Store shot for Born2Ride Motorcycles

This is a 3 image composite I made for Born2Ride, a motorcycle shop in Bryanston, Johannesburg.

Shooting interior/exterior scenes can be hard with the massive difference in exposure levels on the outside and inside of the buildings.

To get around this I used a 1200W Bowens light diffused through a 1m x 1m softbox for all of the shots – one illuminating the very centre of the image allowing the viewer to see right into the building creating a sense of depth; and second aimed at the Indian motorcycles on the left of the frame which were underexposed and hard to see because of the reflection on the glass; The third image was of the outside motorcycle (which wasn’t in the first two images) which also had the light directed onto it from camera left.

Afterwards I combined the 3 images in Photoshop and revealed only the ‘correct’ bits of the images.

Not terribly complex but lots of fun.

The camera and lens used was a Canon 5D Classic and a Canon 20-35mm at F11.


Shooting DA lenses on a Pentax Film Camera

So I’m shooting Pentax now and as any Pentaxian will tell you, there are mixed feeling over the issue of full frame: will Pentax (or Ricoh?!?) ever make a digital full frame camera?

The answer looks like no. Fans of the brand have been asking this question for years now and Pentax looks to only be producing crop-frame lenses. This is no bad thing as the lenses they are making are unique and extremely high quality and the recent APS-C bodies are superb. But this is nonetheless frustrating when you are building a system and contemplating which lense to buy in case Pemtax does in fact ever make a full-frame digital SLR. Which they should. Seriously.

This issue is most frustrating when you have a film body. I am sticking with Pentax as my main system for a couple of items, one of them is the scintillating 50mm FA F1.4 lens and the other is the MZ-S camera. More than one person has fondled the MZ-S and just said “best camera ever made” under their breath. Really, they all did. And it is amazing, though quite complicated to get to grips with and set-up.

And so the reason for this post: since I am new to the Pentax stable and have not yet decided which other lenses I’m going to buy (also, I gotta save up a bit – jees those Limiteds are lovely but so friggen pricey…) I have a distinct lack of lenses for my MZ-S.

I have the brilliant 50mm FA which will be my main film combo but it is irritating that I have the very, very good DA 18-55 kit zoom and can’t use it on my film body. Or can I? It does mount. It works (albeit in Program mode). So then?

Fact is, the DA lenses only cover the APS-C image circle. That means they vignette or leave a black edge on the film on the edges where the image is not fully projected. But this actually only really is problematic at the widest angles of view on this zoom lens.

When zoomed into 24mm and beyond, the image looks fine. Here’s an example, uncropped:

Pentax MZ-S, Pentax DA 18-55 @ 24mm, Ilford HP5

Looks pretty good! On a digital body those corners would be easily fixed in post. I’m not saying they’re tack sharp in those corners. They’re not and that lens was never designed to be scrutinised there anyway. But not bad at all…

So how does this look in the real-photo-world-and-not-my-random-handheld-lounge-test?

These were also shot at 24mm (no point wasting film on the wider settings that would show the pure black in the corners…):

Pentax MZ-S, Pentax DA 18-55 @ 24mm, Ilford HP5

Pentax MZ-S, Pentax DA 18-55 @ 24mm, Ilford HP5

And this is a pano stitched from two images also shot at 24mm:

2 image stitch, Pentax MZ-S, Pentax DA 18-55 @ 24mm, Ilford HP5

Moral of the story? Get out and shoot and use those DA lenses if you have ’em!

More to come as I experiment and shoot more.

Every lens has a signature

Every lens is different. Some are accurate, some are inaccurate. The differences between them are their signatures.

Even when a company makes 10 000 versions of the same model lens, there will be differences. Slight, yes, but differences nonetheless. These are physical objects and manufacturing tolerances can only get so close. 
The trick is to relish in the differences not hate on them. Some lenses are bitingly sharp and full of bizarre distortions. Some are very well corrected but not terribly sharp all over. Most strike a nice balance.

