Not sure what it is, but if there is one piece of camera gear that is misunderstood, it has to be the 16Fish. The Nikon 16f2.8AF is a lens I count on all the time for many, many different types of photography. Many think of a 16Fish and this lens the bends the world and it can, but is doesn’t have to. Here’s shot coming back from a project where the project was to take a portrait using the 16Fish (you’ll see the final image later this year). And this shot taken with the D800 flying back from the project in the rear of the A36 was also taken with the 16Fish as well. When we talked about shooting with the 16Fish this weekend at Short Lens Course (GREAT group BTW, loved having you!) and then I made a shot with a participants Canon Fish, I could see on faces I had opened some minds which is why I wanted to blog about again today. Check out the video below but it comes with a warning, it might cost you money! On a side note, this is a 5 image, hand held during a bumpy ride over Owens Valley, HDR finished just with Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2.
To say we lucked into great clouds during our K&M Adventure SD is an understatement. The trick was not finding the clouds but rather, what to put with them. That’s where visiting a location over and over again really pays big dividends. I’ve been to Custer dozens of times so when the afternoon thunderheads piled up, I knew where I wanted to go. What I didn’t know that the 16Fish would be the lens that would be the funniest to shot with. Kevin first got it out and I peaked through his lens and then grabbed mine. I then played with the peaks and valleys to make the designs that would go with the shapes of the clouds. It was so much fun taking the D4 and just pointing and blasting with the great light and shapes!
Visual depth, there are many ways to obtain it in our photographs. The way I typically do it is with a strong foreground, middleground and background. I’ve talked about this a lot over the years. The other method I use which for some reason I’ve not seemed to mention is optical visual depth. While in Monument Valley this past week with our K&M Adventures, it dawned on me while we were photographing North Window that this was a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
The top photo was taken with a 70-200VR2 at 200mm. This is more or less the classic shot of North Window. You have way off in the distance a couple of mesas and by clipping a little bit of the window on the right and left, the eye can stop there while the imagination goes off into the distance to see those mesas. The reference point in the foreground permits the mind’s eye to slip into the background and creates the illusion of visual depth. Why illusion? What are you using to look at these photos? A computer monitor. It don’t get no flatter!
The bottom image was taken with a 16Fish and part of a lesson of fisheye panos. Here, we used the road to lead the eye back into the frame. We use the tree on the left to “hide” a little bit of rock so the eye continues down that road. While you see the North Window way off in the background, it is no longer the subject. Both images have visual depth and while both pointed at the same formation, they both have a different subject (we had a long discussion in the van about What’s the Subject). They both have very different visual depth even though they both have visual depth.
This lead to a conversation whether just because you have visual depth, do you have a photography? Does including that mean you have a good or great photograph? In all realities, there is no answer to these questions. I saw photos with visual depth that sucked. I saw photos with no visual depth that were stunning. I know personally when working a landscape, I find it very important for the viewer to be able to “fall into the landscape” in my photograph. I want them to feel as if there were standing next to me taking in that grand view. That requires a strong visual depth at the very least as a starting point in the photographic experience.
I’m the son of a rock hound. I grew up with a museum quality collection in my own home that caught my imagination from the very start. Rocks a gazillion years old, fragile ones, hard as rock ones, expensive ones, out of this world as in meteorite ones, fossil ones and even uncut gem ones, (even played with a moon rock). To this day I can still remember going through the drawers of rocks bug-eyed! The one thing that really fascinated me is looking at the collection under different light sources, seeing a whole new world revealed by simply changing the light. Is it any wonder, I shoot rocks?!
While the geology lessons I learned in the process are long forgotten, the light on the rock lessons seems to have stuck. I mean, a rock is a rock is a rock until you light it and then, it can be just about anything your imagination says it is in your photograph! Rocks have a couple of properties I like to exploit in my photographs. There is place, time, shape and texture. These concepts are not unique to just rock photography. But what’s cool about practicing on rocks is they have all the time in the world for you to get it right!
