Archive for September, 2009

New toy

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009


Guaranteed way to get any photography nerd’s attention: tell them you’re shooting with an f/0.75 lens. That’s what the two photos in this post were taken with, a Rodenstock TV-Heligon 42/0.75 lens that I snagged off of eBay, along with an XR-Heligon 68/1.0 that I got for all of $10. The 42mm is perfect for Nikon mount; an M42 to F-mount adapter ring fits perfectly and can just be glued on. The 68mm is going to take a bit more effort, but an extension tube set and some more epoxy should do the trick.

These lenses are as about as specialty as it gets. They’re fixed-focus (the 42mm on my D300 focuses at about 3 inches in front of the lens), they have no aperture ring and so are fixed at maximum aperture, they are massively prone to flare, they have extremely low contrast, and they have an at times bizarre color rendition. I think they’re interesting because at those apertures, the depth of field is ridiculously tiny and so the shots have a dreamy feel that even an 85/1.4 can’t come close to.

Off I

More information about these lenses, shamelessly stolen from Robert Rex Jackson (check out this photo to see what the 42/0.75 looks like):

This lens was intended for [X-ray] fluoroscopy. The image in a fluoroscope appears on a very dim fluorescent screen (it could be much brighter if you didn’t mind exposing your patient to MUCH more radiation…heh…) and to get images they had a camera with a fixed-focus lens pointed at the screen. To get images that were usable without having to use extremely fast film (which would introduce unwanted grain) they had very fast lenses made.

So this lens was intended to shoot a screen from about six inches away. It was never intended to photograph 3D objects at varying distances. Using this as a general-purpose photographic lens is an extreme perversion of a once extraordinarily expensive industrial lens. But it’s fun, anyway.

The obvious inspiration for stuff like this is the inimitable Bjørn Rørslett, whose work I’ve admired for years, and I’m psyched to be able now to try my hand at this kind of thing. Just walking around this evening with the 42/0.75, I found myself trying to notice things that would look good as subjects for this lens: tiny patterns, local color contrasts, and the like. It’ll take me a while to “see” the way these lenses do.

U2: Well, shit.

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

U2 12

That guy probably got better shots than I did.

I never seem to get my best shots at the big arena/stadium shows (MASSIVE EXCEPTION: Metallica). Photogs are placed too far back, or the stage is too high, or the band just sits around for the first three songs, or something. Or I’m just off my game. Last night, U2 and Muse played to a pretty full FedEx Field – I’d guess 60-70 thousand people. Photographers were treated very well – three songs, just inside the ring of the ridiculous claw stage, shooting over the top of fans inside the ring. The Edge and Adam wandered out to the ring on the third song and mugged for us for about 30 seconds before the song ended; Bono didn’t make it out there until the fourth song as we were being escorted out.

U2 23

We weren’t too far from the main stage – my 80-200 on a crop body got me closer than full-length shots. Still, we were far enough away that I wasn’t feeling it. It’s always been my style, but more than ever (since experiencing the fabulousness that is the Nikon 14-24) I’m inclined to really big, wide-angle shots, from as close to the performers as possible. Sniping away from distance with a telephoto just feels kind of boring. I’m sure all the photographers at the show got more or less the exact same photos. It’s not surprising that my two favorite shots are of The Edge when he was on the catwalk a foot from my face. (The photo above is uncropped at 24mm on full-frame.)

U2 11

The lighting was a bit tough too. I’m allergic to blown highlights, and the lighting on the musicians’ faces was such that preserving highlights there generally meant letting their clothes go pretty dark, and letting the environment around them go to black. It was really hard to get smooth tonalities; a little bit of colored fog would have gone a long way towards making these photos better. The slight haze in the above photo was about as much as we got along those lines. (And yes, there are blown highlights in Bono’s face in that photo, and yes, it bothers me a bit.) The below is about as close as I could get to a nice environmental shot; Bono is too bright but after pulling up the shadows with a tone curve you can see a bit of the stadium detail in the background.

