Friday, August 28, 2015

Aerial photography over New York

This past week I've been behind on my blog posts, as I spent most of my time preparing for some upcoming aerial shoots of New York. Last night was the first. I wanted to photograph at sunset and into the twilight, which lasted another half hour. The main purpose of these trips is to gather material for a large scale print project of images I am taking of the city.

Working in a helicopter close to nightfall means high ISO settings and fast aperture lenses. I had two outfits with me for the nighttime work, a Nikon D810 equipped with Sigma 24mm and 35mm f/1.4 lenses. The second camera was the new Sony A7RII with its 42mp sensor. It had just arrived earlier in the week.  I planned to use it with Leica M-lenses, but my good friend, Jeff Hirsch of  Fotocare in New York, had a Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 lens he let me try.

The photo below, taken about 25 minutes after sunset, was captured with the Sony A7RII and Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 lens wide open with an ISO of 1250. The shutter speed was only 1/50 second, which was a bit risky, but I just keep my finger on the shutter button and capture so many images that one of them is bound to be sharp. I'd rather do that than raise the ISO and pick up excess noise.  It's a technique I've used for years, and it usually works.

On my Nikon D810 I had an f/1.4 24mm lens, which gave me one extra stop resulting in an even lower ISO and higher shutter speed.

I'll be posting more on this aerial mission later in the week, plus a first-look review of the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 lens.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sometimes you just get lucky

Yesterday evening I did a sunset cruise around the city. It is one of those things I always recommend to people visiting New York. The boats sail around the island on the west, then up the East River, and finally out to the Statue of Liberty and back up the Hudson River. The whole trip takes either 1.5 or 2 hours depending upon the type boat you choose. I usually use the Classic Harbor Line where you can sail on either a schooner or 1920's yacht, which adds to the experience.

Last night I got lucky. The skies were overcast and threatening rain about an hour before sunset, but then cleared, leaving beautiful layers of clouds that picked up the color of the setting sun. As you sail down the western side of the city the sun is to your back and reflects off the shiny buildings and clouds. Sailing up the East River you are shooting into the sunset for a completely different view. The beautiful cloud shapes last night treated us to a spectacular view, better than any I had ever seen.

Because I photograph the city mostly to make large scale prints I use high resolution cameras with sharp lenses. Last night I shot with the Leica M 240.  Occasionally, I will take two or three shots in rapid succession to combine later into a larger panoramic image. This can be a little tricky for three reasons: not only is the camera hand-held, but the boat is moving forward at the same time. In addition, the Leica M is a slow camera and too much time elapses between frames.

Both images below were taken with the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH lens at f/5.6.

Lower Manhattan with the World Trade Center photographed from the west looking east with the sunset  reflecting off the buildings. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Photographing stars and the night time sky

My son, Daniel, is also a professional photographer. He has been photographing in Maine for the summer. To cap off his stay he wanted to combine some night time shooting of starry skies, lighthouses, and, as luck would have it, the Perseid meteor shower. I shipped him my newest 20mm f/1.8 Nikon lens for his D610 so he would have a fast aperture lens to keep  his ISO as low as possible. For the most part he was able to capture the stars with a wide open aperture, an ISO of 1600, and a shutter speed of 15 seconds. A shutter speed faster than that would have blurred the stars too much.

Below are a few of the images he captured over the past few days. The last shot of the Porsmouth Light House shows that there are great photo ops even on a cloudy night without the stars.

Port Clyde Light House and stars

Curtis Island Light with stars and meteors. 

Portsmouth Light House

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Revisiting old files

Over the years of constant use, our skills with post-processing are bound to improve. The other day I was revisiting some old files of images I had taken of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 2009 and wondered what they would look like if I processed them again from the original RAW files. Below are three images that I had even skipped over during my initial processing of these files.  It helps that they were taken with a high resolution camera at the time -- in this case a Nikon D3X.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Landscape impressions

This past weekend I paid a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art specifically looking for inspiration from some of the Impressionist painters for a landscape project I have been doing. Our rememberance of an event is often an embellishment of what we actually saw, influenced more by our reactions to particulars of the day than to the specifics of the scene. For these ghostly remnants I wanted to strip the scenes down to their essentials of color and form with only a hint of the details remaining. The Impressionists were masters at this, and I was hoping to learn something from them.

