Monday, September 18, 2017

Night flight with Leica over New York

This past week, after many flight cancellations and re-bookings, I finally departed hurricane devastated Florida for a New York City to direct a Workshop for Leica USA on how to take night photos of the city from a helicopter. As you can see from the photos below, we lucked out with the weather in New York. We hadn't been so lucky in Miami a week prior to this when we had to postpone our Miami night aerial Workshop due to the approaching hurricane. That flight workshop is now re-scheduled for Feb 2018, should anyone be interested in joining us.

This is the second time I have presented this New York Workshop for Leica. After some time spent going over my techniques for achieving the best results with night photos of the city, we take off for a half hour flight over the city timing the flight for the best light to balance both the ambient and artificial light with hand-held cameras. Leica supplied the participants with the gear of their choice to try out on the flight. After my discussion, we all went over the Leica equipment carefully so there would be no surprises in the air.

Flying on a week night instead of the weekend meant that there were more lights on in the office buildings and quite a bit of traffic in the streets and the harbor resulting in more interesting photos. Night photography done around the time of the change over for daylight savings time usually helps even more because the building and traffic lights are also most intense around this time.

Workshop participants have their choice of Leica equipment to try on the flights. On this trip, I settled on a single Leica M10 with a 24mm f/1.4 Summilux lens. Having only one camera and a prime lens gave me plenty of time to pay attention to the flight plan, while the choice of a 24mm was because I wanted to see the scenes with this focal length I knew most of the Workshop participants were using on their zooms. The 24mm enabled me to visually set up the best photo distances from the subjects for everyone in the Workshop.

One of the beauties of the M10 was its extended dynamic range, so important in this type of shooting. Even with super fast prime lenses, like the Summilux I used, I often hit what I consider my critical ISO rating of 6400 in order to maintain a shutter speed to compensate for the high vibration of a helicopter platform. I have done similar flights over New York many times. I noticed this time that I had a much easier time dealing with the high ISO's in post processing, and have to attribute that to the M10's revamped sensor and Maestro II processing engine.


We flew with two helicopters. I was in the lead helicopter to direct the operation when I took this photo of lower Manhattan. 


Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn side of the East River. 


There was a lot of boat traffic in the rivers and harbor this evening making for more interesting photos. 


One of my favorite views of NYC in the background with the Jersey City financial district on the left behind the Statue of Liberty.  For this shot, we brought the helicopters down to eye level with the statue. 


Looking south towards the World Trade Center from the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park.


Mid-town Manhattan with Broadway lights and the Empire State Building


Lower Manhattan with the World Trade Center seen from Jersey City across the Hudson River.


View of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn with the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges crossing the East River

Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center with the Hudson River to the right and East River in the background left.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Riding out Irma with a Fuji X-T2

I'm in Florida waiting out hurricane Irma. As I  write this, the eye is about 75 miles to the south, having just passed through the Florida Keys. Currently, we have only gusting winds. To kill the boredom of the wait I occasionally wander out with my Fuji X-T2 and 18-135mm zoom to try to find some nearby photo subjects to show the power of the storm. I can attest that the camera is definitely water resistant.

The image below of a wind-blown palm tree was processed using Photoshop Express on my tablet.  I can't use a computer because the power keeps flickering on and off.




Monday, September 4, 2017

Abstract aerial photography around Miami

Yesterday morning I did an aerial shoot along the Miami coastline in search of abstract images of the water's edge. All of the photographs were taken with the camera pointing straight down from an open door helicopter. The purpose of this series was to pick up some images for my fine art portfolio. Because I plan on making very large prints from the images, normally I would have used my Nikon D810 for this. Unfortunately, I had just sold it this past week in preparation for the arrival of the new D850. The lens I used was the Nikon 24-120mm f/4, but I could have gotten by with the 24-70mm, which might have been a better quality choice.

I used FlyNYON of Miami for the helicopter service. They have been very accommodating of my need to have the perfect weather and timing for my aerial work.




  
















Someone wrote this in the sand  using seaweed. Guess they knew I'd be flying by. 


