Skip to main content

Pretty Good Hat

Tag: photography

What I Found in my Photos

There’s some research somewhere — or perhaps merely a critical contention — that focusing on taking pictures instead of appreciating the moment inhibits our formation of memory. That is, the argument goes, all our social media documenting makes those moments increasingly fleeting and uncaptured. Well, I spent a good chunk of yesterday slowly making my way through 2007 in photos,1 and was struck again and again by those memories. I took more than 4,000 photos in 2007; when I scroll through those images I am astounded by what I remember.

I shared many of those photos at the time. I was trying out my first Project 365 on flickr, and I posted at least one and sometimes several pictures per day. It was a pretty big year for me: I lived on my own in Seattle for a while during a predoctoral internship; finished my dissertation and graduated; interviewed for some jobs; made a significant career change; bought a house; and captured hundreds more daily snippets of life because I was basically taking pictures all the time. Walking through not ony the pictures that I shared, but the photos that I didn’t share, brings me back this flood of recollections.

Don’t Forget to Remember This (At John Carey’s blog, which I discovered via Shawn Blanc) is a wonderful essay about why we take pictures and about the pressures that shape what we shoot, and for whom:

The challenges present in photography today are not in the devices we use to capture, it’s not in our approach, skill level, or what we think we need to create good photos; the problem today is in social pressure. Photography has quickly evolved in its short lifespan from revolutionary, to useful, to ubiquitous and full of expectation.

John Carey works through the conflict in contemporary photography between one’s own perspective and the aesthetic driven by likes, shares and faves. So much of what he says resonates deeply, all the moreso as I think about — and look at, again — the photos I never shared: My wife, my son, moments that might be snapshots or might be carefully composed but which were shut out of sharing because perhaps they weren’t fancy enough or evocative enough, or maybe just because I had already posted a couple that day.

Some of the pictures of my wife and son (born much later than the year of photos I have been poring over this weekend) are images I would love to share; they’re so beautiful, and pictures of people have so much vibrance and life to them, which I am always so happy to preserve. But they’re also private. The stars and comments of “great capture” might superficially validate me or make me feel like a portrait photographer with a fine eye. But a flickr friend’s heart would not feel what mine does when I find, again, that lucky photo of my wife suddenly laughing, so wonderfully bright and alive.

My current camera of choice is this wonderful Fuji X100S, but previously I shot with a Pentax K100D and a growing collection of prime lenses. It’s easy to be captivated by new, fun, fine gear: gear acquisition syndrome is driven just as heavily by the peer pressure to make photos like others' photos and in turn the notion that doing so requires having their gear. But as I look back at these older years' collections of photos I am also struck that some of those photos are really good. Not simply because I like the subject or I found a good moment, but technically good: They’re sharp, colorful, detailed. That’s a good little camera that’s now nearby on the shelf with its FA35mm lens mounted and ready to go; that combination perfectly fit my own photographic vision for years, and I loved going out and using it.2

John Carey again:

My compositions and developing have similar fingerprints in that they tell me a lot about how I felt when I made the photographs. Every click of the shutter for me is a moment worth remembering and it’s the memories that make photography so gratifying for me. I find so much to be thankful for when I look back through the images I have captured through the years.

Back to my own memories: Exploring the photos I made that year, I can’t say that I recall every single moment. Sometimes I was detailed enough to put in a pretty good caption. But in the context of the surrounding images, I get so much back: That was a photowalk around Bellevue; this was a hike on the Arizona trail (and that summer we hiked almost every day!); here’s the celebratory drink the night I decided to go for it; the job interview trip and Half Moon Bay with my grandfather; sitting in the backyard with the dogs and making coffee. Normal days and extraordinary days all lined up next to one another.

And on and on, now with my iPhone and Fuji (regarding which I must confess that I am beginning to feel some desire for the flexibility of point of view offered by an interchangeable lens system; that’s another desire re-kindled by my back catalog and many favorite 50mm images from the old Pentax); and even more with a boy now in preschool and a city and neighborhood that I still frequently walk, camera on my shoulder.

