Macro lens hype

Fall in Ringwood, NJ: Cell Phone vs DSLR

I definitely have to finish up the final write up and video from the last road trip, but I decided to mess around with the camera on Saturday. It was a much needed venture out into the world and allowed me to get back behind the lens. As life happens I find pouring my soul into little things like exploring and photography helps me to find peace. I wasn’t going to write anything on here but ended up with 3,700 words somehow.

I spent time with my buddy Jesse shooting two different locations in north east New Jersey. We both had the day off and both wanted to do some exploring and take some photos. My goal for the trip was to focus on using my macro lens and I think it was a successful venture. There are some decent shots that came out, although I have included some additional shots that are not the best. They’re here so that I can track my progress taking pictures and see how my style and photography evolves over time. I guess you can call them progress pics.

The first location that we stopped at was Ringwood State Park up in Ringwood, New Jersey. We didn’t really have a plan as far as what we were looking for. We just figured we could probably catch some of the changing fall leaves.

The first picture of the day ended up being of a tree right along the parking lot near the entrance. This was shot with my regular stock lens. This image is the result of about a dozen images that were shot at different focus and then focused stacked in Adobe Photoshop. The purpose behind this technique is so that you can maintain a clear focus throughout the entire length of your subject. The area close to you is in focus and so it the area far away from you.

Fall is here
Fall is here

These lantern posts are right along the parking lot as well. Something about the wear, the symmetry, and the placement of them among the row of trees is rather beautiful. I’m just kind of in here rounding out the shot, and also just reminding myself that I need to work out my legs more lol. This is the last picture that I shot with my regular lens.

Ringwood State Park
Ringwood State Park

While I was shooting this with my DSLR, Jesse was off shooting with his cell phone. Shooting on your cell phone provides a lot of advantages over a DSLR, although a DSLR certainly has its advantages as well. The cell phone is always on you. You can easily make powerful edits as soon as you take your picture. You can share it with the world immediately after. The DSLR has the advantage of being able to use a variety of lenses that the cell phone probably won’t be able to utilize for mainstream photography for some time. Macro lenses, zoom lenses, etc. Both devices are capable of taking high quality and impressive pictures. And shooting on either still allows you the opportunity to use powerful software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. While I see the cell phone photography scene continuing to grow, it will be some time before the device will able to capture certain images that are currently only possible with DSLR lenses.

The following is an image that Jesse took. He was shooting with an LG G4. I have said that stock cell phone lenses are not as good as DSLR lenses, but they’re not all that bad either. Look at the ability to focus in this picture. This is an amazing capability to hold in your pocket. Cell phone lens technology is advancing rapidly and I’m excited to see it to continue.

Cell phone focus is impressive
Cell phone focus is impressive

The next photograph was also shot by Jesse. It’s an example of pulling out a lot of depth from an image by messing around with some photography software. The vignetting, saturation, contrast, etc. are all dialed up pretty high to bring out the fall colors and give it a movie scene type of feel. It works well here although I can see people arguing it may be over the top. The next time I go out shooting I think I’ll be focusing on messing around with my images in post production and trying to see what sort of crazy stuff I can make happen. It’s important to reiterate that all of these effects were done using some pretty basic software on a phone. With a cell phone you can take the picture, edit the picture, and share the picture all within a short period of time and achieve some impressive results.

Secret garden hype
Secret garden hype

Everything going forward for me was shot through my macro lens. It’s a lens I picked up a while ago but haven’t spent much time with. By making it the only lens I would shoot with I was able to get some experience and learn about the lens. Often macro lenses are used for very detailed close up shots. So if you are photographing jewelry for a store, or if you want to get those very zoomed in pictures of bugs, or if you want to capture the texture of some material in detail you would want to use a macro lens. They are also versatile for far away shots as you will see. If you could only shoot with one single lens it’s kind of hard to argue against a macro lens. The biggest problem is that there is no zoom. You only adjust the focus depending on what you are shooting. If something doesn’t fit in your image then you have to physical walk away from it and shoot from further away to fit it into your frame. If something is too far away and you want it to be closer you have to physically move closer to it. The no zoom is a pain but the versatility and creative control you have over focus, depth of field, magnification, and bokeh is sweet.

