On Taking Pictures DC Meetup

I spent most of today in DC, at a meetup with the hosts of the On Taking Pictures podcast, as well as a good-sized group of listeners. We started out at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see the Irving Penn exhibit, and then broke out to walk around the area shooting for a while, and finished off the day with food, drink, and conversation at Hill Country BBQ. The Penn exhibit was phenomenal, if a little overwhelming, feature 146 intense images. The range of his work was much broader than I realized, and I was particularly interested in some of his street photography from the 1940s. Of course, they had all the iconic images on display. One thing that I found impressive was the quality consistency of then printing of the gelatin silver prints. There were several examples of prints made from images that were probably on the same roll of film, but the prints were made decades apart, yet the prints looked as if they could have been made the same day.

After taking in the exhibit for an hour or so, we headed out for an hour of shooting in DC. In all honesty, I'm not a DC person. I worked there for better than 15 years, and frankly, that was enough of the city for me. So, I took this as a "shoot more eggs" opportunity, and with a few other group members, looked around Chinatown and the nearby area for anything interesting to shoot. I carried the Fujifilm X-E1 with the 18-55mm lens, and the iPhone 6s.

After the walk, we gathered for food and drink and conversation, and a great time was had by all. I especially enjoyed meeting the guys who ride (virtually) to and from work with me once a week. And, of course, it was fun hanging out with like-minded people to talk about photography and pretty much whatever else came to mind. I'm already looking forward to the next one!

Too Late for Fall Color? Catoctin Furnace, Thurmont, Maryland

I've been in a slump and a funk for quite some time because, other than my recent trip to New York for PhotoPlus Expo, I haven't made a photograph in months. I've barely even taken a picture! So it was decided that, no matter that I played a gig last night and didn't get home until after three, I would be getting up early to go make some photographs. I decided, too, that the direction headed would be west, to the area around Thurmont, Maryland, and one of my subject choices would be pretty uncharacteristic for me: fall color, assuming there was any left. The other "target" was to try to shoot some of the waterfalls in the area.

I managed to get up by 7:00, with surprisingly little difficulty. After I got myself ready to go, I dragged Donna out of bed, informed her that she would be "kidnapped," and that she needed to get ready to go. And, we were out the door by around 9AM. We stopped a couple times along the way to Thurmont, but once there, we spent our time at the Catoctin Furnace, and on the nearby walking trail.

Here are my results from the day:

A few shots are of particular interest:

First, it seems to be a requirement of nature/landscape photographers to get a picture of a yellow leaf. Maybe it's even the law. I don't know. At any rate, here's a yellow(wish) leaf:

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It's heavily backlit, so it looks more orange than yellow. But orange contains yellow. So there it is. Really, though, I think that being limited to only yellow leaves is somehow discriminatory against other-colored leaves. So, in the interest of at least a little bit of equality, I felt it important to include a red one:

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For the purists, it should be known that I did not place the red leaf. That's just how I found it.

Seriously, though, we saw a gorgeous Pileated Woodpecker at work on a dead tree. Of course, neither of us had the correct lens at the ready, and by the time I even got my bag open, the bird had ducked into a hole in the tree. Apparently, Sunday is interior decorating day for woodpeckers, because he/she/it commenced to banging away inside the tree. When we held our hand on the side of the tree, we could feel the banging! Very cool, and something we'd never experienced before!

After leaving the furnace, we took the road up around the State Park in search of places to shoot waterfalls. While we saw a couple of likely candidates, there were no places to pull over. So, we decided to head into Cunningham Falls State Park. Apparently, everyone else in the area had the same idea, because the place was mobbed! We decided that we'd save waterfalls for another day, and started home, sorta, by way of Blue Ridge Summit and Gettysburg, PA. We had a nice drive, but didn't stop anywhere else to shoot. And, by the time we got close to home, I was beat! Getting only three-and-a-half hours of sleep and finally caught up with me.

For the techies: Of course, everything was taken with my Fujifilm X-E1. For most of the shots, I used the excellent XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens, although I did use the old Mamiya-Sekor 55mm f/1.8 on a few. For a lens made in 1968, there's still a lot of magic there! Everything here was processed in Lightroom CC 2015.

