Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Photographing glass with one or two speedlights and a Fuji X-T2

Glassware is considered a difficult subject to handle properly in photography. Generally speaking, but not always, glass needs to be lit from behind so that the light passed through the glass into the camera. This can be accomplished by positioning a light behind the glassware or by reflecting light through the back of the glassware with something like a white or translucent card. For both photos below I used an easy setup where my main light was one Godox TT685F speedlight mounted on an Impact small strip bank softbox and placed behind the subject. I also placed a large Phottix, translucent diffuser reflector between the light and the subject to further soften the light and its edges.

The basic single light setup is shown below. For the second shot I added another speedlight with a Gary Fong speed snoot on it to narrow down the light beam and concentrate it only on the surface of the decanter and the ice in the glass.This second light was placed very low and close to the bottle, and its power was reduced to balance it with the light from the backlighting.



For these two photos I used a Fuji X-T2 with a Touit 50mm macro lens, and two Godox speedlight flashes. The top photo used one speedlight, and the bottom photo used two.

The vignetting edges to the light were caused by moving the stripbank in towards the front reflector until the stripbank edges began to show softly in the frame. The black edges on the glass were reflections of the dark areas of the room that were not lit by any light from the speedlight. The light differential is so great that the edges come out dark. If there is too much light in the room, I will sometimes place large, black foamcore cards on the sides of the glassware. 



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

First look at the Focus Bracket feature of new Fuji 4.00 firmware update for the X-T2

Focus stacking, where a number of photos taken at different focus distances from the camera, is something I have been doing for quite some time. In the past I did it manually, but recently I was able to automate the image taking process using a built-in feature of the Nikon D850. I've published a number of blog posts on this in the past.

Today, Fuji introduced its new firmware update for the X-T2 camera, and one of the many new features was a menu option for focus stacking, referred to by Fuji as "focus bracketing". From the Shooting Settings menu, you access the Drive Setting sub-menu, and then the BKT Setting menu. From here you access the Focus BKT Settings as illustrated in the photo below:

Here you can select the number of frames to shoot, the steps from 1-10, and the time interval between shots.
Working this way is a little bit of a trial-and-error process to establish the correct ratio of frames and steps. The actual increment depends upon where you place the first focus point. If it is very close to the camera, the steps will be closer together than if the first focus point is far from the camera. For still life, I find that the settings I have set here are pretty close to what I generally use.

Selecting a working aperture is important. I've tried everything from wide open to very closed down, but I have found that an aperture of around f/5.6 works best for this.

The interval refers to how long the camera will wait before executing the next shot in the bracketing sequence. You might want a higher number of seconds, if you need to have the camera wait for a flash to recycle.  I was using natural light, so I just set my interval to 0 seconds.

Below is a page from the new addition to the Fuji X-T2 manual explaining the process:


You are going to need a computer program that can combine all the shots into one. I've found the best program to be Helicon Focus. You simply drag the stack of images into the program and tell it to do its thing. A short time later all the photos are combined into one single image with extreme focus, like the one below of the orchids.

Focus stacking is better than relying on extreme depth of field because with focus stacking, everything is in focus. No matter how stopped down an aperture is, depth of field is a graduated process from the extremely sharp focused point to all other near or far minimally focused points in the image.

I provided a sample below of using focus bracket with the Fuji X-T2 and firmware 4.00 update. I realize it may be difficult to see the extremely sharp focus range in the small images so I provided a link to download a full-sized high res version of both samples. The first photo shows a stack of 25 images. The second photo shows just the first image from this stack to illustrate just how much focus stacking added to the photo.

This is focus stack of 25 images, all taken at f/4.5 and combined using Helicon focus. Taken with a Fuji X-T2 and 16-55mm zoom set to 55mm.  Click on the photo to download this as a full size image.
This is only one photo taken at f/4.5 with the focus on the front flower.  Click on the photo to download this as a full size image.
Download the new Fujifilm 4.00 firmware update for the X-T2 camera here.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Nikon Camera Rebates Announced for the month of May!

Incredible deals with Nikon camera rebates for May:

If you've been thinking of picking up a Nikon body, now may be the best time to do it. Nikon just issued some substantial rebate offers on some of their popular pro and amatuer cameras. The deal is good through the month of May and ends on June 2nd.

The Nikon D750 is one of the best pro cameras ever made -- and at these prices it's the perfect time to add that second body or pick one up with the grip and Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens for a complete, ready-made pro kit.




The Nikon DX D3400 is a secret powerhouse of a machine. It's 24.2mp sensor and Expeed 4 processor delivers the same pro quality imagery as any other camera in its class. It is now available for a rebate offering of $496.95 with two zooms that provide an incredible focal length range of 18-300mm. That's pretty much a complete camera kit for less than $500!


Friday, April 27, 2018

My first use of the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter

My Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter arrived today and I was eager to try it out on some of the slides I've been saving up while waiting for the adapter to finally be released.

