Tuesday, December 31, 2013

12/30/2013 Taurus at the China Shop

Location: 20-21st and Walnut
Image size: 12.25 x 8.25 @240 dpi (cropped, minimal scaling)
Camera: EOS 5D
Lens:  24-105 f4 @105mm
ISO: 200
Exposure: f22 @ 1/5 (Tripod)
Proof: Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

The curio window with its odd juxtapositions of knick-knacks, the crumbly brownstone, the fraying post-war apartment house, the leaden post-rain light; I felt like I was peering back into my childhood.  Such moments of realization are quite powerful. Perhaps that is why I had to realize this photo as best as possible given the gear I had at my disposal.

It took three trips back to the locale to get an adequate starting point. I had shot the scene last Saturday while running an errand. Then, I went out with the Lumix and a tripod, re-shot, printed, and liked the result even better, but the Lumix was just not registering enough detail and the 84mm equivalent zoom required too much cropping and I could see the file was on the cusp of dissolution.

Sunday it rained in the early morning, but it later cleared and out I went with the full-frame Canon. Even though I shot from the sidewalk, I was concerned about attracting attention. The positioning of the figures had to be fairly precise. Trying to get the point of the left dancer’s headpiece to sit between the reflected windows probably produced a funny sight as I inched the tripod over, went too far, muttered under my breath and then shifted it back. The shop is closed on Sundays, luckily.

My technical objective is always to get things as close in-camera as possible. My experience has been that if I have to exercise a lot of fancy footwork digitally, it usually means the image becomes a metaphorical Frankenstein’s monster that haunts me. I’d much rather go back and reshoot (if possible), learn from my mistakes and sleep soundly.

The 105mm zoom didn’t reach quite as far as I would have liked, but certainly the cropped size is more than adequate for the prints I’m doing and the image file is quite sharp and detailed. I made just a few small adjustments of tone post Lightroom. To strengthen the composition, I cropped the head off of the figure in the upper left that I believe is Leda. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

12/23/13 CityLights

Location: 24th and Bainbridge
File size: Approx. 12 x 17” @240 dpi
Print size: 8” x 12”
Camera: Canon EOS5d
Lens: 35-105 f4 Zoom @60mm
ISO: 400
Exposure: 2.5 seconds @ f8

I frequently think of Archimedes’ injunction: “Give me a place to stand, and I’ll move the world!” With no implications as to stature, for me it’s often the question of finding a good vantage point rather than a place to put the fulcrum. Sometimes it’s a hole in a fence, a space that hasn't been cordoned off, or in this case, simply a view that opened with demolition that hasn't yet been forever obscured by the new building.

Walking down Bainbridge I have watched the town homes springing up in assembly-line fashion. I knew this vista would not last   I had photographed the location the day before, but the photos were wanting. The view was too wide; I hadn’t honed in on the subject. I also believe I shot using a signpost or telephone pole to brace the slow exposure. Even though the ISO was kicked up to 1600, they weren't tack sharp which I felt was necessary for a photo such as this.

Keeping my fingers crossed that I’d have a clear night and an unobstructed view, I returned the next evening -- with a sturdy tripod. I had to shoot using the ten second self-timer to minimize camera vibration and hope a car didn’t come down Bainbridge at the point of exposure. A few of the shots had to be redone because of this.

Happy Holidays! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

12/16/2013 Gray Day

Location: Near 10th and Callowhill
Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2
Lens: 14-42 ED zoom @35mm
ISO 200
Exposure f11 @ 1/200
Image size (cropped/scaled up) 16” x 16” @240
Print: Epson Artisan 1430/Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

I've actually become better in the cold than I used to be, but the day I took this was not made for photography. It had been gray all morning, but looked like it might clear up. I felt the newly fallen snow would not last long, and I had to move. (I was right!) Around 12 I set out with a few flakes coming down. This became more intense and the temperature rose enough so that it was now a very wet snow. The streets were slushy.

I took only the very compact Lumix since it was about as much camera as I thought I could handle given the iffy conditions. It’s not a cheap device, but at this point its value as a trade-in is low and if I happened to fall into a mud puddle, life would go on. Despite the nasty conditions I enjoyed working, but after about two hours, it was clear, it was probably not wise to stay out much longer. I was also getting tired of wiping wet snow off the top of the camera and wondering if the electronics were going to fail. My hands were getting stiff even though I had three layers covering them.