U2 17

Finally, I had a little problem during Muse‘s set in which my 80-200 appeared to stop autofocusing on my D300. I didn’t notice this until reviewing my photos after the 3 songs were up, and noticing that half of them were soft. WTF. I made sure this didn’t happen during U2, but I had a bit of trouble with softness there as well, making me think I should get my D300 checked out (had no issues with the lens on the D700 when I used it at Sectionals a couple weekends ago).

One more wide shot and then I’ll end this lament:

U2 26

Full set here, including a few shots of Muse, who sounded pretty great.

Red light and fog

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Sunn O))) 08

Generally, these two things are a concert photographer’s worst enemy. For a Sunn O))) show, that’s all there is (ok, plus some hooded robes and lasers). And you know what? That’s fine with me.

As I said in my Flickr set description, I didn’t suddenly become a terrible concert photographer who doesn’t know how to expose for the frontlight. There was no frontlight. And that’s the way it should be, for this band. Silhouettes making slow, grandiose rock-god poses in hellish red light? Perfect image for Sunn O)))’s brand of music (which might be described as doom metal, drone, noise rock, experimental sound-fuckery, hipster bullshit, or excessive volume for the sake of excessive volume, depending on who you ask).

This is probably the one band for whom I’ll be happy with these shooting conditions. I mean, it was ridiculous. They started the fog machine, and then the band waited at least ten minutes before taking the stage, while the machine kept running, so that the room was literally completely filled with haze and we could barely see a thing. Given the circumstances, I took many more photos than I expected to.

Sunn O))) 05

Sunn O))) 16

Sunn O))) 14

Also, non-photo-related: I’ve been to some loud shows, but not surprisingly, this one was by far the loudest. My entire body was vibrating the entire show, there was a tightness in my throat as if the sound waves were compressing my windpipe, and I almost felt like I should lean forward lest the decibels literally push me back. There were amps piled high on the stage, plus a stack of huge amps piled up in front of the stage as well. “Maximum volume yields maximum results,” say the band, and clearly they are going for maximum results. (My earplugs worked as advertised, so the show didn’t sound excessively loud to me – it felt excessively loud. In a kind of awesome way.)

More photos at the full set.

Sectionals photos are live!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

UPA Capital Sectionals - Mixed Division

Check ’em out here at Ultiphotos. There are 1,500 photos all told, about 675 of which are mine. That’s a little overwhelming, so head to the highlights gallery with 320 of our favorites (135 of which are mine).

As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed shooting with a 300/2.8, which got me some nice frame-filling action shots and enabled me to throw backgrounds completely out of focus. The above photo, which is cropped only very slightly, is a great example – admittedly, the background at the Uppervile polo fields are close to ideal, with lots of trees and empty fields and few visual distractions. Still, with the 300 wide open at f/2.8, even a parking lot as a background doesn’t get distracting.

Capital Sectionals at 8 frames per second

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

This is a new thing I’m going to start doing, which I’m calling 8 fps. I was talking to Kevin Leclaire about how I shoot a lot of bursts when I’m shooting Ultimate, and then when I was scrolling through my photos on my camera, just holding down the button to scan through quickly, I thought it might be cool to put some of the longer bursts together into a kind of stop-motion highlights video. The result of my minimal effort – an hour and half of work – is above. (Note: probably won’t show up in your RSS feed reader, so come visit the site.)

It’s a montage of 68 separate plays, each documented by anywhere from three to ten frames. The whole thing consists of 453 photos shot at 8 frames per second (but played back at 7 fps, as I thought the slightly slower frame rate made things a bit more comprehensible). There are series shot by both my D300 with 300/2.8 and my D700 with 80-200/28. All the photos are completely unedited, because actually editing them would have been way more effort than it was worth. So here’s your chance to see how much of the frame I’m able to fill (or not) when shooting Ultimate. The reality is, as you can see, cropping is often very much necessary.

The logistics of making this video basically involved selecting the photos, resizing them down to a reasonable size for this purpose, doing a quick Photoshop batch process to put the verticals onto horizontal canvases, another batch process to add my watermark, and then using an extremely basic piece of freeware to string them together into a video. Ta-da!

