New toy: Some test shots with the Lensbaby Spark

As I mentioned in my previous post, after pressing my nose up against the Lensbaby candy store window, I decided to take a small bite of the system with the LensBaby Spark.

It's the least expensive of the line ... in fact, the site calls it a "the perfect Lensbaby for young photo enthusiasts." And since I am secretly a nine-year-old (sometimes a little older, sometimes a little younger, depending) it seemed like a good fit.

Still life with Toes
Still Life With Toes

I took some test shots with the Spark and with my 50 mm f/1.8 lens. Unfortunately, the comparison isn't quite fair in these two sets of image because I didn't use the same in-camera settings. And for the 50 mm shots I changed the lighting a bit, as well. 

An aside: One of my goals is to learn how to batch edit in Photoshop so that the pictures are consistent--as opposed to editing levels on each photo individually, which makes it difficult to get consistent results, as you'll see below. It's especially noticeable in the second pair of images. 

Lensbaby Spark - 50 mm comparison (Lensbaby) Lensbaby Spark vs 50 mm comparison (50 mm)

Left: Lensbaby Spark
f/5.6 (fixed)
ISO 400
Shutter speed 1/30th second
Levels adjusted in Photoshop

Right: 50 mm
f/1.8 (I should have used a larger aperture for a fair comparison)
ISO 640
Shutter speed 1/250th second (and a slower shutter speed)
Levels adjusted in Photoshop

Lensbaby Spark vs 50 mm comparison (Lensbaby) Lensbaby Spark vs 50 mm comparison (50 mm)

Left: Lensbaby Spark

f/5.6 (fixed)
ISO 400
Shutter speed 1/30th second
Levels adjusted (poorly) in Photoshop

Right: 50 mm
ISO 640
Shutter speed 1/400th second
Levels adjusted (poorly) in Photoshop

I tried more test shots this morning using comparable settings and lighting conditions on photos taken with both lenses; will post those here and on my Flickr page soon.

How to batch edit in PhotoShop
How to save actions in PhotoShop Elements

Bokeh for days: Lensbaby Lenses

So, I have been thinking about getting a Lensbaby for a while now, but a couple of things have held me back.

Life is just a sleeve of tennis ballsFirst of all, they're pretty expensive for novelty/specialty lenses. A Lensbaby Control Freak will set you back $350. Kind of like a fish eye lens--I have one, but rarely use it and with varying results. --->

Second--and this is going to sound overly dramatic--Lensbaby photos make me sick. Literally. I'm not saying I don't like them. I do. But the extreme blur makes me dizzy and if I look at them too long I start to feel nauseous. It's the same feeling as being car sick.

Then I saw the Lensbaby Spark for Nikon. It's much less expensive and because the aperture is fixed at f/5.6 the blur is not as dramatic ... as far as I can tell: I've only had the lens a few days and I'm still figuring it out. (I'll post some test shots soon.)

Meanwhile, here are some photos from other Flickr members that I like (so long as I don't look at them too long). They are all taken with the more expensive Lensbaby lenses, I think. I say "I think" because many photographers only tag their photos "Lensbaby" and don't always say which one they used. I searched Flickr looking for ones that were taken with the Spark that I like enough to share *and* that had the "share this" feature turned on ... no luck.

By the way, a lot of Flickr members have disabled the sharing feature on their photos, which means you cannot post them on blogs or other non-commercial sites even in the smallest sizes. Please click on the photos below to see the original size on the photographers' pages. A comment or fave is a nice way to thank these folks for sharing.

Which one is your favorite?

Totally works, even though *nothing* is in sharp focus. Salbjörg Rita Jónsdóttir, AKA Dalla*  
New Year's Wish
Yummy colors. Sweet 35. Dave King

Everyday objects elevated by John Baird.

Leaving the Scene of the Crime
Rick Hebenstreit, AKA Ricko always makes me smile. 

Sunday Afternoon
Lovely for portraits. Victoria Hederer Bell with an Edge80.

Museums make me snappy/happy

After a couple of depressing posts (one depressing and way too long, no less), I thought I'd post some photos I've taken in museums. Always liked taking pictures in museums.

That is all.



