Thursday, January 30, 2014

Leopard Looking Out

Leopard Looking Out - 1DX, 200-400 @ 325mm, f/4, 1/500s, ISO 400
My month of focusing on black & white photography is about to come to an end and I can think of no better image to wrap things up than a beautiful Leopard on a branch looking out over his territory.  On my recent Botswana trip I made a lot of images featuring Leopards and for my the ones the I convert to black & white are the ones I enjoy the most.  I think its the combination of the patterns from the Leopard's spots and the texture from the tree branch that do it for me.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Geometry in Clouds

Geometry in Clouds - D800e, Zeiss 15, f/11, 62s, ISO 100
I made this image last fall while at Grand Teton National Park.  It was a challenging trip because we weren't treated to many (i.e. any) spectacular sunrises or sunsets but there was plenty of cloud.  On an evening drive looking for fall color, elsewhere the clouds broke and there was a bit of sunset color.  In the afterglow of that color, I saw a row of trees in their fall color and clouds moving behind very quickly.  So I pointed the camera up to capture as much of the clouds as possible, leaving the trees to anchor the image.  The neat surprise was that during the 62 second exposure, the winds shifted, so instead of the usual straight line streaks of clouds, the lines are all broken up which for me adds more interest to the sky.

I had struggled with what to do with this image.  In afterglow the entire sky had a warm reddish hue but that color palette wasn't that interesting to me.  Then last night, I came across this image again and since I've been focusing on black & white images these past few weeks, it became obvious that I should convert it; removing color and focusing on the lines and geometry in the clouds instead.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reaching for a Meal

Reaching for a Meal - 1DX, 200-400 @ 448mm, f/6.3, 1/125s, ISO 1600
This adolescent bull kept using his trunk to reach the palm leaves up top for is meal.  It was interesting watching him wrap his trunk round and round trying to pull the leaves down.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Contrast in Black & White Photography

Engrossed - Leica MM, 50 Summilux, ~f/1.4, 1/90s, ISO 320
Having sufficient contrast to create visual interest is important to me for black & white imagery.  I know that there are many artists that make black & white imagery with low contrast, opting for a flatter tonal palette but for me, most of my monochrome images need those deep blacks.

One of the challenges with working with the Leica M Monochrom is the combination of its fairly flat response combined with the desire to preserve highlights (especially if highlight detail is important to you) as recovering highlights is even harder with this camera than a color digital sensor.  This means that 'properly' exposed images can appear a bit flatter straight out of camera.

The above image is what it looked like straight out of camera.  The exposure is ideal because highlight detail is preserved even for the brightest tones.  In many scenes, I would appreciate the subtle dark tones and may even want to accentuate it but not in this case.  I wanted tonal contrast to bring attention to the face and the eyes.  Without color information to manipulate the tonal relationships, one turns to just simple dodging and burning to get there.

In general, I find working with Leica M Monochrom files to be different from most other cameras' files.  Lightroom's tonal control sliders seem to respond a little differently (especially shadows) and my workflow is a little different.

Under-exposed Leica MM files at ISO 320
The Leica MM's ability to pull detail out of the shadows is also impressive; though users of Sony's EXMOR sensors have been enjoying this for a while.

Same file as above but with final processing
The typical danger is lifting shadows a lot (apart from the noise) is that you can end up with a flat image, so manipulating tones to retain contrast is important.

Unfortunately my choice of subjects is fairly limited, given my restricted movement.  Still, last week I went out to the exotic location of a Home Depot parking lot.  The little one was asleep in the back and so I was relegated to remain in the car with her, parked in the shade.  Nothing else to do but stare at trees, leaves and pavement, photographs present themselves, even if they aren't going to win any awards.

Bark and Leaves - Leica MM, 90 APO Summicron, ~f/9.5, 1/80s, ISO 320
It wasn't until about an hour that I noticed the bark and the leaves both in shade and in the sun and the contrast of all the different textures.

