Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring patterns in New York with the X-T1 and Fuji 56mm plus close-up lens

I set out to do this photo project last week but couldn't because nothing was sprouting in the city for spring. Today was different. The city has come alive with new spring growth. It is always a little difficult to come away from a subject like this with images that are a little different from what has been done before, but then again that is the challenge of it. I tried to integrate the city itself into the photos wherever I could.

The chose to use the Fuji X-T1, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite cameras of all time. It is no wonder it is selling out everywhere. Most of the time for my personal work I use the Fuji X cameras set to a 1:1 square crop mode.

I had only two lenses with me, the 18-55mm zoom and the 56mm f/1.2 which I often used with a Nikon 5T close-up lens. Instead of using a macro lens for close-ups, I prefer to put a close-up filter on a fast aperture lens to create extreme bokeh effects.  The Nikon 5T is equivalent to a +1.5 close-up filter, except that it is really a lens because it is made up of two elements. It is not made anymore. I happened to still have my original 52mm and 62mm sets. They occasionally turn up on Ebay. The 52mm and 62mm filter size makes them a perfect match for the Fuji system, and I have found the results to be exceptional. There are two lenses in each set. One acts as a +1.5 close-up filter, and the other +3.0. Not only are these close-up lenses sharp, they also do not lower the contrast of the taking lens, as so many close-up filters seem to do.

Tulips with a passing taxi along  Fifth Avenue taken with the 56mm lens at f/1.2 using the Nikon 5T close up lens. 

Easter Lily with the 56mm lens at f/1.2 using the Nikon 5T close up lens.

 I tried to incorporate the sun into many of the photos because of the important role it plays in the feeling of springtime.

Daffodils and a blossoming tree across from the Flat Iron Building

Daffodils in the Union Square Farmers Market. This close-up was done using the 18-55mm zoom wide open. 

Daffodil and the Empire State Building. I tried several f/stops to get just the right amount of focus on the Empire State building so it could be identified without being too sharp.  I ended up with f/11 on the 56mm lens with a Nikon 5T close up lens on it. 

Another variation of the daffodils with the Flat Iron Building done with the 18-55mm zoom set to 21mm. The tilt-out screen of the X-T1 makes it a lot easier to do these extreme low angle shots. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Remote flash trigger for the Fuji X-T1

Now that the Fuji X-T1 is moving into my regular workflow, I am beginning to set it up to work with the various lighting situations we encounter in our lifestyle shooting. Today we needed to trigger both a studio strobe light and a Nikon SB-900 flash unit. With my Nikon cameras I use Pocket Wizards for the studio flash and a Nikon Commander unit to connect the D4 with the SB-900's. I wanted something a little smaller and portable for the X-T1 and I wanted it to be able to trigger the studio strobes, the Nikon flash units, and also the small Fuji EF-20.

The wireless triggers I ended up with were the Yongnuo 603 RF-NII. They are small, simple and uncomplicated, and fit nicely on the X-T1. They connect to the studio strobe via a sync cord, and to the Nikon and Fuji flash units via the hot shoe. They work in manual mode or A mode with the Nikon flash, which is fine by me. Thanks to the instant viewing convenience of digital photography, I pretty much only use my flash units only in manual mode anyway.

I find the small EF-20 flash to be a convenient size for filling in a tight area with a little bit of light, and now I can fire it off camera with a wireless trigger. All in all, these are handy and inexpensive wireless units to keep on hand. I use them with both the Fuji and Nikon, but they are also made for Canon. You just have to be certain to order the correct model. I have listed some of them at the bottom of this post.

The Yongnuo transmitter will work on the other Fuji X cameras -- X-Pro1, X-E2, X-E1 --  also.

The X-T1 and a Nikon SB-900 flash connected to two Yongnuo wireless transmitters. This is the setup used to take the photo below of the girl texting on her cell phone.

Each RF-603 unit can be set to either transmit or receive. They are sold individually, in pairs, or sets of four. A pair costs around $35. An "N" or "C" within the model name indicates if it is intended for Nikon or Canon. Either type will trigger a Fuji flash also. 

I constantly see people's faces lit up by cell phones and tablets in dark restaurants and night spots, and decided to do a series of lifestyle photos on that theme. Below are a couple of samples from our most recent shooting. 

A Nikon SB-900 set to 1/128 power was placed on the keyboard of the laptop computer and aimed at the screen. We put a silver reflector card in front of the screen to redirect the light back onto the model's face. The exposure was set for the girl's face and the  room exposure adjusted by altering the shutter speed. 

