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The Fifth Ape

September 05, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

The Fifth Ape





One of my ongoing projects is what I call "The Fifth Ape."  If you've ever spent time looking at portraits of gorillas or chimpanzees, you've probably noticed that they capture those elements of the apes that are most human.  There's something about their expression that is both human and animal.  Their facial features, their stance, the way they hold themselves, expresses something that reminds us of how closely related we are to the other apes.  What I'm trying to do with this project is the reverse.  I'm trying to imagine the human as an ape, to capture those of our features that we share with them.  Aside from our shared facial features and expressions, there's something about our arms and hands that particularly strikes me as ape-like.  The idea is to convey the animal that is inherent in man and to relate that to our closest animal brethren, the several kinds of apes: gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and ourselves.

I will be updating this post as a continuing project.  I hope you enjoy.







Ape, Upright B&WApe, Upright B&W

Ape, Upright


Ape IIApe II

Ape II


Ape Hands

Playtime: FM2n

February 11, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

My D800 has been in the shop.  While this has been frustrating, it's given me the opportunity to shoot some film on a few of my older cameras.  A friend of mine has let me borrow a Nikon FM2n to shoot.  Below is a few brief thoughts on shooting with this camera...

The Nikon FM2

Generally speaking, I love shooting with this. The 50mm 1.8 AI-s lens has a very smooth focus, so manual focus is fairly easy and comfortable (though still certainly more time-consuming than AF). the shutter speed dial clicks very pleasantly. the shutter makes a solid-sounding clap (I find it pleasant, anyway). The film advance ticks nicely as it winds the next frame. Almost everything about the way it feels is quite nice.   There is one exception, where the strap clips are on the sides of it. they kind of dig into my finger a little. While I will be glad to get back my behemoth of a DSLR (it's big and heavy, but just fits my hand so comfortably), I'll definitely enjoy shooting this some more.

As far as the look of the camera, it was designed well.  It has strong, but not harsh, lines.


Nikon made a black, but I think I like the look of chrome on black better.  While it stands out more in a crowd, the contrast of the two tones just pleases me.  I'm not sure why.

UPDATE: One more shot of the camera.


And then, the question is, how does it actually perform.  Pretty well.  The center meter is reasonably accurate (in the center), though certainly not perfect and certainly not as accurate as the sophisticated meters on modern cameras.  Anyway, here are some shots made with it.  They were made on Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 film.

300 S. Gay Streetforgive the scratches. that's not the camera's fault or the film's. I just don't have a proper film dryer or any clearing chemicals. Curves and Shadowsforgive the scratches. that's not the camera's fault or the film's. I just don't have a proper film dryer or any clearing chemicals.

Lens Review: AF-S Micro-Nikkor 60mm 2.8G ED N

November 15, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Since I just picked one up and having not seen many satisfactorily thorough reviews of this lens mounted on a D800 (I suspect because it's a rather wide focal length for macro work, which I'll get into later), I thought I'd throw in a penny or two worth of my opinion on this lens.

Sharpness (to get this out of the way) is brilliant.  At 1:1, I can almost distinguish individual plant cells in shots of my favorite subject (dawn redwoods).  No one disputes the sharpness of this (or most any other true macro) lens.

I really want to comment on some of the complaints I've seen of using this lens for macro work.

A quick recap of complaints I've found in other reviews of this lens:

1. You have to get too close.

2. Heavy vignetting

3. Not built well.


I'd like to make a few comments about these complaints.  First, they are all true in their way, but there's more to it than that.

1.  You have to get too close.

Yes, you have only about 2-3 inches from the front of the lens to the subject when you're working at full 1:1 reproduction.  If you shoot bugs, either make sure they're dead or shoot them first thing in the morning when they are still mostly inactive.  Don't try to shoot black widows at all.  If you shoot inanimate objects, the 2-3 inches isn't a big deal.  But won't you get in the way of your lighting?  Only if you aren't creative.  One quick caveat to add in here.  Previously, for macro work, I'm used to extension tubes and reverse rings on non-macro lenses.  2-3 inches seems like endless space to me.  So, all things are relative.  If I were going from a 150mm macro lens, I'd probably feel different.


