Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dark still life shooting

I pretty much photograph constantly, and don't I don't always have a plan for what the subject will be. Sometimes I just get an idea of a type of lighting in my head and begin with that, adding the subjects to suit. A couple days ago while in the studio I felt like shooting some really darkly lit still life subjects so I set up a lighting scene with black background and dark base, and added two tungsten lights from the rear, one on each side. I controlled the shadows with small cardboard gobos. Then I added subjects that might look good in that type of light. This is what happened.

This type of backlighting is perfect for photographing smoke so I did a number of situations with smoke in them. 

While shooting this still life set up I decided to make it more interesting by doing a deep focus technique on it. I took ten shots focusing each one just a little closer to the camera each time until I had a the full range from front to back covered. I then fed the ten images into the Helicon Focus stacking software to combine the images into one, super-sharp final photograph with continuous focus from foreground to the back of the books. From experience I find that an aperture of f/5.6 with my Nikon 85mm tilt shift lens gives the best results. Click here to download a high res version of this file.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Live demo of the Fuji X-Pro2 in New York today

If you are in New York today and want to participate in a hands-on demo of the latest Fuji gear, including the new X-Pro2, stop by the Fotocare store between 11:00AM and 5:00PM and meet the experts from Fujifilm.

You can even place an advance order while at the store.  Ask for Jeff Hirsch, the owner. Tell him I sent you and he'll take good care of you. 

Fotocare is located at 41 West 22nd Street between 5th and 6th avenues. 

Fuji X camera with studio flash

It has been more that a year now since I have changed over from a DSLR to using the Fuji X-T1 for the lifestyle shoots that I do two days a week. There are several reasons I prefer a Fuji X camera for this, first among them is the exceptional lens quality from its primes. I tend to shoot backlit a lot, which means very low contrast on the subject. The Fuji lenses can really deliver the detail  in these areas, so much so that I rarely even need to fill the shadows.

My recent photo shoot involved working exclusively with studio strobes. For most of the shoot I set the lights up for backlighting. Normally I use a DSLR when working with strobe, but because of the backlight situation I wanted to use the Fuji X lenses instead.
This scene was lit with two strobes lighting the background seamless. No other lighting was used.

I set up two Elinchrome strobes in slit banks and pointed them at the white background seamless. There was no light on the model at all, not even reflector fill. My studio floor is painted a gloss white, and by positioning the camera right on the floor I was able to capture a wavy reflection of the model. With the camera right on the floor I needed to focus using the tilt screen of the X-T1 -- another good reason to be using it for this shoot. 

I set the Elinchromes off  with a Pocket Wizard, a system that has worked extremely well with my Nikon cameras, and now seems to work equally well with my Fuji X-T1. The X-T1 needs to be set up to work with strobes. First of all, the camera needs to be in single shot mode. It will not trigger from the flash shoe when set for continuous shooting. Second, the camera needs a menu adjustment that allows the EVF to show a bright image. Otherwise the image will be too dark to see. The adjustment is made on the fifth Shooting Menu by changing the "Interlock spot AE & focus" option to "Off". 

Alternatively, you could go to "Set-up" menu 1 and select "Screen Set-up", then navigate down to "Preview Pic. Effect" and turn it "Off". This does the same thing

Finally, with the shutter speed set to 1/180x for flash sync, you're good to go.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Multiple exposure technique

This past week I've been playing around with some more variations on double exposures. This on is an image of a model I just photographed and two shots of a city for an urban background, plus some an image of smoke to give it atmosphere. I've had the photograph up on my computer for several days and keep tweaking it. I'm still not sure it's finished. I'll see how I feel about it in a couple more days.

Photoshop layers provides the vehicle for pre-visualizing multiple exposures. The layers can be treated in a number of different, see-through ways. It's a matter of playing with them and shuffling the images until it looks right.