  1. Thanks to putting my entire photo catalog back online with my Synology box. ↩︎

  2. For what it’s worth, this is empirically borne out by my Lightroom photo stats from that era. For several years I ran some R statistics against my Lightroom library to produce all kinds of summary information about my metadata — like a perfect storm of my interests, photography plus geeky tinkering with code and visualizations! ↩︎

The Year in (my) Photos

One of the things I really enjoyed last year was picking up photography again, reinvogorated by a new camera and its creative potential. By far the favorite photos I made through the year, regardless of camera, are of my wife and our preschool son, but those are just for us. These are a bakers' dozen, particularly memorable for entirely arbitrary reasons, from among the rest.

lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2

More photography: Using the Fuji X100S and VSCO

Since buying the VSCO Film Pack 04 I’ve been post processing a lot of photos, and I am starting to get a feel for what I like and what seems to work well with the kinds of photos I enjoy shooting — and liking the results enough that I sprung for Film Pack 02 when it was on sale recently.



lightbox2  lightbox2

Working on some photo books over the weekend, I revisited some photos I made with my previous “big” camera, a now almost seven years-old DSLR that was my starting point for all of this hobbyist interest in photography. I have a shelf full of lenses and am deeply fond of many of the photos that came from them over the years, and proud of some of them, too. I picked up that camera for the first time in a while this weekend, organizing and cleaning up some bookshelves — It’s heavy. I had forgotten. I am so used to the weight and heft of the X100s, the feel of the shutter, and that big optical viewfinder, I think it would be hard to go back. I love its output and I love to use it.

A good tool encourages its user to explore its capabilities, to learn to be most effective or creative or (day I say) productive. This camera rewards my efforts to get better. I don’t have illusions about being a good photographer because I have a nice camera, but having a camera that makes even my hobby shooting feel like something that approaches a craft gives me a great incentive to learn and improve — and it’s a real kick.

Telling stories


Robert Boyer seems unfairly prolific at the photography-writing thing. I cribbed from his post about Fujifilm X100S settings and found his tips a great starting point.

Another influence was a forum discussion about telling stories through photos; that thread (dpreview?) is lost to me now — should have saved to pinboard — but a google search led me to another of Boyer’s recent posts, Fuji X100S - Story Telling Device:

If we bottom-line this whole photography endeavor the entire exercise boils down to telling a story. With all the pigeon-holed genres the one thing in common is that inside each an images success or failure is ultimately based on how effectively it tells a story or maybe part of a story.

This is so key. Debates over bokeh and pixel-peeping, smeared foliage and focus speed (all weighed against price and/or status as a “real” camera/photographer) fill the internet with noise but so often the technical details leave out the quality of an image to tell a story.


I won’t claim to be any good at this, but I’m trying to keep this all in mind.

So. We went on vacation the past week or so, road-tripping through southern Utah and on up to the Salt Lake City area, and man I shot a ton of photos. At one point in Bryce Canyon, stopping to shoot every hundred feet or so along a trail winding up the rim of an amphitheater, I self-consciously noted that I really didn’t have any idea what would make one of these photos better than the others. Deepening sunset was changing the light, and as we walked our angle changed, too. I made some in black and white, did some panos, experimented with depth of field and persuaded my exasperated wife to stand for just a few more portraits against the canyon background.

(A note on black and white: There’s a lot to love about the out-of-camera JPGs from the X100s. The great flexibility I get from shooting in JPG+raw is that I can work up a raw image if I don’t like the JPG so much; and if I shoot a black and white JPG and start to wonder what it looks like in color, well there’s the raw.)

(But, and this aside is becoming less of one, using film modes such as the BW setting gives me a valuable intent. This one’s black and white I tell myself and the X100S chimps at me to prove it after I click the shutter. The same goes for the other film mode settings: Great sunset, let’s try it in Velvia, etc. I’m eager to get those full-size JPGs off the card to see how they match my vision at the time and my intent with the film mode. Thinking about those film modes becomes part of the telling of the story — If I have the presence of mind to compose it, of course.)

In his post, Robert Boyer lists a handful of storytelling questions to ask of his photos, and I love how detailed he gets in this inventory:

  • What’s going on here at the image at the top?
  • Girl or boy?
  • How old?
  • What’s the time of day?
  • Time of year?
  • Hot or cold?
  • Modern or antique?
  • Sunny or cloudy?
  • Indoors or out?

So anyway I’m thinking as I take photo after photo of this spectacular landscape something to the effect of “I don’t know what will make this one of the tree more interesting than this one with just the hoodoos, so I’ll keep shooting lots.” Later, in Lightroom, comes trying to filter the photos and look for some keepers with questions like:

How did we get way up here? What’s it feel like to stand in that spot? Can a photo hint at the smell of rain way out there? (Also: Am I focused where I want to be? Should I adjust exposure? DOF?? Was that lightning? The signs at the trailhead said to get the hell off the ridge if there’s lightning.)

I think the point as I do this more is to try to front-load the picture-taking itself with those questions (the same way that using a film mode begins to hint at the intended effect of a photo), and then compose the photos accordingly. But one step at a time, right?


