Massive Doors

Massive Doors

San Augustin Church – World Heritage Site

Shot with Fujifilm XT 1

I have been shooting a Fujifilm X Pro 1 and have the use of an XT 1 for the next few weeks.  I am shooting the same lenses – XF 10-24mm f4, 18-55mm f2.8-4 and the 35mm 1.4.  I have to say that I love the 35mm and 10-24 – each for their unique qualities and strengths.  The 35mm produces some amazing images.  It is unbelievably sharp and produces exceptional color and just has a certain character about it that is so evident in images.  The 10-24mm is a wide angle dream.  It is extremely well corrected for distortion.  In addition to being wide angle I find using it for Street Photography brings a perspective that enhances the viewers sense of intimacy with the action and subject.

Here are some images I recently shot of San Augustin Church (a World Heritage Site) in Manila and surrounding area.  I won’t go into the EFIX as it really does nothing to help another photographer replicate or understand the image.  I think it is more important to just look and enjoy and if inclined so just study the image on their own merits.  These images were shot at ISO 200, the native ISO for Fujifilm bodies and a tripod was used.

San Augustin Church Bell Tower

San Augustin Bell Tower

San Augustin Church  Decorated for a Wedding

San Augustin Church
Decorated for a Wedding


Cherebs Small

Angels at Entrance to Small Chapel

San Augustin Church Main Alter from Right

San Augustin Church Main Alter Detail from Right

Lying in State

Lying in State

San Augustin Church Ceiling Detail 1

Augustin Church
Ceiling Detail 1

Host of the Bread For Communion

Ceiling Section

Ceiling Section Detail

San Augustin Church – World Heritage Site Shot with Fujifilm XT 1

The Building Blocks of Images – How Are They Built?

There is some conflict between published and well-known photographers on what constitutes the “Building Blocks of Composition”.  I am going to lean towards what is espoused by Freeman Patterson. As we consider Figure – Ground or Positive – Negative Space it is important to keep in mind that the edge of the frame plays a significant part in the organizations of our image.  Additionally, as we work at developing our image and consider the framing we must work our subject from all angles!  

I took this picture while testing the exposure system of my Fujifilm X Pro 1.  Since I’ve mentioned the camera system I utilize I can honestly tell you that the Image Quality of my X Pro 1 keeps pace with the Canon 5D MK II’s I used in the past.  The 5D is a great camera.  I have discovered that the image quality and the ability to tailor exposure parameters the X Pro 1 is far superior for my purposes.

Here are three rocks found in a parking lot in Tustin, California.  It was a bright sunny day with very few clouds in the sky.  So shooting at in the middle of the day I had an extremely large Dynamic Range / Expanded Tonal Range.  In the process of me testing and learning more about the exposure system on the X Pro 1 I took some uninspiring images of these three boulders.  So here are the trio of boulders.

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Not an inspiring or interesting image for sure.  A perfectly good picture with no real interest to me or anyone else.  If you are anything like me you will quickly say: “Next!”, because there is nothing of interest to hold your attention.  But that could change if I had really worked the potential within the three boulders.  I didn’t do it, but through cropping in Photo Shop that changed.

If I had taken the time to really work the subject and explored all the potential images to be found in the subject in camera I could have ended up with far more interesting images.  I hope that your monitor will allow you to look at the below image: “Rock Hard Triangle”.  The Figure – Ground becomes an optical illusion.  You should see the dark triangle as the Figure and then when you look back the light colored triangle will become the Figure or subject.  This is a result of perspective, which is often called “Form” by some and confuses what we can accomplish when working in a 3D World with a 2D Camera.  We can use light to create perspective and that is what is going on in the image below.

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Rock Hard Triangle

There are two triangles in this image with a diagonal line from top left to bottom right.  There is really nothing there to provide perspective of size, but the diagonal and Tonal Range create a tension that is easily experienced by the viewer.  So our brain takes over and tries to make sense of what is going on in the image.  The image is well balanced and flipping it upside down it still remains balanced.  Pretty straight forward and simple and hopefully illustrates what I have been talking about.

