That Rule Against Bald Skies

Lots of landscape photographers will tell you not to shoot when the sky is bare.  Cloudless skies make for boring images. Moose Peterson calls them bald skies.   And most of the time the rule holds up.  Still that rule like all the others are meant to be broken.  If I followed the rules I probably should have just left my camera at home last Saturday. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky ( Florida in February, 83 degrees and lots of sun ).

Still my eye caught the completely still water of the pond at Epcot. When you see something of interest you shoot now and ask questions later. Later like when you have the image open in Lightroom.

Still Life – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm F/2.8 R LM WR

For me this image works because there are no clouds in the sky. Several reasons why. I think the dark blue at the top and bottom of the image holds the eye in the image where you then have time to see all the colorful things going on between the Monorail track and it’s reflection. Also Spaceship Earth, the big dome, might have gotten lost in the clouds had the been there.

Don’t try to stick to much to the rules. Shoot the shots.

Although I like the color image with no clouds, converting it to black and white does not work at all for me. Since the center section has no color the eye doesn’t go there. So the rule works, or it doesn’t.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 16-55mm F/2.8 R LM WR


Transformations

The recent update of Lightroom CC includes a new development panel called Transform.  Among the options on this new panel is the Guided transform which lets you show Lightroom just how you want to straighten  your image.  It also includes an Auto transform which does a pretty good job on most images.

If a perfect world you might never need to align or crop any of your images. But in the real world there is times when having good tools to adjust your image makes life so much easier.  Take this image that I transformed using the Auto transform. The transformation is pretty spectacular in that not only gave me the image I saw in my head, it did it with out losing any resolution. The image is still a 24mp (6000×4000 pixel) file.

The original image needed some work. This was because it was taken at Epcot on a crowded day and anything close to a straight image would have showed a lot of the crowd. If i could have the place to myself with a tilt-shift lens for my Fujifilm X-T2 I might have been able to get it done in camera. But I am really happy with the way it came out and I have no bad feelings about how the image was made.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 16-55mm F/2.8 R LM WR


Sky Above

Sky Above Fujifilm X-T2 XF 10-24mm F/4 R OIS ISO 1600 F/4 for 20 Seconds at 10mm

The Fujifilm XF Lens Roadmap hasn’t been updated since last year. Now rumors are about that they going to be producing a XF 8-16mm F/2.8 lens sometime this year. It makes sense to me as that completes the Pro series equivalents of constant F/2.8, 12-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm lens other manufacturers offer. For night sky photography wide angle fast glass is the way to go. Last night I dashed outside to capture a few images of Orion and the surrounding stars. I used my XF 10-24mm F/4 R OIS lens and I really did wish I had that extra stop of aperture. At F4 i had to keep the shutter open for 20 seconds at ISO 1600. You may not notice it (in fact you may not see many stars in the small image presented but click on the image for a larger image) but there is definite movement at that shutter speed. With a lens the opens to F/2.8 I would have been able to cut the exposure time down to 10 seconds and it probably would have made a difference in the sharpness of the image.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS

It’s nice to live in Florida where even in Winter you can have a clear night with temperatures not too cold. 

Common Sense Approach To Learning Photography

There is a really big bunch of instructions out on the internet about learning photography. From free 2 minute videos to subscription education. In fact there is so much stuff if you watched it all you probably would not have time to actually take any photographs but boy would you know about photography. I catch myself every once a while thinking that with all the video’s I watch that anytime I put camera to eye I ought to come out with perfect images suitable for framing and have admiring throngs patting me on the back for a job well done.

Yeah, it just doesn’t roll like that. So I set about thinking how I could use my own equipment to learn photography. And I think this is one of the great things about digital photography, you can shoot and shoot without burning through expensive film and developing. I came up with several things that I could do to prove what others were trying to teach but in concrete ways.

First step was to allow myself to take images that weren’t just “art projects”, to make images that proved a point and also provided examples of how my equipment (in this case my Fujifilm cameras and Lenses) actually performed. So I have some suggestions for you on how to improve your skills, get a real feel for what your camera can do, and maybe even learn a little something.

To take the pressure off yourself I might suggest that your learning and testing be put in its own Lightroom catalog. Someplace where mistakes and experiments can live without the worry about being good.

