Thursday, January 29, 2015

A month of winter mornings with the Fuji X-T1

For the past month I have been photographing the sunrise every day that it was interesting or different from a prior day. My idea was to assemble them into one large image. I ended up with 25 skies, all taken with the Fuji X-T1 in square crop mode. The final image is 643mb and 50x50" square.

I included one image with the actual sun in it and off to the right. I did it as a clue that this is a set of winter sunrises. In the winter the sun is at its furthest point south in the northern hemisphere, which would be to the right when viewing a sunrise.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stieglitz, the 291 Gallery -- homage from my Fuji X-T1

The Photo District in New York is an area around the junction of 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue in what is now considered the "Flatiron District".  I, like many New York photographers who came to the city in the latter part of the 20th century, call this area home. This is where we had our studios. This is where the pro camera stores were located to serve us, and is where many of the top ads and editorial images of the 20th century were created.

Slightly north of this area, between 30th and 31st Streets is where Alfred Stieglitz has his famous 291 Gallery from 1905-1917.

The Flatiron Building was a major skyscraper in the New York City in 1904. It had just been completed in 1902 and instantly became a defining element in the city landscape, a position it maintains even today. The building and the area around it became a magnet for painters and photographers. Two famous photographs -- one by Edward Steichen, the other by Alfred Stieglitz -- are shown below. Both were captured on a stormy winter day.

Gum bichromate over platinum print of the Flatiron Building and horse drawn cabs by Edward Steichen in 1904. 

This photo of a taxi and the Flatiron Building was taken from almost the exact location as Steichen's photo above it except that I had to move further out into the street because of the new street traffic pattern set up a few years ago. 

Photogravure print of the Flatiron Building in snow, Alfred Stieglitz, 1903.

I have worked in this area for decades. Currently, I live just around the corner from where the 291 Gallery stood -- the building demolished a long time ago and replaced with a large, non-descript edifice. Yesterday evening I went to the area where both Stieglitz and Steichen took there photos. As I stood in the exact spot where Stiechen photographed the cab drivers with the Flatiron behind it I thought about how difficult it must have been on a cold winter evening of 1904 to be there with a large, cumbersome camera on a tripod. Here I was with the latest in digital cameras, a Fuji X-T1 camera -- now thankfully weather resistant -- equipped with an 18-135mm zoom and enough vibration reduction and high ISO capability to do-away with the necessity of any tripod at all.

I walked around the park, then up Fifth Avenue to where 291 once stood, taking pictures along the way and passing dozens of smart-phone equipped pedestrians snapping away at the scene with an ease that would have left Steichen and Stieglitz scratching their heads in wonderment just over 110 years ago. 

The steeple from the Marble Collegiate Church, built in the 1850's, would have been standing at the time just a block down from the 291 Gallery. The Empire State Building would not have been there at the turn of the century, although both photographers would have been around to see it completed in 1931. 

The Flatiron Building photographed at dusk and framed by trees in Madison Square Park.

At dusk color from the lights of the Empire State Building bleed into the cloudy sky and falling snow to provide a monochromatic tone to this close up view.

Very early in the morning, around 4AM, the city took on a ghostly appearance. Passing clouds absorb the city lights providing a bright backdrop for this abandoned scene taken with the Fuji 10-24mm zoom.

These images were taken in pretty much the same area of the city as my previous blog post. I have often said that what we should photograph is the effect changing weather has on a scene. Combining weather phenomena with a scene is what gives it a special quality that makes uniquely your own, and is also how some photographers can photograph the same scene over and over again but end up with a new picture each time. I sometimes use this type of repetitive effort as a way to hone my photographic skills. It forces me to create from my inner vision of what life is like at the given moment.

In this image taken at 10mm with the Fuji 10-24mm zoom I liked the way the warm glow of the crossing streets near the bottom echo the same color at the yellow light on top of the Empire State Building.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

12 hours in the city with the Fuji X-T1

The digital cameras I like to use when photographing for my art portfolio are the Fuji X-T1, X-Pro-1, and Leica M 240. The Leica optical system delivers images that have a unique fingerprint of superb resolution. Often when reviewing some of my images I come across one that has a breathtaking sharpness to it, and, when I look, it is always a Leica that took the shot.

