Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Thanksgiving Point Tulip Festival At Ashton Gardens

Little Blooms, Big Blooms - Lehi, Utah
When you think of spring you might think of large fields of blossomed tulips. In some parts of the world this is a big thing. However, you probably don't think of Utah when you picture tulips. But each spring there is a Tulip Festival in Lehi, Utah, halfway between Salt Lake City and Provo.

Specifically, the place is Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point. It's a popular place for weddings and family portraits. I had never been and had some free time, so I went, camera in hand.

I brought with me a Fujifilm X-E1. Mostly I used a Rokinon f/2 12mm lens, but for a handful of pictures I used an X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm lens. I wanted dramatic photos, so I either went really wide or telephoto. You shouldn't have too much trouble figuring out which images were captured using which lens.
Tulip Blossom Monochrome - Lehi, Utah
Ashton Gardens has an entrance fee and it's not cheap. I was a little surprised to have to pay so much to see some flowers, but I figured it would be worth it to see all the tulips in bloom.

Once inside I was underwhelmed by the tulips. I was expecting more, like fields of tulips, not rows here and there along the walkway. There were some spots that were somewhat impressive. But for a Tulip Festival, there weren't enough of the namesake flowers. There also wasn't much in the way of "festival" type things. Maybe I was there on the wrong day, but I thought the name was very misleading.

It was a rainy day, and I got sprinkled on here and there throughout the gardens. The weather was good, not too cool or warm, with a grey overcast sky. Considering that I was there midday, the clouds provided me good (diffused) lighting.
Monochrome Tulip & Wall - Lehi, Utah
The gardens themselves, putting aside the underwhelming tulip display, are actually pretty incredible. It took me nearly two hours to walk through it all (with frequent quick stops to snap pictures). There are a bunch of large man-made waterfalls that were unexpected and impressive. I understand why this is such a popular place for weddings and such!

There were also some whimsical displays, such as a bunch of umbrellas hanging from trees (which became convenient during a sprinkling of rain) and a thousand paper cranes. They've designed the whole thing in a fun and beautiful way.

I'm glad that I went to the Thanksgiving Point Tulip Festival at Ashton Gardens. Even though the entrance fee was steep and the tulips a bit disappointing, the experience made the negatives seem insignificant. Besides, I came away with a few good pictures.
Tulip & Wall - Lehi, Utah
Tulip Field - Lehi, Utah
Tulip Bloom - Lehi, Utah
Spring Garden - Lehi, Utah
Tulips In The Garden - Lehi, Utah
One Tulip Blossom - Lehi, Utah
Spring Blooms - Lehi, Utah
White Bloom - Lehi, Utah
Blue Bloom - Lehi, Utah
Daffodils Among Blue - Lehi, Utah
Tulips By The Creek - Lehi, Utah
Tulips - Lehi, Utah
Garden Colors - Lehi, Utah
Garden Blooms - Lehi, Utah
Ashton Gardens Blossom - Lehi, Utah
Secret Garden - Lehi, Utah
Pink Tulip Blossom - Lehi, Utah
Statue In The Garden - Lehi, Utah
Forest & Falls - Lehi, Utah
Bridge Over Double Falls - Lehi, Utah
Waterfall Into The Lake - Lehi, Utah
Rainy Day - Lehi, Utah
Floating Colorful Umbrellas - Lehi, Utah
Thousand Origami Cranes - Lehi, Utah

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How I Became Ansel Adams - And How I Became Me

Airport Lobby - McKinney, Texas
A black-and-white print from back in my college days.
I remember it clearly. It was the fall of 1998, and I was attending Photography 101 class in college. My instructor, June Van Cleef, was doing the usual class routine of presenting the great photographers and their images. On this day she was showing the work of Ansel Adams.

I knew the name Ansel Adams and had seen a couple of his Yosemite pictures--everybody has heard of Ansel Adams and knows that he's probably the most famous photographer in American history--but I really didn't know a whole lot about him or his pictures until that day. I was only 18 years old.

One photograph shown during class that caught my attention was Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. The picture looks like it was taken at night, but really it was a daytime image. Adams used a red filter to turn the blue sky black. I was just learning about the use of colored filters with black-and-white film. It was a really cool picture to me, and I began to realize that abstract photographs don't necessarily have to be all that abstract to be effective.

