The Purity Of B&W

Going Home To Momma…

Don’t you have the feeling sometimes of not reaching that creative high so that when you return home you are almost like an empty husk?

Well me too, and sometimes I really need to stretch my artistic legs.  Going out with a Color Camera will just not get the job done and leaves me feeling empty.  Working in Film is a lot better and scratches an itch that I just cannot reach otherwise… But when I am really feeling creatively down and mentally cramped I usually turn to my Leica M Monochrom system.

Duggars Creek Falls, Boone, NC.  Leica M Monochrome

Duggars Creek Falls, Boone, NC. Leica M Monochrome

Working directly in B&W is a soul expanding exercise that will re-inflate my creative side quickly and effectively.  I am the type of photographer who can actually think and see in B&W. Actually generating those images in the field with a capable B&W rangefinder system really is like going home to Momma.  It leaves me with that ohhhh feeling, or is it OHHHHH… Yep, that is the feeling that I am talking about!

First, I LOVE shooting with a rangefinder camera system.   ALL of my cameras are rangefinders except for one little Fuji XT1 that sits in my camera bag rarely used unless I take it out for lightning shots.  I just love the feeling of using a rangefinder!  I am not kidding about the feeling of going home to momma!  They take me back to my early days of photography when a rangefinder was all that I had and used.  They were and still are a nitch camera system.  You generally will not find someone out shooting birds in flight images with one, but that is OK  with me because after 50 years of shooting, I am soooo TIRED OF BIRDS (well except for hummingbirds but I can do those just fine with a rangefinder).

Outer Banks Fishing Pier, 250 second Exposure Leica M Monochrom

Outer Banks Fishing Pier, 250 second Exposure Leica M Monochrom

So what makes me smile about the M Monochrom?  The ease of use, the CRISP release of the shutter, the incredible functionality of the camera and its wide dynamic range!  I love the way it feels in my hands and responds to my control!  I even love the sound of it. It is almost sensual in nature!  Now, couple that with the amazing images that a pure B&W 18 mega pixel sensor with NO Brayer filter and no anti-aliasing filter can create you will be left breathless with the results.  

So for this simple and short post about achieving emotional nirvana, I will keep it to just 2 images that make me feel good. Now that I am creatively re-inspired I can go out again with my color camera (rangefinder of course) and while looking at my scenes in B&W create color images again!

Thank you for stopping by for a visit to the blog…

Photo Quote…

Things that I think about. It is just so sad…


“I drifted into photography like one drifts

into prostitution.  First I did it to please my friends, 

and eventually I did it for the money”

-Philippe Halsman


Sea Strike...

Sea Strike… Panasonic GH2

Fuji X Pro 1 and Lightning Photography

Once in a while we just get lucky…

The Super Storm Strike, Fuji X Pro 1

I shoot lightning.  I have specialized gear and cameras just for this.  The Fuji X Pro 1 is NOT a camera system that we would normal associate with daylight lightning photography but sometimes we just get lucky! But, I choose to be both SMART and LUCKY when I am shooting bad weather including lightning, even if I am not properly prepared.  In this post I will share the process of capturing lightning strike images with you!

Normal Daylight Lightning Capture

Normally, I have a Canon 7D or sometimes a Panasonic GH2 dedicated to shooting daylight lightning.  I use it with a Canon 17-40L lens and the Lightning Trigger from which is the BEST lightning trigger on the market simply due to its automatic gain and sensitivity circuits built into it by its creator!  If you want to shoot serious lightning images during the daylight this is the system to get.

But on this particular day I was at a daughters house waiting for the cable guy to arrive when we had a 100 year storm blow across the Low Country of South Carolina.  We had over 600 lightning strikes!  There I was stuck at her house with my lightning camera system at home, no tripod or nd filter and only my new Fuji X Pro 1 camera system in the truck.  I was so mad at myself for not bringing the other equipment along that I almost missed the entire storm.  Eventually I went out to the truck and got out the X Pro 1 and set it up with the Fuji 18mm lens and started shooting in a vain attempt to capture a few strikes.  This is difficult as most lightning strikes are there for an instant then gone… But once in a while a feeder will go up from the ground and cause a multiple discharge from the cloud down that can span a second or two!  For this image that is what happened.  I  saw the strike, triggered the shutter while pushing the camera into one of her porch columns and hoped for a multiple discharge to lengthen the strike time.  I got lucky and actually managed to capture a rare daylight strike by hand!

Have you really sat down and watched a thunderstorm in progress?  You really should.  Pay attention to the lightning strikes.  Notice that there are several types:

Several Cloud to Cloud and Cloud to Ground Strikes.

  1. Cloud to cloud: This type of strike is on the edge of or within the cloud itself.  It is pretty but not as emotionally charged as a ground strike.  Usually these strikes are high speed with a single pulse and unless you are currently making an exposure your chance of capturing one without a Lightning Trigger is going to be very rare.  Here is an example of one such strike showing 6 separate strikes in the same exposure at once!  Look closely at the image on the right and count the actual strikes in the picture.
  2. Single Pulse non branching.

    Cloud to Ground, single pulse: This strike is a quick flash usually with out branching strikes.  It is so quick that the only chance you really have of capturing one is for you to be using a Lightning Trigger or have a long exposure currently in process during the strike. These types of strikes are not as dramatic as a multiple pulse strikes because they are not as bright and do not usually branch out like a tree limb while searching for the upward leader.  Still, any lightning capture is worth the time and frustration necessary and you will be happy to have captured this!  Have you noticed in viewing these images how much more dramatic the daytime strikes are?  Again remember to think in terms of both Color and B&W lightning images.

