Monday, March 11, 2019

Bird photography with the Fuji X-H1 and 100-400mm f/2.8 zoom

Last night was one of those ideal winter days in Florida, a pleasant 72ยบ with clear, dry skies. I decided to head over to one of my favorite wildlife sites, the Green Cay Wetlands in Boyton Beach, Florida to photograph some of the birds that are more abundant this time of year. This was to be more of a relaxing walk than a full-out photo shoot so I took only one camera and lens with me, the Fuji X-H1 camera with 100-400mm zoom lens. Just in case I needed something longer, I stuffed a Fuji 1.4X telextender in my pocket, but I never did need it.

It was late in the day, just before sunset, and I decided to rely on auto-ISO to vary the exposure to make my life a little easier as I swung the camera from dark to light areas and back again to capture the active birds.  My auto-ISO bracket was set from 200 to 1600. I don't really like going over that with an APS sensor, especially considering the fine details of the birds' feathers. I worked my aperture wide open to further keep the ISO down, and also allow for high shutter speeds to stop any action.

 My ISO ranged from 200-1250 for all the photos shown here. I do almost all of my noise correction now in Adobe Bridge. The Fuji X-cameras are often compared to full frame for their image quality. Even with the higher ISO's it would be hard to tell these shots from what I achieve with my full frame Nikons under these same conditions. A great deal of that image quality comes from the Fuji optics, which, for their higher end lenses is exceptional.

Few birds are as majestic as the Great Blue Heron

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Supermoon with the Fuji X-H1 and 100-400mm zoom

We had the 2nd of three supermoons for 2019 last night.  The night was cloudy but, thankfully, the clouds were moving rapidly providing ample opportunity to grab many variations in composition. I usually wind up photographing the moon on an APS-sized sensor to get it big enough. So last night I chose my Fuji X-H1 along with the Fuji 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom, and added a Fuji 2X extender to it.  That gave me the equivalent of a 300-1200mm lens. Sounds like it's quite long, but that isn't enough to even fill the frame with the moon.

Below are a few of the images I captured last night. The first photo below shows the how the full moon filled the frame with the lens at the equivalent of 1200mm. This photo was taken at 1/15 second at f/11 and ISO 200. The moon at night is quite bright and in constant motion. So, even an exposure of 1/15 second is rather slow and will blur a bit. The reason the moon is so bright is that it is being lit in a way similar to how light from the sun lights up the earth during the day. That's a lot of  light. I was stuck with an aperture of f/11 because of the f/5.6 lens aperture at full extension coupled with a 2-stop loss from the 2X tele-extender.

The clouds are what made the situation interesting. As I mentioned, they were moving quite rapidly giving me plenty of opportunity to grab variations. Each shot I did, like the one below, where we can see both the clouds and the moon in their correct exposure required taking two photos and combining them together afterwards as layers in Photoshop.

The first shot was of the sky where the moon itself was overlit and completely blasted out. The exposure varied, but mostly it was around 1-second, f/11, and ISO 400. The second photo of the moon was at 1/15 sec, f/11, and ISO 200, but in this shot the clouds were too dark to see. That's why the final image had to be a combination of the two.

To make matters more interesting, both the moon and the clouds were moving rapidly so I had to capture both images with little time in between in order to keep the clouds and moon in their same relative positions.  The procedure was: Take moon photo at 1/15 sec and ISO 200, then quickly change exposure to 1-second and ISO 400 for the cloud shot -- all the time giving the camera a couple of seconds to settle down after being handled for the change of exposure. 

What is interesting about the photo above is that it was taken in one shot using the same exposure as for the clouds of 1-second, f/11, and ISO 400. The reason this was possible is that the moon in this photo is almost completely behind clouds, but it is so bright that its image is burning through the darker cloud parts of the cloud cover. 

There were interesting variations in the color throughout the image. I didn't alter the actual colors, but did enhance them with LAB to intensify their color.

For me, this use of  LAB color in Photoshop is the kind of moon shot that makes photography both fun and interesting -- but that's a story for another day.  

