Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Passage of Time

I set out to do a series of conceptual still life images depicting  the passage of time.  I wanted the colors to have a saturated depth but be nostalgic at the same time.  To achieve this, I first enhanced the color space to deepen the colors.  Next I reduced the vibrancy with an overlay layer of a monochromatic platinum tint with its opacity reduced to around 30%.

All photos were taken with a Nikon D600 and either a 60mm macro or 85mm tilt-shift lens.

To take this photo using my own hands I had the camera mounted on an overhead tripod and connected the new Nikon WU-1b wireless transmitter to the camera, and downloaded the Nikon app allowing me to control the camera from my cell phone.  With the cell phone positioned off to the side where I could see the transmitted image and compose the shot, I had an assistant click the shutter by tapping on the phone.  I will be featuring a description of the WU-1b in a later blog post.
For this photo I wanted to have all the objects in sharp focus while maintaining a soft background.  To achieve this I took ten photos each one moving the focus point from the foreground string towards the background bottle.  I later combined all ten images using Helicon Focus.

I titled this photo "Bye-Bye Dearie" after the final line of the letter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Here is another image where we used the same little boy from the door shot of a couple days ago.  This photo was taken in our strobe studio.  We then added the moon later. The boy's face was photographed with one main strobe light using a narrow focus reflector.  A much lower powered strobe was bounced off the studio wall to dimly light his hands.  The boy was photographed against a black seamless.  The full moon was added later in Photoshop and a graduated background from black to dark blue formed a third layer behind everything.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The sky was clear and blue last night when I took this photo of the Empire State Building framed by barren tree branches on Broadway.  Taken with the Nikon D800, 70-200mm f/4 zoom at 200mm and f/22.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A light snow began falling in the evening just as the lights came on along lower Fifth Avenue.  Everything conspired to make this scene beautiful -- the time of day, the new falling snow, the haze, the warm glow.  I don't think the aesthetic balance of this scene lasted for more that a few minutes.  Fortunately, I had the Sony RX100 with me and attempted to capture the warm glow that came from the building windows and permeated the avenue, harmonizing with the gold building turret and lights on top of the Empire State Building.

It was already getting dark so I had to boost the ISO to 1600.  This was all the more worrisome because I also diminished the image size by cropping it to a square.  I had to deal with the noise in post-production, but was able to achieve a very nice image that printed out at 16" x 16".  This little camera really is amazing.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The first time I did a photo like this was just over twenty years ago using my son, Daniel, as the model opening the door.  Yesterday when we recreated the shot in our studio, my sons, Christopher and Daniel, now photographers in their own right, helped me put together this set, which resulted in a new version of the original photo concept.

The front part of the set with door and wall were assembled in our daylight studio.  It is actually a simple set, consisting of the door, its frame, two 4'x8' foamcore panels to form the walls, and floor molding to finish it off.  The whole thing is supported by autopoles. We then lit an interior wall with a strobe that over-powered the daylight exposure and provided the bright light beaming through the open door.  Camera was a Nikon D4 equipped with the Nikon 24-70mm zoom.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This view of Manhattan was taken from our studio terrace at sunset yesterday evening.  It is composed of two images taken with the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 zoom lens and later combined in Photoshop.  The camera used was the Nikon D800 set to ISO 100 for maximum quality.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Leaving room for copy in a stock photo

When I took the blog photo of the key the other day, I also made some variations for stock photography that included copy space for a designer to use for placing type or a product.

Here are a few other images that illustrate this compositional technique.

The upper right of this image was intentionally left blank, lightened, and softened enough for placement of copy. When you allocate space specifically for copy placement, it is important to know if the copy will surprint (dark type color over lighter backgrount) or drop out (white or light type over darker background).  Here I anticipated the type dropping out.  Picture white type against the blue background.

Here the designer is presented with a blank tag where copy could be placed.

