Friday, December 29, 2017

Out with the old...2017...

One of the last photo projects I did for 2017 was a trip across the northern part of the Lake in Central Park during the holidays.  The leaves were gone leaving only the dark shapes of barren trees abstracted by the current of the water. Many species of waterfowl make this area of the Lake a year-round home.

I had one camera, my Fuji X-Pro2, and one lens, the Fuji 16-135mm zoom. I particularly liked the patterns -- both the reflections of trees and the wakes of the birds -- that formed in the water currents around the birds. I used these water patterns as the primary element in my compositions.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Sunrise variations

I have been in Florida long enough now that I find myself developing a specific Florida style influenced by the spacious skies, dramatic weather changes, and saturated colors. I have been categorizing my work into several  series: Aqua, Aeris, Flora, and Terra. However, I consider the first two, Aqua and Aeris, to be the most stylistically developed.

The idea for this series was influenced by several painters. Mark Rothko's color field paintings gave me the idea for large neutral areas playing against one another, while Monet's haystack series gave me the idea of recording the rapid and fleeting changes of color effects over time. And I am always indebted to Agnes Martin for her grid-like, minimalist style.

The images below were all taken of ocean sunrises with a Nikon D850 and primarily the Nikon 24-120mm zoom lens. I've been using that camera because I am planning on printing this image series quite large. Many of the images contain motion blur, some of it achieved in camera with a stopped-down lens and a heavy (10-stop) ND filter. Further techniques were applied later in Photoshop through double exposure.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Stacked focus flowers

This week I was experimenting a bit with the focus "Focus Shift Shooting" feature of the new Nikon D850.  I photographed some flowers, both singly and in a group. Below are some of the results.

All images were photographed  using backlit daylight from a large window. I used either a black card background or white scrim, and filled the front with a small reflector. I set the D850 to use a set with of 3 and took between 40 and 50 exposures of each situation depending upon the depth of the arrangement. The final image was assembled using Helicon Focus software.

I found the final color intensity of the images to be too intense so I made a crisp black and white version of each photo. Next, I placed these black and white images as layers on top of the color photos in Photoshop. I then dialed down the opacity of the black and white version until I achieved the muted color effect I had in mind. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Photographing a full moon with clouds on a Nikon D850

A full moon the other night gave me the opportunity to try out the high resolution capabilities of the new Nikon D850.  Just to make it interesting, there were some clouds in the sky adding a moody look to the scene. Getting a straight shot of the moon was easy, but adding the cloud layer necessitated some Photoshop post-processing.

The moon is a very bright object because it is lit directly from the sun.  I varied my ISO from 64-400 to achieve a high enough shutter speed not to blur the moon. I was using a Nikon 80-400mm zoom with a 1.7x telextender. Not only does this magnify the size of the moon, it also magnifies the motion blur.  The moon is moving much faster than you might imagine, and, since I was not using any tracking devices, it takes somewhere between 1/125 and 1/500 sec. to get a sharp image at the magnification I was using. 

Photographing the night sky with clouds is a completely different exposure extreme. In the photo below at an ISO of 64, a focal length of 400mm, and an aperture of f/5.6 I needed a shutter speed of 1/250 to stop the motion of the moon but a full second to record the clouds in the sky. This meant taking two photos is quick succession, one exposed for the moon and the other exposed for the sky.  Later the two were combined as stacked layers in Photoshop. I used a layer mask to paint the moon as an overlay onto the cloud scene. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Focus Shift Photography with the Nikon D850

The Nikon D850 comes chuck full of new features some of which are a big surprise. Stack focus photography is something I have been doing for years on certain still life subjects, but I had been resorting to a manual re-focus of the camera lens to shift the focus point after each shot. Needless to say, when moving the focus in very small increments -- in  my case, usually taking 20-30 photos with under 1" increments between them -- it is very difficult to maintain consistent distances between each shot. There is now software, Helicon Remote by Helicon Soft, to deal with this, but it is only available with tethered shooting.