The Building Blocks of Images

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It’s a Fujifilm X Series Christmas

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in furs from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot

But it was great cameras and lenses he had on his list
For X Series photographers that St. Nicholas had so many gifts
With flashes and strobes that could all make you blind
He was determined to not leave one X Series shooter behind

Canon, Nikon, Olympus no more
But it was X Series Fuji’s that filled boxes below the tree on the floor
St. Nicholas carried a X100T to capture his flight on a cold winter night
While X Series photographers were all nestled in bed
They would awake in the morning with wonderful surprises from St. Nicholas’s sled

And the greatest of all was firmware for Chrome
So no X Series shooter would feel hurt, forgotten and alone
The X Series shooters all snug in their bed
Their dreams would be answered by St. Nicholas’ X Series sled

First stanza by Clement C. Moore

Fred Thomas. “The visible world is no longer a reality and the unseen world is no longer a dream.” W.B. Yeats

When Simple Says It Best – Improving our images! Are we looking in all the wrong places?

Now where did I leave my skateboard?

Now where did I leave my skateboard?

Is your work a reflection of the effort you put forth to improve?

There is nothing that I can buy that will improve my images!  NO – not one thing!  In the hands of the right photographer, someone who has put the time in (often years) striving to improve their photography any camera will do!  Yes, equipment can improve the technical aspects of our images or provide different fields of view, magnification, influence depth of field or reduce noise to name just a few things.  But can new expensive equipment improve our images? No!  

I think we all suffer from some degree of “Gear Acquisition Syndrome or GAS” at one time or another. Think about it! The Digital Camera of today has, in many cases, eliminated our need to understand many of the technical aspects of photography and allowed us the ability to “Spray and Pray” so if we shoot enough images we are bound to get one good one.  My goal is to shoot as many keepers as possible and good fortune willing to come home with some truly exceptional shots.

Many strive diligently at their photographic efforts not to be highly recognized or to become a big name in photographic circles, but for the self-satisfaction gained.  Self Actualization!  Let’s stop for a minute and examine this not so trivial thing called “Self Actualization”.  Here is a definition from the web.


noun: self-actualization; plural noun: self-actualizations; noun: self-actualisation; plural noun: self-actualisations
  1. the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone.

There is nothing I enjoy more than viewing and studying images of historically great photographers and contemporary one’s as well.  Daily I will select one aspect of my photography that I know needs improvement and seek out articles, blogs, other photographers or books that can help me overcome areas that need improvement:  learn new techniques – in camera and post processing, composition and to me the most important aspect is understanding light and all of it’s attributes.  If I could do just one thing to improve my images it would be to fill the frame and make sure that the subject matter is clear and emotionally engages the viewer.

One of my favorite photographers of all times that truly impacts my heart and mind is Freeman Patterson.  If you don’t know who he is I highly recommend you take the time to look  him up.  Even more enlightening are the books that he has published.  I truly wish that they were available for Kindle.  Every time I look at one of his images I learn something new.  And honestly, there is a exceptional simplicity in his work that is anything but simple!  Study his images to discover the complexity hidden within each of his images if you open your mind and allow his work to stimulate you emotionally before you embark on an intellectual analysis.

Another photographer, Michael Freeman, is an exceptional photographer, but also a prolific writer on all things photographic. Freeman’s images all exhibit the ultimate in composition and use of light. He is a far better photographer than those more well known. In my opinion his work eclipses most of today’s world recognized photographers in all genres! This is another Artist / Photographer whose images and books can truly benefit your photography if you make the effort to really study what he has to show and say!

Above are but a few my methods for improving my photography. What are yours?

BAWAL MAGSHOOT DITO or No Shooting Allowed Here – Now What??


In Intramuros Next to Ruins

What and where to photograph in Manila?  (Philippines)

As a tourist here in the Philippines I had hoped to assign myself a project to photograph the best known tourist sites in Manila.  So the research was begun and while nursing a cold I began to develop a list.  The more I researched the more disturbing discoveries I made! For a country that struggles to promote tourism with 7,000 islands and some truly beautiful places Philippine elected officials and wealthy property holders (Catholic Church included) prohibit photography even in areas of significant National Historical and Heritage Interests in the Manila area!


