Author Archives: Stephan Russenschuck

Photoessay: Iceland from Above

Iceland has to offer the most abstract landscapes in Europe, short of some areas in the Italian Dolomites. The country has every photographic cliche and wonders you could want; mountains, waterfalls, river beds, glaciers, and lava fields. It’s a place of rugged beauty and extreme weather conditions, blessed with an amazing quality of light.

In August, golden light lasts for 4-5 hours* so that there is no rush. But it also means that you have to stay up late and get out early in the morning. At least photography doesn’t clash with dinner and breakfast.

There is direct sun but your prefer a cloud to create soft light? Just wait a few minutes. Dark clouds and rain add mystery to the landscape, while shortly after, they let some rays peak through to create a rainbow. There is good light almost anytime during the day.  Iceland is indeed a paradise for photographers.

River bed of the Tungnaa, Iceland.

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Review: Fujifilm GFX 50S

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am lusting for larger formats. This is, of course, a matter of personal preference that results from my established shooting style and two Linhof view cameras waiting for a second life. In the film days the situation was easy; bigger was better. But in the digital world not everything scales with log2.

Fuji GFX 50S. Quite compact for its sensor size, but still best mounted on a sturdy tripod.

I could have created click bait by reviewing the hyped-up Hasselblad (X1D) and Fujifilm (GFX 50S) earlier, but wanted to wait until the initial bugs in the firmware are sorted out and Lightroom and/or CaptureOne support the RAW files. Now it’s about time to have a closer look because there is a new option: the 45 mega-pixel, Nikon D850 that is supposedly a leap further in almost all respects.

The question is if I would supplement my workhorse Nikon D810 with the D850 or replace it with a medium format system. There must be compelling reasons for a switch though; most importantly, an expanded shooting envelope in terms of handling and reliability (mainly high ISO capabilities and image stabilization), and image quality (resolution, dynamic range, and tonal separation).

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Fossography

I never understood why waterfalls grab the hearts and minds of so many photographers. Go to any location that advertises a waterfall and it is guaranteed that there will be a large parking space, lots of cars, and buses with their engines idling. Masses of people, often out of shape, hike along a trail. The first action when the lookout point is reached is to pull out a camera and photograph the falls. In post-processing the images are cropped just above the pool, around which the fellow visitors had their picnic.

Gullfoss, Iceland. Nikon D810, Nikkor 28 f/1.4, at f/11, 4 s, ISO 50. Composite image with focus stack on foreground. 6-stop ND filter.

More recently, a popular thing seems to be “dying for a selfie”; people standing extremely close with their back on the brink of a fall, trying to get the best perspective of themselves leaning over the gorge.

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Posted in Photoessays, Travel photography Tagged , , , |

Printer Diaries: Preparing Images for Print

The truth is in the print; what looks good on the screen doesn’t necessary hold in print (and vice versa). Having gone through the first set of cartridges and pile of paper, I am glad that I haven’t deleted my original files. In a number of cases I had to return to the RAW files and process them with adjusted settings. Let me explain:

Look at prints, not megapixels.

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Posted in Fine art printing, Image quality, Software Tagged , , , |

Olympus OM-D Mk II and Fuji X-T2 versus Nikon D810: An unfair fight?

If all your equipment were stolen, the insurance settlement was generous, and you had to start all over, what would you procure? This question is actually not too academic, because it happened to a friend who had bought my Nikon D800e with the 70-200 f/2.8 VR-II as well as some other bits and pieces. All bygone.

Size matters; but not as much as you may think.

What is the best all-purpose camera in 2017, with the right balance of image quality, versatility and handling? One may argue that instead of learning to handle a new camera, it’s better to go out and shoot. And this is why I wouldn’t be tempted to change systems, unless this enlarged considerably  the shooting envelope on grounds of resolution, dynamic range, high-ISO performance, and image stabilization. But if everything was stolen?

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Fine-Art Printing Diaries: Setting up

This series of posts will be on getting serious (I hope) about fine-art printing. In the film days I didn’t bother developing and printing myself; first I didn’t have the space for a darkroom and then I was reluctant to deal with the chemicals. But more importantly, there were plenty of overnight development labs in town and professional print makers that had a certain affinity to art. Color rendition wasn’t really an issue to discuss over a 4×5 slide on a color corrected light table. And I had a lot of prints done, as they were the only way to enjoy images, except perhaps for 6×6 slide projections.

