Thursday, April 10, 2014

Learning New Things By The Handful


While Nancy and I were in NYC last week, I had the great fortune to rent the Fuji X-T1 and two lenses. I have to admit, I fell in love with the Zeiss Touit 12mm f2 lens. It was crazy sharp and allowed for nearly instantaneous focusing. I wish I could say that there is something horribly wrong with the Fuji X lineup, just to keep you from buying into a whole new system. Can't do it. If you're on the fence, buy the Fuji. You'll love it. Or you wont. Whatever. That's not what I learned this past week.

The first image in this series is an as-shot-JPG straight from the Fuji X-T1, with the Black and White Conversion with Red Filter added in-camera. Yup, this is pretty darned nice. I was mighty happy. I figured that it would still need editing once i got back into the studio, but nope. I liked this.

At the time (last week), the Fuji X-T1 was not supported in Lightroom 5.3 . As a result, when I tried to import the native raw files from the Fuji, the RAF files came up as unsupported. I tossed them into a separate folder and figured that sometime this summer, Adobe would release a LR update that would allow for the raw Fuji files to be read. I didn't expect that to happen this week!

The image that follows (below), in COLOR is the Fuji RAF, raw image. Surprise. Even though I had the camera selected to shoot in B&W, the raw image is in color. Hmmm. Very interesting.

Original raw Fuji RAF file, uploaded as DNG in Lightroom 5.4 this afternoon.


This image (above) was created simply by converting to black and white (B&W) directly in the Lightroom Develop Module/Basic. My usual method of working in black and white is to start here. I then adjust the "color" setting sliders. Even though the end result is B&W, by adjusting the sliders for Red, Orange, etc., you are able to affect the lightness or darkness of a given area (of color response) in the image. If you push or pull the slider for blue for instance, folks with blue jeans on (and your sky) will darken or brighten, depending on your personal preference. The image below shows what the settings for this particular image looked like in the LR dialogue for B&W adjustments in the Develop module.





This image was created in Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro2. Nik SilverEfex is loaded with choices, options, and sliders galore. It is incredibly easy to be overwhelmed. Most folks tend to take the easy path and choose one of the presets. I typically start with a preset that gets close to what I imaged the image to be like during my editing visualization process, early on. In this case, that preset filter is called Full Contrast and Structure. I dropped the exposure considerably since it had automatically brightened the already bright noon-day harsh highlights. It also bumped up the dark shadow areas considerably. In many circles, this could be considered black and white HDR. For me, it doesn't seem very real or pleasant, so it isn't what I would consider a "keeper".


This last image was made in OnOne Software's latest version of PerfectB&W8. I picked up the software about two weeks ago and am slowly figuring out how to best make use of the different style of editing software. This particular setting in PerfectB&W8 is called Palladium. The preset originally comes with a "palladium" border which looked like a sloppy emulsion laid down with a brush. Not the effect I particularly wanted for this image. So I switched the frame to something more subtle and discrete.

After all of that, am I happy with the image? Not really. It was a great "grab" shot, but it isn't my ideal image. I detest hot-high-noon photos. I would have been much happier with an early morning or late afternoon photo... but by then we were in a totally different part of Manhattan, (specifically, the Cloisters) and were on our way back to the Island. In terms of a scouting session, it gave me incredible feedback on the area (near the Empire State Building), what gear would make it easy to get the shot (definitely the X-T1), time of day (ideally morning or late afternoon), and where is a good place to stand. All of those issues play out in every single image I made during this trip. In each image, there is something I feel like I can improve... so we'll go back hopefully either at the end of April or the beginning of May.

Want to know more about the latest incarnation of Lightroom or any of my other editing software? Ask me questions, either here on the blog or on Facebook. Always happy to share my process.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hand Of Fate Tattoo Photo Session


Last Friday and Saturday, I had the privilege to photograph a dozen of the most wonderful people and their incredible tattoos, all created by Eddie Molina at The Hand of Fate Tattoo Parlor in Ithaca. I first met Eddie and Demetra when I photographed their wedding at Robert Treman State Park back in 2010. Their guest list was a who's-who of the tattoo world's great artists. I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time. Since then I have seen many of the tattoos done by these folks end up in some of the biggest tattoo magazines.