The following image I took is of a leaf. The whole leaf is heart shaped and it’s kind of beautiful in that it used to be alive and full but it’s dying and disappearing. There are physical holes in the leaf. Its structural ribbed support still holds its general shape. But the changing seasons will turn it to dust before it is reborn again in the spring. I like the red color from the changing leaves you see in the background. The depth of field is pretty small and it’s honestly not properly focused. I’ll make excuses and say that it was too windy, but that’s not a good excuse. I could have held the leaf down and setup my tripod like a good photographer would.

Messing around with the macro lens
Messing around with the macro lens

So across parking lots we went. But not before Jesse grabbed a panorama. I’m not sure how most panoramas come out on the cell phone but I’m sure it varies depending on the phone and software. With the right combination you should be able to make it work pretty well. I do all of my panoramas in Adobe Photoshop. Out in the field I’ll shoot a picture, rotate the camera and shoot another picture, then rotate and shoot a third or a fourth picture. I then combine these in Photoshop which has a ton of settings to make the transition pretty much indiscernible. The phone for some reason had some issues stitching this along the line where the parking lot meets the grass. It’s a little strange because I would have thought the software would easily be able to handle a pattern like that and have issues with some of the other complex or delicate patterns such as the leaves, etc. Still this is a good example of how you can dial in the focus on a cell phone. It’s pretty impressive that cell phone cameras are capable of this sort of a focus. All of this is just going to rapidly get better. It’s quite amazing.

Parking lot pimpin
Parking lot pimpin

This next shot is of my buddy Jesse. As a side note, it’s interesting how something as simple as an American flag patterned beanie can get you so much attention from random people, including multiple rounds of shots from some pro-American guy at the bar.

That American beanie
That American beanie

If you’re wondering what Jesse is up to he’s taking this shot right here. This picture is kind of a classic north Jersey stream scene. If you’ve ever done any hiking in north Jersey then these sorts of scenes are probably familiar to you. This type of scene shows off New Jersey’s diversity. New Jersey is a lot of different things, and occasionally it is beautiful and peaceful. Minus that ghost leg it’s a glorious shot. It’s very cool that something that fits in your pocket and you can use for a million other applications is capable of producing this.

Classic north NJ stream
Classic north NJ stream

And just to make this whole photo-ception thing complete, here’s a picture that Jesse took of me taking a picture of him while he was taking a picture of the stream.

Photo-ception complete
Photo-ception complete

Further into the forest we ventured. This next picture I took shows how the macro lens is able to specifically focus on certain areas while giving you some nice blur in the background. This picture kind of has a Lord of the Rings forest vibe to it, but in actuality it’s just the floor of a forest in New Jersey. I didn’t want to have the mushroom centered in this way but I love the leaf in the lower right corner and had to include it in the picture. The focal point being on the front of the mushroom I think is most appeasing here, although it could be dialed a little further back towards the center. I like the root of the tree on the right and the general forest color theme going on in the picture.

Shroom
Shroom

The next picture is another stream shot I took. This photograph would have been better with a different lens, or at least shifting the focus just a little closer so that it would be on that rock in the center. Definitely shooting with a macro lens you need to take your time, preferably set up a tripod and dial in on the focus. I guess this may be good advice for any lens you are using if you can afford the time and effort to do so.

Leaves starting to change
Leaves starting to change

The following is an image I composed of about 7 different photographs. Each of the photographs was taken starting at one side of the log and moving along to the other side of the log. Adobe Photoshop does a great job at automatically stitching together panorama images so the process is pretty fast and painless. The end result is reasonable, although when you zoom you can see some blurriness where two of the images are blended together. This happened because the delicate focus of the macro lens must have been off for one image. I love the vivid greens from the trees being reflected into the stream here. The log and the legs provide decent subjects.

Suspended
Suspended

The same log from Jesse’s perspective is seen in the following photo. There’s some pretty good reflection in the water. I really am finding it interesting that the software struggles to stitch together some almost obvious lines. It doesn’t seem to have any problems stitching together the more complicated leaf patterns but something as obvious as this whitish log lying across a dark stream is distorted. I would imagine there are some aftermarket apps and what not that can stitch things better on the phone, and these sorts of issues with shooting on a cell phone will disappear soon. It’s also not a limitation to shooting on the phone. You can easily shoot this panorama in the same way I would on the DSLR and load the images into Photoshop and get better results. The cell phone photography software is in addition to the computer photography software, whereas the DSLR camera software generally is much weaker, but also specific enough to capture your shot.