For this image the woman layer was on top and its mode changed to "lighten". The urban background layer was placed on the bottom as a "normal" layer, but has been treated to a "photographic toning" "gradient adjustment". A second close-up urban shot of a building grid facade on top of this had its mode changed to "overlay".  On top of that is an image of smoke against a black background with its mode changed to "screen", which makes the blacks disappear leaving only the white smoke.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

After the storm

The city was completely closed down during the height of the snow storm. New Yorkers I talked with felt like I did. It was a good time to stay indoors and take advantage of a mini-indoor vacation. I used some of my time to work on another image for my Metropolis series of photographs. This one is a composite of eleven images. I had most of them already, but went out the day after the storm to pick up a few more detail images. I realized afterwards that all but one of the images used to create this composite were taken with the Fuji X-T1.

Metropolis - Just another day, NY, 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What a difference a day makes

All day yesterday the storm was upon us with gusting winds and swirling snow. Today we awoke to a clear sunny sky. The winds from the storm blew all the snow from the trees so there wasn't much to photograph in the parks, however we did have a beautiful sunset. As I was on my way to photograph the city with the World Trade Center I happened upon this scene. It was in complete contrast to what I had been photographing just the day before, and the dichotomy between the two days made me pause to grab a shot.

A situation like this is where a good camera shows its stuff. The flowers were indoors in front of a large glass window. It was bright indoors but definitely not bright enough to pull off a perfect shot in one exposure. The flowers were in shadow and the background city scene was fully lit by the setting sun. I took four exposures of the scene with the idea of combining the exposures later. Instead, when I brought one of the shots with full detail in the highlights into Adobe Camera Raw, I attempted to open up the shadows to see if I could pull off the photo from one shot instead of stacking the different exposures.  

I was using a Nikon D810, which is one of the best cameras in the world for dynamic range and low shadow noise. Without it I might not have been so successful. When balancing a shot like this it is important to begin with an image that retains some detail in the brightest area. Without detail you have nothing to work with when you go to darken the light areas. 

One thing to keep in mind when opening up shadows like this is that you are effectively increasing the ISO in that area, and than means you get the noise that comes with it. I judged that the noise was slight enough to deal with later so I continued. The sample above is what the photo looked like before I began to open the shadows and dim down some of the sky highlights. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow storm hits the Big Apple

The first winter snow storm hit the east coast very early this morning.  I began photographing it just after dawn when I was finally able to discern some shady outlines of the city through the snow and haze. My first shots were a little too dull so I put a Yongnuo flash on my Fuji X-T1 and took some photos with the Fuji 10-24mm zoom set to 10mm and f/4. After some experimenting I settled on 1/4 power for the flash achieve the right balance between the brightly lit falling snow flakes and the background scene.

I liked that the colors were very subtle, almost Impressionistic, and the avenue below was softly lit with the glow from street lamps and the headlights from a lone taxi. This is my first photo of the weekend snow. I'll be going out later to photograph the city as the snow continues.

The Flatiron Building during the mid-day white-out.

The snowstorm at dusk just as the city lights began coming on. 
The exposure can make a big difference in how the snow and background scene interrelate.  For instance, the photo above taken with a 20mm was shot at f/2.8, 1/30 second, and ISO 400.  Because of the shallow depth of field the aperture of f/2.8 made the foreground snowflakes larger.

In the photo below taken at the same time the exposure was changed to f/8 and 1/4 second at ISO 400. Here the snowflakes are smaller because of the greater depth of field and the distant flakes are not lit because of the decrease in aperture exposure so the background scene comes in sharper.  

It is all a matter of experimenting to see what effect works best for what you want to achieve. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Christmas in January

Ever since I can remember I have begun photographing Christmas scenes for the coming year from around mid-January to mid-March.  Just about the time I think the holiday is behind me and I'm ready to move ahead to some vacation planning it's time to begin photographing for the next Christmas. One good thing about waiting until after the holiday is that it is easier to pick up props, since no one else wants them at that time of year.

