Monday, May 5, 2008

Two of the better photos I've recently taken

For those of you counting, yes, there are four photos here, not two. But the first photo isn't one of the better photos I've taken lately (although it did provide the thinking point for the next photo) and the third picture is just an edit of the second. All photos are from a Nikon D80, and all but the final are on a Nikkor o/77mm 17-35mm f2.8IF D ED AF-S SWM at 35mm and wide open. And, yes, Matthew, that "IF" means this (just like all of my glass) is internally focusing. The last picture is also from the D80, but with the Nikkor o/67mm 70-300mm f4.5-5.6IF G ED AF-S VR-II SWM. I've finally studied up on what that whole alphabet soup means, and having done that, I can tell you if you don't already know it probably won't interest you. Anyway: onto the pictures, and click for original resolutions.

Sledgehammer. D80 and 17-35mm, 1/13s, ISO 320. Handheld.

Handheld sorta. I was on my back in my apartment with the camera resting on my face. My right (focus) eye still is a little squishy and not focusing right. I liked this shot but was losing too much detail in the tassles. (This is a picture of a hanging lamp, and the tassles shown here in the center hang about 38" below the light bulb, which you can't see.)

Hmm, well, what to do about that? I wanted some additional color contrast, because the white ring is just a little too overpowering and grabs your eye from the center. Hence the title Sledgehammer. No subtlety here.

Also note the small bursts of lightness in the mostly flat background. Those aren't lens artifacts, but rather, the reflective spackle on the ceiling (which I hate). The 17-35mm f2.8 Nikkor is a very sharp lens. The corners, also, are not suffering vignetting. (You will be hardpressed to see vignetting with this lens on an APS sensor (DX in Nikonspeak) because the glass is designed for full frame.) The corners are dark because of the throw of the light from the top of the lampshade.

So now we've got our problem: needs color contrast and subtlety, while holding onto the detail in the tassle. To soften the direct light I swapped out the 40 watt bulb for a 25 watt red lamp. For contrast, I cranked the flash all the way down. And, voila:

Inorgantic life. Again, D80 with the wide (well, not on a DX...) Nikkor, ISO 400, 1/60s ... and, .4 sec delay between mirror lockup and shutter release.

Why the delay? Mirror-shock? No: read on...

The D80 has a very nice feature: remote flash control. You can fire the onboard flash and also use it to control up to two banks of compatible Nikon Speedlights. (If you slap a SB-800 into the hot shoe, you can use it to flash itself and control three banks of Speedlights!) The first photos I took with the red bulb didn't show any tassle: it was too damned dark. Next I tried the onboard flash. Well, that was almost right, but the six round areas out of focus around the tassle were unevenly lighted: the tassle was obstructing the flash from hitting the round things on the far side of the lamp.

Well, dial in the D80 for "Commander" mode flash, and I was able to compensate by holding my SB-800 directly below the camera, filling the other side out. But even with both flashes dialed all the way back down, I was either blowing the tassles out or washing the red out -- usually both.

But the D80 apparently suffers a bug that can be turned to advantage: engaging the shutter release delay does not change the flash timing! Back-sinc flashing, multi-flashing, et al are old hat in flash tricks. Maybe this is too, and I've just never heard about it. But by holding off the shutter for just a split-snap-fraction of a second (and only to be open for 1/60th a second anyway) I was able to get the lighting I wanted. I found this on accident.

The above photo is almost camera original. The only thing I did was run a very slight curve to get the background into the shade I wanted. Nothing else. Just for fun, though, I washed the photo into B/W with a red filter to cut back on that RED! a little bit.

It may be from Mars. Same as above, but with red filter B/W.

I like both images, but the B/W one struck me as looking like something you might have seen on a very camp 1950's sci-fi show.

The tassle here was at the minimum focus distance for the Nikkor, about 2" from the front of the lens! As I've been reading at the trick with wide angle lenses is to get close, not to try and shove everything in. 35mm was the right length for this, otherwise I would have needed to crop.

Desert simulation. D80, but with the VR 70-300mm, focal length here 240mm. Aperature f5.5, ISO 100, 1/80, VR on active, handheld at the lens' min. focus distance of right around five feet.

I just liked the colors here, and the distorted feeling of size. Note that the cactus is about seven inches tall. Just a hair of saturation boost in Photoshop, nothing else.