A Huge Thanks to My Readers for 2 Million Page Views!!

TAURUS-02781According to my WordPress stats, my blog received its 2 millionth page view this week. Going by Google Analytics, which I didn’t install until 2011- almost four years in, the number is almost 2.5 million, with nearly 1 million unique readers.

Either way, I need to stop and think about that for a minute.

2 million.

2 mill-ion.

2 mill-ee-yun.

I had to say it a few times, because when you’re getting into the millions, you’re talking really big numbers.

Sure, there are plenty of blogs that have millions of readers each week, but to me, a couple million is an astounding figure, considering that it’s just me sitting here, banging on my keyboard every day and every week, just talking about photography. I’m not a department, and I don’t have managers and content curators. It’s just me. Dan Bailey.

The fact that people have clicked and opened up over 2 million pages tells me that I’m doing a few things right with all of this blogging stuff. It shows me that the experience, insight and photographs I share provide real value and help to inspire and readers people from all over the world.

It keeps growing too, because while it took me about 7 years to hit my first million page views, it only took 2 years to hit the second million. That stat blows me away.

And when I say “people,” I mean you, because at least a quarter of those million visitors are people who have come back at least once. If you’re reading this right now, there’s a pretty good chance this isn’t the first post you’ve read here on my blog.

Of course, numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. If I look deeper into the analytics, I can see that a large percentage of visitors have only visited once and stayed for less than 10 seconds. That’s search engine traffic where people land and jump back off in a flurry of frantic mouse clicks and finger taps.

On the other hand, close to one million page views are from people who stuck around and read at least 3 or more of my blog posts in one sitting. Given that a number of my posts are fairly long, I smile when I think about how much valuable “work time” has been spent perusing my site, reading about cameras and stuff.

It makes me very happy to know that my work and words have inspired so many people out there. My blog is truly a labor of love, because every time I sit down to write a post or answer a comment, my primary goal is to help people become better photographers, including myself. In fact, many of my posts originate from my own learning process.

It continues to be that, year after year, and whenever I think about all of the topics and ideas inside my head that I want to write about, I get even more inspired. And that doesn’t even count the times when I sit down and come up with an idea on the spot.

So, I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to my readers for making me WANT to write and share my knowledge with you, and for taking the time to read, share and comment on my blog. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of your creative process and your ongoing and endless photography journey in this world.

Also, I love to hear from you guys, so if you’re a regular reader, it would be awesome if you’d leave a comment and let me know how long you’ve been following my blog. Let me know if you remember the first one of my posts that you read, or one that has particularly inspired you or helped you with your photography. Or let me know what you’d like to see more of. What style of posts do you especially like from me?

Thank so much and take care! -Dan

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Testing High ISO Performance with the Fujifilm X-T2

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Shot with the Fujifilm X-T2 at native ISO 12800

Having shot with the new Fujifilm X-T2 during the past few months, (read my full review here) I’ve been extremely impressed with how well it performs at high ISO settings. Given that the X-T1 does quite well when shooting in low light, (here’s a pixel-to-pixel comparison of how well the X-T1 stacks up against the Sony A7r), I was curious about how they would improve the noise reduction on the X-T2.

We all know that pixel size plays a huge factor in how well a sensor does in low light. Since the new 24MP APS-C X-Trans III sensor actually has smaller pixels than the 16MP APS-C sensor on the X-T1, there would no doubt have to be some new magic under the hood in order to make up for this.

With the X-T2, Fujifilm has incorporated a few new technologies, including copper wiring instead of aluminum for better conductivity and faster signal transmission, improved signal amplifier and better noise reduction algorithms. The non-Bayer patter X-Trans sensor also helps reduce noise; the irregular pattern RGB pixel array helps the image processor better spot noise artifacts.

However, the biggest factor is the new X-Processor Pro image processing chip. It’s the backbone of nearly all of the X-T2’s performance enhancements. That’s what drives the faster autofocus system, faster EVF refresh rate and shooting frame rate, reduced shutter blackout and sensor readout time, faster image processing, as well as the ability to shoot 4K video and compress RAW files to 14-bit lossless format.

Shot at ISO 12800

Shot at ISO 12800

With processing power that’s four times faster than what’s possible in the X-T1’s EXR Processor II, the X-T2 is able to run much more complex and powerful noise reduction algorithms. The result is that high ISO images shot on the X-T2 don’t really have “noise” anymore, at least not the kind we’re used to seeing. Instead, high ISO images now look very grain-like, even at very high settings. In addition, they retain a very high level of sharpness and detail.

Let’s have a look.