So here is some tests that I recently did. First was a series of tests to evaluate how well I was getting the focus on my camera. I took a series of images where I marked down where the focal point of the image was and then verified that it was indeed the focus point. When doing testing you always want to make sure that there is only one thing being varied for each shot. So I locked down the Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR lens on the a tripod, set the ISO to 200, the aperture to f/8, and let the shutter speed go to 1/5th second1. I used the focus joystick to move around the image to put either Spot’s eyes (well sunglasses) his mouth or my friend the ducks eyes into focus.

This gave me a good feeling that the camera and lens is capable of getting good focus if I let it do it job.

Another thing I decided to do for myself it to look at depth of field as related to aperture. Using the same setup I shot a number of images all with the same focus point on spots sunglasses and varied the F-stop from F/2.8 to F/16. This gives me a concrete example of how much is in focus in an image at different F-stops. Note: this is only for one lens (XF 16-55) set to 55mm but it gives you an idea of a starting point. Depth of field is not just affected by f-stop but is also affected by the width of your lens. You need to experiment more than I did here.

Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 at F2.8
Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 at F4.0
Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 at F5.6
Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 at F8
Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 at F11
Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 at F14
Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 at F16

The third experiment I did was testing how my image was affected by exposure compensation. The following images were taking with the exposure compensation set from minus 2 to + 2 stops. The middle image being the one with no compensation.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of testing you can do to get to know your camera and maybe just maybe learn a few things. There are many more experiments you can do when you take off the pressure to make every image count. I would also like to thank Spot and Duck for hanging with me even when they fell off the stage and on to the floor.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2
Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

1I used natural light for all the images as it was available and did not add to the complexity of the shots by trying to use flash.

The Plight of the Self Employed

I’ve been self employed for the last 23 years. It has advantages, name your own hours, work from home mostly, doing what you love to do. One of the downsides of self employment is getting sick. As a guy who writes programs for a living I usually can muddle thru a cold as for the most part if I keep my nose from running and shorting out my keyboard I can still send out the invoice at the end of the week. When being self employed requires you to go out in the real world, be it writing code, taking pictures, or other such fun stuff, feeling less than prefect is not well, fun.

While I have been rather heathy, this is my first cold in probably 5 years, it does make some parts of the job at hand harder to do. So my advise is if you can, take a down day (yeah probably not if you have a team of twenty descending on a photoshoot). Time spent recovering early in the sickness may keep you from having a longer illness.

You can still be semi-productive if you have stayed at home to recover. Things I like to do between hacking fits:

  • Process  images I have not had time to get to.
  • Clean up social media. Websites don’t fix themselves.
  • Clean up email (unless that is what made you sick in the first place).
  • Be feverishly creative. Make a virtual copy an image and see how far I can take it. Push that vibrance slider really far remove all clarity, twist it poke it, reverse it. Remember the have an excuse (I was out of my head).
  • Don’t get overwhelmed by the down time.
  • Research a new project or product that you have wanted to try. (Today I spent a couple of hours reading about a programming environment I might need to know for a new client. Geeky I know)).

Note: If it’s Mission Critical put it aside. It will take longer to fix if it more borked.

Bridge (St Augustine) Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR ISO 200 f/11 10 seconds at 55mm

And just relax, take a nap, get better, and work at keeping yourself healthy.

Finding Atlantis with the Fujifilm X-T2

I’m not one that is enamored with cameras that can see in the dark. I could care less about cameras with claimed ISO ratings that go up to 200000 megawatts or what ever.. My personal philosophy is always find more light. However, in some cases, I will let myself become a high ISO fan boy. If you ever get near the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center in central Florida, there are a couple of photographic opportunities that you will really appreciate having a bit of extra ISO in your camera.

Atlantis, External Tank and Boosters Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 1/800 second F8 ISO 200 16mm

The first thing you need to see there is the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. You can’t miss it, as it is dominated by the external fuel tank, which you pass on the way into the parking lot. Outside you don’t need to worry about ISO especially on a bright sunny day.

I have to say the people at the KSC Visitor Center have perfected the art of the reveal with the Atlantis exhibit and also with the older Saturn 5 exhibit that is a bus ride away from the center.  I’ve seen Atlantis at least 4 times now and I still get emotional as Atlantis is revealed. In fact I’ve hidden the revealed Atlantis on a separate page so you can experience seeing it for the first time there. If you can’t wait, click here to see Atlantis.

Once inside you have great access to Atlantis and to a full size mockup of the Hubble Telescope.  The great thing about Atlantis is that they have preserved it just as it was when it landed for the last time in 2011, complete with scorch marks.