A similar technique was used here except that we had to place the flash -- in this case a studio strobe -- behind the model's head where it shone onto a small silver card attached to the phone screen and reflected light back to the model's face. The beam needed to be narrowed down considerably with a snoot on the light and some black cine-foil molded to the shape of the screen on the phone. 
Any of these units will work with the X-T1 or any other Fuji X-camera, but only designated units can also be controlled by a Nikon or Canon camera. It gets confusing and the prices vary slightly, but here is a list with a link to their availability on Amazon.

For pro Nikon cameras and the X-T1:
Yongnuo RF-603NII-N1 Wireless Flash Trigger Kit for Nikon D700 D800 D1 D2 D3 D4

For amateur Nikon cameras and D600 series, and the X-T1:
Yongnuo RF-603NII-N3 Wireless Flash Trigger Kit for Nikon Nikon D90 / D7000 / D7100 / D5000 / D5100 / D5200 / D3100 / D3200 / D600

For pro Canon cameras and the X-T1:
Yongnuo RF-603 C3 Wireless Flash Trigger for Canon 1D 1DS 5D 5DII LF239

For amateur Canon cameras and the X-T1:
Yongnuo RF-603 C1 Trigger/Wireless Shutter Release Transceiver Kit for Canon Rebel 300D/350D/400D/450D/500D/550D/1000D Series

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Light studies with the Fuji X-T1

Next weekend is the Easter holiday and my photo project this week was inspired by the tradition of Easter eggs. This project was one of the first photo assignments I gave to my students when I taught photography many moons ago. The idea was to photograph one egg using one primary light source and some silver card reflectors that could also be used as gobos to control light. The project had to be done in monochrome. One of the rules was not to introduce any conceptual meaning into the shot by using the egg. In other words, no cracked egg, not fried egg, no speckled egg -- just one pure white egg within its shell on a plain white background, and it can't be doing anything other than just sitting there. The purpose of this exercise was to introduce the basic building blocks of photography, control of light and shadow in forming a composition. That is done by moving the light, the reflector/gobos, the camera itself, and the exposure.

The egg is a banal subject with a distinct shape but almost no surface detail, which is why I chose it. The assignment was about the light not about the egg. Photography, unlike most other graphic media, always starts with a subject. I wanted my students to learn how to look beyond the subject when composing their photographs by learning how to integrate the shape of the egg with the shapes made by light and shadow. One of the greatest masters of this technique was Cartier-Bresson, whose images always contained very specific subject matter, but had a composition structurally built upon light, shadow, and movement.

My X-T1 was back from the shop so I pressed it into service for this project. I started using the 60mm macro, but quickly switched over to the 35mm because the 60mm had a lot of trouble focusing on the egg. (I wonder if the Zeiss macro will be better.) To get in close I used a Nikon 4T close-up lens on the 35mm. I had the camera set to shoot jpg and RAW in a square format with the profile set to black and white. This allowed me to see exactly what I was getting and gave me a reference black and white jpg to use later in post-processing. Being able to set my camera up this way is one reason I like using the Fuji X series. I'm beginning to use the Fuji X cameras as digital replacements for my old Hasselblad 500CM.

Here's the set up: a small 250W tungsten light, some silver cards to act as reflectors and gobos, a Fuji X-T1 set to square crop mode, a the 35mm and 60mm Fuji lenses. The 60mm macro had a lot of trouble focusing on the egg so I mainly used the 35mm with a Nikon 4T close up lens on it. 
There are thousands of ways to photograph this project. Below are some of my results. I envision most of my monochrome images as Platinum prints with its extended tonal range. Controlling tone and learning to place it where you want it is another by-product of this assignment.

If any of you want to give this project a try and send in a photo, I can assemble some of them into a future blog post. It would be interesting to see the different ways photographers interpret pure light.

All the images were taken on the same white background. Tone, even dead black and pure white, was caused by controlling the relative exposures of the shadows and highlights.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Post-processing flare enhancement for the Fuji 56mm portrait lens

I was using the Fuji 56mm lens on an X-E2 for part of a stock lifestyle shooting I was doing for Blend Images. I have come to prefer the X-T1 for this type of work, but mine was in the shop having the light leak repaired. So I used the X-E2 instead. It only took a little while for me to recall how really good the viewfinder refresh rate really is on the X-T1. Working with a baby model is always unpredictable. You have to be constantly on the ready for that perfect expression and then start blazing away to capture it. The new viewfinder in the X-T1 is much better at this than the X-E2. Actually, the X-T1 is better at this by far than any other mirrorless camera.

