Monday, August 31, 2015

Another image added to my Metropolis portfolio series

One of the sunset shots from the aerials I did last week of the city inspired me to work up another image in my "Metropolis" series. This one is titled, Metropolis - Through a looking glass and is composed of four stacked images. The base image, one of the aerials of lower Manhattan and the bridges, was taken with the new Sony A7RII and Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 lens. At 42mp, the camera gave me a large base with which to work. The resulting image is 48x48".

It may be difficult to see this image in the small size shown here so I am including this link to a larger version.

Metropolis - Through a looking glass, NY, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

Aerial photography over New York

This past week I've been behind on my blog posts, as I spent most of my time preparing for some upcoming aerial shoots of New York. Last night was the first. I wanted to photograph at sunset and into the twilight, which lasted another half hour. The main purpose of these trips is to gather material for a large scale print project of images I am taking of the city.

Working in a helicopter close to nightfall means high ISO settings and fast aperture lenses. I had two outfits with me for the nighttime work, a Nikon D810 equipped with Sigma 24mm and 35mm f/1.4 lenses. The second camera was the new Sony A7RII with its 42mp sensor. It had just arrived earlier in the week.  I planned to use it with Leica M-lenses, but my good friend, Jeff Hirsch of  Fotocare in New York, had a Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 lens he let me try.

The photo below, taken about 25 minutes after sunset, was captured with the Sony A7RII and Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 lens wide open with an ISO of 1250. The shutter speed was only 1/50 second, which was a bit risky, but I just keep my finger on the shutter button and capture so many images that one of them is bound to be sharp. I'd rather do that than raise the ISO and pick up excess noise.  It's a technique I've used for years, and it usually works.

On my Nikon D810 I had an f/1.4 24mm lens, which gave me one extra stop resulting in an even lower ISO and higher shutter speed.

I'll be posting more on this aerial mission later in the week, plus a first-look review of the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 lens.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sometimes you just get lucky

Yesterday evening I did a sunset cruise around the city. It is one of those things I always recommend to people visiting New York. The boats sail around the island on the west, then up the East River, and finally out to the Statue of Liberty and back up the Hudson River. The whole trip takes either 1.5 or 2 hours depending upon the type boat you choose. I usually use the Classic Harbor Line where you can sail on either a schooner or 1920's yacht, which adds to the experience.

Last night I got lucky. The skies were overcast and threatening rain about an hour before sunset, but then cleared, leaving beautiful layers of clouds that picked up the color of the setting sun. As you sail down the western side of the city the sun is to your back and reflects off the shiny buildings and clouds. Sailing up the East River you are shooting into the sunset for a completely different view. The beautiful cloud shapes last night treated us to a spectacular view, better than any I had ever seen.

Because I photograph the city mostly to make large scale prints I use high resolution cameras with sharp lenses. Last night I shot with the Leica M 240.  Occasionally, I will take two or three shots in rapid succession to combine later into a larger panoramic image. This can be a little tricky for three reasons: not only is the camera hand-held, but the boat is moving forward at the same time. In addition, the Leica M is a slow camera and too much time elapses between frames.

Both images below were taken with the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH lens at f/5.6.

Lower Manhattan with the World Trade Center photographed from the west looking east with the sunset  reflecting off the buildings. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Photographing stars and the night time sky

My son, Daniel, is also a professional photographer. He has been photographing in Maine for the summer. To cap off his stay he wanted to combine some night time shooting of starry skies, lighthouses, and, as luck would have it, the Perseid meteor shower. I shipped him my newest 20mm f/1.8 Nikon lens for his D610 so he would have a fast aperture lens to keep  his ISO as low as possible. For the most part he was able to capture the stars with a wide open aperture, an ISO of 1600, and a shutter speed of 15 seconds. A shutter speed faster than that would have blurred the stars too much.

Below are a few of the images he captured over the past few days. The last shot of the Porsmouth Light House shows that there are great photo ops even on a cloudy night without the stars.

Marshall Point Light in St. George and stars

Curtis Island Light with stars and meteors. 

