Jonathan Fleming's Blog

A Photography Blog

Posts Tagged ‘17-50

Life Without My Mid-Range Zoom

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Found an optical defect in one of the inner elements of my Tamron 17-50mm /f2.8 VC a couple weeks ago. As soon as I discovered the problem, I shipped the lens over to a Tamron service center. I promptly received notice from Tamron that the issue would be repaired under warranty, but I’m still waiting for the lens to return. At first I thought I’d have a real tough time without the lens, but I must say that so far, I don’t miss those mid-range focal lengths very much at all. I think it’s because the 17-50mm range just doesn’t give you a whole lot of control over the perception of space and distance in a photograph.

I usually like to either expand foreground and background elements using an ultra-wide lens, or compress the foreground and background using a long telephoto. An example of the latter is seen in the image above. Shot at 165mm, you can really see how compressed the elements in the frame are, giving Suki a really powerful presence in the photo. In contrast, check out a similar image shot at 78mm:

See? Not quite as dramatic, right? Even Suki is disappointed, as you can see by her facial expression. Now if you really want to isolate your subject from the background, try an even longer focal length:

Same location, only with my lens at 280mm. The background gets so compressed at this focal length that it becomes unrecognizable, which completely isolates Suki in the foreground. This is the kind of creative control that a telephoto zoom lens can give you. So the next time you’re out taking photos, think about what you’re trying to accomplish before you start rotating that zoom ring. Are you zooming because you’d rather stay in one spot instead of moving closer to your subject, or are you trying to alter the perception of space and distance in your image? It’s almost always best to consider the latter first.

Ok, so it’s not that I don’t want my Tamron 17-50 anymore. It’s usually the lens I grab first if I have no idea what I’m going out to shoot. But I know now that I can definitely live without that focal range.

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Camera Specs: Nikon D300s + Nikkor AFS 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR

Jazz at Epicenter Cafe

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If you live in San Francisco and love Jazz, great coffee, good food, and a nice selection of beer and wine, you must check out Epicenter Cafe. It’s a great place to kick back with your laptop and browse the web, get some studying done, or just hang out with friends.

The interior has a very “South of Market” industrial look to it, with modern furniture and art, waxed concrete flooring as well as exposed concrete pillars, electrical conduits, plumbing and air ducts.  During the day, tons of light floods in through large, floor-to-ceiling windows.

The live music, however, is the most important element! Every Sunday evening, the cafe hosts a “Jazz Jam,” which is basically the Jazz version of an open mic.  If you can play/sing Jazz and read a lead sheet, you’re free to perform. There was a great group there yesterday evening:

Chris (on trumpet you see below) is a friend of mine. We met with a bunch of other friends to see him jam with the other instrumentalists.

My wife also brought a few charts along and performed two pieces. I decided to video record the performances instead of taking stills. Used my D300s fitted with the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC for the two clips. I must say, Vibration Control makes a huge difference in steadiness when recording video while hand-holding a DSLR. Check out the clips below!

The first clip is her second performance, where she sang “On Green Dolphin Street.” Video was recorded in 720p resolution. The second clip is the song “September in the Rain,” accidentally recorded in a lower resolution. Oh well!

Jazz jam sessions are rare in San Francisco, so my wife and I were really excited about this opportunity. The band was thrilled with her performance (as was I), and invited her back with specific requests as well. Good job, honey. Truly beautiful!

HDR with Photomatix Pro

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Alright, I finally did it. I broke down and gave HDR a try (click image above for large version). Creating a HDR or high dynamic range image involves blending multiple exposures together in order to display detail in the final image that would otherwise be lost in a single exposure. Our eyes are capable of looking at a scene with bright highlights and dark shadows and still see an immense amount of detail. Cameras simply don’t have that kind of ability, which is why blending exposures is useful when a scene contains very bright and very dark elements at the same time.

I set my D300s to automatically bracket a series of photos for me at 1 stop increments, and here’s what I got out of the camera:

Notice that if the sky looks good, the beach looks too dark. Conversely, if the sand looks detailed, the sky is blown out. There’s simply too much range for the camera to pick up detail in all areas of the frame. Yes, I suppose I could have used a split neutral density filter to even things out, but the purpose of this shoot was to experiment with HDR.

Exposure blending used to be extremely difficult, requiring the use of multiple layers, masks, and a whole lot of brush strokes to manually bring out detail in the HDR image. Nowadays, it’s dead simple. Photoshop has a “merge to HDR” feature built-in, but it’s not quite as good as standalone software like Photomatix Pro, which I used to merge this HDR image. All I had to do was drag the four bracketed images above straight from Lightroom 3 Beta 2 into Photomatix Pro, specify a few parameters, and POOF! It spit out an HDR image. Of course, what you see at the top of this post is not what you get right after the merge in Photomatix. I still had to tone map the HDR, then export it as a standard image file back into Lightroom for post-processing before it looked satisfactory.

I’m pretty excited about how easy the process was. My goal was to try to convey the scene the way my own eyes saw it, and I have to say that the final result looks very close to what I experienced that evening. Overall, I’m glad that I decided to give HDR a try, and I look forward using this photographic tool again.

