Posts Tagged ‘400mm f/5.6 ED AIS’

Rain, at last

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Here in California, we’re finally enjoying (or enduring, depending on our temperament) a little rainfall. We can certainly use it — although it’s not going to be as much as we need, unfortunately.

Rainy Day Cormorant

Some folks are discouraged from taking out sensitive electronic devices when there’s water falling from the sky, but most SLRs, even DSLRs, are pretty robust. And rainy weather can be great for photography. Clouds provide diffusion to soften harsh contrasts. Rain tends to encourage activity among some species. (These two factors make rainy weather great for photographing egrets.)



Water on the ground produces interesting reflections. And clouds that are breaking up can add a great deal of drama to landscapes — especially if you’re experimenting with infrared. And running water has the ability to create landscapes all its own…


Small River

With apologies to Mr. White.

Friday, January 9th, 2009

On my way home from work yesterday, my attention was caught by a fallen branch. The branch sat at the top of a gentle slope up from the Channel park to the East 8th sidewalk. I would not have noticed it — in fact, I probably walked past it for days or weeks without doing so — except that I happened to be off the path.

As a result, there was a brief moment in which the branch was silhouetted against the late afternoon sky, revealing a strange and compelling shape. And also a familiar one — the branch twisted in on itself is a common element in Minor White’s photography, and some of his most striking and enigmatic images feature them. That brief glimpse stayed with me through my commute, and I resolved to see whether I could make something photographic of it.

Branch, Three Views (C)

I knew there was no way I could convey anything interesting about the branch if I photographed it in situ. There was quite a lot of clutter in the area and in the skyline beyond; even if I got down on the ground, there was no way I could get the thing silhouetted against the sky — my initial view of it depended on the eye’s ability to immediately discard visual clutter.

So, during my lunch break today, I did something which I do not normally do — I moved the damn thing. (I usually prefer to document things where and as I find them.) I dragged the thing down next to the channel, leaned it against a bench, and propped it up (to prevent it from rolling) using the card wallet I use to hold my business cards, bard tickets, and bus pass. (I managed not to forget it when I left, although it was close.)

I made many different exposures with three lenses (35mm, 105mm, 400mm), varying my camera position extensively. My two main considerations were the relationship between the shapes within the branch, and the relationship between the branch and the rest of the scene. The primary factor in determining these relationships is camera position; the secondary is the choice of focal length and aperture.

The image at the beginning of this post is the last one shot, using my 400mm f/5.6 to fully isolate the branch from its context. In this shot, I chose a camera position such that the rear fork of the branch crosses behind the forward main segment. This preserves the three-dimensionality of the object despite the flattening effect of the long-range perspective and shallow depth of field.

Branch, Three Views (B)

Proceeding in reverse chronological order, the middle image to survive the culling process was made with my 105mm f/2.5, with my tripod legs fully extended and the center column somewhat extended, so that the camera is looking down past the branch. This permits the shapes of the background to come through, but no detail. In this vantage, I was able to capture birds moving in the air or water in several shots. (These are my normal lunchtime subjects.) In this one, two egrets perch on the far bank of the channel, just above forked end of the branch, while two others fly, one with cupped wing mirroring the penultimate curve of the branch.

Branch, Three Views (A)

The first surviving image (there were a few other test shots before it) was made with a normal lens (35mm on crop sensor), stopped down to f/11 or f/16 for depth of field. The result does not render the background sharply, but does allow a degree of detail to come through. This, together with the flattened background and foreground created by the square-on camera angle, allows for useful juxtapositions in the composition, with the branch bracketed between the four bare trees, the two lower works cupping the boundary between the far bank and the channel, and the top of the tallest tree becoming another fork of the branch, extending from the vertical segment.

For each image, I adjusted the saturation and color cast of various segments, warming the branch and cooling the background, or the opposite, and then applying a blue- or yellow-filtered black and white conversion in Capture NX.

These images are, as suggested earlier, derivative to a greater or lesser extent (or, put more favorably, they are a reference or — for the ultra-mega-douches in the audience — “an homage”); I consider them basically an exercise in composition. And while I wouldn’t blame anyone for being unimpressed by them, I consider them a success, and a well-spent forty-five minutes…


Thursday, January 8th, 2009

I had a good bit of birding at lunch today. In particular, I had some particularly good luck working with goldeneye ducks. These birds are tricky, because their plumage contains very intense contrast. This makes it very difficult to expose them correctly. They also, for some reason, seem extremely prone to chromatic aberration. Partly this is due to the aforementioned contrast, but the CA issues when shooting goldeneyes for some reason are even more annoying than those encountered with other high-contrast birds, like buffleheads. It may be due to their eponymous eyes, which are susceptible to CA in a way that the black eyes of buffleheads are not. The fringing on the eyes diminishes their apparent sharpness in a way that is quite frustrating…

Goldeneye -- unedited, with rockin' CA

I was able to clean up the CA, for the most part. It helped that I was shooting with the 400mm f/5.6 ED AIS rather than my 300mm f/4.5 non-AI. I shudder to think what the CA would have been like without the ED glass, and the extra reach is essential in having enough image to crop in and sharpen appropriately.

My approach to dealing with CA is generally to drop a control point on the fringing in Capture NX, crank the saturation down, drop some other control points in adjacent areas, and then tweak until it looks right. It works. There are more elegant solutions, I’m sure, but I don’t know that those elegant solutions are up to some of the gonzo CA I occasionally get shooting with my old lenses….

Male Goldeneye

Female Goldeneye

Another stroke of luck — got a couple more shots of the Hooded Merganser x Barrow’s Goldeneye hybrid that drops in from time to time:

Hooded Merganser x Barrow's Goldeneye

CA is even more irritating in this case, because the bird has purple plumage that isn’t all that far from the color of the purple fringing…

Big lens, big moon

Friday, December 12th, 2008

My new 400mm f/5.6 ED AIS and TC-14B arrived today. I’m going to be using it mainly for birds (of course), but I didn’t have any birds handy, so I pointed it at tonight’s perigee-tastic superhuge moon:

Full Moon at Perigee

Full Moon at Perigee

Astrophotography will probably never be my thing, I know…