The ES-2 adapter comes packaged with two lens adapters. The shorter one is the 60mm G macro lens, and the wider one for the 60mm D lens. For the 40mm macro for Nikon DX cameras, the ES-2 adapter mounts directly onto the lens. The ES-2 will work with both FX and DX Nikon cameras, but only the D850 will able to do an in-camera conversion of negatives to positive jpg output.

There is a six-strip film negative holder and a separate holder for two mounted slides. The whole setup is fairly simple and I was able to dive right into some experimental slide copying.


You're going to need some sort of light source in front of the adapter. I decided to first try out a Porta-Trace light box with color corrected daylight bulbs in it. I also toyed with the idea of using a portable flash with a small bank on it as another color-corrected type of light. Turns out the lightbox idea worked perfectly with the first few tests, and it is really convenient, so I'll probably stick with it for the time being.

I used the smaller adapter at the lower left on my 60mm G macro lens. 
I decided to stick with taking the image in RAW, at least for now because it will be easier for me to shift the color correction later on in ACR and Photoshop. Turns out I was able to pretty much zero in on a very accurate color correction right off the bat by selecting the camera's daylight color setting in Adobe Camera Raw. Once I realized this worked very well with the Porta-Trace light, I next tried setting the daylight color in the camera and recorded the image in both jpg and NEF. That worked fine, too.  

This is the set up ready for the slide. 
I used an f/11 aperture setting on the lens to see if that would allow the curved edges of the slide to be in focus along with the center area. The slide I used might not have been the best example for this test, so I plan to do some more experiments with aperture settings. Of course, working with such small apertures it is important to begin with a clean sensor. Any dust particles are definitely going to show up on the final image.

And this is my first captured slide with the ES-2! The color on this is very close to the original slide using the technique I mentioned in the text. 
A copied slide is never going to be as sharp as an original digital images taken with a modern pro camera. This is especially true because of the grain structure of the film.  To improve my results for practical use, I decided to down-res the images to 24mp from the D850's 45.7 megapixel output. 25mp is a fairly common size today and perfectly adequate for most uses. This image turned out much better in this size.

I also enhanced the image with a slight sharpening treatment from the Photokit Creative Sharpener. This also improved the crispness of the image nicely. In one of the slides I copied I found the grain to be too intense so I used the noise reducer, Neat Image, on it. The photo looked much better after that.

I plan to do a lot more experimenting with the ES-2 and will be writing a full post on my discoveries on the best way to copy and process slides and negatives with it. Stay tuned for a future blog post.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Still life photography with the Fuji X-T2

My photo project for this week was to do a series of images with a spa theme. For this I used the Fuji X-T2 and two lenses, the Zeiss 50mm macro and the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 zoom.  I mostly relied on the zoom, but did have to add a 90mm f/2 Fuji for one shot, as I mention below.

Most of time we worked indoors with available window light, but for a few shots we moved outdoors to photograph with a pool background. Every situation was backlit with a foreground gold/silver reflector to kick in a fill light.

Below is a small sampling of the many images we achieved in the two day shoot.

This shot was done towards then end of the shoot when we started to add some natural, decaying plant materials to add some natural character and warm color to the spa scenes.






  







For this photo of bamboo I wanted the background to be very out-of-focus so I switched to the Fuji 90mm f/2 lens and put a close-up filter on it to achieve the extreme bokeh effect. The bamboo was inside near a window and the our-of-focus background was outside. Because I was using only natural light the situation made it a bit difficult to harmonize the the exposure for the bamboo with the background. A lot of that was done later in Photoshop by opening up the bamboo exposure and darkening the background. The shot had to be done in RAW.  A jpg image would never have held the extreme exposure differences. 




Thursday, March 15, 2018

Reinventing the city

Lately, I've been going back to some of my photos of New York City and applying a technique to achieve results that are more like the motion blur series I am now doing here in Florida. 

I generally start with two or three layers of the city image in Photoshop and then apply some motion blur to one or two of them. Next I put layer masks on the blurred layers and paint out some areas to allow parts of the lower layers to come through. This gives me a mix of sharp and blurred, and/or a cross mix of blurs where one is vertical, or horizontal, or on a diagonal for contrast.

What I am trying to achieve with this technique is to capture more of an abstract essence of an urban scene than the actual city, itself.

















Thursday, February 22, 2018

Night flight over Miami with the Leica Academie

Last Saturday I led a Leica Acadamie Workshop on night photography. After the class we climbed into two helicopters and flew over Miami just after the sunset. I had my favorite combo of a Leica M10 camera and a 24mm f/1.4 lens. I find a 24mm wide angle gives me the best view for most of my city photography, while the f/1.4 helps to keep the ISO down and the shutter speed up. That said, I still ended up shooting most of my later photos at around ISO 3200 and 1/60 second.