Nik Tonal Contrast

Pile of Sticks, originally uploaded by jjvornov.

Thanks to Moose Peterson for finally revealing what his latest Nik secret filter is. It’s tonal contrast. Here’s his video on the technique. As he notes, it’s really very much like an HDR filter because it’s a local contrast booster. You’ll see in his video how easy it is to get carried away with this thing. However there’s something that he alludes to that I think is really valuable. He demonstrates how one can crank it up and apply multiple times. Well the overall effect is not believable at all. But it’s easy enough to selectively paint in some of this extra effect to create what Vincent Versace called a belivable improbability.

He’s been told the technique is cheating. I’m with Moose on this. I’m lazy to the core. I’m looking for the fastest way to convey what I see in these mundane suburban views.

One of the other features in this image is fill flash. I liked the accentuation of the shadow depth and plan to explore the effect a bit more.


Trunk Detail, originally uploaded by jjvornov.

This image was pushed very hard in post processing The right side of the image was in poor focus compared to the center/left. I assume it was mostly due to the angle that I captured it at and a wide aperture.

Instead of throwing it out, I took the image way down with what Vincent Versace calls a dark to light curve- a heavily convex curve that pulls the values down. I then selectively lowered the effect on the sharp portions of the image, illuminating the areas I wanted the view to see. If you look, the out of focus areas are still there, but they are not where one looks first.

It’s not a great image, but I like the idea of painting with light well enough to create one that is at least passable and reads as a believable reality.

Taking It On the Road

Canal, originally uploaded by jjvornov.

Because of traffic, I decided to take the long way round to suburban NJ. Interstate 78 goes past Bethlehem, PA. We had stopped in Bethlehem on a vacation trip, actually looking for coffee after a night’s camping in the Lehigh Valley.

The city is spit down the middle by the river. On the south side are the old steel mills, where there’s an interesting mix of hilly old, small housing and the old steel mils. There seems to be condo development along the river in some of the old industrial sites.

On the other side of the river is the upscale, historic side of the city. This image is from that side of town.

Midrange Zoom Methodology

Bagged Leaves

Working with primes, I had a simple way of composing. I looked through the view finder and moved around until what I saw looked like a photograph. With an SLR, the view envelopes you. My choice of lens was set by how close I wanted to get to my subject and how much depth I wanted to portray. Most of the time, the normal lens of 35mm to 50mm reflected my visual sense, so I felt comfortable in that range.

With the Leica, time enters into the shot to a greater degree because it’s easier to see around the outside of both the camera itself and the actual picture frame because of the mechanics of the camera.

Shooting with midrange zooms now, I’ve had to think about how to approach the choice I was holding in my hands. One idea is to choose a focal length for the subject and then put the camera to the eye. Kind of like having multiple primes available instantly.

Over the past few months I’ve developed a different way of working. I tend to keep the zoom at its widest view as I approach a subject. I explore through the view finder, approaching as if I had a wide prime on the camera. If I see detail in the scene that I want to isolate, I move into zoom mode and fill the frame. It’s led me to longer focal lengths and tighter shots. My mantra, courtesy of Vincent Versace is: “Own the frame”. Instead of waiting for the photograph to assemble in the viewfinder, I find myself more actively creating the image because I can play with position and focal length subtly and simultaneously.

My realization that I had changed my approach came from looking over my images from the last two weeks and running across this from Moose Peterson:

Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 AF-S: “I use the 17-55 mainly for landscapes and portraits. My preferred way of using it is getting close physically to the subject and than using the focal length variability to isolate the subject while telling its story. This means that quite often I’m using the lens wide open if not real close to it.”

DP2 Coming?

Parking Divide, originally uploaded by jjvornov.

Photokina is underway in Germany. It’s held every other year and is the worlds biggest photography equipment show. I’ve been uninvolved emotionally in the rumors and announcements so far because I’m pretty well satisfied with my three current systems- Leica M6ttl film/scan, Nikon D300 DSLR, and the Sigma DP1.

The DP1 is the problem child as I love the images it produces, like this one, but it’s responsiveness is the the worst I’ve ever had in a camera I used regularly. I switched away from Olympus to Nikon just because my E-1 was so pokey compared to a Nikon, but the DP1 is much, much worse. I work around it, but I’d love a replacement that actually let me adjust shutter speed, aperture or ISO more frequently than every 10 seconds.