Rocks come in lots of sizes, from those you can place on your desk and light with a flashlight to big ass ones. My favorite Big Ass Rock is Mt McKinley up in AK. We have sat on the slope ten miles away just watching it and the weather it creates for hours at a time. When it comes to photographing it, my favorite lenses are long ones, 600VR or 200-400VR2. Why so long? I want to give that big ass rock place, I want to say in one click without any caption, it’s big! The trick then is not just the lens, but light and atmosphere. If you’ve ever been to Denali Nat’l Park, then you know that just seeing McKinley can be a real trick so you click when you see it because, you can see it. Getting picky might not be an option but that’s just rock photography for you!
On the flip side is a favorite rock of mine I call Split Ass Rock. When I first blogged this photo back in 2001 it got attention more because I was photographed with the brand new, nobody had D1x. Then the laughter about my name for it made it pretty well known. I still get emails asking where is Split Ass Rock in Acadia Nat’l Park on the shore of Jordan Pond? When we took DLWS participants to shoot at the pond, I was asked where the rock was and when I pointed at it, you should have seen the disappointment in folk’s faces. That’s because the rock is so damn small. By getting down in the pond, shooting with a 14-24AFS just a few inches away though, you’d never know it was small. This is just one method of setting place and time in a photo.
One thing I remember so vividly from the drawers of rocks in my mom’s collection was the texture. Each rock / mineral was unique in its texture and weight. When we’d move the black light around, you’d see not only those features but different colors as well. That’s probably why when I’m out rock shooting, I walk around rocks looking. As you walk around, the first thing you’ll notice the pattern of light changes and that either brings our or hides texture and shape (a play of highlights and shadows). A real simple exercise, find a rock and light it with a flashlight and then do a 360 around it. What makes that rock unique will come out at some point and be hidden at another. It’s all a matter of light.
I did a workshop a few years back with my good friend RC. We were at a local lake shooting when I noticed some folks shooting rocks sticking out of the water at edge of the shore. In my typical style, I just made one comment about the photograph. Dry Rocks Suck and walked away. The photographer took their foot and splashed water on the rocks and low and behold, they didn’t suck no more! This is why I often have a bucket with me, to bring life to them rocks when they are in water with water. The colors, shape, texture that pops is better than any Photoshop pluggin can produce!
Now admitting in public I shoot rocks does sound, bad. Teaching folks to shoot rocks, sounds like I’ve lost my marbles (a form of rock humor). But I have seen many a shooter of rocks totally baffled by something that never moves and is older than dirt. I think it is because we are visually trying to bring life to something that doesn’t live. What does move is the light and that’s where the challenge lies. Next comes the fact that rocks aren’t often alone, they tend to keep company with other rocks. Most photographers not wanting to hurt the rocks feelings so they include them all in the photo. But you know what they say about company, too many rocks is a crowd! I mean, how many rocks do you need in a photograph to say, it’s a rock?!
Whether alone or in a pile, rocks talk about our earth probably better than any other element because they are something everyone can relate to. The trick then photographically, is to make the uncommon photograph out of the common subject. Perhaps if you tackle this problem with this one element thinking of place, time, shape and texture using just light to speak of these attributes, you might not only come up with some cool rock photos, but improve your overall photography just by understanding light a little bit better. Don’t feel silly giving this a try either. Just remember who suggested it to you. My name is Moose, I shoot rocks!
In the Bag
“Why did you go that way?” Damn good question for lots that I have pursued with a camera over time. The Cockpit Panos we’ve posted seem to be the cause of a lot of work time spent lost goofin with them. At the same time, questions keep coming in with this being the latest. Why? The answer was pretty simple when you look at my early cockpit portraits. OK, light is OK and the clouds so so but then what? You really can’t get a feel for the cockpit since you don’t feel like you’re sitting in it. You can really read any of the instruments. It’s, just there! Thought shot with the same 16Fish, you the viewer don’t really get much an experience from it and that’s the whole idea.
Both of these are hand held HDRs, 5 image captures taken at f/2.8 because I was too lazy to get a tripod. That’s because I knew that the end results would be what you see here. What you’re seeing here is the Lone Star Flight Museum’s DC-3, a gorgeous plane you see on the airshow circuit. You’ve got the main cabin and the cockpit here. As the viewer of the image, how are you to get a feel for this romantic period in flight from these photos? (Can you imagine getting our carry-ons on this plane?) It was parked in a hangar when I made these clicks and there sure is a lot more PS craft then camera craft in these couple of images. Since that’s not my style and they really don’t convey the whole experience, I had to find a better what of communicating that experience. That’s how I went looking for what we now call our cockpit panos.
