Sunday, November 17, 2019

Autumn Leaves project 2019

Every year, in autumn I return to a project of photographing the fallen leaves of late autumn, leaves past their prime, leaves that had already lost their brilliant color and vibrancy and were in a final state of decay. The project was inspired by a passage from Autumnal Tints, by Henry David Thoreau, and is quoted at the end of this post. I have repeated this project every year since in homage to Thoreau and his keen observation.

I had spent my career photographing the beauty of autumn in its prime, the brilliant colors of leaves still on the trees and filling the countryside with a colorful palette of warm autumn tints. Thoreau taught me to drill down deeper, not to stop at the surface gloss. He found significant meaning for life infused in the even the tiniest and seemingly insignificant elements of nature that abounded around him.

This year's session was photographed with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens. All the photos were taken on a sidewalk of time-worm slate slabs during a heavy rain that left everything wet, and sometimes submerged, with the water reflecting the blue color of the sky in contrast to the bright, warm colors of the autumn leaves. Below are a small outtake from over my final selection of 54 images that make up this year's portfolio. 


Here is the passage from Autumnal Tints, written by Henry David Thoreau in 1862. He was expounding on the difference between looking and seeing when he also wrote: "Objects are concealed from our view, not so much because they are out of the course of our visual ray as because we do not bring our minds and eyes to bear on them....

"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."

Thoreau took the time to look closely at the most ordinary objects in his path. His examination always found meaning beyond the thing itself. Photography should be like that. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

A Zen photography experience

Just after sunrise yesterday, I was in a nature preserve photographing the bright, early-morning cloud reflection on the surface of a peaceful lake when a fish jumped and left behind a set of expanding concentric rings. I had the Fuji X-H1 and the new Fuji 16-80mm f/4 zoom already poised for photography and immediately swung it to capture two quick images of the ring in rapid succession. Later I stitched the two photos together to make this long panorama of the scene. For me the image has a zen-like, meditative quality to it and reminds me of why I turn to the elements of Nature as the prime subject for my photography.

I had been using the cloud reflections in the water as a backdrop for photos I had been taking of birds feeding along the shore in the early morning. I stalked this Great Blue Heron to capture its profile using the same camera/lens combo I as I did for the photo above. And below it are a couple of other variations from the same scene.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Over the Everglades

A few weeks ago I rented a helicopter to do a photo tour over the Florida Everglades.  I wanted to create some abstract images by shooting straight down at the patterns of land and water. After some research I chose an area of the Everglades in the far southern end, right across from the Florida Keys. I was using a Nikon Z7 camera with the new Z 24-70mm f/2.8  S lens. This combo with its high res sensor and built-in image stabilization to dampen the vibration from the helicopter was perfect for the job.

The photo immediately below was taken on our way to the site and shows a water spout coming from a cumulus storm cloud in the distance.

The doors were off the helicopter and once we located a suitable location for my project, the pilot would bank the helicopter in tight circles over the area so I could point the camera straight down. The samples below are some of the results.  

It was a sunny day with a good number of puffy clouds to case shadows on the terrain below. That resulted in the contrast of dark and light areas that gave the shots some interesting volume. 

Drones are not allowed to fly over the Everglades so a helicopter was the only way to go. Plus, I always feel like I have more control over the composition when I'm in a helicopter. In any event, it would have taken a massive professional movie drone to come anywhere near the camera quality of the 100MP Nikon Z7. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Back to basics with the Fuji X-Pro2

There is something about the Fuji X-Pro2 camera that I really love. Could be the design, reminiscent as it is of the Leica M rangefinder, one of my all time favorite cameras. The X-Pro is the camera I grab when I'm not sure I really want to tote a camera along with me. It's smaller than my other cameras and I've dressed it up with some specific lenses that keep it compact, convenient, and simple. The three lenses I use on it are the Fuji 18mm f/2, Fuji 23mm f/2.8, and the original Fuji 18-55mm zoom. I also have a set of 43mm close-up filters to get in close with the 23mm lens. Most of the time I go out with only one of these lenses on the camera.

I happened upon a large pile of decaying palm fronds on a morning walk with the X-Pro2 and the 18mm f/2 lens. For years I have been photographing leaves in a state of decay where they take on twisted, sculptural shapes as they transition to another stage of life. There is something I find quite beautiful in this transitional phase of nature. I was attracted to the subtle colors of blue, yellow, and ochre I saw in the palms. Later in Photoshop I boosted the colors and extended their palette by working on the images in the LAB color space. I didn't really change the colors; I just boosted what I saw there in the original scene, and this is the result.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Keeping it simple with the Fuji X-Pro2 and 23mm f/2 lens

For the past week, and the last couple of blog posts, I have been going on my photo walks carrying only the Fuji X-Pro2 equipped with the Fuji 23mm f/2 lens.  On this walk I concentrated on photographing dead and decaying tropical leaves. In their various states of decay, leaves go through subtle color changes that are quite beautiful, and at the same time the leaves twist and reshape themselves into unique sculptural forms to catch the light.

Sticking to one simple camera and prime lens combo forces me to concentrate more on the basic composition of the subject and less on the manipulative abilities of my equipment.

The color variations of the decaying leaves are very subtle. To bring out their natural hues I change the color mode to LAB in Photoshop. This color mode allows me to make non-destructive enhancements to the existing colors that displays them in a fuller palette.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Variations on a theme

An interesting result of photographing the same subject over and over again is that it forces you to dig deeper into your creative self to find new ways of photographing or presenting the subject. I find it a great way to grow my technique.

There is a group of tropical plants not far from my house where I often go to photograph, either to test our equipment or just because I need to do a little creative exercising by stretching my imagination. 

Images were taken with a Fuji X-Pro2 and 35mm f/2 lens.

The images are a composite of two images, one of the plants and the other of a textured wall. I applied the same post-processing technique to both of these photographs so they could work alone or be presented as a diptych arrangement hung next to each other, as below.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Retro shooting with the Fuji X-Pro2 and 23mm f/2 lens

I always get something of a nostalgic rush whenever I pick up my Fuji X-Pro2 camera to photograph. Last year I traded in my Fuji 23mm f/1.4 lens for the more compact f/2 version because I felt it would make a more compact kit that would entice me into using it more on those occasions where I wasn't going out specifically to shoot but wanted to have a camera with me just in case I ran across an interesting subject. Essentially, I was creating something similar to the Fuji X100F with its f/2 23mm lens. The only thing lacking in the comparison was that the lens of the X100 series cameras could photograph more close-up -- something I especially liked about the combo. 

Lately, I've been working on a photographic series of tropical plants. Rather that capturing the more vibrant colors and studied tropical compositions, I've been leaning towards a muted palette and casual composition and trying to portray a look that is more casual and happenstance. I don't want to overwork the composition so I stick mostly to fixed focal length lenses, and especially the Fiji 18mm f/2, which has become one of my favorites.  

The camera/lens combo shown above is the perfect size to conveniently carry around. For close-up shots, I've adapted the old 62mm Nikon 5 & 6T close-up lenses, which I often tuck away in a pocket, just in case they're needed. Admittedly, it would be even more convenient to have just the X100F, but I've been resisting adding another camera to my already over-abundant arsenal of equipment.  Plus, the X-Pro2 does allow me to use my other lenses and is a more suitable backup camera when I'm on location with my X-H1.  

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.