Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Speakeasy


Have you ever heard of a speakeasy? Back in the 1920s the US federal government outlawed, by enacting the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the production, transport, and sale of intoxicating liquors (though not the consumption or private possession thereof). Did that stop Americans from drinking alcohol? Nope!


That just means there were private parties where liquor "appeared" (for it couldn't be transported) and was consumed, often with jazz musicians and dancers providing entertainment.


Well...my friend Tiffany is totally into that era now - as a singer, an artist and a spirit - and is throwing such a party in Stuttgart in November. As a warm-up to this mega-event, she got friends together for a photo shoot in an awesome old apartment. We had a great time getting into the spirit!

Tiffany and Andrew get into the spirit(s)
My son Fynn was my second shooter for the first part of the evening and used a manual-focus f1.4/85mm lens with a star filter on it. His pictures captured the perfect soft look and feel we were looking for (see above). 
Mine, on the other hand, were so sharp that they didn't look like they fit the 20s look, but with a bit of post-processing I was able to get relatively close (below).




We also were afforded the luxury of having many models (dancers, actors and other good looking people) to play along, so we set up some scenes to look like a speakeasy might. 



The real party will also be a golden opportunity for photos. I'll keep you posted!




Autumn 2018

Exhibitions x 3

This autumn I'll be showing some of my work in three different exhibitions in and around Stuttgart. 
The first one opened on October 17 at Café Künstlerbund to a full house - even two of my children attended! The collection of art there shows a high regard for aesthetics and technique. The nine American artists displayed some of their best work - including photography, oil painting, encaustic and multi-media drawing. 


The café is open from 10 am until midnight. Give me a call and I'll meet you there for a drink! The show runs through November 10, 2018.

The following evening, October 18, 2018, the German and American Artists Group opened its first fall show at the historic town hall in Bad Cannstatt at 6 pm. Twenty-eight artists are showing their fine art on three floors. The new commander of the US Army in Stuttgart - who has family roots at Lake Constance - gave the opening speech.



As guests enjoyed the buffet, fellow artist Michael Nothdurft exhibited his prowess on the classical guitar.


These art works were on display through October 29.



On October 24, 2018, the same group hung a different set of works at the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum for a three-week long show!
Brian Cann showed seven photos from his new series "Nudes in landscapes," and I showed a bit of my "Hot pepper" series, so it was quite a sexy show!


In addition, Aylish Kerrigan sang two dramatic songs and the buffet was a work of art itself. Friends came and were introduced to the other artists. That's how a nice network is created.














Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ups and downs of the Wasenfest




Living in the proximity of the Cannstatter Wasen since 2002, I've heard and seen a lot of the high-life there, some from my window but most from the pavement on and surrounding the good old festival grounds. I've written about it a number of times, as a search for "Wasen" on this blog will show.


The Wasenfest and Frühlingsfest (Sept.-Oct. and April-May every year) are among the largest folk festivals in the world. Over 4 million guests enjoyed the beer and rides during the three-week fest last fall and, on account of the perfect weather in early 2018, 1.6 million visitors made it out to the spring fest.
My friends' and acquaintances' opinions are split on this issue. Some wouldn't miss it for the world; they seek their fortune there and their children look forward to riding the Ferris wheel and eating cotton candy with friends twice a year.


Others look forward to getting sloshed with their colleagues in the huge beer tents; for 16 year-olds it's a right of passage to fill up with a couple of liters of beer with your classmates and then try to hold it in on the most extreme rides. Judging from the ground in front of the roller coasters, many don't succeed.




Still other friends find it too loud and too full of drunken nuts, especially in the autumn. Tourists arrive in their smelly "Oktoberfest 20XX" T-shirts when that fest is over and keep on drinking in Stuttgart. The subways are full of traditionally garbed twentysomethings and smell of alcohol six weeks a year.





My photographer friends go there, as I do, to shoot the action and, after dark, the lights. Lights, camera, action!
For years now, I've shot the standard motifs and come to know the faces of the people working there. I sometimes talk with the workers when I'm walking around before it gets busy. They are often Romanians, as is the man below, so we talk about the delicious food in his home country.


 But another aspect of the whole business has come to fascinate me. They begin building the "tents" - 5,000-square-meter buildings - several weeks in advance and it takes them just as long to deconstruct. Behind all the shine is a life on the road for the workers and owners of the rides. The buildings, the rails, the haunted house - they all have to fit on trucks and are moved to the next fest until it is time to return to Bad Cannstatt. And every day before the visitors arrive, they wash their stands and make them as attractive as possible.



This year when the festivities were over, I wandered across the grounds and got some shots of the take-down. Behind one of the largest buildings is a room where the waiters can rest.


