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Monday, November 29, 2010

Scenes from Yosemite

Some more photographs from the Yosemite trip.

As we were waiting for the sun to set at Glazier Point, for the glowing golden light to magically appear, we sat at our positions, waiting. Waiting. I thook this shot.

I intentionally framed such that the people in the foreground are visible...with their multicoloured clothing contrasting with the landscape. As it turned out, the light was begining to turn golden as it hit the Half Moon surface.

Somewhere along the valley floor, the Merced River runs, and an old stonebridge...well, known as StoneBridge...runs across it. I took a very short hike down to the river level, and captured this shot.

As the light was coming from the other side of the bridge, I metered to place zone 5 at the rocks which form Stonebridge. And allowed the exposure to be determined from there. This pleasantly resulted in the lighted patch of the under-side of the bridge at zone 8, and still left enough detail in the submerged river bed next to the rocks in the foreground.

And driving round Stonebridge on the Valley Loop, we came across El Capitan Meadows, with the Merced River in the foreground.

My feeling as I came across this scene is the cool, lush and refreshment the water provides, in contrast to the looming, slightly forbidding El Capitan in the background. I metered to place the face of El Capitan in zone 8+, allowing it to be very bright in the photograph, but still retaining plenty of detail. The rest happen to fall into the zonal range of the camera, allowing me to capture even the deep shadows in the foreground right with good detail.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Flora in Bonatical Gardens, Singapore

Botanical Gardens...we used to haunt the gardens when I was in I lived on campus just across the road from one of the entrances by Cluny Road. It was the place for exercise, for courting, and for just walking around...doing nothing, dazed sometimes due to too much mind boggling stuff the Profs would dish out.

The gardens are always a haven...though our climate might make them humid, they always delight with the flora and fauna.

Here are some flora photographs. I am surprised that I enjoyed taking flowers more than I would have imagined initially. All pictures were made with the HC4/120 Macro on a monopod. The HC4/120 is a macro lens I use most frequently for my watch photographs.

I already knew its superb abilities in capturing detail, even micro-detail which show up as textures. But I am a bit surprised...pleasantly no doubt...that the bokeh of the lens is quite superb too...nice, smooth, creamy, and the specular highlights were nice and round.

This shot was made just outside the main entrance..

I neglected to take down the labels which name the plants, so am unable to repeat their names.

Shot with the 120mm macro lens, at f/11 and ISO200. Note the very shallow depth of field.

I also spied a dragonfly...having a meal. It would rest on the tip of the stalk, close its wings in 3 discrete steps, and fly off. Only to return a very short while later and repeats. I caught this on his second or third return.

This is a crop, as I was not able to go near enough to have the dragonfly fill the frame. The insect is rather small, but almost bright red in hue. Interesting. On clicking the larger 1920 wide picture will show what looks like pixelation on the wing left of the observer. I am not sure it pixelation, as at no point did I have to uprezz the picture. I made a 100% crop, and slightly down-rezzed the picture.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Laurent Ferrier Gallet Tourbillon

Laurent Ferrier...the first offering from this doyen of traditional watchmaking. Laurent used to work within the studios of Patek Philippe, and this year, he introduced a landmark piece bearing his name on the dial.

The Gallet Tourbillon is a masterpiece of watchmaking. Totally traditional, fully classical in design, layout and finish.

Available as an enamel dial in white,

or a black onyx dial:

The owner can request to have the words "Tourbillon Double Spirale" removed if he wishes, and frankly, I think the watch looks better without declaring its technical specifications.

The movement finish is exquisite...all parts are beautifully finished, in classical style, without cutting any corners:

Note the click, designed and finished beautifully. The only watches I can see with this level of finish and attention to detail are the works of Philippe Dufour.

Detail of the tourbillon cage and the bridge. Note the single arm on one side of the bridge. This is executed in the original Patek style...rounded steel, high gloss black polished. Perfect!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Devon Works Thread 1

Imagine if you will...a designer...talented, no doubt. But who has worked designing cars, and electric guitars. Imagine that this same designer took his thoughts on a watch, discarding all the normal ideas on watch having hands, like the way you show time. Imagine if he was unlimited by traditional watchmaking...and the movement is mechanical, but yet, modern and electronic, yet not like a quartz machine from China or Taiwan.

Well, imagine no more. Made out of a case of stainless steel, but clad in PVD titanium, Scott Devon, and industrial entrepreneur who saw the vision of the young designer - one Jason Wilbur.

The final watch, known as the Thread 1, is shown below:

Belts driven by electric motors. Running in several different directions. And it runs on a battery not unlike that found in most mobile phones. The charger is built into the watch box, and when resting inside, the watch charges by induction. Cool. Each charge will last about 2 weeks.

