lead the way

zeiss 15mm f2.8 Distagon lens

‘This way to New York’… that’s what this photo says to me. The 59th Street Bridge leads the way to hopes and dreams every single day for millions of us, so this photo has a very special place in my collection

Managing the distortion to make wide angle lenses work for your photo is something that I’m still learning. The majority of the shots I take with ultra wide angles are booooring, but once I remind myself the rule of wide angles… YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO CLOSE, then my shots start getting interesting again. Only THEE most beautiful skylines and landscapes turn out the way you think they will with lenses as wide as this (Zeiss 15mm f2.8 Distagon). “Normal” scenes shot from normal distances get minimized so much with ultra wides that it creates the opposite effect of what you were trying to accomplish… your stunning expansive subject suddenly looks minuscule in the vast space captured around it by the lens. Using wide angles EXTREMELY close is the only technique I’ve found that undoes this effect, and it also creates some interesting perspectives because of the distortion.

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looking glass

photo taken with a zeiss 25mm f2 lens

I rarely get to take photos during that special time of the day when the light makes almost every photo you take a masterpiece (between 4 and 5pm in the summer), but when I do, I love what comes out of it.

This vine crawling along the concrete wall was interesting enough, but the dark shadow cast across it by a nearby railing took it to a different level for me. Each circle of the shadow frame a completely different perspective of the vine, and draws three or four separate little images in the same photo. It reminds of of photo editors who place their prints on the table and then examine each one with a monocle looking glass to choose the ones they want to use in the magazine.

This was shot with a Zeiss 25mm f2 lens mounted on a Canon 5D Mark III camera in that magic hour of light between 4 and 5pm in August of 2013.

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invitation

photo taken with zeiss 21mm f2.8 distagon lens

I love intense color that seems out of place with the rest of the scene. Colors that catch my eye always invite me over to take a look… and usually a photo.

These striking red umbrellas are put up every day right outside Four Freedoms Park next to a health-conscious food truck (that serves the most delicious mint iced tea on the planet by the way!). The park was about to close and the picnic area emptied out just in time to grab this photo. The contrast of the color with the evening shadows and the monochrome background that just is what the park is all about worked out wonderfully.

Taken with a Zeiss 21mm f2.8 lens, which is probably the one I would keep if someone told me that I had to get rid of all my lenses except one… It’s a true masterpiece of precision in every way.

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staycation

canon 135mm f2 lens autofocus portrait photography

New York is full of characters like this guy.Set up in the middle of Central Park with everything he needs to enjoy the day… and showing off his patriotism while he’s at it. I actually tried this shot with several different compositions, but the vertical space above the subject gives it something special. It makes it look like this guy really is in his own little world there with his umbrella, American flag, and roller skates.

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prayer

Zeiss 50mm f2 makro planar lens

This is one of those wonderful moments that you could easily walk right by and not ever notice if you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings.

Deep in prayer on the side of the road next to his petty cab in Central Park. The tree and the shadows hid the scene from plain view, but also framed the image in a spiritual way. This shot was taken with a Zeiss 50mm f2 Makro Planar lens mounted on a Canon 5D Mark III camera with a wide open aperture.

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four freedoms stroll

Canon 85mm f1.2 II lens sample photos

I couldn’t publish ‘four freedoms fall’ without showing you it’s sister photo.

It was just the right moment when everything was lined up and framed perfectly with these lovely ladies having a conversation while strolling down the perfectly aligned walkway in Four Freedoms Park. I love photos that tell a little story, and this one does just that.

I used a Canon 85mm f1.2 lens for this shot, and this is straight from the camera. No post processing, and it was actually shot as a JPEG in black and white.

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four freedoms fall

canon 85mm f1.2 lens

If you haven’t been to the new FDR Four Freedoms Park at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, put it on your schedule the next time you have a free afternoon.

The park has I don’t know how many cubic feet of beautiful white marble, and everything is arranged so linear and perfectly that it makes you realize very quickly how much effort went into this project. There’s a beautiful lawn for relaxing and sunning, and endless angles for anyone who likes to play with perspective in their drawing, painting, or photography. Plus, if you walk down to the most southern tip of the park, you can literally see all of southern Manhattan… it’s stunning!