In horizontal photos it's often good to include a compositional variation with space off to the side for the designer to use.  In this composition the photo could also span a horizontal two-page magazine spread because the subject is substantially to the left and would not be cut off by landing in the gutter of the magazine.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The new world trade center is topping off and in the process of raising its spire to reach a final overall building height of 1776'.  Early yesterday the sun was glinting off the side of the building when I took this shot with a Fuji X-Pro1 and 18-55mm lens.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I visited a book binder yesterday where I saw these binding threads and strings sitting on a shelf.  The packed composition of muted earth tones reminded me of the still life paintings of Giorgio Morandi, one of my favorite artists.

Fortunately I had the Sony RX-100 camera with me and was able to grab this shot.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I was running some tests on different tilt-shift lenses today.  Here is one of the images.

This was taken with the Nikon 85mm tilt-shift lens, shot with wide open aperture and the tilt done opposite to the plane of the key to enhance the out of focus areas and provide a pinpoint focus to the tip of the key.  The vignette was added in post-processing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

While in the area of Lexington and Concord, MA I also picked up some images for stock photography in the Minuteman National Historical Park.

The Minuteman National Historical Park runs between Lexington and Concord, MA along the route the British took to meet the Minutemen militia in a confrontation that started the American Revolutionary War.  This house of a Captain William Smith is one of the many colonial structures preserved within the park.  I used a 24mm focal length lens to relate the house to the foreground stone fence.  Old stone fences such as this are found throughout New England.

This statue of a minuteman stands in Lexington.  It is a powerful icon to American independence, courage, and freedom.  I took this photo specifically with the idea of adding the flag background later.  I also plan on adding a 13-star flag and a colonial flag as backgrounds.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

It began with a color

While walking through the local farmers market I caught sight of a bin of bosc pears that were a brillinant golden-orange color.  So I bought two of them to photograph at home.  Rather than set up for just one photo, I also picked up some garlic from the next stand I passed, and on the walk home, stopped in a cheese shop for a few varieties that looked like they would go with the pears.

I started working with the Nikon 60mm macro lens, but changed over to the new Nikon 70-200mm zoom to obtain more of a telephoto look that also added a nice selective focus to the background.

 This photo is a result of 14 exposures, each focused at a different point and later combined using Helicon focus.  I had the 60mm Nikon macro set to f/5.6, began the first focus point at the tip of the front garlic clove, and continued with 14 shots moving the focus point one tiny step back towards the rear of the garlic.  I stopped here because I still wanted a selective focus on the background.

This photo was taken with the same technique as the garlic photo, but here the aperture was set to f/16 and I only needed 8 images to complete the focus stack.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Walden Pond Project, continued:

As seen through Thoreau's eyes, the pond environs is a series of close-ups.  He observed the details of nature closely and drew experiences and inspiration from them, and later conveyed this in his writings.

As part of my project to photograph Walden Pond in its various seasons, I concentrated on capturing many of the details of nature as they interplay with the weather and light of the day.

Thoreau's desk placed in front of one of the windows in his tiny cabin allowed him to look out at the pond life as he wrote.
 "After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what- how- when- where? But there was dawning Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad windows with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips. I awoke to an answered question, to Nature and daylight." 
- from "The Pond in Winter: Walden" by Henry David Thoreau

"Like the water, the Walden ice, seen near at hand, has a green tint,but at a distance is beautifully blue, and you can easily tell it from the white ice of the river, or the merely greenish ice of some ponds, a quarter of a mile off."   - from "The Pond in Winter: Walden" by Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hands on Review: 
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 G ED AF-S VR lens

Finally.  Nikon re-introduced a lens type that disappeared with the demise of the constant aperture f/4 80-200mm AI-s zoom Nikkor that had been a mainstay of travel photographers looking for quality optics in a light weight package.

After running tests on the new Nikon 70-200mm f/4 G ED AF-S VR lens, I have to say  the wait is over.  This newer version is all that a travel photographer could have hoped for and more.

The older 80-200mm f/4 Nikkor zoom  shown here on an even older Nikon Ftn camera, was always one of my favorites for carrying around.  Produced from 1981-1998 it was a convenient mainstay in my travel photo kit with its comfortably large push-pull combined zoom and focus collar.

