Thursday, July 30, 2015

Out, out brief candle!

It was back to photographing in my studio yesterday for the first time since my operation. We kept things simple by warming up with still life shoots for the first week. My first photo was a redo of an image I had taken about a month ago of a lit candle and some old books. When I examined the photo later and realized that one of the books was a volume of Shakespeare plays, I thought it would be more appropriate to have the candle just extinguished with smoke rising from it, a reminder of the famous "Out, out brief candle!" passage from Macbeth.

I repeated the take several times in an effort to capture an interesting sculptural form in the rising smoke, and lucked out when on one take the glowing ember on the candle wick lasted long enough to appear in a few frames. The photo was taken with a Nikon D810 so the resolution is very high. I wanted the sharpness and deep coloring of the image to be reminiscent of an old Dutch still life painting. I used the Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro lens, which I like because of its shorter focal length.

A high res version can be downloaded with the link below the photo.

Click here to download a high res version of this image.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Another image in the Metropolis series

I added another image to my new "Metropolis" series of multiple exposure photographs of New York. This one is a combination of three super-imposed images. I titled it, "Metropolis - Up from the ashes" because both the Chrysler and Empire State buildings were built during the Depression and the MetLife building came about from the demise of PanAm.

Metropolis - Up from the ashes, 2015

The last time I presented an image from this series I was asked to explain how I did it. Although there are some variations in how I go about each one, I am including a brief description of how they are done below.

The composite is assembled in Photoshop where I can use layers for each image. The three images above were used in this composite with the left photo on the bottom, middle photo above that, and the right photo of a tilted building facade on top. I use various means to meld the images together. Sometimes it is as simple as dialing down a layer's opacity; other times I change the layer's mode. The bottom layer is always "Normal". The middle layer was changed to "Screen", and the top layer to "Overlay". 

I add layer masks to the top layers so I can selectively paint out places where I want the bottom layers to dominate. I also add several adjustment layers attached to each image so I can control their individual color, contrast, and brightness.  That is pretty much it in a nutshell, although a final composite can take be several days of fiddling before I get it the way I want it to look. 

Initially, I began this series by double and triple exposing images in camera with the Fuji X-T1, but switched to working the images in Photoshop where I have much more control. I also switched to a higher resolution camera because my plan is to make very large prints of the final composites. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Testing the Sony A7r with Leica lenses

Sony's new A7rII camera is due out in a couple of weeks, and I am back to testing the A7 series with Leica lenses to see if the new 42mp camera is one I want to add to my Leica system. I already performed two test sessions with an A7II that ended prematurely with an unknown error message. I finally traced the problem to the lens adapter I was using. So this time I switched over to the Metabones Leica M Lens to Sony NEX E-Mount adapter instead of the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter I had used previously, and so far there have been no problems with using all of my Leica M lenses on the A7r.

My main reason for trying this combination is to achieve very high quality, large file sizes with the 42mp sensor to make extra large prints. In many cases I will be taking multiple images to cover a scene and combining them later into an even larger, high resolution, single file that can print to a 4-8' width. Yes, I could do that and more with a Gigapan system, but this will be much more convenient to use.

Another reason for finding an alternative to the Leica M is that it does produce moiré patterns on building facades when I do cityscapes. I was hoping the Sony A7rII would eliminate this. Turns out, there was some moiré with the A7r and Leica lens, but not nearly as much and easier to fix than with the Leica M.  I have a feeling the moiré is appearing due to the super sharpness of the Leica lenses. Fortunately, in this case the moiré was easy to fix using the moiré adjustment tool in ACR (Acobe Camera Raw).

Size-wise, the Leica M lenses are a perfect fit and very convenient to use on the Sony A7r. Most important, the sharpness of the lenses and high resolution of the Sony sensor work well together. 
Most importantly, and as I had hoped, the results with the superb Leica lenses on a high resolution Sony sensor are excellent. It is beginning to make perfect sense to me to use the A7rII camera as a second Leica body. The lenses are pretty much perfectly scaled for the down-sized, full frame Sony A7r. Photoshop has the lenses as part of its database so it is easy to perform the necessary corrections in post.

As I was thinking about acquiring the A7rII, I was also considering picking up one sort of universal zoom for times when I don't want to cart around a bag full of Leica primes. I borrowed the Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 lens to try out for this. As I have suspected right along, like most lenses made specifically for the small A7 series, it is too heavy for the body and the whole assembly is out of balance. On top of that, the optical results were no where near what I would consider good enough to use, especially with such a good camera. So there goes that idea.

The Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 universal zoom bulks up the A7r, but the optics are the real deal breaker. The results were very soft, especially at the longer focal lengths. 
In the meantime, I discovered an adapter for using the old Contax G Zeiss lenses with the A7's. Not only that, but the adapter preserves the auto-focus of the G lenses. That could be a really good option and one I am going to try, since I still have my original Contax G3 and full complement of lenses. I'll post a report once I try it out on the new A7rII in a few weeks.

