Thursday, December 8, 2016

Project: Preserved

Nature Preserved - South Weber, Utah
I started a new photography project called Preserved. In fact, I officially began working on it yesterday with the photograph above.

Let me give a little back story. For years I have seen historical images that have very little artistic value but are interesting because they show a location from decades ago. And I have seen images with very little historical value but are abstract and so have lots of artistic value. I wanted to find a way to merge these two types of photographs into one. I wanted to create something that could have both historic and artistic values.

That's not easy to accomplish. I wasn't really sure how I wanted to go about doing this. Then I stumbled across Christoffer Relander's Jarred & Displaced project. He uses glass jars and double-exposure photography to capture what appears to be landscapes inside of jars, "collecting memories" in a sense. I knew this was a starting point for what I want to do. My project was going to have jars (with the insides painted black) and double-exposure photography (using my Fuji X-E1) as critical elements.
Dormant Trees In A Jar - South Weber, Utah
My very first image-in-a-jar (Dormant Trees In A Jar, above), which predates Nature Preserved, was a test shot to make sure that I could actually create the kind of images that I want to make. I knew that I could, but wasn't sure about a couple of the technical aspects. I learned a few things and so I green-lighted myself to move forward with the project.

One thing that I knew I would need is a small portable studio that I could take with me in the car for capturing the jars. At first I was going to construct one myself, but then I found one online that was both cheaper and better than anything that I could have made. That portable photography studio arrived in the mail two days ago, and Nature Preserved was my first attempt using it (again, a test shot).

While I have two double-exposure images with jars, I haven't yet made one that fits my idea of something with potential historical value plus something that's artistic. This is a project that will take time. But I have what I need and I know how to do it, so it's just a matter now of getting out and doing it. Which is exactly what I intend to do.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Finding The Extraordinary Among The Ordinary

Tabasco On The Table - Salt Lake City, Utah
Captured using an LG G4 cell phone.
I think one part of a photographer's job is to find the extraordinary among the ordinary. There are things that people see every day, maybe even 10 times each day, and they fail to recognize the beauty of it or see what's interesting about it. They completely overlook it.

Whatever it is, it's mundane. It's ordinary. There is nothing special to see. People wouldn't look twice at it.

It's the photographer's job to find what is beautiful or interesting about a scene and capture it. It's the photographer's job to see the things that other people don't. You have to show them what they missed. You have to train your eyes to find the things that other people would never see unless it was pointed out to them. You have to be the one to point it out, and you do that with your camera.

Take Tabasco On The Table for example. I found a half-used bottle of hot sauce sitting on a cheap, crooked table in an office break room. It's a sight that can be found across the country in thousands of places. There is nothing special about it. But a window with half-opened blinds provided some beautiful light and shadow play. And isolating the subject from the rest of the room--removing everything that would otherwise be a distraction--draws the viewer into what's interesting about the bottle.

There is beauty all around us if we only look, and most people will not look. Photography is the best way that I know how to show others the things that they should have seen at but didn't. Finding the extraordinary among the ordinary is what photographers do. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Should You Upgrade To Fuji X-Pro2 or X-T2?

I've been asked a few times now, "Should I upgrade to the X-Pro2 or X-T2?" I'm not sure how qualified I am to answer this because I've never used either. But I will try to give what I hope is a helpful response.

The big headline with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and X-T2 is the 24-megapixel APS-C X-Trans sensor. Prior to this, Fuji's X-series cameras had a 16-megapixel APS-C X-Trans sensors (there are a few non-X-Trans sensor models, too). The jump from 16-megapixels to 24-megapixels seems large, and is that extra resolution worth handing over large sums of cash to get?

The "old" X-Trans sensor has "only" a third less resolution than the new sensor, which isn't necessarily huge. And the gap might not be as big as you think because not all lenses can resolve that amount of detail anyway (although the Fujinon lineup is pretty fantastic and many of the lenses can). Basically, the extra resolution will allow you to enlarge a little more or crop a little deeper, but it's not going to be a night-and-day difference.