Nikon's D850 now comes with the ability to automatically do focus shift photography.  You must use either AF-S or AF-P lenses for it to work. Otherwise the camera cannot move the focusing mechanism in the lens.

Click here to download a high screen res version of this image. 
For this type of photography I generally use a focal length of 50-85mm and an f/stop of f/5.6. I find that f/5.6 delivers just enough focus area between shots, and additionally has the lens working at its resolution sweet spot.

The camera menus below show the setting I used to achieve the still life photo above.  There is no supplied information on what size the focus steps are. There is only a scale of 1-10 from narrow to wide. I did some trial-and-error experimenting to find that I needed the lowest step setting of 1 and 23 shots to cover the distance from the front of my set to the back. The actual distance of my set from front to back was about 23" so that would mean that my setp width setting of 1 was moving the focus distance 1" between exposures. None of the remaining options on the menu were applicable to my situation so that was it. I clicked on "Start" and after a 3-second delay the camera took all 23 images with the proper increment between them.

Needless to say, the camera should be on a tripod for this type of shooting.

I should also mention that the camera was in AF mode so I did a manual re-focus on the closest foreground object in the set, which was the detailed white napkin. When propping these sets, I always try to include highly detailed props such as this to play up the overall look of sharpness.

One tricky thing I did have to do was deal with the bubbles in the champagne glasses and orange juice pitcher. These bubbles dissipated by the time the camera exposure was located in their position. So, once the photos were taken, I then refocused the camera on each of the glasses and the pitcher and took an additional exposure of each with a new pour of the liquid to produce the bubbles. I then added the bubbles into the final image with Photoshop.

To assemble the 23 images into one photograph I used Helicon Focus software. It is a very easy, drag-and-drop software to use, and will accept even the RAW files, which I used here. 

I have been saying that the new Nikon D850 has reached a new pinnacle of sophistication for DSLR cameras.  The most recent sensor testing results by DxOMark has borne this out. DxO has given the D850 a rating of 100, the first time this maximum rating has ever been given to a camera sensor. DxO said what I have also been discovering, that the new BSI sensor in the D850 is capable of producing medium format quality images.

Monday, October 2, 2017

First impressions of the Nikon D850

A few weeks ago I received a call from my New York camera store, Fotocare, that my new, early release Nikon D850 had arrived from Nikon and was ready to be shipped to me in Florida. Unfortunately, this call came only days before hurricane Irma was to hit my area, and I reluctantly told them not to send it but to release it to someone else and hold one for me from the next batch. Broke my heart to do that, for after reading all the specs on this new machine, I knew it was going to be a real winner chuck full of features that were right up my alley. There are so many new features in this camera, it is hard to even know where to begin checking them out.

My new camera finally arrived a little over a week ago and I've been out shooting with it almost every day. First I went into the Everglades to test it out shooting some landscapes. Here I learned just how the new 45.7MP high resolution sensor could deliver images that looked like they might have been shot on medium format, especially when shooting at the base ISO of 64, as I did for the four black and white images below. I tend not to push the ISO of a high resolution camera because I generally use it for its ability to deliver high image quality. I am, however, eager to try it out on one of my night time helicopter shoots where using a high ISO is a necessity.

After that test, I next made several morning trips to Delray Beach to photograph some calm, post-hurricane ocean sunrises. Here, photographing breaking waves and diving pelicans, I was able to experience the quick focus and also take advantage of the fast 7fps continuous shooting (9fps if you use the new battery grip) at up to 51 frames of RAW images. As a former V-Hasselblad shooter, I love using a square format, and found myself taking advantage of the D850's square crop mode capable of still delivering a hefty 30.3MP square format image.

One new feature of this camera is its ability to do in-camera focus stacking.  I use stack focus for many of my still life shoots, and this automated feature is going to make that task a lot easier. I have already done some tests to try it out, and this week have a large food still life shoot planned to utilize this feature. I'll be doing a future blog post on the results. 