Manila is usually the port of entry for many as they make their way to more exotic and less crowded tourist destinations in the Philippines.  Yet Manila is full of historical sites that are photogenic and are truly important cultural repositories of Philippine history.  I was unable to find anything at the Official Department of Tourism regarding photography. You should take the time to visit Malate.  The following site may shed more light on these areas and is full of wonderful images and great writing.


The amount of information on Malete written by Elmer Nev Valenzuela is invaluable.  His work is exceptional and well worth the time to visit his blog.  You will have to make more than one trip to take in all the great images! I am at a loss how to move forward with my plans!   With an even more short sighted perspective in my opinion there is: HOUSE BILL 4807: END OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE PHILIPPINES? Information on this can also be found at MALATE.  Given the plethora of cell phone cameras, iPads, tablets, small pocket cameras, etc. this seems like a Bill destined for immediate conflict with the people it says it is supposed to protect. So why was it introduced? It is beyond me! In the US a photographer can take pictures from public property of all things visible, which includes people.  A person in public does not have an “Expectation of Privacy”.  But if the photographer is shooting from public property into someone’s living room the person being photographed has the “Right to the Expectation of Privacy” and the photographer is wrong.  I am not an attorney and this is my simplistic understanding of US law.  It seems that the Philippine House Bill 48O7 goes far beyond that! Ultimately, I am not going to give up to easily hoping the Department of Tourism and other Officials will realize these types of restrictions and unwelcome interaction between Tourists and Police or Security, who are just following orders and doing their jobs, is not good for tourism!  An unexpected negative encounter could be an unpleasant experience for a tourist, which could result in lost tourism revenue and a bad reputation for the Philippines.  One that is not deserved.  The Philippine People are gracious and caring hosts! Let’s hope this gets sorted out for the benefit of tourism dollars into the Philippines!

Stairs to the Unknown – Are we just looking and not really seeing what is before us?

Stairs to the Unknown

We have packed our gear and are ready to head out for some Street Photography.  But, we get there and can’t seem to find anything that really catches our eye or that we feel is worth exploring.  Kind of like “Writers Block”!  We have a mind full of “Should or Should Not” do this or that and our creative side is suddenly buried somewhere deep within us.  We go ahead and shoot technical proficient images that lack any sense of emotion or mystery.  Why can’t we come back with images like we see and admire from other photographers?  I mean we have all the right stuff!  The latest body, a great lens and still our images fail to move either us or anyone that sees them.  What’s up?

Next time you go out to shoot before you even take your camera out of the bag sit down and just relax.  Center yourself and get accustomed to your surroundings in “Relaxed Attentiveness”!  Give that a try for thirty minutes and then quietly get prepared.  Take the time to really see what is and what could be.  Interesting geometric patterns.  An interesting triangle of light falling on a dimly lit stairwell.  Wow, is there something there?  Really, take the time to see!  Our camera does not see things in the same manner that we do.  It can only handle about a Dynamic Range of 9 EV.  Nevertheless, our eyes and minds are able to fill in the blanks and often it is those blanks that leave us wanting.  We missed what was really before us.  I believe that this is even truer with Street Photography, which has become very popular.  Even so many photographers come home with technically perfect images that fall flat in communicating what we felt.  Noticed I did not say, “What we saw.”  What did we feel?  How did what was going on in front of us impact us emotionally?  Did we communicate that to those that will look at our photograph or are they going to scan it once and decide there is nothing there of interest.

I like the above image not because it is complicated from a compositional standpoint, even technically difficult, or even perfect.  I just happened upon a unique triangle of light brightly shining on one wall of this stairs.  It has a unique abstraction to it, which I like. I have no idea where this stairs leads so it gave it a sense of mystery for me.  So from the abstraction and mystery an image was born.  For once, I was actually seeing and reacting to the environment around me.  I was in the “Zone”!