This is one of the test shots I did with a Leica M 50mm f/1.4 Summilux lens used at f/5.6 and 8 seconds. The results were very impressive, and about as good as I have ever achieved on this view that I shoot quite often. 

If the Contax G lenses can fit the A7's with an adapter and still maintain AF, I don't know why Sony or Zeiss can't make some small, fast lenses for the system that are more in keeping with its size. A camera of this quality requires optics to suit. Unfortunately, everything currently available for this camera is either too big relative to the camera size or has a slow maximum aperture.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Time lapse exposure of the city with the Fuji X-T1

I have always wanted to take a time lapse photo of New York at night, realizing there would be a problem dealing with the city lights with such a long exposure. Last night I gave it try while some clouds were moving behind the Empire State Building. I took the photo just after 4AM when the main lights that illuminate the top of the building were turned off.

I used the Fuji X-T1 with the Fuji 14mm lens. I calculated that I would need something like a six minute exposure to blur the clouds. So I put an 8x (3-stop) neutral density filter on the lens and set it for f/14 at an ISO of 200. I only had time for this one exposure because the clouds passed by and the sky cleared afterwards.

Long exposure (LE) noise reduction was turned on to fill in the tiny white dots that occur in the dark sky. With LE turned ON the camera takes a second exposure of equal length to the first one, but only of a dark frame. It then subtracts the dark frame from the original frame to eliminate the white noise specs. Even with the extra 6 minute dark frame subtraction, there were plenty of distracting specks left in the sky. I had to deal with them in Photoshop. To do this, I made a selection of just the sky, and added a slight, monochromatic Gaussian blur to it -- just enough (a 2 pixel radius) to meld the tiny white specs into the rest of the sky. The sky was already blurred from the long exposure so it didn't make much of a difference in the image sharpness.

To deal with the city lights, I processed the RAW file as a 16-bit tif and turned the highlights and whites all the way down in ACR (Adobe Camera RAW).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Metropolis - multiple exposures of the city

Today I finished working on another image in my Metropolis series of photographs. This one is a quadruple exposure of New York images that began with a photo of the Chrysler Building taken this morning at dawn.

Metropolis - Deco Dawn, NY, 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Capturing storm clouds over the city with the Fuji X-T1, 18-135mm and 10-24mm zooms.

Sunset in New York last night occurred at 8:21PM.  About a half hour prior to that voluminous storm clouds passed overhead and were lit in high contrast by the low, setting sun. This was followed by a clearing sky, all of which made for some dramatic patterns of light and color in the sky.

Below is a sequence of photos I took over a 45 minute period as the storm clouds passed overhead, and then moved off to the east leaving the setting sun to peek out beneath the cloud cover long enough to add some color to the clouds. I usually say you have about a 30 minute period to capture a sunset -- 15 minutes before, and 15 minutes after the actual sunset. This series of images shows the changes that can occur in that half hour period.

The camera was a Fuji X-T1 with both the 18-135mm and 10-24mm zooms. I wanted to emphasize the sky with the city small beneath it so all of the shots were taken in a wide angle range. This enabled me to include the upper part of the sky. Once again, the new 4.0 firmware update proved itself by being able to focus on the clouds, something the X-T1 was unable to do prior to the update.

Rather than using a cable release, I decided to control the camera wirelessly with the Fuji Remote App on my smart phone. I find the Fuji remote software to be the best I have used for remote control from a smart phone or tablet. It is very easy to change the focus spot, and the software provides control over the most important features of the camera.

This is when the clouds first rolled over the city a half hour before sunset time.  Looked like it might rain, but it didn't. and the stormy part of the clouds moved off quickly to the east. There wasn't much color at this point and the clouds stood out in high contrast so I decided to capture the scene in black and white. 

Shortly after taking the top photo, the sky in the west began to show some clearing. In this shot I wanted to capture the tower of the Empire State Building dividing the sky into stormy and clearing. 

This photo of lower Manhattan and the Financial District of Jersey City was taken right around the time of sunset and the red rays of the setting sun lit up some of the clouds to the south of the city.

Ten minutes after the sunset the upper clouds lost their color and turned the typical twilight blue. Some reddish sunset color remained on the horizon in contrast to the blue so you can see the rain coming from the distant clouds. 

About 15 minutes after sunset only a fading twilight remained to light the sky above the clouds resulting in a brief contrast to set off the shape of the darkening clouds. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A young girl reading -- Fuji 90mm f/2 lens

Ever since my Fuji 90mm f/2 lens arrived I have been chomping at the bit to try it out on some portraits and a lifestyle shoot, but I am still a couple of weeks away from being able to return to do full scale lifestyle shoots in my studio. In the meantime, I've been using every opportunity to try it out on family and friends whenever someone is around. My granddaughter, Kayla, was over last week any while reading a book on the couch became my latest photo victim.

I wanted to see what the lens would do wide open in a candid, available light situation. I also wanted to experiment some with keeping to deeper toned images. To this end I exposed for the highlight areas of the skin, which resulted in the rest of the image going dark.

This image and one other were taken with the Fuji X100T at f/2.  All the rest were with the X-T1 and 90mm lens at f/2.