Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The fish-eye experience, Part 4

Landscapes through the fish's eye

Using a fish-eye lens for shooting landscapes requires a bit of practice. If you-re like me, though, you'll enjoy practicing because the results are usually prove to be quite interesting.

For this trip, I was walking along the bank of the Neckar River in Remseck, just north of Stuttgart. It was a clear, sunny September day. I was with great friends and we were all have a terrific time enjoying the warm weather.

I was shooting with my Sony A7, the LA-EA4 adapter and the Samyang 8mm fish-eye lens. The full-frame camera sensor crops down to the center when this APS-C lens is screwed onto it, making it effectively a 12mm lens.
You will notice with the photo below that light creeps into the lens from all around - 180°, so you need to be conscious of that fact and, if you can, use it to your advantage. Stopped down to f11 or f14, intense light sources become star-shaped. Lens flare, as can be seen in the form of a hexagon in the bottom right third of the photo, is difficult to avoid, yet easy to see while framing the picture, so you can usually position it where you want it.

If you want to keep the horizon straight (and thus looking fairly natural), it is important to keep the camera level. This is easy to do with Sony cameras, which have the option of showing a level in the display. The top picture above was taken shooting slightly down to capture the rocks; one can see that the horizon is frowning as a result. Lightroom cannot correct this aberration, but Photoshop can.

 Sometimes it is possible to take a landscape picture and not have an easily defined horizon in it. Here one can see the star-shaped sun and lens flares balancing the sunlight and reflection on the other side of the photo.

 As so often happens when I'm out shooting for fun, something comes along and provides fodder for my frame. The river, the sun, the rocks, the tree-lined banks - all great. But now a barge chugs through the landscape and we all position ourselves to get the best angle. I love shooting into the sun. After three hours of it, my eyes need a rest, but the results are definitely worth it.

A square crop of a mid-horizon shot with some circle flare has a tighter composition on account of the rays of light.

My friend Jim Palik was with us, testing his Canon 5D, Mark II, against his new Samsung Galaxy S6, his new passion (the phone and the tests!). I wonder if he knows there is a fish-eye app on his phone!
Is there one on yours? What have your experiences with fish-eye lenses been?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Wasenfest 2015

It is that time of year again. Time to test your immune system and digestive track. Year in, year out the Wasen in Bad Cannstatt has been guest to Oktoberfest survivors, deniers and objectors for the past 170 years. Over the past decade, visitors have gradually chosen to arrive dressed in Bavarian costumes: Lederhosen, dirndls and as much plaid as the Chinese can produce over the hot summers.

After arriving on the fair grounds, many of the 4 million visitors get an incredible urge to drink massive amounts of beer. No problem for the four Stuttgart beer breweries who deliver to the 10 huge beer houses that are built twice a year for this and the spring festival.

Small bands play all day and all evening until 11 pm (midnight on the weekends), interspersing their sets with "Oins, zwoi, gesuffa" so that the people don't forget to drink and to order another liter. Those who make it out of the tents still standing, often stumble onto one of the rides which will propel them - and whatever they have drunk - with up to 5Gs through the air. Watch out below!

Children are, of course, also welcome at the Wasen. All sorts of sugary treats and fun rides await them: cotton candy, roasted nuts and popcorn, fruits dipped in chocolate, etc. Haunted houses, Ferris wheels and roller coasters for the whole family are just waiting to have you check them out.

And if you are lucky enough to be visiting with your grandparents, they may spring (€7) for a balloon to keep you from sulking at least until you can be returned to your rightful guardians.

Wednesdays are "Family Day" when you get to ride for half the price on most of the carousels. And on the last day of the festival, there are spectacular fireworks for all to see!

Do come and join me and 4 million other revelers on the Wasen. It's a blast!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Water, water everywhere!

Eighteen months ago when I was looking for a place in Europe to visit with my family, a very wise old neighbor said, "If you have children, you have to have water." How right she was. Thank you, Doris!
So last summer we went to the coast of Holland for a wonderful vacation. This past August we were back in Richmond, VA, where my mother, step-mother, sisters, their families and good friends live. If they were not a good enough reason to visit, there are also the enticing watering holes there - and I'm not talking about how the city has become well known recently for its plethora of craft beers!

We went to two nice, refreshing pools, which were perfect for cooling off and - literally - getting our feet wet. Rougher waters were yet to come!

Our next aqua-venture was on Lake Chesdin, the dammed up part of the Appomattox River south of Richmond. My sister and her friend, Jimmy, were boating on the lake that day and invited us to join them. He pulled our two big kids on a raft made for that purpose. I was scared to death that they'd get bounced out on their heads. Well, they did but both came up laughing and wanted to do it again!

As we flew by the shores of the lake, the waves rippled out from under us and created beautiful patterns of light and shadow.

When we got home, I went down to the James River and was greeted by a wonderful sunset behind the Huguenot Bridge.

More photos from the James will follow in my next post. Stay tuned!

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.