Atlantis Cockpit With Scorch Marks Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 ISO 640 1/125 second f/2.8 24.7mm

You can bring a tripod into these exhibits but they do ask you not to use flash. Having the capability to shoot at ISO 1600 – 3200 and get clean files makes it more enjoyable than lugging a tripod around. The Fujifilm X-T2 is a perfect camera for hand held shooting in this context. If you are an HDR person by all means bring the tripod and work with longer exposures and lower ISO’s (especially hand with shooting the tiles under the spacecraft.)

Engines Space Shuttle Atlantis – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm F2.8 ISO 3200 1/30 second f/2.8 16mm

The lighting inside is all over the place and it probably best to just accept the color casts and go with the flow. This is also a good environment to convert to black and white.

Atlantis Tail Surfaces – Fujifilm X-T2 Xf 16-55mm f/2.8 ISO 2000 1/125 second f/2.8 24mm

The ACROS film simulation was applied here where the tungsten and bright blue lighting were hard to control. You have all the time you want to discover the spacecraft and you can walk underneath the shuttle to get a good close look at the tiles. There are a number of other things to see within the exhibit. It is a great learning experience for the kids too.

When you’ve finished viewing Atlantis, get over to the buses and head out to the Saturn 5 exhibit. The bus ride takes up to 40 minutes . Our ride included a view of the Vehicle Assembly Building (huge, huge, huge) and a drive past Launch Pad 39B where the Shuttles were launched. This might not be the same route you have as the occasionally they do launch rockets from these active launch pads. While the ride is bumpy you can get a shots of the launch pads. You just have to compensate for the green tints in the bus windows.

Saturn 5 Motors – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.9 ISO 1600 1/125 second f2.8 16mm

While the shuttle seems big up close the Saturn 5 rocket that launched astronauts to the moon (and back) just goes on and on. I think most people could stand inside of one of the first stage rocket motors of the Saturn 5.

Saturn 5 Third Stage Rocket – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 ISO 3200 1/90 seconds f2/8

The building that houses the Saturn 5 exhibit does have a row of windows on the south side of the building which adds daylight or sunset light to the mix of multiple light sources.  Once again go with the flow.  The above images was a bit hard in that if you corrected for the white ball on the upper left of the image, the yellow outer band turns green. Just let things play out, it’s all about the images you can make.

Saturn 5 Motor – Xf 16-55mm f/2.8 ISO 2500 1/125 second f/2.8 47.2mm

Here again playing with the Fujifilm ACROS film simulations in post production.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex is a wonder full place to visit and one that you can get some stunning images with the Fujifilm X-T2.

For the most part I shot the images with Auto ISO and shutter speeds, I default mine to a minimum of 1/125 of a second and a maximum ISO of 3200.  Worked here with all but one image where I had to let the shutter speed go to 1/30 of a second and held the camera very very steady.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2
Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

On The Level

Digital cameras have all sort of things to assist you in making images. Automagical stuff like focus assistance and white balance determination. Informational stuff like current shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.  The information you can display while you are looking thru the viewfinder or at the LCD screen can be very helpful, and sometimes it can actually distract from your image making.

Most of the Fujifilm X series cameras have all sorts of things you can put on the screen before and after you have taken a shot. One of the things that I came to rely on is the Electronic Level1. It was the first thing I turned on when I got the X-T1 and also the X-T2. The Level as well as a rule of thirds, ninths,twelve grids can be turned on by check boxes on the Display Custom Setting menu on the Tools -> Screen Setting -> Disp. Custom Setting menu.

Screen Setting Display Custom Setting under the Tool menu
Display Custom Setting Check Boxes

When the Electronic Level check box is checked there is a line across the view screen that shows as white when not level and green when level. Get the line level and you image will come out level, not needing any post processing adjustments to the frame.

Electronic Level (Green)

And the other day I turned it off. The reason I no longer use it is that it becomes distracting when shooting. If, like I was, you are looking at the line to make sure its green you are no longer looking at the image. Getting the line to go greens may mean that the image that the camera is capturing is not the image you saw in you minds eye. Subtle shifts may introduce distractions along the edges or as I tended to do, move the fram up or down missing important details. As a photographer you are responsible for the entire image not just that it is straight. So I’m getting used to taking the energy I was using making sure the camera is straight to making sure the image I capture is the image I wanted.

I am finding that I am not usually off by more than a degree or two.   Of course there are some situation where you don’t even want a level image. Then the level just gets in your way.