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unfiltered two

zeiss 85mm f1.4 lens

This is the second photo in the ‘unfiltered’ series which was taken about 30 seconds after the first photo.

This shot was taken with a Zeiss 85mm f1.4 lens stopped down to f/5.6. I love how different the perspective is compared to the first image, how the sky seems to have opened up into this incredibly expansive horizon. The brighter colors became brighter, and the darker colors became darker for a fleeting second until this scene passed into a full on sunrise that was actually far less interesting. 

I think my favorite feeling in all of photography is capturing a moment that you know you will never have another chance to capture, and this was one of those.

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unfiltered one

Zeiss 135mm f2 manual focus lens

Crisp, clear winter mornings bring on some of the most stunning sunrises imaginable, and not only do you have to get up early enough to see them, but you only have about 20-30 seconds to capture each stage of it’s evolution.

This photo is the first of a two part mini-series, each part taken with a different lens for a different perspective at a different stage of the sunrise. I had to use two cameras to get these shots because the colors were changing so rapidly that I didn’t have time to switch my lenses. And as most of you know by now, I am a prime manual focus shooter, so time is truly of the essence.

I’m all about capturing pure moments with my photography, and I despise photo filters, so this series of sunrises is ‘unfiltered‘. Both are straight out of the camera with no processing or filters of any kind. ‘unfiltered one’ was taken with a Zeiss 135mm f2 apo sonnar manual focus lens with the aperture set to f/5.6 and -2/3 EV. This lens renders colors so beautifully… you can almost feel them, and I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

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reflection

photo of reflections in a puddle of water, new york photos, vaperture, nicholas vendemia photography

While taking a walk a few months ago, I got caught in a 30 second downpour that soaked me and my camera. On my way back home, the sun came out and a reflection of these tree limbs cast by the new light onto a puddle of rain water caught my eye.

The image was taken with a Zeiss 25mm f2 lens, which is one of my absolute favorites. It consistently draws it’s photos with a somber, darker, and subdued color profile that is somehow relaxing at the same time. It’s hard to describe without taking a few hundred photos with the lens, but I do love the cinematic look that this lens gives it’s images. This photo is different because I shot it in black and white to emphasize the reflections in a way that I was not able to do with several tries of shooting it in several different color profiles, but I think the qualities of this lens are worth mentioning. It’s small, light, has a wonderfully precise manual focus ring, and the extra 4mm of length that it has over the Zeiss 21mm actually makes more of a difference than you might think. I struggle to use the 21mm lens for my favorite style of close up with context photos because it’s always just a bit too wide for this application, but the 25mm f2 does this beautifully.

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remembered

FDR four freedoms park photos, black and white new york photos, vaperture photographer nicholas vendemia

Certain structures stand the test of time and deserved to be remembered.

This is a photo of a long-abandoned smallpox hospital located on the southern end of Roosevelt Island in New York. Native New Yorkers recognize the creepy image visible at night from almost anywhere on the eastern edge of Manhattan when it’s lit up in a very Shutter Island kind of way. This skeletonized building served as a haven for smallpox patients in the late 1800’s, and then as a nursing school in the early 1900’s before it was commissioned and fortified by the Landmark Preservation Society in the 1960’s. The building is now known as Renwick Ruin after it’s primary architect, and is commonly mistaken for an abandoned mental asylum, which is also located on the island, because of the eery nighttime lighting and rumors of it being haunted.

This photo captures that same eery feeling, except that it was taken during the daytime on an incredibly relaxing and comfortable day. The irony of creating this photo on a day where the park surrounding this facility was packed with people enjoying the weather was really memorable. I used a Zeiss 21mm f2.8 lens, which is probably the best overall lens in the Zeiss line up, even though the design is quite old. The 21mm is incredibly sharp with the most precise manual focus ring I’ve ever used. There is distortion for sure, but the way it renders actually improves the look and feel of the it’s photos.

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in the room

zeiss 100mm f2 makro planar lens

I love when a photograph makes you feel something…

This image actually feels a little creepy, like this suit of armor has someone in it, and that someone is standing right in the room with you. It’s a unique effect that I see quite frequently with the Zeiss 100mm f2 Makro Planar lens. It renders this overwhelming 3D quality in it’s images, more so than any other ZE-mount Zeiss lenses, which are all known for their pronounced micro contrast and 3D quality. I read quite a few skeptical remarks about this effect before I bought this lens, but after shooting a few thousand photos with it, I’m definitely a believer. I tried capturing this image with two outstanding Canon lenses (the 85mm 1.2 and the 135mm 2.0), but neither of them produced an image like this… not even close.