Look at images, not megapixels.

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The Photographer’s Guide to Cruising Antartica

Today there are a lot of choices for cruising to Antarctica, within a considerable price span and a variation of the main focus: whales, geology, penguins, skiing, and of course, photography. But which one is best suited if you are serious about your hobby? Here are some thoughts born out of experience from a cruise we took in November 2016.

Iceberg, approaching Weddell Sea.

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Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density (ND) filters reduce the amount of light that enters the lens. ND filters are often used to achieve motion-blur effects with slow shutter speeds, blurring water or cloud motion, reducing depth of field in very bright light (when 1/4000 or 1/8000 of a second is not short enough for the large aperture), or to reduce the visibility of moving persons.

Iquacu falls. Fuji Velvia 50, f/32, 2 seconds. No ND filter needed.

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Americans in Havana

Today’s photo assay is about Americans that have lived in Havana for half a century but are not allowed to leave the country; a Cuban curiosity.

Of course I had been aware of the pre-revolution US cars in Havana. But what came as a surprise were the tens of thousands classic automobiles still in circulation, as collective taxis, rented out for weddings and quinceanera parties (when girls turn 15), or used as tourist transport. The majority of them are Chevrolet and Ford, but also Buick, Dodge, and a variety of vanished brands such as Packard, De Soto, Mercury, Plymouth, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile. With no access to original spare parts, these vehicles are often assemblies of adapted parts from Soviet cars and trucks, and fitted with Hyundai or Mercedes diesel engines.

1952 Dodge Coronet 4-door Sedan

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Review: Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 E FL ED VR

If you don’t want to read the rest, in short, the new Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 has found its way into my bag. The lens has been put through its paces during a recent trip to Antarctica, where it accounted for about 80% of all images. Built quality is on a par with the predecessor model, i.e., the now typical magnesium alloy and polycarbonate shell over a metal core construction. Micro contrast and edge-sharpness has improved visibly at all focal lengths and the focus breathing (change of magnification ratio) at close-focus distance has been minimised. I haven’t blown the trumpet for Nikon’s releases recently but here I can conclude with a highly recommended rating.

Because I mislike posting images bar any composition and subject value for mere lens testing, let’s start with some eye-candy from the Antarctic peninsula.

The 70-200 f/2.8 accounts for about 80% of my images taken in Antarctica. Here a stitch of three horizontal images resulting in file of about 52 MP. Then resized to 550 px on the narrow side. Click to enlarge for a 2400 x 2820 px image.

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An Engineer in Havana

Havana has been for long on my bucket list. Havana’s amazing heritage of architecture, the abundance of American cars from the 1950s, used as collective taxis or tourist transport, combined with the tropical sun and the life and character of its inhabitants make Havana one of the visually richest and (still) photo-friendliest places to visit. The rich color palette of the buildings reflecting into the shadows yield an amazing quality of light.

Portraits of the Revolution: Che Guevara, Fidel and Raul Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos, La Habana, Cuba

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Posted in Architecture, Photoessays, Travel photography Tagged , , , |

Have a Bokehlitious Christmas

In photography, bokeh* is the rendering of the blur produced by a lens in the out-of-focus parts of an image and is thus affected by the aperture, iris-blade construction, lens design (aberrations), and diffraction (Airy diffraction patterns). Photographing point-like sources of light such as Christmas-tree illumination is the best way to check the quality of bokeh, i.e., uneven or sharp luminance transitions, ni-sen (Japanese for double lines), irregular textures, and color fringes.

But there is no general consensus of what good or bad bokeh is. If you like it, it’s good, if you don’t like it, it’s bad. The same with Christmas celebrations, gifts and cakes. Some don’t like it at all. But if you had it, it might as well be smooth, round, and creamy rather than nervous, polygonal, and harsh.

And remember; to optimise bokeh keep reducing the distance between yourself and the subject while increasing the distance between the subject and the background.

In this sense, have a bokehlitious Christmas. SR

Christmas Tree Bokeh; Nikon Coolpix A, f/2.8

*The word bokeh is derived from a Japanese word, which means something like  “fuzzy” and is used to describe, among other things, the “flavour” of out-of-focus areas in photographs; “boke-aji.” Mike Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of PHOTO Techniques magazine from 1994-2000 and now running the website “The Online Photographer”, added the “h” because English speakers would mispronounce boke like “joke”, instead of the “bo” as in bone, “ke” as in Kevin, and with equal weight on each syllable.

