Conspicuous Composition: Favorites and Challenges from The Year of Square

Most Year of Square images were last-minute, grudging snapshots, but I still tried to make the composition matter.

Most Year of Square images were last-minute, grudging snapshots, but I still tried to make the composition matter.

I have been told there are no right angles in nature, but I don’t believe it. Nature’s basic operating principle is infinite diversity. I’m sure there are right angles out there somewhere.

Still, you’d have to scan the countryside pretty intently to come up with a rectangle that wasn’t man-made. Good luck finding a perfect square in a field of flowers. This, I think, was the biggest lesson of my Year of Square photo-a-day project: a square is an unnatural shape that calls attention to itself.

Hasselblad shooters and others created iconic square images, but we are accustomed to seeing photographs presented as rectangles. I found the square format challenging. All the usual “rules” of composition apply, but under tighter constraints. Three-plus weeks into the project, I produced an image that interested me:

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The Last Month of The Year of Square

As the Year of Square draws to a close, I must reflect on what I've learned about photography, and what it means that I take so many pictures in bars.

As the Year of Square draws to a close, I must reflect on what I’ve learned about photography, and what it means that I take so many pictures in bars.

This is the final month of the Year of Square. Thank goodness. Soon I’ll review the 360-ish images and figure out what I’ve learned. I fear it will have something to do with not being good at long-term self-assignments… Z

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I’m Getting Sick of Praising the FujiFilm X100s, But There It Is

One part light; one part how you see it.

One part light; one part how you see it.

I have not been shooting much lately, so I decided to bring a camera to dinner. I thought about bringing the D610 and 105 micro, but that’s what I brought last time. And besides, the X100s was already in the iPad bag (it’s a Tamrac of some sort, but I cannot find the model number on the bag and you certainly cannot expect a lazy, impatient, disorganized photographer to remember or look up such things. It holds an iPad and a pretty good mess of camera gear, although the X100s and extra batteries live in it most of the time).

Evenings like this remind me that the light is everywhere, except perhaps the Grand Canyon Caverns, and it’s up to me to do something with it. Nice to have a little camera like the X100s at the ready.

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Nikon D610 Resolution Surprise

A quick, front porch snapshot of Charman, the stray who recently adopted us.

A quick, front porch snapshot of Charman, the stray who recently adopted us.

I’ve been enjoying the Nikon 610 since December, but I was still surprised when I enlarged this quick snapshot to find this:

Wow. I did not expect this kind of detail in such a small portion of the frame.

That’s me sitting cross-legged on the front porch. The catchlight is an sb800. I did not expect this kind of detail in such a small portion of the frame.

Something tells me I can do a lot more with 24 megapixels than I have so far. Looks like it’s time to improve my shot discipline yet again!

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What I Got The X100s For

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Would one of my other cameras have provided adequate depth of field to keep both pets in focus? Probably not in this light. Besides, it would not have been hanging around my neck when I walked by the stair landing. The lightweight X100s was at the ready.

With all due respect to Chase Jarvis, we’re all sick of hearing that “the best camera is the one you have with you.” It’s just so irritatingly true. For those of us with too many cameras and too little vision, it’s nice to have rules about which camera to have with us at any given time.

I got the Fujifilm X100s last October to be my “carry everywhere” camera. Nevertheless, every time I’m about to leave the house, I agonize over which camera(s) and lens(es) to bring. Often, when I’m going to be out and about for non-photographic purposes, I remind myself, “This is what you got the Fuji for.” I then also remind myself to not end sentences with prepositions, since that is something up with which I cannot put.

Yesterday we visited a couple of wineries (and Ostrich Land!) in the Santa Ynez Valley. I was not going out to make photographs; I was going out to enjoy time with friends. This is what I got the Fuji for.

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Would a longer lens have been nice while visiting this miniature horse ranch? Sure, but the X100s challenged me to frame my images differently. Wish I’d gotten lower. Oh well.

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Preparing to feed the ostriches. Snapshots of friends are absolutely why I got the Fuji.

