Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Steam & Steel - Union Pacific No. 844 at Ogden Union Station

No. 844 on Track 1 - Ogden, Utah
The Union Pacific Railroad has steam locomotives that they occasionally run just for the heck of it. One of those steam locomotives is number 844. Yesterday it puffed and chugged into the old Ogden Union Station in downtown Ogden, Utah. My wife and I took our three young kids to see it.

The Union Pacific 844 was built in 1944 by the American Locomotive Company (also called Alco). It was designed for passenger service, with a 4-8-4 wheel arrangement, and had a top speed of 120 M.P.H. It was the very last steam locomotive that the Union Pacific Railroad would buy brand new. It is also the only steam locomotive to never be retired from service by a major North American railroad.

A great resource to know when these trains will be operating, and to GPS track them as they travel, is right on the Union Pacific's website. I knew where the train was coming from and where it was going and where it was currently at. Still, I almost drove up to the station too late to watch it operate. Literally it arrived at Ogden Union Station the same time that we arrived. We hurried out of the car and we were able to watch it slowly back down track one right next to the station. The whistle was really loud and scared my three-year-old boy.
Union Pacific No. 844 - Ogden, Utah
To say that it was crowded is an understatement. Hundreds of people turned out to see it. I was trying to capture interesting images while also keeping my kids close to my side, slowly making our way through the crowds of rail enthusiasts.

My seven-year-old son had made a poster for the train's arrival. He was holding the sign up and one of the train crew saw it. He approached my son, read the poster and asked him several questions about it. My son is very shy, but he loved that the trainman took notice and talked to him. He also talked to my three-year-old son (who is not shy) about trains.

We didn't stay long--just enough to let the kids take in the experience. It was a little chilly and the rain kept threatening. Besides, it was nap time for my three-year-old. It was great to see such a large relic of industrial past still operating. It was pretty neat to watch the old steam engine--with all of its moving parts--still working. Vintage is cool, and this was cool to see.
Everybody Loves Trains - Ogden, Utah
No 844, American Locomotive Company - Ogden, Utah
Union Pacific 1957 - Ogden, Utah
An American Iron Horse - Ogden, Utah
Alco Steam Locomotive - Ogden, Utah
No. 844 at Ogden - Ogden, Utah
Railroad Police - Ogden, Utah
Josh, Jon, Joy & U.P. 844 - Ogden, Utah
Joy & Jon & U.P. 844 - Ogden, Utah
Here For The Train - Ogden, Utah
Talking Trains - Ogden, Utah
Three Young Ferroequinologists - Ogden, Utah
LITTLE, big - Ogden, Utah
X-844 - Ogden, Utah
U.P. Steam Engine No. 844 - Ogden, Utah
Union Pacific Steam - Ogden, Utah
Top of No. 844 - Ogden, Utah 
Alco Steam Locomotive Monochrome - Ogden, Utah
Steam Release - Ogden, Utah
Letting Off Some Steam - Ogden, Utah 
I used a Fujifilm X-E1 camera and Rokinon f/2 12mm, X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm and Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm lenses. The pictures were post-processed using Nik software.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Time Spent Post-Processing Photographs

My photograph "Red Chairs" in the editing process.
Almost every photographer spends time editing their pictures, some more than others. A couple years ago I read an article about a photographer who spent two weeks post-processing one image. Not just an hour here and an hour there, but two solid weeks of sitting in front of a computer editing one single image. Crazy, huh?

Some people really love Photoshop and computer manipulation. Personally, the less time I can sit looking at a computer screen the better. I view post-processing as a necessary evil, and I limit it as much as I can. I find shortcuts. I might even delete an image altogether if I feel it might take too long to edit.

