Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

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Haiku Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Sensor shifting tech
High-res plus stable movies
Great mark two update

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Observations on Velvia 100

Chisos Basin - Big Bend National Park, Texas

Chisos Basin – Big Bend National Park, Texas

I’ve always been curious about Velvia, the super saturated film that’s typically used for landscapes. I’ve heard about its legendary colors for years and now that I’m playing with film, I finally gave it a try.

I brought several rolls of Velvia 100, a reformulated version of the classic Velvia film (which is now called Velvia 50), to Big Bend. I got to use it for the majestic western landscapes both in medium format and 35mm. It was going to be great. Except, it didn’t exactly turn out that way.

Rockface, Boquillas Canyon - Big Bend National Park, Texas

Velvia is slide film, which is different. Unlike the easy to use negative film, Velvia can’t be overexposed or the highlights get blown, kinda like digital. It also lacks the large exposure latitude of standard (negative) print film. I knew this going in so I under exposed by about 1/2 stop. I also tweaked my exposures somewhat, depending on the scene. The problem was I over compensated — many of the images came out darker than I hoped. At least I didn’t blow out the sky.

Rio Grande at the Rest Stop - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

In retrospect, I probably should’t have worried about the sky for most of my landscapes. The dynamic range on slide film wasn’t going to capture everything anyway. So what if the sky looked white, as long as I properly captured the magnificent landscapes. Luckily, not all my photographs were a total loss. Lesson learned, hopefully.

No question, Velvia is colorful. I like bold colors and for the first time, in film or digital, I didn’t need to increase the saturation. But there is a bigger problem — I don’t like the Velvia colors. I find them too red and too cool. I generally prefer the warmer tones, like what I get with Kodak Portra 400, especially after I digitally increase the saturation.

Rio Grande at the Rest Stop - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Rio Grande at the Rest Stop - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Take a look at these two photos. I took the first one with Velvia 100 on the Mamiya 645E and the second with the Nikon 35Ti with Portra 400. Portra is a portrait film with muted colors but I like the effect when I add saturation in post processing. I realize this is a personal thing. I’m sure some prefer the look of Velvia.

Rio Grande at the Rest Stop - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

I took the same Velvia image and shifted the colors to warm it up. I’m getting a closer match but things are a bit off and the sky is a bit wonky and I still prefer the warmth of Portra. The good thing is, I’m not a film purist. I have no hesitation to digitally manipulate my film scans to make them match my “vision”. But I don’t have a desire to do extensive changes. It’s a lot easier to get the look I like from Portra than Velvia.

Sharp Rocks and the Rio Grande - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

I understand the attraction to Velvia though, pre-digital. When you couldn’t increase saturation, Velvia was the way to go. I wouldn’t like Portra, for example, if I couldn’t amp up its colors. But Digital post processing is a game changer for film. I get the warmth of analog tweaked the way I want it. And even with all this digital manipulation, I still find that film, even manipulated film, has a different feel from photographs created with a digital camera.

Sotal Vista Morning - Big Bend National Park
Window at Sunset, Chisos Basin - Big Bend National Park, Texas

The salient question for me is, should I continue to shoot Velvia 100? I can tweak its colors but negative film is a lot easier to shoot and it costs less too. If my results with Velvia aren’t materially better, is it worth it? I hear that classic Velvia 50 is warmer with more yellows. Perhaps I should try that instead of the newer Velvia 100.

I’ve just started my journey with film and I have a lot to learn. It certainly is challenging but fun, in a different kind of way, from pure digital photography. I think there is a place for both in my repertoire.

Formation at Chisos Basin - Big Bend National Park, Texas
The

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I took all but one the photographs with the Mamiya 645E medium format film camera loaded with Fujifilm Velvia 100. I shot one photo using my Nikon 35Ti 35mm camera loaded with Kodak Portra 400 film.

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Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.


The movie Boyhood and the little connections that make it more meaningful

Boyhood Book Signing, Precision Camera - Austin, Texa8

Boyhood Book Signing, Precision Camera – Austin, Texas

I watched Boyhood the other day. You might have heard about this movie, created over 12 years by Director Richard Linklater. It recently won a Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama and is up for several Academy Awards. Don’t worry, no spoilers in this post. Just in case you want to see it. And I do recommend that you watch the movie.

As this is a photography blog, most everything I post is somehow related to photography. If you watch the movie, this connection will be obvious. But for me, it goes beyond that, which makes this a particularly interesting film.

I’m not a film critic so I won’t go much into it. All I’ll say is, unlike typical Hollywood movies, Boyhood is authentic. Perhaps a bit more drama than a typical family but totally believable. You get to follow a family, especially the son, over 12 years, filmed in real-time. This may be the first time this has ever been done.

The movie was shot in and around Austin and I recognize may of the places, which is always fun. But it’s more than that. As a father of two boys 15 and 11, I see them growing so fast. Not quite as fast as in the movie but close enough for discomfort. I have my own Boyhood moments when I look at photos of my kids that I took years ago. They seem like just yesterday.

There are other enjoyable connections too. Late last year, I was in Precision Camera and stumbled on a book signing. Local photographer Matt Lankes, who got to document the movie over the 12 years, created a wonderful portrait and behind the scenes book on Boyhood.

Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Then two weeks ago, at our monthly Austin Photographic Society meeting, Matt gave a talk on his photography and the movie. We found out they filmed their final scene in Big Bend. Yet another connection, which we explored when we visited Closed Canyon in Big Bend Ranch State Park, last week. You might recognize this photo, if you watch the movie. A neat place for sure and it was one of the highlights or our trip out west.

