Sunday, March 26, 2017

Be Different - Photograph What You Find Interesting

Three Cameras With Stripes - South Weber, Utah
Photograph what you find interesting. Whatever is meaningful to you, that's what you should be capturing with your camera.

Society wants to put you into a box. Society wants you to fit in. Society wants everyone to be the same. Follow the crowds. Don't do anything that makes you stand out. Don't be different.

You are a unique individual with a unique history and a unique perspective. Nobody has had the exact same life experiences as you. Nobody sees the world the exact same way that you do.

Because you are a unique person who sees the world from a unique perspective, the things that photographically interest you are uniquely yours. You own what is meaningful to you. Be yourself and be true to yourself.

Whatever it is that interests you photographically, that's what you'll be the most passionate about. The more you are passionate about something, the more you'll pour your heart and soul into capturing it. You'll infuse your photographs with a piece of yourself. You'll create better art.
Coffee & Camera - South Weber, Utah
You are attracted to certain types of images. Deep down you want to create certain photographs. Do it! Follow your heart. Listen to your gut. Set out to capture the images that you want to capture. Create the art that you want to create.

Don't worry if you mess up. Don't worry if you are good enough or not. Don't worry if others will like it. You will make mistakes. You will fail. There will be people who won't get it--there will always be naysayers. That's all a part of the process. Just keep trying, keep moving forward, keep creating what it is that you want to create. Never give up! You will succeed.

Whatever it is that you find interesting, make sure that's what you are photographing. Whatever is meaningful to you is what you should be pointing your camera towards. Whatever you are passionate about is what should be guiding you art.

Don't make photographs that you think others will like. Don't try to make the images that you see others make. Don't capture something because you think it will make you a more successful photographer. Don't follow the crowds.

You are unique, so use that to your advantage. Be yourself. Let your photography be an extension of your individuality. Let your images speak what's within you. Be different. You'll be much happier for it. You'll find so much more satisfaction in your art.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lessons From Christoph Neimann on Netflix Series "Abstract: The Art of Design"


There's a new documentary series on Netflix called Abstract: The Art of Design, and each episode features a different artist. I just watched the very first episode, which features illustrator Christoph Neimann, who is best known for illustrating the cover of about two dozen issues of New Yorker

It's a really great documentary that has a lot of nuggets of wisdom for every artist, including photographers. It's really well produced and edited. The show is highly entertaining. If you have a Netflix account you need to watch it. I'm looking forward to seeing the remaining episodes.

There were three things that stood out to me as obvious lessons that can apply directly to photography. This will sound cliche, but follow Christoph's advice and your art will improve, I have no doubts about that.

One thing that Christoph talked about was finding the right balance between realism and abstract. For example, if you want to communicate the idea of love with a symbol, you could use a heart. For that heart you could go really far abstract and use one red square Lego brick, but that's not going to convey your message well because the audience isn't going to understand your meaning. On the other hand you could go really literal and show an actual bloody human heart, but that's just gross and the audience is still going to miss your point. But in-between the really abstract and really realistic is the heart symbol ♥ that perfectly communicates your message.
I Heart Alley - Ogden, Utah
Besides illustrating a heart shape, I included I Heart Alley in this article because it demonstrates the balance between abstract and realism to speaks something to the viewer. The message is that alleyways--the spaces behind buildings that many people never see, or if they do see they have prejudged as ugly--are actually full of beauty if you keep an open mind. I love to capture these places because there is bound to be something interesting that most people overlooked, if they looked at all.

I could have done a more documentary style composition to show you more generically what an alley looks like. While this might have communicated something to the viewer about alleyways, the message of there being missed beauty that I love to find would have been missed in the realistic approach. I could have also done a more abstract approach and made a double-exposure with an ally photographed inside a heart-shaped bottle. This might have communicated my message, but people might think that it's more commentary on the heart than the scene (or, more specifically, my feelings about the scene). Instead I found an in-between solution that strongly communicated my message without being too real or too abstract.