This is not to be looked at

Floral Arrangement


What's missing from digital (besides the film)

contact sheet_edited-1The ability to view a photo as soon as you take it and make adjustments until you get the image you want is one of the major advantages of digital photography. But sometimes I miss the slow pace of film photography. I even miss the disappointment, failure and lost opportunities inherent in film.

The long wait
Before digital cameras, you could shoot one roll of film and you’d be thrilled if two or three* photos out of 36 were gems.

(*Good catch, anonymous editor!)

And it took time to get at those gems. You didn't always shoot a full roll of film in a go—it might spend weeks wound around the spools in your camera. Then maybe you’d wait till you had two or three rolls saved up before you took them into the darkroom or down to the local drugstore. 

You had to wait a week for the prints to come back or spend time in the darkroom mixing chemicals, pouring them in the proper order, timing everything just right, listening to the tick of the timer, agitating and rinsing, all the while never knowing if you’d get a worthless strip of opaque celluloid in exchange for your efforts. 

Then you’d unwind the spool and hang the negatives up to dry. After some more waiting you’d snip them up, put them under glass, make a contact sheet and—finally!—turn on the lights to see the results.

The bad pictures
Inevitably, there’d be one or two great ones and a handful of good ones. But there would be many more bad ones—misfires beyond repair. Out of focus, hopelessly overexposed, boring subjects, horrible compositions.

And those bad photos were right there in front of you, right next to the good ones, serving as permanent context—black and white proof that you are not perfect. You took it in stride, because the good photos, even if they weren't all perfect, were so much better than the bad ones. Instead of despairing over the bad photos, you learned from them. It was a normal and expected part of the process.

Take a look at the contact sheet at the top of this post--some of the photos are snapshots, some are tilted, most have blown skies, some way over- or way under-exposed. But there are three, maybe even four, that I liked. (Wish I still had the prints--these thumbnails are cropped from the scan of the contact sheet, which is why they look like fuzzy bits of shite). 

Three or four good photos out of 30. Success!

See? Context.

The reality check
Digital is good for the ego; not so much for objectivity. With digital, you can review a photo as soon as you take it and delete it in an instant if it’s crap. You can fiddle with the settings and re-shoot the same scene over and over until you get it just right. It’s as if those crappy photos never existed—as if every picture you take is effing brilliant.

So what happens when you bring your memory card back home, plug it into the computer, look at a page of thumbnails, open some up in full screen and realize that what looked great on the small LCD screen on your camera isn't as good as you thought? Do you chalk it up to the learning process? Do you feel proud of the ones that did come out well? Or do you focus in on and beat yourself up about the ones that suck?

For me, unfortunately, it’s the latter. 

And that's exactly what happened when I got back from Paris.

And this is a very long way of getting to my point about ...

The shitty Paris pics
UntitledIn May it will be two years since I went to Paris. Although I uploaded some pictures from the trip to Flickr when I got back, I didn't spend a lot of time editing and I didn't upload more than a handful. I never put them on this blog. I didn't make prints. I recently noticed that at some point I marked the few I did edit and upload to Fickr private--not even visible to friends and family. Not even the people who were in the photos.  

I don’t remember doing it, but I know why I did it.

I did it because digital photography has tricked me into thinking that all of my photos should be effing brilliant. And when they’re not effing brilliant, the blow is more painful in digital format than it would be on film.

When I got back from Paris, I plugged in my memory cards, opened up the page of thumbnails, and focused on the ones I hated. And I hated a LOT of them.

There was no way I could have lived up to my expectations for that trip and the brilliant photos I planned to take there. But I also didn't expect to come back with as many truly crappy pictures as I did. (A fall down the hotel stairs and a badly sprained ankle that cut my trip short by a couple of days didn't help matters.)

Time and emotional distance
So… two years later, can I look at my Paris pictures with some emotional distance? Can I look at them as a group without focusing in on all the bad ones?

It’s complicated. That trip was awesome. But I think I’ll always feel bad about the photos I took on it.

Anyway, recently I went through some of the pics again, tried to look at them as they are rather than how I hoped they would be. And yes, it turns out there are a few that I like. I’d put the number at about 2 out of every 36.


    Last night in Paris