This past weekend Eddie invited me back to photograph some of his recent work in order to update his portfolio with new images. Demetra arranged for two days of back to back shooting (and fun!). On Friday just before 11am, Nancy and I got rolling. There is so much to be said for a nice, late start to the morning. (Followed by coffee from Gimme!) By noon we had subjects ready, in front of the camera and things just rolled steadily all afternoon. Saturday, Aurora joined in the fun, allowing Nancy to head off to work. By the time we wrapped the set on Saturday evening, we had a huge pile of amazing images of some of the most intricate tattoos I have ever seen.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to do something so enjoyable. The pace was perfect for a two day shoot. I'd like to think that everyone who came walked away excited to see these images edited (and on Facebook).  If you'd like to see my favorite images from the photo session, please check out my facebook gallery: https://www.facebook.com/AlexanderSolla/media_set?set=a.10203118491421530.1073741950.1184020018&type=1

Feel free to check out The Hand Of Fate Tattoo Parlor in Ithaca.
Their website:  http://www.handoffatetattoo.com/
Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/thehandoffatetattooparlor

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What Have I Been Up To?


Winter brings a level of hibernation that at first seems cozy, but after nearly four months of snow cover begins to feel like a cross between lethargy and freezer burn. I have tried to find ways to inspire myself this long winter. Photographs of spring flowers just dont cut it when it has been weeks since there's been any sign of a blue sky. Imagining a Caribbean vacation is nice, but unrealistic. What's a guy to do?

I decided to work on my website. Yeah, I know... not terribly romantic. The frustrating reality is that I would much rather be out photographing icy landscapes than sitting indoors, plugging away at the code for this new website. In fact, I prefer almost anything to having to do website work... so much so that the last update I made on my website was over a year ago. It was overdue for a major revision.  So much of my current focus is on portraiture and yet the old website just had pictures of puppies. Hmmm. Not very representative. It also lacked a means for people to contact me. Not very professional.

I would like to think that the revision is looking good. I am still struggling with a few minor issues which have not been released onto the live website yet. Hoping to wrap up those loose ends this weekend. In the meantime, if you find things you aren't happy with on my new website, please let me know. I am always curious to hear how things work for others.

Please take a look and let me know your thoughts: http://alexsollaphotography.com/

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Landscape Three Ways



I tend to see in black and white when I shoot. Even before I take a look at my white balance settings for the scene, I am already looking at it in terms of what I will be able to do once I get home to the digital darkroom (Nik software and OnOne software). That pre-visualization makes such a difference in terms of deciding how to wrestle with contrast and tonal range. In short, I like knowing what I am going to get long before I go "click". 


This was my first attempt to try to capture some of the odd blue-ish green glow that I saw in the sky. After editing, something about it just didn't rock my world. One thing that was critically apparent was that my sensor was dirtier than my teenager's bedroom. Holy COW! There is nothing like a barren sky like that to show off every bloody dust speck on your camera's sensor. Yikes.


And this final image is the original image, complete with lone weed standing in the snow field. Look closely and you will see all those lovely dust specks that drive me mad with frustration. Time to get in there to do some cleaning.

I think my biggest frustration with this scene was that I was already tired of driving around PA and was ready to be heading home. In a perfect world, I would have liked to have driven much closer to this windfarm in hopes of creating more interesting compositions. Ideally, I would love to go back, sneak around closer to the base of one of the towers and then push the rest off into the receding distance. Unfortunately, as anyone who has driven around Pennsylvania knows, there is no straight road anywhere. Every road goes up and around John's barn and past the boulder, where you make a right turn at the gas station that burned down ten years ago... you'll see the turn. And when you get there...or where you think "there" should be... all that is there is a bunch of trees. Worse, this time of year, you just find trees and snow. Sometimes the road is almost negligible... an afterthought of what might have been a road in better times.

So, I have my work cut out for me. An interesting subject awaits. I just need to find the time and map out a route for a return trip down to this wind farm. It would also be fun to test out some of these new mirrorless cameras during this jaunt. I might just have to break down and rent a few through LensRentals.com.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Difference Between a Capture and a Creation

edited in Nik Analog Efex and LR5
Some might argue that a photographer has to get everything right in-camera otherwise they aren't "real" photographers. Others seem to think that every image needs to be massaged and coerced in Photoshop until it looks like a dayglow black velvet Elvis painting.