Eat – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 ISO 200 f/2.8 1/2200 second at 54.1mm

One of my personal projects is shooting clouds. If I don’t have any references in my image to the ground, buildings, trees or the what not, I really don’t care what is level.

Conjunction – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 ISO 200 F11 1/1500 second at 48.5mm

I would also suggest ignoring the grid layouts as you should concentrate on the image and not necessarily if it matched the rule of thirds or any other distracting rules. Actually I would suggest you work at getting images that look balanced to you without any aids then use post production to see how close you are to the “RULES”.

If you are doing landscapes (or any other image type for that matter) on a tripod by all means turn on the electronic level and get your self all set up to make the best picture you
can. You can alway turn off the display if it starts to bother you.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2
Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

1Other manufactures have different names for the level. Nikon calls it the “Virtual Horizon”.

When Things Go Wrong

Learned a valuable lesson yesterday.  I was shooting interiors the other day, experimenting with a single flash along with a slow shutter speed to pick up some ambient light. When I was done with the experiments I was able to put away all the gear I had out to take the shots.

Christmas Table

Because I was primarily using flash, I was in manual mode ISO 400 F10 1/60second. While I put away all the lighting gear I did not reset the camera to the standard aperture settings. So when I came across this unusual recreational vehicle in a parking lot I was so excited to capture images that I didn’t check my camera settings and ended up with way over exposed images. I have only the photographer to blame. I may have to fire him.

Vixen 21TD

By the way this is a 1986 (I think) Vixen 21TD camper. It is complete with bathroom, kitchen, and a BMW turbo diesel motor. It was from a small Michigan company that only lasted 3 years. Interesting vehicle, so blown out that the only way I could even try to save it was to turn it to black and white.

Still kicking myself over this one. Moral of story, reset your camera to your standard setting after every time you use something different in the settings. Don’t wait. Or alway shoot in manual mode so you know you need to set the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed with each image shot.

So if anyone has a Vixen they would like photographed please contact me. I can do the job right (I hope).

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2
Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

Common Sense Take on Digital Versus Film

They say when sensor size reached 16mp that digital cameras out resolved 35mm film. You can now make images with more informational density than you ever could with film. I’m now shooting with a 24mp cropped sensor Fujifilm X-T2 which has great resolution when paired with the right lenses. I’m pretty happy with that.

Tree Of Life (with kangaroos) Fujifilm X-T2 XF 50-150

I’m not sure I understand why some people insist on shooting film. Some say this is because they feel that shooting film is a more real experience. I’m not one of those people. I did do film back when film was all there was. Other than the moment you take the film out of the final rinse and see that there are actual images negatives, the whole process takes a lot of time with, in my case, not that much success. I have to admit that working out of a bathroom was not the most complete setup for developing film.

On the film side they say that having the limit of 36 images in a roll makes each image more precious and forces you to take your time getting the intended shot. That there is something about the silver grain that makes film images special. I have seen some wonderfully processed analog film images. I’ve also seen a lot of digital images that have been wonderfully processed. And that most of the wonderful analog images I’ve seen have only been viewed digitally.

I guess the real difference is that some people like to explore the craftsmanship of mixing chemicals and keeping to time and temperature regimes. That may be the difference between analog and digital processing.  A different set of craftsman skills needed. Because when it comes down to it making the image is the artistic part of the process, developing it is the craft part of it.

Shooting film is, as it has been since the first long ago exposure, determine the exposure, click the shutter,  capture the image. Which is just like the digital process, exposure then click.

The post processing part is what is different. While analog printing is still being done, a lot of  processed film negatives are being digitized, imported into Lightroom or Photoshop and then turned to positives for output to the web or a digital printer.

So the real difference between the two is just the chemical processing of film. Everything else pretty much comes out even.

As to the forced slowing down of the process when shooting film, you can do the same thing with digital. You can force yourself into slowing down your digital shooting. Give yourself a limit of the number of frames you can shoot in an hour. Say it takes an hour to shoot 36 exposures on film, which, by the way, works out to one image about every two minutes. Give yourself the same challenge with your digital camera. Expose no more than 36 frames on your digital camera in one hours. Process and work to getting the good shots in the 36 frames.

Still at some point the digital image will succeed where the film image might not. Here is a 100% detail of the Tree Of Life image. The detail retained by an camera sensor and lens from 75 yards is truly amazing.

Tree of Life (with kangaroos) 100% detail

I think I’ll stick to the digital images and spend the saved development time to expand my skills as a photographic artist.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and Fujinon XF50-140mm F2.i R LM OIS WR at Amazon