Our Cockpit Panos have become quite popular. We posted two new ones over the weekend, once from a Stinson V-77 Gullwing and another from Super Corsair #74. I really love the “steering wheels” in the Gullwing and truly appreciate the history in #74. I’ve been flooded with one question, “How did I light these cockpits?” It’s all done with one SB-900. Prior to actually making the pano, I determine the lighting for the entire cockpit using just the one flash. Why just one flash? Since I’m using a 16Fish, any type of lighting system would be seen in the frame. At the same time, most cockpits don’t have a whole bunch of space for much more then one flash. Some have asked for a behind the scene video which would be a great idea. That’s if I had a recipe to offer you but at this time I don’t. My original post lists what I suggest you can use to get started if this intrigues you. I was surprised how many emails I received asking about the gear used to create these. That’s listed below again. Thanks for all the love notes. Don’t fret, there are a lot more coming!
For better or worse, my whole photographic career has been based on taking the viewer into a world I am so damn fortunate to explore with my camera. The last 6 months my son Brent & I took this quest to a whole new level. VR Panos are not new, I surely didn’t invent them but when I got this idea I sure did feel like I had. The goal was real simple, put YOU in the cockpit of an aircraft! You walk around an airshow, a museum and typically you’re staring up at the plane. Those that you get to walk through have huge lines and the vast majority of the time, it’s just to see the cockpit. So the question hit me, how can I as a photographer bring that cockpit experience to you? In the beginning, I wish I hadn’t asked that question of myself.
When it comes to wacky stuff, I’m very fortunate to have the perfect expert to ask, Russell Brown. He never fails to amaze me because while he had done one VR Pano, he said he was by no means an expert but he knew who is. He sent me to Scott Highton, a very smart and very generous photographer who literally wrote the book on the topic. Scott was incredibly kind and encouraged me to go for it and provided a couple of ideas so I went for it. His book really laid out the path, the challenge was to follow it. It started in a Cessna 172RG one weekend in Wichita with my shooting bud Kevin. It actually turned out which was encouraging enough to continue.
What you see above is a screen capture of a finished VR Pano of a T-50 Bamboo Bomber. I’ve now posted a number of our cockpit panos on my Warbirdimages.com site for your enjoyment. What you’re seeing on the site (requires Qtime 7.0 or higher) are the low res versions. What we deliver to clients is a 155MB .mov and what you’re seeing is about a 5MB version.
The creation of these panos the first time out seems worse then pulling teeth. The first one took hours to photograph and then over 26hrs to assemble (we’ve got both down to a little bit less time now). That’s because 136 images are required (they way we do it) to create the Pano. I shoot with a D3x so you can zoom in and read the smallest print in the High Res version. It’s all shot with a 16fish, yeap, this is a Fisheye photo and it’s assembled in a program called PTGui (not making that name up, really).
Here’s the one big issue with this process, I have not figured out a way to teach it. It’s just not cut and dry and every time I do one, I learn something new that makes it just a little bit easier. I can tell you that I use the D3x, 16Fish with The Box shooting 5 image HDR, flash fill and that Brent (not me) assembles the finished pano in PTGui. But after that….yikes! For example the T-50 pano above, the first thing I hope you notice is the lighting on the dash (not bad for a wildlife shooter). That took me about 45min to dial in because between lighting the panel, the seats, not seeing the flash in the windscreen and matching it up to the sunset I knew we’d be placing on the outside, it took some time. Oh yeah, none of the lighting gear doing all of this can be seen in the photograph. Doing that in the tight space of a cockpit (the plane was in its hangar) is just something I can’t provide a recipe for. But I sure can at the very least entertain you with the finished results and at most hopefully encourage you to push your photography a little further. Have fun playing with the panos!