I like using the Fuji cameras with the X-Pro1, a camera I still use even though many of its features are no longer as convenient as those of the X-T1. I suppose that when an X-Pro2 finally comes to life, I may go back to it as my number one choice.  And why not? It combines the film-like qualities the Fuji X cameras deliver with the familiar body style of the Leica's I have been using ever since my first Leica M2.  The optics, while not up to Leica standards, are certainly exceptional, and, I can always mount a Leica lens on a Fuji X camera if I feel the need.

When using a Fuji X camera I always have it set to record both jpg and RAW at the same time, and most of the time I have the mode set for black & white -- even when I am shooting for color. The monochrome mode lets me visualize and compose the image in the viewfinder in a pattern of light and dark, which is what photography is all about. Later I have the extended detail of the RAW file to mold and fine tune the final image to my original vision.

Additionally, the Fuji X camera allows me to see my crop. I often use a square crop -- something that goes back to my Hasselblad days -- or the panoramic style of a 16:9 crop. The main reason I like to see the actual crop in the viewfinder is that my crops are often very tightly composed. This is evident in the photo below of the Empire State Building juxtaposed against the ornate pattern of a cornice and shadow of another building on Fifth Avenue. If you look at the line-up of the top part of the molding with the top edge of the frame, this is not an accident. All the lines of the elements in the frame and their relationship to the outer square frame are juxtaposed with purpose.

In this scene of the Flatiron Building with the dark pattern of superimposed tree branches the low, winter, afternoon sun was directly behind the building enveloping the building itself in a bright haze without detail. The foreground tree branches formed an intricate, intertwined pattern of dark contrast.

Over night the weather in New York changed to a mix of snow, rain, and sleet. This photo of the Empire State Building with the city laid out below it shows how the tall building often intertwines with the passing weather phenomena. Originally, I was planning to treat this scene as black and white, but the subtle colors fighting to break out of the haze made me want to keep it in color -- another good reason for having the RAW file in addition to the jpg. I am not sure that the subtle colors of this image will appear in the blog post so I included a high res version here to download. I shot this hand held at a high ISO of 1600 because I like the effect of the noise of the Fuji X-T1,as it is very similar to the graininess of 400 ISO film. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Using a no parallax nodal point for accuracy in combining multiple images into a panoramic

In my blog post of two days ago I showed the panoramic image above comprised up of four separate photos and combined later in Photoshop. Although I did mention that the camera was on a tripod, I skirted the issue of setting up the camera in a non-parallax condition to rotate around its nodal point. My distance from the subject and the fact that the camera was parallel to the ground made this something of a non-issue. One blog reader did pick up on this, however, and posted the following comment:

"Did you use a a nodal slide with the 70-200 or is it necessary at these distances?"

I thought it might be interesting to answer this briefly here without diving in so deeply that I require a lot of illustrations and image samples. I will save that for a later blog post.

Briefly stated, when performing a very accurate stitch of panoramic images, it is important to have the camera-lens combo rotate around a specific point that has no parallax. There are devices on the market to mount on a tripod and adjust to achieve this non-parallax state. 

This is a link to one of the simplest Youtube explanations of how to find the no-parallax point of the camera/lens. There are many panoramic heads on the market to help achieve accuracy in alignment. 

So why didn't I use one for to take this photo? Because I knew through testing that the tripod mount ring on the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 zoom was located in a position that places the lens near enough to the nodal point to be accurate for practical purposes in combining panoramic images taken at a large distance. I was working at infinity and the differences were negligible. My lens-to-tripod mounting plate was long enough to allow the camera to move back and forward on the tripod head. This achieved pretty much a perfect positioning of the camera/lens combo at a point of no-parallax when rotating on the tripod to take the multiple exposures. 

Nodal rails come in varying sizes. With the camera mounted to the back clamp and the main rail mounted to the rotating tripod clamp, the nodal rail can slide back and forth until the camera is located properly to achieve the no-parallax panorama. 