When you are composing your photographs try to find that just-right balance between realism and abstract that most strongly conveys your message. If you are unsure what exactly it is that you are trying to communicate through your images--well, you've got to figure that out first. If you don't know what your photograph is about your audience will be even less sure. Once you know the message, then you can go about finding the strongest way to say it through your camera.

Another point that Christoph makes is that artists need to practice every day. Athletes practice daily, not only to maintain their skills but to improve on them, and so too should artists.
The Wonder of Film Photography - South Weber, Utah
One way that Christoph practices his art is to take one shape and come up with as many different drawings as he can think of that incorporate that one shape. The photographic equivalent to this might be to take one object and photograph it in as many different ways as you can think of.

I try to use my camera daily. That doesn't always happen because there's only so much time in a day and only so much of myself to go around, and life happens. When a day or two goes by and I haven't had a chance to photograph anything, and today's not looking good either, I force myself to create a photograph. I make it a priority.

If I have really limited time to create a photograph and I'm at home and can't go anywhere, I'll capture a still-life using some faux wood tiles, natural window light and (usually) some photography gear (for example, The Wonder of Film Photography above). It doesn't take much time to get everything set up, and in 10 or 15 minutes I can have a completely finished photograph start-to-finish. This is a good way to get that much-needed photographic exercise in when time is very limited. The more you do the better you will become, so it's important to push yourself to photograph more.

Towards the end of the episode Christoph said, "Be a much more ruthless editor, and a much more careless artist." That really struck me and has been bouncing around inside my head ever since I heard it.
Light Streaming Over Antelope Island - Antelope Island State Park, Utah
Being a careless artist means that you've given yourself permission to experiment, to fail, to approach the subject in an unconventional way, to be dramatic, stupid, whimsical, ignore the rules, etc. You want to allow yourself as much creative freedom as possible. You want your approach to be loose and not rigid. Change things up often. Don't worry about what others might think. Be positive.

Being a ruthless editor means being ultra-critical of your own photographs. Carefully examine your images for flaws and mistakes. Consider what could have made them stronger. Trash all of the ones that aren't good. Only display the ones that are great. Be cold. Be harsh. For example, I've been told that Light Streaming Over Antelope Island should be hanging in an art gallery somewhere, but a close inspection reveals several obvious flaws that I have noticed. I think that there are similar yet better photographs out there.

You have to be a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You have to have a different approach when you are wearing your artist hat than when wearing your editor hat. With one you need to be very personal, and the other very impersonal. In this way you'll infuse your art with yourself, yet not allow your bias towards your own art to blind you. It's easy to think that your own work is better than it actually is because you know what went into creating it. Strangers don't have this bias, so they recognize it as being good or bad more easily. They'll see the flaws that you overlooked or made excuses for. Try to minimize your bias towards your own art as much as you possibly can.

There were plenty of other great tidbits throughout the episode. Even if you have no interest in illustration, there is so much that can be applied across all art genres that I believe you will find it to be valuable. Again, the documentary series is called Abstract: The Art of Design and you can find it on Netflix.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Among The Freaks & Geeks - Salt Lake City Comic-Con

Storm Trooper - Salt Lake City, Utah
This last weekend I attended my very first Comic-Con. When we lived in California my wife wanted to attend the big one in San Diego, but we never made it because it was too far away and too expensive. I never really had a desire to attend myself, but thought it might be a worthwhile photographic experience. Since we now live in Utah, the Salt Lake City Comic-Con was a reasonable distance from our house and the entrance fee was not too high, so we went.

If ever I was among freaks and geeks, it was at the Comic-Con! It's a strange crew that attends. It's like Halloween on steroids. That's an exaggeration, obviously, because the majority of people were actually very normal looking. We met some very nice folks who gave us helpful advice. But there was certainly a lot more odd characters than I'm used to seeing in one place.

The Salt Lake City Comic-Con was at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown. It's a somewhat interesting structure, as far as architecture goes. Inside was crowded with people going in every which direction. It was almost too crowded.