As a lens type, this zoom and fixed aperture range is perfect for working outdoors when you want your lens kit to be portable without sacrificing any of the quality of the larger f/2.8 lens in this zoom range.  Weighing 1.87lb (.85kg) and measuring 7" (17.78cm) in length with a diameter of only 3.1" (7.87cm) due to its smaller f/4 aperture, this lens is a very compact package.  It feels very comfortable in the hands and is well balanced on a pro body like the Nikon D600 or D800 camera.  The primary reason for choosing a lens like this over its larger brother the f/2.8 model is portability and convenience without loss of quality.  The fact that it is priced about a thousand dollars less doesn't hurt matters either.

The lens is equipped with a new VR purported to be equivalent to a 5-stop speed reduction.  This definitely helps overcome the loss of a full f/stop from f/2.8 to f/4.  I am always skeptical about lens stabilizer claims, but I did receive very acceptable results at lower shutter speeds.  There is an accessory tripod collar, the Nikon RT-1, available for the lens if you are like me and like to gain the extra stability and sharpness that only a balanced camera-lens package on a tripod can offer.

Of course the advantage of having a lighter weight lens by giving up a full aperture only works if the lens also comes up the the same optical standards as its larger f/2.8 big brother.  The 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens is a lens I use quite frequently so I am very familiar with its performance, which is excellent.  I'm happy to say that the performance of the smaller f/4 version of this zoom range is not only as good, but may be a bit better.

This hand-held test was shot at f/8 at 1/100 second with the lens fully extended to 200mm. You can download a very large, full res version by clicking here.  Note that the lens sharpness, while excellent overall, does degrade somewhat towards the corners with a flat subject such as this.
One feature of this lens that makes it even more versatile is its ability to focus close.  As opposed to the f/2.8 model, which focuses to 4.6' (1.4m), the f/4 model focuses down to 3.8' (1m).  This is significant at 200mm focal length in that it allows a nature photographers to take semi-macro close-ups of their subject without having to be too close.  It also makes this lens very useful for full portrait head shots -- something that is impractical with the f.2.8 version.

I took this photo of a Nikon SP rangefinder camera with the 70-200mm zoom set to a 200mm focal length and  its minimum focus distance to illustrate how close it can go.  Such close-up ability adds considerably to the versatility of the lens.  Often times when traveling I want to grab a close-up shot of something, but don't want the inconvenience of carrying an extra macro lens with me.

Its ability to focus close coupled with its high resolution makes the 70-200mm f/4 lens valuable as a portrait lens.  It covers the prime portrait focal range of 70-135mm and makes it easy to zoom in and out as the subject moves.

These two images illustrate the different close focus ranges of the two Nikon 70-200mm lenses.  The photo on the left was taken at the closest focusing range of the f/2.8 zoom.  The photo on the right shows the closest focusing range of the f/4 zoom.  Quite a difference.
 With the added advantage of close focusing added to the high resolution properties of the lens, I began to speculate about making this lens even more practical by adding other attachments to increase its versatility.

The Nikon Teleconverters can be used with this zoom.  Using something as extreme as the 2x converter does mean dropping the f/4 aperture to f/8, but you can use the 1.4x at f/5.6 and the 1.7x at f/6.3 -- not bad for the added convenience of extending the zoom range out to 340mm.

Adding lens accessories can increase the versatility of this zoom.  Of course this is only works well on a high performance lens, which this is.  Top left is a pair of extension tubes (12 and 20mm); number 2 is the Nikon 1.7x Teleconverter; number 3 is a pair of 67mm close up filters.
By far the best optical solution for decreasing the close-up focus range is through the use of extension tubes because it does not degrade the optical system.  The Nikon version of these attachments does not support auto-focus so I use tubes supplied by Sigma or Kenko, both of which transmit lens information to the camera body and allow auto-focus.  Close up filters, while practical, are not the best optical solution, particularly at longer focal lengths and more open apertures.  I only use multi-coated, high end digital versions of these filters and stop the lens down to overcome the softness and chromatic aberrations these filters add.

You can extend the macro capability of this lens to macro range with the addition of close-up attachments. This photo was take with a stack of three extension tubes.  Using extension tubes instead of close-up filters maintains the sharpness of the lens.
Rather than pack a macro lens in my travel kit, I may just add a couple of close-up extension tubes to my camera bag for the occasional times when I want to move in to a more macro range.