But I still find myself spending lots and lots of time in post-production. In fact, I find that every hour of capturing means two hours of editing. Sometimes it's less and sometimes it's more, but on average it is a two-to-one ratio. The hours spent digitally manipulating pictures can add up quickly!
The Morning Window - San Simeon, California
This is a photograph that I spent a significant time post-processing, starting from a RAW file. 
This isn't a new phenomenon to the digital age. Back when I shot film I would spend hours and hours in the darkroom. I can recall days (in the winter months) starting in the lab before sunrise and not finishing until after sunset, working straight through with no breaks. Post-production has always been a part of the photographic process.

What I like about photography is the capturing and the finished product. It's the in-between stuff that I could do without, if only I could actually do without it. I have to post-process in order to get the polished images that I want.

Actually, the pendulum swings. There have been times where I spent significant amounts of time editing RAW files. There have been times where I used straight-out-of-camera JPEGs. And everything in-between. It's all about what you want to compromise.
Blue Umbrella At The Lake - Antelope Island State Park, Utah
This is a camera-made JPEG that I should have probably given a light edit to.
And no matter what there are compromises. Don't want to compromise any on the image quality and final look? Well, something's got to give, and it's going to be your time. Don't want to compromise your time? Well, something's got to give, and it's going to be the photograph.

I try to find a good balance where I'm compromising the least amount possible of both quality and time. My time is valuable and there are so many things that I'd rather be doing than editing, including capturing more pictures and spending time with my family. I want to use my time wisely because it is a limited resource.

To speed up my workflow so that I'm not in front of a computer too long I use presets (pre-programmed settings within my software that give a certain look when applied). I don't mess with curves or anything like that (well, sometimes I do, but I try not to) and I try to keep the customization of each image to the absolute minimum required to achieve the desired look. I also shoot JPEGs instead of RAW (thanks to Fujifilm's excellent in-camera JPEG processing), and try to get as much as possible correct in the field.
Birds On A Vase - South Weber, Utah
This is an example of doing just enough post-processing to achieve the desired look without using up too much of my valuable time. 
Something else that I try to do is delete every exposure that doesn't immediate strike me as being good. It's easy to think that an image is good because of an emotional attachment to it, when it is in fact not all that great. It's easy to think that a little editing can make a mediocre image shine, but that's an illusion.

I've spent a lot of time over the years post-processing exposures that should have been deleted. Looking back at these images I wonder why I thought of them as worthy of my attention. They were a waste of time! I don't want to repeat that mistake, so I aim to be especially critical when reviewing my exposures. Keep the good ones. Delete the mediocre ones. Time saved.

The time spent post-processing photographs adds up to a ridiculous number of hours. It's an investment that needs to be made in order to make your photographs look the best that they can, but it's easy to spend too much time at it. You have to make some compromises. You have to find shortcuts. You have to know when good enough is good enough. Avoid being unwise with your time. Know when there are better things that you could be doing, and find a way to do those better things instead, because you only have so many hours in your day.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bonneville Salt Flats - A Place Straight Out of Hollywood

Dusty Desert - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
I had an opportunity this last weekend to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats in the far west deserts of Utah for the first time. The salt flats are just inside the Utah border not more than a few miles from Nevada. In fact, Wendover, Nevada, is visible from the salt flats.

The image that I had hoped to capture was the sky and mountains reflected in the shallow water that covers the Bonneville Salt Flats in the spring. Someone told me that April was an excellent month to go. I wanted the evening light so I didn't leave my house until mid-afternoon.

Getting There
Delle Bus Door - Delle, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are a little more than 100 miles west of Salt Lake City on Interstate 80. Once you leave the suburbs there is not a whole lot in-between. It's a boring drive, and it seems to take forever, despite the 80 M.P.H. speed limit.

I did make one stop along the way. There is a little town roughly halfway between Salt Lake City and the salt flats called Delle. There's not much there except for a gas station and an abandoned motel. It seemed to be a popular stop for ATVs and dirt bikes and such.

The reason that I stopped in Delle was to photograph the abandoned bus that's been left out in the desert. The bus was easy to spot from the freeway and not too much trouble to drive to. People go out and spray paint it and vandalize it. It's Utah's version of Cadillac Ranch, I suppose (but much less cool). It's a popular spot to take pictures.

