Sunday, October 23, 2016

Added another image to my Metropolis series

This past week I worked on a new addition to my Metropolis series of images. This one is titled, "Metropolis - 10:22:02 in New York". It is a composite of about eight different images, all taken around Wall Street and on the stock trading floors.

The idea of this image was to capture the split-second, frenetic energy of global stock trading. The title of "10:22:02" represents one second in time when stock data flows around the world in a global network at light speed, affecting the decisions of millions of traders. In another second everything changes and it starts all over again. The onslaught of such data exchanges is kind of crazy when you think of it.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Let there be light! A sunrise helicopter shoot over New York

This morning I participated in a special half-hour, doors-off photography flight over the city sponsored by FlyNYON helicopters. FlyNYON specializes in providing exciting photography experiences in the New York area. A half hour is all the time you need for a shoot like this. We took off about 15 minutes prior to sunrise. That gave us time to capture the colorful morning glow behind the city before the sun came up. Once the sun rose, we positioned ourselves to shoot right into the light to flare out the sun for some exciting effects. After covering the mid-town area with the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, we booked it down the East River to capture our last shot of the sun, now fully up, hitting the Statue of Liberty head on. If you're ever in New York, and want the thrill of a lifetime, check out FlyNYON for an experience you'll never forget.

As sunrises go, this one was not the most exciting. There were no clouds in the sky to catch the light and make it interesting. That was one of the reasons for swinging around to capture the flare shots by shooting right into the sun. In addition to the interesting flare shapes, this created a veil of light over the scene,

I used two cameras on this trip, a Nikon D810 fit with a Nikon 24-120mm zoom, and a Fuji X-T2 with the 50-140mm f/2.8 (75-210mm equivalent) for my long shots. It was only dark for a few minutes before the sun came up. So I started with an ISO of 1600, but quickly worked my way down to a comfortable 200. Of course, shooting directly into the sun resulted in a very high, motion-stopping shutter speed. All in all, a really fun way to spend the morning!


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sunshine Overlays

In past posts I have discussed how I create overlay layers to use in Photoshop when I want to spark up an image by enhancing a sunset light, or warm up an overcast scene often due to shooting in inclement weather. I have been asked by the MCP Actions group to gather up the many overlays I have been creating and put them together in a package that other photographers can use to accomplish similar effects without the effort of first having to create the overlays themselves.

The image below is a sample from a recent available stock photo shoot I did in my studio. I found the lighting in the original photo to be too dull and wanted to punch it up using some of the overlays I had created over the years. The idea was to create a warm feeling of late afternoon sunlight pouring onto the scene from the window behind the models.

To accomplish the transformation I used three layers from my "Sunshine Overlays" collection. The layer on the far left is a center light punch overlay. It is placed as a layer above the original image and its layer mode is changed to "Overlay". The purpose of this layer is threefold: It brightens the center of the image, creates a bit of punch by adding contrast, and adds a warm tone to the overall scene. 

One thing about my overlay system is that I created all of the overlays to enhance each other and work together in their coloring. So, when I added the second layer sun burst (center below) to the window between the man and woman, its color merged nicely with the previous layer. This second layer is called a "Half-burst" because it only bursts out with color on the bottom. I created these half-bursts to avoid carrying unnecessary coloring to white areas in the top areas of images that were shot on overcast days. The Half-Burst is used as a Hard Light layer mode in Photoshop. 

The final layer I added was the "Half-vignette" shown on the right below. The vignette  consists of a somewhat randomized edge-darkening area on the bottom only. It is used as a "Hard Light" Photoshop layer so all the areas that are gray will turn white leaving only the dark vignette below. I created the vignette at full darkness to allow its opacity to be dialed down later to suit its use. For this sample I used it at 57% opacity.

I created my overlay series to cut down on work time when retouching. Layering is a quick and easy way to do this. I like it better than using actions. To create the layering effect in Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements) I just have to drag and drop the layer on top of the photo that I am retouching, make a few changes to the newly placed layer, collapse all the layers when finished, and that's it -- a very simple technique that has saved me gobs of retouching time over the years.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Back to basics: X-Pro2 + 18-55mm lens and a visit to the Guggenheim

Lately, when I go out and want to feel unencumbered by photo gear I find myself putting the original Fuji 18-55mm variable focus zoom on my X-Pro2 and using it as a basic kit for walking around -- small, convenient, unobtrusive, but powerful enough for obtaining real quality images.

The Guggenheim just opened an extensive exhibit of work by the artist, Agnes Martin. Martin has been my favorite artist for decades. I love the subtle minimalist expression of her grid canvases and have always found them to be an inspiration for my own work. I had the X-Pro2/18-55mm combo with me but didn't really think I was going to need it. I was there to see the exhibit, not photograph it. Seeing just a few of Martin's paintings immediately changed my attitude, and, as always, I succumbed to the influence of her work. I didn't exactly photograph the exhibit. Instead I used the camera to record the impression her work was having on me as I walked through the exhibit.

When I work in a place, like a museum, I put the camera on silent mode with its electronic shutter so no noise emanates from it to disturb the silent solemnity of the space.  In the main I shot in Acros simulation mode, switching back to color for those few occasions where I wanted to incorporate the subtlety of color present in most Martin canvases.

This exhibit is the most comprehensive I have ever seen on Agnes Martin. It is well worth a visit to see it if you are in New York. The show will be at the Guggenheim Museum until January 11, 2017.

This is one of the few images I took in color. I did it to emphasize the subtlety of color used in Marin's canvases. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Enhancing with overlays in Photoshop

Recently, I have teamed up with MCP Actions to produce some of the overlay images I create to enhance my photos using Photoshop layers. Many of you have asked me how I produce these effects. Now I will be able to have access to a complete line of my sunrise/sunset overlay tools.

This morning I took a photo of the Chrysler Building at sunrise and used selective focus with the Fuji 90mm f/2 lens on an X-Pro2 to capture an image with a very soft blur leading into the building. The image didn't have enough punch to satisfy me so I combined it with one of the many overlay sun images I have to boost the color, contrast, and improve the composition. The photo below is the final result.

The two images below are the original files I used to create the above photo. Using the blur photo on the right from my Sunrise Overlays collection, I placed it as a layer over the original photo of the building shown on the left. Next I changed the layer mode of the top Sunrise Overlay image to Hard Light. That allowed the building image to show through the overlay. It also had the side effect of boosting the color and contrast of the final image. I added a slight "S" curve to boost the contrast a bit more, and that was it. 

These effects are fairly simple to use. The trick is having a collection of them to draw upon when needed. I will be supplying those in the very near future.

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.