2. Heavy vignetting

This is true at f2.8.  That's all there is to it.  Does this bother me?  No.  Not really.  Not most of the time.  I often burn the edges of frames.  Heavy vignetting on this lens mean less work for me in post for most of my applications (and lens vignetting usually looks much more natural and pleasant than software vignetting).  Are there times I don't want this?  Yes.  Fortunately, the D800 has so much dynamic range, I have some room to correct this in post if I need to.  By f5.6, vignetting is gone.  And most macro work is done stopped down to get as much depth of field as possible.


3. Not built well

Meh.  It's not a $1,500 lens.  The 35mm 1.4 lens feels fantastic.  It's metal.  It's solid.  It's precise.  It has a super smooth focus motion.  It also costs a ton.  This 60mm macro lens is not.  It costs $550.  For $550, it is very well built.  It's not heavy, but it does feel of heavy glass and some metal parts.  It is weather sealed.  The rubber on the focus ring feels nice.  It's focus motion feels good, but not great.  The outer material is plastic, but it feels relatively durable compared the plastic on any of my D lenses.  Also, as far as the build, the lens is best used for small to medium sized products/objects in a studio setting.  It's built well enough I'd be comfortable, yet careful, taking it in the backcountry.  But realistically, most of the time this lens will be used in a studio where it will be safe from bears, drops off a cliff, jagged rocks, bull moose, etc.


Now, the positives:

1. You have to get close.

60mm is a great focal length.  Practically speaking, the wider the lens, the more depth of field you have to work with.  When you are shooting tiny subjects, depth of field is huge.  Also, I thought getting close to your subject is generally thought of as a good thing.  I've started using this lens as my everyday normal focal length lens.  I only really throw my 50mm on if I need to shoot in absurdly low light.  60 is not a bad focal length for portraits (it's not great, either) in a pinch.  It gives a slightly more cinematic feel as a normal lens than does the 50.  Really, even thought it's intended to be a macro lens, it works pretty well as an all-purpose lens.


2. Less chromatic aberrations than the 105mm.

Or so I've read.  I haven't shot with the 105mm, so I won't say much on this and what I do say, take this with a grain of salt.  Test and review sites say it's less.  I don't know.  What I do know is that chromatic aberrations are very limited in this 60mm lens and take very little work to correct.


3.  It's sharp.

Just plain sharp.  It's capable of resolving high levels of detail, which is exactly why you got the D800.  It's hard to produce lens flares.  Distortion is almost non-existent (not completely, but almost).


Long story short: It's a great lens.  And cheap, too.  It's great for copy work and slide scanning.  It's great for product photography.  It's great for most macro applications (just not dangerous bugs, so no black widows and no poison frogs).  And though it's not a portrait specialist or a landscape specialist, it's pretty good for these and other general applications.  If you are just wandering, you can feel fairly comfortable leaving most of your other lenses at home most of the time, unless you're going to be shooting something specific and need a specialist lens.  It's like having a slowish, but sharp, normal focal length lens, but not having to worry about getting too close for it to focus.

D800: For the D800, in my opinion, it's definitely worth it.  It has enough resolving power to impress.  With the D800's low-light ability (or a D700 or D3, D4, for that matter), this lens is transformed from a short-ish macro lens into a short-ish macro lens plus a very good normal focal length, casual walk-around, all-purpose lens.  All for $549.


*Update: One more quick comment.  Its autofocus is reasonably fast (at least as fast as my 50 1.8D lens, maybe faster), which I find fairly impressive given it can focus from 2 inches to infinity.  The only problem is that on occasion, it gets lost and has to hunt (and on those occasions it seems remarkably dumb).  Most of the time it's great.  I find that the times it gets lost are when you've been focused at or near infinity and then you suddenly shoot something at 1:1.  Just a quick turn of the manual focus ring tends to set it straight.  Like I said, though, this is not usually a problem.  It's important to be aware of it just in case, but I have yet to really miss a shot because of it.


