Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Working the light for a chiaroscuro effect in black and white

This is a scene I photograph quite often, mostly in the late evening around sunset or afterwards into the night.

I had been observing the light change for awhile, as the sun moved further into the southern horizon. I wanted this to be a photo of the Flatiron District with the Flatiron Building playing center stage in the composition. At 10:30AM the building was fully lit from the morning sun, which also left a pleasing shape of light at its foot. I felt the way the light fell on the city at that time would make an interesting black and white image with a composition built upon dark contrasts of light and deep shadow.

I felt the photo is a little difficult to see at this size so I included a high res version, which can be downloaded here. It isn't as big as the final 40" wide image, but is big enough to give a sense of detail. 
Even though the Flatiron Building is the main focus, my favorite part of the scene is off to the left where the sunlight bounced off of a building to light up the Metropolitan Life tower and clock.

The dark areas of the scene were as important as the lit areas in terms of the compostion so I didn't know in advance what focal length lens I would want to record the scene. I settled on putting the 24-120mm Nikon f/4 zoom on a Nikon D810. The zoom gave me some quick mobility to bracket around the focal lengths, and the f/4 didn't bother me because the photo was going to be taken in very bright sunlight and I could pick my aperture.

I added a polarizing filter to both darken the deep blue sky and cut through the haze in the distant building. Even so, with an ISO of 100 I ended up at f/5.6 and 1/250 of a second. While you could hand hold a camera at that speed, I have learned the hard way that it is best to put a high resolution  camera like the Nikon D810 on a tripod at all times. High resolution seems to magnify motion blur.

In post processing I pushed the contrast even further to increase the chiaroscuro effect and added a vignette for the same reason but also to focus the attention at the center of the scene.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Getting by with a Fuji X-T1 and two Fuji standard zoom lenses

Sometimes I really want to travel light and uncomplicated, yet have enough of a focal range to cover most anything I would encounter. When I know my photography will be limited to the outdoors and I will have plenty of light, I often just pack the two standard Fuji zooms, the original 18-55mm and the 55-200mm. This gives me an effective, full frame focal range of 27mm-300mm -- enough to cover most anything I would encounter. Both lenses are variable aperture (f/2.8-4 for the 18-55mm, and f/3.5-4.8 for the 55-200mm) so I won't expect to be using them for any selective focus shots. Nonetheless, on a bright day with distant subjects I would probably be working around a constant f/5.6 anyway.
This is my basic kit for the day of shooting, just two Fuji zooms, a polarizing filter, and my cell phone where I also have a light meter APP I sometimes use. 
On this particular day I planned to walk around a New York construction site at Hudson Yards where I had seen a forest of cranes one day while passing by in a taxi. I didn't think I would even need any lens shorter than 27mm. Otherwise I would have also tossed the Fuji 14mm in my pocket.

I would never think to use this sort of zoom combo with any other camera brand, but the Fuji lenses are so good that even their basic zooms are truly exceptional -- maybe not up to the extremely high standards set by their fixed aperture zooms, but solid performers with no apologies needed for their performance. The big advantage is that both zooms are light enough and small enough to fit in a coat or vest pocket -- just right for the kind of casual shooting I had in mind.

When you consider that you can buy a Fuji X-T1 kit with the 18-55mm lens for around $1400, and add the 55-200mm for another $499, This is a fully packed pro-quality travel kit for only $1900.

The 18-55mm has a 58mm filter thread, while the 55-200mm is 62mm. So I carry one 62mm polarizer and a 58-62mm stepup ring so it fits both lenses. With the two lenses, a polarizer, and my X-T1 plus extra battery I set off for an afternoon of photography of the construction site.

This panorama of the entire construction site is made up of four horizontal images stitched together later using PRGui software.

I took this hand-held panorama on my walk back from the site. It is made up of two 18mm shots stitched together later in PTGui. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Nature Impressions

This past week I launched my new art website at  (My commercial site is still available at, but it, too, will soon be revamped.) One portfolio on the site that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine is Nature Impressions. Over the past few weeks I have been going back to some of my older work and creating some new images specifically for this portfolio.