“Stairs to the Unknown”

What are your thoughts?

From Oz 2 Kansas by Vincent Versace

Silinium Fine Art Dodged and Burned Pillars-With Signature

I purchased “From Oz 2 Kansas” Kindle version and began again to work through the book.  Below is a book report I wrote for my Blog on my web site Fred Thomas Photography.

From Oz 2 Kansas by Vincent Versace – Book Review

I ordered “From Oz to Kansas” by Vincent Versace and received it this week. After reading the Acknowledgements, Forward and Preface I was extremely excited about what is written on the cover:

“Almost Every Black and White conversion Technique Known to Man”

If you are anything like me you can’t help but peruse the Table of Contents and jump from one fascinating subject to the other to see what the author is teaching and recommending on the conversion of digital images to black and white. The book comes with directions to a web site to download the images that Versace wants you to use for the exercises in each chapter and along with images to work on there is a set of PhotoShop “Actions” that can be loaded, but he recommends doing each of the exercises manually before beginning to use the “Actions”. This makes perfect sense given the need to grasp what is really going on. Versace also quotes Einstein and states that is usually best to do what is the simplest and then goes on to show that the simplest isn’t always the best way to handle an image.

One of the first tasks in the book is to de-saturate clouds using the Hue / Saturation adjustment and creating an adjustment layer. As he states in the text we see clouds with the human eye as white and gray. But if we look at the saturated images provided we realize that the clouds also take on color from the blue sky and in the instance of the one image there is a color of tans / browns on the bottom of the clouds that is reflected back into the clouds from the dry and parched grasslands below. By moving the Saturation slider to -100 and the Lightness slider to -1 we see the image before us transformed into black and white (gray scale). Later on using an image of a beautiful lady (that is my observation and not in the book) Versace walks you through de-saturating the RGB Channels and you are given the opportunity to compare them one by one with a black and white image taken on Ilford HP5 Plus film 400 ASA pull processed to 200 ASA. What is lost here is the color relationships between red, blue and green translated to the grayscale. He then asks if you would ever use such a conversion and states that the answer may surprise you.

I have just begun to work through the First Chapter, but based on scanning through future chapters I see how much I have to learn, but I’m more excited about the benefit it will have on my digital black and white conversions. Below is the review that I posted on Amazon. I hope that it will encourage you and others to buy the book and take the time to learn what the author has to teach. It can only result in far better conversions of digital images into black and white and take your skills  to a much higher level.  My short review:

“From Oz to Kansas” is a long overdue book on being able to replicate and create the black and image that was available to the serious photographer or professional in the “film age”. Vincent Versace has accomplished something that I could only dream of in creating this masterpiece that eloquently flows through the steps of reaching “Digital Bliss” in black and white. It is written in a manner that is easy to comprehend and follow and ultimately leads the reader / photographer on a journey of discovery that will allow you to express your artistic goals from the inception of an image until it is ready to print. How to replicate the nuisances of black and white film digitally with complete and thorough examples, steps and vision applied to our world of “Digital Photography”. This is the beginning point to an endless journey of discovery allowing you to express your artistic vision with grace and accuracy. It is far more than a technical “How to” create the image you envisioned. There are far too many books, on-line courses and incidental instructions in the technical aspects of PhotoShop that lack vision and an understanding of the artists’ goal. This is not one of them. “From Oz to Kansas” will not leave you wanting!

Please take the time to sign my Guest Book!  We are all on this journey and I hope to meet you along the way.