*Update 2: Like I said, don't do this with this lens.

Chasing Your White Whale

June 13, 2013  •  Leave a Comment


So, sometimes as a photographer, you may be drawn to something, a particular subject, or a place where light tends to fall just so.  And you're intrigued.  You may make a quick snap just as a reminder to go back to that spot or subject when you have more time to do it justice with the image you make.  You go back and make the image you saw in your head (or at least something that is decent) and are happy.  You may forget about the quick snap and never go back and not worry about it.

Then there are times, subjects, locations, that are different.  Maybe you see a particularly grand tree in a forest.  You take a lazy snap, knowing that there is something there you can revisit when you have more time.  You come back to the spot, ready to focus and spend the time it takes to make the great image you feel is there.  You carefully compose.  You wait for the light and shadows to be where you want.  You do everything right.  But you don't make a great image.  You make one that is decent.  It's okay.  It's better than average.  But you know something missing.  Maybe it's just the light.  Try again at a different time of day.  Still not what you know is there.  Maybe different weather?  Some fog, maybe?  You wait for a foggy morning.  You set everything up.  The fog is gorgeous.  Maybe it's morning and the light has just started filtering through the trees, shining brilliant rays through the fog.  Nope.  Maybe the perspective is wrong.  You wander around the subject, crouching.  Climbing.  Scouting.  Trying to get just the right vantage point.  Nope.  Still just decent images.  Maybe they're even pretty good.  But not what you KNOW is there.  Maybe it would be best in a different season.  You come back again and again.  In snow. In rain.  On a hot summer day.  In the crisp air of autumn, leaves just beginning their color change.  At night.  Long exposure?  Nope.  Maybe needs more photoshopping? Nope.  Different format?  You shoot it square.  Nope.  4x5?  Nope.  Maybe something more cinematic.  16x9 with a long lens? Nope.  Maybe you need to shoot with film.  Digital doesn't have the right look?  Nope.  Maybe you're focusing on the grandness of the forest and forgetting the trees.  You shoot details of your subject.  Nope.  Still missing something.  Then light goes off in your head like a flash!  A FLASH, literally!  There are shadows where you want light and light where you want shadows.  When the natural light doesn't cooperate, make your own.  You carefully set up strobes, reflectors, etc.  After what amounts to hours upon hours of setup, hundreds (if not thousands) of frames, you may have created some pretty good images.  Some you're even proud of.  But you still haven't captured what you KNOW you can get out of that spot, that subject.  There is a truly great image there.  Maybe there isn't, really.  But it doesn't matter.  You will search for your photographic white whale until you've gone mad.



UPDATE: Here is my latest attempt (dawn redwood, metasequoia glyptostroboides):

getting closer...maybe.



Anyway, this is one of mine:









Shooting Pete and Natasha

June 05, 2013  •  1 Comment

So...I recently did some portraits for Pete and Natasha for their upcoming blog/website.  When they make it available, I'll post a link.  Until then, I'll tell you just a little about them and post a small sampling of the portraits we made together.  They are travelers and homesteaders (which don't sound like they could be the same thing :).  Their blog will chronicle their travels, which should include their previous travels (an American road trip and tour of Southeast Asia) and what will be a road trip through Central and South America.  It will also include their strawbale homesteading project in East Tennessee.  Enjoy!

this is pete. this is natasha.

this is pete. this is Natasha.


this is pete and natasha.

this is pete and natasha.



Also, Natasha is also a photographer.  So, some of the post-processing from the shoot is hers.  Also, it means that when their site is up and running, you can look forward to seeing some great travel photography :)

Have fun on all of your travels and homesteading adventures!

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