Bokeh World, Pop-Up Show, and Cuba

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Trioplan 50 photo by Tamara Skudies.

One of my favorite projects this spring has been supporting my client Meyer-Optik’s Kickstarter for the Trioplan f2.9/50. The Kickstarter seeks to return the legendary camera lens with incredible soap bubble bokeh, as seen above.

This lens has a rich history dating back 100 years, so as a photography nerd I love the project. Apparently, so does the market as we have raised almost $600,000 from 900 backers with less than seven days remaining in the campaign!

As part of our efforts we ran a photo quest challenge on photography social network 500 Pixels called Bokeh World. The theme celebrated the lens’s soap bubble bokeh. To participate, 500 Pixels users were encouraged to incorporate bokeh into their photography with the three best pics winning new Trioplan f2.9/50 and f2.8/100 lenses.

The Bokeh World contest received an overwhelming response. More than 35,000 photos were submitted! It was pretty hard whittling down that selection to just three winners. Here is my favorite, Lilia Alvarado’s Life Is a Carnival. What an incredible photograph!

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The Trioplan 50 Kickstarter continues through next Wednesday. I hope you decide to back it.

Pop-Up Photo Show this Saturday

The Pacific Ocean at Night

For those of you in the DC area, I am co-hosting my first photography pop-up show at Broadway Galleries in Alexandria, VA this Saturday. The event will be held from 4 to 6 pm, and will feature some really big prints of some of my more well received night photos.

Refreshments will be served, so have a snack and a bite. If you come, you’ll have the opportunity to provide feedback and tell me which types of photos you like most. Or just come and talk shop with me. I hope to see you then!

Cuba

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Image by mokastet.

Now that Obama has formally established relations with Cuba again, artists and photographers are flocking to the Caribbean island. Just look at the big deal National Geographic made last week about being on the first U.S. cruise to Cuba in 60 years.

The hype and fury comes with good reason. In five years Cuba will not be the same, especially after U.S. interests invade and establish businesses.

Well, guess what? I’m going to Cuba this June as part of a larger project with six DC Focused photographers. We’ll be announcing our project after Memorial Day so stay tuned!

What’s new in your creative world?

Thoughts on Hawaii Pics and Equipment

I’ve had a chance to go through some of my Hawaii pictures (you can see the whole set to date here). Below find my thoughts on the various pieces of equipment that LensRentals provided.

Before I begin, I should say that equipment is great, but it doesn’t make a photographer or a great photograph. Cameras and lenses are but tools limited by the skills of the person who wields them, and to a lesser extent the technology used to forge them. In some cases, it was clear that the limitations of my skill set hurt the photos, and not the equipment. I’ll make note of those instances.

Nikon D810

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I was delighted that LensRentals included the D810 as I was looking at it as a potential replacement or second body to augment my Df.I was doubtful, though, having shot with its predecessor, the D800 before.

Photography is not my primary business, but I get paid more and more frequently, and expect to gross five figures this year from the effort. My Df is getting battle worn after nine months of the 365 Full Frame Project. Getting the right body matters.

The Pacific Ocean at Night

The coming D5 is interesting, but way out of my price range given the relatively low amount of income photography garners for me. I like the Nikon D810 a little better than the D750, as I take a ton of landscapes and architectural shots as well as periodic portraits. Plus I already own a D7100 so I am not overly impressed with the 24 Mp sensor. So in my mind, it was a second Df body or a D810.

I found the D810 to be a fantastic camera. The refinements over its predecessor, the D800, were significant enough that I enjoyed using the camera. It was fast with processing speed kicking the daylights out of the Df. The camera worked extremely well in low light situations, including night shots.

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When I focused well, the resolution was fantastic. The 36 mp allowed me to capture shots from afar and crop them significantly.

All of these are improvements over the Df. My one real knock on the D800 is that the sensor lacks some of the ability to pick up some light colors, particularly reds, magentas and purples. This was particularly true during the golden and early blue hours, when these colors tend to be subtle.

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Don’t get me wrong, I was able to pull some of this color out in Lightroom and when something was obviously red (see snail pic) it came out well. But in comparison to the Df sensor (which is the same as the D4), the colors just did not render as well. This was clear to me as soon as I got home and started taking pics with the Df again, too. Of course, that’s what the D4S (and eventually the D5) offer — the best of both worlds, plus some additional speed and capability.

In the end, I decided to buy the D810 for professional situations. I’ll use the Df still for sunset and sunrise pics as well as for macro pics of flowers. Poor me, two great cameras to rock pics with.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED

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This is a fantastic lens that empowered me to get some great pics. Just really flexible and adaptive to situations, and the pics were rendered in a superior fashion. I have rented the 14mm Nikon and the 15mm Zeiss Distagon before, but I really enjoyed the ability to zoom with this lens.

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I decided to buy this as wide angle shots are a forte, and I am not so happy with my 20 mm 2.8 AF-D lens from Nikon. My current lens creates symmetrical imperfections in tight situations, which is bad for architecture shots.

Zeiss ZF.2 50mm f/1.4

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I can’t rave enough about this lens. I loved it. It was just a beast, great for both portraits and landscapes in some select situations, as you can see from both of these shots. The only issue was my lack of experience focusing manually which produced some blurred lemons (none of which will see the light of Internet day). I soon overcame this as you can see.

