Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Over Manhattan with a Leica SL and 24mm Summilux lens

No sooner had I moved to Florida than I had to return to New York to cover a few assignments. One of the more interesting assignments was to teach a Leica Akadamie Workshop on night photography from a helicopter over Manhattan. After a hands-on afternoon course on the techniques of photographing from a moving helicopter with the doors off and the wind blowing, the whole class went aloft just after sunset to capture the city as the lights were coming on.

We lucked out with the sun breaking through the clouds at sunset to add some color to the sky. Participants were able to use the latest in Leica equipment on the flight, in addition to  carrying another camera of their own.

I wanted to try out the new Leica M10 and fit it with a fast f/1.4 aperture 24mm Summilux lens, definitely my favorite lens for this type of photography. The fast aperture keeps my ISO down and shutter speed high enough to freeze the motion from a handheld shot in a vibrating helicopter at night.

Below are some of the photos I took with my one camera/one lens outfit.

We may be doing a Leica Workshop like this again, both in New York and some other spots around the US. So stay tuned to Leica if you are interested in attending. The workshops have a tendency to sell out quickly.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Experimenting in Florida with the Fuji X-T2 and 18-135mm lens

In case you're wondering where I've been with new postings, I spent the past couple of weeks moving studio and residence from New York City to Florida. Turned out to be a much more daunting task than I could have imagined. Nonetheless, I have finally settled in -- somewhat -- and had a bit of time to pick up a camera to take some photos of the local flora.

I used only the Fuji X-T2 and my favorite do-it-all lens, the Fuji 18-135mm zoom. I did add some post-processing technique to most of the images to give them a distinctive look. Hopefully, I won't be offline so long again, although I am heading back north tomorrow to shoot a couple of assignements and also teach an aerial photography workshop for Leica. Next week, I'll be back in Florida attempting to re-establish a semblance of my normal shooting schedule.

Banana leaves softened in Photoshop. 

For this variation I created the feel of a platinum photograph, also adding the sunburst from my MCP Actions Sunshine Overlays.

For this photo, I removed the background and substituted another one I had in my files. 

Simple as it looks, this photo was one of the more complex. I duplicated the layer in Photoshop, softened it with a heavy Gaussian blur, changed the layer to "Multiply", and the lowered the layer's opacity. 

Substituted a black background at the bottom of this image and increased the contrast considerably. 

Another platinum photograph effect I did in Photoshop.

This is an Acros image converted to infrared, which is why the sky is darkened and the green leaves brightened to white. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Keeping it simple with the Fuji X-Pro2 and 18-55mm zoom

When I venture out with the Fuji X-Pro2 instead of the X-T2 it is usually because I want to keep my kit simple and unencumbered. Often this means outfitting it with the 23mm f/1.4 or, when I want a bit more versatility, the humble 18-55mm, the original Fuji X zoom.  This lens still has a comfortable aperture spread of f/2.8-4 and provides a practical equivalent focal length of 27-85mm.  Plus, focus is quick on the X-Pro2. The aperture is fast enough for some decent bokeh effects, which I needed for these photos I did wide open of rain on windows.  We've had a lot of rain lately in the city.

Basic though it may be, the X-Pro2 plus 18-55mm zoom is a great combo where you're pretty much limited only by your imagination.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Variations on an icy theme with the Fuji X-T2

My X-T2 was no sooner back from Fuji repair to fix some dead sensor spots, than I pressed it into service taking some photos of the ice blizzard that hit New York today.  Fortunately for me, I was able to take my photos from indoors. The ice patterns on the windows formed large abstract patterns, perfect to juxtapose with elements of the city view.  The scene below was one of my favorites taken from behind a large picture window where the ice had left an empty circle in the middle -- perfect for framing the top of the Empire State Building.

I used the Fuji 16-55m zoom on the X-T2 set for a mid range of about 40mm. I thought I might lose the background scene through the low contrast haze so I set the aperture to f/16 to keep both the ice and building in good focus. A good depth of field was also important because I had tilted the camera up to frame the shot. This would naturally put a plane of focus across only one part of the icy window had I used the aperture more open.

The top photo variation was taken with an B&W Acros setting, while the photo on the bottom used a Provia film setting. The blue tint was due to the cool color temperature from the heavy overcast.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Legends of photography -- The Contax II 35mm camera

The Contax II was manufactured from 1936-42 as a followup model to the Contax I. The Contax II and III -- the III had a light meter on top -- were the first cameras to combine the rangefinder and viewfinder into one unit.  This particular camera and its Zeiss Sonnar f/2 collapsible lens were both made in 1937, just before WWII.  The Contax II and III were introduced in response to the Leica rangefinder camera. Because Leica held many design patents, Contax had to re-invent many of its features. The vertically travelling shutter composed of metal slats.is one example of this. The advanced features and dependable design of the Contax II quickly made it one of the top choices of journalistic photographers, like Robert Capa.