Cape Neddick Lighthouse in York

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Revisiting old files

Over the years of constant use, our skills with post-processing are bound to improve. The other day I was revisiting some old files of images I had taken of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 2009 and wondered what they would look like if I processed them again from the original RAW files. Below are three images that I had even skipped over during my initial processing of these files.  It helps that they were taken with a high resolution camera at the time -- in this case a Nikon D3X.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Landscape impressions

This past weekend I paid a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art specifically looking for inspiration from some of the Impressionist painters for a landscape project I have been doing. Our rememberance of an event is often an embellishment of what we actually saw, influenced more by our reactions to particulars of the day than to the specifics of the scene. For these ghostly remnants I wanted to strip the scenes down to their essentials of color and form with only a hint of the details remaining. The Impressionists were masters at this, and I was hoping to learn something from them.

Below are few more images I created for this evolving nature series. The techniques I used for creating these individual images vary, as I continue to explore this theme.

Two trees and winter fog, PA, 2014

Winter trees and fog, Smoky Mountains, 2009

Early morning mist in the Smokey Mountains, 2009

Seagrass, Assateague Island, 2014

Assateague Island sunset, 2014

Friday, August 14, 2015

Shooting lifestyle with the Fuji 90mm lens

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know that for the past month I've been recuperating from hip replacement surgery, which has kept me somewhat limited in how far I can venture out to take new photographs.  I'm happy to say that this past week I was finally able to do a couple of low key lifestyle shoots in my studio. Being able to get back to my shooting schedule was exciting enough, but having an opportunity to battle test the new Fuji 90mm f/2 lens was even more exciting. I had already had enough experience with this lens to do a hands-on review, but I was chomping at the bit to put it into my normal lifestyle shooting workflow.

These two lifestyle shoots done with the 90mm lens on a Fuji X-T1 re-confirmed many of my initial assessments, but also let me know that under actual in-use conditions the lack of a vibration control mechanism in the lens can cause problems. At 90mm (135mm full frame equivalent) this is a fairly long lens, and, as such, is going to require at least 1/125-1/250 second shutter speed to safely avoid motion blur when hand held. Modern vibration reduction systems have spoiled me. It wasn't so long ago in the neolithic age of film cameras that I would never even consider using a lens this long hand held. The day of the first lifestyle shoot was overcast and I found myself shooting around 1/60th of a second -- not much of a problem with a VR lens -- because I didn't want to boost the ISO above 400, but definitely problematic without. Needless to say, I lost a lot of shots to motion blur. Lesson learned.

I already knew from my previous tests that the lens worked well at full aperture so I used it almost exclusively at f/2. Focusing was fast and accurate on the X-T1 with the new firmware update. Even in a shot like the one above the camera and lens were able to get past the loose lock of foreground hair and place an accurate focus on the model's eyes, and at f/2 there wasn't any room for error. 

One thing I particularly liked about using the 90mm lens over the Fuji 56mm is its close-focus ability. Not only can you do full frame, cropped head shots, but you can get in even closer for detail shots of just the eyes or lips without resorting to a close-up attachment.

An added plus to a fast f/2 aperture on such a long lens is the background and foreground bokeh effect in the out-of-focus areas. Using this long lens in conjunction with something shorter like the 35mm or 23mm enabled me to pick up extra shots that looked quite different from each other.


 All in all, I have to say it was fun to be back shooting again, and made all the more so with the new addition to my Fuji lens arsenal of the latest 90mm f/2 lens.

Because it is a telephoto lens, albeit a short one, it displays the telephoto characteristic of comressing space, as in a shot like this where the lineup of wall hangings are compressed from front to back. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Turner sunset visits the city

Last night we had a post-storm sunset over the New York that would have made the painter, William Turner, envious. Turner sunsets tend to dominate his scenes, while the main subject takes a subsidiary role. A volcanic eruption in Indonesia filling the earth's atmosphere with gases and ash is said to have contributed to the brilliant red and yellow colors seen during European sunsets at the time.