Another picture that grabbed my attention was The Tetons and the Snake River, 1942. The composition, contrast and subject make for an amazingly beautiful image. I knew absolutely nothing about the Grand Teton National Park or the Snake River. I remember thinking that I wanted to be able to capture pictures like this, and that I'd be satisfied with my photography if I ever succeeded in doing so.
The Tetons and the Snake River, 1942 - Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Photograph by Ansel Adams
About eighteen-and-a-half years have passed since that class where I first saw Adam's great image of the Grand Tetons. Photography has changed so much since then. My photography has evolved extensively. Yet though the years I have kept that picture in the back of my mind.

One year ago I moved to the Salt Lake City area from California. Something I've wanted to do is visit all the nearby National Parks, including Grand Teton. My birthday was two days ago, and my wife decided that the family should load up into the car and head to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to see the majestic mountains. It's just close enough that a two day, one night trip is possible.

After settling into our cabin and before eating dinner, we drove up U.S. Highway 89 to see the Grand Tetons. We headed towards the Snake River Overlook, which is where Ansel Adams captured his famous photograph 75 years earlier. We got there at a good time, just after a brief snow storm had lightly dusted the landscape and as some fog was lifting and the lighting was becoming decent enough.

I felt a little chill as I stood with the amazing vista in front of me, camera in hand. This was the spot! This is where Ansel Adams was when he captured his great picture. The photograph that inspired me all those years ago was made right here. I was going to create my own Ansel Adams picture. In a sense I had become Ansel Adams. I had come full circle. I reached the moment that I hoped to get to while sitting in that classroom learning of the great photographers. It was a satisfying feeling.
The Tetons and the Snake River, 2017 - Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Photograph by Ritchie Roesch
My image is different than Ansel Adams' photograph. For starters, the Snake River at the bottom of Adam's picture is now blocked by trees, and you can't really see it, so I didn't include it. That's too bad because it was such an important composition element in his photo. I did try to use the fog to make a similar composition (the fog becomes the bottom of the "S" curve), but I don't think it was all that effective.

Another difference is that my image is more telephoto, putting a bigger emphasis on the mountains. I chose this because I couldn't include the full curving river, and so I needed the picture to be more about the mountains and less about the river. Adams' picture has more dramatic lighting (thanks to the thunderstorm) and better contrast play (thanks to the lower sun). My image is brighter and has a different mood. They are similar photographs, but they aren't the same.

I wouldn't want my photograph to be the same, even if I could have done so. Seasons change, environments change, light changes, gear changes, processes change, and everyone has unique experiences and perspectives that they bring with them. It would be very difficult to make an exact copy of Adams' photograph, and the effort needed would be better used to create something unique, something that I could say is my own.

My picture is my picture, and Adams' picture is his picture. That's how it was always meant to be. I'm very happy that my photograph is different than his, and not an exact copy. I'm satisfied with how it turned out.
Snake River Fog - Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Photograph by Ritchie Roesch
Still, I felt like I borrowed a little from his vision. I don't know if I would have captured that image if I hadn't had the original bouncing around inside my head for nearly two decades. Every great artist takes a little from other artists and incorporates those ideas with their own, making a unique mix. But I wanted something that I could say was a little more my own and a little less Ansel Adams. So I captured Snake River Fog. I think it is the stronger image and the one that I'm more proud of.

While it felt good for a moment to become Ansel Adams, it is even better to be me. It's better to have my own photographic vision, my own voice and style. I'm proud and satisfied with how my photography has evolved. I'm happy with where I am as a photographer. After tens of thousands of exposures, with plenty of ups and downs and lots of successes and failures, I reached the place where I wanted to be. It was not a straight line to get there, but I arrived by constantly moving, even when it didn't seem like I was.

It's time to consider where I want to go from here. Where do I want to be as a photographer 18 years from now? What kind of images do I want to capture in the future? You are either moving forwards or backwards, and standing still means getting left behind. Where will photography lead me if I continue moving forward?