The title for the portfolio comes directly from Impression Sunrise, Monet's painting for which the Impressionists painters were derisively named. I have been re-working my images by decreasing the amount of detail in an effort to present more of a recollected impression of the experience than a literal representation of the scene.

Below are some of the latest results.

Winter pines and snow, CT, 2008

Caribbean sunset, 2013

Autumn forest, 2015

Foggy morning on the Hudson,NY, 2013

Water stones, Pennsylvania, 2015

Shadow on the dunes, Death Valley, 2009

Ocean sunset, Jamaica, 2013

Calm seas in fading light, 2013

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Photo Grids

Ever since I created one of these grid photos of 25 images of the Empire State Building I have wanted to do some more. Recently, I assembled these three -- one on colorful buildings in Jamiaca, another on the American flag, and a third on New York taxis as a companion piece to the Empire State Building grid-photo.

Because they are assembled from 25 high resolution images, the final photographs are quite large. They make really dramatic 36" x 36" or 48" x 48" plexi prints.

This one is entitled "Taxi!" and even includes some details of the old Checker cab. 

This one is called, "Showing the colors". It includes photos of flags in use, some weathered, many waving proudly, one group hand held at a parade, and even one a light display at Times Square. 

I drove around the island for two days collecting these photos of colorful buildings to put together this crazy quilt grid of Jamaica.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Photographing water splashes

We took a break from our normal routine and decided to photograph some water splashes in the studio today.

Freezing the splash in mid air calls for a fast action flash. Normal studio units have a duration of flash that is generally too slow so we turned to our Nikon SB-910 flash units. Through trial-and-error we discovered that a 1/4 power setting on the flash units was enough speed to freeze the water without any motion blur.

The next problem to overcome is the depth of field, which needed to be quite extensive. The 1/4 power setting on the flash units did not provide enough light for a very stopped down aperture. To compensate we boosted the ISO to 400, which is not a problem on the D810. The result was a working aperture of around f/20.

A splash this complex is actually a combination of four separate splashes assembled in Photoshop.

Because we never knew exactly where a splash would end up we needed to include an extra large frame area that would allow a cropping of the images later. That was one reason for using the high 36MP of the Nikon D810. Cropping the image still resulted in a large enough photo afterwards.

The lens was a Nikon 85mm tilt-shift. First of all, this is a macro lens and, consequently, is comfortable working at a very low aperture. In addition, it allowed for tilting the lens to achieve even greater depth of field on the splash.

This is the basic setup. The two black flats provide the black edging on the water and glass. Behind them are two more Nikon flash units bouncing light from the white side of the flats onto the wall for a background illumination. A black water tray also helps with the black outlining. The main light is a single Nikon SB-910 set to quarter power and passed through a bank. The water is tossed in the air over the tank using a variety of implements. You have to experiment with this, as each one gives a different shape to the splash. 

We took advantage of the lighting setup and did some pouring shots afterwards. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Autumnal Tints - photographed with the Fuji X-T1 and X100T

Thoreau's essay about the colors of autumn was published around the time of his death in 1862. In "Autumnal Tints" Thoreau saw the fading leaves of autumn, not as a sybols of death and decay, but as part of the beautiful process in regenerating new life.

As a photographer, I have spent many years photographing the peak colors of autumn. After reading Thoreau's essay, I took a new look at the leaves and began to realized that even after they have lost their brighter colors and begun their process of decay they display a sculptural beauty. I began photographing these late leaves of autumn in the 1980's with my Hasselblad, collecting the leaves and bringing them into the studio to be treated like any elegant prop and given a special treatment of lighting to bring out their best qualities. I have continued this project every year since.

The photos below are the results from this year's session of photographing for Autumnal Tints. They were taken on both the Fuji X-T1 with a Zeiss Touit 50mm macro lens, and the X100T set to macro mode with its 23mm f/2 lens. The optical qualities of each of these lenses are different. The Zeiss Touit is a superbly sharp modern lens producing crisp detail even when used wide open at f/2.8, as it was here. The Fujis 23mm f/2 lens is a gem in its own way. I like to use it wide open at f/2 where it has a softening quality similar to using older, uncoated optics on a digital camera.