Sun setting over a Lake, c. 1840, by Joseph Mallard William Turner

Borrowing from Turner's technique, I allowed the magnificent sunset shape of clouds and color to over-power most of the composition with Manhattan and the Hudson River playing a minor role below it.

The sunset lasted for less than five minutes and was at its peak right at sunset. I used a Leica M 240 and Leica Summilux 35mm lens set to f/5.6.  You never quite know when a sunset will be at its peak so I always wait out the scene for 15 minutes before and after the actual sunset time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Using a polarizing filter on a Fuji X camera for a dramatic black & white sky

There are times when I want to achieve and extremely dark, almost dead black sky in a black and white photograph. This can be done by darkening the blue later in post-processing, but I like the results better when I acquire the correct tones at the moment of image capture. Fortunately, the Fuji X-cameras make this an easy process to achieve with just a little help from a polarizing lens filter. Making things even more convenient, for the most part I find I can get away with just a jpg image in most captures done this way.

Yes, this technique can be done with most cameras, but the Fuji X-cameras make it a snap with their built-in palette modes and Custom settings. I changed one of the Custom Settings on the "Q" menu to set up the camera with the following:

The color mode is set to Monochrome +R Filter. The +R, or red filter, will already darken the blues in the sky. In addition I add +1 to the High Tones to lighten them, and Sharpness, and a +2 to Shadow tones to darken them. I also add +1 to Sharpness. This provides me with my base settings. Next I add a polarizing filter to the lens and turn it to maximize the darkening of the sky. As can be seen in the sample photos below, on a bright, sunny day these settings deliver a very deep, black sky and bright highlights for stark contrast. Generally, these scenes are shot at the lowest ISO of 200 so I often dial in some extra noise to give the image a grainier, film-like quality.

I find this method very effective for creating dramatic compositions of highly contrasting light and dark elements.

In this scene I liked the serpentine shape of the passing white clouds and wanted to set it and the building off sharply against the background. 

Because I always shoot both RAW and jpg at the same time I have the option of manipulating the image later in post-processing. Here I found the contrast of the original jpg tones to be too stark so I switched to the RAW file and lightened the shadows. 

This image and the one below are straight out-of-the-camera jpgs with deep, black shadows, and bright highlights that maintain good detail. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Metropolis series continues to grow

Today I finished up some work on another image for my Metropolis series of photographs. This one is titled, "Metropolis - An angel watches over them".  It is a quadruple exposure with the key image being of an angel taken from the frieze of the Bayard-Condick building, the only building that Louis Sullivan designed in New York. Tucked away in a remote corner of the Noho Historic District the building is an architectural gem constructed in 1897-99 in the Chicago School style.

Metropolis - An angel watches over them, 2015

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Abstracting Nature

Over the past few days I have been working on a new art project featuring images of Nature abstracted through multiple exposure and blurring. Over the past two years I have collected most of the original images used here specifically with this project in mind. I was't exactly certain how I was going to go about it, but I have a feeling in mind that I wanted to portray.

Below are some of the results from this week with many more images to come.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Nikon announces new 200-500mm f/5.6, 24-70mm f/2.8, and 24mm f/1.8 lenses

Nikon has announced three exciting new lenses for pre-order.

First up is the new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens. If this lens produces anywhere near the quality level of the Nikkor 80-400mm it is bound to be a best seller, especially at a price of $1396.95. Admittedly, f/5.6 is a somewhat slow aperture, but coupled with a 4.5 VR (Vibration Reduction), it should be just fine for anyone wanting a more compact super-zoom at a low cost. I will definitely be taking a hard look at this lens when it becomes available in mid-September.

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens can be pre-ordered at a cost of lnly $1396.95 from B&H


Next up is a newly re-designed Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Lens, one of the two major work-horse zooms of many a pro-photographer. The new version now comes with VR image stabilization to reduce camera shake by up to 4 shutter stops. 

In addition to aspherical, extra-low dispersion, and high refractive index elements the new version incorporates a revised optical design with a unique aspherical extra-low dispersion element to help reduce chromatic aberrations and distortions. Along with protective Fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements, a Nano Crystal Coat has been applied to lens elements to minimize surface and internal reflections for a marked reduction in lens flare and ghosting.