At any rate, we set up a couple of scenes in our studio and did some shots of Santa and Mrs. Claus performing various typical holiday activities. I shot the entire event with my Fuji X-T1 using only the 56mm, 35mm, and the 90mm for close-ups.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Double exposures in Photoshop

Playing around with some more double exposure techniques in Photoshop today.

The technique for this image and the one below was exactly the same. The bottom layer was the person. I created a mask for it and added a white background. The top layer was computer readout above and city scene below. The top layer was set to "lighten". Later I added a subtle color layer and vignetted it by masking out the center. 

For this one I simply created brushes out of several strings of binary numbers and brushed various sizes of them over the cloud image. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A little bit of this and that

We had our model cancel on us yesterday so I had nothing to shoot at the studio . We spent some of the time prepping for our next shoot and then left to enjoy the weekend. I pretty much get antsy when I'm not shooting something so I took some photos of my granddaughter, Vivi, as well as of an unusual cloud formation that day. In addition, I did some Photoshop work combining images that I had been saving up for a rainy day. This explains why this post looks somewhat random. It was kind of a random day.

At least I got to use one of my favorite Fuji lenses, the 90mm f/2 used here wide open with a pinpoint focus on the eyes. 

Who could resist this beautiful cloud formation? I took it with the Fuji X-T1 and 18-135mm zoom, which I always keep on the ready just in case something interesting pops up to be photographed.. 

This is a composite of four images, on of the city at night, one of the businessman and laptop, another of the grid window pattern from an office building, and the final one of the maze super-imposed on the laptop screen.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Fuji X-Pro2 and 100-400mm zoom lens available for pre-order

The long-awaited successor to Fujifilm's first X-series mirrorless digital camera, the X-Pro2 sports a high-resolution X-Trans CMOS III sensor and redeveloped X-Processor Pro, along with the tested rangefinder-inspired design now synonymous with the X-Pro system. This new APS-C CMOS X-Trans sensor is 24.3MP and has an expanded sensitivity to ISO 51200. The camera is now capable of recording stills at up to 8 fps and Full HD 1080p video at 60 fps, along with quick focusing and overall performance speeds. Unique among camera designs, the X-Pro2 is also heavily characterized by its Advanced Hybrid Multi Viewfinder that blends both optical and electronic viewing methods into a single, switchable finder. The X-Pro2 also has a weather-sealed body design.

Some notable new features:

New high-performance X Processor Pro image processing engine with 4x the processing speed of conventional image processing engines, the X Processor Pro has increased all response times, despite the increased resolution. Combined with the X-Trans CMOS III sensor, the new image processing engine achieves even faster autofocus, lower noise and both tonal and color reproduction that surpasses the previous EXR Processor II

The display speed has been increased to a maximum speed of 85fps and the blackout time after shutter release has been reduced to 150ms. This should dramatically reduce the image delay when tracking a moving subject in the EVF viewfinder.

A joystick controller has been added to the rear of the camera. This is similar to the new Leica SL and is a very convenient and rapid way to handle moving the focus point around.

The shutter now has a top speed of 1/8000 sec. with flash sync up to 1/250sec, and shutter expectancy of 150,000 shots.

Dual SD slots have been added, although only one of them is USB II compatible.
Borrowing another retro camera feature, the ISO sensitivity dial is now built-in to the shutter speed dial.

Borrowing another retro camera feature, the ISO sensitivity dial is now built-in to the shutter speed dial.

Bright Frame Simulation has been added to the optical viewfinder mode so the angle of view of each focal length can be seen without having to replace the lens. This is similar to the Leica M film cameras and is a very handy way of previewing the framing of various lenses without actually having to change them on the camera. 