With the 16-megapixel X-Trans, if you have clean, sharp, uncropped exposures, you can make nice-looking 20" x 30" prints. If you used high-ISO or cropped a little, you'd max out at 16" x 24" prints. Not all that many people print larger than that, and so the 16-megapixel resolution is sufficient for most people.
Mirrored Mountain - Mirror Lake, Utah
Captured with a Fujifilm X-E1.
There are different software options (some are better than others) to upscale your images, which allows you to print larger than what the resolution would indicate. When I mentioned print sizes in the last paragraph, I wasn't taking into account the use of upscaling software. It's possible to make larger prints even with the 16-megapixel X-Trans.

I also didn't factor in viewing distance. When people view large prints, they instinctively move back to a normal viewing distance. The larger the print the further back people will naturally move to view it. "Pixel-peepers" will want to examine your images from an inch away, but normal people don't and won't. Just as long as there is space available for viewers to stand a normal distance away, they will.

This is important to understand because you can print as large as you want, just as long as you don't force viewers to see your images too closely. Billboards look great at a distance and terrible up close, but nobody is looking at them up close. Keep all of this in mind when you are considering print size and resolution.

With all of that out of the way, my recommendation is that if you routinely print at sizes of 20" x 30" or larger, you may find the additional resolution of the 24-megapixel X-Trans useful. Otherwise, you really aren't gaining anything.
Our Galaxy - Mirror Lake, Utah
Captured with a Fijifilm X-E1.
The negative side-effects of additional resolution are that it takes more memory space and it makes photo editing programs run a little slower. Not really huge deals, but worth noting that more resolution isn't always better. Street photographer Eric Kim put it this way: "More megapixels, more problems."

I haven't found very many high-ISO and dynamic range comparisons of the "old" and "new" X-Trans sensors. Sometimes squeezing more resolution onto a sensor has a negative impact on those two things. What I discovered (from the little that I found) is that the 24-megapixel sensor seems to be at least as good as the 16-megapixel sensor, and perhaps might offer a very small improvement in both high-ISO and dynamic range (key words being "very small").

The new Fujifilm cameras, the X-Pro2 and the X-T2, are very fine cameras. They won't disappoint. But if you are happy with the Fuji camera that you already own, I don't see the need to spend bunches of money for the trivial upgrade. Unless you routinely print very large, it makes more sense to stick with what you've got.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Inspiration & Photography & Blogs

Photography Is A Drug - Tehachapi, California
A triple exposure photograph.
You've probably noticed that I've published very little on the Roesch Photography Blog over the last month. I've been feeling uninspired lately, going through a bit of a funk.

I've been doing this blog for almost six years now. I've covered a ton of topics. I've said so much. I've repeated myself a number of times. It's not always easy to come up with original content.

Besides that, I'm compensated very, very little for the time and effort I put into this. Nobody pays me for what I write. You may have noticed a few small advertisements on this page--if you click on those and spend money I get a tiny cut. It doesn't even average a dollar an hour.
I Am Nature - Ogden Canyon, Utah
A double exposure photograph.
The purpose of this blog is not money, but sometimes I do wish that I was compensated more for what I do here. Because I could be doing other things. It was kind of nice doing other things instead of blogging during the last several weeks.

Still, I have my reasons for keeping this blog going, and much of that is you, the readers. Some of you have been following the Roesch Photography Blog for years. Thank you so much!

I've also felt uninspired in my photography. I think that a lot of my "typical" photographs aren't good enough. I want to capture better images, not ordinary pictures. I haven't picked up my camera much in the last month (yes, a little here and there, but not nearly as much as usual). I'm tired of making a bunch of mediocre photographs with the occasional good one. I want to create things that I'm more proud of.

It's easy to say that, but much harder to do. Especially when you are not feeling inspired. This is a make or break moment! I could easily quit altogether. But I choose instead to move forward. To try harder. To be more creative.
Dormant Trees In A Jar - South Weber, Utah
A double exposure photograph.
I'm starting a new photography project. I captured one "test" image (Dormant Trees In A Jar) to make sure that I could do it. Now I'm waiting for something to arrive in the mail so that I can actually begin. It has to do with double-exposure photography (which I love but have had trouble coming up with interesting ways to execute it without being cliche).

I'm actually stealing the idea from photographer Christoffer Relander. My intentions are not to copy his work, but to add my own twist to create something similar to what he's doing, yet different and unique to me.

So stay tuned! Once I get the things I need, I plan to concentrate on this project and spend the next several months making the images that I see in my mind.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Daylight Savings Ends - Don't Forget To Change The Clock On Your Cameras

Clock - South Weber, Utah
Daylight Savings Time ends tonight at 2 AM, which means that you "fall back" one hour. Most of your clocks are smart enough to automatically adjust themselves, but you still probably have a few that need to be manually changed.