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I currently use the Nikon 50 mm 1.8, and it does a decent job, but I expect to upgrade at some point, and when I do it will be the Zeiss lens. A big huge thumbs up.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S

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Another fantastic lens that yielded a great result. I was thoroughly happy with this lens. I do own the 1.8G version, and found that while a little faster this rental lens did not offer enough of an improvement to warrant an upgrade. I think anyone with the 1.8G will be as happy with that lens as they would with the 1.4G. They’re both great pieces of glass.

Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED

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I requested this lens for some very specific purposes. I wanted a long telescopic lens to shoot volcanoes from a helicopter and to go whale watching.

In practice, I found the lens to be so big that it was hard to wield without a tripod. And it is a slower lens, so that didn’t help me in the mobile situations produce more shake.

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For example this whale was 300-400 yards off the bow of my boat. Focus/sharpness here is my issue, in large part because I was unused to handling the 80-400 mm lens. This is the type of lens real pros use for sports photography and to take pictures of wildlife. Frankly, using it well requires practice, and in my opinion stabilization in the form of tripods.

I already have a 28-300 mm lens, which is much smaller. Given how little I shoot in these scenarios, I feel like my existing lens is sufficient for telescopic use.

What’s Next for My Photography

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A big heartfelt thank you to LensRentals for letting me try out this equipment. I really appreciated it.

I have another three months left in the 365 Full Frame project with spring ahead. I’m looking forward to making the most of it. After that, I have signed up for a Santa Fe Photographic Workshop on lighting and portraiture. There is much to learn, and this is the area where I am least happy with my skills. Onward.

P.S. LensRentals provided the equipment to me at no charge. I was not paid by the company, and my reviews are direct and forthright. I have used LensRentals and some of its competitors before. I found the LensRentals experience to be excellent, and intend to use them for my future rental experiences.

A Photographic Adventure

We’re en route to the Big Island in Hawaii. It’s our tenth anniversary trip, truly a remarkable achievement. We made it.

When we were dating, I told Caitlin, “I’ll take you to Hawaii, babe.” Finally, that foolish boy’s promise has become a reality. I’m very excited for her to enjoy Hawaii, a place I have visited twice with great delight. And Soleil is with us, too, as she is only four and too young for a two-week visit with the grandparents.

Like all families we have our own interests. Caitlin wants to snorkel. I want to photograph the volcanoes and the Milky Way from atop Mauna Loa. Soleil wants to go whale watching, which I understand you can do from the beach (we’re not putting her on a boat).

How can I use this trip to create exceptional photos, some of my best yet? Let’s make it a photographic adventure instead of the usual Joe Tourist holiday and Facebook album. So how does one do that?

Gear

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First of all, I don’t own ideal equipment. Some of the lenses and my Nikon Df are very good, but there are some weaknesses. The good news is I have some help. My friend Philip Robertson connected me with the folks at LensRentals, who sported me a rig for the trip (I have not been paid, just given free equipment). Here is what they sent me:

  • Nikon D810
  • Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED
  • Zeiss ZF.2 50mm f/1.4
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S
  • Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED

The two telescopic lenses and the Zeiss 50 mm lens are superior to anything I own. They will produce exceptional images (provided I frame them and use the camera correctly). In addition, I needed the telescopic lens for my helicopter excursion over the volcanoes.

The 85 mm lens is more of a test for me. I own the less expensive 1.8f Nikon lens, and have always wanted to see what the difference was. I hope to put this to test in some low light situations, and see how the lens performs.

The D810 camera is a 36 megapixel beast. I have rented its predecessor, the Nikon D800, and opted to buy the Df instead. I liked the sensor a little more on the retro camera.

But as time progressed and my craft evolved, I came to appreciate the need for a faster, more versatile camera. Having a quicker shutter speed, better low light focusing, and sharper images would help in a wide variety of scenarios.

Many pros who shoot with Nikon equipment have told me the D810 is the best bang for the buck. I am considering the D810 as a potential next camera. Now I get to test it in a real scenario. Thank you, LensRentals.com for the opportunity to check all of this fine equipment out.

Commitment to Quality

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The other trick is to commit to quality. It would be really easy to walk around all day and shoot, and load a ton of images to Facebook. I don’t think that’s ideal, for you or for me.

What I’d rather do is post one great photo a day, the best of the best. That means 1) editing one photo a day, which can take 15-45 minutes based on my current workflow. The rest can wait until I get back.

And 2) I’d rather be intentional, setting aside certain times for photography, and spending the rest with my family. I know the gold and blue hours (one hour before and after the sunrise and sunset, respectively) are the best times to shoot. I intend to make the most of them.

Last, or 3) when I do shoot during the day it will likely be with the 50 mm or the 85 mm unless I am in the volcano shooting or whale-watching. I plan on daytripping with a lighter entourage. Then when I take a photo it will be to record a remarkable scene, not just because I happen upon a macadamia farm or there is a turtle on the beach. Unless of course that turtle is remarkable.

Most importantly, while I intend to take great pics, I’m most focused on having fun. After all, it is a vacation, and a special one at that.

You can see the pic a day on the 365FullFrame website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or on Google+. I also intend to start a Pinterest board. If I do happen to post more than one photo a day, it will only be on Flickr.

Let’s see where this goes! Mahalo.