Moving in very close with an extension tube added gave a very nice out of focus bokeh to the background with the lens aperture wide open.
My best surprise was how well this lens performed with the Nikon Teleconverters, even with the 2x. The optical quality at the longer focal lengths appeared on a par with actual prime telephoto lenses.  Adding a 1.7x Nikon Teleconverter increased the zoom range to 119-340mm at f/6.3.  On a DX camera I would probably opt for the 1.4x extender, which would mean a conversion to a 147-420mm focal length with only a one-stop loss to f/5.6.  For the addition of one small telextender this is a very practical addition to a lens kit.

Focus of this lens was swift and accurate, definitely up to pro standards.  I was able to grab the shot below as I spotted the squirrel out of the corner of my eye and quickly swung the camera into place.

A maximum aperture of f/4 does not always allow for the same type of bokeh you can achieve with a faster f/2.8 lens, but it is pleasing here nonetheless.
A Nikon 1.7 telextender was added for this shot of a hummingbird, and a wide open aperture assured a very soft background at f/4.  It was necessary to increase the ISO to 640 to achieve a shutter speed of 1/1600 that would sufficiently stop the fast beating wings.

These images show the use of Nikon Teleconverters on the 70-200mm lens.  On the left the 2x Teleconverter increased the focal length to 400mm.  On the right the 1.4x Teleconverter increased the focal length to 280mm.  Click here to download a full res version of the 2x and click here to download a 1.4x full res version.

It's a photo like this that convinced me of the high resolution qualities of this lens.  Here the 70-200mm was equipped with the 1.7x Teleconverter that increased its focal length to 119-340mm.
In addition to its Nano Crystal Coat this lens also has a high degree of multi-coating on its elements to keep flare to a minimum and color contrast crisp as seen in the photos below.

Shot into the setting sun with the foreground tree in shadow did not cause any problem for this lens/camera (D800) combo.  Colors are bright and crisp overall with no flaring.

I particularly like the star shape of the sun peeking through the trees in this shot of Walden Pond at sunset.  Once again, the color and contrast are bright and clear and the shadows maintain good detail.

Bottom line:

The Nikon 70-200mm f/4 lens took a long time to arrive on the scene, but it is a lens that is definitely worth the wait.  It has pro-quality build, optics, and performance in a light weight, well balanced package -- perfect for use in travel or landscape photography where you may want to lighten your load of equipment but not sacrifice any of the quality. 

Nikon makes the Nikon RT-1 tripod collar for this lens that helps keep the whole camera and lens in balance if you use it primarily on a tripod. Vello makes a much less expensive version of the same thing for only $49.95..

The ability to add accessories to increase focus distance and extend the zoom range with very little loss of quality makes this an even better option as a "do everything" long zoom.  I have already added this lens to my travel kit along with two extension tubes (12 and 20mm) and a 1.7x Nikon Teleconverter.  I'm all set for my next trip.

This is definitely one of the best lenses Nikon makes.

The close focus capability of a lens with this quality and zoom range is a definite plus for me.
If you are planning on purchasing this lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Nikon 70-200mm f/4 lens can be ordered from:  B&H Photo  Amazon
The Nikon lens collar for $169.95 can be ordered from:  B&H Photo  Amazon
A substitute lens collar for $49 can be ordered from:   B&H Photo  Amazon
And this third party collar is only $27 from:  Amazon

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Recent images from the Walden Pond project

This year I am working on a photo book of Walden Pond where Henry David Thoreau went to live for 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days in 1845.  The pond and its environs form a simple landscape, yet one that inspired Thoreau to great, picturesque literature.  I am hoping that over the course of the year I can find it a similar source of inspiration.  Here are a few photos from my recent visit.


This image and the one above were taken with the new Nikon 70-200mm f/4 zoom lens.  I will be planning a hands-on review of this lens in a blog entry later this week.

To relate this foreground rock to the background I chose the Sigma 12-24mm zoom and used it set to 18mm focal length on the Nikon D800.

Taken with a Leica M9 and 35mm Summilux lens, this image is a composite of two photographs assembled later to form a panoramic landscape.