There is a lot to think about and some decisions to be made, plus lots of hard work to come. I believe that this is a moment I'll look back on, a moment that I'll come full circle to. But in the meantime there are many adventures that await. I'm looking forward to the journey.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Magical Combo: Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm lens & Fujifilm X-E1

No. 844, American Locomotive Company - Ogden, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2.
I didn't grow up in the digital age. Film was king when I started out in photography, and it would continue to be for several years to come (I know, I'm showing my age here). My first "real" camera was a Canon AE-1 35mm SLR, purchased a dozen or so years before I ever owned a digital camera. I really loved film photography.

Nowadays almost everything is digital. Yes, film photography is making a comeback, but it is a niche product and will remain so. It's too slow, expensive and inconvenient for most people to rely on, myself included. I still dabble in film sometimes for fun and aesthetics, but 99% of the time I'm shooting digital.

Using film and film gear is a completely different experience than digital photography. And it should not surprise anyone that the outcome is different, too. Pictures made with film and film gear look different than digital images. It's a look that I appreciate. I try to mimic it as best as the software I use will allow. I can get close, but it's rare that I feel like I ever really achieve it.

Recently I have discovered a digital camera and lens combination that gives me an experience and outcome that is as close as I've ever come to using film. The camera is a Fujifilm X-E1 and the lens is a Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm.
Helios 44-2 & Fujifilm X-E1
I had always heard great things about Fujifilm X series cameras since the day they came out. I didn't have an opportunity to own one until last summer when I purchased a four-year-old gently used X-E1. Then I wondered why I had waited so long to buy it! The camera gave me the experience that I'd always hoped for in digital photography but never found. I love the camera's design and the images it produces.

As much as I love the camera, one weak spot for me is the lens. I had the "kit" 18-55mm lens that came with the camera, which is actually a pretty good lens--noticeably better than other kit lenses from other brands--but it just wasn't getting me the look that I desired. I wanted to buy a different lens, but, you know, they can be very expensive.

This also made me look at other vintage lenses that could be found for cheap. I began buying adapters for different mounts. It was a lot of fun to do this, and I found a number of different lenses that I really like using. Over the last few months and especially the last few weeks, I've taken a look at what images were captured with what glass, and what I liked and didn't like and so forth, and the one lens that stood out as a favorite for how it makes my pictures look is the Helios 44-2.
Helios 44-2 & Zenit-E
What makes the Helios lens so good? It's actually a Zeiss Jena Biotar f/2 58mm lens from the 1930's that the Soviet Union reverse-engineered. My particular model was manufactured in the 1970's, although you can actually find ones that are much newer than that. It has 8 blades in 6 elements and can focus as close as 19". The 58mm lens provides an equivalent focal length (because of the crop factor) of 87mm on the X-E1.

The Helios 44-2 has flaws, and it's the flaws the give character to the photographs, something missing in today's precision-engineered digital age. The lens is tack sharp in the center, but a little soft in the corners. The lens will create some crazy lens flare (and not your typical lens flare, but something more atmospheric) when pointed towards the sun. Probably the most well-known flaw in the lens design is that, when the conditions are just right, the bokeh becomes swirly. Speaking of bokeh, it's pretty fantastic on this lens, whether swirly or not.

The Helios 44-2 would be great combined with any camera, but what makes it "magical" (as I called it in the title) when paired with the X-E1 are two things: camera design and image quality. Fujifilm designed the camera to be like an old-school film rangefinder. You can operate the camera in full manual mode with knobs and controls exactly where you would want them to be. If you didn't know it was a digital camera you might suspect that it wasn't. It's perfect for attaching vintage glass to it.
Alco Steam Locomotive - Ogden, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2.
The photographs--yes, specifically the camera-made JPEGs--produced by this camera look great! The dynamic-range and film simulation options make pictures that look much more like post-processed RAW files than typical out-of-camera JPEGs. The camera makes pictures with more of a film quality than what I've seen from other digital cameras.

The Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm lens attached to the Fujifilm X-E1 is the closest thing I've found in the digital age to shooting film with old-school film gear. It creates fantastic photographs--I just love the look of the images!

In a way it's the best of both worlds: the look and experience of shooting film with the convenience of digital capture. While I'm looking forward to the upcoming X-E3 this fall, which will offer higher resolution and a couple different film simulation options, the nearly five-year-old X-E1 is a joy to use and I couldn't be happier with it. Especially when paired with a vintage lens like the Helios 44-2. Below are some photographs that I've captured with this camera and lens combination.