Available for $1699.95 on February 6th. PRE-ORDER now from:  B&H PHOTO

A long-reaching zoom optimized for use in harsh climates, the XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens is designed for Fujifilm X-series mirrorless cameras and provides a 152-609mm equivalent focal length range. Ideally suited for wildlife and sports applications, the versatile telephoto range benefits photographing distant, moving subjects, and is reinforced by a twin linear AF motor for fast performance, as well as five stop-effective optical image stabilization to minimize the appearance of camera shake. Further benefitting its use outdoors, this 100-400mm lens also sports a weather-sealed construction and fluorine-coated front element to guard against dust and moisture from affecting the lens' performance.

Available now for pre-order for $1899.95 from: B&H PHOTO

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Fuji 90mm f/2 lens - a versatile performer

The Fuji X-T1 has become my go-to camera for most lifestyle situations these days. Not only to I love the camera, but I love the lenses, and here I'm speaking mostly about the primes. My typical lens group for an indoor session consists of the 35mm f/1.4, 23mm f/1.4, 56mm f/1.2, and 90mm f/2. Although the 90mm is sometimes tough to use indoors because it is so long (135mm equivalent), it has become by favorite and I use it whenever I can.

The main thing I like about the 90mm, and something I like about all the Fuji primes, is that it can be used with a wide open aperture without loss of quality, and that is where I tend to shoot it and all the other Fuji primes when doing lifestyle photo shoots. I like using the selective focus that comes with an open aperture and the softness it gives to a photo. Somehow they seem more candid when shot that way.

Another aspect of the 90mm lens that helps adds to its usefulness is that it can focus so close. I find myself using it instead of a macro on still life subjects for the same reasons of selective focus.

The third aspect I like of the 90mm focal length is that at a full frame equivalency of 135mm it borders on delivering a telephoto effect of compressed space giving the shots more of a candid look.

Our model for the this shoot is also a hand model so I found myself doing a lot of close up work and used the 90mm whenever I could. Even the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 cannot focus as close as the 90mm (.09x magnification at 2.3' for the 56mm as opposed to .2x magnification at 1.97' for the 90mm).

Monday, January 11, 2016

The beauty of rain

A blustery rain storm hit the city just before dawn yesterday. It was really beautiful with a strong wind blowing the low clouds around the buildings and hiding parts of them. I was ready to take just a quick snapshot of the scene but had second thoughts and decided to go for a high resolution panorama image instead. For this I pulled out my Leica M 240 with the 35mm Summilux lens and captured two shots of the scene to be stitched later.

Click here to download a higher res version of this image -- not full res, but big enough to get an idea of how it looks.

The problem I faced was trying to preserve the raindrops on the window and the background scene at the same time in two shots. Turning the camera at such a close distance would definitely have distorted the rain and left some areas completely out of focus. I decided to take the background scene as a 2-image panorama and the foreground rain drops as a single shot to be super-imposed back over the background image later. Capturing the foreground window drops required a +2 close up filter on the lens. Leica M lenses are not meant to be focused very close.

Carefully selecting the right aperture for each of the two shots was important. I was shooting through the rainy window to record the background. I wanted the drops the haze out the scene but not come in so sharp that they would interfere with the second shot of rain I planned to overlay on the scene. So for both shots I used the lens fairly wide open.

In Photoshop I laid the rain drop layer over the stitched panorama and changed its mode to Multiply. This necessitated opening up the exposure somewhat with a curve layer.

The final image is 45" wide and would probably make an really nice plexiglas print.

By evening the rain had almost stopped, the clouds moved out, and the sun peaked out from behind a cloud in the southwestern sky --  perfect conditions for a rainbow. A double rainbow appeared just to the east of the Empire State Building an hour before sunset. It doesn't get much better than that.

Click here to download a higher res version of this image. 

Realizing I probably wouldn't have much time before the rainbow dissipated, I switched to the Nikon D810 with the 24-120mm f/4 zoom on it for the rainbow photo. I knew this combo would be very quick and versatile to use and still produce a very high resolution image. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Wandering about with a Fuji X camera

I pretty much never go anywhere without having a camera with me. Most of the time that camera will be either a Fuji X100T or an X-T1 with the 18-135mm zoom. They're small, light, convenient, have great optics and lens choices, and take great pictures. Occasionally, when I don't want to have a camera conspicuously around my neck, I will tuck a Sony RX100IV in my pocket.