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Camera Specs: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at f/13 ISO200, various shutter speeds.

Bring the Studio With You!

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One of the things I’ve learned  from running around the city taking pictures of Suki for my 52 week project is that natural lighting doesn’t always cut it. Bringing some basic lighting equipment along with you when you go out, however, can let you take control of a situation in which the existing light just won’t give you a nice photo. Take this series of images, for example. Strolling around one of my favorite areas of the city, Suki jumped up on this long platform along the sidewalk, and I immediately had a shot in mind.  I lined up my camera and took the shot below, a test image to see what the camera was thinking about the scene:

Meh, no shot here. The lighting is flat, and not coming from the direction I need it. Notice that the bulk of the light  in the scene is coming from behind Suki. As a result, she’s dark. With no directional light on her, the subject of the photo, she appears flat and one-dimensional. Boo…

Fortunately, I had my SB-900 speedlight with me. Fired it wirelessly at Suki from my left through a small piece diffusion material, and the difference was dramatic (top image and below). Notice that she now has increased color, dimension, clarity, and separation from the background.

This is what I love about Nikon’s CLS, or Creative Lighting System. You can carry portable speedlights with you anywhere, and it’s like bringing the controlled elements of a studio out into the less-predictable field. Firing multiple lights wirelessly and getting your desired exposure is incredibly easy with CLS, as the camera does most of the thinking for you. It also helps to have a subject that is used to having her picture taken!

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Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC // SB-900 Speedlight off-camera

See another shot using this setup HERE

Exploring Kyoto

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Something I found fascinating during my last stay in Japan was exploring little side streets and alleys wherever we happened to be. Tucked away in bustling neighborhoods and often times barely wide enough for single-file foot traffic, these paths offer peaceful exploration away from the busier main streets, and are full of interesting sights.

I suppose that after being completely overwhelmed by the extremely crowded streets of Tokyo, we wanted to try our best to find ways to explore Kyoto as “alone” as possible. Which is why we got up really early in the morning on the days we went touring the city. Exploring the Gion area as well as various parks, temples, and shrines in Kyoto starting at 7:00am proved to be a great idea. We seemed to have the city all to ourselves at such an early hour, which not only made sightseeing more enjoyable, but also made photographing the city much easier.

Head out too late, especially during Sakura season, and you’ll run into way too many people, which definitely takes the fun out of touring for me. I was fortunate to head out early enough, for instance, to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto one morning. When we arrived, virtually no one was there, giving me the freedom to take many shots without anyone walking into the frame. By the time we left the shrine, so many tourists had showed up that getting a shot without gaijin standing in the way would have been next to impossible.

Moral of the story? Don’t sleep in when you travel!

Camera Specs:

Top Image: Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-150mm f/2.8 at 85mm f/2.8 ISO1250 1/200 Second
Second Image: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 17mm f/4 ISO200 1/15 Second
Third Image: Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-150mm at 50mm f/3.5 ISO400 1/80 Second
Fourth Image: Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-150mm at 75mm f/7.1 ISO200 1/200 Second
Fifth Image: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 45mm f/5.6 ISO360 1/8 Second (VC works!)

Riding the Shinkansen

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My friends in Kyoto tell me it takes them a good 9 hours to drive to Tokyo from where they live. We traveled the same distance in about a third that time on a Japanese bullet train, or Shinkansen, last week. These trains really haul! Check out the video posted above that I took from a window on the Shinkansen we took over the weekend. See how fast those houses fly by?  It’s insane!

Inside, accommodations are very comfortable. This is the standard car. The “Green” cars have even larger seats with more legroom (for a price of course).  A beverage and snack service rolls through each car on a regular basis.

Train stations in the big city can get really crowded and busy in Japan. This particular day was extremely light. Well stocked food and beverage stores are located on the train platforms. Japan is all about convenience!

Zzzzoooom!!!!!

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Top: Video by Canon S90
Shinkansen Interior: Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 11mm f/2.8 ISO200 1/200 Second
Shin-Osaka Station: Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 14mm f/4.5 ISO200 1/80 Second
Beneath the Platforms: Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 11mm f/6.3 ISO200 1/15 Second
Zzzzoooom!: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 22mm f/8 ISO200 1/80 Second

Written by Jonathan

April 7, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Beautiful (but cold!) Tokyo

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Spent this past weekend in Tokyo, and it was freezing! The cold weather made touring at night pretty difficult, but we and our very nice friends from Chiba went out and braved the cold anyway. On our last night in Tokyo, we went to the Tokyo tower, where I took this shot. Normally, the tower is lit orange from top to bottom, but my friends tell me that during Sakura season, they light the tower in the color pattern you see above.

I was hoping to blog about my trip often and chronologically, but I’m so busy enjoying Japan, that I decided the less time I spend at the computer the better. I’m in Kyoto now, and it’s beautiful. Much much warmer weather, which means tons of cherry blossoms to see and photograph!

Top: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 17mm f/2.8 ISO1000 1/10 Second (handheld)

Bottom: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 17mm f/2.8 ISO1600 1/8 Second (handheld)

Written by Jonathan

March 31, 2010 at 6:33 am