On a personal note: My photo board 2017

Photo Board 2017

With photography, as with many things in life as well, you get better by setting goals for yourself, making your homework, accepting challenges, and doing things you didn’t do before – at least not that way. So I asked myself: What pictures do I want to make? How do I achieve that? And then: what worked as planned, and what didn’t?

In order to not lose track of my ideas, I resort to an idea by Stephan Wiesner: the photo board. I’d like to share my own photo board for 2017 with you here – and of course, I will report on my progress here as well.

RETROSPECT

When I think back how my photography developed, there were three stages: At first, I simply took snapshots – I documented where I was and what I did without thinking too much about it. At times, some really great shots would come out of that, which I still like today, but back then, those were mostly coincidental.

Then came the time when I started to think more before taking a picture: careful choice of the field of view, the main motivation or item of interest in relation to its surroundings and background, the lighting etc. I became pickier with my images. I no longer simply photographed everything, but cherry-picked the things that interested me most. And I also deliberately chose to not take a particular picture, for instance when the lighting was completely off. However, the motto still was: “Ok, now that I’m here, let’s see what pictures I can take”.

This leads us to stage three, where this is becoming reversed. Now I ask myself: “if I want to make this photo, where do I have to go to get it?”. “When do I have to be there?”. Thus, the image becomes the goal for a trip or afternoon, and no longer is a mere side effect. This requires planning, not only on the where and when, but also: what equipment do I have to take along? Which lens? Do I need a tripod, a filter, a remote shutter release, an external flash…?

When I have an idea for an image, I start looking for hints and tricks on the Internet, gather suggestions, and then I go out and try it. This way, I managed to create a number of great images over the course of the past year, which I certainly could not have created in 2015. And in 2017, I want to raise the bar even higher.

PHOTO BOARD 2017

NIGHT CAPTURE / LONG EXPOSURE: SYKLINE

I always like nighttime photographs, especially of larger cities. In that respect, I am fortunate to live close to Frankfurt. With the combination of the Main River and its skyline, it offers a number of marvelous motives. I made several attempts on this image over the last year, but so far, the result does not meet my expectations.

But these attempts were not in vain. For instance, I have found my preferred vantage point: on Flößerbrücke (‘rafter’s bridge’). From there, you can see the Ignaz Bubis Bridge in the foreground, which is nicely illuminated when it’s dark, and then the skyline of the financial district in the background.

Foto-Skizze: Skyline zur blauen Stunde
Photo Sketch: Skyline during the Blue Hour

In addition to selecting a good spot, I was also able to try out and optimize my equipment. I will definitely take the picture using my Sigma A 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 lens, due to the outstanding sharpness it renders. Tripod and a remote shutter release are a given as well. In addition, I always take along a piece of black cardboard or something similar, because the Flößerbrücke is illuminated as well by strong floodlights mounted in front of the bridge – these will shine into the lens despite the lens hood and tend to created distracting artifacts in the resulting image. I also take along my neutral density filters. I have two of them: an 8x and a 1,000x. I will use them to slow down the shutter speed to make the water appear silky and smooth.

All that is missing is: a workday evening in winter, when it gets dark early and many of the offices in the high-rise buildings are still illuminated, and an interesting sky. No clouds at all is boring, and too many clouds isn’t good either – because then the sky doesn’t get dark, since it reflects the lights of the city and in particular the airport behind the city. I am mostly interested in the time period from sunset to about 45 minutes afterwards, the so-called “Blue Hour”.

CLOSE-UP / MACRO: EYE

Macros, or at least close-up images, are another area of photography that appeals to me. The reason is that these images expose details that are usually missed – either because they are simply too small to see, or because they move too fast to take a thorough look. This was important enough for me to get a dedicated macro lens: the Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di VC Macro. I went hunting for butterflies and bumblebees in the lavender bush with it, and took a magnified image of a dandelion.

While browsing the Internet for macro photography ideas and tutorials, one fascinating motive repeatedly came up: close-up images of eyes. This has become something I definitely want to try myself.

Foto-Skizze: Nahaufnahme eines Auges
Photo-Sketch: Close-up of an eye

Of course I’ve read a number of how-tos and tips, so what remains is to actually try and do it. I don’t know yet, for instance, whether it works better for me to take the picture outside in the sun, or inside with a flash. How does the light have to be set up so that the details in the iris are clearly visible, but the model does not squint from the glare, and so that I don’t cast a shadow on the eye with the camera or lens?

