Thursday, June 18, 2015

Last Night of the Frühlingsfest

On the last evening of the Frühlingsfest in Bad Cannstatt there are always fireworks to mark the end of three weeks of revelry. After the smoke has cleared, there are 45 minutes left for a last drink, a last ride, a last kiss. Hoping to capture all this, I first took my gear to the river and waited. 

My idea was to capture the fireworks in the reflection of the river, which was nice and calm that evening. I had both my Sony A7 and RX100 with me. I set up everything and made sure I knew where everything was in case I had to leave my hiding place in the dark. It was already 9:45 p.m. and there was not much light left when the show started. At 1/6 sec. this shot reveals much of the surroundings.

Turning a similar shot on its head creates a somewhat surreal image, but this is exactly what I was hoping to capture: the dissipating flames waving in the ripples of water.

Later in the show the gathering smoke and increased darkness resulted in images that Carl Sagan may have liked for his show Cosmos.

Others resembled something more like the flowery delights that would thrill a botanist.

In 2012 I shot the Fest-ending fireworks show from the fairgrounds with an old 100-300mm lens. I ended up focusing on the iPad that the guy in front of me was filming the show with. The results looked something like this. (By the way, the pictures immediately preceding and following this bit of text were the only ones from the expensive A7 that I have chosen to show here. More on that later.)

 The smoke blew across the fairgrounds as I packed up and headed over the bridge - where all the other photographers had been standing!

A 5 sec. exposure of the bungee capsule revealed how it twists as it yo-yos up and down on its lifelines.

Time for a last ride and then what? Wait till the Wasenfest in October.

Soon the last Bratwürste were being sold off at half price to the hungry throngs. Many owners shut down early to avoid the last drunken hour.

It all has to be packed up and put away until the next fair - perhaps next week in Strasbourg.

Literally minutes after the last Wilde Maus rollercoaster coasted to a halt, these men were up on the tracks unbolting things bit by bit.

P.S.  As I mentioned earlier, this evening's better camera - and my personal favorite - was the RX100. The little Sony is inconspicuous, silent and helps you make excellent photographs. While playing around a bit with exposures during the fireworks show, I noticed a repeated frame pattern at the top and bottom of the underexposed images taken (at 200 ISO) with the A7. Perhaps you don't want to worry about any photographs you underexpose by 4-5 stops, but when shooting something like fireworks, you never know what exposure may end up to be the most interesting. In any case, I would be very interested to know if anyone else out there has noticed this issue. And if so, what do you think is the cause of this pattern? 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Still life

Recently my wife and three children went to visit Oma for a long weekend. I had to stay home and prepare for a wedding I was going to photograph. After they finished waving sayonara through the sunroof of our receding Renault, I re-entered our house and discovered that I already missed its other occupants. I sat down at the piano and played for an hour - uninterrupted - and then made myself a nice meal, enjoying it at my pace and to the strains of my music.
There were no proverbial fires to put out, nor were there any time constraints on me for the next three days. I was looking forward to it.
After breakfast the next morning, however, I began to miss the noise, the chaos, the life that has become our home. How many of you can relate to that? I looked around the house with a sense of nostalgia - a feeling of yearning for the chaos to return. Being the (only) one who prefers order over random patterns of strewn shirts, fallen wrappers, and endless charger cords, I had to trade my sanity for what you see in these photographs. Granted, these are mostly detail shots - you don't want to see the full extent of the chaos! - but that was the purpose of this exercise: to see the everyday with a new eye. Not only was I bringing the family back to my consciousness, I was creating abstract compositions from what bit of life still remained.
As you look at the pictures enjoy this poem by Al Zolynas, which I think complements my idea well.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Exhibition in Bad Cannstatt

The German & American Artist Group invites you to its next exhibition, which opens on Friday, May 22, 2015, at 7 pm. The show is at the historical town hall in Bad Cannstatt (Marktplatz 2, 70372 Stuttgart) and runs through June 9.

Here are the pictures I'll be showing. They are from a series of pictures taken from the ground up, looking at nature as an ant might.