Posted in Image quality, Philosophy+Opinion Tagged , |

Ode To A Penguin

O creature which in southern waters roam, To know some more about you I would wish.

Though I have seen you in your limpid home, I don’t think I can rightly call you “fish”.

To taste your body I did not decline, From dainty skinner’s fingers coming fresh,

’Twas like shoe leather steeped in turpentine, But I should hardly like to call it “flesh”.*

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King Penguin Study I, South Georgia Island

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Focus Stacking, Part 2: Artefacts

Now as part 1 of this post has had time to settle, let’s press on. Focus stacking is one of the techniques know as Computational Photography, which include panorama stitch, high-resolution sensor shift, multi-exposure HDR, and light field. All these techniques involve multiple images that are blended in post-processing to a new type of single image or scene representation; opposite to techniques in digital photography that work on a single capture, such as filtering and color adjustments.

These techniques may promt the question about ethics in photography. I have absolutely no problem with time-lapsing out people, for example. Over-saturation and over-sharpening, or turning the colors of a lake in Scotland to those of the waters at Anse La Digue is another matter. And nobody would consider the surrealistic photo-illustrations of David LaChapelle as dishonest work, while this is exactly what Steve McCurry, or his now fired assistant, are accused of producing. In my oppinion the problem lies not in the image itself, but its (incoherent) caption and the (false) message that the image is supposed to support. But I am digressing.

Focus stacking is particularly useful in situations where the scene has a large range of depths in the subject space compared to the shallow depth of field obtained for a given sensor size, focal length, and aperture combination. It will also be a way to make sense of the future FF sensors with 50+ megapixels, where diffraction will counteract the increase of accuaty by stopping down and compromise image quality for depth of field. Moreover, focus stacking can be useful to reduce noise in astrophotography. So there is nothing dishonest here; it is an attempt to optimize the conflicting elements of image quality:  noise, diffraction, lens-aberations, and depts-of-field.

There is, of course, the alternative of using tilt-shift lenses, but this is constrained to inclined focal planes (continuous depth maps), for example in landscape photography. The subject of the image below would also qualify.

gitarre-ref

Focus stack from 19 images. Automated capture using Helicon Remote and post-processed with Helicon Focus.

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Gear and Gadgets at Photokina

I am back from Photokina; what used to be the world’s largest trade fair for the imaging industry has turned into an event for the generation selfie: drone airport, video-blogs, action-camera arena, and yes, Mazda car exhibition. More gadgets than gear.

In any case, it is unlikely to discover stuff that has not been already discussed at the numerous rumor sites. Camera manufacturers have been launching new products all year, reports, tests and even videos are uploaded within hours of release and progress has become so incremental that there isn’t anything that shouts game-changer. For hands on experience with new equipment, it’s better to negotiate with a dealer or to sign up for a demonstration. What triggered me were not so much the new camera releases but rather the photographic exhibitions, printers and papers, and the future directions in photography at large.

I have to give it to Leica for organising the exhibition “Masters of Photography” occupying about 2000 m² of Hall 1 and including Bruce Gilden (Face), Ellen von Unworthy (Wild wild west), Per-Anders Peterson (African catwalk) and Ara Güler (Leica Hall of Fame Award), among others. This alone justified the admission fee. That camera manufacturers advertise and support the printed image makes perfect sense. For sharing on the social media, camera phones are sufficient and even for viewing on the best screens 20 MP is enough. What used to be commonplace about 15 years ago must now be promoted; the images is only complete when printed.

Leica’s booth, on the other hand, looked like any Leica store, augmented by an area that much reminded me about Rolls Royce exhibits at car shows; you don’t really feel welcome. But this marketing strategy seems to pay off. While basically all systems have passed the threshold of sufficiency for most, it makes sense to establish them as luxurious items (Leica M-P 240 Lenny Kravitz Edition, anybody?).

bruce

Masters of Photography at Photokina 2016

Talking about the Aston Martin, rather, in the world of photographic equipment, the title goes to the Hasselblad X1D. Beautiful nordic design and noble materials, touch screen and a well thought-out menu, with the main functions on dials and buttons. However, the camera cannot be triggered by a sync cable, and because the body has no shutter, the options for third party lenses on mount adapters will be limited. And there is only one central focus point, although focus and recompose is not precise enough for this pixel count. Focus peaking will come with the next firmware upgrade, so they say.

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