Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Photoessay: Downtown Salt Lake City, Part 1: Monochrome

South On Main Street - Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City has a pretty cool downtown. It's a mix of new and old, trendy and traditional--there are contrasts of all sorts. There are tons of different shops, restaurants, museums, etc. It's a great place to visit, and it's a great place to photograph.

Living a short distance from downtown allows me the opportunity to capture it. One such chance came up a week and a half ago. I drove downtown and then walked around the City Creek Mall, went a little inside Temple Square, and traversed beneath the skyscrapers. I brought along with me my Fuji X-E1 with an 18-55mm lens attached.

Over about an hour and forty five minutes I captured a number of exposures. It was a mix of architectural photographs, "cityscapes" and street images. I'm posting the black-and-white images in this article, and the color images in Part 2.

Going downtown was a lot of fun. There were interesting sights to see and plenty to point my camera towards. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what one can experience downtown and the photographic potential of this location. I'm looking forward to returning many times in the future.

Part 2
Walker Center - Salt Lake City, Utah
Urban Reflection - Salt Lake City, Utah
Abstract Window - Salt Lake City, Utah
Macy's In Monochrome - Salt Lake City, Utah
Holes In The Roof - Salt Lake City, Utah
Don't Text & Bike - Salt Lake City, Utah
Could Should - Salt Lake City, Utah
Shops - Salt Lake City, Utah
Steps & Shadows - Salt Lake City, Utah
Urban View - Salt Lake City, Utah
Mall Reflection - Salt Lake City, Utah
A Downtown Building - Salt Lake City, Utah
Skylight Lines - Salt Lake City, Utah
Urban Curve Monochrome - Salt Lake City, Utah
Behind The Lines - Salt Lake City, Utah

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Am I A Fuji Fanboy?

Fujifilm X-E1 & 18-55mm Lens
Ever since I bought myself a Fuji X-E1 I've been singing its praises. It's not exactly a new camera, yet after I began using it I realized that my other digital gear was only going to collect dust, so I sold them off. The Fuji camera is fantastic and I love using it!

Because I've been so impressed with the camera and talking about it so much, I've been accused of becoming another one of "those" Fuji fanboys. A camera fanboy is someone who talks highly of one brand and negatively of the other brands. They unfairly hold one brand up too high and the other brands down too low.

I don't think I'm a Fuji Fanboy because I'm not talking negatively of other brands. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, etc., all make excellent products. I know this because I've used these brands at one time or another. I don't have anything bad to say about them, and if you are using their gear that's great.

But I have been talking highly of Fuji. That's because they've done some things different that I really appreciate. It's like they had me in mind when the designed the camera, and so it's been a real joy to use it. You may not think the same way about it, and that's alright. Different strokes for different folks, right?
Steps - Salt Lake City, Utah
Fuji X-E1 and 18-55mm lens.
So what is it about the Fuji X-E1 that I like so much? Really, it's the same for all X-Trans cameras, not just the X-E1, but the X-E1 is the one that I own.

First, Fuji did away with the PASM dial. And I realized very quickly how completely unnecessary and (in my opinion) dumb that dial is. Instead, Fuji went old-school and put an aperture ring on their lenses and a shutter speed dial on the body.

Want to shoot in Aperture Priority? Set the shutter speed to A. Want to shoot in Shutter Priority? Set the aperture to A. Want to shoot in Manual Mode? Set the aperture and shutter to what you want them to be. Want to shoot in Program Mode? Set the aperture and shutter to A and select the ISO that you want. Want to shoot in full auto? Set the aperture and shutter to A and select auto-ISO. That's all simple and logical and with fewer menu options.

Using the camera is a more mechanical experience. There are dials and rings instead of buttons and menus. I'm not looking at the rear screen so much. While looking through the viewfinder I simply turn wheels that adjust everything that I need to adjust--they're all easily reached. It reminds me of using classic film cameras. Fuji has simplified the process and made the experience feel less digital. For me that's wonderful!
Night At Mirror Lake - Mirror Lake, Utah
Fuji X-E1 and 18-55mm lens.
Next is Fuji's unique X-Trans sensor. Actually, the sensor is an "ordinary" Sony 16-megapixel (now 24-megapixel on the newest cameras) APS-C sized sensor that's been used in a lot of different cameras (Sony, Nikon and Pentax have all used this sensor). What makes Fuji's different is the color filter array that they use.

