Friday, August 31, 2018

Jay Maisel and the Concept of Gesture in Photography

Back in 2013, I posted some of my thoughts on words of wisdom from Jay Maisel.    Ever since I first saw "A Day With Jay Maisel" on KelbyOne, I've been fascinated by Jay Maisel's work, thoughts and ethos.

So much of our thought processes are the same, yet he has a way of explaining it through his words and his images that just hit home with me.  He is one of those photographers that I go back and re-read and re-watch often when I am in a rut or need inspiration.

One of the things that I did not cover in the original post above was the concept of "gesture".   I think it had more to do with the fact that I did not truly understand the concept as Jay talks about it until recently.  Below is a link to a video where Jay explains the concept way better than I ever could.  I'm going to attempt to give my thoughts on it, but better that you get it from the man himself before I possibly butcher it or go awry through my attempt.

Jay Maisel on Gesture

Like many, I thought that "gesture" was something that only a human or living creature could possess.

For me, gesture is not only the way that someone moves, but the air they put off by the way they move, stand, walk or interact with anything.  That something unique about what they do, and finding a way to capture the essence of that in a single fragment of time - that one single photo frame.

If you watched the video linked above, you'll soon learn that gesture is much more than a human or living creature concept.  Just about anything can have gesture.   For me it is about the feeling that that object conveys to you.  A tilted leg on a table may give you the impression of unstable or imperfect.

Then you can take those individual pieces and possibly you can get lucky and have multiples of them in the same image. 

This concept goes way beyond the science and technology of photography.   Forget f-stop, shutter speed, aperture.   No longer care about the 12fps of your motor drive or electronic shutter.  Today, marketing is more important than ever and the public is fed that the camera or the lens that has the most technology jammed into it is the one that is "best in market". 


Best in market is the gear that gets out of your way to allow you to get to what photography is all about.  Best in market is what is best for you and you alone.  Capturing the "decisive moment", if you like to use the Henri Cartier-Bresson term.  Immortalizing the gesture of someone in that shot that will most likely never repeat itself again.  Sharing the feeling that you had at that moment or that the subject of the image had; finding out that a crack in a pane of glass, the color and shape of a vase in a specific lighting scenario can make you FEEL something.

I often wondered why after going through all the iterations of high tech DSLRs that for portrait, personal and enriching photographic activities, I reach for the Nikon Df or the Olympus PEN-F.  I won't make you guess, I will share it with you.

I know my photography basics.  The gear I pick gives me access to use some of Nikon's awesome legacy lenses.  The Nikkor 200mm f/4Q, 105mm f/2.5 just to name a few.  Put those on the Nikon Df/PEN-F and walk around.  Just me. A shutter release.  A manual focus lens.   So simple, so organic, so inexpensive now.  Much less between me and the subject and just a good, honest capture.

I look more for the color and gesture and shape of something.  How it makes me feel.

So at the end of the day, what does all this do for me, or for you?

Introspection, self improvement, learning.   All those things cause growth.  Growth is life, stagnation is death.   Finding the gesture in something is finding what makes it sing, gives it life and makes it interesting, what makes it unique to everything else out there.   That is not bullshit.   It is an epiphany or an awakening that every image maker hopes to have eventually.  Sadly, once you have the awakening, you can lose it.  We often lose sight of the vision we had.  We stop looking for what makes things alive and fall back to the shiny bells, whistles and lights of the newest thing out there.

That is when we need to pull ourselves back into introspection mode and ask ourselves, "why am I doing this?"  Start that journey of growth again and move forward.  It is a never ending cycle.

I love photography because it allows this once shy, awkward nerd from a small Pennsylvania town to share what I see and feel with others.  It allows me to go beyond what is in front of you and dig deeper into the world.    Nothing should ever be judged solely on the depth of its skin, but on a grander scale of the potential it has.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Tamron 28-200mm f/3.8-5.6. My FIRST DSLR Lens


Another trip into the "way back machine" and here we have my very first DSLR lens I ever purchased.   The Tamron 28-200mm f/3.8-5.6 Di.   After having just purchased a Nikon D50, I needed something other than my old Nikon N90s kit lens, the 35-70/3.3-5.6.

Just starting out in the photography game, you don't always have the money to get a matching Nikon lens, so Tamron again to the rescue with a budget friendly super zoom.

Thankfully, at the time, I had no frame of reference to know what better was.  Honestly, for years this lens kept me moving forward.  Kept me learning and started me down the path.  Even for all it's failings, I got to give it properly respect for being there.

1.3 sec, f/22, ISO 200 @ 28mm (tripod)
Nikon D50
0.4 sec, f/32, ISO 200 @ 85mm (tripod)
Nikon D50


This lens was built for 135 film camera, and just so happened to also be Nikon digital SLR compatible.  Even so, it is a relatively smaller lens considering the 28-200mm range. 

You also need to consider that the camera I was using it on, the D50 is an APS-C (DX) sensor.  SI your wife end is really a field of view of 42mm.

The zoom ring is smooth on this lens and it does telescope out, so you needed to be aware of that when using it near glass or people.

I don't remember it being particularly heavy either, so that is another plus.

I didn't really down lot with manual focus back then, but what I do remember is that the focus ring was a bit wobbly, but sufficient for adjusting as necessary.

1/400, f/6.3, ISO 1600 @ 200mm
Nikon D50

1/200, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 28mm
Nikon D50

1/125, f/7.1, ISO 200 @ 200mm
Nikon D50

Image Quality

The old saying that lenses are at their best clicked down a step or 2 hold true for this lens.  It is better side open on the wider end than the longer.

Plenty of distortion too, but nothing that post processing software could not fix.  It is not the best resolving lens, but given the target cameras it was placed on being 6mp (D50) and 12mp (D300) respectively, it was more than enough.