I have been asked what are my favorite images from our recent time in Moab. I really don’t think about my images in that way, I don’t pick favorites. I do have those in which I have a personal attachment to because of the experience in making the image is special to me. That could be from a number of things. The first image was taken along Park Avenue where the recent rains left many puddles. I was shooting with my good friend Chris when I came up to him trying to make this shot. I laid down on the rock to give him a couple of ideas which is when I shot this image. If he wasn’t there working the spot, I know I would have not stopped nor lay down on the rock. Right after, McNally laid down next to me and in usual juvenal fashion, we were stupid there for all to see. That makes this image special to me.
This is another of those laying down images. After walking up into Double Arch, I laid backwards to just stretch my back and I saw this. I put the 16Fish to my eye and liked what I saw. I’m actually looking behind me in this photo. In this thumbnail, you can’t see the folks in the foreground and behind, just clear blue sky. Lots of information, lots of light so the 16Fish and a 9 images HDR handheld was the call for capture.
This photo has a whole lot wrapped up in it. Stormy clouds, long run coming to an end. Color meeting black. I have a lot of images of this nature from around the country in my files. I’ve always entertained doing something with them but I just never seem to have the right ones to tell my story. That’s because I’m still not sure what that story is. That’s the cool thing about photography and life, you might wake up each day with an idea where you want to go but that road you enter, it might take you in a totally different direction. So my “favorites” from the week don’t have anything to do with incredible imagery but the moment that went into the click. Life is a marvelous thing, I always feel fortunate I get to experience with a camera in hand.
This is Double Arch looking back out into the desert and I love this shot! Talk about an amazing view on the world. Shot with the 16Fish, there are a few things that went into making this image. The first is the range of light was huge so I started with a 9 handheld image HDR. I then processed that image in Photomatic Pro and Photoshop. To get the sunburst I did two things, I shot with the lens closed down to f/22 and then moved so the sun was just baring peaking around the rim of the Arch. That makes the biggest and best starburst. Finally, I moved the Fish so the slope on the horizon which was sloping up naturally turn out to look pretty level. That “removes” the visual clue that I was using a Fish. But a Fish was a must to take in the whole Arch. It was simply a grand morning in one gorgeous location!
In all my years of coming to Arches, I’ve never experienced Double Arch at sunrise. This year I decided I was going to and I can tell you, I will do it many times in the future. It did not disappoint! As you might imagine as the sun rises the light get’s hard quickly. So before the sun hit, I made some clicks as I walked up to the Arch. I ventured with just two lenses, the 14-24AFS and 16Fish. The Arch is BIG so WIDE was a must.
When the sun hit, you had many options. I shot it straight and used the shadow as a graphic element. I kinda like this series but I don’t think I worked it to its fullest. I think there is a lot more potential here that another visit requires. But the Arch had much more to offer!
Chris in his wonder jacket was perfect for a sense of scale. Now you know the arch isn’t really big. Now Chris looks small in the frame, that’s in part because he didn’t want to be a model. It was also to show scale and still say big. I took that further by shooting with a 16Fish. Why isn’t Chris bowing shooting with that lens? He is dead center as is the horizon line so there is no bowing. Oh yeah, it’s a 9 image handheld HDR as well. Scale is captured, how about pizazz?
Photo captured by D3s, 16Fish on Lexar UDMA digital film
We decided to check out Sand Dune Arch even though the sun was pretty high in the sky. It turned out to be the perfect time, if you don’t mind doing a 9 image handheld HDR. The tops of the rocks were in full sun, the bottom in total shade. Shooting a 9 image HDR you know that range of light was huge. Photomatic Pro had no problem assembling the parts and then the rest of the finishing was done in PS. The one problem? No sense of size, no sense of wonder. Can that be fixed?
Photos captured by D3s, 16Fish on Lexar UDMA digital film
A very long time ago, I was told that once the subject or we leave the ground, the rules of light change. That’s because the physical relationship, the angles of sun, subject and camera change. It’s why you can photograph a bird or plane in flight have less contrast when shot the same time of day as a subject on mother earth. It’s really a mind boggling concept when you start thinking about it. Move the subject up towards the sun and the contrast lessons. This is not to say there is no contrast issues, just lesser. Now when you head up and shoot back down towards earth, on man, the possibilities are endless and your time to make magic seemingly forever.