On paper this camera looks like it might have reached the pinnacle of convenience, quality, and all-around features for a full frame DSLR. At first glance it looks to me like it is the best full frame DSLR camera ever made. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Night flight with Leica over New York

This past week, after many flight cancellations and re-bookings, I finally departed hurricane devastated Florida for a New York City to direct a Workshop for Leica USA on how to take night photos of the city from a helicopter. As you can see from the photos below, we lucked out with the weather in New York. We hadn't been so lucky in Miami a week prior to this when we had to postpone our Miami night aerial Workshop due to the approaching hurricane. That flight workshop is now re-scheduled for Feb 2018, should anyone be interested in joining us.

This is the second time I have presented this New York Workshop for Leica. After some time spent going over my techniques for achieving the best results with night photos of the city, we take off for a half hour flight over the city timing the flight for the best light to balance both the ambient and artificial light with hand-held cameras. Leica supplied the participants with the gear of their choice to try out on the flight. After my discussion, we all went over the Leica equipment carefully so there would be no surprises in the air.

Flying on a week night instead of the weekend meant that there were more lights on in the office buildings and quite a bit of traffic in the streets and the harbor resulting in more interesting photos. Night photography done around the time of the change over for daylight savings time usually helps even more because the building and traffic lights are also most intense around this time.

Workshop participants have their choice of Leica equipment to try on the flights. On this trip, I settled on a single Leica M10 with a 24mm f/1.4 Summilux lens. Having only one camera and a prime lens gave me plenty of time to pay attention to the flight plan, while the choice of a 24mm was because I wanted to see the scenes with this focal length I knew most of the Workshop participants were using on their zooms. The 24mm enabled me to visually set up the best photo distances from the subjects for everyone in the Workshop.

One of the beauties of the M10 was its extended dynamic range, so important in this type of shooting. Even with super fast prime lenses, like the Summilux I used, I often hit what I consider my critical ISO rating of 6400 in order to maintain a shutter speed to compensate for the high vibration of a helicopter platform. I have done similar flights over New York many times. I noticed this time that I had a much easier time dealing with the high ISO's in post processing, and have to attribute that to the M10's revamped sensor and Maestro II processing engine.

We flew with two helicopters. I was in the lead helicopter to direct the operation when I took this photo of lower Manhattan. 

Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn side of the East River. 

There was a lot of boat traffic in the rivers and harbor this evening making for more interesting photos. 

One of my favorite views of NYC in the background with the Jersey City financial district on the left behind the Statue of Liberty.  For this shot, we brought the helicopters down to eye level with the statue. 

Looking south towards the World Trade Center from the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park.

Mid-town Manhattan with Broadway lights and the Empire State Building

Lower Manhattan with the World Trade Center seen from Jersey City across the Hudson River.

View of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn with the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges crossing the East River

Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center with the Hudson River to the right and East River in the background left.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Riding out Irma with a Fuji X-T2

I'm in Florida waiting out hurricane Irma. As I  write this, the eye is about 75 miles to the south, having just passed through the Florida Keys. Currently, we have only gusting winds. To kill the boredom of the wait I occasionally wander out with my Fuji X-T2 and 18-135mm zoom to try to find some nearby photo subjects to show the power of the storm. I can attest that the camera is definitely water resistant.

The image below of a wind-blown palm tree was processed using Photoshop Express on my tablet.  I can't use a computer because the power keeps flickering on and off.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Abstract aerial photography around Miami

Yesterday morning I did an aerial shoot along the Miami coastline in search of abstract images of the water's edge. All of the photographs were taken with the camera pointing straight down from an open door helicopter. The purpose of this series was to pick up some images for my fine art portfolio. Because I plan on making very large prints from the images, normally I would have used my Nikon D810 for this. Unfortunately, I had just sold it this past week in preparation for the arrival of the new D850. The lens I used was the Nikon 24-120mm f/4, but I could have gotten by with the 24-70mm, which might have been a better quality choice.

I used FlyNYON of Miami for the helicopter service. They have been very accommodating of my need to have the perfect weather and timing for my aerial work.


Someone wrote this in the sand  using seaweed. Guess they knew I'd be flying by.