We went up to Aramoana as a family trip, a chance to do some photography, and a chance for Sophie to get out with her new camera. But I go to take my first shot, and see “No card in Camera”. Dang!
But the best camera is the one you have with you, so the ‘proper’ camera stays in it’s case and I’ll have to make do with my phone. It’s a brilliant day, with clear skies and the sun low on the horizon. It’s set to randomise the settings. I like this since it gives me the unpredictable joy of using a truly wonderful/awful film camera without the expense of processing the film. (Matty ALN + BlackKeys 44)
Here’s Sophie showing off that she has a ‘real’ camera… (Libatique73 + Big Easy)
Someone ele’s do wanted to get in on the image. Kind of weird with the dogs head not showing (I have another shot where you see the dog more clearly, but I think I prefer this one for sheer funk). (Sergio + Black Keys SuperGrain)
Shooting into the sun will never give you an ordinary shot. But who wants another ordinary photo.
(Jack London + Rock BW-11)
How can a photograph embody emotion? How can a photo capture your feelings? My answer is that it’s a matter of opening your eyes to what is around you. I was visiting an old friend of mine who was dying in hospital. I spent a couple of days beside his bed, and the time was filled with laughter and tears. My friend Ralph is a musician and songwriter, and I’ve known him for three decades. Eventually I needed to say goodbye, and face a long walk back to the motel I was staying in, before catching a flight back home. Ralph was born and raised in Taranaki, noted for the big mountain, Mt. Taranaki, that looks down on the entire province. I remember when he and I left the province in ’79 or ’80 Ralph wrote a song about the mountain, using it as a metaphor for his feelings about the province…
I looked over my shoulder,
and saw the cause of my misery.
It’s a big white mountain
Pretty as it can be
But its ice cold breath, boys,
Be the death of me.
Walking down the road from the hospice I looked over my shoulder, and there was the mountain, looking down on me. Some days the mountain is hidden by cloud, but on a clear day it seems to be visible from almost everywhere. The mountain seemed to embody the complex feelings I had, having just said my last goodbyes to Ralph. I tried taking a photo of it with my phone, but the moderately wide lens made it look further away, and the suburban houses in the foreground seemed to be sending the wrong messages. The mountain was just too small in the image, and you didn’t really see the point of the photo. But when I got to the top of a hill near the motel I saw the mountain between a nest of signs, including one sign pointing towards a cemetery, a give way sign, and a man walking image. It was as if this is what I was put here to photograph. The place was asking me to photograph it. The best photos are not taken, but allowed to be taken. Knowing that the phone camera would not cut it, I unpacked my bag on the roadside – the 6D was at the bottom. I tried a couple of shots but I knew I needed something more. I re-assembled the tripod that I had packed away for travel, and found the ideal spot for the camera (on the road, pretty much in the path of passing cars) with the longest lens I had with me (70mm). I knew a longer lens was what I’d need to make the mountain large in the image relative to the foreground. I took a series of photos with long exposures looking for cars moving, and avoiding getting run over. I figured that a ghostly blurred shot of a car passing would complete the photo, and I think the result works really well.
In post I’ve adjusted contrast and increased the saturation. I’ve applied a mask to the sky and lowered the colour temperature to get the Japanese-y woodblock like colour in the sky (actually that was what the sky looked like, but it bleached out in the photo). I’ve also applied a mask to the signs and brightened them a little to make them more visible. Back at the motel I slept badly, and dreamed about Ralph. I was already wide awake when the alarm sounded at 5:00 am to get me ready for the shuttle to the airport, so I was outside, waiting for the shuttle in the predawn darkness well before the shuttle arrived. Lights over deserted roads and pedestrian crossings on still nights have always fascinated me, although given my state of mind they seemed like crossings over the river Styx. Since I had time to kill I ‘worked the scene’ with my phone. The first image was taken with the Hueless app that is a great little app for black and white photos, and seemed fitting for a fairly noir image.
Then I tried my favourite app – Hipstamatic – and took a bunch of shots with the randomise setting on. I really like the joy of finding a gem in the random combination of “lenses” and “films” you can get with this app. It reminds me of the joys of using a lo-fi film camera where you never really know what you are going to get.
