B&W Camera Systems: Functionality/Creative Power/Affordability/Film/Digital ??


Getting your BEST B&W image!

Outer Banks Pier, Monochrom Camera System

Outer Banks Pier, Monochrom Camera System

I wish to share some images and thoughts from the Leica M Monochrom B&W ONLY camera system. I know that it is NOT FILM and a very expensive camera system, but it comes as close as you can get in a wonderfully usable B&W only system!  

Most people will take a color image then  convert  it to B&W in post processing but it will never be the same as actually shooting in B&W with a digital or film system!  Yes you can get close but you loose the amazing gradations and tonality that is part and parcel to world class B&W images.

Dugger Creek Falls, Linville, NC M Monochrom

Duggers Creek Falls, Linville, NC M Monochrom

The Pier on the top, is in the Outer Banks and is a 4 min exposure using a Leica Elmerit 28mm lens and the creek below is is in the New River Gorge in West Virginia. It is Dunloupe Creek and a 8 second exposure using the AMAZING 50mm Summilux lens. As you can see, the graduations and clarity are simply amazing. The water takes on a distinct Platinum tonality!

Why am I showing you these? Well at the end of the post I will give you a link for 2 videos where a Fuji X100T and a Leica M are compared for street photography and for a discussion on the Leica M B&W. The videos are  quite entertaining and shows why sometimes a more expensive camera can be worth the money…

Sometimes!

Dunloupe Creek, New River Gorge WV, M Monochrome

Dunloupe Creek, New River Gorge WV, M Monochrome

 

It can be very hard balancing the desire between camera systems and affordability, but sometimes, with SPECIAL cameras the money takes a back seat. I own 3 Leica camera systems, and 1 of them I could have done without (Leica M240), another is an amazing film system (Leica M7) and then there is the M Monochrom. The Monochrom is scary amazing with crazy good B&W output to even consider shooting color then converting. I have NEVER considered the money spent on it to be wasted! In fact, I am considering selling/trading the M 240 but will keep the Monochrom and M7 film body along with most of my Leica and Voigtlander glass.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park, WV, M Monochrome

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park, WV, M Monochrome

For me shooting in B&W is a soul centering event. I take it very seriously and slow. When you consider how working in Monochrome strips away the confusion of color leaving the soul of the image then you can understand why I am looking for the very best way to capture the best possible image.  

  • Shooting in color then converting to B&W works but is a compromise and will only give you a compromise image.
  • Shooting in film generates a purest form of B&W image and by far is the best way to do it but requires extensive time for setup, capture, development, wet scanning then printing! One roll of 120 film in the 6×7 format will generate 10 images.  Processing takes about 45 min then it has to go into a film dryer overnight.  Lastly, comes wet mount scanning which can take 1/2 hour per exposure.  Now, I do not scan every image, I choose the very best images from the roll (usually 3 or 4) and only scan those.  All in all there is about 8 hours of work involved with that single roll!  It is a slow process to be sure but very fulfilling and leaves me with a great sense of inner peace. 
  • Now, along came the M Monochrom camera from Leica, a full frame 19 mega pixel sensor with NO COLOR FILTERS over the image wells. This means that there is no anti-aliasing filter, and no brayer array.   So effectively you get a 19 x 3 megapixel image (no brayer layer means every pixel well generate a true monochrome data value different from its neighbors!)  which is crisp and has film like gradations  that are difficult to differentiate from a film negative!
Roanoke Marsh Light, Outer Banks, M Monochrom

Roanoke Marsh Light, Outer Banks, M Monochrom

Aside from doing all of this in film (which I still work in all of the time) the M Monochrome (or its sisters) is the ONLY GAME IN TOWN! Hence, the cost of the system takes on new meaning since it is such a specialized digital system!

Sometimes I will put the film away and take out the Monochrom system.  It is not quite the same as film in the overall process but it certainly is when the finished products are compared!

This is something to consider…

Here are the video links:

 

 

More Leica M Monochrome Magic!


Creating World Class B&W Images With Leica Monochrome

Bodie Island Light, M Monochrome

Bodie Island Light, M Monochrome

In my continuing love affair with the Leica M Monochrome camera system I have learned more each day towards creating amazing etherial B&W art…  Keep in mind that I have been shooting B&W film (35mm, 6×7 and 4×5) for several decades and know and understand the process very well. But using the Monochrome is such an easy progression that it seams as though the camera is leading me down this path on its own. Yes there is some small post processing to be done using Nik Filters Silver EFX and once in a while I will add some Viveza as well, but for the most part it is almost perfect out of the camera as long as you get the exposure correct in the shooting!