The color images were processed as 16-bit RAW files into Classic Chrome and muted further by reducing the vibrance. Then, in Photoshop, I changed the color from Adobe RGB to LAB and punched up the muted tones. The colors are still very mute, but have a greater depth to the color range. Once finished the image is then converted back to RGB.

This photo was taken with the Fuji 23mm f/2 on the X100T, while the one below was shot with the X-T1 and Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 macro. Both were used with a wide open aperture.  The Touit is super sharp, then drifts quickly to a definite out-of-focus area, whereas the Fuji 23mm is somewhat sharp where focused and progresses slowly into out-of-focus with a pleasing atmospheric haze reminiscent of 19th century optics. 

Here is the quote from Thoreau's "Autumnal Tints" that inspired me to begin this project so many years ago. I reread it every year before I begin to photograph.  The essay, "Autumnal Tints",  is perhaps the best piece ever written on the subject of the changing leaves and what we might learn from it.

"It is pleasant to walk over the beds of these fresh, crisp, and rustling leaves. How beautifully they go to their graves! how gently lay themselves down and turn to mould!--painted of a thousand hues, and fit to make the beds of us living. So they troop to their last resting place, light and frisky. They put on no weeds, but merrily they go scampering over the earth, selecting the spot, choosing a lot, ordering no iron fence, whispering all through the woods about it,--some choosing the spot where the bodies of men are mouldering beneath, and meeting them half-way. How many flutterings before they rest quietly in their graves! They that soared so loftily, how contentedly they return to dust again, and are laid low, resigned to lie and decay at the foot of the tree, and afford nourishment to new generations of their kind, as well as to flutter on high! They teach us how to die. One wonders if the time will ever come when men, with their boasted faith in immortality, will lie down as gracefully and as ripe,--with such an Indian-summer serenity will shed their bodies, as they do their hair and nails."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Fuji's 90mm lens at f/2 for beauty photography

Every now and then, on rare occasions, I happen upon a lens that produces exceptional results. I once had a 150mm Sonnar C lens for my old Hasselblad 500 cameras. It produced a creamy smoothness while maintaining great sharpness and contrast. I used it whenever I was shooting beauty assignments on film. Recently, I have been noticing another lens that is delivering exceptional qualities in a variety of situations, but is particularly good when use for beauty photography. It is the Fuji XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR lens and at $999 for the quality you get, it's a steal.

Fuji also makes the 56mm f/1.2 lens, which is sensational for portraits, very sharp with good bokeh effects . The 56mm is pretty much the perfect portrait focal length falling right in the middle of the full frame equivalent portrait range of 75-105mm. The lens was so sharp with great color, contrast and a dynamic range so extensive that when I would pick up my film from the lab I was often asked what I had used to get such a great image.

Fuji's 90mm is a little long  (equivalent to a 135mm lens) to be considered a true portrait lens, falling as it does at the beginning of the telephoto range. But I soon discovered that it focused even closer than the Fuji 56mm ( 1.97' with a magnification of .2x for the 90mm vs. 2.30' and .09x magnification for the 56mm). Most amazing of all is that the 90mm is tack sharp even at its maximum aperture of f/2. I began using it for portraits, beauty, and close-ups wide open to achieve really beautiful bokeh effects. What surprised me the most is that I could use it at f/2 on a beauty shot and still have enough depth-of-field on the face.

Below is a series of photos I did of a model, Samantha, in our studio this past week. They were all taken at wide open at an aperture of f/2 giving me plenty of selective focus in both the foreground and background.

This is the setup used to take the two photos above it -- nothing more than one 650W tungsten lamp behind the model, a black background and an assistant blowing in some canned smoke. There is no front fill. The contrast quality of the Fuji 90mm lens can handle a situation like this.