About half the time I run across something I want to photograph. I find this to be a high statistic since I am usually just running some errand in my familiar neighborhood. Nonetheless, there is always something -- an unusual light or weather phenomena -- that reacts with familiar subjects in a different way and presents me with a different way of seeing it.

Below are a few of the shots I captured this past week while wandering about.

This time of year the sun is low in the southern sky, and, since the grid of Avenues in New York runs north and south, the sun casts long shadows that can form interesting patterns. I waited on the corner of this cobblestone street for someone to cross it so I could capture this backlit image of high contrast and dramatic shadow with my X100T.

While walking down Fifth Avenue I noticed the sun reflecting off the windows of this office building and used it as the corner stone of a composition in contrast with the dark shape of the Empire State Building. Because I had the X100T with its fixed lens I decided to tilt to include the building tower. This gave me a a very strong diagonal like to work with in my composition. Ahhh...composition born of necessity.

This was taken on an overcast day. I liked the way the composition transitioned in tones from the bright sky to the light Flatiron Building that was framed by the darker building in the foreground. I also like the barren winter tree in the bottom right as a contrast of shape. Fortunately, I had the X-T1 with the 18-135mm zoom with me so I was able to compose this shot as I wished by picking the focal length. 

The first shot I did of this was an accidental blur. I liked the way it looked and repeated an up/down movement of the camera with a slow shutter speed until I caught a blur I liked. For this I used the Fuji 10-24mm wide angle zoom on the X-T1. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fuji X-T1 camera freezing - Firmware 4.20 issue

Recently, my Fuji X-T1 began freezing up on me randomly. Turning the camera off did not even correct the issue. I had to pop the battery out to reset the camera -- and, of course, after using it a bit, the same thing would happen. I was ready to send the camera back to Fuji but began by searching the internet to see if anyone else had the same problem. Sure enough they did.

Apparently, the last 4.20 firmware update in December 17, 2015 was causing the problem. Fuji has issued a firmware replacement, version 4.21 to correct the problem. This is a stop-gap measure to roll back the camera to version 4.10 until Fuji can come up with a replacement fix.

Here is Fuji's statement on this firmware problem:

"We have found a malfunction in the firmware ver.4.20 launched on December 17 2015, which rarely causes freeze when shooting in AF-C mode. So we will suspend the disclosure of this firmware right away.

We apologize for your inconvenience which this may cause.

We will post an upgraded firmware around the end of January 2016 to solve it.

As a tentative solution for customers who have upgraded their cameras to firmware ver.4.20, we have prepared the new firmware version of 4.21 whose functions are same as the previous version of 4.10. Please update your cameras to ver.4.21 to avoid the malfunction."

If you are having this freezing problem, you can download the 4.21 temporary patch firmware here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Fuji 1.4x teleconverter -- a Hands-on review

The Fujifilm XF 1.4x TC WR teleconverter is intended to fit two lens -- the current 50-140mm f/2.8 zoom, and the 100-400mm to be released later this year -- multiplying their focal length ranges by 1.4x with a loss of only one f/stop. This makes the 50-140mm a 70-196mm f/4, and the variable aperture 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens a 140-560mm f/6.3-8 zoom, and means that the Fuji X mirrorless system now extends its optical system into the long telephoto range, albeit only with zooms.

Anytime you put a teleconverter on a lens, you are going to compromise the quality of the original optics. The real question is: How much lens quality are you going to sacrifice? The very best teleconverters are usually made by the lens manufacturer and are dedicated to a particular lens set in a way that minimizes the loss in quality. Many off brand converters, on the other hand, can be downright awful.