Digital cameras have built-in clocks, and many of these will not automatically account for Daylight Savings. If you don't remember to change them now, three months from now you'll be looking at the EXIF data and realize that your images are time-stamped an hour off. That's really annoying, so just take a moment today or tomorrow to change the time on your camera's clock.

I've been saying twice a year for several years now that Daylight Savings Time is nothing short of insanity. It's not about the farmers (they really don't care), the environmentalists are convinced it's about them (but it's not)--we do this stupid song and dance for tourism, specifically because when the sun is out later tourists are more likely to part with their money. I've spelled all this out in the past several times and so I won't discuss it further today.
Butterfly Tourists - Pismo Beach, California
These people are why we change our clocks--specifically, so they'll spend more of their money.
But I will talk further about the craziness of pretending that the time is different than it actually is.

Every year we make-believe that the time jumps forward an hour in the spring and jumps backwards in the fall. Of course time doesn't actually do this. Time doesn't jump around. Time is constant. We all just follow along with the crowd pretending that reality is something other than what it is. This is literal insanity.

Why don't we all just pretend that the sun is cold for half of the year? Why don't we all just pretend that the sky is green for half of the year? Why don't we all just pretend that gravity doesn't exist for half of the year? Why don't we just pretend that politicians are honest? That taxes don't exist? That gas is a solid? That rocks are food? That asbestos is good for you? Pretending that the time is different than what it actually is isn't any different.

Some say that time only exists because we make it exist in our minds, but otherwise there is no such thing. However, the universe seems to run on a very predictable and precise rhythm, and the measurement of this is time. Time is a form of measurement.
Forgotten Road Markers - Mojave, California
Imagine if you were driving down a highway and you passed a sign that said "Now Entering Mileage Savings Zone" and the mileage marker jumped from 50 to 52, skipping right past 51. Then sometime many miles later you passed a similar sign that said "Now Leaving Mileage Savings Zone" and then you had to pass two different mileage markers with the number 200. You traveled the same number of miles, but the mileage markers were off by one mile from mileage marker 52 until you reached the second mileage marker 200.

Now imagine people praising this and proclaiming the necessity of it because it saves you a mile. But it didn't save anything because it was an illusion. It was a lie. Our fictitious Mileage Savings Zone and our (unfortunately) very real Daylight Savings Time are no different from each other, and they are both equally absurd.

The good news is that we will be on the correct time tomorrow, as Daylight Savings will end for 2016 in the dark of night. But come next spring the insanity begins all over again.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Best Camera

Phone Conversation - Salt Lake City, Utah
Renown photographer Chase Jarvis said, "The best camera is the one that's with you." He was speaking specifically of cell phone cameras. His point was that any camera is a capable photographic tool, and you shouldn't be afraid to use whatever camera you have available, even if it's the one built into your phone. This was several years ago, and the cameras on cell phones have evolved immensely since then.

The great thing about the camera built into your phone is that you have it with you all of the time. It's an ulta-compact digital camera that's also a phone and a computer. This is pretty amazing stuff when you think about it. And the image quality produced by these cameras are getting better and better and better.
The Closed Road - Fish Camp, California
Captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone.
A few years ago Nokia released the Lumia 1020, which had a tack-sharp lens, medium-format-like resolution and could save in RAW format (it wasn't without serious faults, including a really limited dynamic range and poor ISO performance above the native ISO). I used this cell phone for a couple of years, and captured a number of good images with it. It was the first camera phone that I felt had sufficient image quality that you could "get away with" using it instead of a "real" camera if you needed to.

Earlier this year I "upgraded" to an LG G4, which has a slightly better camera built in. The dynamic range is noticeably larger and it can go a stop above base ISO before the image quality begins to significantly degrade. The lens isn't quite as sharp (but it's still reasonably sharp) and it doesn't have as much resolution (16 megapixels vs 41 megapixels). Overall the G4 has a better camera, but not by a huge amount. It's plenty good enough to capture good pictures.
Steam Locomotive Wheels - Ogden, Utah
Captured using an LG G4 cell phone.
There are several camera phones that have come out or are about to come out that seem interesting. One is the iPhone 7, which has two cameras on the back, allowing you to shoot at 28mm (equivalent) or 56mm (equivalent) focal lengths, giving a little more versatility (Apple also finally allows you to save in RAW format). Up until a couple of weeks ago, the HTC 10, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and the Sony Xperia X Performance were tied at #1 for best cell phone camera (by DxOMark). Then the Google Pixel came out, which is a cell phone designed with the photographer in mind, and beat them all (just barely). Kodak's upcoming Ektra camera phone is supposed to be similar to Google's Pixel. And let's not forget Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom, which is a pocket zoom camera with a cell phone built into it.