Poppies and Corn Flowers (60 x 60 cm on canvas)

Mainau (60 x 80 cm on canvas)

Strawberries (60 x 60 cm on canvas)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Using a fish-eye lens for events

The fish-eye experience, Part 3

Just because a fish-eye lens distorts the scene in front of it, that is no reason to shy away from using it at events. On the contrary! I've even used it on my second camera at weddings. It turns out I'm not the only one. Gene Ho gave an interesting talk on just that subject at B&H Photo in 2012. The physics of the glass enlarges whatever is closest to it, thus emphasizing it.

The great thing about using a super wide angle lens is that you can get really close. At an event such as a wedding or, as below, at an antique automobile show where people expect for you to take their picture, you can go right up to them and capture a unique perspective.

You don't always get close enough to talk with people at events such as these, but the gentlemen here - and their wives - were eager to tell me all about their luxurious automobile. With just one or two photos I was able to capture many of the details of this nice old car. 

But even if people aren't your favorite subject matter, with a fish-eye at the flea market, for example, you can highlight something that catches your eye and still let the viewer get a taste of the surrounding atmosphere. 

With friends or family you can play with perspective and see things in a new light.

Speaking of light, as with any wide angle lens, light will enter the lens ... from a wide angle! In some cases that may detract from the resulting photograph in that light flares might mar the picture. On the other hand, you can also use the light for nice effects.
On a photo walk last summer I stopped down the lens to f16 and positioned myself so that the sun shone through right between the camera and the photographer in front of me.

And during a photo session with my niece, I was thrilled to position myself while she danced so that I wouldn't miss her jumps, yet still have the glare of the sun above and the shadow from that light all in the same frame. The slight distortion in the picture (after I had processed some of it out) helps highlight her as she is closer to the lens than the light above or the shadow on the ground.

At the Carnival in Cologne in 2014 the sunlight was amazing the day of the big parade. I'm glad I had the fish-eye lens with me. It allowed me to focus on the main motif and still show the radiance of the surrounding light and lusciousness of the resulting shadows. 

And, again, one is able to get close, focus on the subject and embed it in its surroundings. 

On a final note, using an 8mm lens (12mm equivalent on a Sony APS-C sensor) allows you to capture scenes that you otherwise simply wouldn't be able to. Here I put my Sony A77 on the ground with the screen flipped up so I could see if we were all in, used the remote control to shoot it and got this shot of the group from the Worldwide Photo Walk in Tübingen in 2014.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Using a fish-eye lens for architectural photography

The fish-eye experience, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we saw some of the fun you can have with a fish-eye lens and learned what you have to watch out for when using one.
As with any architectural photography, the lines and light are the main elements and should be kept in mind at all times. When using a fish-eye lens, however, your lines often turn into curves, especially on the edges of your frame. In the photograph below you can see how the lines of the spiral staircase actually complement the curvature of the framing window, as do the round-back chairs in the café.

Café in downtown Stuttgart
As with any wide-angle lens, your photograph will be focused over a large depth-of-field, especially if you are trying to get the maximum amount of sharpness out of your lens. Take some test shots in good light to find the best aperture for your lens. The sharpest aperture is usually two stops down from wide open.
These photos were made with the Walimex f3.5/8mm ASP-C fish-eye lens for Sony. (Walimex is also sold under the names Samyang and Rokinon.) I usually shoot at f8 but if there is enough light, I'll stop it down to f11 or f16, as in the image below. When you close the aperture so tight, your light sources will appear star-like.

Tempodrom in Berlin
Putting yourself in the picture: Architectural selfies

In 2013 the word of the year was "selfie", so why not use it in 2014? I'm sure you have used the word and the technique of pointing the camera at yourself and clicking the shutter!
But do you think of your background when taking one? That's probably the most interesting thing in a selfie after looking at 100 pictures of yourself, don't you agree?
With a fish-eye lens it is often difficult NOT to get in the picture. If I don't lean forward and shoot straight, I invariably get my toes in the frame. Placing yourself in the picture is easier if you have a flip-out display, as on the Sony A77. In the shot below (taken with the A7), I positioned myself in front of one of the dark sides of the cement slabs and let the light cast an outline of sunshine on my profile. The negative space of the sky is as much a part of this composition as are the slabs.