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Lens is available for pre-order now for $2396.95 with delivery expected after August 27th. Pre-order here from B&H


Last up is a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.8G ED Lens for $746.95. With this lens Nikon adds a popular 24mm focal length lens to its new lineup of relatively fast f.1.8 aperture lenses . For a sacrifice of only 2/3 f/stop in maximum aperture, the savings is 1/3 the price of a 24mm f/1.4 lens. In general these f/1.8 lenses are just cut-down versions of their faster siblings and have the same exceptional optical quality. They are also lighter and more compact. I have the 20mm f/1.8 and love it. I'm sure this lens will be just as good. 

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.8G ED Lens is available for pre-order now for $746.95 with delivery around September 17th. Pre-order it here from B&H

Monday, August 3, 2015

Why I like the Fuji X100T for still life photography

During a recent still life shoot in my studio I was frustrated because I was not capturing the look I wanted for the subjects. The subject matter and setup was quite basic on purpose.  I was trying to achieve something soft, simple, and dreamlike, but kept ending up with something flat and blah. My usual still life equipment includes a high res camera, like the Nikon D810, and an assortment of macro lenses. Problem was the high res camera and sharp lenses were delivering images with too much detail, ruining the dreamlike quality I was after.

I often carry my Fuji X100T with me wherever I go, and I had it with me this day. Just to shake things up, I began to use the X100T on the still life subjects, and all of a sudden the images came to life. One thing I love about the X100T is that it can come in really close -- not macro, but close enough for a lens of that type. When used at its maximum aperture of f/2  it gives the close-up images a soft quality, a slight halo around the subjects. This was perfect for the quality I was after.

Because the 23mm lens (equivalent to 35mm in full frame) is a moderate wide angle focal length, it delivers a rounding to the subject when used in tight, plus the out-of-focus areas, although soft, still maintain more detail than would a longer focal length lens. All in all, it's a very different look than what a longer macro lens achieves, and in this case it was working for me.

Below are a few of the images I did with the X100T.

One nice thing about Fuji X cameras is the ease with which they can shoot double-exposed images. The shot above of geometric patterns printed on an old textured sheet and super-imposed over a nautilus shell was done in camera. The way it is handled in the viewfinder makes it very easy to see the results of placing the second images over the first. One drawback to this double exposure mode is that it only delivers a jpg image. This can limit the amount of retouching that can be done later in Photoshop. For this image all I did was add a curves layer to boost the contrast of the image. 

This double exposure was done afterwards in Photoshop by combining two images, one in a layer over the other.  The look is very different to the double exposure taken in camera. Although taken with the Fuji X100T, this is something that could just as easily been done with my regular still life camera because here I am not exploiting the specific characteristics of the X100T and its lens. 

I wanted to keep all the floral images very soft and delicate while retaining some story-telling detail in the out-of-focus areas. The subjects were back lit against a window and over-exposed for the foreground. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Fun with Photoshop last night

Last night two simultaneous events turned the city into an eerie event. At 9PM the Empire State Building was lit up with a light show of animals and the earth to raise awareness for endangered species. At the same time a full moon slowly rose in the eastern sky. I thought that combining the two might make for a more spectacular event.

I set up two cameras on separate tripods. A Sony RX100 IV was used to photograph the Empire State Building because I was also shooting some 4k video with it. To obtain a large photo of the moon I mounted a Nikon 80-400mm zoom with 1.7 teleconverter on a Fuji X-T1. This gave me an effective full frame focal length of 1020mm. The real trick when photographing the moon with an extremely long lens is to avoid motion blur. I set the camera for electronic shutter to avoid shutter blur, and also used a 2-second shutter delay with the timer. I boosted the ISO to 800 because I needed a fast enough shutter speed to stop the movement of the moon. The moon moves quite rapidly in the sky and motion blur is a very common cause of blur.

Later I combined two of the images into one montage using individual layers in Photoshop. And that was it.