The watch can go to the Seiko Kinetics...where the timekeeping functions continue, but the watch saves energy by not displaying it. At the press of the crown, the watch can be re-started and it becomes up to date with the time display. The rear of the case, showing the engraving, and proudly proclaims "Made in California/USA"

Detail of the dial. The seconds belt in the photograph is not as sharp because it happened to be moving during the exposure. It moves one small step each second...

The crown is massive. Used to stop and start the display mechanism, making the watch go to sleep as described above. It also allows the time to be adjusted. Press to activate the adjustmet system, clockwise to move the hour belt in hourly increments, and anti-clockwise to move the minute belt by one minute increments.

Another look at the side...showing the belts as they wrap around.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Focus Stacking: a technique for increasing depth of field

Focus stacking. A technique which is used to increase the depth of field of a macro photograph.

As the focussing distance decreases and the image magnification increases, the depth of field of an image decreases. Add this effect to the phenomena that a larger sensor size will always have a shallower depth of field than a smaller one, makes shooting macros with a medium format camera a significant challenge.

The Depth of Field Challenge

To overcome thedepth of field challenge, one can select a smaller aperture. The Hasselblad HC 4/120 macro I use is optimized at f/11, though still gives good results at f/16. You can see this from the MTF curves that Hasselblad publishes. Apertures smaller than f/22 usually will result in a softer overall picture, as diffraction will set in. I usually shoot watches at either f/11 or f/16.

At f/11, on my 48mmx36mm sensor in the Hasselblad H3d-39, the depth of focus is about half a milimeter at 1.94X magnification. This is the highest magnification possible using the HC 4/120 and the two extension rings I own - the H26 and H52, making a total of 78mm extension. The HC 4/120 on its own can do life size 1:1 magnification. This miniscule depth of focus will mean that when I take the system to the extreme magnification, and selecting f/11 which is sharpest, I can only get one part of the movement in focus at any one shot.

To increase the depth of field, one methodology, which is rather technical, is focus stacking. This is a special technique not available during the film era, and is afforded only by digital manipulation.

What the technique entails is to combine several images, each taken of the same subject, same camera and lens settings, but focussed at slightly different points of the image. The idea is to then take all those images (a stack, as it is refered to), and combine them digitally, selecting only the parts in focus to blend into an image which has significant depth of field.

My technique is to mount the camera on a Manfrotto macro focussing rail. This rail allows me to move the entire camera system in small amounts using the micrometer screw on the rail. I mount the rail on top of my Photoclam Multiflex head.

I begin by focussing for at the nearest point I want to have sharp focus. And in small steps, run through the system to focus on important parts I want to be in sharp focus till the farest point I need to be in focus. I do this by moving the helicoid focus mechanism on the lens or by moving the rail to its appropriate position. If I want the maximum magnification, I just set the lens helicoid at min focus distance, and hence max magnification, and move the entire camera assembly using the rails.

I roughly work this out in my mind how many shots intermediate I would need to render everything between the near and far points in focus. Instead of using equal steps, I usually make sure that the intermediate points between min and max focus distance are at the points on the movement (subject) that I want to render sharp, though I ensure that there is sufficient focus overlap between points. This helps me visualise the photograph, and also work out what micrometer movement steps I need.

I then back the rail to the start position which is the point of nearest focus.

I then make the exposure reading to correctly expose the subject at f/11 and usually a shutter speed of 1/250s or 1/160s. Typically I shoot using one or two Profoto Compact 600W-s lights on their own light stands, shooting into white reflecting umbrellas. I have toyed with the idea of using soft boxes, and I will probably get them later, but for most purposes, the umbrellas throw a light which is large and uniform enough to evenly light the watch.

Then I start shooting. Usually locking the mirror, and taking care only to advance the micrometer by a small amount so that I capture a series of pictures, each with the sharpest point of focus on one of the critical parts of the watch that I cant in sharp focus. I almost always shoot tethered to the computer if possible, so I can immediately view the image at full resolution. In situations where a tethered computer is not convenient, I will then shoot untethered.

In Phocus, I then export the stack into TIFF files. I usually work on 8 bit TIFF files for web and small prints, but will use 16 bit TIFFs for larger prints. And use either Photoshop CS4 to blend the images together or an external program called CombineZF (freeware).

Sometimes CS4 is able to do a good job, sometimes not. And the same for CombineZF.

Here is a stack I took of Laurent Ferrier's journeyman piece. This is an extreme macro, at 1.94X magnification, and is a result of a stack of 5 images.

From Photoshop

And using CombineZF. Usually the results from CombineZF are better. The algorithm used makes intense use of the CPU cycles, and is rather slow. And the result is rendered as jpeg files downsized to 120dpi density, while Photoshop keeps the original resolution. This may be a problem when stacking for larger prints.