Sony A7r, 55 FE, f/1.8, 1/60s, ISO 2000
Not everything has been about the Leica MM though, I've also really been enjoying the output of the Sony A7r both in color and black & white.  Combined with the superb 55mm f/1.8 FE lens, I get sharp files and great tonality even at higher ISOs.

I'm about 2/3 of the way through my month of monochrome and though I've only made 6 posts so far on this blog, I have been spending time looking at a lot of files and playing with conversions and processing images.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Icicles on Branches

Icicles and Branches - 5D3, 24-70 II @ 70mm, f/11, 1/250s, ISO 100
I made this image back in March of last year on a trip to Lake Tahoe.  While the others were skiing, I was out on a shoot with +Josh Haftel+Dan Hughes and +Grayson Lang trying to make long exposures with the overcast skies.  We noticed these ice covered branches and a couple of us took turns making images with different compositions.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Waves on a Beach

Waves on a Beach - Leica S2, 120mm, f/13, 1/250s, ISO 160
Back in April 2012, friend and former co-worker +Eric Chan and I went to Point Lobos for a morning of photography.  We had a pair of Leica S2 bodies and a full complement of S lenses (courtesy of Leica and our employer) and so we walked and made a lot of photos.  I recall it being very windy later that morning so the waves were pretty big.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Juvenile Elephant

Juvenile Elephant - 1DX, 200-400 @ 376mm, f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 200
The shape of this youngster's ears along with the texture of his skin is what I was really after here.  The little guy was moving towards us and when you are in a stopped vehicle, you can't easily adjust your position to clean up foregrounds and backgrounds.  In an ideal world the blurred elephant in the back wouldn't be there and neither would the vegetation in the front.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Kumquat Shapes and Textures

Kumquat Shapes and Textures - Leica MM, 90 Summicron, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 640
I learned photography in a somewhat formal setting about 9 years ago when I took a community college class on photography (and when I retire from my current profession, I see an MFA in photography in my future).  We were taught all the usual stuff, how exposure works, rules of composition and so on.  One of the things that we learned but has been pushed to back of my mind was elements of visual design.  We were taught that there were ten: dot, line, shape, texture, tone, color, scale, movement, direction and dimension.  I've been doing a bunch of reading and it seems that these elements of visual design, or visual composition are somewhat varied.  In some texts there are only 7 and fewer in others and some are called something different.  I don't claim my list is definitive, only that it was what I was taught.

The thing I find interesting is that of the ten, color is only one and the rest are independent of color.  We were also taught to be careful about the number of visual elements we included in our photography.  Too much would increase the cognitive load and so sometimes as a photographer you had to work to remove an element.  As a result a lot of photographers convert a color image to black & white as to remove color from the visual load bringing the focus on other elements.  Of course it doesn't always have to be color you can reduce the others like say movement (by shooting a faster shutter speed) or dimension (by avoiding layering of planes or perspective) or tone (by processing to push finer tones together).

When I typically make black & white images, I use the color information to bring forth other visual elements (usually dot, tone, shape or line).  If I had used a color base image for this one I would have likely used the color (i.e. hue) difference between the orange kumquat and the green leaves to make the little round circular kumquats pop out against the leaves.  I would make yellow/greens map to darker tones and orange to lighter tones.  But what I saw was a touch of sun light highlighting the edges of the leaves.  So with no color information and just a lot of black and white tones I adjusted my post processing so that the shape of leaves were emphasized and the attention brought to their texture (which one sees better when viewing this as a large print).  I don't claim this is a better way (or even a good way) to make black & white images.  Its different and it is forcing me to break my habit (or perhaps over dependence) on hue to make black & white images.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Pepper Tree and Leaves

Pepper Tree and Leaves - A7r, 55 FE, f/3.2, 1/50s, ISO 1600
I managed to hop out into the backyard to find an interesting subject to photograph.  We have two pepper trees in the yard and I've always found their leaves to be interesting especially in the afternoon light and against the darker trunk and evergreens in the background.  I am still debating it but I'm considering spending the next month concentrating purely on black and white images.