Posted on November 14, 2013
This is the first of a triptych that I call “drama by light”. I have the good fortune of a stunning view of the sunrise over the cultural expanse that is Queens, so I decided to capture a few of the most striking.
This particular photo strikes me as ‘contrast’, which I love in photography. What the sun does to our world fascinates me to no end. Deep shadows. Sparkling glare. Illumination of minute details that otherwise go unnoticed. The drama that early morning and late afternoon sunshine creates is amazing, but also very hard (at least for me) to capture on a camera sensor in a meaningful way. Most of my images end up being nothing but partly too bright and partly too dark, and it always takes quite a bit of adjusting to get the image I’m looking for. The reason I’m particularly fond of this image is because morning light like this moves so rapidly, and you literally have 10-15 seconds at most to get the shot before the light completely changes the scene and you’ve lost your shot forever.
I used a Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 lens set at f/5.6, -0.3EV here. The Zeiss 50mm 1.4 is a lens that gets so much criticism in online reviews, but I honestly don’t understand why. People bash it endlessly for being “soft” and for having “terrible optics”, but I think those opinions are mostly from people who expect every lens to be capable of every thing, and that’s just not how lenses work. Each lens is like an individual paintbrush, and no artist would ever use a single brush for everything they do. Just like brushes, lenses have solitary characteristics and solitary strengths and weaknesses. Learning what those are is part of the “art” of photography.
Posted on November 13, 2013
Sometimes hangin’ out and havin’ fun is what it’s all about.
I love the colors in this photo. I love the sharp sharp focus on the ball and the shoe. I love the body language between these two guys… it reminds me of the good old days hanging out when we were young with nothing to worry about. It’s just a fun image… that happened to be quite difficult to take.
I used a Zeiss 135mm f2 manual focus lens for this because it allowed me to stay far enough away and not disturb the energy of the scene, but also because it produces color profiles and super sharp focus like this. I shot it wide open at f/2, and let all of my breath leave me before I pressed the shutter to be as steady as possible to get that crisp focus point on the ball. This was late in the evening, so the shutter speed was fairly long at 1/40, so this was one of those times when I had to brace myself up against a street lamp to keep myself steady enough to get a crisp shot.
Posted on November 12, 2013
I don’t know what she was reading that day, but her beautiful hands were poetry in motion.
A Zeiss 135mm f2 APO SONNAR lens was used to capture these pretty piano hands. f/2.8. 1/2000. Usually the characteristics of my lens are what impress me about a photo, but this one was all about the composition… the beautiful hands being front and center with just the right amount in focus, and the slightly blurred background to let you know there is someone there without taking the focus off of the hands.
Posted on November 11, 2013
I came across these children having a conversation in Central Park, and couldn’t resist grabbing the shot. It was an adorable scene that came out exactly as I pictured it in my mind’s eye before I put the camera to my actual eye.
My main “people lens” is the Canon 135mm f2. I’m sure all the professional and enthusiast photographers reading this are fuming because I called it a people lens instead of a “portrait lens”, but people is a more accurate term for me than portrait so I’ll stick with it. You can’t take portraits of anyone in New York. Your only option for people photography is to position yourself far enough out of the scene so that you don’t interrupt it, and to use a long enough lens that will let you get a shot that feels like you’re right there with them. Too far away feels very detached and boring. Too close ruins the spontaneity. I also love pulling my subject out of the photo with a wide open aperture, and the Canon 135mm f2 does this beautifully.
Posted on November 10, 2013
Some images make you proud. Some make you smile. Some make you calm.
This photo was taken at the New York Botanical Gardens in The Bronx, and it turned out far better than I imagined it before I pressed the shutter button. The colors flow together in a way that I can’t really describe, and the image itself conveys s feeling of serenity when I look at it. It was shot with a Canon 85mm f1.2 lens with the aperture wide open with the focus point right in the center of the flower.
This is one of the first photos that made me love the concept of “shooting wide open”. I’m a complete sucker for background blur (bokeh) and pulling the subject out of the photo (subject isolation). The only way to do this is to learn to shoot with large apertures (smaller f numbers). One of the key points (of which there are many) about shooting wide open is that the classic focus-recompose method that most hobbyist photographers use won’t cut it. The depth of field is so incredibly narrow when your aperture is wide open, especially with a lens like the 85mm f1.2, that any movement during the shot will blur your focus point. At an aperture of 1.2, almost nothing is truly in focus anyway, and if you move to recompose, you are guaranteed to miss the focus.
With wide open shots, it’s critically important to anticipate the composition of your shot beforehand, change your focus point from the default center position to a more peripheral location that corresponds to the position of your subject within your planned composition, and then take your shot with as little movement as possible. Brace yourself up against a wall or a tree whenever possible, or use a tripod if you absolutely need to get the shot. It’s a more involved process than focus-recompose, but it’s the only way to get crisp focus on your subject when shooting wide open.
Posted on November 7, 2013
This is one of the first fallen leaves I came across in early September on a neighborhood basketball court. The evening sun was hitting is just right to make it stand out and catch my eye.