For this reason, I usually try and work with CS4 on large prints. CS4 is also somewhat faster, but sometimes it makes masking errors which might require a lot of retouching up work.

Apologies that both images are adjusted differently, but it is immediately clear that either image has more depth of field than a regular one shot image.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dufour Duality

The Philippe Dufour Duality...ultimate in discreteness, and totally unassuming in character, but what a gorgeous, and ultra-complicated movement within.

Nothing unusual from the dial side, but connoiseurs will know from the off-centered subseconds hand at 8 o' unusual arrangement, promises something interesting.

The movement...viola! as this is a watch which is worn and used by a collector friend, I left the watch condition as is. It may seem alarming that a regularly used watch seems dusty and dirty, but this is absolutely normal. A little cleaning with some compressed air, and a wipe with a microfibre cloth will eliminate these traces of use except for the hairline scratches (which can be cloned out during post production), but I feel this is unnessary, as I wanted to show the character of a well loved, and well used watch.

Closeup showing the dual escapement, with the differential mechanism hidden under the plate.

Focussing on one of the escapements. Note also the 2 sharp horns on the movement plate, typical of Dufour's work, and beautifully executed. Normally I would have uses a focus stacking technique to shoot such a beautiful movement to provide greater depth of field. But I neglected to ask the owner not to wind his watch, and as a result, the watch was running when I had it for the shoot. As the escapements were in motion, I could not use stacking to increase the depth of field.

Note that this very small depth of field is characteristic of macro photography. This was shot with the Hasselblad HC4/120 Macro, a specialist lens for macro, focussing on its own to provide a 1:1 image on the sensor. However, I elected to increase the magnification to 1.94X by using both my extension tubes - 58mm+28mm for a total of 78mm extension. This reduces the depth of field even more. Coupled with the smaller depth of field of the larger format sensor compared to a standard DSLR, macro photography at this magnification level is extremely challenging and requires precision and great stability in camera and good lighting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Golden Gate Bridge, California

The Golden Gate icon, a symbol of San Francisco. Photographed millions of times, yet, each time, different. I wanted to capture some of the beauty, the grandeur and essence of this wonderful bridge.

The first shot was taken from the Yatch Club at Horseshoe Bay. I selected the 80mm normal lens for this photogrpah. The clouds were rolling into the harbour and the bridge, as it often does in San Francisco. We were hoping for low hanging clouds/fog, which frequently leave the bridge almost completely shrouded, leaving only the top pillars of the suspension towers peeking out. But the clouds were higher that afternoon. And covered the tops of the towers, leaving the lower level clear. Metering was done center weighted average.

From roughly the same vantage point, but with the 28mm wide angle, and lowering the camera position gives a completely different perspective. You can also see the scale and expansion of perspective caused by the wide angle lens - maing the bridge seem quite far away. The depth of field of the 28mm lens at hyperfocal extends from about a meter to infinity. And I used this optical phenomena to achieve full depth of field from the rocks which were no more than a meter away from the lens, to the bridge, which effectively is infinity.

The sun was a bit harsh, beating down from the right of the frame. You can catch the flare from the 28mm lens, as the sun was shining directly on the front element.

I like this next picture the best. Somehow it captures the, strong, somewhat shrouded within the clouds, and the ship passing provided some balance to the photograph.

Shot from the Golden Gate Recreation area, the wind was strong. Gusts threatening to upset the tripod. As I was using the H3D with a Gitzo 3541LX tripod, which was fairly large and heavy, and very stable, I had little problems. The wind also brought with it low temperatures...I don't know what it was, but it was very cold. The Hasselblad battery keep threatening to shut me low battery warnings, though it never shut down for the 30 mins, and about 12 photographs I shot there.

We then moved to the viewing point just off Vista Point Road. Using the 120mm, my intention was to show the details on the bridge, bringing out the technical and mechanical aspects. Shot with the 120mm macro lens.

The next and final shot I moved a little bit further left, with the 28mm gives a completely different photograph. The wide angle lens, the equivalent of 20mm on a full frame 35mm DSLR, the field of view is altogether wider, and the perspective exaggarated.

The foreground is emphasized and the background made smaller, providing additional depth into the photograph. The foreground also provides the near-far landscape arrangement suggested by Adams in his book The Camera. I could have cropped the shadow in the foreground right, but I though I'd leave it, because it was the shadow cast by the small stone wall which I rested the tripod on. But in the larger 1920 pixel wide image you get when you click on the image, I cropped the shadow off to show a 16:10 aspect ratio.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Beaches in California

Monteray...a beautiful area, by the Pacific Ocean...just at the top of the Monteray Peninsula.