So a big thumbs up for the movie unless you want to see car chases, explosions, zombies or a dystopian future Earth. Boyhood doesn’t fit the typical Hollywood mold and that’s what makes it all the more special. Oh and pickup Matt’s book too.

Boyhood Book - Austin, Texas

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I took all the photographs with the Pentax Q7 in JPEG.

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Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.


The Big Bend Report: What was it like shooting with 5 cameras, actually 6?

The Rio Grande - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

The Rio Grande – Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

I went on my first ever landscape photography trip to Big Bend last week. I mentioned that I was bringing 5 cameras — actually 6, if you include the iPhone 5S. Understandably, people thought I was crazy. I had my doubts too. But it worked out pretty good as did the other non-camera gear I recently bought.

The hiking boots are fantastic and especially helped in those rocky places. The Thinktank camera bag was comfortable and my back thanked me. Though the weather nixed our longest planned hike, I held up well after two 2 mile hikes on Friday. 20 pounds, which seemed moderately heavy on the way out, felt light on the way home. Looks like this hiking thing is a good strength training exercise.

So how did all those cameras work out? Not bad. I used every camera I brought. Some more than others, as you can see.

Pentax Q7 3093 photos
Olympus OM-D E-M10 720 photos
Canon 6D 624 photos
Apple iPhone 5S 111 photos
Nikon 35Ti 68 photos (1.84 rolls)
Mamiya 645E 60 photos (4 rolls)
Visitor's Center - Big Bend Ranch State Park

The star of the show was the Pentax Q7. I carried the camera along with 3 lenses in my small Domke bag which I brought everywhere. It was my go to camera and I shot both landscapes and candids during the trip. The big backpack and the tripod stayed in the trunk and was only used during our hikes and longer stops. For quick jaunts and in car shooting, it was the Q7 all the way.

Giant rock at Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Cactus Closeup - Big Bend National Park, Texas

I shot a large number of black and whites which I thought worked especially well. Something about the pointy plants and textured rocks in the desert that really works well in monochrome. I’m glad because while the Q7 black and white street photos in Japan worked well, I wasn’t sure how the style would translate in America.

Little House in the Desert - Big Bend National Park, Texas

I didn’t photograph with the Nikon 35Ti as much as I thought — I didn’t quite finish two rolls. Part of the reason is that I was shooting with so many cameras. There wasn’t much of a weight penally, though. and the 35Ti and the Pentax Q7 kit both fit conveniently in that Domke bag. I got back the first roll and the photos, especially the color, looked great.

Santa Elena Canyon - Big Bend National Park, Texas

The medium format Mamiya 645E, on the other hand, got more use than expected. 60 photos doesn’t sound like a lot, compared to digital, but considering that each shutter press costs between $1.25 and $1.80, it adds up quickly. Because taking pictures with film, especially medium format, costs real money, I’m naturally more selective. But looking at those landscapes through a giant glass viewfinder was heavenly.

I shot the Mamiya meticulously which is in stark contrast to the quick, rapid fire grab shots I make with the Pentax Q7. It was fun shooting both ways. Which method creates better photographs? Now that’s a good question.

A path through an alien landscape - Big Bend, Texas

With little risk, I took more chances with the digital Q7 which sometimes creates surprisingly compelling images. There are more throwaways, of course, but there is a sense of playfulness and experimentation. The Mamiya is more like Zen meditation. I contemplate that image and will it into existence with the loud clack of the shutter and the satisfying tactile feel of advancing the film to the next frame. The images are not daring enough though. The fear of “wasting” money prevents me from taking chances with my 645 imagery.

I shot the Canon 6D more like the medium format camera and used a tripod and took brackets (3 shots) for HDR. I slowed down and look carefully throughout the frame, scrutinizing the composition more than ever before — even with no risk of wasted money. My desire for the quick digital captures are satisfied by the Q7. The 6D became a serious landscape camera. You can see my Canon 6D HDR handiwork at the top of the post.

The iPhone held its own and did well in service of creating Instagrams. My Instagram uploads were squeezed in during the short and sparse cell and WiFi coverage. Thanks to the blog readers who follow me on Instagram. They got to see an early preview of the places I’ve been.

Finally, I used the Olympus E-M10 for a very specific reason, which I’ll go into, in a future post. It was a high-tech feature which wowed some of my fellow photographers. Better photographs through technology! That said, I was the only one with film cameras so I embraced old and new tech equally, I suppose.

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Hover over the photographs with a mouse to see the camera I used as well as its settings. The 4 square images where shot on the iPhone 5S and posted to Instagram. Click on the photograph to see a larger version.

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The best sunset of my Big Bend Trip

Highway Sunset - San Antonio, Texas

Highway Sunset – San Antonio, Texas

I got back from my first excursion to Big Bend last night, actually right during the Super Bowl. No worries, I’m more interested in photography than football. It was a good trip and this city boy made it safely though 5 days in the country.

The weather was better than expected but we still had a fair amount of overcast or uninspiring skies. Ironically, the best sunset occurred on the way back home. I shot these photos out the back of the minivan as we passed through San Antonio, Texas. Beautiful skies to be sure, but we all wished that we got something like this out in Big Bend — mountain silhouettes are usually more inspiring than overpasses. But of course, I’m usually an urban photographer so perhaps it’s just fate.

Highway Sunset - San Antonio, Texas

Therein lies the challenge with landscape photography, of course. You have no control of the weather and not much control over the light. Composition maybe the only saving grace but that only goes so far. So on my first serious landscape photography trip, I learned to make do with whatever I had. It was a fun time and I’ll certainly talk about the details over the next bunch of posts.

Highway Sunset - San Antonio, Texas

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I took all the photographs with the Pentax Q7 in JPEG.

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Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.