What about if you want to use a different lens without a tripod ring to create a panoramic image?  For accuracy you can use a nodal rail to adjust the position of the camera/lens combo on top of the rotating tripod head. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Powder explosion photography in the studio

We had a dancer, Carolina Santos Read, in the studio yesterday for a lifestyle shoot and decided to do another powder explosion photo. Two studio strobes were pointed into large 4x8' doubled flats taped along one end to form a "V" on both sides of the model. Another, overhead light with a grid on it was positioned above and to the rear to shine through the powder. Carolina held two handfuls of the powder and released them when she jumped. At the same time two assistants threw in more handfuls of powder into her back from behind.

My only regret is that I used the studio strobes instead of my Nikon flash units. The Nikon  units have a much shorter duration of flash and would have frozen the action better than the studio strobes. The camera was Nikon D750 with Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens set to f/8.

When I saw that the results mimicked the shape of a cloud, it gave me the idea to also combine the shot with a sky photo I had on file.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Photographing for maximum resolution with the Nikon D810

Ever since the new World Trade Center was completed this past year, I have been re-photographing vistas of New York City that show the building. Many of these images will be used for large scale prints so I want to achieve the maximum resolution and image size. For the panorama below I took four images and stitched them together in Photoshop to end up with a final photograph of 250mb in an image that is almost 5' wide. The area covers southern Manhattan from the Flatiron District down to the Financial District and includes the Jersey City Financial District across the Hudson River on the right.

To maximize the image quality I took the normal precautions of mounting the camera on a sturdy tripod, using the lowest ISO setting, and shooting at the sweet spot of the lens at f/8. Bracketing the exposures and waiting for the perfect time when the bright sky and dark city would be in their closest light balance also kept the exposure comfortably within the dynamic range of this superb camera so there is still detail in the deepest shadow areas.

The farthest point on the right is where the sun had just set, and with the panoramic swing being so wide the exposure was brighter than what was required on the left side. I was able to balance this out with an easy darkening of the bright areas on the right along with a soft opening up of the sky on the left. I did this while working on the 16-bit RAW image in Adobe Camera Raw.

I am including a link to download a high resolution version of this scene by clicking here. This is not the full 250 version. That would have been too cumbersome to handle in a download. I did include a 50mb version with a slight jpg compression to provide a more manageable version that should be sufficient to illustrate the extreme quality level of the Nikon D810 36mp camera.

One of my favorite parts of this image is the tiny puffs of back-lit smoke rising up everywhere in the cold winter air. And, if you search for it, there is a tiny airplane in the distant sky flying towards the camera. The exposure was 1/25th of a second, but because the plane was flying towards the camera and not parallel to it its movement is not blurred.

My complete hands-on review of the Nikon D810 can be found here. For the lens I used the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 zoom with its excellent optics. That lens review can be found here.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Using the Sigma USB Dock to fix the live view autofocus problem with Nikon cameras

I first noticed the problem using a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens on a Nikon D750. I was attempting to do an overhead shot by extending the camera above me and composing in the live view screen when I noticed that the lens would not autofocus. I had to resort to using a ladder and the viewfinder to take the picture. Later I tried the lens with my D810 and the same thing happened -- no autofocus in live view.

After a quick internet search I found that this was a common issue with using the older Sigma lens on the newer Nikon cameras. Sigma had no way of knowing in advance what changes Nikon would be making in its future cameras when my 35mm lens was made. Fortunately, Sigma covered its bases by also introducing the USB lens Dock to allow firmware updates to its lenses.

The Sigma USB dock is simple to use for a firmware update. First you need to download the Sigma Optimization Pro software onto your computer from the Sigma-Global web site.  Once the software program is installed, mount the USB puck on the lens in place of the rear lens cap, plug the USB cord into the puck and then into the computer and start the software. The software will find the lens and see if a firmware update is available.

For my Sigma 35mm lens, once the firmware was updated the lens autofocus worked perfectly on the D750 and D810.

As an added bonus, the software also allows customization of the lens Autofocus, OS, and focus.

The Sigma USB dock replaces the rear lens cap.

The Sigma Optimization Pro software will find the attached lens and suggest a firmware update if one is available. 
The Sigma USB dock for Nikon is available for $59 from B&H Photo  and   Amazon

The dock is also available for Canon, Sony, Pentax, and Sigma lens mounts:

Canon dock:  B&H Photo    Amazon
Sony dock:   B&H Photo 
Pentax dock:  B&H Photo
Sigma dock:   B&H Photo   Amazon