This image is not for sale because this belongs to The Met, and to everyone who supports the museum with their donations. Here are a few other photos from my visit (all taken with the Zeiss 85mm f1.4 or the 100mm f2 Makro-Planar):

the photograph

Zeiss 100mm f2 makro-planar lens

Several months ago, I went to a photography exhibition at The Met. The featured artist was Julia Margaret Cameron, and if you haven’t seen her work yet, I highly recommend that you give yourself the pleasure. The exhibit is open until January 5th, 2014.

Julia’s photography centers around her experimentation with exposure times to create a depth of feeling in her photos that I’ve never experienced before, and her intense passion for her work is palpable in every single piece.

As I was wandering through the hall, I came across this description plaque that not only summed up the entire exhibit, but also my goal to one day capture an image that I feel this way about.

‘The photograph is the embodiment of a prayer.’

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perfection

Zeiss 135mm f2 apo sonnar lens

I’ve never seen a more perfect backyard in my life.

This photo was taken in Mystic, CT as I was walking off a lobster roll lunch through the quaint little neighborhoods on the water. The sailboats are just so tranquil and serene that I can’t imagine the owner of this house, or anyone in the neighborhood for that matter, having any ounce of stress in their lives.

It was shot with one of my favorite travel lenses, the Zeiss 135mm f2 APO SONNAR, and for all the photogs out there, yes I am aware of the vignetting here, but I actually like it. I don’t think that vignetting deserves the automatic criticism it gets in most online forums. Depending on how the vignetting is rendered, it can actually add to the look and feel of a photograph just like quality bokeh can. Choppy busy bokeh can ruin a photo, and so can poor quality vignetting, but on the flip side, properly rendered vignetting can turn an average photo into something special just like a creamy soft bokeh does for the right subjects.

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stages

Zeiss 28mm f2 manual focus lens, close up with context photos from vaperture.com, nicholas vendemia photography

Believe it or not, I actually took this photo in late August… Fall was a little confused this year. I love the incredibly sharp detail in the green leaf, which is where my focus point was, and that the shot captured all the various stages of color change, all at once, and all lying next to each other on the ground.

I’ve mentioned this before on this site, but one of the most enjoyable techniques I’ve learned since I started in photography is the “close-up with context” technique where a wide angle lens is used in an atypical way to take a macro type shot.

I say ‘an atypical way’ because we don’t typically think of using wide angle lenses for anything other than landscapes or cityscapes where we’re trying to capture large expanses. It takes a fairly special lens to be able to do this, a very steady hand, and lots and lots of practice to nail the focus when you are literally right on top of your subject with your camera. Your wide angle lens needs to be able to focus within a few inches of your subject, which is a rare find, and you have to find a body position that allows you to minimize your hand shake so that the details aren’t obscured by blurring.

For these types of shots, I use the live view feature on my camera, and I’m usually crouching down with the camera and lens steadied on both hands literally inches away from whatever I’m trying to capture. I keep emphasizing “inches away” because you will be surprised how close you have to be to your subject the first time you try shooting close up with a wide angle lens. I then manually focus on the most impressive details in the shot, focus on being as still as possible, let all of my breath leave me (like a sniper), and gently press the shutter button. It’s much, much harder than it sounds, but once you master it you won’t ever want to use your real macro lens again (I actually sold mine) because the wide angle shots are so much more interesting with the surrounding context that the wider view gives the image.

For this particular photo, I used a Zeiss 28mm f2 lens set at an aperture of 4.0. This lens has an exceptionally short minimum focus distance, and a drawing style that is unique within the Zeiss line, and most comparable to that of the 50mm 1.4 lens. It’s not a super sharp architectural style lens. It’s an artistic lens that’s more comparable to a paint brush than a piece of camera glass.