The point of all of this is that the lowly camera phone is a good tool that photographers can use when they need a camera and don't have their more expensive gear near by. These cameras are better than you might think and, while they are not as good or versatile as a DSLR, they can produce reasonably good image quality. In fact, unless you said so, unsuspecting viewers will have no idea that a cell phone camera was used to capture your images. So don't be afraid to use your "best" camera, which is the one that's with you when you need a camera.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Stop Putting Me Down For Shooting JPEGs

Mirrored Mountain - Mirror Lake, Utah
I captured this using JPEG format.
All of the time I hear people say that "serious" photographers shoot RAW and "novice" photographers shoot JPEG. Nonsense!

I rarely see JPEG shooters put down RAW shooters (although there is the occasional "you're wasting your time" comment). Almost always it is RAW shooters putting down the in-camera JPEG photographers.

People have told me that I'm an amateur because I shoot JPEGs. I don't always use camera-made JPEGs, but anymore I prefer JPEGs over RAW for most exposures. I've done my fair share of RAW editing, and I just don't want to do it anymore if I don't have to. It's not fun for me.

That doesn't matter to some. The gauge of whether someone is a serious photographer or not is what format they have their camera save the exposures. RAW equals professional, semi-pro or advanced hobbyist, while JPEG equals newbie, amateur or novice. Never mind that there is a long list of professional photographers who shoot JPEGs and rarely (if ever) shoot RAW. It's a condescending attitude that's based on myths.
Earth & Galaxy - Mirror Lake, Utah
Another out-of-camera JPEG.
Myth #1: JPEGs aren't good.

JPEGs can be quite good. Some camera manufacturers do a better job than others at in-camera JPEG processing, but most cameras are capable of make nice-looking photos. The caveat here is that you have to take care to make sure everything is set as you want it. It means taking an extra moment in the field to get the camera set just right. You can't be a lazy JPEG shooter, but that's good because laziness is an enemy of art. I think that some photographers choose RAW so that they can be more careless in the field. That's not a good reason to shoot RAW.

Myth #2: JPEGs can't be edited much.

You'd be surprised at just how much you can manipulate a JPEG file. Even though the camera threw out some data when it created the JPEG, there's still a lot hiding in there that can be brought out in post production. It's not quite as much as RAW, but it's a lot more than most RAW shooters realize.
Straight-out-of-camera JPEG on the left, that same file after editing on the right.
Myth #3: You get better results with RAW.

If you have the settings right, and depending on the camera, you can get the same dynamic range, noise, color, contrast, etc., etc., with JPEG that you'd get with RAW. But sometimes RAW is better. Sometimes you need to squeeze every bit of data out of the file. Often you don't, and your edited RAW files won't look any different than your JPEGs (if you took the care to make sure the JPEG settings were correct). You have to know when RAW is necessary and when it's not (or shoot RAW+JPEG).

My point in all of this is not to talk negatively about RAW format or those who use it. I've made a whole lot of RAW exposures, and I still occasionally do. But I'm tired of being put down because I prefer camera-made JPEGs nowadays. Just because someone chooses JPEG doesn't make them any less of a photographer. Art is art, whether it's RAW or JPEG or something else.
Mirror Lake Fisherman - Mirror Lake, Utah
This is a camera-made JPEG.
The fact is that viewers don't know or care if a photograph was RAW or JPEG. They only care if the image speaks to them. If they are moved, it was a good photograph. If not, then it wasn't. The format doesn't matter whatsoever.

I've made tens of thousands of RAW exposures. I've made tens of thousands of JPEG exposures. What have I learned? Use what works best for you, and don't worry what others are doing.

So stop putting me down for shooting JPEGs. It's pointless. If something works for me, then that's what I'm going to do. It's my art, and I'll do it my way.