I always attempt to create unique images. I don't always succeed, and it might be impossible at some locations (such as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon), but I still try. I thought going ultra-wide-angle would be my best bet, and so I attached a 12mm lens to the camera. I made a few exposures, then hit the road to get to my destination before sunset.
Inside The Savage Bus - Delle, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.

Bonneville Rest Area
Salt Covered Rock - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.
I was given the advice that the best place to see the Bonneville Salt Flats is from a rest area right off the westbound interstate freeway. As I'm approaching the salt flats, signs point to a rest area ahead, and so that became my first picture location. And, boy, was it disappointing!

What I saw was not what I was expecting. I think because the winter was so wet, the salt flats were a salt lake, probably eight inches deep. That might have been alright except that the wind was blowing, and the lake had plenty of ripples and not much in the way of reflections. So much for capturing the picture I had in my mind! Time for plan B.

I still took some time to photograph this location. There were a few picture opportunities, and I kept my eye out for them. But soon it was time to move further down the road. I think at certain times of the year this would be an excellent stop, but I was there at the wrong time.
Pilot Peak Behind A Salt Lake - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Salty Shallow Lake - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Foot Wash - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Leaning Public Phone - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.

Along The Interstate
Self, Evening Stroll - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.
There were a handful of parked cars along the I-80 about three miles beyond the rest area. By this point the lake was dry and a dozen or so people were out walking on the salt flats. Even though it is illegal (not to mention dangerous) to non-emergency park on the freeway shoulder, I followed the crowd and did the same thing as them. I suppose if they had jumped off a bridge I would have, too. Oh, well.

What I experienced was the classic salt flat scene. Flat. Dry. Desolate. Cracked lines snaking across the desert. This is what the entire salt flats look like in the summer, and what you probably envision when you think of places like this. It looks almost like something created by Hollywood--in fact, a handful of movies have filmed scenes at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

I didn't spend much time here. I get a few interesting pictures, but the sun was getting low and I had one more stop planned. So I got back in the car and continued down the road.
Line In The Salt - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.

Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway
Blowing Dust Over The Salt Flats - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
A few miles beyond where I pulled over along the interstate I found an exit for the Bonneville Speedway (the very next exit after the rest area). There's a gas station right when you exit, but there's nothing else along this paved road. I followed the road north (and then east) for about five miles (following the Bonneville Speedway signs) until it ended in a cul-de-sac in the desert. There were several cars parked and a few people out with their cameras.

When you think of "international speedway" you probably don't envision an empty desert. I don't, anyway. But in the dry summer months people come from all over to drive really fast here. In fact, the Bonneville Salt Flats are where a number of world land speed records have been set, including several in excess of 400 M.P.H.

I arrived just at the right moment. As soon as I got out of the car a dust storm kicked up and it was back-lit by the low sun. Perfect! I snapped away. It was an amazing sight that lasted only a couple moments, and was gone as quickly as it came.

I made several more exposures at this location until the sun went down. The salt flats looked (mostly) dry here, but it was actually muddy and slippery. You couldn't walk out on them very far at all. I got what pictures I could.

The sunset wasn't particularly spectacular, but I watched it anyway. Afterwards I made my way to Wendover, Nevada, which is maybe 15 minutes from the cul-de-sac. I grabbed a burger and something to drink. Then I headed back in hopes of getting a picture of the stars over the salt flats.

It got dark and cold fast. The wind was still blowing at a good clip. The tripod kept slipping in the mud. It wasn't great conditions, but I did come away with a night photograph.

Satisfied with my adventure (except that I wasn't able to capture the image that I really wanted), I headed back home, arriving around midnight. It was good to climb into bed.
Dust In The Wind - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Rock On The Salt Flats - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.
Peak Beyond The Salt Flats - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Black Mountain - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Blowing Dust - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Desolate Desert - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Stars & Salt - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.