 Inside one of the beer tents.


They need a lot of equipment to move a roller coaster.


Everything must go.


Water is not the most important liquid at the fairgrounds, but it is important!


Friday, July 6, 2018

Back to nature




The great thing about having a new camera is that it gives you new impulses and a renewed interest in capturing images. The mighty resolution and astonishing crispness of the Sony A7iii and the 24-105 lens have drawn me into the countryside lately. Without an idea of what I was going to photograph, I simply followed my lens and pressed the button. This is the first nature series I shot.

The sky was overcast but it was dry and bright. In order to catch the detail of the underside of the leaves, I overexposed by +1.7. I love the element of purity coupled with the spring buds, and yet spider webs can be found creeping all over the leaves and branches.







The images above live from the negative space surrounding the branches. Then I saw layers in the pictures, which add depth to them.











It's amazing how relaxing these images are for me to look at. After all those years shooting in the city and the evenings at events, being out in nature and looking heavenward is teaching me to relax and enjoy everything around me.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

My settings for the Sony A7M3



Recently my friend Jim Palik moved from Canon to Sony after over 40 years with the big gun. At 75, he says, you start to think about how much weight you are carrying around and the Sony mirrorless camera is much lighter than the 5D Mark II. So we went down to his favorite camera store and he bought the A7M3, a Sigma adapter for his Canon lenses, a Sony 64 GB SDXC memory card and an extra battery. Now he is ready to get out and play!

But first I promised to tell you readers (and Jim) what settings I've decided to use for my camera - the menus inside and the customizable buttons and dials on the body.

First of all, I've never noticed that the camera added movement to the picture when it was taken on a tripod with Steady Shot on. Therefore, I'd recommend simply leaving on the Steady Shot. If you are using a lens with stabilization in it, you can easily turn that off if you like, but the chances that I would forget to turn it back on are so great that I would prefer to just leave it on.

For the first time, I've chosen to change two focusing settings with this new Sony camera. The focus peaking feature has been highly praised over the years and I've usually had it set to High and turned the color to Red. However, that was using the AF-S focusing mode. With this camera I've begun using the DMF function and have turned off the (distracting) red focus peaking. The camera focuses and then moves to manual focus mode so that you can check and perfect the focus point if necessary.
Why did I do this? In the past it was somewhat bothersome to do this because when I adjust the focus manually, I have the camera zoom in on the subject so that I can see it better. However, the zoom area is not always where I want to focus, so I had to fiddle around with the toggle switch and by then the camera had either zoomed back out or the subject had moved. But with the new touch screen, it is easier to move the focus area to the desired spot, even while you are looking through the viewfinder.

However, when I am shooting sports or some other active subject, I move to AF-C and can easily focus-follow the moving person or animal with a quick click of the button inside the big control wheel. I have set C1 to Focus Mode to make this change easily.

Speaking of zooming, at the baseball game last week I often opted to shoot in the APS-C mode from the center ("sweet spot") of the sensor, resulting in a 10MP image which is basically a digital zoom. The advantages here were three-fold: I could crop the picture in-camera, the images wouldn't take up as much space on my hard-drives and the buffer didn't fill up as quickly. I have the AEL button on the back (top-right) of the camera set to one-click zoom because in the menu (Camera 1, first page) I have set APS-C/Super 35mm to "Auto" and "Manual: On". The AEL butt on is then set to "Full Frm Sel."

So where is my AEL button? That is on the front under C2. I wanted to be able to zoom and click the shutter at nearly the same time, so I set the zoom button to the back. But for AEL, I can have that up front. I prefer AEL toggle so that my other fingers are free to make other adjustments after I've made that all-important exposure adjustment.

I usually shoot in Wide Focus Mode, making adjustments later manually. Since I change this setting relatively rarely, I have it on the C3 button, which requires a bit more fumbling about to find and change. Zone focusing is a good choice when simple compositions such as landscapes are in front of your lens. Simply jog the Multi-Select Button left or right, up or down to change the zone. The same works for the Flexible Spot (mine is set to "Medium") or the new expandable flexible spot.

When I want to shoot in Manual Focus mode only, I click on the AF-ON button on the back, which is pre-programmed to turn the automatic focus on and off anyway. I'm used to having this function there, so I don't have to think about it any more.

The trash can/C4 button is also customizable. I want to take advantage of the new touch screen for focusing. There are times, however, when I don't want to have it on. So I simply press C4 and it turns off.

The next thing I have programmed is the Multi-selector, which I press to set the Eye focus. I haven't used it as much as I had originally hoped to, but when I do more portraits, I'm sure I'll be turning it on more frequently.

