Enhance Your Photography: Look Into the Smaller “Landscapes”

 

My personal work includes a lot of landscape shooting, and I usually try to take in a large swath of territory. I often like the grand vistas, the sweeping plains and looming mountains. In urban landscapes I might include wide-angle shots of buildings crowded together, along with bustling streets and milling people. But sometimes it’s the things at my feet that intrigue me too. Here’s a few images from a trip to Bodie, California, a 100+ year-old ghost town built around a gold and silver mine.

These were originally shot in digital color and converted to black and white.

These images are all from the machinery used to extract the gold and silver from the rock ore.

_MG_5783 stamps copy

 

_MG_5773 nuts copy

_MG_5779 detail copy v copy

Techniques for Floral Photography; or Any Photography

Here’s a cool article by C David Tobie on photographing flowers, with emphasis on options, composition, focus, color, combining elements, and much, much, more.

http://cdtobie.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/techniques-for-floral-photography-or-any-photography/

© CD Tobie

Photography Quote of the Day – April 9, 2012

Ladybug, © Sue Saffir

All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget.  In this – as in other ways – they are the opposite of paintings.  Paintings record what the painter remembers.  Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it.  ~John Berger

 

Take a look at the WORKSHOPS tab above for info on our new Palouse Photo Workshop, June 2012!

Photography Quote of the Day – 4/5/12

Image

Butterflies are self-propelled flowers – Robert Heinlein

 

Take a look at the WORKSHOPS tab above for info on our new Palouse Photo Workshop!

Photography / Quote of the Day – Feb 24

"Patience" © D. Saffir

“Follow the spiders? Follow the spiders?! Why couldn’t it be “follow the butterflies”? – from Harry Potter

Take a look at our Photography workshop in the Palouse in June 2012!!

Review: Mamiya DF Camera and Mamiya DM56 Digital Back

Not too long ago I wrote a review of the Mamyia AFDIII and the Leaf 22MP back. At the time, I felt it was an excellent camera, and I still do.

In this report, I’ll cover my recent experience with another Mamiya camera and digital back: the Mamiya DF body, and the Mamiya DM56 digital back. Since space is limited on the blog, I’ll hit the high points as I see them.

Bottom line: a greatly improved, highly flexible camera body that, coupled with this digital back, delivers superb image quality. I have a few nitpicking suggestions, but overall this camera is impressive.

New Mamiya DF Body and Mamiya DM56

Dan Cuny, of Mamiya/Mac Group, came to the SCV Center for Photography in Santa Clarita and provided camera gear for us to use. We started the day with a live demo for a number of photographers from the local area, shooting still life.

The camera feels robust and well made. The viewfinder is big and bright, and the in-viewfinder indicators are easily read. We used two lenses: the 80mm f/2.8 lens supplied with the camera, and a manual-focus 120mm macro lens. The camera is very well balanced with either lens mounted. I’ve found that I can work all day without suffering undue fatigue.

The camera can be used with focal-plane, or leaf shutter lenses. Highest sync speeds are reported up to 1/1600. The DF camera body is compatible with existing 645AFD lenses.

The camera was equipped with a Mamiya DM56 digital back. This back provides excellent resolution, 12 stops of dynamic range, and true 16-bit capture. Color rendered by this back is terrific – vibrant, very accurate, and totally clean.

The large, bright screen on the back makes it easy to view images and manage the controls – although performance in direct sunlight could still be improved.

Autofocus feels appreciably faster than previous camera bodies, and reports from others who have tried this camera confirm this.

We set up a Calumet shooting table, and several monolights. We started out with high-key lighting, but switched later on to a more dramatic approach. The shooting table is ideal for this work, providing a smooth, clean translucent plexi surface that allows totally flexible light placement.

Setting Up At The SCV Center for Photography

We shot with the camera tethered to a Mac Book Pro, using the provided 14-foot long Firewire 800 cable. Leaf Capture 11.3 was used to manage capture and image processing.

The Indian bowl we photographed (a personal possession of mine) was initially shot using high-key lighting, with the camera mounted on a tripod. We used a Sekonic hand-held meter to measure exposure, and a PocketWizard Plus to trigger lighting from the camera.

Note the clean contrast lines in the bowl:

High Key

And here’s a version with more directional lighting:

Note lack of shadow noise

Note how clean the shadows are; virtually no luminance or color noise. We were using ISO 100, one step (albeit a relatively small one) above base ISO of 80.

I was quite surprised by this; conventional wisdom concerning high pixel density is that shadow noise will be significant – but not in this case. I used virtually no noise reduction in the images shown in this article – although I can’t say for sure that there isn’t some processing going on in the guts of the digital back. Regardless, performance exceeded expectations.

We also shot a still life of some sea shells. Note the rendering of subtle colors, and in the second image, the sharpness and detail. Impressive.

Shot W/ Macro Lens

Shell Detail

Later in the testing, I had the opportunity to photograph a model in a studio setting. I often use low-key, dramatic lighting in my personal work. The lighting setup was created by a friend, Ron Brewer – I tweaked it a bit, and this is the result:

The highlight/shadow transitions are clean, and free of noise. Also note the high level of detail around the eye (below). These images are not retouched, other than a basic levels/curves adjustment.