Bison In The Road - Antelope Island State Park, Utah
Ice on Antelope Island - Antelope Island State Park, Utah
X-844 - Ogden, Utah
1216 - Ogden, Utah

Tricycle In The Woods - South Weber, Utah
Union Pacific 1957 - Ogden, Utah
Pacific - Ogden, Utah
Cold Calling - Salt Lake City, Utah

Thursday, May 4, 2017

My Fujifilm X-E3 Wishlist

Fujifilm X-E1
A few weeks ago I posted that Fujifilm is rumored to be releasing the X-E3 camera this coming fall. Not a lot of information was given about what changes would be made over previous X-E models, so I thought I'd offer my wish list, especially since I'm planning to purchase this camera once released. Perhaps Fuji will stumble across this article and consider my advice.

One of the first X-series cameras that Fujifilm released was the X-E1 (nicknamed Sexy One) in 2012. It was just the second interchangeable-lens camera to feature an X-Trans sensor. And it was a big hit (stores couldn't keep it in stock), at least for a moment. People loved the design and retro rangefinder aesthetics; however, it was plagued with programming issues that quickly gave it a bad rap. Fuji later resolved these problems with firmware updates, improving the camera to what it was intended to be.

In 2013 the X-E1 was replaced by the nearly identical X-E2. It featured the updated X-Trans II sensor, and had a few other small improvements, but was essentially the same exact camera as the previous model (without any of the issues that gave the other camera a bad name). It didn't fly off the shelves at the same pace that the X-E1 did when it was first released, but was overall a good selling product.

The X-E2 was replaced by the X-E2s in 2016. The "s" added to the end of the name most certainly stood for "same" because the differences between the two models are very tiny and insignificant. This camera didn't sell particularly well, partially because it wasn't really any different than the original X-E camera from 2012 and partially because the much-anticipated X-Trans III sensor would come out just a few months later.
Fujifilm X-E1
The upcoming X-E3 will no doubt have the new highly-touted 24-megapixel X-Trans III sensor, as well as the latest processor and software. It will produce identical image quality as the other cameras with this same setup (X-Pro2, X-T2, X-T20 and X-100F). This is a given.

One thing that I'd like to see (besides the updated sensor and such) on the X-E3 is an ISO dial. On my X-E1 I can adjust the aperture and shutter like an old school manual film camera, but the ISO requires jumping through menus. I usually leave the camera in auto-ISO, but sometimes I do manually set it, and when I have to it's a sore spot (there aren't many). The newest X series cameras actually already have an ISO dial, so there isn't any excuse for it to be omitted from the X-E3. I expect that it will be included, and it would be highly disappointing if it was left off for some reason.

Another improvement I'd like to see is a better electronic viewfinder. The EVF on the X-E1 is sufficient but not spectacular. It's my understanding that Fuji has made some significant strides in this department over the last several years and it certainly would be nice if those improvements found their way onto the new camera. I don't see why they wouldn't.

I imagine that there will be auto-focus improvements (as is usually the case with new models). I use a lot of manual focus lenses so this really isn't a huge deal to me, but in those rare times when I do auto-focus I'd like it to be as quick and accurate as possible. I think that the focus joystick thing that Fuji has included on some of their new cameras would be a nice addition to the X-E3.
Yashica Minister-D & Fujifilm X-E1
Duel memory card slots would be great. I don't think that this will happen (it's a feature found in the higher end models), and it's not as important nowadays as it used to be (when was the last time you had a card error?), but I would definitely welcome it.

How about 4K video? I'm not a big video guy, so it wouldn't bother me much if Fuji didn't include 4K capabilities, but it would be nice for those occasions where I do shoot video. The X-T20 has 4K video, so to should the X-E3.

Another improvement that I'd like to see would be a tilting touch screen. And if Fuji won't do that, how about either a tilting screen or a touch screen, with the tilting screen the preferred choice of the two. It's 2017, and this really shouldn't be too much to ask. Even so, photographers did just fine without any screen on the rear of the camera for--what?--17 or 18 decades, so it's really not a huge deal if Fujifilm doesn't make any change to the rear screen. But a tilting touch screen would be a nice touch to what is a nice camera.