I tend to look at my original images and try to find things that I want to draw out of the image. In many cases, working in a black and white format helps me to see the tonal ranges and textures with greater ease. In an image like this, that weathered barn wood just craves being touched. I wanted to make that the dominant feeling in the image. As I looked through the other images during this session, the details were more compelling (for the most part) but they said nothing about the emptiness of this old barn. When I came back to this shot, it had such a concise plea of emptiness. Even though this barn is still in use, the neglect is obvious. It is past its prime. I'd like to think that the finished image gives some integrity to the old barn in its last few years.

original jpg of the barn, no editing

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Taking A Look Back


In the past few weeks I have updated some of my editing software. After resisting the change to cloud-based, subscription software via Adobe, I finally succumbed to the "Photographer's Package"... $10/mo for Photoshop CC and Lightroom. Works for me!

One of the programs I started working with five years ago is Nik Software. NIK was sold to Google a few years back. I was worried that the sale of the incredibly innovative program would result in software stagnation and the eventual conversion to simply an online app. While there haven't been any major new releases since the acquisition by Google, it is still getting minor updates. What is fascinating though is that the minor updates are really quite interesting and useful. Not often one can say that about software.

One of the newest features is Analog Efex Pro. From the copy on the Nik site: 
Get the photo you’re looking for, even if you don’t own the equipment. Effects inspired by traditional cameras bring you back to a specific era. Choose from Classic Camera, Vintage, Wet Plate and Toy Camera. Go beyond filtersUse vintage effects designed for the serious photographer. Create professionally stylized images by picking a preset, then diving in to fine-tune your approach. Adjust bokeh, textures, frames and other elements, then pinpoint the location of your effects with precise on-image controls.
In short, you get groovy effects that are way more cool than stuff you find with Instagram, etc. Very fun.

So why am I mentioning this? Because for me, exploring new software is play. It is almost as much fun as opening a box with a new camera in it, or starting a new book or finding a new place to go hiking.

Where I became evangelical about Nik software was when I emailed them for customer support. My problem was that the new Creative Cloud versions of Photoshop and Lightroom don't recognize the authorization numbers that came with my boxed software 2 yrs ago. My fear was that, like most big software companies, once you reach a year or two after purchase, you are shit out of luck. No support, no help... just buy the stuff again and take your licks. Nik wasn't cheap. At the time it retailed for $300 and when I tried to purchase it, it was on sale for $150. Now, the normal street price is just shy of $150 and there are sales for folks who own other software like OnOne.

I emailed Nik and asked what could be done so I could use their software with my newly installed Adobe Creative Cloud software. I expected to get an automated response in a few days. Instead the following morning, I had a very kindly written email, explaining that all I had to do was run the installed that they had attached to the email and everything would install, no codes necessary. In short, since I was already a registered, licensed customer, they wanted me to keep using their software. Holy shit! No one does that. I was mega-impressed. I wrote the tech support person back and thanked him. I let him know that his speedy reply, succinct instructions and awesome attitude made my whole week better. Not an hour later he replied again, letting me know that if I ran into any problems with the Nik software integrating after any CC upgrades, I should email and they would take care of it.

Wow! That's how customer service is SUPPOSED to be.

Now, as I look back at the days where I used to buy the educational version of Adobe Creative Suite, Lightroom, etc... and hope that I could squeeze 2-4 yrs out of the application before needing to upgrade, now I am trying out the Creative Cloud. So far, I am actually impressed. I have a feeling that in the long run, there will be more competitors for Adobe. Not sure when that will happen, but if companies like Nik keep on their game, there is so much promise!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Go Stand In The Corner



At the end of September we were looking at a very odd stalled sort of fall. Some trees had changed colors, and others had not even begun. All of a sudden things got grey very fast. Leaves fell off the trees without changing color. It was strange.

Amidst it all, there was this one tree near a parking garage in Ithaca. It turned this lovely glowing orange and stayed that color for weeks. Bit by bit, the winds tore the warm leaves off the tree, just leaving these last few.