I used a Zeiss 28mm f2 manual focus lens mounted on a Canon 5D Mark III with the aperture wide open and my lens right at the minimum focus distance for the lens. I love the close-up with context view that shooting very close with a wide angle lens provides, and ever since I experimented with this technique, the minimum focus distance is probably the first spec that I look at whenever I’m considering a new lens. The usual alternative of using a macro lens for close-up work can also yield really great photos, but they are completely different than a close up with a wide angle. There is no context with a macro lens… it’s all about the detail of the object being captured. A close-up with a wide angle creates a story though, and that’s what I love about the technique.
This image came out of the camera with a very 3D look at feel that I loved as soon as the shot appeared on my screen, and it’s the photo that started me down the path of trying to perfect the “close-up with context” view.
Posted on November 5, 2013
Even the best wide angle lenses will distort your image to a certain extent, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you open your mind to the artistic “effect” lens distortion can create.
Lens distortion can sometimes lead to a Dali’ish sense of altered perception… a virtual reality of sorts which can create an image that will constantly attract you to it even though you know it’s wrong.
Every object in this photograph seems to be reaching towards the sunshine. It reminds me of those time-lapse videos we’ve all seen on National Geographic where plants grow and reach towards the sunlight. They distort themselves in unimaginable ways to get to their primal energy source… the sun. The buildings are reaching and you can imagine every one of the 10 million people in New York reaching right along with them. This image is just as energizing as the day was itself, and that’s why It carries a special place in my collection.
For this shot I used a Zeiss 15mm f2.8 wide angle Distagon lens, which is an absolute gem of a lens. It’s a truly incredible piece of glass. So precise. So refined. So well built. I found it quite difficult to create interesting shots with such a wide angle until I read a key piece of advice about wide angle photography… you can never, ever get too close. This shot isn’t about being close to anything, but that idea showed me a whole new way to use this lens that I hadn’t anticipated, and now it gets used so much more often. Stay tuned for what I mean about getting close with wide angle lenses…
Posted on November 5, 2013
This is such a fun mini-series of two photos taken at FDR Four Freedoms Park in New York. I was trying for an interesting composition with a large aperture to bring the railing and the stairs out of the image and away from the background, and as I was taking my shots a child walked in and pushed the stroller away. I didn’t even noticed that this had happened at the time because I was so focused on adjusting my composition, but it turned out to make a great matching set!
I shot these with the only autofocus lens I own, the Canon 85mm f1.2, which really lives up to the hype it gets about being a “magical” and incredibly sharp lens. It’s definitely a hard lens to use… there’s no debating that. But if you spend some time with it and learn what it’s strengths and weaknesses are, I’m sure you’ll see that it’s a special lens… Canon’s best in my very humble opinion. The aperture was set to 2.5 with a 1/5000 shutter speed and -1EV since it was a very bright sunny day. Zero post processing. Straight out of the camera.
Posted on November 4, 2013
Beautiful wine grapes at Roanoke Vineyards in Long Island… one of my favorite East Coast wineries. They have a wonderful sitting area outside near the vines, and on a bright sunny day like this one, it’s the perfect opportunity to grab a few grape shots.
This photo was taken with a manual focus Zeiss 135mm f2 APO SONNAR lens, which is one of my absolute favorite lenses. The bokeh it produces is incredible, and the manual focus ring is so soft and precise, almost like a finely fashioned surgical instrument (which I am ironically used to using in my professional life). My aperture was set to 2.5 with a shutter speed of 1/1600 and -0.7EV. As usual, there is zero retouching or post processing so this is straight out of the camera (Canon 5D Mark III).
All of the photos I shot this day were extremely difficult to get exposed correctly because the sun was so bright and the entire vineyard was essentially backlit. This taught me how important body positioning is for getting the right shot… using your body to block out, or create, shadows was the key here.
Posted on November 3, 2013
So few New Yorkers ever get to see the island of Manhattan from this vantage point with the majestic 59th Street Bridge framing the East River and the most stunning skyline in the world. It’s such a special photo for that reason alone, and distinguishes itself from all the other “New York pictures”. This isn’t just a picture… it’s a true photograph.
This is the sister image of the black & white version ‘where dreams come true’ that you saw earlier, but believe it or not, this is actually a different image. The two photos were taken separately, using the same camera, but taken separately… not just turned black and white in Photoshop. The composition is ever so slightly different, and it keeps the images unique and special. This image was also shot with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Zeiss 35mm 1.4 aperture manual focus lens stopped down to f/11. 30 second exposure time with a remote trigger. Tripod. No retouching or processing. This is straight out of the camera on Faithful color settings.
Posted on November 3, 2013
On the brand new @Vaperture twitter account, I chose to post the first photo I ever took as my first tweet. For the Vaperture blog, I’m going to do just the opposite and show you the very last photo I took… where dreams come true.
This was taken from a Roosevelt Island rooftop at about 9pm. I used a Canon 5DIII with a Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 manual focus lens set to f/11. 30 second exposure on a tripod with a remote trigger. No post processing… straight from the camera. It took me a few tries to get the composition I wanted, but this is one of my favorite pictures so far, and it’s head and shoulders better than my first-ever photos taken a few months back when I started this journey teaching myself digital photography.
Now I’m going to have to figure out a way to keep shooting on rooftops when it gets cold, and also how to get access to more rooftops in this city.
Posted on April 7, 2013