The Yatch Club at Monteray was particularly beautiful that afternoon.

Metering for this was done with center weighted average from the camera.

Sausalito, another beautiful little town, nestled in the bay, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. we had just finished shooting the Golden Gate Bridge, and was heading to Sausalito for a spot of dinner, when the setting sun made such a beautiful tone in the sky, we just had to pull out the tripod and shoot.

Metering for both were quite simple with the camera providing a center weighted average. I chose the boat hull as the point for metering, which actually places it in zone 5. The rest of the picture fell in place. The raw shot looked underexposed, but in Phocus, I could pull up the shadows to show detail. A little saturation was added in CS4 to intensify the setting sun colours.

The tonal gradations, especially the larger picture on clicking, and in print is absolutely beautiful, and what draws me into this photograph.

And further south...La Jolla beach in San Diego

The last golden light, before sunset at La Jolla Beach. I metered the tree and placed it in Zone 1, so that it is almost featureless and plunged in deep shadows. This made the setting sun glow with its golden rays. Again, the tonality of the photograph is what makes it for me. I intentionally placed the person's silhoutte to draw the viewer into the photograph with the human element.

In this next shot, I took candidly...I set up the tripod just behind this lady looking into the sunset. I intentionally framed such that both the lady and the sun was in the photograph. Metering was average, and not using the zone method. The raw image looked surprisingly close to the final image I am showing here. I had only adjusted the levels slightly, and pushed up the saturation a tad.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Laurent Ferrier Journeyman watch

Dear Readers,

I know many of you return to this blog to look at watch photographs. I also know many of you love the landscapes.

As you have discovered...I am taking a short break on this blog (not taking any breaks making photographs) on watch photography. Rest assured that watches will return soon, in about 2 weeks when I complete the US National Parks series.

In the meantime, here are two photographs of an incredible watch, made during the journeyman years by Laurent Ferrier when he was an apprentice. Ferrier is a remarkable watchmaker who had spent the bulk of his career in Patek Philippe, but recently struck out on his own, and now making superb timepieces. His modern and incredible watches will be featured in a blog article soon.

And the very beautiful movement, done in typical Geneva style.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

US National Parks: The Temples of the Grand Canyon

Interestingly, many of the peaks within the canyon are named after Hindu inspired names. As I understand it, these Temples of the Canyon, as they are known were named by a member of the original geological survey team, who was fascinated with Hindu philosophy.

Many of these peaks look very similar...I might have made errors in identifying them...if so, apologies and please let me know.

This first study of the temples is intended to convey a sense of tranquil and calm, with the dark clouds brooding...threathening rain. I selected to use a moderate telephoto lens (120mm) to compress of the image. This effect from telephoto lenses makes the temples look like lines drawn next to each other:

Metering was intentionally done to make the landscape dark. I placed the lightest part of the North Rim at zone 5. This allowed the temples themselves to be in the cover of shadows at zone 2 to 4, each taking a slightly different zone, allowing it to be differentiated from the others. This also placed the trees in the foreground to be in zone 0, totally dark and without texture.

The Buddha's Temple:

This image of the Buddha's Temple is exposed using a 120mm lens. The metering scheme was done to place the peak of the Temple at zone 5. This principle of placing your main subject, or a part of the main subject in zone 5 is a standard scheme with good success for a variety of subjects and moods. In this case, it allowed me to place the clouds in zone 8, and the shadows from the clouds in foreground left in zone 2.

Vishnu's Temple, catching the last rays of the sun before sunset.

This is an interesting shot. The light from the setting sun casts its last golden rays on the Vishnu's Temple, turning it into gold, glowing as it evokes the feeling that the temple is emerging from darkness. As the sun was almost completely gone when I made this exposure, I metered to place the tip, and the very brightest part of Vishnu at zone 8. And allowing the image to fall in near darkness of zone 2.

I enhanced the saturation in CS4, to bring out the intensity of the bright golden rays, and to accentuate the glow.

Isis' Temple

This picture of Isis is also shot with the 120mm. Metering was done using the main subject in zone 5 principle, and allowing the image to fall into its own place. The clouds, look light, cottony, and in a sense happy.

And a self portrait...with my shooting partner's camera setup - a Canon EOS 5Dmk2 with 17-40L lens.

And some wildflowers, shot with the 120mm:

It is interesting that wildflowers grow like these in cracks and crevices of the rocks by the South Rim. It was particularly windy that day, and I had to shield the flowers with my camera bag, set the tripod up, and shot with the meter in average mode. The resultant image did not have the critical sharpness to be printed full size, but at web sizes, even in 1920 pixel wallpaper sizes, it is fine.