As a final note, the full collection of Sectionals photos will be live at Kevin’s site either later this evening or tomorrow. There’s some great stuff to be seen!

The Sounds, wow

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The Sounds 41

I shot Sweden’s The Sounds earlier this year when they were opening for No Doubt, but that arena show gave little inkling about how dynamic these folks – especially vocalist Maja Ivarsson – really are as performers. At the 9:30 Club, Ivarsson was everywhere doing everything, and even though I wanted to take more photos of the other band members, I was literally afraid to take the lens off of Ivarsson for even a second, lest I miss an iconic shot. High-kicking, high-fiving fans, touching her bandmates, even practically kissing one of the other photographers – there was hardly a second that Ivarsson wasn’t doing something photo-worthy, especially as we as concert photographers like to take pictures of performers doing basically anything other than just playing their instruments. (For other performers, a single raised arm might be the highlight shot of a whole show.)

The Sounds 47

The light show was gorgeous, the crowd was enthusiastic, and the band were incredibly photographer-friendly. We got to shoot the first three songs in the pit (really just two songs since there was a short intro “song” that unfortunately counted towards the three), plus the three-song encore, and we were allowed to shoot outside the pit for the rest of the show as well. I wish more bands would do things like this; the vast majority of my best shots came after the first three songs.

The Sounds 08

Lighting was beautiful but tough for photography. There was a ton of deeply colored backlighting, bright white backlights that came on periodically, and only a bit of dim incandescent frontlighting (which tended to disappear at inopportune moments). I wanted to expose for the frontlight, and I knew the band would be active so I wanted to keep my shutter speeds at 1/160 or higher, so I shot at ISO 3200 for the most part. But that meant that when the bright white backlights came on, I had to quickly ratchet up the shutter speed to 1/500 or even 1/1250 to keep up. It was a challenge, to say the least. This photo gives a sense of the backlighting we were contending with:

The Sounds 69

Note the crazy flare pattern, which I actually think looks kind of cool – this was shot at 14mm wide open at f/2.8. While in the pit I used the 14-24/2.8 almost exclusively, as the 9:30’s stage is relatively low and Ivarsson was right up on the edge of it most of the time. Thanks to the rapidly changing light, Ivarsson’s nonstop antics, and the fact that I was able to shoot the whole show, I took an insane amount of photos – I don’t think I’ve ever shot as many frames for a single band as I did for The Sounds. Visit the full gallery, where I went overboard and posted 70 (!) photos. Enjoy.

Sneak preview and coming attractions

Monday, September 21st, 2009

UPA Capital Sectionals - Mixed Division

Yesterday I covered, once again alongside Kevin Leclaire, the Ultimate Players Association Capital Mixed Sectional tournament, with my coverage focused on the mixed (coed) division. Sectionals is the first step towards the National Championship tournament in Sarasota in late October. The next step is Regionals, in two weeks, and once again I’ll be there covering Sunday. This is my first time in literally 10 years not playing in the fall club series. It felt kind of weird, but I enjoyed being able to focus, so to speak, on making some great photos. I’ll probably return to playing next year though… I miss it.

Anyway, the full coverage will be at Kevin’s site, Ultiphotos, again. Should be up later this week.

UPA Capital Sectionals - Mixed Division

I got my hands on a 300/2.8 AF-S version 1 telephoto lens and used it for the weekend. I had it on a monopod for the first round of games on Sunday (an old Bogen 3018 pod with 3229 swivel/tilt head that I used to use with a manual focus 300/4.5 AIS back when I was first trying to shoot Ultimate in college), but quickly got frustrated by the lack of mobility. By 10am I was handholding it and running around again, with my second body and 80-200/2.8 slung over my shoulder. The two made for a great tandem, assuming I had a few seconds when needed to switch between them. Eight hours of that was pretty tiring to say the least, but it was definitely doable. And the isolation I got from the 300 is absolutely gorgeous. I’ll post an appropriate example soon but the above two shots show it off a bit.

