This past week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge was indeed a challenge. I. J. Khanewala1 has asked us to lift “…the commonplace into the most extraordinary thing that you have seen”. But what does it mean?
- with no special or distinctive features; normal.
- what is commonplace or standard.
Should I try to make an exceptional photograph of a commonplace scene or an ordinary picture of a memorable scene? What is normal and commonplace? Normal for me or normal for others? Does it matter?
At first, I thought about I.J. Khanewala onion photograph and her approach. I thought that perhaps I would play with light and shadow from the early morning sunlight coming through the kitchen window. I’m a weekend photographer, and it’s October in New Jersey. The light comes up later and goes down sooner, leaving very little time in the morning for playing with sunlight. The skies have been cloudy all week; flat light. But I tried. I’m not too fond of the result. I looked around my home and realised that I didn’t want to photograph any of it.
As a primarily outdoor photographer, my real challenge is seeing beyond the “everyday feels the same” struggle of self-enforced “mental survival” routines that I created during the pandemic lockdown. Netflix, Apple TV+, HBO, Hulu, and Disney+ became my escape from the constant reminder that I could not do the things I wanted to do. But, these routines continue despite the “opening”. Monday to Friday, I usually don’t leave the house Monday to Friday, and some weekends, I don’t leave the couch.
It’s October in New Jersey, and some of the leaves on the trees have begun to yellow, but not enough of them. I gave up on the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge for the moment and went out for an early morning walk in the Billie Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve in Princeton. The preserve is about ten minutes (6.3 km) from home.
I’ve hiked the Billie Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve many times over the last several years. It’s a usually quiet place to sit and think and get some low-effort exercise. The loop around the lake often has stunning fall foliage. I’ve photographed spectacular displays in early October, mid-October, and late October. But not today. It’s too early in New Jersey. The fall foliage forecast in Central New Jersey has defied prediction. Perhaps next weekend?
I focused on photographing what is commonplace at this time.
While I explored Billie Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, Pettoranello Gardens, and Community Park North, I saw some people cross a narrow wooden bridge that I had not noticed before. I had promised Bhavna we would go out for a hike this weekend, so later that day, we returned to Billie Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve and explored one of the loop trails.
Bhavana asked what photography challenge I was working on. I explained what I thought the challenge was about and why I had a hard time with it. I stopped to photograph some flowers, wishing I had a macro lens. The XF60mmF has been on my “wish list” since I both my Fuji (2018). But it’s an expensive lens, and I have not convinced myself that I would use it enough to justify the expense.
A macro lens can usually focus from infinity to 1:1 magnification, meaning that the image size in real life is the same as it’s reproduced on the sensor. Macro lenses also allow for closer focusing distances than standard lenses and often require you to get very close to your subject. Extension tubes can be great tools for photographers on a budget looking for a cheaper alternative for doing close up or macro work. An extension tube is great for photographers who want to experiment with macro photography but are not necessarily ready to invest in a dedicated macro lens.
Last night, after dinner, Bhavna opened the Amazon.com package that had arrived earlier that day. “It’s for you”, she yelled from the kitchen. I walked and was both upset and excited. I was upset because I had forgotten that I had ordered a Fujifilm MCEX-16 macro extension tube, and had I checked the mail sooner, I could have used it to photograph the fall berries and wildflowers I saw during the hike. But I was excited because even though I would be posting my entry for the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge a day late (again), at least now I had a novel way to approach the challenge.
Without the MCEX-16 macro extension tube, the Working Distance of the XF27mmF.8 lens, the distance from the top of the lens barrel to the subject, and the Shortest Shooting Distance, the distance from the image sensor to the subject, is 299mm and 340mm respectively. With the MCEX-16, the working and shortest shooting distances become 60mm and 118mm, respectively, providing a maximum magnification of 0.66. It’s not 1:1 magnification, but it’s usable.
The MCEX-16 has electronic connections that automatically pass information between Fujinon X Mount lenses and Fujifilm X Series camera bodies. I can still use autofocus and control the aperture while using the tubes. Since a macro lens’s depth of field (DOF) is often very shallow, I must use smaller apertures. One downside is that to avoid shooting at a very high ISO, I must ensure the object is well lit. Another downside is that I cannot focus at a distance. With a lens like the Fujinon XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro lens, one has close-up capabilities but can still focus at a distance. Using these extension tubes is also great for people like me, who don’t do much macro photography but still want the ability to do so when the moment arises.
This morning, when the sun had risen high enough above the trees (around 9:30 AM) to light up the kitchen and the backyard, I attached the MCEX-16 to my XF27mmF2.8 and set about transforming usually ordinary and commonplace (at least for October) fall coloured leaves into something interesting.
It rained last night, and the air was thick with moisture. The sassafras tree in the backyard turned yellow and red and orange earlier the week. The rain and wind from last night have defoliated most of the tree, scattering wet leaves on the lawn and the small deck. Moisture glistened off some leaves and collected in small pools on others. The bright sunlight helped provide sufficient light to light the leaves even at f/8.
I am happy with this result.
I recently re-discovered Fuji X Weekly’s Nostalgic Negative Film Simulation. Ritchie Roesch created this recipe to mimic the Nostalgic Negative Film Simulation, which can only be found on the high-end and expensive Fujifilm GFX100S medium format digital camera.
Fujifilm stated that the Nostalgic Negative film simulation is based on “American New Color” photography of the 1970’s. They studied photographs by William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld and Richard Misrach in order to create it. Eggleston and Sternfeld largely shot on Kodachrome—II and X in the early 1970’s, 25 and 64 in the late’ 70’s—while Shore shot mostly Kodacolor, and Misrach shot a lot of Vericolor. All of those are Kodak films, but with different aesthetics.
The Nostalgic Negative Film Simulation recipe may not be an accurate facsimile of the true Nostalgic Negative, but I am an instant fan. All of the images in this blog post are straight-out-of-the-camera (SOOC) JEPGs captured using Ritchie’s Nostalgic Negative Film Simulation with some cropping to suit my needs.
- Who is I.J. Khanewala? I don’t know. Unlike Patti and Leya, some of the guest bloggers don’t post their first names. ↩