The 56mm extremely sharp. It has a very wide open aperture that provides a pleasant softening effect (bokeh) in the out-of-focus areas. This gives me a lot to work with when I apply the techniques outlined below. Since my images are primarily used for commercial advertising, these soft areas provide a convenient area for art directors to place type.

This is the final image after re-working it in Photoshop with the high key techniques illustrated below.  I selected this one because I loved the way the baby was playing with the model's curly hair.

This is the original image before I began working on it. Other than brightening it up a bit, there wasn't much wrong with it and it could have been used as is. I added the burst and tonal effects to give the photo more of practical use as a background. I also cropped it and added some more clear, bright space to the right side as an area for superimposing type.

This sun burst layer was created by adding a layer above the image and filling it with black. Next I selected Filter->Render->Lens Flarer and used the 50-300mm zoom flare effect set to 160%. This flare gives a lot of side artifacting coming from the bright spot and I had to paint it out where it fell over the models' faces. You don't have to be too careful with this layer because its details mostly fade out when you change the mode to Screen. sometimes the graphic edges in this layer are too sharp in which case I add a little Gaussian blur to soften their edges.

Using the same technique as the flare above but with the intensity lowered to 110% and all the flaring circles painted out.

This color layer was created by selecting a color from within the image and filling a new layer with it. I use this layer to provide tonal harmony to the photo. The layer mode was set to Soft Light.

The two sun burst flare layers 1 and 3 had their mode set to Screen. Layer 4 is a color selection from a section of the image and had its mode set to Soft Light. This reduced the contrast quite a bit, and lightened the image considerable. I added the Curves layer illustrated above to correct this.

Below are a couple of other samples from the shoot. They were done in a similar manner, but with varying degrees of intensity in the technique.

This photo already had a soft effect on the left, added by shooting through a glass vase with the 56mm lens set to f/2. This added considerable blur. In Photoshop I added a single light burst in the upper left. Finally, I added a blue layer in Soft Light mode to provide a color cast. I picked the blue from the man's shirt.

Done with almost the same technique as the photo above it, the color layer of this image was chosen for its warm tone.

The X-T1 returns from Fuji light leak repair

My Fuji X-T1 just returned from Fuji Service Repair for the light leak problem. I sent it out on March 31st, and it arrived back on April 9th -- eight work days. I had included a note about the lack of response on the command dial buttons, but nothing was done to fix them. Their comment was: "There are no updates for rear buttons".  I guess this is a repair that is going to have to wait until there is more of a ground-swell of complaints about these buttons. While the X-T1 was out for repair, I had been using my X-Pro1 and X-E2, both of which have much better button response than the X-T1. This may have something to do with the weather sealing, but in comparing the button shapes for the three models, the X-T1 has a definite inset design that makes it harder to locate by feel. 

The comparison photos below illustrate one of the reasons there is a problem locating the buttons on the X-T1. On both the X-Pro1 and X-E2 the full buttons are raised above the surrounding area, and rounded. The X-T1 buttons, on the other hand, are flat and on the same plane as the surrounding area except for a thin raised ridge on the outside edge. Sooner or later some manufacturer is going to make replacement buttons that stick on top of the existing buttons and serve to raise them up where we can find them by touch. Hmmm...sounds like an idea for a Kickstarter project. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Seeking the perfect camera bag for a Fuji X-T1, X-Pro1, X-E2 mirrorless system

Let me confess to something right up front: I own way too many camera bags, many more than any normal photographer should ever have, but all of them were originally chosen to accommodate a DSLR system. Now that I am using the Fuji X cameras more for travel photography, and my assortment of lenses keeps growing I wanted to find a bag more specifically tailored to the smaller, mirrorless camera equipment size.

This is the small size of the Timbuk2 Informant Camera bag. It is wide enough to accommodate four spaces for lens dividers, but because it is only 8" tall it feels smaller that it is, and is a perfect size for mirrorless APS-C  lenses.  
I was looking for something I could wear comfortably all day long without fatiguing. I also wanted it to be a bag that could adapt easily to varying assortments of equipment because sometimes I go out with only one body and a spare lens or two, and other times I have a spare body and a lot of lenses.  In other words, I was really looking for a bag you could randomly throw gear into and it will fit comfortably.