Finally, the control wheel is set like this for me:
Left is Drive and Right is ISO. Why override the icons painted on the camera body here if there is no good reason to? I don't have to change ISO with this camera very often; it is usually set to Automatic 100-8000 because I've found everything within this range to be good. I might raise the minimum ISO to 200 or 400, but that's just out of habit. Having the Auto ISO Shutter Speed minimum set to Fast or Faster does the same thing.
Pressing the bottom of the control wheel changes my silent shutter function. Read all about the pros and cons of that here. That post also explains when I want to turn it off (or back on). I've recently realized, however, that when using the LA-EA4 adapter with the A7iii, the set-up makes a click when you take a picture. The shutter is no longer silent.
The top of the control wheel cannot be changed. It always changes what the display looks like: graphic display, all info or none, level, histogram, blank (off - such as for night shooting). These settings can be changed on the second Camera menu on page 6 (DISP Button). Set the display and viewfinder to show different things if you so wish.

My Function Menu looks like this:
Top row -
Auto ASP-C (in case I end up accidentally zooming too often, I can easily turn off the function)
ISO Automatic Shutter Speed (usually set to FAST)
Focus Area
Metering Mode (usually matrix)
Picture Effect (rarely used, but it is otherwise hard to find and turn on; only relevant when shooting JPEGs only)
Live View Display (important to turn off when using a flash)

Bottom row -
DRO (usually AUTO, but unnecessary when shooting RAW)
Priority Set in AWB (Standard; read more about this setting improvement here)
White Balance (AWB, though I sometimes change it to Flash when shooting primarily with a flash)
Picture Quality (RAW)
Creative Style (Standard tends to be the best, but I think you get a bit more light if you set it to Light in darker situations)
Grid Line (usually on Thirds, but turning it off can give you a feeling of freedom with your picture composition)

Furthermore, I stay in airplane mode unless I want to use my phone to transfer the GPS coordinates to the metadata in the pictures I'm shooting. I have tried this and it worked perfectly. Why don't I do it all the time? It drains both batteries (phone and camera) if on all the time.






Sunday, April 15, 2018

Shooting sports with the A7M3


 I've already talked about using the silent shutter for concerts and the caution one must exercise with moving objects or while panning. Here is another good example of when to be careful when choosing the silent shutter.


Yesterday I was standing in the visiting team's bullpen shooting pictures into the glorious afternoon light. I had a great view of the right-handed batters and the infield. I didn't want the players to be distracted by my shooting, so I went silent most of the time.


As you can see in the two photos above, I was panning with the runner, which resulted in everything behind him being slanted in the direction the lens was panning, if the person or object was either not moving, moving slowly or not at all. The first picture has lots of vertical lines which call attention to themselves in a case like this. The second one isn't so bad.
The one below, in contrast, was also taken with the silent electronic shutter, but the ball is moving so slowly that it still appears round and the fielder in red has normal proportions. Using the silent shutter still has two main advantages: it draws less attention to your camera and yourself at a game like this and it doesn't wear down your shutter mechanism.


The light dwindled as the second game continued. I started shooting at 4 pm at around 800 ISO so that I could get some fast shutter speeds (between 1/500 and 1/2,000). I was using the Sony G f4.5-5.6/70-300 at around 200mm most of the time, but this is a lens I like to used stopped down a bit, so I needed the extra ISO. No problem for this camera.

The Hornet's catcher gets hit by a deflected pitch in the right wrist. He moved out to left field to give his injury time to heal.
I took the first half of the pictures in JPEG and, as a test, switched to RAW at the end. I much preferred having the information available in the RAW files when doing the little bit of post-processing which was necessary. The details came out much better in the RAW files, which is why I usually shoot RAW.
Sometimes I switched to APS-C mode for a 1.5x magnification with the touch of a button (more on my preferred settings in the next blog post). I did this mainly because I knew I would neither need nor want huge files; 10MP would be enough. In addition, the files can be saved to the memory card much more quickly this way, not that I had a problem with buffering - I simply didn't take that many in one burst.
I also took the first JPEGs with High ISO Noise Reduction set to "Low" and then the others at "Normal", but didn't notice any difference between the two. Most of the best pictures were taken at around 1/1,000 sec and 1,000 ISO. The aperture stayed at around 5.6-6.3 most of the time, though I did pump it up to 7.1 when I didn't need the extra speed.