Strangely enough, we are probably living in the time of the best lenses. Technology just keeps marching on and what can’t be fixed in the glass is fixed in JPEG processing in camera. We have become terribly used-to perfection or at least the attainment of it. 
Did you know that many of the great portrait photographers from a century ago were obsessive about finding lenses that were imperfect? That was not a typo. They sought a balance between hard and soft so that their sitters would be flattered but not shown as out-of-focus blobs. They of course didn’t have Photoshop. 
Our digital sensors are demanding. So too are we. But, as is often pointed out online, the great photographs of the past are not technically perfect or even close to it. These great images captured moments. That is what mattered. The lens is just part of the tool. 
So know your lenses and which can do what. Use them accordingly. Rejoice if you have one that has character. Look at its signature and decide if it is a doctor’s illegible scrawl or a perfectionists boring block letters. Everyone and everything has its place. 

Canon 50mm F1.8 on a Canon 350D

Canon 100mm F2.8 on Fuji Superia on a Canon A1

Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 on an Olympus OM-D EM5

Mamiya Sekor 90mm on Ilford FP4 on an RB67

Nikkor 50mm F1.8D on Lomo 800ASA on a Nikon F65

Sony 16mm F2.8 on a Sony NEX 3

How to shoot Macro Photography, specifically of watches – A Tutorial

Macro photography is one of the most alluring and intriguing styles of the medium for many. This is not surprising: one of the things photography is really good at is allowing us to examine things and look more closely at them. Macro photography does this literally, allowing one to delve into an object and examine it in exquisite detail.
Traditionally, macro photography is an extreme close-up of an object with deep depth of field. In other words, almost all of the very-magnified subject is in focus. Depth of field is harder to achieve in macro because of how close you are to your subject. I enjoy shooting both – some macro photography where there is a shallow depth of field and some where there there is lots of depth of field. I also like some images where the subject is extremely close up while other images work better with the object a bit further away and with a bit more in the scene to give it a sense of place – like the comparison images later in this article. Each to their own.
Subjects for macro photography (let’s just call it macro from here on, shall we?) are as broad as ones imagination. if you can find it you can take a super close-up of it. If you can imagine it, you can create it on a mini-stage in your living room.
I personally enjoy photographing watches and objects like fruit and flowers. Mainly watches. I have two addictions – cameras and watches. May as well combine the two right?!?
The Gear
As far as cameras go, you are in luck. A huge number of cameras allow you to take macro photographs – from the lowly Point and Shoots to Mighty and Pricey DSLRs. In fact, your cell phone camera can do a bang-up job too. I’m going to shoot similar subjects with a range of cameras so that you can see the difference the different tools make to the shot as well as their strengths and limitations. Remember, the most important tool here is your imagination not your gear.
But if you were to create a wish-list to make an awesome macro set-up I would recommend the following as a starting point:
  • A sturdy tripod. Get one that is big enough for the camera you are using.
  • Your camera.
  • A suitable lens that allows for close focusing.
  • A subject.
  • Light.
  • A cable release or self-timer.
Let’s look a bit closer at each of these.
If your subject is keeping relatively still, a tripod is one of the best ways to make your images sharper and your nerves less frayed. A tripod allows you to set-up and control the scene a bit more allowing you to worry about the other important aspects in the shot like the lighting, subject and perspective. A tripod is not essential with current image stabilisation in lenses and if you can keep your shutter speed quite high, but it really helps.
As long as it can focus closely, many cameras are fine for macro work. Better tools do make a difference but work with what you have. Point and Shoot cameras and cell phone cameras have tiny sensors and this actually helps you get close focus with their built-in lenses. Some have amazing macro capabilities, arguably better than a DSLR. If you have a camera that takes interchangeable lenses like a DSLR you need a lens. Obviously. I personally love the look of film and love the beauty of mechanical film cameras. You can get a really great and surprisingly cheap macro set-up using older film cameras too, just remember to factor in the cost of film and developing.