I had my Fuji X-E1 around my neck. Attached to the front was a Rokinon f/2 12mm lens. With this ultra-wide-angle lens you have to get really close to the subject. I wanted to do photojournal/street type images, which means that I had to get close and remain inconspicuous with this lens. The solution was to zone-focus and shoot from the hip. In my pocket I had an X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm lens for when I needed to go telephoto.

As we were walking around I saw all sorts of people dressed as Star Wars and Star Trek and other space Sci-Fi characters. But I saw nothing from the greatest Sci-Fi comedy ever: Spaceballs. How is Spaceballs not represented by at least one person at Comic-Con? Then, just as we were getting ready to leave, I saw someone dressed as Barf. He was walking away, so I asked if I could take his picture (I couldn't do the candid image that I wanted). That's the only posed shot.

The most entertaining part was the panel discussions. We watched actor Greg Grunberg and a few guys from The Walking Dead. It wasn't the greatest spot for photography (unless, perhaps, you paid extra to get the close seats), but it was interesting to hear their stories and answer questions.

We only stayed for a few hours. That was enough. It was an interesting experience, and I'm glad that I went. But Comic-Cons aren't really my thing. I suppose a camera convention would be more up my alley. Just as long as those attending aren't dressed up like DSLRs or something.
Street Cyclist - Salt Lake City, Utah
Cat Crossing - Salt Lake City, Utah
Power Rangers - Salt Lake City, Utah
The Fox - Salt Lake City, Utah
A Face In The Crowd - Salt Lake City, Utah
Barf - Salt Lake City, Utah
Watching Greg Grunberg Watching You - Salt Lake City, Utah
TWD - Salt Lake City, Utah
I Was There - Salt Lake City, Utah
The End - Salt Lake City, Utah

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Photoessay: Wasatch Window - Capturing Utah Mountains From My Backyard

Mountain Evening - South Weber, Utah
One year ago my wife, three young kids and I flew from California to Salt Lake City, Utah, to look at houses. We were getting ready to relocate from The Golden State to a state that proclaims "Life Elevated." It was the beginning of new adventures.

They say that everyone in Utah has a home with a view. That's not entirely true, although it is largely true. When we looked at houses one thing that was on our wish list was a nice view of the mountains. There were several homes that met that criteria. But one house had a better view than most, with a mostly-unobstructed view of the Wasatch Mountains from the backyard. That's the house that we ended up buying.

Over the last year I have casually photographed the Wasatch Mountains from my backyard. We can see several peaks, including Ogden Mountain, and the mouth of Weber Canyon. The mountains change with the time of day and the time of year. We have now experienced all four seasons.

These are far from the only photographs that I've captured of the Wasatch Mountains. These are just the ones that I photographed while standing in my backyard. Short drives reveal even greater photographic opportunities. But it does go to show that you don't always have to go far to capture interesting images. Sometimes all you have to do is step outside. That's especially the case in Utah.

Monochrome:
Monochrome Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Cloud Behind The Ridge - South Weber, Utah
The Space Between The Peaks - South Weber, Utah
A double-exposure photograph. 
Clouds Around The Mountain - South Weber, Utah
Moving Sky - South Weber, Utah
Wasatch & Sky - South Weber, Utah


Color:
Wasatch At Dusk - South Weber, Utah
Last Light On The Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Mountain White - South Weber, Utah
Nature Preserved - South Weber, Utah
A double-exposure photograph.
Autumn On The Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Golden Light On The Mountainside - South Weber, Utah
Weber Canyon Sunset - South Weber, Utah
Fire Retardant Drop - South Weber, Utah
Water Drop - South Weber, Utah

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Easy Product Photography Tips - How To Photograph Your Gear

Kodak Transparencies 
Sometimes you may want to photograph your gear. Sometimes you need to do a little product photography. Maybe it's for a blog or publication or Instagram. Maybe you're trying to sell something on eBay. There are many reasons why you might do it.