The last shots of this trip are a little more optimistic, but nonetheless are dominated by that mountain, and I still have the words of Ralph’s song ringing in my ears. From my seat on the plane there was a wonderful view of the mountain (that damn mountain) and again I used Hipstamatic to take some shots. These work best in terms of composition – the mountain juxtaposed against the plane’s engine. With the random settings I’ve ended up with two very different treatments – choose the more colourful one for a more optimistic ending, or the muted one for something sadder.
Let’s return to the question I posed at the start. How can a photo embody emotion? Well, the images above certainly resonate to me with some very complex emotions connected with my friend’s passing, and when I look at the shots of the mountain I can’t help but hear the words of his song. They are certainly emotionally charged to me, and I guess you’ll pick up some of that charge from the images now that you’ve read the story behind them. But if you are just looking at the images? Probably the phone images won’t count for a great deal. The last two images are nice shots, but I doubt if they will convey the feelings I had without hearing the story (even though they work well as images). The two street shots are a little obvious. The one that I like though is the one at the top of the page, the shot where the universe asked me to take the photo. At first glance it’s a pretty shot of the mountain with the interesting lines made by the power poles, but the text in the image (on the signs) and the implied movement to and from the cemetery – the main walking towards his grave and the car recoiling from it – give the image more substance.
This is going to be a quick review of this lens. There’s not a lot to say since the lens pretty much works as advertised. I’ve used this lens for a couple of months and have tested it and compared it to my other lenses.
The lens is intended as a ‘walk-around’ workhorse for full frame cameras and is in direct competition with Canon and Nikon offerings. The first point to make about the lens is the cost. Canon’s 24~70 f2.8 has a list price in NZ of $3,390, Nikon’s 24~70 f/2.8 is $2,400. The Tamron is only $1,398. Of course all of these lenses would be available cheaper if you shopped around, so this is for comparison only.
The focal length range is very useful. At the wide end 24mm gives you a decent wide angle. I find 28mm a little conservative, and I much prefer 24mm. At the long end it is just long enough for looser portrait shots. With a wide maximum aperture you have plenty of scope for shallow depth of field shots. But if you have an APSC camera (Canon 700D, Nikon D5200 and similar) the focal length range is not so useful, taking you only from standard to moderate telephoto range, with no wide-angle)
At first glance the lens looks like it would be the ideal companion to a Canon 6D or Nikon D610.
In terms of sharpness the lens performs very well. The lens is as sharp as my prime lenses. In the centre the lens retains its sharpness very nicely except for the most extreme apertures. In the corners there is some loss of sharpness and vignetting at wide apertures, but compared to other lenses this is nothing more than what one could expect. Stopping down from f2.8 to f/3.2 produces a noticeable improvement with very little loss of light. The lens performs brilliantly at f5.6 and f/8, with only a slight fall off in quality as you move away form the ideal apertures.
The lens does exhibit some rather obvious barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion distortion at the 70mm end. Seeing the rather obvious results on my shots of a test chart I went into the dojo and photographed a rack of naginata – this subject being full of horizontal and vertical lines which should be about the worst case scenario to show this up. Fortunately the results are not nearly as bad as I expected. You can see the distortion if you look for it, but it’s not too much in the way, especially considering the subject.
Can you tell which is which? I’m sure you can if you know what you are looking for, but if you can’t, then the distortion will never worry you. The distortion can also be corrected by applying the Lens Profile correction in Lightroom.
In terms of construction the lens is well put together, and feels more solid than most Tamron lenses I’ve used in the past. The switches for manual/auto focus and the on/off switch for the VC (image stabilisation) are a little small and fiddly. For the VC this is not a problem since it is not something that I would want to accidentally knock out of place, but I would prefer a more accessible autofocus switch since this is one control that I will access during shooting.
The focus ring can be adjusted during autofocus, but the manual warns against doing so, saying that this could cause damage to the autofocus system. This does seem a little confusing – if indeed the lens can be damaged this way it would be a very easy mistake to make, especially if you did not bother to read the manual. The auto focus is fast and silent.
The closest focusing distance is not a true macro lens, but better than I expected for a general purpose lens. The shot below will give you a practical idea of how close you can get. The battery is an AA size.