Pretty much done, something made me steer slightly east on my return walk home. When I saw this week’s landscape I nearly shot it hand-held, but again, something told me to drop the legs of the tripod and get every last grain the system could render. The file revealed in LightRoom (just installed) far more detail than in SilkyPix, the processing program that came with Lumix.  Even the structure of the water tank panels on the skyscraper is discernible. Because of this, I was able to both heavily crop and enlarge the image by scaling it up, considerably.  

This is not the type of light I usually photograph and the goal was to create a print that conveyed the gloomy look of things but was not flat and lifeless. I was able to do this, by making a fairly flat print to start, but applying local contrast to important details. It probably got a little out of hand, and could have been done more simply, but I was able to control many areas of the print, quite easily even though there is a lot of hand-drawn masking. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

12/09/13: Cast Iron Front

Location: North side Girard Avenue near 6th St.
File size: Approx 13” x 19” (full frame)
Print size: 8” x 12”
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Lens: 24-105 Zoom at 24mm
ISO: 200
Aperture: f22
Speed: 1/50
Print: Epson Artisan 1430/Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal
Iterations to final: 28

I had made a similar shot a number of weeks ago on 35mm with a monopod, but no matter what I did, I could not wrest a good print from the negative; the light was clearly not right, too flat. I watch the sky and the light a lot, but last week I did t more so than usual with trekking on foot to re-photograph this in mind. The day I shot this, nature cooperated going from a fairly overcast morning to strong, raking sunlight in the west around two pm.

I hung around long enough for the cars on the street to leave and was able to shoot from the outer edge of the parking lane so as to get a view straight to the ground. I also did some medium format shots on the tripod I had brought along.

Although the initial quick proof on my kitchen door made me think this would be an easy print, I was deceived. I had a great deal of difficulty balancing the desire for a strong graphic structure, the tonality and also being sure the textures were strong. The pilasters are nearly pure white on the bottom and dark rust on the top, further complicating things.

This print, though vivid and spatial still doesn’t show as much texture on the iron facade as I’d like. There are still some techniques in the post-processing and printing that I can try when I’m set up to do them. It will be interesting to see what the medium format shot reveals. Do I need to get out the 4x5 for subjects like so as to reveal the micro-textures I desire?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Week of 12/01/2013 Experiments in the Cold

Camera: Canon EOS 5d
Lens: Canon 28-105 zoom @105mm
Exposure: f9 @ 1 sec
ISO: 100
Location: 10th and Callowhill
Image size: 10” x 15” @ 240 (cropped)
Print size: 8” x 12” (Horizontal on 13 x 19 paper)
Printer: Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

Although I definitely have my spots, my vantage points in the city that I return to, I’m becoming more and more convinced that it’s the unexpected, the impromptu capture that keeps the blood flowing. This one spontaneously happened while experimenting with a loaner camera and a light tripod with a 3-D Junior Manfrotto head, as I went to revisit the site of last week’s shot.

The system worked well and I found it to not be so ungainly that it was a liability. Some heavy elastic hair bands allowed me to attach a carry strap for toting around the legs. The camera held even in the vertical position and the combination also worked as a very solid and portable monopod. All that was missing was a quick-release arrangement to easily mount and remove the camera out in the cold. 

The optical quality of the full-frame Canon trumps the micro 4/3 Lumix; especially noticeable is the difference in image detail. This is not surprising given: the sensor is markedly bigger, the lens is pro-grade, and the system has an image stabilizer. The trade-off is the Canon is about twice the bulk and weight and lacks the rotatable fly-out screen of the Lumix, which I love when taking shots at high and low angles. The Nikon FM2n, the 35mm I often use, with the same focal length zoom, is about 2/3 the size and weight of the Canon.   

Film has its strengths and weaknesses, but mostly I am enamored of working with mechanical cameras. Food for thought is these recent full-frame digital images are, in a number of ways, superior to the home-brew scans I’ve been doing from 35mm. At the size I’m printing, an un-cropped image approaches the medium format shots I’ve done plus there is no immediate cash outlay.  So far, they feel right when printed.