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I struggle with the X100s focus system for any sort of moving subject, but at f/5.6 in bright light, it is very forgiving.

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The X100s also provides better acuity and dynamic range than we have any right to expect.

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As I said, I haven’t figured out how to use the X100s for action, but sometimes I get lucky. Which is fine while snapshooting. If I was traveling to the Santa Ynez Valley to photograph Ostriches, I would bring the big bag o’ Nikons. And a couple of flashes. And maybe some light stands and umbrellas.

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I am occasionally reminded that the X100s is capable of far more than I usually get out of it. When I do my part, the camera delivers excellent images.

The lightweight X100s allows me to maneuver it into unusual positions.

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My dinner wine, reflected in the table, along with a very photogenic sky. I would have felt very self-conscious trying to shoot something like this with my Nikon D610 – at least until my third glass of wine. But I use the X100s in silent mode, so when I raise the camera and snap the frame, I’m done before anyone notices.

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The Song My Photos Were Waiting For

On my 56th birthday last April, I went to see Aimee Mann perform with poet Billy Collins. On that same day, I received her new album with Ted Leo, performing as The Both. It included the song, “Hummingbird.” Like Nessun Dorma, this is a song that just gets me, so I decided to use some of my wildlife photos to make a slideshow with the song.

And this is where being a lazy, disorganized, impatient photographer kinda bites me in the butt, because I couldn’t find a lot of my best wildlife pictures, distributed as they are among several computers, many hard drives, and many, many, optical discs. Oh well, the song is beautiful and some of these images are pretty good too.

Works for me. I would say that “One of these days I need to get organized,” but it’s not going to happen. So it goes.

Oh, and I don’t really have the right to use the song, but maybe if you buy The Both, and everything else Aimee Mann and Ted Leo have created, they’ll give me a pass. Thanks.

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I Did It Better Last Time, By Not Being A Photographer

I ignored good advice from others, and from myself. I know dang well that I shoot better when I carry less gear on vacation.

To be fair, though, this vacation was to offer a rare opportunity (for me) to visit a Great Blue Heron rookery in a stand of old-growth pines. How could I NOT bring the D610, 70-200 f/2.8, and 1.7x teleconverter?

As it turned out, the day of our visit to Cathedral Pines was murky (rainy/humid/grey), the herons were very far away, and when they were visible at all, they were only visible behind masses of tree limbs.

As close as I got to a heron photo at the rookery. That said, the experience itself was magnificent.

As close as I got to a heron photo at the rookery. That said, the experience itself was magnificent.

A nest, about 80 feet in the air...

A nest, about 80 feet above me…

Other than the long zoom and teleconverter, I brought a 24mm f/2.8, and did much of my shooting with that.

Brad and Alicia; the real reason we were in Wisconsin.

Brad and Alicia; the real reason we were in Wisconsin.

Now I have to admit that if I were traveling by myself, I would have spent many long hours at the rookery, getting eaten by mosquitos, until I got some dramatic images of adult Herons and/or chicks. But this was a vacation, not an assignment, and I wasn’t by myself. I was with three other people getting eaten by mosquitos. Not the right time to be saying, “just 1,000 more frames, and then we can get lunch…”

We had a wonderful time with our friends, and I got a couple of photos while out and about.

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A cabin in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, built in 1828.

A cabin in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, built in 1828.

And then, on our last night, the best photographic opportunity of all: Brad and Alicia needed a headshot of their daughter Hope. I’ve rarely used the new D610 with the 70-200 sans teleconverter, and I like the results very much.

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So, the moral of the story is that I talk to myself but I don’t listen. I should vacation with the camera I bought for vacationing: the FujiFilm X100s, and plan photo trips as solitary photo trips. Seems like the best way to enjoy each type of trip.  That said:

...we were with people we love, having a great time, and it wasn't about photography.

…we were with people we love, having a great time, and it wasn’t about photography.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Nature Photography, Professional vs. Amateur, Travel and Vacation