The lens appears to be weather sealed, but to what extent it is I do not know. I don’t plan to leave it out in the rain, but it’s nice to know there is some attempt to prevent weather damage in the design, should an emergency arise.
The lens is not small. when you put it on a full size DSLR you have quite a big camera – here the lens is mounted on a 6D, beside a more compact Canon 350D.
But overall how do I think it stacks up?
I think this is an excellent lens. The image quality is excellent. The fiddly auto focus switch is the only real niggle I have with it, but I can live with that especially at the price.
And the price really is an issue. What we have here is a well built 24~70 with great optical performance and good build quality that is half the price of the Canon or Nikon lenses, and it is stabilised. Neither the Nikon or Canon equivalents are stabilised and that really sets the seal on the lens for me. Stabilisation is a really important factor in low light photography. I always seem to be shooting in situations where there is not enough light, and I know form the student work I see that this is true for most people.
So we have to ask… I’m sure the Canon and Nikon lenses are very nice – but why would you pay twice the price for a lens that is probably no better optically than the Tamron, yet is not stabilised?
In short this lens would seem to be the obvious lens to own if you have a Nikon 610 or Canon 6D. And the more I think about it I can’t see why you’d want to spend more money even if you had a 5DIII or D800E
The shot below is taken at 70mm, f/5, 1/30th of a second at 1600 ISO. I could have probably dropped down to f/8 or maybe even f/11 if I had needed more depth of field, but if the lens had not been stabilised I’d probably be thinking about opening the aperture until I had a higher shutter speed.
I was lucky enough to win a prize in th first annual Photogeek competition run by Lens Rentals
When I saw the competition rules it struck me that the best category for me to enter was in the ‘No Video Mode’ category – which turned out to be the least geeky of all the categories. There were some fantastic entries – but I think my favourite was the guy who used a lathe to adjust the filter screw on the front of his lens (follow the link above and go right to the bottom).
But I thought I should post here a little on the winning image that I put in – (double-click on it to see it larger)
This was taken on a Canon 350D that has been converted to Infra Red. The interaction between the Man, the Boy and the Ball works really well, but it’s the Woman in the char looking at us that makes it for me. I like the surreal quality that the infra-red gives to the foliage, turning an ordinary day in the park into what seems to be more like some kind of thermonuclear spectator event. The people are actually watching a brass band concert – I thought it would work nicely if I framed so that we just had the people sunbathing, and framed so that we could not see the band. The group of people who appear to be having a philosophical discussion i the background (look above the Man’s head) also work really well.
I think I’ve managed to capture on of those moments that take an ordinary event and frame it so that it becomes quite surreal.
Working with the 350D is actually a surprisingly pleasant experience. Well, maybe it’s that my expectations are low. Compared to using my 6D, looking through the viewfinder is like looking through a tunnel, and the image on the rear LCD screen is so small it’s useless, and the low light capability is zero. But it makes a cool noise when you take a photo, it’s small, and it goes. And it’s had an infra-red conversion so there’s an element of guesswork as to how any photo will work – foliage comes out white, eyes come out black, other things have an element of serendipity that aids creativity.
In fact if you needed an ultra budget camera I think your first port of call would be one of these coupled with the Samyang 14mm lens…
The Samyamg lens is inexpensive, has great optics, and on the 350D it’s the equivalent of a 22mm – quite a nice focal length. Together they make a great combination for the price. Of course if you were not constrained by price there are better cameras, but if infra-red is just a sideline it’;s hard to justify spending a lot more.
The shot above would also work if I’d used an orthodox camera, but it’s the white foliage that gives it the nuclear charm. It’s that together with the interaction of the people that makes it work.
Here’s another shot taken on the same day…
Here it’s the combination of the dark sky, the bright foliage and the solitary girl running that makes the shot. Not to mention the Atget-ish bandstand.
Both these shots have been shifted to black and white in Lightroom – straight off the camera they have a pinkish cast. Here’re some ducks, with the pink colour left in, on infra-red white grass…
The Feastock festival is a unique mix of a giant backyard party and a full-on Woodstock style festival. It is an annual event in Fea Street, Dunedin.