After all that, did I get a story? Well hell, hard to say. I do know that I really love trying. Right now, figuring out the balance of right technical elements and narrative components of the photo is just a great ball of fun.


Did you notice you can click the images in this post to bring up a lightbox view of all the images from the post? It’s something I’m trying out, using the lightview toolkit.

DPReview Fuji X100S review

Posted today:

The excellent quality of the X100S’s in-camera JPEG processing means that for many purposes it makes perfect sense to shoot JPEG+RAW with the intent of using the JPEG by default, and only resorting to the Raws when you want to pay an image special attention, as in the examples above. The most obvious case when you’d need the extra latitude of a Raw file is when you want to adjust white balance post-capture.

This is exactly how I shoot with it, and I’ve found it to work really well. If an image doesn’t have some quality I’m looking for and some minor adjustements to the jpg don’t give it to me (Lightroom can do a lot with a jpg!), I work up the raw file and see how it goes.

On dynamic range:

An alternative way of thinking about this is that DR200 is like underexposing a stop to retain highlights then adjusting the brightness afterwards, and DR400 is like underexposing by two stops and adjusting further. Because of this, the minimum ISO available in each mode is limited: ISO 400 at DR200, and ISO 800 at DR400. The flipside to this approach is shown by ISO 100, which is effectively the opposite; i.e. ISO200 overexposed by a stop then pulled-down in processing. This results in the loss of stop of highlight range - to all intents and purposes it counts as DR50, and should therefore normally be avoided. (Note ISO 100 is only available in JPEG anyway).

As usual for DPR, this is a detailed review that can teach someone already using the camera a lot about how it’s put together, what its capabilities are, and how to get the most from it.

Between ISO 200 and 800 the X100S delivers images which contain effectively no visible noise. This, coupled with the inclusion of a 3-stop ND filter means that it is entirely possible to shoot at ISO 800 outdoors in bright daylight for the sake of better dynamic range (see DR expansion modes section on the next page). In our everyday shooting we alternate between DR200% and 400% in especially tricky conditions, and we’ve learned not to worry about the consequent increase in ‘base’ ISO.

I had a great evening at the best pizza place around this weekend — got a few photos I enjoy, too.

{:id: .center}

Eye-fi and more

I’m having a blast with this new camera, the Fuji X100S.

{:id: .center}

I had a conversation with my wife today that seemed to bear on why this camera is so much fun. She’s looking for a new bike and has been demoing some from local shops to find just what she wants. (This, by the way, is where our little outdoorsy town excels; want a new mountain bike? Half a dozen excellent shops have gear for you. But if you want a camera, you can try your luck at the Best Buy, or drive 140 miles to the big city.) This morning she rode a bike that is on paper superior to the one she tried earlier in the week, with higher-specced components, insane suspension and a frame design that should be precisely in her wanna bike sweet spot.

But it wasn’t a much fun as the one the tried earlier. The experience of the first bike was just better, but not in a way she could quite explain or quantify. The ineffable sum of its parts just add up to more, and I guess that’s about the same with this fixed-lens, slightly slow to focus, battery-eating and sometimes just obtuse little Fuji. I still have the fancy glass if I ever want to upgrade to a new shiny DSLR body, but it simply feels good to sling the X100S over my shoulder and go for a walk, and I love the photos it makes.

I got an Eye-Fi card to use with it, to pull jpgs right off the card through the vapor while I’m away from my computer. It seems to work well, is not automatic (in the sense that I can turn it on and off and it requires the iPhone or receiving device to be set to its own wifi network to receive) but that’s probably better than something that’s unpredictable. The eye-fi adds imported photos to three locations: one, the in-app gallery; two, the iPhone camera album; three, an “eye-fi” gallery in photos app. This means that it’s a piece of cake to select jpgs in the camera roll and share to an icloud photo stream – meaning that those images are quickly available on my iPad, too (or, via shared photostream, anybody else’s I share with).

My flow is shooting with the X100S, doing in-camera development as desired to produce some jpgs, then turning on the eye-fi when ready to sync to the phone for sharing or (via Dropbox) taking a closer look on the iPad.

This is an out-and-about type of workflow, because I will still download and work with raw if/when I want more control or am not satisfied with jpgs. But it will be fun when traveling or enjoying busy days that keep me away from the laptop. And, because the photos get put in the camera roll, they also get uploaded to dropbox if its app is configured to upload from the camera roll. This latter effect may create some redundancy, but it’s also a nice and complete circle – out-of-camera images can easily be pushed everywhere I want to use jpgs.

A couple recent photos that I enjoyed:

{:id: .center}

{:id: .center}