The lens you choose will have a big impact on what and how you will be able to photograph macro subjects. Try get a dedicated macro lens that provides 1:1 magnification – that simply means it creates a life-size image of the subject on your sensor. Many zoom lenses say “Macro” on them. They are not true macro lenses but do get you pretty close. You can also use extension tubes or bellows to help you use standard lenses (like a 50mm prime lens) to get really close. Sometimes, the close focus limit on your kit lens or standard lens is pretty good.
Pick one you like, you’ll be spending a fair amount of quality-time together. And that hopefully sits still. And that you find interesting. I am a fan of watches.
The most important part of the equation. Light is the basis of this addiction we call photography. A nice window light on one side is a good way to start. You can start experimenting with on-camera flash (which is OK but not great for macro) and then move on to off-camera lighting using strobes and modifiers. Again, start with what you have and move on as you decide you need a new look.
Cable Release or Self-Timer
In addition to your tripod, the cable release helps you to trip your shutter causing minimal camera movement. A self-timer on your camera does a good job too. You want your camera as still as possible during the exposure since, when you are so close, minute vibrations will result in a lot of blur in the final image. Mirror lock-up is also useful to keep vibrations at bay. In fact you can combine some or all of these suggestions. Test and see what works best for you.
The Idea
Visualise what you would like your final image to look like. Is the subject in sharp focus throughout? Is just a sliver of the subject in focus? Is the shot in black and white or in colour? What colours? What else is in the scene? Are you focussing on the subject alone or is the subject amongst other objects. Does this relationship tell a story? You can be as intricate or simple with this as you like, but have an idea of what you want to achieve in your finished image.
The Set Up
If you are looking to create a more controlled scene, you may want to invest in a product tent or carefully construct a scene either in an environment or on some seamless paper or material. Pay very close attention to tiny details – they will be very obvious in the final images. If you are shooting a flower in a field for example, you are at the mercy of your environment to a degree. Once your scene and subject are ready, place your camera on your tripod and attach your cable release or set your capture more to self-timer. Check your exposure reading with either a hand-held meter, a meter on your smart-phone or use the camera’s built in meter. Shoot!
The Light
As mentioned above, the light in your scene plays a very important role. The light you choose literally shapes your subject and allows you a lot of creative control of how you will depict your subject. Well chosen light coming in through a big window can be beautiful. Or you may wish to control the light completely using off-camera lighting. Experiment.
The Shot
Once you are shooting, you will see what works through the viewfinder and what doesn’t. Make small changes and tweaks to both your camera and light settings and your subject’s position and environment until you end up with the composition and look you had in your head when you first started.
The Edit
Take your images into your favourite editing application. I use Aperture and Photoshop. Now we can look at the images properly and evaluate them. You will probably have to clean them up a little since even the smallest bit of dust is visible at these extreme magnifications. If you shot on film you will have a fair amount of dust to remove off the negative. I like to make a big pot of tea and take my time working over the images. Once they are clean, you can tweak the look and feel of them using exposure and contrast adjustments. Then work on any specific areas with dodging and burning and mild sharpening if required. Do not overdo the sharpening! You want a kiss of detail enhancement not a psychedelic horror show. Err on the side of little to none, your images will be more natural and have better longevity for it.
Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Examine your finished images and give yourself a pat on the back. Well done! Now think about what you’d like to change and do differently next time. What did you get right? What did you get wrong? Where could you have made changes to make the images better? Start again with another subject and another set-up. The more you shoot, the more you’ll get consistently pleasing results.
Let’s look at a few images I have photographed as examples to discuss what camera I shot them with and how I lit them.

© Dan Rosenthal 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Wait for the sun to go down, Traveler.

This is Oia. It is the small harbor of one of the towns in Santorini, Greece. Santorini is a tourist hotspot. It is famed for the sunsets. People stream in by the hundreds to take photos of the amazing sunsets from the town high up above this harbor and from the harbor itself.