I was lucky enough to be playing there this year, and also got to take some photos…
(All shot on a Canon 6D)
First up is the Laon, a Christchurch band that plays some pretty wicked psychedelic stuff. This shot works due to the lights providing glare, and gives a general idea of the layout of the stage. This is shot with a 20mm lens – I’ve reached as far as I can over the edge of the stage, and taken the photo blind (without looking through the viewfinder).
Here we have keytarist Hong An. I’ve accentuated the natural light on him by darkening the left edge of the frame a little. This was shot with the Pentax 135mm lens (the one that had minor surgery described in the earlier post).
One reason for putting many of these shots in black and white is that the coloured lights on the smoke and the blue-and-yellow roof in the background respond very effectively to colour control, either in Lightroom or by using the colour ‘filters’ in Silver Effex Pro. By selectively emphasising the blue or red channels you can get very different effects, allowing more separation between the subject and background.
To get this shot I’ve used a 20mm prime lens and reached out with my right arm until it was close to Hong An’s foot, and shot blind. I’d take shot and then quickly review the LCD screen to see if my targeting was accurate. I didn’t use Live View because of the delay in the autofocus working. Actually I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the camera will ‘see’ – this is an advantage of using prime lenses – you get a really good idea of the field of view of your favourite lenses. The stripes on his pants function as leading lines, and there’s some nice backlighting.
You can’t see his face, but it’s a great action shot anyway.
This is the Dunedin band The Males, using an old M42 Pentax 55mm.
I’ve shot a burst here and managed to capture a great action moment, where the bass player’s movements work well against the light, and I’ve got separation from the background by using the right coloured filter in Silver Effex.
This is using the Pentax 135mm lens again. It’s a balancing act between using an open aperture to separate the subject from the background, yet not going too wide since I’m using a manual focus lens on a subject who is dancing about.
Here’s Richard Ley-Hamilton from The Males. As you’ve seen in the other photos, he’s usually dancing about on the stage, but when he sings he needs to stand at the mic. To give him the energy he deserves (the energy we can hear, but that won’t be communicated in a photo) I’ve given him an extreme cant in the shot. Again this one was done by reaching across from the front of the stage and taking the photo blind.
Some overall notes on rock’n’roll photography…
Auto-focus is a blessing and a curse. It’s really easy when the focus latches on to the subject, but there are also lots of other items that can confuse the auto-focus such as smoke and mic stands. I have twenty or thirty photos that have a mic cable in perfect focus, with an out of focus musician behind it. It would be really easy to miss some really good shots if you rely too much on autofocus.
Pre-focusing is really useful when using manual focus – focus on a spot that you hope the musician will move into and hit the shutter when they move into focus.
Shoot bursts. You need to capture those precious moments, and the performers don’t stay still for you.
Long lenses are good for getting CUs, but the really good shots usually come from wider lenses. Wider lenses are inherently more present, more energetic. Longer lenses are just, well, more distant.
Learn to shoot blind. Often the shot requires that the camera is in a position that you just can’t reach without shooting blind, and Live View shooting is just too slow. Using a well-loved prime lens will help.
There are an abundance of top quality older Pentax K mount lenses available second hand. These lenses were made in the 1970s though the 1980s and, with an adapter, these work very well on Canons APS-C cameras (550D, 60D, 7D etc.). But they won’t fit on the full frame models (5DII, 5DIII, 6D etc.) Well, they fit, but when you go to take a photo the mirror smashes into the back of the lens in a most unhealthy way.
Fortunately, with a little minor surgery this can be corrected. After the surgery, the lens will loose some of its function if you decide you want to mount it on a Pentax camera –
M series lenses – the lever is used to keep the aperture open until you click the shutter. If you use the lens on a modern Pentax camera you need to use manual exposure and meter when using the Depth of Field preview button. This is a real hassle. If you do the surgery as I describe the aperture will close or open as you move the aperture ring, and you can use Aperture priority automatic exposure. The viewfinder will get darker as you stop down, but I think this is better than having to muck about with the DoF button.
A series lenses – The lens will work well on a modern Pentax camera and will interface with the cameras electronics. The surgery will work as I have described, but this will significantly devalue the lens to anyone who wants so use it on a Pentax camera.