Interior view of the Timbuk2 Informat bag. The four compartments are a real plus for accommodating extra lenses, or the camera on its side with a long lens attached. Plus, there is plenty of space for incidentals -- all in a very compact and extremely comfortable package.  I would have preferred something other that the jarring blue interior color.
I wanted it to be light-weight, messenger-style so it would fit close to the body and be able to swing around from front to back easily. It had to have room for 3-6 lenses, a camera body, spare batteries, cards, maps, snack bars, etc., etc.  I also like to carry along a bottle of water. So it would be nice if the bag could accommodate that, too.  I wanted it to be a top loader because it is much easier for accessing equipment quickly. A flap is nice, especially if it doesn't need to be latched -- makes it easy to get in the bag with one hand while the other is holding the camera in ready position.

This is the bag I actually set out to find. It is extremely light weight -- and I mean "extremely". Yet it accommodates a lot of gear. I could easily house a DSLR system (another plus), but is great for a mirrorless system because you can stack the smaller lenses. It accomplishes this because it is spacious inside but still lighter than any other bag I tried. On top of all that, it only costs $29.35. It you are looking for a bag to grab spur of the moment , toss in some gear (any gear), and go out without feeling the least bit encumbered, this is it -- the Jill-E Messenger Style Carry-All camera bag, where "Carry-All" says it all. 
You can fill the Jill-E bag with any kind of system. In the photo above I have lenses stacked one on top of the other. I have the Fuji long 55-200mm zoom in there with its shade extended, lots of incidentals, yet still an extremely light package -- and it cost $29.35. Put two lenses in it and it won't feel under-packed. Put six lenses in it and it won't be over-stuffed. It molds itself to suit the contents. The bag does not have that over-stuffed secure feeling that your gear is protected from the elements. But that is what gives it a feeling that is light and airy. I wouldn't keep my gear in it if I were hikng in the Rockies, but for walking around a city it's perfect. 

The Jill-E bag looks larger than it feels when you are wearing it. In fact it could accommodate a a full frame DSLR, but its not out of place with a smaller APS-C system, and the side benefit is that it will hold a lot of APS-C gear in its weather resistant enclosure. The large front flap is protective without needing a clasp, something very handy for one-handed operation. And let me repeat: This bag is selling for $29.35. At that price you could buy it to keep around for random trekking and still buy another tougher bag for more tailored trips, which is exactly what I did. 

The bags below are listed randomly, not in order of my favorites -- not sure I even have a favorite.I like them all. Each bag serves a slightly different purpose.

The Billingham bags look great, and will look even better after a few years of wear. This model is listed as a shoulder bag, but I would not use it that way. I guarantee you that it will slide off your shoulder very easily. I like this particular model because it works well wearing it messenger style. It is stylish so you can wear it without being embarrassed at any fine social gathering. It has a universal traveler mystique to it so you're bound to look as if  your are related to Hemingway while wearing it, particularly it you've worn it in a bit. Most importantly, it accommodates a good amount of mirrorless gear in protected surroundings and still has plenty of pockets left over for incidentals and accessories. It's the type of bag you could dedicate permanently to your X-system. In addition to kakhi with tan trim, the bag also comes in sage and two versions of black: black with tan trim, and black with black trim.
Exterior Dimensions: 11 x 4 5/8 x 8 1/8"(27.9 x 11.8 x 20.6cm)(LxWxH)

Lowepro StreamLine 150 Shoulder Bag in slate gray $35.21
This is a small, no-nonsense solution to a camera with a few lenses. It has a rugged look, and is in fact rugged, with roomy pouches for spare gear. It opens conveniently from the top and is comfortable to wear messenger-style. I've always been a fan of Lowepro bags and own more of them than any sensible person should.
Exterior Dimensions: 9.1 x 2.2 x 7.5" ( 23.0 x 5.5 x 19.0 cm) (LxWxH)

As the price indicates, this is a "designer-type" bag. If it weren't also a good bag for the purposes of my search, I wouldn't include it. Niceties include the handle as an alternate way of picking it up, four spacious interior compartments. and an exceptionally pleasing finish of water resistant waxed canvas. It is also deep enough to fit a long zoom with the shade on.
Exterior Dimensions: 13.5 x 5.0 x 10.5" (34.3 x 12.7 x 26.7 cm) (LxWxH)

Think Tank makes stylish but extremely practical gear. This bag is a perfect example. It has a lot of malleable space, yet is still thin and body-hugging. The front flap is protective while allowing convenient access to the interior. The compartments are smartly laid out to accept a lot of diverse gear.  The velcro-type closure has a special Sound Silencer system to keep it quiet when opening the bag. This bag also comes in black.
Exterior Dimensions: 10.0 x 6.0 x 8.5" (25.4 x 15.2 x 21.6 cm) (LxWxH)