It's semi-random design makes the use of the sharpness-stealing optical-low-pass filter unnecessary. That's not a huge deal and some would argue that it's not completely necessary with the tradition Bayer color filter array (in fact, the Ricoh/Pentax GR has the Sony 16-megapixel sensor with a Bayer color filter array and without an optical-low-pass filter). So it's a good thing, but not necessarily a top benefit of the X-Trans sensor.

Because of the semi-random color filter array, the X-Trans sensor has 55% green light-sensitive elements, 22.5% red light-sensitive elements and 22.5% blue light-sensitive elements. A Bayer color filter array has 50% green, 25% red and 25% blue. Since the majority of luminosity information comes from the green light-sensitive elements (red and blue are used primarily for color information), the X-Trans has a greater ability to gather light information.

What this means for the photographer is that the X-Trans sensor has a one-stop high-ISO advantage over the best high-ISO APS-C sensors, and an even greater high-ISO advantage over the same sensor with a Bayer color filter array instead of the X-Trans color filter array. The X-Trans cameras have an ISO capability similar to some full-frame cameras.
I Am Nature - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Fuji X-E1 and 18-55mm lens.
I should also mention that the way the digital noise looks is more film-grain-like than any other digital camera that I've ever used. This is because it is desaturated with almost no color. I'm not sure if this is clever processing or a direct result of the color filter array, but however it is achieved I much prefer it over the digital noise found in other cameras.

The X-Trans cameras have a greater dynamic range over their Bayer counterparts. This is also because of the extra green light-sensitive elements on the sensor, which allow for more room in the shadows.

But here's the thing: all digital cameras nowadays are capable of producing good image quality. It's nearly impossible to find one that isn't capable. The outcome of an image is predicated on the one using the gear and not the gear itself. It doesn't really matter that the X-E1 is a little bit better in this area or that area, it only matters what I do with it. So all that I've said about image quality means very little.

Fuji has developed a reputation for having excellent lenses. They seem to be just a notch better than much of the competition. I can attest to this! Even their basic "kit" zoom is good, better than any I've used from other brands. Glass is just as important, if not more important, than the sensor. But, again, every camera brand has excellent lenses available, so the advantage for Fuji is really small. And it might be negated altogether by price and somewhat limited options.
Urban Bicyclist - Salt Lake City, Utah
Fuji X-E1 and 18-55mm lens.
But here is something that to me does matter: Fuji's in-camera JPEG processing. I don't have the time to post-process a bunch of RAW files anymore. I no longer desire to sit in front of a computer manipulating RAW images. I've done my fair share of RAW development and I'm just not interested in it any longer. Fuji's very good JPEG engine is the number one reason that I love using a Fuji camera.

I rarely post-process RAW files anymore. The JPEGs that come out of the camera look a lot like post-processed RAW files. And if I got some setting wrong, because I shoot RAW+JPEG, I can go back and reprocess the RAW file in-camera and get the JPEG that I meant to create. It only takes a moment. I almost never edit pictures on a computer anymore because I don't have a reason to.

When I have edited RAW files from the X-E1 on my computer, they never turn out much different than the JPEGs, and I ask myself why I spent all that time editing to gain almost nothing. In most cases it's just not worth it. The JPEGs simply look great! It just takes a little extra care "in the field" to make sure that everything is set as I want it.

The two things, really, that make the Fuji X-E1 stand out from the crowd: design and JPEG processing. There are other good points, too, but only two that really hold a lot of weight for me. Do these things make me a Fuji fanboy? No, because I'd like to see other camera manufacturers incorporate them into their gear.
Umbrella Abstract - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Fuji X-E1 and 18-55mm lens.
Why can't Nikon or Sony or Canon or whoever else make simple controls that don't use a PASM dial? (I know, Nikon halfheartedly tried and it didn't turn out so well). Why can't these companies improve their out-of-camera JPEGs so that they look more like post-processed RAW files? I think that they could and I hope that they do.

Someone wanted to know if I'm getting paid by Fuji or getting free stuff from them or are one of their "ambassador" photographers. The answer is no. I've never been contacted by Fuji or received anything from them. However, I'm flattered by the suggestion, because the Fuji "ambassadors" are all very talented photographers, and to be mentioned with them is a compliment, even if it is unintentional and undeserved.

I'm just a photographer who uses a Fuji camera. The gear I use works well for me. Use whatever it is that works best for you, and use it to the best of your ability.