  3. Cloud to Ground, multiple pulse: This is the big boy of strikes and what we are actually looking for in lightning photography!  In this style of strike a ground feeder rises from the ground towards the sky.  A bolt releases from the cloud searching for it and will wander all over the sky as it moves down.  It will branch out into many bolts like tree limbs during its search for the leader.  Once it finds the leader it will pulse multiple times down the same path as it discharges.  This type of strike can last up to 2 seconds and will generate very bright pulses of light as each discharge travels down the same path!  as a photographer, you have a good chance of capturing this type of strike by firing the shutter when you see the first strike and hope that it is a multiple pulse strike! Of course you can also get lucky during a long exposure in that the strike happens while the shutter is actually open!

Tree Branch Multiple Pulse Strike! Notice the branch structure searching for the leader pulse! Think of shooting in B&W also for a dramatic image. This image was captured with a Canon 7D and a Lightning Trigger.

Shooting without a Lightning Trigger

Daytime X Pro 1 Lightning Setup:

  • Mount the X Pro 1 on a sturdy tripod in a protected environment.
  • Use a remote shutter release.
  • Use a variable or set  ND filter around 6 stops to slow the shutter speed down.  The longer the shutter is open the better the chance of a capture!
  • Set the camera shutter speed to A.
  • Adjust the aperture to f/11 or higher to slow the shutter down.
  • Set the ISO to 200.
  • Set the drive mode to high speed continuous.
  • Set the camera to Manual focus and focus on something in the mid ground.
  • Try to setup your composition with some natural structure in the foreground and background to give the image depth in an area where you have observed lots of strikes.
  • You can shoot many  exposures in the continuous mode and hope for a strike while you are making one, or…
  • Watch for a strike within your framed area and trip the shutter release while hoping for multiple strikes down the same feeder which can last for a second or two which will guarantee you an image of a strike!
  • Keep shooting during the storm.  Do not get discouraged.
As I earlier stated, this technique is more of a guessing game and you will be lucky to actually capture a strike, but it WILL happen!

Now, I would have been much happier to have been in a location to shoot strikes without houses and streets in the foreground, but as I said, I had to wait for the cable guy…

Now, the other style of lightning photography involves shooting at night.  This style will work with ANY camera system including the Fuji X Pro 1. The only requirements of your camera system are that it can be mounted to a tripod, have a remote shutter release and have a manual exposure mode.  Experience has also taught me that a wide angle lens will produce a better image.

Nighttime Lightning Setup:

  • For nighttime lightning, the X Pro 1 will work great.
  • You simply put it on a sturdy tripod in a protected environment.
  • Use a remote shutter release.
  • Set the camera shutter speed on 30s or bulb.
  • Shoot into the storm at about f/8.
  • Set the camera to Manual focus and focus on something in the mid ground.
  • Try to setup your composition with some natural structure in the foreground and background to give the image depth.
  • Consider light painting a foreground structure with a bright flashlight during your exposure.
  • When you have captured a strike  or 2 while the shutter is open in bulb you then release it.
  • If you are set at a 30s exposure you wait till it is finished.

My basic truck setup…

This is the way photographers manage to get several strikes in the same image!  It is easy but you DO have to be careful and make sure that you are not in danger of being hit yourself.  I usually setup inside of my truck with a tripod and an iPad for watching the weather radar and shoot out an open crack in the window.  If the truck is struck, the metal will guide the lightning around you to the ground.

As I said, unless you simply get really lucky with your shutter release timing you are going to get very frustrated with the X Pro 1 for daylight strikes, but for night time, it is the perfect tool!

Go out and give it a try!

Nighttime Lightning Capture using the Bulb Mode

Tybee Island, GA, Hidden Paradise!

Once here it is difficult to leave!

Tybee Island Beach in front of our rental!

Every year I try to make it down to Tybee Island, GA for a visit.  It is one of the hidden treasures of the Southeast coast!  There are two lighthouses there, shrimpers, beaches, birds and many more photographic subjects!  Last year, my wife Ellen made arrangements for a family vacation there with a rental right on the beach.  There were 9 of us there in all and we had a great time!  For me the exciting parts of the week were the photographic excursions out and about.  I am always excited to visit the same places many times as they will always present themselves in a different fashion on each visit!  Below is a small selection of the many things to experience while visiting…

The sand on the beaches there is a fine off white sugar sand and the kids loved to play in it.  There were ALWAYS large ships lined up  to leave and enter the river going up to the port!  Every morning there were shrimp boats going back and forth just off of the beach fishing!

The Tybee Island Lighthouse is a MUST SEE!  It is one of the better looking lighthouses on the coast and always makes a great photographic subject!

Tybee Island Lighthouse in 590nm Infrared.

Cockspur Lighthouse , the 2nd local light house is up the river a mile or so from the Tybee Island Lighthouse.  You can visit it by heading north off of Tybee Island and stopping just before the first bridge and taking the small dirt road off to the right to the marina.  You will then have access with a longer lens to photograph it.  I have done this many times but for this trip we took a Dauphin boat trip out into the river and went around the lighthouse several times.

The Cockspur Lighthouse in Tybee Island.

One of the more interesting things about Tybee Island is the fact that during the summer there are usually daily thunderstorms the come thru the area and this makes for a good opportunity to grab some high speed lightning shots!

High speed daylight lightning capture from the deck of our rental!

Tybee Island is worth taking the time to visit anytime of the year.  Go for a day or a week, you will not be disappointed!

My grandson Jordan pondering the lighthouse keeper's hat as he gets ready to climb the lighthouse stairs!