Monday, January 21, 2019

Super blood wolf moon from Florida

Well, here it is from in front of our home in Florida:  the Super Blood Wolf Moon of 2019.  Took it with a Nikon Z7 and 80-400mm Nikkor zoom plus 1.7x extender. Camera was set to DX mode so the equivalent focal length was 1020mm.  Expose was 1.6 second at f/11 and ISO of 400.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Creating Light Leaks in Photoshop

A little while ago I saw some light leak photos my photographer-daughter, Jamie, did using color negative film in an old Nikon F2 mostly on her Instagram feed. She would flash the roll part way through by opening the camera back slightly to let some light streaks seep in. This started me thinking about ways I could produce similar effects using overlays in Photoshop. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I was creating an entirely new set of Light Leak Photoshop Overlays and preparing to market them through MCP Actions, where my other overlay packs are sold.

One thing I learned rather after a lot of experimenting was that I needed to create different versions of the light leak overlays to be used for both light and dark images. I also needed to create some flat, overall color blurs to help harmonize the multiple image overlays.

The portrait below was created by stacking two overlays. One overlay was a blurred, colored image of 35mm film, and the other was one of my standard light leak overlays on black.  (See the overlay samples further below.)  The background on this image was very dark, so I used overlays that required a Photoshop layer mode change of "Screen".

This image of the wedding couple is one of the more typical application of light leak overlays.  It is a combination of three overlays.  Two of them are against black and their Photoshop layer modes were changed to "Screen". The third overlays was a lighter, overall color blur to help harmonize the transition of colors of the original image and the light leak overlays.

Below are some typical samples of the light leak overlays I created. Those with a heavy black area are intended to be use in Photoshop "Screen" mode, while the more overall colored images can be used in Soft Light, Hard Light, and sometimes in other layer modes depending upon the image that is being altered. The actual colors of the light leaks can also be altered by combining them with a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer.

The photo below shows the effect of the light leaks when working with a very light original image. This is a combination of three, stacked light leak images with a predominately white photo of the bride and groom. 

The photo overlay of the 35mm film was intentionally scratched and then streaked with light leaks to provide a grittier look. There is only one other light leak layer providing the red streak along the left side of the image.

I am creating the light leak overlays in a variety of colors to help them harmonize with the colors in the images receiving the treatment.  However, as I mentioned about, it is easy to alter the colors of the light leaks by combining them with an altered Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer in Photoshop.

One of the chief advantages of creating light leaks this way is the amount of control you have over the composition. The photo below combines three light leak overlays, two in Screen mode and one in Soft Light layer mode. By adding a layer mask over the light leak, you can paint out any areas of the leak that don't work. Here, for instance, I removed some of the light leak from the model's face.

I have a couple of more weeks to go for creating some more light leak images, and then putting the package together, with samples for MCP Actions.  I will also be recording an instructional video on how to use the overlays. I will be announcing here on the blog when the Light Leaks package is ready. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

First sunrise of 2019 with a Nikon Z7 and Fuji X-H1

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Wishing you all the best for the coming year.

This is the first sunrise of 2019 taken at Delray Beach, Fl. The first photo below was taken with the Nikon Z7 and 24-70mm zoom lens set to 24mm.

The darker exposure in the bottom photo was because I bracketed down to capture more detail in the area around the sun. Luckily the seagull flew by for a few frames. This image was taken with a Fuji X-H1 and 10-24mm zoom set to 12mm (18mm equivalent).

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The ocean at dawn with three mirrorless cameras

Over the past few weeks I have been going to the ocean at dawn to photograph the sunrise. I usually have at least two mirrorless cameras with me -- one is tied up shooting a timelapse while the other is free to capture stills of the ocean. One camera is the new Nikon Z7, which I use for the time lapse shot. Another is a Fuji X-H1 for capturing stills and video, and the third is compact Leica Cl with an 18-56mm Leica-Elmar zoom also for stills. It is interesting to me how really good modern digital cameras have become.

All the images were captured in RAW and processed as 16-bit TIF files for further processing in Photoshop. The extreme color and exposure latitude leaves me with plenty of maneuverability for modifying exposures and colors in post. This explains why some of the images below are bright, while others are very dark and dramatic, and also why there are varying tonalities in similar images.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Fuji X-H1 with 18-135mm zoom set to 30mm. This image is a double exposure of the ocean scene with a background photo of a textured concrete wall. 