It’s rumored that a DP2 with a 40mm equiv lens will be shown tomorrow. I’ll wait to see whether they’ve improved on the electronics before committing. If they have, I’ll probably add it to the DP1, since 40mm is a very natural focal length for the way I see– as the 24mm on the Nikon DX (36mm equiv) is a favorite of mine.

The other camera I want to see is, maybe surprisingly, the Minox “spycam” due out tomorrow: Minox DSC/

I loved the sharp, infinite depth of field of the Minox film cams. If they can do something similar with a digital, I’d be interested in using it as yet another way of seeing.

So far the Nikon D700 sounds great and if didn’t already have the D300, I might have gone for it. For now though the extra cost doesn’t get me anything other than shifting focal lengths up and making my one DX lens (the 12-24mm f/4) less usable. I’m OK wide with the the D300 and the low light sensitivity is good enough for me now.

The micro 4/3rds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic may turn out to be great, but the Panasonic is larger than the DP1. I’ll wait to see whether we get something smaller and more capable than the DP1. But that DP1 Foveon image quality will be hard to beat without new sensor technology.

So I’m kind of sitting out this round for now, trying to make images.

Sigma DP1 Lensmate Announced

Rows It’s remarkable how many more views my Sigma DP1 images get on Flickr compared to the D300. It’s a camerat that obviously interests a large number of photographers.

The good new today is that Lensmate will be making a 52mm adaptor.

Lensmateonline – Sigma DPI: “The Lensmate DP1 lens adapter has a 52mm filter thread. This size has some advantages over the OEMs 46mm size. The availability and selection of 52mm filters is greater than the 46mm size and many DP1 users already own 52mm filters. The larger size allows the stacking of filters and hoods with less likelihood of vignetting. “

I held off on the official Sigma hood and adaptor hoping for this. I have a set of 52mm filters for my Nikon 24mm and 50mm combo, including my warming filters and polarizaing filters. These will be a nice addition to the travel set. While you’ll often see that standard filters don’t work for digital, I find that comes from a misunderstanding regarding effects on white balance. The filters have the same effect, but our cameras are set to turn everything into unfiltered light. But this kills color light, as in late in the day as well as color filters. I get nice effects by shooting in the middle of the day with a warming filter plus polarizer as we did with film, but then being careful in post processing not to “dewarm” the pciture. You get a nice saturation push and contrast lowering with the filters, just as you did on film.

My last big series with the warming/polarizer combo was last year’s trip to Italy in the Riomaggiore set at Flickr.

A Photo Editor – An Endless Stream Of Photography

Last of the Light

Yesterday I finished reading “Art and Fear“, a classic small book on making art by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It’s a beautiful little book that fits my conception of art as personal process. With the internet, it is now so much easier to communicate with one’s work. I’m actually quite happy that having been working consistently for about 2 years and have actually arrived somewhere. I have two interesting streams going- color digital images examining the effects of light in the suburban landscape and monochrome film images examining motion in urban settings. There are lots of images that don’t fit, many that are unsuccessful, but the body of work has, over time, actually moved somewhere.

Digital imaging has made it much easier to create and manipulate images. And has made distribution much easier as well. I fear that the volume of work produced can be discouraging to image makers. As “Art and Fear” makes clear, one’s own art is likely to go unappreciated by the world. And even successful artists have the problem that their current output is always competing with their earlier, better known work.

There are always those who want to dismiss most of our work because they don’t see the value:

A Photo Editor – An Endless Stream Of Photography: “Anyway my point here is that there%u2019s so much going on in this business that%u2019s not worth paying attention to. I%u2019m not even talking about the amateur stuff that%u2019s gone from the shoe box to flickr or on the personal website either . . .”

Personally, I’ve found over and over, that what at first seems like a unitary “Internet” or “Flickr” is actually a complex web of communities and neighborhoods. One generally finds oneself enmeshed in a community where the stream is actually small enough to deal with on a human level. While there’s a romantic notion that artists can labor in obscurity, my observation is that art grows best among a group of like minds. It may remain obscure, but it will be appreciated by its maker and at least a small audience.