What the F-Stop, Indeed!

As many of you know, I enjoy listening to podcasts on my drive to and from work, and this afternoon was no different. On one of the podcasts I listened to today, I happened to hear what had to be the most convoluted, confusing, and downright confounding explanations of the f-stop that I've ever heard. I'm pretty sure that at least one crucial part of the explanation was even wrong. Very wrong. WTF-stop, indeed! So, let's go ahead and take a look at the term "f-stop" to see if I can make some sense of it for you, as it's actually deceptively simple. Maybe.

f-stop: In optics, the f-number (sometimes called focal ratio, f-ratio, f-stop, or relative aperture) of an optical system is the ratio of the lens's focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil (in photography, the aperture or iris).

Being a ratio, or fractional number, the f-stop is usually expressed as something like f:4 or f/5.6.

So there you have it. Makes perfect sense now, doesn't it? No? Read on, then.

F-stops control the amount of light passed through the lens

To put some concrete numbers behind this, a 50mm f/2 lens, has a maximum aperture of 50/2, or 25mm. When set to f/2, this particular lens would be said to be "wide open," meaning the aperture is at its maximum opening, allowing the maximum amount of light to pass through the lens. If we set this particular lens to f/4, as an example, the aperture will be closed down (or "stopped down") to 50/4, or 12.5mm. This, obviously, reduces the amount of light that can pass through the lens. By applying this same concept, we can figure that a 25mm aperture on a 100mm lens works out to f/4.

Oh, Lawdy, we've used algebra!

If this is still confusing, think of the aperture or iris like a very precise valve in a water pipe. Closing the valve makes a smaller opening, restricting the amount of water that can flow.

Now, here's where the math can get hinky, and where people start to get confused. The math involved is weird because we're dealing with the area of a circle, and that makes some of the numbers start to look funny. I say that someone else figured out all this math (using algebra and geometry and physics and stuff), and handed us the results, and they work, so let's just go with their results from here on out.

With that said, there's a sequence of numbers that are the "full f-stops," and they are the numbers that set up the ratios that are the key to understanding the whole thing. Here's the sequence for our hypothetical 50mm lens:

2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22

These are arranged from the largest opening to the smallest, and I think this is where people start to get confused -- the bigger number let's in less light? What? But remember, it's a ratio that describes how far the aperture is open with respect to the focal length of the lens. Getting back to our 50mm f/2 lens, the numbers break down like this:

f-stop aperture diameter
2 25mm
2.8 17.86mm
4 12.5mm
5.6 8.93mm
8 6.25mm
11 4.55mm
16 3.13mm
22 2.27mm

The next bit that's important to know is that each full f-stop you stop down cuts the amount of light passed through the lens by half. In other words, the f/2 lens transmits 100% of the available light when set at f/2 (wide open). Setting the aperture to f/2.8 passes half the available light. Stopping down another stop cuts the light in half again, passing only one quarter of the available light. Going down to f/11 passes just 1/32 of the available light through the lens.

Conversely, each stop you open up doubles the amount of light passing through the lens. So, if you're at f/11 and open up to f/8, you go from 1/32 of the available light passing through the lens to 1/16 of the available light passing through the lens -- double the amount of light.

So, to re-cap the subject, the f-stop is the ratio of the focal length of the lens to the diameter of the aperture. The aperture controls the amount of light that can pass through the lens. Smaller apertures mean less light, larger apertures mean more. Each full f-stop step down cuts light in half, each full f-stop up doubles the amount of light.

The guy on the podcast rambled on about this for at least five minutes!

F-stops control depth of field

Wait, what? It does more than just control light? 'Fraid so.

I'm not going to dive too deep into this right now, but the aperture can also be used to control something called "depth of field." What's that all about?

Depth of field: In optics, particularly as it relates to film and photography, depth of field (DOF), also called focus range or effective focus range, is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.

We've all seen brilliant landscape photographs in which everything from the rocks in the near foreground to the distant mountains appear to be in sharp focus. A photo like this is said to have a deep or large depth of field. On the other hand, a portrait where the subject eyes are in sharp focus, but the background is nothing but a fantastic blur of color, is said to have a shallow depth of field.