Fred Thomas

Exposing for Images with a Wide Dynamic Range – Getting the Most from Our Digital Cameras

Many of you will be solely relying on the in camera metering system, whatever flavor that might be, to provide you with exposure information.   Some Photographers will be shooting Program Mode where the camera makes all the decisions and as sophisticated as DSLR’s and Mirror-less cameras are today you will obtain pretty good results most of the time.  Then there will be other Photographers concerned with specific aspects of the image and how their exposure decision impacts that:

  • Depth of Field – Shallow or From Near to Infinity (Dependent on the F Stop and a few other factors)
  • Motion of the Subject – Blurring for artistic purposes or Freezing the Action
  • Flash / Strobe – Setting the proper Sync Speed and/or balancing Ambient with Flash / Strobe
  • Highlight Detail – we may not want the highlight detail to blow out to pure white with no detail left
  • Shadows – blocked up shadows with lots of digital noise even if some detail can be gained.

Back in the days of shooting film a Photographer had a little more freedom with color negative film than with Chromes (Slide).  But film has a different graph for light sensitivity with a definite heel and toe (as it has been called) at the brightest and darkest sensitivity levels.  That gave film a little edge on handling images with greater dynamic ranges or differences between the brightest spot in the image to the darkest.  In the digital realm our cameras can only handle about 9 Exposure Values of Dynamic Range before real problems start to manifest for the photographer who is striving to achieve their vision for the picture.  Improper exposure can ruin a perfectly composed image with lots of emotion to convey to the viewer.  On the other hand, a technically perfect picture with no message leaves the viewer flat, but that is a topic for another time!

In order for us to obtain a “Optimal Exposure”, which probably is not the “Correct Exposure” that our camera’s metering systems calculated through complex algorithms and in camera software comparing the metered scene to scenes stored in camera by the manufacture and through the magic of computers decides which one is the closest and selects it to give us the best chance at a good exposure.

Our camera’s utilize reflected light that is read by the sensor to determine the correct exposure combination of Aperture and Shutter Speed.  So if we is  take a picture of a snow man in the snow and do not make exposure corrections (+1 – 1.5) the snow will be gray.  Or if we are photographing a dark subject on a dark background the image will be gray, unless of course we made an exposure compensation of minus 1 to 1.5.  Why?  Reflected light meters want to make everything 18% Gray or in the middle of the Zone System’s 10 levels of black to pure white (you can read up on Ansel Adams for a better understanding of the Zone System).  Our cameras have a “Histogram” that shows a graph with all of the exposure data for a range of 255 – Black With No Detail on the left all the way to Zero or White with no detail on the right.  The higher the peaks in the graph the more digital data is in that area for Red, Green and Blue combined.

There is a school of thought called “Expose To The Right” or ETTR.  To accomplish this we need to increase the Shutter Speed, Aperture or ISO (Increasing the ISO is theoretically increasing our camera sensors sensitivity to light.  It is a lot more complex than that and something I will not delve into today.)   What ETTR advocates is moving the Histogram as close to the right as possible without exceeding the right boundary.  Once we exceed the right side of the Histogram we experience “Clipping” or there are highlights in the image that will reproduce as pure white with no detail.  We have “Clipped the Highlights”.  We can also under expose so drastically there is no detail left in the shadows and they will be pure black.

If we used a light meter that measured the light falling on the subject we would obtain an exposure that would render the mid tones of the image as the 18% gray and the highlights and shadows would fall where they are supposed to.  Or that snowman would come out  white.  We can simulate this by using an 18% gray card and spot metering it with our camera or filling the frame with it to obtain a exposure reading.

We could all gain a world of knowledge and good information if we would use an 18% Gray Card and begin to understand how our camera’s metering system functions.  After all, we want to best or “Optimal Exposure”!

Today, our digital cameras

Jeepney Rider

Image from inside a Jeepney

Well, after six months in the States I am ready to go home.  It has been a tedious and tiring process to work one’s way through the Veterans Administration medical system.  But there is good news!  All of my medical issues have been successfully resolved!  Now I can pay proper attention to my passion for photography and returning home to Dr. Marlene and family.  It is a warm feeling to have someone who cares and shares my love for photography and is impatiently waiting 10,000 miles away.

While recovering from surgery I began to dive into some awesome photographic web sites.  I hope that you will take the time to check them out.  Great images, exceptional discussions and photographers sharing, lamenting and overcoming the challenges we all share:

Longing for Home and Learning Artistic Composition