 and not think twice about it! Even out-of-camera JPEGs at ISO 6400 look good.

But that's not the limit of the X-E1. The photograph below, Making Sense of Poverty, is something that I wouldn't have been able to capture with any other camera I've ever owned. It was a dimly-lit corner. I saw that the store window said "Making Scents" (and "scents" and "sense" are homophones), and the sleeping homeless man allowed for a play on words and social commentary.
Making Sense of Poverty - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/38, ISO 6400, 55mm.
I was about to cross the street with my family when I noticed the scene, so I only had a moment to capture it. I aimed the camera and, realizing that the shutter was going to be slow (I was in aperture-priority mode), I quickly adjusted the exposure compensation dial down one f-stop (so that the shutter speed wouldn't be too slow--in this case 1/38 instead of 1/20-ish). Click. Later I reprocessed the RAW file in-camera, increasing the exposure by one f-stop, to make it, essentially, an ISO 12800 image. A usable ISO 12800 image from an APS-C sensor is unheard of! 

Things like that impress me. Sure, if I had spent a couple thousand dollars more I could get slightly better ISO 12800 results. But that's the point: I got good results and I didn't spend gobs of money. A gently used Fuji X-E1 with Fuji's excellent kit lens can be had for a similar price as an entry-level DSLR with a crummy kit lens, yet the Fuji delivers results that are more in line with expensive full-frame cameras.

I walked the historic 25th Street district in Ogden, Utah two nights ago. I was as blown away at the results from that outing as I was 18 years ago after the nighttime visit to the train yard. What was impossible not very long ago is now readily available to the photographer. Last night I found myself at the Utah State Capitol Building once again photographing hand-held in the dark. Amazing!
Time Square Hearth - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/56, ISO 6400, 18mm.
Maintenance Man - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/100, ISO 6400, 55mm.
Neon Roosters - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/125, ISO 2000, 55mm.
Red Hair Candy - Ogden, Utah
f/5, 1/105, ISO 6400, 36mm.
25th Street Reflection - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/56, ISO 6400, 55mm.
Lighthouse - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/125, ISO 5000, 45mm.
Craft Burger - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/120, ISO 6400, 18mm.
I Could Use A Beer - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/125, ISO 2000, 55mm.
25th Street After Dark - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/60, ISO 6400, 55mm.
Little Boy Waiting - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/34, ISO 6400, 21mm.
Night At The Capitol Building - Salt Lake City, Utah
f/3.2, 1/42, ISO 6400, 21mm.
Utah State Capitol - Salt Lake City, Utah
f/4, 1/58, ISO 6400, 45mm.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Photoessay: Temple Square - Salt Lake City, Utah

Temple Square Blossoms - Salt Lake City, Utah
On the same afternoon as my visit to the Salt Lake City Public Library Downtown Branch, I also visited Temple Square. This is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Salt Lake City, and I'd never been, so I walked the grounds.

Temple Square is to Mormonism what The Vatican is to Catholicism. But not nearly as grand. It still has impressive architecture and beautiful grounds. I can see that there are definitely photographic opportunities at this location.

I was there in the middle of the day when the lighting wasn't great for photography. My Fuji X-E1 handled the harsh light like a champ. These are all out-of-camera JPEGs from my quick visit. I was only there for about 30 minutes--it was really hot and crowded. I'll have to come back another time to capture even better images.
Inside A Mormon Tabernacle - Salt Lake City, Utah
Beautiful Blossoms - Salt Lake City, Utah
Two Blooms - Salt Lake City, Utah
Monochrome Leaves #1 - Salt Lake City, Utah
Monochrome Leaves #2 - Salt Lake City, Utah
Rail - Salt Lake City, Utah
Pipe Organ - Salt Lake City, Utah
A Temple Square View - Salt Lake City, Utah
Mormon Temple #1 - Salt Lake City, Utah
Mormon Temple #2 - Salt Lake City, Utah