Monday, August 21, 2017

The eclipse in Florida with a Fuji X-T2

This is the moment of totality of the recent eclipse as it appeared in Florida. I took the photo with a Fuji X-T2 and 18-135mm Fuji zoom stopped down to f/22. I also used a 4-stop ND filter. This combo allowed me to work at a shutter speed that was fast enough not to burn out the camera. I collected a series of images from 1/125th second to 1/4000th second and chose to combine just two of them to achieve this image.  I also worked the lens at the wide angle end and cropped the image later. This minimized the amount of magnification of the solar rays hitting the camera.

I kind of made up this technique spur of the moment. Apparently, it worked. The camera came through the ordeal with flying colors!


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Loxahachee Everglades with the Fuji X-T2

Today I made my first, brief trip to visit the Florida Everglades. I plan to do a number of special photography trips through the Everglades and Florida Keys including some aerials. Today's mission was just a brief foray into a local section called Loxahachee. I had several lenses and both my X-T2 and X-Pro2 with me, but for the photos below I used only the X-T2 and the 18-135mm zoom. One of the things I wanted to show was the relationship of the weather to the Everglades.

During the summer it is extremely hot and thunderstorms pass through the area almost daily making for some interesting cloud formations against a deep blue sky. I was shooting both RAW and jpg at the same time, as I always do, and had the camera set for Acros with a red filter to add drama to the sky by darkening the blues. I also shot to darken the shadows and increase the highlights. The results of the jpg files were still not dramatic enough so I processed the RAW files in Photoshop to enhance the images further. I began by using the same Acros with red filter profile in Adobe Camera RAW, but deepened the blues even more because I wanted the sky to go almost black in its darkest places.

I had considered adding a polarizing filter to darken the sky further, but that would have also killed the reflections on the water so in the end I voted against it.










Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Night time aerials of Miami

I have been waiting for almost a month and a half to do some night time helicopter shots of Miami. Unfortunately, the weather hasn't cooperated, and thunderstorms kept moving in to spoil my trip. Two nights ago I caught a break. There were some thunderhead clouds on the horizon, but enough clear sky for the sun to break through to fill the sky with color. I had planned to do strickly night photos, but with such I beautifully colored sky, chose to depart ten minutes earlier, just after the sun set, to capture the color in the sky. Miami isn't like New York. It is not filled with as many discriptive buildings. Consequently, I felt it needed and earlier timing for a night shot to preserve color and detail in the water, which enhanced the shape of the city.

My technique for shooting night time aerials hand held from a helicopter is to set the ISO to Auto, open the lens to full aperture, and control the shutter speed manually. I then vary the exposure when necessary by adjusting the +/- exposure control on the camera. I try to keep the ISO as low as I can, which often means using low shutter speeds in the 1/60 - 1/125 range. I am usually using wide angle lenses, and this helps to allow the slower speeds. Nonetheless, helicopters, especially with the doors off, are vibrating quite a lot. To protect myself against motion blur, I choose a high frame rate and keep the shutter pressed for a long time to guarantee that at least one of the shots will be steady enough. Kind of a crazy techniques, but it works most of the time.

I usually try to use wide aperture primes of f/1.4 whenever I can. This helps keep the ISO down. On this occasion I was shooting Miami from the air for the first time and didn't know what to expect so I packed short zooms with their f/2.8 apertures on my cameras. This gave me a range of about 24-70mm focal lengths, but caused the ISO to get up in the 3200-6400 range -- not where I usually like to be.  Had I used my f/1.4 primes, I could have knocked two stops off the ISO by working at 800-1600 maximum instead. This makes a huge difference in image quality and sharpness.

My thanks to FlyNYon Miami for helping to arrange the scheduling for this flight. I have used their services in NYC and now am using them again in Florida.

On September 9th, I will be conducting an "Over Miami - Aerial Photography Workshop" for the Leica Academie. If you'd like to join me, you can check out the details here.















Friday, July 7, 2017

Working out a new style

Since moving to Florida, I continually find myself searching for new ways to interpret the landscape. The dramatic tropical plant life entices me to create strong, graphic interpretations of the tropics. This time around I explored a variety of techniques in Photoshop to achieve my results.

All the photos were taken with a Fuji Pro2 with the original Fuji 18-55mm zoom. I often use this compact and lightweight outfit when I want to have a camera with me, but don't have any specific plan to use it.  For these photos I was visiting a friend and found the tropical plants near their home. All were taken around sunset. For these images the Fuji film modes didn't come into play, as I did all of the variations of color work in Photoshop, mostly using gradient adjustment layers.