Even with that being true, just being up doesn’t mean you can do no wrong. The play of light on the landscape still is what brings drama to the photograph. Flying up to Oshkosh last week, we played dodgeball with thunderstorms. Our pilots did an expert job of it making for some amazing photo opps. In the top photo you can see the effect of the God Beams painting light down below. The bottom photo is the one I like the best thought. The combination of the 206′s wing, down pour top center, low puffies in the lower left and the light break the whole experience together in a single click. I realize this is not everyone’s cup of tea, from being in a small aircraft at 8000′ to shooting aerials. But it’s another form of light many don’t think about nor take advantage of. It’s all part of photography, waiting to be experienced and then if it works for your style, to be embraced.
Photos captured by D3x, 16Fish on Lexar UDMA digital film
Last week we were at the greatest gathering of aircraft in the world, Oshkosh! Many have asked where were my blogs from the event as last year I blogged every night from there. It almost killed me and I wasn’t really working last year so this year, I knew there was no way I could blog at night. So, I’m going to blog the event now. Like last year, we flew into Wichita and then hitched at ride in the Cessna 206 up to Oshkosh. What we call the “Man Trip,” my dear friend Kevin, good friend Scottie, Jake and I made the 5hr flight up. On of the HUGE tasks is CG and useful load. What that means in simple terms, I could only have about 50lbs of camera gear, camping gear, clothes in the plane. As the world knows, I can’t do that so I FedExed a Pelican up to Oshkosh.
To beat the heat (109 in Wichita the day before), we left early which meant packing the 206 before sun up. The sun is just coming over the horizon and Scottie and Kevin were finishing up the preflight. Both images are 5 image HDR hand held photos. Why HDR? One, my flashes were in the Pelican case. Two, shooting with the 16mm and the sun coming up, I knew the range of light from right to left side of the frame would be more then five stops. Lastly, I wanted the color of the moment in the photo. The top photo I left Kevin ghosted to show the action. Scottie didn’t look so good ghosted so I processed the NEF with the best “head” shot and brushed that into the HDR image. The cockpit shot was the challenge. Ever tried to do a handheld HDR in a 206 flying? While the flight was smooth, I had to just hold the camera up and guess at the framing. I couldn’t get behind the camera to see through the viewfinder let alone proper handhold. I lucked out, I really like the shot. It is so typical. Kevin is all business flying the plane and Scottie is on the Garmin like it’s a 1970s Pong game. To say we had fun on the flight is an understatement!
A number of folks asked why I chose the 16Fish and HDR for these images. The lens choice is simple, it’s really small and in the back seat of a 206, less is more. At the same time, anything longer and I wouldn’t have been able to capture the whole cabin in one click. With that in mind, shooting in the cabin meant including the windows and outside. That instantly took the light way beyond five stops and since I didn’t it want it looking like we were flying in a sheet, HDR captured the exposure for the sky.
Photos captured by D3x, 16Fish on Lexar UDMA digital film
It had been a long day. This is where I spent my Wed shooting like a crazy man, challenging my photographic skills, sweating profusely and loving every moment of it. At the end of the day, I wanted a image of my workplace but a simple, single click wouldn’t do. I mean, I had been doing HDR, flash fill VR panos for the past ten hours so why not keep the pain going. So dragged the ladder out into the sun, climbed to the top and did a 16Fish, 5 image HDR, 3 image wide, hand held pano. I mean what the hay…never tried that before.
As my folks learned this past weekend at Photoshop for Shooters, a good realistic HDR starts at the point of capture. It’s all about light, quantity and quality. The reason when I went with a 16Fish pano was because a single click from my vantage point cut off the left wing of the left Mustang and the right wing of the right Mustang. I wanted those wings so I needed to shoot three images across. Why doesn’t it look like a Fisheye shot? The horizon line is running dead center of the frame. And with the addition two image on either side of the main image, some of the bowing at the edges is avoided.
The finishing was pretty straight forward. The HDR was done with Photomatix Pro. The pano was assembled in Photoshop using Photomerge to assemble the three Tifs from Photomatix Pro. A little Nik Tonal Contrast, Darken/Lighten Center and Vivezza to brighten the back two planes and flag and all done. It was actually a whole lot easier to do then I first imagined. But then that’s true for a lot of things in photography. As long as you start with the basics and execute them correctly, it all seems to fall into place.