I am not a Fuji fanboy. But I do like their products a whole bunch.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sometimes Photography Opportunities Come To You

Trees & Rainbow - South Weber, Utah
Photography is about being in the right place at the right time with photographic vision. That often means travelling (sometimes really far) to the "right place" in order to be there at the "right time" to capture interesting images. But not always.

Sometimes photography opportunities come to you. You don't have to go anywhere because you are already right where you need to be.

One evening earlier this month I was in my front yard with my kids. They were playing and I was keeping an eye on them. I was also watching a summer thunderstorm approach.

My front yard doesn't offer any interesting views. I'm in a pretty standard suburban neighborhood, and mostly all you see are other people's houses. There is very little of anything that I'd consider photo worthy in my front yard.
Sunset Rain - South Weber, Utah
But this approaching storm, coupled with a sunset, was bringing some great light drama. Very quickly the ordinary sights were becoming extraordinary. I quickly grabbed my camera--a Fujifilm X-E1--and began capturing images.

It was still very difficult to compose interesting photographs, even with some amazing light and color happening. I did the best that I could with what I had to work with. That's all you can do. I think I managed a few good pictures.

Just as the show was ending some rain began to fall on us, so we headed inside. That's when we noticed that the backyard was looking good. So we sat on our back porch and watched. My backyard view, which shows the Wasatch Mountains and Weber Canyon, is far superior to the front yard view.

The clouds to the east were showing the sunset colors. The mountains were red from the last sunset light. Very quickly it was gone. I stayed outside, putting my camera on a tripod, and captured the moving clouds. Soon it was getting dark so we went back inside.

I didn't have to go anywhere. Everything unfolded in front of me right at my house. All I had to do was grab my camera. These opportunities are rare, and I'm glad I was able to capture it.
Basketball Hoop Sunset - South Weber, Utah
South Weber Sunset - South Weber, Utah
Umbrella Girl - South Weber, Utah
Weber Canyon Sunset - South Weber, Utah
Moving Sky #1 - South Weber, Utah
Moving Sky #2 - South Weber, Utah

Friday, August 26, 2016

I Found An Old Print

Airport Lobby - McKinney, Texas
I've been capturing images for almost 20 years. I get asked sometimes to show my "early" photographic work. That's been difficult for me to do because it practically doesn't exist anymore.

Back in 2003 my house was broken into, and the things that were stolen were an odd group. Among the frozen corn dogs and broken CD player were many of my favorite black-and-white prints.

These prints I made myself. I developed the film. I worked in a darkroom with an enlarger and chemical baths and such. This was old school. These were not easily replaced pictures!

I have many of the 35mm color transparencies I captured from that era, but I don't have a slide scanner. I've been meaning to have my favorites professionally scanned, but that's not cheap and so it's not been a priority.

Back in 2004 a friend of a friend had a slide scanner and agreed to scan some of my transparencies. He never got around to it and he never returned the slides. He moved away, and not long later I moved away. I'll never see those photographs again.

That's what I mean when I say that these "early" photographs of mine don't hardly exist anymore. Many have been stolen. I don't have them and I won't ever see them. They might be in a landfill someplace.

Besides that, many of my old photographs weren't all that good. I thought they were very good at the time, but looking back they were mostly mediocre. And my tastes and style have changed, too. I find myself embarrassed by much of my old work. My photography today is superior, so I'd much rather show you that.

A few days ago I stumbled across an old print of mine that's been sitting in a box for years. It's the image you see at top, Airport Lobby, and I captured and printed it in 1999. It was a part of my "final" project for Photography 102 in college. It was one of 10 prints for that project, and likely my best of the bunch. The college had a gallery, and this image hung in that gallery for a month.

As best as I can remember, I used Ilford Delta 100 film printed on Agfa Classic fiber-based paper. I used a split contrast filter technique during printing. The camera was a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm lens attached. I believe I used a yellow filter. I scanned the print with my cheap all-in-one Epson printer so that I could share the image with you here.

If there is one photograph of mine from way back when that I'm most proud of and that has best stood the test of time, it is Airport Lobby. It fits well into my current tastes and style, and perhaps foreshadowed who I am photographically today. And it's a small miracle that the photograph still exists.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday National Park Service

El Capitan - Yosemite National Park, California
The United States National Park Service is 100 years old today! It was created by Congress on August 25, 1916.

The first National Park predates the National Park Service. Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872. Yosemite was the first nationally protected land--by act of Congress and signed by Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864, although it wasn't officially a National Park until 1916.

National Parks are great for photography. Some of my favorite images I captured in a national park. I love visiting them! I hope to get to a few more within the next several months.

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