Image Examples – X-T1 vs. X-T2 High ISO Comparison

We’ll start with guitars. Here are two examples from both the X-T1 and X-T2 shot at ISO 6400. At “webs size,” both cameras seem to do fine at this setting.

X-T1 ISO 6400

X-T1 ISO 6400

X-T2 ISO 6400

X-T2 ISO 6400

Now lets look at some RAW+JPEG pairs, shot on both the X-T1 and X-T2 at ISO 3200, and 6400. For each setting, I include four versions, the first pair being a straight 100% crop from the RAW file, saved as a JPEG with no processing. The second pair at each setting is a 100% crop of the straight JPEG.

As you can see, the RAW versions have no noise reduction applied, so they appear a little grainer. This is a clear illustration of how well the sensor itself records the scene at high ISO settings. Notice, I said “grainer.” It really does look like grain, even at the higher settings.

The JPEG versions look at little smoother because of the in-camera noise reduction that’s been applied. This is where the X-Processor Pro comes into play. At each of these speeds, the X-T2 shows improved noise reduction, finer grain and a slight increase in detail.

X-T1 ISO 3200

X-T1 ISO 3200 Straight RAW Conversion

X-T2 ISO 3200

X-T2 ISO 3200 Straight RAW Conversion

X-T1 ISO 3200

X-T1 ISO 3200 Straight JPEG

X-T2 ISO 3200

X-T2 ISO 3200 Straight JPEG

X-T1 ISO 6400 Straight RAW Conversion

X-T1 ISO 6400 Straight RAW Conversion

X-T2 ISO 6400 Straight RAW Conversion

X-T2 ISO 6400 Straight RAW Conversion

X-T1 ISO 6400 Straight JPEG

X-T1 ISO 6400 Straight JPEG

X-T2 ISO 6400 Straight JPEG

X-T2 ISO 6400 Straight JPEG

Now let’s bump up the speed even more. While the max native ISO setting on the X-T1 is only 6400, the X-T2 has a native ISO setting of 12800. Please note, these exposures vary slightly due to the fact that I shot multiple images with slightly different settings during my test, but you can still get at accurate look at the noise reduction and sensor performance.

X-T2 ISO 12800

X-T2 ISO 12800

X-T2 ISO 12800 Straight JPEG

X-T2 ISO 12800 Straight RAW Conversion

X-T2 ISO 12800 Straight RAW Conversion

X-T2 ISO 12800 Straight JPEG

 

Now that we’ve pixel peeped, let’s look at some real world examples. After all, what matters here is not how pixels compare with the previous model when viewed at full 100% crop, it’s how different scenes hold up under real light out in the world. These are all straight JPEGS.

ISO 800

ISO 800 on the X-T2 is like the new normal. There almost no noise, and if there is, it’s rendered as gorgeous looking grain with minimal intrusion.

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ISO 1600

At ISO 1600, the X-T2 does amazingly well. It holds a very high level of detail and resolution. I’d use 1600 without even thinking about it and expect excellent results.

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ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, you’ll start to see some grain with certain kinds of subjects, but in good light with a good exposure, this setting holds up incredibly well. I can’t believe the level of sharpness and detail that’s preserved in the moose here.

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ISO 6400

At ISO 6400, you’ll definitely start to see the grain build up, but that’s exactly my point. It’s not noise, it’s grain. It imparts a lot of character, but it doesn’t overwhelm or take anything away from the photograph.

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ISO 12800

I’m blown away by how well the X-T2 images look when shot at ISO 12800. At this setting, you have a tremendous amount of grain, but it’s not obtrusive. As with 6400, it imparts a great deal of character and give the image a very real “photo-like” feel, just as if you were using high speed film.

To my eyes, the black and white images hold up better at ISO 12800, but the color isn’t bad, it just has a different look. Honestly, I haven’t shot a lot of color images at 12800 yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s

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ISO 25600 and 51200

I only have one image example shot at 12600 and 51200, and to compare, an X-T1 image shot at 51200. As you can see, the X-T2 images are pretty grainy, but they still holds up surprisingly well considering they were shot in the nosebleed section. I never shoot at this speed, but if you have to grab a shot and you have no other choice, the X-T2 will give you an acceptable file.

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ISO 25600

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ISO 25600

ISO 51200

ISO 51200

ISO 51200

ISO 51200

ISO 51200, shot with the X-T1

ISO 51200, shot with the X-T1

ISO 51200, shot with the X-T1

ISO 51200, shot with the X-T1

Final Thoughts

Having used the X-T2 since early May, I feel I’ve gotten a very good feel at how the camera performs at different ISO settings. From my tests, I feel the combination of the new sensor, internal hardware upgrades and the new image processor make the X-T2 an excellent camera for shooting in all lighting conditions, especially for things like concert photography, indoor sports, nighttime shots and astrophotography and low light portraits.