Come on software
Come on software

Venturing further we cut down some road that was closed off to cars. The following image I took is of a support column for some abandoned open air rectangular building like where you might have a picnic or some gathering. There (unfortunately) wasn’t too much graffiti but someone decided to take some crayons to the wall. These crayon hearts were alright. It looks like the blue heart has the word “light” in the middle. Not sure if it’s some sort of play on the term “light hearted” or some sort of puzzle, but probably not. I like the worn face of the column and the blurred out forest behind it. I like those few in focus vines that are starting to eat the building. I always thought that was an amazing thing, how the earth will always reclaim its land. If you build a structure in the middle of the woods and leave it alone, even for a couple years, the earth will start to pull at it, destroy it, and suck it back into itself. The same will happen to all of the great cities that should people not be around to take care of them. Even New York City will eventually be absorbed back into the earth. You can only really borrow from the earth. The earth will be sure to take it back. The earth does not use the seasons or the year as a unit of time.

Crayon hearts
Crayon hearts

Jesse scored this pretty sweet shot of the ceiling of the place. He’s been messing around with similar shots from other buildings and I dig the perspective. It’s a good example of something I wouldn’t think to shoot that he was able to successfully capture. It’s pretty neat that the whole time we are pretty much shooting the exact same area but end up with a very different set of pictures. To kind of bring it together you can see the crayon hearts I took in the bottom left of this picture. Two different photographers, two different perspectives.

Love this perspective
Love this perspective

This Pabst Blue Ribbon can was on the floor of the building. I’m pretty happy with the focus on this picture that I snapped. I love the browned leaves on the floor and especially love the BB gun holes in the can. There weren’t many but there were a few. I also really like the crease in the can. For as many things as I like about the picture, I don’t love the picture as a whole. I don’t hate it, and it probably wouldn’t be included as it isn’t anything too special, but I guess that might be the point. Some people think PBR, BB guns, and time in the woods aren’t special, but for other people there is nothing more important. But without trying to get too deep here I’m really just including this example as a shot I’m happyish with from a focus and blur perspective.

PBR can with BB gun holes
PBR can with BB gun holes

Jesse took two more shots before we had left for the second location. This first one again shows of that impressive image quality and focus that is available on modern cell phone cameras.

Cell phone focus hype
Cell phone focus hype

This next picture that Jesse grabbed turned out a lot better than I thought it was going to be. His battery was low and he probably only had one last shot left on the phone before it died. He chose to take this picture. I joked with him that he wasted his last shot on something that wouldn’t be worthwhile. But this picture is actually pretty great. I would like to see a little more color on the leaves but we’d have to go back next week for that. The slanted trees on the left bother my eye a bit. I really want them to grow straight up out of the ground but that embankment that they are growing out of doesn’t care what I think.

Actually pretty nice
Actually pretty nice

So that wrapped up our shooting at Ringwood State Park. We drove down the road about three minutes and we were at our next stop, which was the New Jersey Botanical Garden, or Skylands as it’s also called. I really thought I would love the gardens more than the park but I actually liked the park better. Maybe the park was a little quieter, a little grittier, a little more truthful. I don’t know. There was nothing wrong with the gardens, and depending on what you are into they could be worth a stop.

There are some pretty cool flowers like these harlequin glorybowers. The focus is a little off on these. I was fighting the wind again (and again a bad excuse). I don’t love the sunlight reflection here either. It looks too much like artificial lighting. Honestly I probably should have dialed this glare back a bunch in Photoshop. Regardless I thought these little starfish flowers (or fruits technically) were cool looking. This is one of those pictures that is more included here as a progress picture.