MACRO: ICE CRYSTALS / SNOWFLAKES

Let’s stay in the macro realm for another photo idea: ice crystals and snowflakes. However, this requires something that around here is a complete no-show for the third winter in a row now: snow. Or at least, long-lasting decent frost.

Foto-Skizze: Eiskristall-Makro
Photo Sketch: Snowflake macro

I was able to get a few “test images” with white frost on clear mornings at least – with promising results. But I am sure: there is way more to be seen. Preferably in the grazing light of the low early morning sun, but otherwise, a strategically placed flashgun will to the trick as well.

FREEZING MOTION ON A FOUNTAIN

This idea is basically the opposite of a long exposure: Here, I do not want to show the water in a silky-smooth way, but instead I want to freeze the motion with a high shutter speed so that every single drop can be seen floating in mid-air. With my Rebel T6s, this means: 1/4,000 second. Maybe I will manage the upgrade to the 80D, then I can even go with 1/8,000 – but there are other priorities to take into account as well. Anyway, because of its wide aperture and image sharpness, I will use the Sigma A 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 for this shot.

Foto-Skizze: Bewegung einfrieren am Springbrunnen
Photo Sketch: Freezing motion on a fountain

While I am rather sure on the “how”, so far I am missing the “where”. I am looking for a well with a nice fountain. Unfortunately, many of the fountains here in Darmstadt are permanently turned off, even in summer. Either due to lack of funding for necessary repairs of the ailing pipes and basins, or due to wanton damage and pollution.  So far, I haven’t had the patience to systematically look for fountains in the nearby cities, but it’s definitely on my list for 2017. If you know any beautiful waterspouts, I will gladly take any suggestions!

CAR PORTRAIT WITH AN EXTERNAL FLASH

This idea came from rummaging in the Internet for the questions: “what can you possibly do with an external flash?”. In doing so I came across a YouTube video by Christian Adams and immediately thought: what a great idea! The concept comprises taking many pictures, in each of which a certain area of the car is illuminated by a hand-held external flash, and then afterwards compositing them in Photoshop to get the final image with a “showroom” feel to it. Fortunately, a worthy model for such a picture has been a member of our family for 20 years now:

Foto-Skizze: Auto-Portrait mit Aufsteckblitz
Photo Sketch: Car portrait with an external flash

I’m still thinking about a good location, where there are no distracting reflections or background objects. Most of all, I want to be undisturbed, and also do not want to irritate anyone with all the flashing. Aside from that, all I need is the right occasion – and of course a fresh polish for the gem.

PLANES AT THE AIRPORT

For me, planes are kind of special, because they are tied to a very specific feeling: wanderlust. Oftentimes, when I am sitting in the garden at home, or I’m looking out of my office window, and see the planes climbing into the clouds I wonder: where are they going? What would be like to be on that plane now? And even when I am actually sitting on a plane for business travel every now and then, it still feels special to me to be at the airport.

Foto-Skizze: Flugzeuge am Flughafen
Photo Sketch: Planes at the airport

I want to try capturing this feeling in an image. At and around the Frankfurt airport, there are a number of photo locations that are suitable for that purpose. So far, I stuck to theory and research on that topic. I want to change this next year – go out to the airport, get a feeling for the views the various vantage points actually offer, and take pictures. I’ll definitely pack my telephoto lens, as well as my “always-on” lens – and a tripod.

FURTHER IDEAS

Of course, there are more ideas than that – but they are not as concrete or thought-through yet as the ones listed above, so they haven’t made it to the sketch / photo board stage yet. For instance, Darmstadt has a small but pretty zoo, called the Vivarium. It offers a wide variety of potential motives, ranging from butterflies to kangaroos, hence I definitely plan to go “hunting and shooting” there.

And I’ll keep looking around the local Railway Museum, for special lighting moods – for instance, when the setting sun floods the roundhouse with orange light through the old windows. Or behind the scenes, capturing sights usually hidden from the public eye.