In Praise of the Nikon 24-120mm AF-S VR Nikkor

A Fraction of the Drive

After I posted my alphabet exercise to the “Welcome to Oz” Flickr group, I mentioned that I never bought a midrange zoom. Not that I never thought about it, but I basically gravitated back to the 24mm f/2.8 prime on the Nikon. I looked at the kit lenses, looked at the new 16-85mm VR, thought about the Sigma 17-70 Macro, but never felt I needed one until I did the alphabet exercise.

Shooting with a prime is reactive. One is presented with the view and can change angle and move in and out, but it’s a modification of the image. It’s hard to, as Versace says, “Own the Frame”. Call me an acolyte, but when Vincent said in the Flickr group that the Nikon 24-120mm was his most favorite single walk around lens, I ordered a used one from It seemed to be a decent match to the 12-24mm f/4 as my wide lens. Being 24mm at the wide end would match my usual walk around 24mm but give me range into the telephoto range with vibration reduction to boot.

As I looked around the net for reviews I found that the 24-120mm is an unloved lens. It is slammed as unsharp on the DPReview and PhotoNet message boards, with a few objections by happy users.

Thom Hogan damns the lens with faint praise, although admitting that he doesn’t like midrange zooms anyway:

Nikon 24-120mm AF-S VR Nikkor review by Thom Hogan: “Overall, the 24-120mm AF-S VR is much better than its predecessor, but not by enough to make me sit up and pay attention. Personally, I wish they had added VR to the 24-85mm AF-S instead of making this lens. Even so, it has found a place in my casual travels when I want to travel as light as possible (e.g., one lens, one body, no tripod).”

Bjorn Rorslett, a well respected Nikon lens reviewer subjectively calls the lens “quite soft”.

And while Ken Rockwell argues that sharpness doesn’t matter, I believe that lenses have characteristic ways of rendering scenes. The Nikon 105mm Micro renders sharp and contrasty. There’s a beauty in the details that the lens can produce, often becoming the point of the picture. Rockwell also calls the 24-120mm “not very sharp” and would relegate it to snapshots it seems.

On the other hand, Moose Peterson is a fan:

Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6VR AF-S: “Yes, I’ve read all those ‘web reports’ reporting this or that problem. Amazingly once again the lens I purchased just works, no problems. In fact, the very first day I shot with it was for a small job and it did a great job producing a dynamite 19x print right before the clients eyes. For me, that’s all I can ask for.”

For me, I offer just this one image so far. I didn’t hit the right focus on this shot, with the foreground grass in optimal focus and the middle ground curbs are not as in focus as I’d like. On the other hand, I’ve been trying to get this shot for many months and the midrange zoom allowed me to finally frame it without laying down in the street. I agree with Moose and Vincent so far. My copy is a sharp enough lens. I need to learn how to judge what DOF is going to be when I can instantly crank the lens from a somewhat wide to normal range to telephoto. My experience is that most “sharpness” issues in real world image taking are focus or movement problems.


Street Crossing

Here’s another Urban Motion image from London taken with the Leica M6ttl and Ilford XP2 black and white C41 process film. It’s about as flawed an image as I’ve ever put up here, but it fits with the images I’ve been collecting. Rain fogged lens, monochrome ISO 400 film with some grain, poor focus and subject motion all combined. Of course the same camera with Velvia at ISO 100 is as sharp as you like but now edged out by my D300 I think.

My M6 is still a useful special purpose tool. I’m glad that I passed on the digital M8 though, as it seemed just too flawed of a camera. But that seems old news to me now. So it’s surprising to me how much attention this review by a photojournalist in Iraq has been getting:

Leica M8 Field Test, Iraq: “Review of the Leica M8”

I will try to make this review as comprehensive as possible with samples of the work I have done with the three M8’s that I have used. This will allow others a detailed look at my experiences with the M8, most of which have been negative. Please keep in mind that there are many other photographers who like the M8.

Compact Camera Shoot in the National Geographic

Horizontal Ladder

Fritz Hoffman uses a digital camera as polaroids were once used:

Editor’s Pick – Film is dead, long live film – National Geographic Magazine – One digital camera that Fritz does actually carry with him now is a Canon G7 point & shoot (the newest model is the G9). He tends to use it to check lighting, color balance and also as a way to make visual notes—he may shoot a Chinese sign and then later have it translated.

The editors at National Geographic used one of the G7 images as a two page spread in the latest National Geographic. Hoffman prefers film because of his way of working, it seems. No distracting previews, the simple, silent interface of the Leica M camera.