Product photography might seem difficult, but it's actually pretty simple. I have a few quick tips that should get you on your way to creating some interesting pictures. It won't cost you much money or take much prep work.

1. Light
Three Lenses
Let's talk about light first, which, with any photograph, is the most important part. A lot of people will use studio lights for product pictures. I prefer natural light. An open window on the shade side of a house works really well. It gives a nice diffused directional light that has a timeless quality. I like the light to be somewhere between 45 degrees and 90 degrees to whatever it is that I'm photographing.

You can play around with natural light. The window doesn't have to be the shade side. You can change the angle. Blinds can add interesting light. You can add some artificial light. You can even use a string of Christmas lights to add background and/or foreground bokeh effects. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Remember, a key ingredient to any great photograph is great lighting. Think about light first. Great light can be found all the time, it's just a matter of looking for it. 

2. Setting
35mm Film
You don't need a studio for product photography. A very simple but effective setup is ceramic tiles that look like wood. These can be found at your local hardware or flooring store for a dollar or two per tile. Buy a variety (a minimum of two, but four or more is better), and mix and match. Set one up at a 90 degree angle for the background.

Sometimes I like to use metal for the background. For 35mm Film above I used a cookie sheet. I've also used metal containers. Anything that seems like it could be interesting is something that you might want to experiment with. Even a shelve near a window can be a good makeshift product studio.

Don't be afraid to shoot straight down onto the scene. Shooting from above can give an interesting perspective. Try experimenting with different angles. Shoot straight on, from the side and from above and see what works best for each scene.

3. Setup
Ready For Adventure
One important aspect of product photography that you won't hear often enough is storytelling. Your images should say more than "this is a camera" or anything ridiculously obvious. Think in your mind how things might get the way they are, and then set it up that way. Make it appear as if there is more going on than what's pictured. Tell a story.

Adding elements to the scene can help this. Don't just show a camera, show other photography things with it. Add film to the scene, or a lens or slides. Maps give the impression of travel and adventure. Add things that help tell the story that you made up in your mind. 

I like to use odd numbers when it makes sense (especially three and five). I try to consider color theory, as well. There is a lot that you can consider when you are setting up the shot. You don't have to over-complicate things (and often simple is simply better), but you should think about how everything plays together in the scene, and set it up to be as strong as possible.  

5. Gear
Rokinon f/2 12mm & Fuji X-E1
I left gear for last because it is the least important part of this article. The photograph above shows a camera that I typically will use (I wouldn't typically use an ultra wide angle lens like what's pictured), but what camera did I use to capture that image? I used my cell phone, an LG G4. I even post-processed the image using an app (Snapseed) on the phone. You don't need specialized gear.

Most of my product images are captured with a good quality interchangeable-lens digital camera (a Fujifilm X-E1 for example). I like to use lenses with minimal distortion and that have a fairly close minimum focus distance. A couple of favorites are a Helios 44-2 58mm and an X-Fujinon-T 135mm (which are two of the three lenses pictured in Three Lenses). You don't need an expensive lens or expensive DSLR. Whatever gear you have is most likely sufficient enough.

Conclusion
Helios 44-2 Lens & Zenit-E SLR
I photograph my gear for articles on the Roesch Photography Blog, but also for the fun of it. Sometimes when I'm feeling the urge to capture something but I can't get out of the house, this is a good way to get the picture bug out of my system. I grab a couple of faux wood tiles, a camera, and maybe some film or a map, and begin to capture some studio images of my gear. Pretty soon I've created an interesting image.

Something that I find interesting is that these types of images (pictures of my gear) are often very popular on social media. They seem to get more "likes" than other images. So maybe there is a bigger "need" or "desire" for this genre of photography than you might think. Who knows, maybe some unexpected opportunities might come out of it.