There's a lot of math involved in figuring out exactly what will appear sharp and what won't, but the basic gist is that a small aperture will cause more depth to appear sharp (our landscape), while opening the aperture up will cause less to be sharp (our portrait).

The podcaster took another five minutes to describe this.

There's something called "hyperfocal distance" that can tell you what will and won't be sharp, but we'll talk about that another day.

Fuji X-E1 First Shot

20140401-DSCF0022 Shopping at B&H is probably the next best thing to supporting a local camera shop. I ordered my new Fujifilm X-E1 on Monday at around 3:30 in the afternoon, and last night, I was sitting at my kitchen table, eating dinner and fooling around setting the camera up.

The picture is certainly no award-winner, but I was just wanting to see what real-life, crappy lighting conditions could yield. The image is a JPEG straight from the camera, including the 1:1 crop. The only thing I did in Lightroom was to add the copyright, and re-size to 1080 pixels for the blog.

The picture itself won't win any awards. But it does demonstrate how usable an image the camera can make in bad lighting at ISO 3200.

Fujifilm X-E1, ISO 25,600, 1/100, f/4, 55mm

For giggles and grins, I did take one image at the camera's maximum ISO of 25,600. The result was an image that probably wouldn't hold up to print, but would be okay for web use (the thumbnail is gorgeous, and the enlarged image looks better than my Sony at ISO 6400). In other words, I should not be afraid to really push the ISO with this camera, as I have been with all of my previous cameras. While most of my work won't call for doing that, it's nice to know I can if I need to.

Fujifilm X-E1, in-camera double-exposure

And, here's another cool thing: I can now do double-exposures in-camera! I haven't been able to do this since I stopped shooting film. Actually, the last camera I had that I could do a double-exposure with (if you don't count Hipstamatic on the iPhone) was my Canon AE-1! I don't necessarily have a lot of use for it, but I could conceivably create "Orton images" in camera, which could be fun.

X10 First Impression

20130917-080528.jpg After all the noise I've made about getting this new camera, I thought you might be interested in my first impressions. I've not taken any pictures with it to speak of -- I've just putzed around with the various settings either in the conference room at the office, or in the kitchen late last night -- so nothing worth posting yet. So these comments will be limited to the "look-and-feel" of the camera and controls. I'll do some subjective imaging impressions very soon.

Right off the bat, the X10 simply oozes quality. It is very reminiscent of classic rangefinders from the likes of Minolta, Konica and Contax. Some other folks have even compared various Fujifilm models to classic Leicas, and based on my first impression here, I can see why. Although a little smaller, the X10 has a feel that is very similar to the rangefinder models that I've used or handled.

The construction is all metal, with real leather applied. This is wholly unlike any of the competition at this price point -- similar models from Canon, for instance, are made of composite plastics. The controls feel solid, with detents that click positively into position. All of the buttons feel solid and are well placed. The only control that concerns me is the sub-command dial that surrounds the 4-way switch. It's made of an engineering plastic that I know is very strong, but the part is fairly thin and feels just slightly flimsy. I don't remember reading any user complaints about, and Fujifilm used the same part on the step-up X20, so I'm confident that it should hold up just fine.

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My X10 from Wolfe's came with the original Fujifilm "ever-ready" case thrown in (it regularly sells for about $50!), which, like the rangefinders of the past, must be removed to access the battery or "film" compartment. Fujifilm have redesigned the case since the original model to allow access to the batter and SD card compartment without having to remove the case.

I'm really looking forward to getting out and shooting the X10 this week and weekend.

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Let Me Make This Perfectly Clear

A couple weeks back, Rick Sammon posted on his blog about a plug-in called Perfectly Clear. He also talked briefly about it during the workshop we attended. I finally got around to trying it out a little bit today.

In this case, the effect is subtle, as I'd already done a fair amount of work on the image. But, the already decent image got a lot snappier after a literally single-click adjustment.

Here are a few more I fooled around with at lunch today. Some worked really well.