Contax II with Contameter closeup kit. The closeup filter slips over the front of the lens and a corresponding lens is placed in the parallax correction apparatus that fits in the shoe on top of the camera. The down angle and off-center placement achieved the appropriate correction for parallax. It is show here set up for the closest focusing #20 filter. To use the other two 30 and 50 filters the apparatus was turned upside down to decrease the angle for the difference in parallax correction needed. 

Contax came up with an ingenious design for a close-up apparatus called the Contameter shown in the photos above and below. It allowed hand-held close-up photographs to be made at the set distances of 20” (1:10 magnification), 13” (1:6.5 magnification) and 8” (1:4 magnification). The device consists of a rangefinder with parallax adjustment to which one of three small prisms is attached and three close-up lenses that fit the standard 5 cm lens. With a prism and corresponding close-up lens in place the camera is moved backwards and forwards until the rangefinder image coincides. Measurement is done from the front of the mount of the supplementary. The lens is focused on infinity

Below are some sample photos taken with the Contax II, a collapsible f/2 Sonnar lens and the #20 closeup attachment on the Contameter. Photos were taken at f/5.6 on Kodax T-Max 400 film. 

The Contax had a great body of Carl Zeiss lenses designed for it. Below is the 5cm f/2 collapsible Sonnar. Collapsing the lens made the camera very compact.

Another ingenious design for the Contax II was the fold-out foot shown below. With the foot extended the camera would be balanced to stay straight. This allowed impromptu setup to steady the camera on a flat surface when a tripod was not available. 

The famous war photographer, Robert Capa with his Contax II camera. 

The lens shown below is the Zeiss Tele-Tessar 18cm  f/6.3 with matching viewfinder. This was quite a long lens for its day and added to the practical versatility of the Contax camera system. 

The photo below shows the vertically travelling focal plane shutter made up of metal slats. 

Some more samples below taken with the Contax II and the Contameter closeup attachment. They were taken hand-held and focused by moving the camera in and out on the subject. The system worked quite well to achieve the selective focus and tight crop I wanted. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Still life with the Zeiss Touit 50mm macro, X-Pro2, and Classic Chrome

Nothing really beats the nostalgic look of muted colors, and deep contrast of Fuji's Classic Chrome. For the set of still life images below I used the back-lighting from a soft window light and no fill that further enhanced the dark contrast. All were taken with the Zeiss Touit 50mm macro and a wide open aperture of f/2.8 to achieve some selective focus. The only post-processing was to add some selective vignetting to surround the main subjects.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ghost City - Fuji 10-24mm zoom

Last night a dense fog rolled through the city. It swirled around the top of the Empire State Building and at times was thin enough to allow some of the lights to shine through providing a ghostly apparition of the top of the building floating in the sky above the city.

This is one of the many exposures I took as the changing intensity of the building lights dipped in and out of the fog. I liked this one because of the way the top of the building barely revealed its outline through the fog. My camera was the X-Pro2 fit with the Fuji 10-24mm f/4 zoom. I shot wide open at f/4 with the camera set to a square crop and Acros simulation.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Global views

The other day I receive a financial prospective in the mail. It contained pages of just numbers and gave me the idea of combining the numbers in a still life image with a glass globe to convey the concept of global finance and trade.

My setup for this was quite simple. I used daylight from a window combined with the light from a single, small LED source. The camera was a Fuji X-T2 fit with a Zeiss Touit 60mm macro, which I used wide open at f/2.8. In the top photo I shifted the color temperature towards a cool blue. In the second photo I sought more of a pure, bright, white light. I also used some of the white solar bursts from my Sunshine Overlays package to brighten several areas on the images.

The bottom photo was more of a complex setup. Here I used two small LED lights and different globes photographed against a black background. I took several views showing the different continents. Later I placed three of these views in Photoshop as layers on top of one another. Since they were photographed against black I was able to use the "Screen" layer mode to allow seeing through to the layers below. "Screen" mode will make everything black disappear. Next I added two more layers of blurs taken of out-of-focus lights. One of these layers was changed to "Soft Light"; the other remained "Normal" but the opacity was dialed down. This gave me a total of five over-lapping layers. Finally, I added layer masks to several of the images so I could paint out some of the overlapping areas where they interfered with one another.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

New York snow with the Fuji X-T2

My X-T2 is no sooner back from Fuji repair as a result of my fall in the last New York snow, when I took it out again on an even worse snowy day. This time I visited the Brooklyn Bridge down by the water's edge. I used one of my favorite techniques for photographing snow, a flash to pop out the white flakes.