Apart from that, I’ll keep my eyes and mind open for new ideas throughout the year…

CALENDAR 2018

I definitely plan to work on a photo calendar project again. For 2017, I had composed a calendar with a “best of” my pictures taken between October 2015 and October 2016. Some of my family and friends really enjoy having one, not only because many of the images have a quite different effect when viewed in A2 size (roughly 16×24″) compared to a small screen. I particularly liked the challenge of finding a motive matching each month.

Hence, I want to repeat that for 2018. This time, I tasked myself with creating a calendar in portrait orientation. I have started by adding a few images from this year to a short list. Probably not all of them will end up in the final calendar, since the fire and forge images are very similar, but I will take the final decision only when I have the rest of the images as well, to make sure they fit together.

Kalender 2018
Calendar 2018: The first candidates

Of course, some ideas from the photo board will make it into the calendar as well – even though not all ideas can be done easily in portrait mode. But this challenge is also what makes it appealing…

Stay tuned!
– Jochen =8-)

Picture credits: All sketches and photos: own images.

Merry Christmas!

A merry Christmas to all of you – enjoy the Holidays with your Loved Ones, make yourselves comfortable, come to rest, and most of all: stay healthy and happy!

Jochen =8-)

Merry Christmas!

Rented and tested: Sigma A 50-100mm f/1.8

Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 on the Canon 760D

One remaining gap in my equipment list is a high-quality tele-zoom lens – in particular one that can capture portraits with a nice blurry background (bokeh). I already have two prime lenses that can be used in this way: the “nifty fifty” Canon 50mm ƒ/1.8 and the Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di VC Macro. But for situations like events, where people are moving around, I prefer the flexibility of a zoom lens.

Two types of lenses come into mind: first, the “classic” 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, which is available from Canon, Sigma and Tamron in various different styles. Second, the rather new Sigma 50-100mm ƒ/1.8, which is designed specifically for APS-C Cameras like my Rebel T6s. All these lenses have one thing in common: they are in a price range where you no longer buy one “on a hunch”. Of course there are numerous test reports and reviews online. But there is only one way to find out which glass fits my personal photography  style: try it out.

SO TEST THEREFORE, WHO JOIN FOREVER

Only a few of you will be so lucky to have a photographer friend who will happily lend such a lens for some time. Fortunately, there are now quite a number of suppliers who offer to rent photo equipment – not only lenses, but also cameras or entire flash and lighting equipment. I have used such a service twice now, and have had very good experiences doing so.

ZOOMYRENTALS

The company I use is ZoomyRentals.de. They are in Berlin, Germany, and offer a wide variety of camera, lenses and accessories by and for Canon, Sony, and Nikon. They ship only inside Germany of course, but wherever you are – search for “rent camera lens” online, and I am sure you will find a provider in your area. The steps described below will most likely be the same. Here is how it works:

  • You register
  • When ordering for the very first time, you have to upload a copy of your ID to your user profile for verification. Your name and address have to be clearly visible.
  • You select the desired equipment
  • You choose the starting date and the term of lease – this can be from 3 days to 4 weeks.
  • There you go!

I highly recommend signing up for the option insurance that is offered with each order. With expensive equipment, it is better to go safe than sorry.

SHIPPING

A DHL messenger does the delivery. You will receive your equipment on the morning of the first day of the lease, and a messenger will pick it up again on the morning of the last day. This is very reliable; delivery and pickup will be acknowledged with a signature, so you are on the safe side. Most of all, the package won’t accidentally end up on your porch or at a neighbor who might not be there when you need it.

Gut verpackt: Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 fertig zum Versand
Carefully packed: Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 ready for shipping

All lenses come with front and back caps, lens hood, protection filter, and a pouch. This all will be safely packed between thick layers of foamed material. The box also contains the delivery slip as well as the return-shipping label.

Now you’re ready to go: you can use the rented equipment whichever way you want as long as you have it. Careful handling of all items is a matter of course.

SIGMA A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8

In December 2016, I rented the “big brother” of my Sigma A 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 for one week. I had friends visiting me during that time, and I also attended a festivity, so there were many opportunities to test the lens.