Because Fujifilm is known for its superb optics I went into this test thinking (and hoping) that the combination of the Fuji 50-140mm zoom plus 1.4x telextender would be capable of excellent results. I redid my tests four times, even changing cameras once, to be certain that the results I was seeing were true. They were.

The Fuji 1.4x teleconverter plus Fuji 50-140mm zoom lens mounted on an X-T1 camera makes for a hefty package. 

At wide open apertures the zoom/1.4x combo is showing corner softness, especially at the longer focal lengths.  I have included several downloadable test images below taken at various apertures so you can judge for yourself. Suffice it to say, for maximum sharpness over the full frame I would not advice anyone to shoot with a wide open aperture using this teleconverter. Stopping down at least one stop to f/5.6 or, preferably, two stops to f/8 will vastly improve the results in sharpness.

The adapter adds only a small amount to the overall length of the lens because much of its optics extend into the rear barrel of the zoom. 

The adapter adds only a slight 5/8" (1.5cm) extension to the lens. The telextender itself is much longer, but part of its optical system has been designed to fit inside the lens barrel of the zoom.

The 1.4x telextender adds only 5/8" to the overall length of the zoom. 

The normal auto-focus of the 50-140mm seems not to be affected with the addition of the telextender, however I did not try it on any moving subjects, such as fast moving animals. I expect that if you are satisfied with the performance of the 50-140mm zoom itself, you will also be satisfied with the AF performance of the added 1.4x telextender.

With the 1.4x attached the 50-140mm zoom now extends out to the range of Fuji's other telephoto zoom, the 55-200mm variable aperture f/3.5-4.8. I did a few test of one system against the other and the teleconverter plus 50-140mm did offer sharper performance, especially in center areas of the frame, than the 55-200mm zoom.

This image shows the lens plus telextender at full extension and f/5.6.   Download a high res version of this file by clicking here.

The lens is weather sealed with dust resistance, is comprised of 7 elements, and passes all information from the lens to the camera.

In this test the lens was set to the lower end of its zoom range at 70mm with the 1.4x for an equivalent of 105mm. Here, even with a wide open aperture of f/4, the performance was much improved over the longer focal lengths. Download a high res version of this file by clicking here. 

This test sequence provides a sample of the center sharpness of the lens plus telextender combo at three apertures.
Download a high res f/4 version of this file by clicking here.
Download a high res f/5.6 version of this file by clicking here.
Download a high res f/8 version of this file by clicking here.

This image demonstrates the selective focus ability of the lens and teleconverter when used wide open and in close.

Download a high res version of this file by clicking here.

Download a high res version of this file by clicking here.

This portrait, taken at the maximum zoom length of 294mm (equivalent) at f/4 shows the selective focus of the 1.4x plus zoom. 

Download a high res version of this file by clicking here.

The XF 1.4x teleconverter added to the 50-140mm zoom does not add excessively to the length of the lens. 


I am used to lavishing superlatives on the Fuji lenses. In general, they represent some of the best camera optics out there. The Fuji 1.4x telextender adds a much welcomed, pro-level, fast-aperture zoom to the lens lineup. It would have been nice if the telextender could be used on more than two lenses, but it is better to have had it designed specifically for overall performance than for simply for convenience.

Telextenders are a tough breed of optics to design correctly. I have used them -- both good and bad -- for many years, notably on the Nikon system cameras, and can appreciate the quality and effort needed to produce a top notch optical combo of telextender, fast aperture, and still preserve lens quality and AF speed. Fuji has done and excellent job of filling the bill with the XF 1.4x telextender. By extending the focal length range it will definitely make the 50-140mm f/2.8 zoom a more practical lens to carry around.

If you are planning on buying this camera or lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by clicking the link and purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Fujifilm XF1.4x TC WR teleconverter can be ordered for $449 from:
  BH-Photo    Amazon   Adorama

Download a high res version of this file by clicking here.