And it didn't cost a whole lot of money. Maybe even less than $10. A product photography studio doesn't need to be expensive. Use what you have and what you can find for cheap.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Daylight Savings - Time To Change The Clocks On Your Cameras

Clock - South Weber, Utah
It's that time of the year again: Daylight Savings. This is the annual ritual of pretending that the time is an hour later than it actually is. We "spring forward" our clocks by one hour.

Many clocks will automatically adjust themselves. Some clocks, and typically the ones found on modern digital cameras, will not. You have to go in and change them manually.

Don't forget to do this! You don't want to remember three months from now when you are looking at the EXIF data and realize that all your images are an hour off. That's really annoying--I know this from experience.
When New Times Aren't Any Better - Pismo Beach, California
This is my annual public service announcement. I do this to remind you, but also to remind myself. I once forgot to change the clocks on my cameras, and regretted it later. So now I remind everyone so that I won't forget.

In the past I've explained the insanity of Daylight Savings. I've posted why it's completely illogical. I've posted about the health risks of it (an increase in heart attacks, for example). And I've pointed out that we don't do it for any of the reasons that you've been told (agriculture, environmental), but for tax dollars (because vacationers spend more during that extra hour of daylight). I'll spare you the boring details this time around.

Enjoy your hour loss of sleep. And in your fatigue haze, please remember to change the clocks on your cameras.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review: Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS Lens

Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS Lens & Fujifilm X-E1
Like many people, I don't have tons of money to spend on gear. By taking an unconventional approach I was able to expand my glass for less than the price of one brand-new budget lens. But there was one lens that I wanted that I just couldn't afford: an ultra wide angle.

I use a Fujifilm X-series camera (an X-E1), and the lens that I wanted was a Fujinon XF f/1.4 16mm, which costs one grand. An alternative that I would also be happy with was a Fujinon XF f/2.8 14mm, which has an MSRP of $900. These two lenses are both well outside of my budget. So I looked for what inexpensive options were available, and didn't find a whole lot of choices.

There was one lens that I found as a cheap alternative: the Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS, which has an MSRP of $400, but can be found for less (I paid $300 for mine). It's a little wider than I was originally planning for (12mm vs 14mm or 16mm), but it's in the neighborhood. Rokinon (did they purposefully name it similar to "rockin' on"?) makes this lens with mounts for several brands including Fujifilm, Sony, Samsung, Canon and micro-four-thirds. I'm using it with a Fuji X camera, and this review is based on that, although everything should still apply to the others brand mounts.

Is this cheap ultra wide lens any good? Is it worth the price? Is it something that you should have in your camera bag? Or should you skip it and buy a more expensive option?
Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS
The first thing to know about the Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS is that it is a manual focus lens. There is no focus motor and no option for autofocus. It's manual focus or bust.

I've been manually focusing lenses for a couple decades. In fact, almost all of my lenses are manual focus only, so it's no big deal to me to use a manual focus lens. But if you mostly rely on autofocus, manual focus might seem intimidating. If you don't think that you would like to manually focus your lenses, perhaps this is not the best option for you. Otherwise, keep reading.

Rokinon is a brand name of Samyang Optics, a South Korean lens manufacturer that's been around since the early 1970's. A number of Vivitar lenses are actually made by Samyang. The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS is also sold under the Samyang name, as well as a couple other brand names (it's the same lens no matter the brand name on it).

The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS lens has 12 elements in 10 groups. It has a six-blade aperture that goes from f/2 to f/22. The 12mm focal length is equivalent to 18mm on APS-C cameras due to the crop factor.
Playing Large - South Weber, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/11
What "CS" in the lens name stands for is Crop Sensor. You can't use it on a full-frame camera even if the mount allows you to (unless you want some crazy vignetting). The lens is designed for cameras with APS-C or smaller sensor sizes.

The lens is mostly made of plastic (with some metal), but the build quality seems good. I've owned plenty of lenses that felt cheaper. Still, I wouldn't want to abuse it too much, and I wonder how well it would handle a fall (I have no plans to test this). It's average in size and pretty lightweight.