Fuji X-H1 with 18-135mm zoom set to 66mm. This image was kept on a darker dramatic side by processing for the highlights and allowing the shadows to go deep. Nonetheless, there is plenty of detail in both the shadows and highlights because of the RAW and 16-bit processing. 
The photos above were intended for my personal art portfolio so I gave each of them more of a monochromatic look by selecting one of the colors in the scene and using it as the basis for the overall color palette.

On the other hand, all the images  below were intended for stock photography so I kept the colors more and on the natural side while also leaving plenty of neutral spaces to use for type or product placement. 

Nikon Z7 with 24-120mm Nikon zoom set to 24mm.

Fuji X-H1 with 18-135mm zoom set to 24mm equivalent.

Nikon Z7 with 24-120mm Nikon zoom set to 35mm. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Re-skinning and restoring a Polaroid SX-70

I've always considered the Polaroid SX-70 camera one of the more beautiful examples of analog photography. It took a brilliant mind to conceive and produce it, and it has its own, unique, form-follows-function design with a beauty that is its alone.

Rummaging around in an old cabinet the other day, I came upon an old SK-70 Model 3 that must have been stuffed away in there for well over twenty-five years. The faux leather on it was all moldy, cracked, and falling apart. I put a pack of film in it and found that is was working fine, even a flash bar I found worked. Not too much can go wrong with these cameras, which is a positive thing that can be said about their design. The battery for operating the camera is contained within the film pack. That eliminates one method of corrosive damage over time. The mechanics of the camera are free from energy reliance until you snap the shutter.

So all it needed was a good cleaning inside and out, and, of course, a complete replacement of the skin. Some camera skins were made of original leather. This one was not, which is why it was crumbling apart.

Replacement camera skins are readily available on the internet, and can be had in a variety of colors and textures, and even in wood veneers. I found the skin I wanted at a place called Hugo Studio,  HugoStudio, where I bought a real leather tan skin set for $20. It was a close match the original Polaroid color.

The first task was to get the old skin off of the camera -- -- not an easy task if it is made of fake leather. I used two painting knives and some Bestine solvent. Painting knives are very flexible and not overly sharp so it wasn't difficult to work them under the covering and slide them in. Bestine is a solvent used by artists for removing old, dried rubber cement. It worked perfectly here.  I suppose that Goo Gone might also have served the same purpose.

Once I  had a start of picking up the skin, I would spread some Bestine along the seam and continue working the skin off with the painting knives. While not fun, it wasn't too difficult and didn't take more than an hour to get all the skins off.

After the skins were off, I cleaned the plastic with alcohol and then used Novus Plastic Polish to remove the scratches on the plastic and then polish it. Novus comes in three strengths: 3 is like a compound and good for removing the scratches; 2 gives a finer shine to the surface; and 1 is a final, gloss-like coat. 

At this time, I also cleaned the inside of the camera in the front, where the film pack is inserted. The rollers in here are usually coated with some gunk from the processing chemicals. I cleaned them off using alcohol and Q-Tips, and then sprayed the whole camera, in and out, with a dust can. 

Next I ordered a set of genuine tan leather skins from a place called Hugo Studio. They have many other colors, textures, and materials available. When re-skinning, it's best to start with the bottom two and then proceed to the top three, saving the one on the viewfinder for last. When positioning the skins, you can make them more pliable to move around if you coat the surface of the plastic with alcohol or non-moisturizing Purell. Both methods worked, but the Purell didn't evaporate as fast as the alcohol and gave me more time to work the skin into the form. It was not very difficult.  Just start at one side, anchor two corners, and work it slowly into place from the anchored bottom to the other side. Don't lay it all down at once. If you do get some bubbles that you can't work out, a tiny pin-prick will let the air out so they will lie flat.

So, here is the finished camera -- cleaned, restored, and ready to do battle as long as someone keeps producing film for it. The cell phone camera has replaced the spontaneity of instant image capture, but it doesn't provide the tangible result of a print -- something you can hold, pass around, or hang up as a daily reminder of an event. There is something private about a print. It is unique, whereas a mobile image is one in an environment of millions.  Plus, you can say anything you want about Polaroid cameras, the bottom line is the SK-70 camera is truly an amazing invention and sure is fun to use.