I used the Fuji 16-55 f/2.8 for most of the photography, resorting to the wider Fuji 14mm for one scene where I wanted extra coverage.

My first shot of the day was this one with the gull. It's easy to include flying gulls in your shots because they roost right under the nearby highway and are constantly flying by. It's just a matter of patience and timing. 

For the photo below I switched to the wider Fuji 14mm f/2.8 lens because I wanted to capture some of the snow-covered shore line.  

The technique for capturing the snow flakes with the flash requires a bit of trial and error, and is often dependent upon the scene and time of day. I varied the flash at both full and 1/2 power and tried to keep the lens aperture on the open side, ranging from f/2.8 to f/4. The more open the aperture, the larger the flakes in the foreground. Of course this also depends upon the focal length of the lens. compare the bottom photo taken with the 14mm and the one above it taken at 25mm with the 16-55mm zoom. The longer focal length results in larger flakes. The other important control for fine-tuning the balance between the brightness of the scene and the flakes is by changing the ISO.  During the day I varied the ISO from 200-400 in 1/3rd stop increments. This allowed me to fine-tune the balance for light from the flash and the actual daylight.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Adding a backlit sunshine look to a photograph - overlays in Photoshop

I just completed a brief tutorial on how my new "Sunshine Overlays" can impart a sunrise/sunset back lighting look to a photograph when applied in Photoshop. The photo below is the result of three of these overlays -- sun burst, colorcast, and sun rays -- applied together to a photograph taken in mid-day. The video below that is a demonstration of how these overlays were applied to a couple of portraits to give them a sunny, backlit look.

My readers can use the promo code TOMGRILL25 to apply a 25% discount to the purchase of this set of "Sunshine Overlays" from MCP Actions.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Arca type quick-release tripod mount for Fuji 50-140mm and 100-400mm lenses

I had always wished that Fuji would have made the tripod feet on the two long ]zooms with an Arca-Swiss type mount, just as the did for the body grips for all the X-cameras. But they didn't. I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone else would recognize the opportunity and manufacture a replacement quick-release foot. Now someone has, and this time it wasn't someone in China. The replacement mounts are made in the USA.

The 50-140mm zoom shown at the top of this photo has two options, a tall and short version of the tripod foot.  Below is the 100-400mm zoom with the foot attached. 
There are two mounts made for the Fuji zooms, a typical tall mount and a shorter mount. Personally I preferred the shorter mount, since it allowed the lens to fit comfortably in my camera bag with the foot attached. The photo below shows the two Hejar Photo release mounts for the Fuji 50-140mm zoom compared to the bulky contraption of a standard Fuji mount on the right fitted out with an auxiliary release plate. 

The Fuji 50-140mm zoom fitted with the short version of the Hejar Photo quick-release mount. All the mounts, including this short version, allow the hood to be attached backwards on the lens for storage. 

On the left is the foot that comes with the Fuji 50-140mm zoom. I added an Arca adapter to it so I can use it on my tripods. It does tend to bulk the whole thing up. On the right are the two quick-release feet that are made by Hejar Photo with the Arca adapter milled into them. They are also longer making it easier to balance the camera plus lens on the tripod. 

Short version of the quick-release mount on the Fuji 50-140mm zoom. 

The foot of the plate is quite long, but this allows the camera and lens to be perfectly balanced on the tripod, as it is here with a Fuji X-Pro2. Were I using a Fuji X-T2 with a battery pack, the outfit would have to be mounted further back to achieve perfect balance. 

On the left is the standard stubby tripod mount for the Fuji 100-400mm zoom fitted out with an auxiliary Arca mount to adapt it to my tripod -  a bulky contraption and not stable enough for such a long lens. On the right is the Hejar Photo release mount for this same lens -- larger but much more stable. 

This photo also shows a comparison between the replacement Hejar Photo quick-release mount and the standard Fuji mount with added adapter. 

The low mount for the 100-400mm zoom still allows the lens hood to be attached for storage and fit more compactly in a camera bag. 
I particularly like the low profile replacement for the tripod foot on the 100-400mm zoom. I had always felt that the standard stubby foot that comes with that lens is was much too small for the size and weight of the lens. Both of the Hejar Photo replacements for this add much more stable gripping power to the foot.

The plates are fitted with two safety stops to prevent accidentally sliding off the tripod mount. The are finely machined from aluminum with a black anodized surface. They are all 3.725" long. 

The Hejar Photo quick-release mounts for Fuji zooms are available directly from their web site at Hejar Photo.  They are also available on Ebay.