Friday, April 14, 2017

News: Fujifilm Rumored To Release X-E3 In Fall 2017

Fujifilm X-E1
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. 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
It was rumored that Fujifilm had intended to discontinue the X-E line. There were some credible sources that said Fuji had no plans for an X-E3. But then customers took to the web and made their voices heard. There were a lot of people asking Fuji for an X-E3 with the new X-Trans III sensor. And Fujifilm listened.

The current rumor floating around is that the X-E3 will be released this fall, just in time for Christmas shopping. Not many details have been revealed, except that it will be slightly smaller (yea!) than the previous three X-E models. And it will, in fact, have an X-Trans III sensor.

I'm excited for this because I would like to give the new X-Trans sensor a try. My X-E1 is five-years-old (although I've only owned it for about nine months), and so it might be getting close to time to relegate it to "backup camera" duties. I love the design of the X-E1, so I want to stay within the X-E line. In other words, the only camera that I'd want to replace my X-E1 with is the X-E3.

And by replace, I mean that I would keep the X-E1 but just wouldn't use it as my primary camera anymore. I can envision pairing a vintage lens with it and keeping it in that configuration. It's a good camera that creates good images, so I don't think it will sit on a shelf collecting dust. At the same time it has more than a few clicks on the shutter and it won't last forever, and if there is something that's the same except a little better, that would be the ideal successor.

Monday, April 10, 2017

State of the Photographic Industry 2017

What is the state of the photographic industry in 2017? Where is it headed?
I've been asked to comment on what I believe the state of the photographic industry is in 2017. I have no special insights on this, just my own knowledge, experiences and observations, which probably aren't worth a whole lot. But since I was asked I'll give my two cents.

The question can be divided into two departments: gear industry and photography industry. These are two very separate things within the photographic sphere, and I'll talk about both.

State of the Camera/Gear Industry
The Wonder of Film Photography - South Weber, Utah
It's no big secret (even though some companies have tried to make it a big secret) that camera and photographic gear sales have been in decline for a couple years now. People just aren't buying new equipment at the rate that they had in years past. The sales decline is found in almost every category and subcategory of gear.

There are a couple reasons for this. First, digital camera technology has reached a point where everything is pretty darn good and at the same time there aren't enough new innovations to lure upgrades. Very recently a photographer confided that he was disappointed his brand new $2,000 camera wasn't all that much better than his five-year-old camera. He asked, "Why did I just spend two grand on this?" And that's the industry right now in a nutshell. People aren't sure why they should buy that new gear and so they don't. What they already own is more than good enough.

The second reason that gear sales are in decline are cellphones. A big chunk of camera sales used to be pocket point-and-shoots. Even though "professional photographers" weren't the ones typically buying these, the big profits helped support the development of higher-end gear. But cellphones, which now have sufficient image quality across the board, have significantly eaten away the market for pocket cameras. People decided that they didn't need to have two cameras on them, so they chose the one that also allowed instant editing and sharing (among other things).

It makes me wonder why Canon and Nikon and others have not ventured into the cellphone marketplace. Why aren't these camera companies making Android phones designed with photography in mind? They should be leading the way on this! Instead, Google, Apple, Huawei, Samsung, Sony and others have been the innovators. It seems like such a lost opportunity.

It's not all doom-and-gloom. There are some areas where sales have been growing. Two areas in particular are fascinating to me because many had left them for dead.
Three Cameras With Stripes - South Weber, Utah
One is digital medium format. When the full-frame Nikon D800 came out (followed quickly by the D800E and then the D810), which had tons of resolution and dynamic range and pretty darn good high ISO capabilities, some thought that this was the beginning of the end of medium format. Why spend three or four (or more) times the money on something that's only marginally better, if better at all? Sony and Canon weren't too far behind with full-frame cameras that had even higher resolution. Added to this was a tiny trickling of new medium format gear.