This was taken at 250mm x1.5 magnification using the APS-C area of the sensor.
It was nice working with the long lens again. Shooting at 1/1,000 - 1/2,000 sec., I had no problem with camera shake, even though I was effectively shooting without a tripod and at 300-450mm much of the time.
The last thing I played with during the game was the video function, thinking I'd take some frame captures of the action. It just so happens that I got some footage of some of the most exciting parts of the game. Below, you see the opposing pitcher getting hit by the ball. Then he took off for first base but stopped when he saw the ball being thrown home to tag out a runner. The catcher missed the throw but then got the second runner out. A real bit of excitement in what many Germans consider an incomprehensible and boring game! I thought the whole thing was thrilling. There were a lot of hits, good pitching and even an incident of "catcher interference", which I had never heard of!


Below: A slide into home plate captured on video, made into a print with Lightroom. The camera also has a function for doing this. Here is the difference in quality between the two processes:




That's right; no difference. Here is the original 4K video. Enjoy!





Friday, April 13, 2018

Getting accurate exposures with the Sony A7M3

1/1600 sec. at f7.1 and 100 ISO - Easter Sunday sky
Coming from the A700, A77 and A7, I've noticed loads of improvements in the Sony mirrorless segment since October 2011 and December 2013 with this newest camera, the A7M3.

Today I want to touch on three points regarding picture quality. One is especially important if you want to shoot JPEGs. There have been improvements in the white balance menu and settings.
I nearly always have my white balance set to "Automatic" (AWB) because when shooting RAW you usually change the colors a bit while post-processing anyway. And yet Sony realized that shooting inside as much as you would with such a high-ISO monster, you might want to tell the camera's computer exactly what kind of automatic output you prefer. So they have come up with a way to prioritize the tone when shooting under certain lighting conditions. You can have the traditional AWB working; you can prioritize the ambient lighting (creating a warmer color cast); or you can set it to "white", resulting in a cooler tone. I think this is a great tool!

1/30 sec at f6.3 and 4000 ISO - the Freiburger Münster
Furthermore, there are 16 different white balance pre-sets, all of which you can tweak to your heart's content - more red, more green, blue or yellow. When shooting JPEGs, set your white balance to the room's light temperature by pointing the camera at a white piece of paper that is lit with the same ambient lighting as your motif. While your camera is set to the "Custom Setup" function (the last one in the WB menu), take a shot with the center circle pointed at the white paper. Then assign that specific WB to one of the three custom WB settings and you are good to go - until you move into another room or someone turns off the lights and decides candlelight is more romantic!

1/30 sec. at f4 and 1250 ISO - Brass workshop
Second, there are two settings that help you nail the right exposure on the motif in your picture. The first one detects the brightness on faces in your shot when your metering mode is set to "Multi-segment", which is the setting you'll normally want to use. That setting together with the spot metering coordination seem to be very helpful tools when shooting events with tricky lighting situations (bright lights in the picture, backlighting, etc.).

Spot metering is the way digital photographers measure the amount of light needed for a perfect exposure on the chosen motif. No longer do we have to run up to the model or mountain top and hold up a lighting meter to get a good reading of the exposure! This camera can pick a spot and determine how much light is needed for a normal exposure. With the new A7M3 you can coordinate the spot metering point with the focus area even when it is not in the middle of the focus area.

Below is an example of a situation in which I wish I had still been shooting either with both RAW + JPEG or in the spot-metering mode. My cards were filling up, though, and I was taking fast sequences of shots of these birds, so I switched to JPEG only. Unfortunately, the beautiful dark feathers of this hawk were no match for the bright background, which the camera also figured into the "Multi-segment" metering equation.

1/3200 sec. at f4 and 100 ISO
As with the A7, I've had situations where the A7M3 took an absolutely wrong reading of the light and overexposed the scene by a whole stop or two. I never had that with the earlier cameras. However, the electronic viewfinder lets you know immediately that the exposure is wrong. My experience shows that this usually happens after you have just turned on the camera and want to take a picture right away.

So you can set both the exposure and focus areas for the shot you are about to take. Speaking of the focus area, you can set the camera to prioritize focusing on faces when in the wide or zone focus area settings. That's often a good idea when you are shooting people in landscapes, but look what happens when you aren't!

Both photos were taken at 1/640 sec., f5 and 400 ISO - Sea lion feeding time at the Wilhelma
Here is, of course, what I really wanted to focus on:


Finally, for those of you who don't want to guess which exposure might be best in the end, you can set the drive to "Bracket". Now this is nothing new except that Sony has now expanded your bracketing capabilities from three or five images to nine! Together with the 14-bit uncompressed RAW files, this ability to capture a nine-image series of varying exposures will enable you to put together some incredible landscapes! On the other hand, I have seen few situations where I've needed the bracketing. A RAW file is so flexible that you can usually brighten the shadows and tame the highlights to have as good a result as a three-shot, four-stop bracket could give you.

1/500 sec. at f8 and 320 ISO - Vineyards in Rotenberg