One final improvement, and one that I personally think should be near the top, is size and weight. Anytime you can make a camera smaller and lighter you should do it. With the advancements in digital technology since the X-E1 was introduced, Fujifilm should have very little problem shaving a little off the upcoming X-E3 without compromising anything. And I hope they do.

Monday, May 1, 2017

iPhone 7 Plus Sample Image - Or, You Don't Even Need A Camera

Store Hours - Layton, Utah
I went to my local AT&T store today to help my mother-in-law with an issue with her phone. While there (because I had to wait awhile) I looked at all of the cellphones on display. One that interested me is the new iPhone 7 Plus with its duel cameras.

For those who don't know the specs, the iPhone 7 Plus has two rear-facing cameras: one with an f/1.8 28mm equivalent focal length lens and another with an f/2.8 56mm equivalent focal length lens. Both cameras feature a tiny 12-megapixel Sony-made sensor.

I set the camera to "Noir" (which is a high-contrast black-and-white setting) and snapped an image of the store's front door using the 56mm lens. The phone was attached to the wall, so the subject options were limited. I was impressed with the results, so I texted the image to myself. I might just have to get this phone when it's time to upgrade. We'll see.

It's my understanding that the iPhone 7 Plus has options for RAW processing and even a "Portrait" mode that makes decent fake bokeh. I didn't see either option during the moment I had the phone in my hand, but I think it would be interesting to experiment with those options at some point in the future.

The one picture that I did take looks pretty good. It has nice sharpness, plenty of contrast and a good dynamic range. I applied no editing, the picture is a straight-out-of-the-camera JPEG. An 8" x 12" print wouldn't be any problem, but I don't think you'd want to go all that much larger than that.

You don't have to have a camera with you to capture pictures--that is, if you are at the phone store and you're testing their products. Take a picture and text it to yourself. This might even be an interesting project for someone. Remember, in the words of Chase Jarvis, "The best camera is the one that's with you."

Below are two massive crops from Store Hours.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Photoessay: Urban Utah - B&W Street Photography

Hustle & Bustle - Salt Lake City, Utah
Over the last couple of weeks I've had a few opportunities to do some street-type photography in and around the Salt Lake City, Utah, metropolitan area, including a couple downtown adventures. I walked around with a camera, capturing the city scenes as I saw them.

Urban life is dissimilar to rural life or even suburban life. The people are different, the atmosphere is different, the values are different, the pace is different, the architecture is different. This is something I've always been photographically fascinated by. The picture opportunities seem endless.

I used a Fujifilm X-E1 camera with a Rokinon f/2 12mm lens (except for Because Everyone Is Unique, which was an X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm lens). I really enjoy the challenge of going ultra-wide-angle. You have to really get into the scene, and I'm actually much closer to the subject than it would appear in the images. Trying to remain inconspicuous is difficult, but necessary. When I say that it is a challenge I really mean that, but the experience is rewarding.

The images are camera-made color JPEGs that were converted to black-and-white using Nik Silver Efex. I purposefully made them contrasty and grainy to mimic the look of film (the films that I "grew up" using before the days of digital). I chose black-and-white because it helps communicate the emotion that I'm trying to convey through these images--color images would have an entirely different feeling.

Because Everyone Is Unique - Ogden, Utah
One Way Or Another - Ogden, Utah
Push Button For That Way - Ogden, Utah
Time To Wait - Draper, Utah
New - Draper, Utah
Moon, Come And Play - Draper, Utah
Welcome to Downtown - Salt Lake City, Utah
Leaving & Stuck - Salt Lake City, Utah
Solitude Life - Salt Lake City, Utah
Walking Holga Style - Salt Lake City, Utah
Walking Past Texas - Salt Lake City, Utah
Busy Businessman - Salt Lake City, Utah
Mobile Tourist - Salt Lake City, Utah
Walking Woolen Mills - Salt Lake City, Utah
When Life Leaves You Behind - Salt Lake City, Utah
Bus Stop - Salt Lake City, Utah
Where Are You - Salt Lake City, Utah
Up Against A Wall - Salt Lake City, Utah
Empty Street - Salt Lake City, Utah
Coffee Shop Smile - Salt Lake City, Utah