The aperture ring works like it should with the right amount of resistance and well defined clicks. There are half-stops in-between (most of) the standard f-stops. The focus ring is smooth and pleasant to use, although the scale markings seem to be a little inaccurate.

The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS is a solidly sharp prime lens. At f/2 there is some noticeable corner softness, but at f/2.8 there is very little corner softness and by f/4 the lens is nearly crisp all over. Center sharpness is great throughout the apertures, and is especially sharp from f/2.8 through f/8. Diffraction begins around f/11 but isn't really noticeable until f/16, which is still a usable f-stop. Diffraction is quite pronounced at f/22, and that's the only aperture I would avoid.
The Bike Jump - South Weber, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/8
There's noticeable vignetting at f/2 and a little less so at f/2.8. By f/5.6 it's hardly noticeable, but a small amount can be found throughout all of the apertures.

Chromatic aberrations are a problem at all apertures, but are especially prevalent at f/2. I've seen plenty of lenses that produce worse purple fringing than the Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS, but it's definitely an issue with this lens. Coma is well controlled.

If you are a fan of lens flare, this lens is good for that. The "NCS" in the name stands for Nano Coating System, which is supposed to help keep lens flare under control. I'd hate to see what it would produce without it! If you dislike lens flare you might want to avoid shooting towards the sun and religiously use the included lens hood. If lens flare is something you try to put into your images then you've found the right glass.

The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS has somewhat minor distortion, which is pretty amazing considering that this is an ultra wide angle lens. There is some obvious barrel distortion, and if you photograph a brick wall you'll definitely notice it. I've seen worse on some "standard" lenses. There is also some minor mustache distortion. It wouldn't be difficult to correct the distortion from this lens with post-processing software. None of the photographs in this review received any distortion correction.
Come On In - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/5.6
Everyone wants to know about bokeh. Bokeh on a 12mm lens? Sure! The minimum focus distance on the Rokinon lens is about eight inches, and when wide open it's possible to achieve an out of focus background. Bokeh is pleasant if unspectacular on this lens. But, really, you aren't using any ultra wide lens for the bokeh.

I was afraid that the 12mm focal length might be just a little too wide, but it's not. I think if I had purchased the 16mm lens I originally wanted to get that it might not have been wide enough. The 12mm ultra wide focal length can be very dramatic, and I'm really loving the challenge of it.

Because the lens is so wide angle you really have to get close to the subject. This can be intimidating, especially if you are capturing action shots or people pictures. You really have to push that glass right into the scene! This is not a lens that you can use inconspicuously, but the results can be powerful.

So what's the verdict? What are my conclusions? Should you drop a few hundred dollars on this lens?
The Night Is Young - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/2.8
The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS is a pretty darn good lens, but not without flaws. It has some impressive points and some disappointing points. The good definitely outweighs the bad, but not quite enough to justify $400 in my opinion.

A fast ultra wide angle lens for under $500 is almost unheard of. You can expect to pay closer to a grand or more. But for that price I think you get more (including, perhaps, autofocus, weather sealing and fewer flaws). If you can afford the more expensive lens I would recommend going that route. However, if you are like me and a lot of other people, you don't have money to burn through on gear, and you can't afford more expensive models. The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS lens is a close enough facsimile to those high cost lenses that I think you'll be plenty happy using it.

Just don't pay full price. If it's not on sale right now somewhere, it will be shortly. Shop around and find it for a good price. I paid $300 for mine brand-new. I saw one used for $225. It's easier to overlook the shortcomings when it doesn't hurt so bad to buy.

If you want to go a little wider than your 18-55mm lens allows but you are on a tight budget, the Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS lens is your best bet. It's a great lens in some aspects and a so-so lens in some other aspects. It's worth the price just as long as you don't pay full price.
I Heart Alley - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/4
1984 - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/5.6
Open Espresso - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/5.6
Appreciating Art - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/4
Weber River Spillway - South Weber, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/11
What Do You Do - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/4
This Fox Says Nothing - South Weber, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/8
Walkers - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/2.8