Thursday, September 22, 2016

Manhattan sunsets

For the past few nights we've been having some magnificent sunsets in the city. Their intensity hasn't lasted very long, maybe 5-10 minutes, but if you could set up a tripod and capture them in that time, you were treated to a spectacular shot. All photos were taken with the same camera/lens combination, a Fuji X-T2 with the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 zoom.

Day 1: The evening was hazy but the sunset colors intense.  I kept the exposure on the light side to include detail in the foreground. I processed this image twice. The first time was a straight interpretation. The second time I dialed down the "Clarity" slider in Adobe Camera Raw to soften the image. I put the soft image layer over the straight layer in Photoshop and changed the layer mode of the soft layer to "Soft light". 

Day 2: This sunset had some clearing storm clouds that had covered the top of the World Trade Center. As I was taking the photo the clouds began to clear away from the top of the tower enabling me to capture this exposure with the top just coming out of the cloud.

Day 3:  This sunset was the most intense of the three if even for a brief period of time. It covered an a very large section of the sky so I decided to capture it in two shots that I would assemble later into a panorama. This also resulted in a very large image capable of  extreme enlargement when printed. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

First lifestyle shoot with the Fuji X-T2

When shooting what I call "dynamic lifestyle" photography where both the models and photographer are constantly moving and the camera is trying to follow rapid changes in focus and exposure at very wide open aperture settings, I need a camera that can follow pace and keep the face and eyes of the model in constant focus. Viewfinder lag of mirrorless cameras has always made this type of shooting somewhat difficult. The new AF improvements in the X-T2 have substantially diminished this problem.

The X-T2 has a total of 325 AF points and 169 of these are phase-detection points. A new joystick control has been added to quicken the response time of moving the focus points about the screen. Viewing screens have been improved with a .005 sec refresh time at 60 fps or 100 fps in the new boost mode. I found the new viewing to be very close to real time similar to that of a DSLR. Additionally, the image presented in the viewfinder and LCD is clearer with much more color rendition than on the X-T1 predecessor.

Even simple scenes like those above I keep the models in constant motion by directing them as I shoot in an attempt to capture more of a spontaneous look that on their faces that looks like they were caught spontaneously in a fluid scene that was not posed.  This is unlike the scene below, which is static with the models fixed to one position and not presenting any focus challenge to the camera. Adding motion where the models' heads are moving constantly in and out of the plane of focus forces the camera AF system to follow the action while keeping a pinpoint focus on the eyes.

The improved video capabilities of the X-T2 represent a giant step forward for the X-trans sensor. The camera can deliver 10 minutes of 4K video at 30fps on just a single standard battery. Performance jumps to 30 minutes of 4K shooting by adding the dual-battery auxiliary grip. What I found most impressive was the ability of the X-T2 to follow focus in AF mode when shooting video. This is a tremendous benefit to following along with the actions of models as they move about the scene and allows for shooting at larger apertures where holding on to critical focus can be a problem in video.

The X-T2 does away with the function button to start video action by replacing it as a choice on the drive mode dial. I found this to be work much better as I switched back and forth from shooting stills to recording video of the scenes. For one thing, selecting the video mode via a dial also brings up the video frame on the LCD and viewfinder so you can compose the scene precisely before actually recording it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New York with the Fuji X-T2 - Some initial observations

It didn't take me long to press my new Fuji X-T2 into service photographing around New York. I already knew what to expect in terms of image quality because I have been using the X-Pro2 since it came out, and the results are similar except for the improved video capabilities of the X-T2. More on that in a future post.

Both the X-Pro2 and X-T2 have two SD card slots but only one of these is UHS-II on the X-Pro2 while both are UHS-II on the X-T2. This is more of a necessity on the X-T2 considering its 4k video capability up to 30fps.

Shooting 4k also necessitated supplying additional power to the X-T2. A new Fujifilm NP-126S battery supplies more power, increases speed, all with less heat than the standard NP-126 battery. An auxiliary Fujifilm VPB-XT2 Vertical Power Booster Grip can hold two of these batteries, for a total of three supplying the camera with much needed power while increasing shooting speed to 11fps, improving shutter release time lag, and limiting blackout time. It also allows almost a half hour of 4k recording, a substantial increase over the 10min recording time with one battery.

The new Fuji X-T2 outfitted with one of my favorite lenses, the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 zoom.

Another difference between the two cameras is the locking mechanism on the shutter speed dial and a similar lock on the ISO dial. Pressing the center button on either dial will pop it up and allow the dial to spin freely. To lock the dial in place is simply a matter of pushing the button back down again. This is not a fail-safe method for locking the dials because it is easy to tap this button by accident allowing the dial to turn.