Leica Tri-Elmar 16 - 18 - 21 mm Lens

Leica Tri-Elmar 16 – 18 – 21 mm Lens

In the image below of the shrimper Stormy Seas, I used the Leica Tri-Elmar set in 16mm.  There is no image distortion from such a wide angle and it is sharp with good depth of field.  When using this lens on the Monochrome you are forced to use the frankenstein viewfinder that you purchase with the lens but that is a small price to pay for such a useful lens.  I also have a Voigtlander Hellar 12mm lens in the camera bag and it works very well on the Monochrome and uses an external 12mm viewfinder, but it does distort the image slightly due it its wideness but you can correct for that in Photoshop.  The thing about the Tri-Elmar is that it replaced 3 separate lenses that were stolen with one small lens!

Stormy Seas Shrimper, M Monochrome with Tri-Elmar at 16mm

Stormy Seas Shrimper, M Monochrome with Tri-Elmar at 16mm

 

Using a fast lens like the 50mm Summilux ASPH for the image below of the Roanoke River Lighthouse allows you to hand hold on dark or stormy days and still get crisp images that jump out at you! For this image I also had a yellow filter attached to bring out the structure of the clouds.  This is one of the HUGE pluses of the Monochrome in that it reacts to the standard B&W filters the same way as film does!

Roanoke River Lighthouse, M Monochrome

Roanoke River Lighthouse, M Monochrom

But as always my main use for the camera is long exposures which is where my true love lives!  Being able to take ocean shots and smooth out the waves is exciting beyond words and the Monochrome does a great job of it with its 4 min bulb limit.  Look at the image below of the (another version) Roanoke Marshes Light House.  I was there when the light was on and each time it circled  it created another slightly offset star effect.  It allows me to create images full of wonder and depth!

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse with operating Light, 16 second exposure, M Monochrome

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse with operating Light, 16 second exposure, M Monochrome

The implied stillness of the water with the graduated reflections create an image full of mood and depth.  This is one of my favorite images of this Light House and the fact that during the 16 second exposure the light revolved around 3 times to generate 3 slightly offset star patterns just add more mood to it.  This particular shot was done with a B+W 103 3 stop ND filter to allow the longer shutter speed at f/8 for sharpness with the 50mm Summilux ASPH lens!

Now let me share a detail shot of a fishing boat just up the island from the Light House.  It is simple yet tells a complex story of the boat and job.  

Fishing Float, M Monochrome

Fishing Float, M Monochrome

I love the textures of the image and the sharpness. The texture on the surface of the individual floats are great and perhaps would have been better served by a closer shot. It was taken with the Macro Elmar 90mm lens (a great lens to invest in) and was done on the tripod!

Mushroom, Macro, M Monochrome with Macro Elmar 90mm plus macro adapter

Mushroom, Macro, M Monochrome with Macro Elmar 90mm plus macro adapter

Really Right Stuff TF-01 and Ball Head

Really Right Stuff TF-01 and Ball Head

Continuing with the 90mm Macro Elmar I give you a closeup image taken just as I left the Outer Banks.  This mushroom is only about 2 inches tall and I had to lay down under a log to get it.  Yes a tripod was used but it was the Really Right Stuff table pod which is an amazing tool to have in your kit for just this sort of work  Look at the textures on the bottom and stalk of the mushroom.  This 90mm lens is the only 90 that I will ever buy for my Leica cameras!

Really Right Stuff TF-01

Really Right Stuff TF-01

I hope that you enjoyed this last dedicated post on the Leica M Monochrome camera.  I will have many more images to share from it in the future but I think that you are likely getting tired of dedicated posts!

Thanks for taking the time to view these!!

Moody Images in Infrared & Color! Fuji X Pro 1 and X-E1


Grabbing your viewers by the throat and not letting go…

A dark and stormy night

A dark and stormy night, Fuji X Pro 1 w/ 14mm fuji lens at 720nm Infrared.

Images that are dark and moody tend to grab our attention.  It is as though there is something hidden and dark that demands our attention.  We stare at them and analyze the image for a deeper hidden meaning.  This creates emotional impact that allows our viewers to share what we felt as we created the images!

Look for dark, stormy skies, moody clouds, dark trees or water.  Work in Infrared and you will find that you have a much better chance to capture these kinds of images more often than when working in color.  It is still possible to do so in color but you have to work harder at it!

Paradise Island Light, Nassau

Paradise Island Light, Nassau

 

As you can see in the image above, it is moody and draws the viewer into the scene, but it does not have that “dark and stormy” look and feel!  As I stated before, it is much easier to capture these types of image when working in Infrared!

A dark and stormy night

A dark and stormy night

Work in both Faux Color and B&W.  You never really know what you are going to get unless you take the time to post process both ways.  You should even look seriously at the properly white balanced raw image right out of the camera!  Sometime you can get a really stunning image there.

Lady Katheran

Lady Katheran, 720nm Infrared, Fuji X Pro 1 with Fuji 14mm lens.