Below are few more images I created for this evolving nature series. The techniques I used for creating these individual images vary, as I continue to explore this theme.

Two trees and winter fog, PA, 2014

Winter trees and fog, Smoky Mountains, 2009

Early morning mist in the Smokey Mountains, 2009

Seagrass, Assateague Island, 2014

Assateague Island sunset, 2014

Friday, August 14, 2015

Shooting lifestyle with the Fuji 90mm lens

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know that for the past month I've been recuperating from hip replacement surgery, which has kept me somewhat limited in how far I can venture out to take new photographs.  I'm happy to say that this past week I was finally able to do a couple of low key lifestyle shoots in my studio. Being able to get back to my shooting schedule was exciting enough, but having an opportunity to battle test the new Fuji 90mm f/2 lens was even more exciting. I had already had enough experience with this lens to do a hands-on review, but I was chomping at the bit to put it into my normal lifestyle shooting workflow.

These two lifestyle shoots done with the 90mm lens on a Fuji X-T1 re-confirmed many of my initial assessments, but also let me know that under actual in-use conditions the lack of a vibration control mechanism in the lens can cause problems. At 90mm (135mm full frame equivalent) this is a fairly long lens, and, as such, is going to require at least 1/125-1/250 second shutter speed to safely avoid motion blur when hand held. Modern vibration reduction systems have spoiled me. It wasn't so long ago in the neolithic age of film cameras that I would never even consider using a lens this long hand held. The day of the first lifestyle shoot was overcast and I found myself shooting around 1/60th of a second -- not much of a problem with a VR lens -- because I didn't want to boost the ISO above 400, but definitely problematic without. Needless to say, I lost a lot of shots to motion blur. Lesson learned.

I already knew from my previous tests that the lens worked well at full aperture so I used it almost exclusively at f/2. Focusing was fast and accurate on the X-T1 with the new firmware update. Even in a shot like the one above the camera and lens were able to get past the loose lock of foreground hair and place an accurate focus on the model's eyes, and at f/2 there wasn't any room for error. 

One thing I particularly liked about using the 90mm lens over the Fuji 56mm is its close-focus ability. Not only can you do full frame, cropped head shots, but you can get in even closer for detail shots of just the eyes or lips without resorting to a close-up attachment.

An added plus to a fast f/2 aperture on such a long lens is the background and foreground bokeh effect in the out-of-focus areas. Using this long lens in conjunction with something shorter like the 35mm or 23mm enabled me to pick up extra shots that looked quite different from each other.


 All in all, I have to say it was fun to be back shooting again, and made all the more so with the new addition to my Fuji lens arsenal of the latest 90mm f/2 lens.

Because it is a telephoto lens, albeit a short one, it displays the telephoto characteristic of comressing space, as in a shot like this where the lineup of wall hangings are compressed from front to back. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Turner sunset visits the city

Last night we had a post-storm sunset over the New York that would have made the painter, William Turner, envious. Turner sunsets tend to dominate his scenes, while the main subject takes a subsidiary role. A volcanic eruption in Indonesia filling the earth's atmosphere with gases and ash is said to have contributed to the brilliant red and yellow colors seen during European sunsets at the time.

Sun setting over a Lake, c. 1840, by Joseph Mallard William Turner

Borrowing from Turner's technique, I allowed the magnificent sunset shape of clouds and color to over-power most of the composition with Manhattan and the Hudson River playing a minor role below it.

The sunset lasted for less than five minutes and was at its peak right at sunset. I used a Leica M 240 and Leica Summilux 35mm lens set to f/5.6.  You never quite know when a sunset will be at its peak so I always wait out the scene for 15 minutes before and after the actual sunset time.