Yes, digital medium format was going to be a memory and nothing more. Except that's not what happened. I don't think many would have guessed two years ago that medium format would be booming today, but right now it is! This is one of the big areas of growth within the photographic industry, with Fujifilm and Hasselblad leading the way.

The second area where sales are unexpectedly growing is film products. Film died in 2002, right? Not exactly. Film products of all kinds are significantly on the rise, and the growth seems to be largely with young people who had no prior experience with film. Go figure!

What I'm about to say is a little off topic, but this seems like a good place to insert it. I have a great idea for a camera. I think it's the next million-dollar photo product. But I don't have the money or skills required to bring it to market (not even close on both accords). If you are a camera company executive and reading this, contact me. I'll pitch the camera idea to you and see what you think. I believe there is a real money-making opportunity. Anyway....

Camera gear is always in a state of fluctuation. There are ups and downs. Right now things are largely down, but don't expect that to last very long. Soon there will be a new hot product, a new innovation, a new trend, that will drive the next great wave of sales.

State of the Photographer
Two Photographers At Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park, California
What's the state of the industry like if you are a photographer? Are opportunities abounding or shrinking? How easy or hard is it to break through in 2017? Do photography jobs still exist?

I believe that there are three basic tiers of professional photographers: low, mid and high. On the low end you have those who earn a part-time living from photography. The middle tier are those who are full-time photographers whose household income comes mostly from photography, but aren't exactly earning the big bucks. At the high end are those making a really nice income from photography, somewhere well above the average national income level (roughly $75,000 annually or more, just throwing a figure out there).

The low tier is significantly over-saturated with run-of-the-mill talent. Everybody has a camera and everyone's a photographer. An entry-level DSLR (which is capable of more than sufficient image quality) is easily affordable, and a website and business cards are cheap. It doesn't take much to begin earning something. But because there are way more photographers than there is a demand for low-budget photography, most of these people will never move up from this level.

A side effect of the low tier being over-saturated is that it requires more talent to move up out of it than it used to, even compared to just 10 years ago. There are a lot of talented people that just get lost in the overwhelming crowd. And being talented with a camera isn't enough. You have to be just as good at the business side of things as the photo side of things.

All the while the over-saturation of the lower tier has made the work available for the middle tier significantly shrink. Access to sufficient quality images has become much easier and cheaper. What once required a middle tier photographer doesn't anymore. So it's become more and more difficult to make a full-time living from photography. You are just as likely to get squeezed out of the middle tier as you are to move up to it from the lower tier.
Today's Girl Photographer - Barstow, California
The upper tier, which is where you want to be, has plenty of work. The demand for this tier is just as great now as it was 10 and 20 and 30 years ago. But it takes much more to get to this tier. The skill level and business acumen required is much higher than it used to be. Whatever genre you are in, you have to be one of the best of the best.

In a sense it has never been more difficult to break into the photographic industry. And in another sense it has never been easier. There are so many resources and so many avenues, any old Joe with enough photographic and business talent can quickly make it to the top. There is so much right at your fingertips. The right person under the right circumstances can have mega success, and it might even seem to the outsider as if it were easy.

Once upon a time not all that long ago, if you didn't go to the right schools, or intern for the right photographers, or hang out with the right crowds, it was difficult to get discovered. It was more about taking the "right" steps than anything else. Often it was more about who you knew. All of that has been tossed out the window.

So whether or not the industry is better or worse, easier or more difficult, growing or shrinking, it all depends on your perspective. Because it is all of that and more. So you have to forge your own path and make your own success. You can do it, but don't expect an easy path.

There's another large group within the photographic sphere that I haven't mentioned: the hobbyist. These people aren't in it for the money, although they certainly have an impact on all aspects of the industry (to one extent or another). But it is hard to figure out exactly what their place is in all of this (except that hobby photographers spend lots of money within the industry). These are exciting times for the hobbyist, with gear becoming better and more affordable every year, and with plentiful platforms to share one's images. For these people, the industry has never been better, and next year holds even more promise.