Photo captured by D3x, 16Fish on Lexar UDMA digital film
There is simply no better group of shooters to spend time with then those of ISAP. Jake & I are at their annual convention and next to Photoshop World, I know nothing that get’s me excited about photography and makes me thankful for being a photographer then ISAP. Here we are at stop two of our killer day at Marine Corp Air Station Miramar where we’re out with the V-22 Osprey. Wow, what a crazy lookin plane! Wow, what an amazing opportunity!
The legendary Nat’l G shooter Jim Sugar and Bill Fortney, Jake & I are goofin taking Bill’s portrait with a bust of Lindbergh. I’m goofin with Jim Sugar & Bill Fortney! Wow! We were actually seeing how fast we could come up with a TTL Flash solution for a portrait, seeing if us old farts still had it in us. If we weren’t laughing so much, it would have gone much quicker but then, that’s what shooting with friends is all about. And that’s what ISAP is all about. To each and everyone here today, thanks for making it a great day!
Tech Note: been asked how top image was created. That’s a five image, handheld HDR taken with D3x/16Fish and processed with Photomatix Pro. This is straight out of Photomatix.
Mike took us on some wing over maneuvers that were sick! Oh man, better then any roller coaster ride you might ever take. Before we took off, we talked a little bit about our flight. It was a huge help to have Kevin there since he had flown with Mike before and had great ideas for these Hero shots. The plan was during the wing over, Mike would turn on the smoke. As you can see I had a headset on so during the whole flight we were in communication so when it was time for the wing over, Mike told me and into the turn we went. Weeeeeeeeee!
The horizontal shot above is how the camera was in relationship to me the whole time because a vertical Fish portrait is just nasty! But the bottom shot is how the plane, me and the camera were when I went click. The smoke trail is cool because it shows where we just came from and the path we were flying. I’ll probably not use the bottom shot for other then fun because I think the viewer not aviation oriented would be visually confused by it since most don’t fly in that orientation. But for me, the client, I like the bottom because it really tells the story of the flight.
Photos captured by D3x, 16Fish on Lexar UDMA digital film
In aviation photography, the self portrait taken while doing an air to air is called The Hero Shot. Not sure where the name came from but I was in desperate need of a new self portrait, aviation style so this seemed like a great opportunity to work on it. So, have YOU ever taken a portrait of a person with a fisheye lens? Well, if you look up good portrait lenses, the 16Fish doesn’t usually make the list unless you’re trying to make someone look really funny. What it does to eyes and noses is just not complementary. But in aviation when it comes to The Hero shot, it is the lens!
The top shot shows the first thing you must guard against, putting yourself on an outside edge of the photo. While it’s not a total distortion of the face, it’s not perfect. Since we are the best judges of what we look like, we know when it’s right or wrong. Moving past that, there is the light and the story. You have the subject, that’s you of course since it’s a self portrait, but you need to be in good light. When you’re in a plane that’s flying around, the lighting never stays the same. The best light often is when it’s in your eyes so to make the most of that light and not have slittie eyes, I wore sunglasses. And the story, I was torn between it looking like I was being flown or I was flying. I’m still torn after seeing the final images. I do like seeing Mike in the background and his being smaller in the frame make him part of the story of a great flight.
Of these three, this bottom one I like the most. I’m smilin, that’s a rare photo but when I’m in the air, I smile all the time. I like the story being told but most importantly, I like the drama in the lighting. Did I know at the time I went click that was the lighting pattern? Not at all. Did I have a guess as we turned back into the sun but I didn’t know. I did move my head about with the plane, made sure my hair was in the slip stream to make it look as good as I can, but otherwise it is by guess by golly shooting. As for the actual picture taking, the D3x with the 16Fish was held with both hands (real tight) up against the wind screen. I put it dead center. I then would place myself centered in the cockpit because being a plane, those things are all squared up. The only trick was getting the finger on the shutter release.
Photos captured by D3x, 16Fish on Lexar UDMA digital film