Give the ‘close up with context’ technique a try sometime, and see if it makes you forget about your macro lens too…

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blue

Zeiss 25mm f2 lens

All of my favorite shades of blue in the same photograph. I used the Carl Zeiss 25mm f2 lens for this shot because I knew that it would render the colors with this subtle subdued kind of feeling to them. It never gives that over-vibrant look that resembles a filter like some other lenses would have with this scene. It’s a special lens with a really unique drawing style that is quite different than its little cousin the 28mm f2.

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it’s just so

Zeiss 85mm f1.4 manual focus lens

I was once having a conversation with a friend about our favorite times of the day to take photos, and she told me about an interesting article she read. It was about a photographer based in the UK who made a personal mission out of turning the dreary, colorless light that he sees day in and day out into interesting photos.

Since I normally gravitate towards the light of the late evening when the shadows are strong and the colors are made vibrant by the harsh angle of the setting sun, I thought I would challenge myself and experiment with shooting on a cloudy, ultra-blah day. I went to a rooftop on a drizzly, cold, cloudy Sunday afternoon… a day where the light sucks the color and energy right out of everything. I shot until I felt that I had run out of ideas for composition, returned to the office, and uploaded my photos to the big screen.

As I was scrolling through my shots, feeling depressed because I wasn’t happy with any of them, the same friend happened to wander through the room and said “Wait, go back to that one.” Here’s how the rest of the conversation went…

  • Me: “This one?”
  • Friend: “Yes, that one. I love that one!”
  • Me: “Really? Why?”
  • Friend: “I don’t know. It’s just so __________ !” 

I took another look and realized that she was totally right.

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creation

sunrise over queens in new york city, canon 35mm f1.4 lens

‘creation’. The third part of the drama by light series.

The rising sun appears to be creating the entire sky like the stroke of a brush across a canvas. I’ve looked at this photo hundreds of times since I took the shot, and it feels the same to me every time I see it, even if I’m just scrolling through my collection.

Ironically, this photo was shot with a lens that I no longer own: a Canon 35mm f1.4. I bought the lens because it has consistently great reviews across the board, and quite a few people described it as a “special” lens, which I am always intrigued by because I  enjoy photography for the art of photography rather than for merely documenting the world around me. The lens didn’t compare in any way, shape, or form to my Zeiss 35mm 1.4 manual focus lens, and using autofocus lenses just doesn’t fit well with me. I feel as though autofocus speeds up the artistic process and turns it into a rush of taking pictures rather than taking real photographs. The extra few seconds that it takes to manually focus allows me to leave everything behind and concentrate on the composition, the light, where the focus lies within the image, and makes me feel like I’m creating something special.

I returned the lens, but this photo is here to stay.

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rain

zeiss 135mm f2 manual focus apo sonnar lens

Rain drops being held by a fallen leaf in between a few rays of evening sunlight after a storm.

There isn’t much to say about this photo other than it’s a beautiful photo that I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to see, capture, and have in my collection. I used a Zeiss 135mm f2 APO SONNAR lens for this, which is not a macro lens, and has a minimum focus distance of a few feet, so it was quite a challenge to get the focus this sharp since this wasn’t really the right tool for the job, but it’s what I had with me when the opportunity presented itself.

When life gives you lemons, make some delicious lemonade.

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control

evening light on the queensborough bridge photo, carl zeiss 85mm f1.4 lens

‘control’ as the second part of the drama by light triptych. 

I adore this photo for it’s striking energy. It’s bold, incredibly sharp and detailed, and very powerful. That’s only a small part of why I adore it though. I’m enamored with this shot because of the technique it took to get it. I shot this indoors through a filthy window with smears and streaks all over it with the sun reflecting off the water right into the window making the streaks stand out even more. The sun blasting the dirt on the window made the scene in this photo almost invisible if you weren’t looking for it, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that none of it showed up in the shot.

This is where manual focus lenses, controlled technique, and steady hands really shine. I don’t think this shot would have been possible with an autofocus lens. The camera’s sensors would have constantly focused on the window streaks and the real image would have been a mess in the background of a dirty window. Instead, I was able to control the focus with my own eye and hands, and that control allowed me to create a completely different image that is almost as sharp and detailed as if the window had not been there at all. I used a Carl Zeiss 85mm f1.4 lens here, which is another lens that gets bashed quite frequently for being “soft”, but clearly that isn’t true. It’s a hard lens to use, as are all manual focus lenses, but it’s definitely a “brush” that I want sitting on my easel.

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