I have full confidence when shooting in low light with the X-T2 and absolutely no qualms about cranking the ISO dial into higher territory. There is no native speed I’m uncomfortable with. Photographers have always had to make tradeoffs when shooting in low light, but with the X-T2, those tradeoffs just got a whole lot better.

Check out my full review of the X-T2. Also, check out my blog post about the new autofocus system I wrote for the Bedford Camera website. If you think it’s the right camera for you, you can preorder it through these links. It will be available in September. And, stay tuned for more “feature reviews” of the X-T2 in the coming weeks.

Shadows Are Your Best Friend in Photography

Learn Photography Online with the Pros

TAURUS-07230In my recent blog post, titled Bring Back The Shadows: The Case Against HDR, I talked about how shadows bring the important elements of subtlety, innuendo and abbreviation into your imagery.

Like any art form, the power of creative photography lies in the process of suggesting your scene and engaging the imagination of your viewer. By only showing a limited portion of your subject matter, you invite your audience to think about what’s NOT there. This allows them to fill in the rest of the story in their minds, and in some cases, attach their own meaning to your image.

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By not giving them everything, you allow your viewer to WONDER. That’s the key, because once you do that, you’ve suddenly brought them in as an active participant. In fact, anytime you engage your viewer’s brains, you’re gone a long way towards creating a more successful image.

To equate this to other art forms, think about a favorite song. Music, especially good songwriting tells enough of a story to bring you in and equate the narrative to your own life. The songs that really move us are the ones that make us think and feel. Songs that fail to deliver any kind of meaningful message, or more importantly, allow us to take something way are simply noise. Those aren’t the ones that last.

It’s the same with powerful fiction (and movies). Clive Cussler novels and other summer brain candy aside, a good story isn’t just about engaging descriptions and plot, it’s a narrative that resonates with us somehow and incites is to think about the world in a different way.

Sabina Mackay bouldering, Pitch Penny Boulder, Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins, Colorado

I’m not saying that simply by including lots of shadowed areas in your photo, you’ll suddenly create a visual best seller, but you will go a long way towards making a more compelling shot, if not for the implied story or subject matter itself, but because of a fundamental compositional rule.

By placing bright colors against a dark background, the brain perceives those colors to be more saturated than if they’re set against a bright background. Simply using shadows in your scene helps you create more bold imagery.

Imagine how this shot of the bikers might look if they were set against a white overcast sky, or some other brightly colored environment. The black adds a tremendous amount of visual power here, and it helps saturate those rich reds in their jerseys and helmets. All that black adds a ton of drama to the scene.

Next try to picture what this photo would look like if I had exposed for and shot it while they were still inside the shade. You’d see everything- the trees, the road, the other riders in the background, maybe a street sign and one or two spectators. Like an HDR photo, nothing would be hidden- everything in the scene would be out there in plain sight. Do you think that would make for a compelling composition?

Shadows are your best friend in photography. They’re perhaps the most powerful visual and creative tool you have in the whole process, so don’t cast them aside. Look for them out in the wild and use them to their fullest potential.

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A Look at 3 Awesome Travel Tripods

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For a long time, most serious outdoor and travel photographers only considered two or three tripod brands: Manfrotto, Gitzo and Benro. Most of the other brands out there were either too heavy for travel and backpacking use or else they just didn’t offer … Continue reading

Recap of My Midnight Sun Glacier Photography Workshop

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This past weekend, I ran my Midnight Sun Overnight Glacier Photography Workshop, here in Alaska, and we had a blast! In short, the workshop involved helicopters, camping out in the wild, kayaks and a few million tons of ice. Add … Continue reading

X Series Evolved – My Full Review of the Fujifilm X-T2

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It’s here. After months of unsuccessfully trying to dodge the rumor mill, the new Fujifilm X-T2 finally shows its face. Does it live up to the hype? My answer, with absolutely no hesitation is yes. The X-T2 is so ufferad-ass, … Continue reading

Read my Photo Essay BIKEPACKING in ROMANIA

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  Last fall, I did a 6-week bikepacking trip in Romania. We spent most of our time exploring and riding around the backroads of Transylvania, pedaling village to village through a wonderful and diverse landscape. Read BIKEPACKING in ROMANIA: Chasing … Continue reading