ISO button on the X-T2 is up on the left to allow the dial to turn freely, and down on the right to lock the dial in place. 

One thing I find annoying on the X-Pro2 is its lack of an articulating screen. I tend to shoot a lot from different angles where this would be handy. The screen on the X-T2 can not only tilt up and down, but also provide a side tilt in one direction that is very convenient for shooting vertical shots with the camera above or below you. 

A new AF feature of the X-T2 is in AF-C mode the camera can be set to five different tracking modes plus one custom tracking mode. I use AF-C almost exclusively for lifestyle photography and find this feature very beneficial. I have been using the 2nd mode, which ifnore obstacles and continues to track the subject. In the photo below this worked perfectly to keep the Empire State Building in constant focus even as part of it tucked behind other buildings as I passed by in a moving boat. 

In the somewhat abstract view of Manhattan taken from inside a moving boat, the X-T2 was able to lock focus on the Empire State Building and ignore all the things passing in front of it including the reflections in the boat window. 


I attach the strap to the X-T2 using clip-on Mini QD Loops by OP/TECH in the 1.5mm size. These only cost $5.95 and are very handy.  I intend to use this camera for shooting 4k video and being able to quickly remove the strap makes it much easier to balance the camera on a gimbal for hand-held video recording. 

This is a vertical panorama of the Empire State Building assembled from seven horizontal images taken with the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 zoom. Using so many images to create the pano resulted in a very large image of super high resolution. 

A sunset panorama of  lower Manhattan and the Jersey City financial center on the left photographed from New York Harbor and put together from two horizontal images taken with the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 zoom. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembering 911 with the Fuji X-T2

Tonight I had the opportunity to press the new Fuji X-T2 into service photographing the 911 memorial lights in New York. Both images below were done in bracketed exposures 1-stop apart that were combined later as tone-mapped images. The top photo, taken with the Fuji 50-140mm f/2.8 lens set to f/5.6 is a combination of three exposures to balance the night lights.

The second photo below showing the Flatiron Building in the foreground was taken with the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 lens and also set to f/5.6.  It is a combination of four bracketed images apart to balance the exposure.

The Empire State Building was lit in red, white, and blue as part of the memorial celebration. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Continuing my black & white portrait series

Recently, I've added some portraits based on the new technique I mentioned in a previous blog post. The two vertical images below were done using a studio strobe the way I explained it before. The two horizontal photos were taken with soft daylight from a northern window light. The results are similar, but I do prefer the strobe where I can keep the light very high and focus it better by using a grid over the small slit bank.

What I like about the this series is the look of deep introspection it brings out in the subjects. It is more about who the are than who you want to be. I try to capture them in a private moment before they prepare a face to greet the world. The expression in these images reminds me somewhat of old tintype photos where the subject had to sit still for a long exposure time so as not to blur the image.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Conceptual video clip

Yesterday we were in the studio creating some conceptual still life images centering around the theme of light, and decided to make a video clip of one of the concepts, the idea of how one thing -- an idea, disease, rumor, good deed, whatever -- can quickly spread through an entire community, This HD video was taken with a Nikon D750 and 85mm tilt/shift macro lens. One tungsten spot light was used, its light adjusted to balance the light from the flames.

For this still shot I switched to a single Nikon 910 flash unit to light the match stick and freeze the action. Regular studio strobes do not have a duration of flash that is fast enough to stop really fast moving action. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Conceptual still life with the Fuji X-Pro2 and Zeiss Touit 50mm macro lens

One of my favorite lighting sources for photographing stills these days is using a few small LED lights. For the shots below of a glass chess set and glass globe, I placed two of the lamps side by side on a table and suspended the glass chess table over them so the light would pass upwards through the glass subjects. For the bottom shot I also used an even smaller LED above the glass globe to add the "dawning" light on top, which I later enhanced into a burst in Photoshop.

The camera used here was the Fuji X-Pro2 equipped with a Zeiss Touit 50mm macro lens. I kept the aperture fairly wide open at f/2.8 and f/4 to maintain a selective focus on the surface of the globe. Two of the lights were the Bescor LED-125 dimmable units set next to each other on the table beneath the glass. A third light I used for adding a highlight was the tiny Bescor LED-40 unit. These light are very small, inexpensive, and battery operated. I find them very convenient for tucking into small places and for adding accents to still life images.

In this shot I also added a vignette to darken the corners and a star burst to emphasize the "dawning" effect above the globe.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Sunset panorama of New York with the Fuji X-Pro2

Yesterday was cloudy with showers most of the time. Just before sunset the clouds began to dissipate and the sun came out. I managed to grab this sunset panorama of the city by combining two images from the X-Pro2 and 18-55mm zoom set to f/5.6.

Panoramas always come up too small on the blog so here is a higher res file of the image.