LOOK & FEEL

The lens immediately draws attention: It is big. And it is heavy. Holding the camera leisurely with one hand quickly becomes an athletic challenge; certainly not a lens to carry with you at all times, but only for specific occasions. If you set this in relation to its price tag of around (Dec. 2016) 1,000 €, you’ll quickly realize that this investment had to be thought through thoroughly. There’s a reason for the weight, though: A focal length of 100mm and an aperture of 1.8, as well as the zoom, require a lot of glass. In addition, the lens is made from sturdy metal and manufactured to high standards.

I liked the handling of the zoom as well as the focus ring very much. All in all, the finish, which is similar to my 18-35mm, is very convincing. Also, I didn’t mind the tripod collar, which is criticized in many online reviews, when handling the lens.

Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8
Big, heavy, high quality: Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8

CONFIGURATION & OPERATION DOMAIN

This lens serves but one purpose: the creation of professional-looking portraits with beautiful soft backgrounds with an APS-C camera. The constant aperture of ƒ/1.8 is its unique feature. The zoom range is rather limited – just 2x, compared to almost 3x on the classic 70-200. However, especially when taking pictures at an indoor event, I quite liked the zoom range. The extra 20mm at the shorter end definitely are an advantage in this case, and at the long end, you can make up for a lot of the missing focal length by cropping the image. Thanks to the fantastic sharpness this lens renders, this is no problem at all.

One point you will definitely notice is that this lens lacks image stabilization. In a room with lights dimmed for a festive mood, even using an aperture of ƒ/1.8 and ISO 800, I ended up with shutter speeds between 1/60 and 1/10 of a second. Even when seeking support on a table or armrest, this makes it difficult to avoid camera shake – especially at 100mm. I could have increased the ISO, but with my Rebel T6s I don’t like to go above 800 when I don’t absolutely have to. The resulting image noise at higher ISO settings becomes too intrusive in my mind.

Consequently, I will definitely also try one of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lenses with image stabilization. Even though the shutter speed will become even slower due to the aperture being one and a third stops smaller, the risk for camera shake blurring the image will still become significantly smaller. I will see how this actually turns out in practice.

RELIABILITY & IMAGE QUALITY

The Sigma Art zoom lenses with an aperture of ƒ/1.8 – the 18-35mm as well as the 50-100mm – are famous for their rather ambiguous relationship to autofocus. It seems to depend on the individual lens whether the autofocus works reliably in phase detection mode (through the optical viewfinder) or not. The copy of the 50-100mm I had was exemplary: on every picture I took, the focus was on the spot. With my 18-35mm on the other hand, this is a matter of luck. On about one third of the images, the focus misses completely. Online test reports confirm the impression that this behavior depends on the particular lens; the conclusions for both lenses in this respect range from “hopeless” to “no problems at all”.

The back-up solution is to use the camera’s live view, because the contrast detection autofocus will always work – though slower (if you want to know why this is the case, watch this lecture). If you’re patient enough, you can also focus manually. When taking shots on a tripod, I prefer this option anyway.

The image quality is simply brilliant. Even when shooting wide open, the images are amazingly sharp throughout the frame, with just a touch of softness in the corners. And they have to be, because apertures below 2.8 are this lenses specialty. The blurred backgrounds are nice and soft; only occasionally the bokeh becomes busy when there are lots of little lights in the background. When you stop down, the lens produces beautiful stars around light sources. The images I made, indoors and outdoors, people and cityscapes, consistently enthused me. The image quality is definitely a very strong argument in favor of the Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8.

Sigma A 100-150mm ƒ/1.8 - Beispiel 1

Sigma A 100-150mm ƒ/1.8 - Example 2


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: The Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 occupies are small niche: making professional portraits with an APS-C camera. It occupies this niche very well, though. The outstanding image quality was what excited me the most. The look and feel match the high value. Working with it was definitely very enjoyable!

Given the appropriate occasion, I will definitely try one of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lenses with image stabilization for comparison. Based on the experiences gained with both lenses, I will then make my decision. You will read about that here as well.

What I’ve learned: Renting a lens for a week is the perfect way to test it thoroughly and gain an impression whether it fits your imagination and expectations. I will certainly use this option in the future again.

And: it is a lot of fun working with a professional lens like this! The week of testing however also proved the lens’ limitations. As beautiful as the images are, the 50-100’s wide aperture isn’t everything. Before taking a decision, I definitely want to compare, hence renting the lens for a week was the absolute right thing to do.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.

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