1/320, f/11, ISO 200 @ 28mm
Nikon D50

1/125, f/16, ISO 200
Nikon D300

1/200, f/8, ISO 200 @ 200mm
Nikon D50


The focus was always very accurate, but the speed was lacking like most Tamron lenses of that generation.  It would often hunt and rack focus, but when it locked in, it was plenty accurate.

1/500, f/5.6, ISO 800 @ 122mm
Nikon D50

1 sec, f/11, ISO 200 @ 28mm (tripod)
Nikon D50

1/320, f/7.1, ISO 200 @ 75mm

1/800, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 130mm
Nikon D50

Bottom Line

What a walk through memory lane.  Not sure why I didn't this lens as a review, perhaps it was just to allow for some nostalgia, dig up some old pics and remember the simpler time of shooting without a bag full of lenses, a deadline of the stress of a paying client.

Given the quality choices that are available today, I do not see any compelling reason to use this lens but give us another 15 years and we just might be saying that about the lenses we have right now.

Anyway, just remember to sit back and review and remember how you used to do things.  Sometimes we leave behind techniques and methods that could benefit us, or remind us of the mistakes we made and to not make those again!   Learn from history.

Some additional images for your viewing pleasure!

1/200, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 200mm
Nikon D50

1/640, f/7.1, ISO 200 @ 62mm
Nikon D50

1/320, f/7.1, ISO 200 @ 58mm
Nikon D50 

1/80, f/11, ISO 400 @ 28mm
Nikon D50

1/125, f/5.6, ISO 400 @ 200mm
Nikon D50

1/125, f/5.6, ISO 800 @ 200mm
Nikon D50

1/160, f/6.3, ISO 200 @ 28mm
Nikon D50

1/400, f/7.1, ISO 200 @ 28mm
Nikon D50

1/80, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 60mm
Nikon D50

1/500, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 40mm
Nikon D50

1/80, f/6.3, ISO 200 @ 200mm (tripod)

1/250, f/5.3, ISO 200 @ 100mm
Nikon D50

1.6 sec, f/11, ISO 200 @ 80mm (tripod)
Nikon D50

1/400, f/6.3, ISO 200 @ 200mm
Nikon D50

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Review - A Lens From Yester-Year

image © Tamron USA


Reaching back into the archives, I've never really reviewed for you all my very first "Pro" workhorse zoom.    I say "Pro" because back then, if anything was f/2.8 constant aperture, we all called it that. 

The Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 was my first lens I purchased specifically for my photography business.  I wanted something versatile and with a fast aperture.   Money being scarce, you sometimes take chances on things....and that is what I did with the Tamron 17-50/2.8.

Shooting wide open at f/2.8 on an APS-C sensor


Tamron always surprised me in how they could make relatively equivalent lenses for less money as well as smaller size and lighter weight.  The 17-50mm was no exception as compared to what Nikon had at the time, the 17-50 just made a lot of sense.  This lens was put to work on the Nikon D50 at first, then later on the D300.

It balanced well, and relatively was a light lens that wouldn't burden you if you needed to use it all day.

The focus ring and zoom ring were covered in a rubbery coating that helped when shooting in the cold.  No frozen fingers.

Long exposures during the 4th of July

Product photography, sure the Tamron could do that too!

A pseudo-macro, showing the close focusing ability of the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8

Image Quality

Right off the bat, the f/2.8 aperture was a blessing and a curse.  You wanted to shoot there all the time because that is why you bought the lens in the first place!  However, f/2.8 is where this lens is at its worst.  Don't get me wrong, it is usable, but it was not the sharpest there and you had to make sure that you nailed focus because of the shallow depth of field.   Even on an APS-C sensor, f/2.8 can be tricky if you are shooting portraits.

All you really need to do, though is stop down to even f/3.2 and the lens sharpened right up, and in spades!!

A street scene at a drive through safari near Port Clinton, OH

In the early DSLRs, you did not want to push the ISO very far.  The D50 was about ISO 800 limit for me and the D300 was ISO 1600...maybe 2500.  so having something better than the kit lens apertures was refreshing.   My first lens for the D50 was a Tamron 28-200/3.8-5.6.  This was a 135 sensor size lens, so right away your field of view is going to be 42mm.

The Tamron, starting at 17mm, gives you roughly 25.5mm.  A big step up in the width department, for sure.

I'd love to get my hands on one of these and see how the IQ stacks up with the 20mp sensor on the D500 I have.  The 6mp and 12mp sensors worked quite well with it.

stopping down to just f/3.2 and the sharpness ramped up nicely.


The focus was always very accurate, but the speed was lacking.  Quite slow, which made tracking moving subjects a challenge and it was very noisy.   This lens did not sport a silent motor.  It was driven by the old screw and gear system.

It did not have a full time override of the AF either, so going from AF to MF was a 2 step affair, switching the lens to MF as well as the camera to MF.

An unsung point of the 17-50 was how close it was able to focus.  Before I purchased a dedicated macro lens, the Tamron served as a pseudo-macro.  It was able to get close enough and with some cropping made for some great close ups.

Below are some examples of this lens used for reportage and portraiture.

Bottom Line

This is one of the lenses that helped me go from mediocre snap shooter to producing professional results.  Yes, I know that gear is not what makes you a pro, but having gear that allows you to make the images you envision easier...well, that is what we are looking for here.

I still have fond memories of that Tammy lens.  I can still hear the grunting and grinding as it racked focus, feel the rubberized zoom barrel.  As I went back and looked at the images I made with that lens, it reminded me of a much simpler and less expensive time.   I was just a noob back then trying to find out where I fit in.

With the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, I could fit in anywhere.  It was very versatile and the workhorse I needed at the time.

Some additional images for your viewing pleasure!