It happens in a mad rush. People arrive in their hysterical throngs and push down the narrow paved street to get a view of the sunset. They extend their arms and hope to get a shot like these but invariably will get a shot of all the other people’s heads in front of them. It’s comical. And to top it off, the sunsets are very pretty, but nothing mind-blowing. Perhaps the lack of clouds underwhelmed me or it could be the fact that I hail from Joburg with it’s epic, cloud-filled sunsets which bounce around off the pollution and smog creating dazzling haze and glorious sunsets. (Sounds weird I know, but they really are breathtaking…) Oia’s speciality is a ball of fire descending into the endless sea. Very pretty indeed but uneventful…

I watched the crowds in their mania and chuckled to myself when they moved on the moment the sun had disappeared beneath the horizon. They went off to eat dinner and drink. Why was I chuckling to myself? Because they left as soon as the light was getting beautiful. They had traveled across the world and then come from every town on the island of Santorini to see a sunset that was not very spectacular – if you’ve ever tried to take a photo of the setting sun, the contrast is almost impossible to capture, you either get everything washed-out and too bright or you get a very nice sun and everything else is black. Knowing this, I didn’t even bother to take a photo during the sunset…

But then after the crowds had dispersed the light got more and more beautiful. The photograph above is a panorama of 2 shots stitched together. I did very little to the ‘look’ of the files. The colours were wonderful and the light gentle and warm.

Next time you are taking sunset pictures, wait till the sun has set and watch the sky turn glorious blues and purples and the earth turn a mellow red. Then take a photo. Book your dinner an hour after the sun has gone down – sunsets are for watching with a lover in your arms after all…

Shot with a Canon 5Dmk2 and the glorious 24-70 2.8 L lens

Ways of Seeing

How do we see? Not through eyes but through culture and trained belief systems. This is the central idea that drives a very good and very convincing book.
As an artist, this is something I feel people need to examine. A superb place to begin this examination would be John Berger’s exceptional Ways of Seeing.
Progressing from the rise of renaissance oil paintings all the way to how advertising works on our desires, this short book is full of some of the most intensely accurate observations I’ve read in a long, long time.
I found the section on advertising and modern culture (which Berger refers to, interestingly and probably more accurately, as ‘publicity’) an utterly spellbinding discussion. It is perhaps one of the sad by-products of our super-paced society that we are caught in a loop where we cannot slow down and so we do not get the chance to find balance, real balance, in a world where it is so sorely needed.
Art is important is such societies. It is important because we need the spaces where art lives to distance ourselves from the maddening rush. It is important because art in itself gives us pause. It is important because it is a way to examine our society.
Berger’s discussion looks at how these tools have been corrupted and utilized for commercial and personal gain.
But as Berger says in the television series from which the book was adapted, treat his representation of the facts with skepticism, since it’s his version of the facts trying to sell his version of the content. I see that as an open stance on a subject matter too full of hidden agendas and ‘mystification’. It is unusual. It is refreshing. The book is an eye-opener. Bravo.

Advice from Francis Ford Coppola

Over at The 99 Percent, there’s an interview with Francis Ford Coppola. It’s also a fairly good interview by Ariston Anderson.

One of the excerpts that has just hit me and stuck with me is the following quote, when asked about the best piece of advice to leave to your children:

“Always make your work be personal.

“And, you never have to lie. If you lie, you will only trip yourself up. You will always get caught in a lie. It is very important for an artist not to lie, and most important is not to lie to yourself. There are some questions that are inappropriate to ask, and rather than lie, I will not answer them because it’s not a question I accept. So many times we are asked things in our work or in life that you want to lie, and all you have to do is say, “No, that is an improper question.”

“So when you get into a habit of not lying when you are writing, directing, or making a film, that will carry your personal conviction into your work. And, in a society where you say you are very free but you’re not entirely free, you have to try. There is something we know that’s connected with beauty and truth. There is something ancient. We know that art is about beauty, and therefore it has to be about truth.”

As a creative and an artist, this very simple but resonating idea has left me thinking real hard about my work and how I work.

Lies beget lies. They need their kin to prop each other up. It’s not the kind of monument you want to build.

Read the full interview here. Highly recommended and thank you Ford Coppola, for the insight.