Harlequin glorybower
Harlequin glorybower

This next picture I am pretty happy with. The wind was causing a ruckus with these guys and I figured this movement would translate well to the photograph. The blur from the macro lens gives a nice green and brown background color. The blurred out plants in the back provide a great background. The plants up front are even blurred out. I hit my focus exactly where I wanted to even with the wind. This is a picture that I thought would come out well before I even took. I felt that way as I was taking it. And I still feel that way after I am done with it. That’s a good feeling to have when you are taking pictures but it doesn’t come up too often.

Pretty happy with this
Pretty happy with this

The next picture I took was of a faun in one of the garden areas. I love these creatures. I always thought they were awesome little things. Nothing too wild going on with this picture but I have a personal preference for the subject and I can post whatever I want on my own website, damnit.

I love fauns and whatnot
I love fauns and whatnot

This next picture that Jesse took cracks me up. There were a lot of people at the gardens so you had to shoot around them. He was playing the waiting game waiting for the lawns to clear of people so that he could get his shot. The people never cleared so he had to settle for just cropping them out of the image. I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on here but I’ll have to ask him. These trees are getting ready to explode into fall colors. There is some color out but a lot of green still around. This should be a gorgeous view in a couple more days.

No people in this image
No people in this image

Here’s another picture that Jesse took. The sun rays are pretty sweet how they wrap around the front of the statue. There were some pretty cool statues around the grounds.

The statues were nice
The statues were nice

And another shot of the lawn through a tree stump from Jesse. I’m pretty sure there were people everywhere where you see the tree.

No people here either
No people here either

I like these next two images that we took of these statues. They were one of our favorite things about the gardens. The first picture is one that I took. I really wanted to shoot this with a zoomable lens so that I could get more in my picture as I had to walk a decent distance away and had my photograph limited by trees that surrounded the statues. But since I was forcing myself to shoot with the macro lens I opted not to. The picture is alright. It would be a lot better if the leaves were less green. There is some weird oversaturation of blue around the left most statue and that small bunch of pine needles at the top center. This is pretty easily fixed in Photoshop, but it’s weird in that I’m not sure where it’s coming from. The rest of the picture seems decent from a saturation perspective.

Statues and leaves
Statues and leaves

This second image that Jesse took is much better framed. I probably would have tried to get something similar to this but instead of standing between statues 2 and 3 I would have stood between statues 1 and 2. Jesse was annoyed by the people walking the lawn but in all honesty you should be able to pretty easily remove the people in Photoshop or using some sort of cell phone photography software. I know I’ve done it on a cell phone two or three years ago so by now that feature probably works well and should be available in many more cell phone photography apps.

Nailed it
Nailed it

This next picture is a good contrast between fire and sky. This is what fall feels like.

Fireball fall
Fireball fall

And the final picture is of an acorn. I spent three hours looking at acorns and this is the one that I liked the most. I was wondering where to shoot this and couldn’t find a good spot on the way back to the car. No worries though because macro lenses give you a lot of flexibility for shooting because they can obtain a very aggressive blur. This was shot on the roof of my car while I was being rushed by people asking if I was leaving my parking spot. I like this picture. I’m hitting the focus where I want to. I like the half white and half green/slightly purplish background. I like those couple half circles that the macro lens is making happen. It’s a fitting end to what was a fairly successful day of shooting. I learned a bunch and had a great time. Can’t wait to get back out and shoot some more again soon.

Macro lens hype
Macro lens hype

There were a couple takeaways from this shoot for me. One being the compare and contrast between cell phone cameras and DSLRs. Both really have a lot of advantages. With the capability of cell phone cameras there’s really no excuse not to try out photography. I saw actually two different mid-50’s men taking pictures of this one vivid orange tree today with their cell phones outside of my work. One guy was stopped on my way out to grab lunch. The other guy was pulled over on my way back from lunch.

Another takeaway is just that different people see things, explore things, and capture things in different ways. Jesse and I ended up with a different set of pictures, even though we were shooting the same areas at the same time.

I guess a final takeaway is to just get out there and explore. Adventure. Go see and do. Watch. Experience. Capture the moment. Enjoy it. Or don’t, idgaf. But you don’t have to travel the world to have great experiences. There’s a ton of places within driving distance that are life changing that you will never visit. Try to. Find those places. Find yourself. If you are reading this I am humbled and I love you. If you are not then I still love you as well.

Best,
Joe