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
The more lines the better

Bending the perspective with a fish-eye is simply fun. The observer won't see it as skewed, however, if you don't provide a point of reference, a straight line somewhere.
And remember that you can cut down a great deal of the distortion during the post-processing in Photoshop or, as I did here, slightly in Lightroom (by pushing "Distortion" up to +88).
Side note: With light entering the lens from 180°, you are bound to get some lens flare now and then, despite the small lens hood. Opinions differ, but I think lens flare is not necessarily a bad thing. It is natural - usually. Photoshop offers a special tool to help you add it after the fact if you like. Here it is in its original form.

It's not the "what" but the "why" of the photograph

One of the most poignant tips I've ever received about photography was that it is not as important what you take a picture of as why. With a fish-eye lens, you may want to ask yourself how the image makes you feel because the "what" will be skewed to a point that it is nearly unrecognizable. In the case of the image below, the extremely short lens added a feeling of being swallowed up by the stairway and graffiti.

Stairway in Tübingen
One last tip: Keep your lens parallel to the ground when shooting architecture. Your Sony camera will probably have a built-in level to help you. Levels can be bought for other camera brands which fit on top of the hot shoe.
The fish-eye lens is a lot of fun in town if you know how to make the most of it. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Getting closer

The fish-eye experience, Part 1

Getting the big picture at the weekly market in Tübingen
I'm not the first one to write about the fun you can have with fish-eye lenses. But this is the first time I've written about it to this extent.

In June 2012 I bought a Walimex Pro 3.5/8mm Fisheye for Sony and have used it on the Sony A77 and A7 since then. It is an APS-C lens, so on the full-frame A7 you have to set the camera to capture the photo on the smaller sweet spot on the sensor. Otherwise, you get this:

The shadows cast by an APS-C lens on a full-frame sensor
The shadowy fringe around the outside is a result both of the tulip-shaped lens hood which is affixed to the lens and also of the small focus of the APS-C lens. Of course, you can always simply crop the picture afterwards if you prefer. When in "APS-C Capture" mode, the camera will show that you have much more room left on your memory card than you would normally have. I've found that since APS-C lenses use the middle part of the sensor, they pictures often appear sharper than those taken with a comparable full-frame lens. Your experience may vary, depending on the lenses in use.

Creatively adding the foreground to your composition
One of the things I like best about fish-eye lenses is that they allow you to use the foreground more effectively than longer lenses do. Whereas a telephoto lens will seemingly blend the fore- and background into a flatter plane, you wouldn't be able to compose the above photo with a 200mm lens.
Fish-eye lenses are also fun to play with if you experiment enough with them and think of good opportunities for using them.

Capture Two
You can obviously capture larger swathes of the landscape with 8mm (equivalent to 12mm on an APS-C sensor with Sony cameras) than with the normal kit lens.

Bend it like heck, hmm?
One thing you must take into consideration, though, is the angle at which you take the pictures. The picture at the top of this post was taken straight-on and parallel to the ground (all recent Sony cameras have a level built into the camera). This is what it looked like before I began my lens correction tweaking:

This shows the vegetable stand in the context of the market. What I wanted, however, was to emphasize the lines of the blue and white awning and the colors of the veggies. As with many of my fish-eye photos, I pushed the "Distortion" slider up to +100 in Lightroom (it works the same in Camera Raw) and constrained the crop. In essence, that flattens out the picture a bit, making it appear as a simple wide-angle shot.
In the two photos below, I experimented a bit more with the position of the camera relative to the awning. In post-processing you can also add vertical lens correction to get the look you want.

With a bit of forethought and some imagination, you can combine several advantages of the lens at once and get close, emphasize the composition and frame the motif all at once. Happy shooting!

In the next part, I'll write a bit about using the fish-eye lens for architectural photography.