Crop from full portrait

The nitpicks? The thing that bugs me the most is the location of the Auto exposure lock button – it is placed toward the outer side of the camera grip – and I found myself having to adjust my hold on the camera to reach it.

The digital back viewscreen, like just about every one out there, is very difficult to see in bright light outdoors, much less direct sun. It is, however, great in other circumstances. Don’t know if this is a solvable problem; at least Hasselblad provides an LCD view of the histogram on top of the camera grip.

And last, battery life, as with all MF digital cameras I’ve used, is less than I’d like. I realize the battery has to power the guts of the back, and the preview screen, but I’m still blasting through several batteries a day outdoors. If Nikon and Canon can make batteries that go a full day, why can’t the MF manufacturers?

Last but not least:

Say what you will about performance of high-end DSLRs, there’s still a noticeable difference between 14-bit capture and medium format 16-bit capture, in color fidelity and accuracy – and as good as DSLR lenses are now, it’s still true that MF lenses are hard to beat.

The flexibility of the camera is very good – given the sync speed, choice of shutters/lenses, software (Phase One or Leaf), and ergonomics. Whether you shoot weddings, studio, fashion, or landscapes, it’s worth a look. I haven’t shown them in this article, but the images I took on location are just as good as those provided here. (by the way, outside temps were over 100F one day!)

And a parting thought: this latest Mamiya incarnation has a new feeling of sophistication and polish that comes through
every time I pick it up. It’s a shooter’s camera.

Link to New Workshops – June 2012 Photo Workshop in the Palouse!

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Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation from Mamiya or Mac group in exchange for writing this article.

Creating Deep Black Backgrounds for Your Images

Written by guest author, Ron Brewer

A dark background can draw the viewer’s attention into an image, and create a dramatic effect that is unique and compelling. Subtleties of lighting in the foreground or mid-ground, for example, become more noticeable and have great impact on the “feeling” of the image.

The easiest, quickest way to create a black background for your image is to make it happen in-camera and not in post-production work (such as in Photoshop).

A Dark Background Adds Dramatic Impact © R Brewer

Setup

Shoot in a dimly lit room. Use a light source that falls only on the subject. The speedlight (flash) you use in your camera’s hotshoe will work fine for this, but you will want to take it off-camera to create this effect. A remote trigger is best.

And if you don’t have a speedlight, don’t fear. You can even use a flashlight (more on this is a later post).

The first method you could use involves use of a black piece of material in the background of the shot. Place the background at least 4-6 feet behind the subject. Keep the light that is on your subject from illuminating the background, so it stays dark in the image.

I prefer a different method. It is called “working above the ambient” by David Hobby of Strobist fame (www.strobist.com). This method is rather easy to create indoors. It can be done outdoors, but in this case, we are going to focus on an indoor shot.

We want to eliminate the influence of ambient light in the picture. The only light you will be working with will be from the flash. Your camera’s exposure will be set so as not to pick up any ambient light, and then you will bring the power of the flash to the right setting to get a proper exposure on the subject. Sounds challenging? Experiment and it will quickly become second nature.

Image Creation

  1. Use a room or space that has low light
  2. Set your ISO to 100 or 200; at least the lowest “native” setting offered in your camera
  3. Set camera to manual exposure
  4. Set shutter speed to highest available flash sync, usually 1/125, 1/200, or 1/250
  5. Take a test shot without flash. Set aperture small; anywhere from f/11 to f/22. You want the result to be a completely black frame.
  6. Evaluate the histogram. Increase aperture size (from f/22 to f/18 for example) by steps until you start to see ambient light in the frame, and back off to the previous setting.

    © R Brewer

    Next, you’ll start working on lighting the subject. We’ll discuss using flash first:

    1. With your flash off-camera, set it to a power that is sufficient to properly expose your subject. You might start with the flash about two feet from the subject and to its side (for example, let’s say the subject is something small, like a single flower bloom). Try setting the power to 1/128 or whatever the lowest power setting is on your flash. Take the shot and check the LCD and histogram. If the shot is over exposed, then lower the power of the flash or move it farther away from the subject
    2. If under exposed, then up the power of the flash or move the flash either closer away until the proper exposure is achieved.
    3. Do not adjust the camera exposure settings or you will start recording the ambient light again. Camera exposure settings are set to remove the ambient light from the picture, not to set the exposure of the subject.
    4. Put another way: set the exposure for the subject by adjusting the power setting on the flash or by changing the distance between the flash and subject. In essence, you are going to adjust the amount of light on the subject until it properly exposes the subject at the exposure settings you have already set into your camera.

      Setting Up For A Dark Background

      (red circle is the subject)

      Enhancements

      1. If you find that you are still getting some light on the background, then use something to block the light from hitting the background. Such items are called a “gobo” which will “cut” the light. You can even use a small piece of cardboard. Set the cardboard up close to the flash head, placing it between the flash head and the background. The light will hit the cardboard and be blocked from hitting the background.
      2. Using a black background in your shots will provide a unique look to your photographs. Using a black background makes the foreground colors of the subject really pop. And it guides the viewer’s eye to go straight to the main subject and not drift out of the borders.
      3. With practice, you’ll find that this is a very simple process which you can execute very quickly in most indoor situations. Not only is it a lot of fun, you can end up with some great pictures.

        Written by Ron Brewer, January 2010 www.ronbrewerimages.com

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