I found this bag to be both extremely practical and comfortable for a smaller APS-C camera system like the Fuji X series. It is very wide and divided into four compartments, yet it is only 8" tall, which is a perfect size for typical APS-C lens heights, and keeps the bag from being bulky, although it space to accommodate a MacBook Air or iPad. The layout is practical, and it has a pouch in the back that stores a rain-proof covering. It is also one of the most comfortable of all the bags to wear for an extended period of time. This bag also comes in black/gunmetal.
Exterior Dimensions: 15" x 3.5" x  8" (38 x 9 x 20cm)  (LxWxH)

At 1.15lb (521g) this is the lightest bag I tested. It  is made from weather-resistant polyester nylon with padded interior walls. It is spacious enough to handle a DSLR with a lens or two, but works even better with a Fuji X camera system where the added height allows lenses to be stacked and the long zoom to fit with its lens shade extended, a very handy while shooting. The front pocket is zippered and has dividers for smaller accessories. There is also a large flap pocket in the rear. I like having this bag around as a spur-of-the-moment option when I just want to toss in a few camera items to go out and test. It can hold a little or hold a lot and is comfortable to wear either way.
Exterior Dimensions: 13.5 x 5.0 x 9.0" (34.29 x 12.7 x 22.86cm) (LxWxH)

There are numerous other fine bags out there. I selected each of these for specific characteristics that make them especially convenient to use, and adaptable to Fuji X series cameras. Each time I go out with a Fuji camera it is with a different purpose in mind, and my equipment needs vary accordingly. I need a bag that can adapt to the changing circumstances. This selection was done with that criteria in mind. 

If you are planning on purchasing any of these bags, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one from our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Timbuk2 Informant Camera Sling can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon
The ONA Brixton Camera/Laptop Messenger Bag can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon  
The Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5 Shoulder Bag can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon
The Lowepro StreamLine 150 Shoulder Bag can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon
ThBillingham Hadley Shoulder Bag can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon
ThJill-E Designs Messenger Style Carry-all Bag can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon

Monday, April 7, 2014

"X" marks the spot - a weekend project with the Fuji X-E2

This past weekend I gave myself another project as a photo exercise. With the spring weather finally hitting the Big Apple I planned on doing extreme closeups of new growth buds in the plants along the High Line. Problem was the only buds I could find were barely nascent and hardly suitable for photography. So it was on to plan B.

On my way to the High Line I happened to take the abstract photo below composed on a simple grid pattern and decided to switch my project theme. The idea was to compose each image with a simple four-part grid by either juxtaposing unrelated forms to construct the grid, as in the shot below, or by using shadow and light, or both. I ruled out photographing any ready found grids. That would have been to easy. I had with me a Fuji X-E2 and three lenses, the Fuji 18-55mm zoom, the 55-200mm zoom, and the 56mm f/1.2, but used only the two zooms.

The X-E2 was set to record both RAW and jpg. I next set it to the 1:1 crop mode, and picked black & white as the profile. This would give me a square black & white jpg I could use as reference later while working on the RAW image in Photoshop. One thing I like about the X cameras is being able to set them up like this, particularly because I often use square compositions.

My completely arbitrary plan was to compose all the photos according to this simple grid plan. I placed the focus point (in green)  in the middle of the square frame to serve as a reference for the center. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the High Line is an elevated strolling park built in 1999 on top of an abandoned rail line. It runs along 10th Avenue from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street. One side benefit of strolling north on the High Line for photographers is that it ends only a few blocks away from B&H Photo on 9th Avenue. So, if you are a photographer and a tourist in New York, you can hit two popular tourist spots at the same time. On this occasion I happened to be heading to B&H to take a look at some camera bags for a future blog post I am writing on bags for mirrorless camera systems.

Below are some of the results from the grid composition project. I took them either on or near the High Line. Initially I had intended to photograph only in monochrome, but some of the compositions worked better in color so I left them that way.

In this scene I liked the way the random shape of the tree branches was superimposed over the grid form of man-made structures behind it. I needed the color here to separate these two distinct planes.

The Post Office Building is in the foreground, Penn Station behind it, and the Empire State Building behind that.

OK, I know this compositions does not fulfill the grid criteria.  I couldn't quite make it fit but didn't want to waste the opportunity of juxtaposing the interesting building pattern on the left with the Empire State Building on the right.