The second shot is just a random non-action capture that I really like. It’s nice to get little shots like this to break up a full day of nothing but action photography.

Sectionals aside, other things I will be covering in the near future, and probably posting about at least a couple of them: lots of concerts. Namely, The Sounds tonight, Sunn O))) on Wednesday, U2 next Tuesday. Also, possibly, because I think it might just be the weirdest spectacle I shoot all year, Lady Gaga next Monday. I had also been planning to shoot Gojira tomorrow, but with the 2,500 photos I took this weekend, I need an extra evening to sit at my computer!

In the studio and back out

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Ursula in the studio

As a completely self-taught photographer (I’ve never taken a photography class, have never assisted a more experienced photographer, and until the session described here had never even attended any kind of photography workshop), I have a huge blind spot in my experience – studio work. Regular readers know that I’ve recently begun experimenting with studio lighting techniques using my Nikon Speedlights, but when it comes to the real thing, I don’t have a clue.

So I found myself at a studio a few weekends ago learning the ropes: shooting models using a trio of White Lightning X800 studio lights, triggered via PocketWizard transceivers. First thing of note: these lights are powerful. I was shooting between f/11 and f/16 most of the time – when I looked halfway through the workshop, I noted that the two main lights were on full power and the kicker light was on half power. If I’d been in charge I would have turned those way down to be able to open up the aperture and save the power. But I guess that’s one thing with studio strobes – fast recycle times aren’t really a big problem even at high power levels.

This thing was put on by a fashion photographer. The thing about fashion photography is that it’s all high-key, glamour-type lighting, with few deep shadows to be found. This makes for striking photos but frankly I find it a bit boring. With lighting all set like this the creativity is more on the model’s side than the photographer’s. So after figuring out the basics in the studio I went outside and did some shots in natural light, finding interesting backgrounds and compositions and letting the models do their thing. In some cases it would have been nice to have had a Speedlight or two to add some catchlights in the eyes or even out the exposures, but for the most part this was great, and for some of the photos I was able to take down the backgrounds a bit in Photoshop anyway, to highlight the subjects a bit more.


Above: This was the 80-200/2.8 doing its magic wide open, helped by a masked levels adjustment layer that darkened the wall and increased contrast. Oh, and it helps that Ursula was a fantastic subject, who seemed to fall naturally into effective poses. I do think this one could use a bit of dodging and burning to help her face pop from the background a bit more.


This one breaks all kinds of rules; I shot it in close and wide at 24mm, which is usually unflattering, and it’s in dappled light which usually wreaks havoc with exposures. I think it worked anyway, somehow. I worked the most with Brittany, and although I’m not sure she was super psyched about the results, I’m pretty happy with them.


I barely got to work with Caprea at all and this is the only shot I got of her that I think is halfway decent. It needed a bit of work in Photoshop to get it to pop – namely a masked levels adjustment layer and some vignetting.

A hundred thousand photos and counting

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Cage Door

Out of curiosity I checked the shutter counts on both my cameras tonight. I got my D300 in April 2008 and it has 83,790 clicks on it. I got my D700 in April 2009 and it has 23,570 clicks on it. Conclusion: I’ve been taking lots of pictures lately.

The photo above is click #23,541 on the D700. I went a step further and charted out my month-by-month usage of this camera:

April: 473 clicks
May: 8,094 clicks (8,567 total)
June: 3,521 clicks (12,088 total)
July: 2,499 clicks (14,587 total)
August: 7,287 clicks (21,874 total)
September so far: 1,696 clicks (23,570 total)

Tons of photos in May because of a wedding and two days of Maryland Deathfest; tons in August because of Virgin FreeFest and… a trip to Vancouver? Honestly, I’m a bit shocked that I took 7,000 photos last month. (And that doesn’t even include D300 usage.)

A change of season

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Window in Brick, September

Summer to Autumn (taken in September);

Window in Brick, March

Winter to Spring (taken in March).