Therefore I’d only recommend doing this to an M series lens. How do you know if it is an M series lens? On the A series there is a green A (for Automatic) setting next to 22 on the aperture ring. The M series don’t have this setting.
Here we can see the problem – it is the aperture lever and guard that we need to remove.
Step one is to remove the five screws retaining the base plate of the lens.
Step two is to pull the base plate off the rear of the lens. I’ve indicated the guard and lever that we are going to remove. With the base plate removed you can actually remove the aperture ring and more – but unless you want a tricky job of figuring out how to put it back together I’d strongly advise leaving everything else just where it is.
Step three is to cut the lever. Since this is hidden inside the lens we don’t need to be too fussy about the quality of the finish, and since we don’t want filings inside the lens, I’d recommend this somewhat barbaric method. Grab it with a pair of needle nose pliers and bend it back and forth until it snaps off. It looks ugly, but we won’t see it when were finished.
Step four is to remove the guard. On later models this is hard plastic, and can be easily removed with a sharp knife. You could file or sand the edge to get it smooth, but I think you are more likely to introduce filings into the mechanism, so I prefer to just cut it down and leave it a little rough.
On older models this is brass. You will need to use a cutter (side cutters or a pincer) to get it as close as you can, and then file the edge to get it smooth, and then make sure you have blown out all the filings.
Step five – reassemble the lens. There is only one position the five screw holes will match up, so this is quite easy. You can see where the guard used to be.
Step six – fit suitable adaptor. Here I’ve used a ‘chipped’ model. With a non-chipped model the camera has no information that a lens is attached and will register the aperture of the lens as 00. The chip tells the camera that a 50mm 1.4 lens is attached (even though this is actually a 135mm f/2.5), and that’s what shows up in the EXIF data. Because the camera knows a lens is attached the focus confirmation works the camera doesn’t focus automatically, but it will indicate when you have correct focus.
In the end you have a great lens at an affordable price. In this case I paid $NZ70 for the lens and $NZ60 for the adaptor.
I arrive at the carpark at Aramoana just around dawn. The carpark is empty, except for what appears to be a horse transporter (what’s a horse transporter doing here? There were no horses on the beach).
My self-imposed mission is to look for a shot inspired by Ansell Adams’ great shot of sand dues taken in Death Valley (http://onlinephotoinstitute-masters.com/adams/#jp-carousel-377). This requires the sun to be low in the sky – adams took his shot at dawn, to get the sun low across the dunes. When I left home I thought the sky was going to be clear, but now that I’m in Aramoana there is quite a lot of cloud cover. I’m hoping that there might be some breaks in the clouds where the sun peeks through.
I get out of the car, and pick up the camera bag. It’s quite heavy, with a good selection of lenses and two bodies so I can quickly switch between wide-angle and fisheye. I look up a the sky again. I can tell what’s going to happen – most of the time the light will be dull, but there will be occasional moments of magic when the sun comes through. And then I’ll be running to get to the best places before the light goes again. I don’t want to be running up sand dunes with a heavy bag, so I take a risk. I get out the 6D with a 20mm prime lens, and leave the rest in the car. The 20mm is a lovely lens – the image quality is much better than any of the zoom I have, and the focal length is just right – it’s wide, but not so wide that the photos are dominated by the extreme focal length. Sometimes with a very wide lens it seems that it’s the lens that took the photo, not the photographer.
it’s a short walk top the beach (the north side, not the spit), and the light is dull. Here’s the first shot of the day – an interesting piece of driftwood. But the light is dull, and really there’s nothing going on here. It’s a dull photo. Actually, to be more specific, the light is actually really nice – it’s a calm, even light, and the morning is still and not too cold. But it’s not photogenic at all.
I turn left, and head north. The light stays dull, but I’m hopeful.
I sit on the sand for a while. It’s a really nice morning. it’s a little cold, but I’m wearing a down jacket, so I’m warm, and the place is silent and deserted except for waves.
Suddenly there’s a burst of sunlight! I move over near the sand dunes and find the light is picking out some penguin tracks in the sand. With the camera horizontal I can’t get the top of the cliffs in as well as the penguin tracks, but turning the camera vertical I get the shot below.
At the time I don’t think much of this one, but when I get home I’ll discover the luminous quality to the sky that has come from the clouds that are usually blocking the sun. Actually this is possibly the best shot of the day. I’m still thinking of my self-imposed mission to get a riff on Adam’s Death Vally shot, but there just are not an expanse of dunes here, so I’m not going to get it. What I d=need to do is to jettison my preconceptions and work with what I’ve got – sand and rocks.
Moving further down the beach I find a crest of sand near a rock. This is actually just like Adams’ shot, except much smaller. I sit and wait for the sun to break through again.
When the sun comes it highlights a series of bird tracks along the crest. With the rocky cliffs in the background I’m happy with this shot.
It occurs to me that I should point the camera downwards, just getting the sand. Sort of like Adam’s shot in miniature. Because I’ve only got the 20mm, I can’t avoid getting some rock in the shot. This on is probably more like Adams’ one, but I prefer the one with the cliffs in the shot.
Now I feel a sense of release. I’ve got the shot of the mission. It’s not exactly what I’d set out hoping for, but it’s what the universe offered me. Now I’m feeling looser. The sun is still shining, so I find myself running up the sand dunes of a better angle.
The sand is soft and dry, and for every two steps I take up I seem to slide back 1.999 steps. Eventually I get to some dune grass and manage to make some progress, but it’s hard work. The sun is actually quite hot, so now I’m sweltering in the down jacket, and I’m really glad I left the camera bag in the car.
At the top of the dunes, under the cliffs, there are no photos. I turn around and look back down. I can’t get a decent composition here. I know that the large rock is too central, but panning the camera to either side isn’t working either. It’s never going to work. It’s pretty, but so what.
The sun goes away.
Getting down the dues is a lot easier than going up. I’m happy though. At least I know I’m not missing anything up there, and I think I’ve got a shot in the camera that I’m happy with. I begin walking back along the beach
As I’m walking the sun comes out and highlights a series of tracks – there are fading tracks from humans on the beach yesterday, crossed with fresh penguin tracks heading towards the water. apart from a nice composition, it’s a nice idea for a photo.
As I near Keyhole Rock the sun comes out again, and I have to run to get into position. I’m stopping every now and then since it’s hard to tell when the sun will disappear, and if I’m not careful I’ll get nothing at all. There’s a large rock just in front of Keyhole rock and I go to the right of it. It’s just as I come around the edge that I get this shot, which has nice framing with the sand and foreground rock giving some depth to the image.
What I like is the contrast between the white sand and the black rock. This inspires me to get a shot of the base of Keyhole.
Back on the main beach, I walk back to the driftwood in the first shot, but just nearby is this piece, which has much more interesting textures. The light is much more interesting now. It’s OK, and it makes a nice bookend to the set, but I don’t think it’s a really great shot.
I think the points to remember for this experience are about the importance of running with what you actually have in front of you, rather than wishing for something that’s not there. You can mess up an otherwise great shot by trying to make it into something that it’s not (and I think there is a lesson there which extends into the rest of our lives as well).
In this case, aiming to replicate Ansell Adam’s shot got me out to Aramoana at dawn (and I am not a morning person). But once there it was important to see the place with fresh eyes, and look at what the universe had given me. It’s not unlike a score to a piece of classical music. Peter Wispelway and Pablo Cassals have both done radically different interpretations of Bach’s Cello Suites. The writing that Bach made on a piece of paper prompts both performers into different performances. Taking a photo that impresses you and using it as a ‘score’ for your own work can prompt you to some wonderful images, but only if you are prepared to let go of the ‘score’ and improvise.
Using one prime lens worked well. With no options other than to use the focal length that was on the camera, well, it seems like there is just one less thing to worry about. You can’t zoom in, so you get closer (always a good thing). WIth only one piece of gear, but a well chosen piece, most of my energies were directed into he creative flow. And it’s easier to run!
Perhaps the other lesson is how important it is to seize the light. When the sun was behind the clouds the light did not yield decent photos. What was good about this morning was that when the un came out the sky was still filled with clouds in the otehr directions, and that’s what has given me the luminous sky in the second shot in the series.