Here is the same image processed in B&W.

Lady Katheran

Lady Katheran

 

The workflow to getting great images in post processing is to ALWAYS process in the 3 main ways:

  • RAW:  Check how the images looks right out of the camera.  In 720nm and 590nm you can get some stunning images with beautiful bronze skies!
  • Faux Color:  If your camera captures any color data at all (720nm and lower) then you should ALWAYS take the time to process in this mode.
  • B&W: You just done know what you are going to get unless you try!

 

Try adding a lens vignette to your images to darken the corners.  This will give more mood!

Here are some examples of RAW and B&W post processing!

McClellanville Shrimper

McClellanville Shrimper, RAW right out of the camera!

 

McClellanville Shrimper

McClellanville Shrimper, B&W

 

As you can see both versions give stunning results.  The most important thing for you to remember is that to get the best results from all of your images it is necessary to take the time to post process in all three modes.  Do not short change yourself by cutting corners.  Take the time to give each image your best try!  

 

You will be rewarded for you work!

 

A DETAILED look at X Pro 1 long exposures….


The Fuji X Pro 1 camera system is VERY WELL suited to this style of photography!

Outer Banks FIshing Pier Sunrise, Fuji X Pro 1 + 10 stop ND filter

Avalon Pier Sunrise, 30 second exposure

I just got back from leading an advanced photo workshop & excursion to the outer banks on Nags Head Island in the Outer Banks!  The subject was HDR and Long Exposure Photography.  It was an amazing workshop filled with great students and we visited amazing locations.  What was so special about this was the sunrise locations at the Avalon Pier (which was broken into 3 parts) and the Outer Banks Fishing Pier.  The wave conditions were a little high due the the North Easter having just passed and made for tough long exposures due the the required shutter speeds!

As you can see with the image on the left, the waters surface was still a little bit misty even with a 30 second exposure.  The light was simply too bright and the waves too large to get a slower shutter speed.  Still, the image is pleasing and as you can see from the blue sky it is just after the sunrise was finished.

Ok, some discussion on equipment is in order here.

  • A sturdy tripod is a must.  It must be able to hold the camera steady even if the water washes over the tripod legs.  I use a large Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod with the Really Right Stuff large ball head on top.  The X Pro 1 has the Really Right Stuff L bracket installed.  This system works very well.
  • A remote shutter release is also a must.  The X Pro 1 can only use a mechanical one so I have two in my bag, a 14 inch and a 40 inch.  Both have a BULB lock which enables you to lock the shutter open.
  • A 10 stop and 6 stop ND filter.  I like the B+W versions due to their German Schott Glass construction.  BUT, be aware, the X Pro 1 (in fact most camera systems) cannot meter through the 10 stop ND filter.  If you have a hand held spot meter you can get accurate exposures even with the ND filter!
  • A lens hood is an absolute must for long exposures.  This will keep light from striking the objective element of your lens and reducing contrast and causing lens flare.
  • Know where the sun is going to rise!  There are several great apps for smart phones out there that will tell you this right on the spot!

For rough seas, the longer you can get the exposure the smoother the water will become.  The X Pro 1 will allow up to a 30 second exposure in the T mode. You simply use the arrow keys to change the exposure up or down, but 30 seconds is the max.  For longer, you must use the BULB mode.  The Fuji has a very well designed  BULB mode!  When you trip the shutter, a counter will start on the back LCD screen counting up!  This makes for very easy timing control.  Here then is an example of a 90 second exposure in both Black & White and color.

Outer Banks FIshing Pier Sunrise, 90 second exposure with the 35mm lens. Exposure: 90 seconds, f/16, ISO 200, 10 stop ND filter.

Outer Banks FIshing Pier Sunrise, 90 second exposure with the 35mm lens. Exposure: 90 seconds, f/16, ISO 200, 10 stop ND filter.

Voigtlander Heliar 75mm f/1.8 Lens

Not all long exposures require such a long shutter speed.  For some a shorter speed can generate a nice image as well.  Here are two for your consideration.  The first is simply a daylight shot of a creek mouth into the bay but with the exposure slow enough to smooth out the water and show a little pattern there! This was a 15 second exposure using the incredible Voigtlander Heliar 75mm f/1.8 Lens with the Fuji M mount adapter shot at f/16 and ISO 200.

Mid Day Creek Mouth, CV 75mm f/1.8 lens.

You can see patterns in the water just at the point on the right side.

The second image is of the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse at sunrise. This was a .3 second exposure at f/3.2.  This image was a bit challenging as I wanted detail in the front of the lighthouse.  I used a Sekonic 758 DR hand held spot meter to measure the building and set the exposure accordingly. This is a very easy to use metering system and will NEVER fail you in use.  Sometimes you simply cannot use the cameras metering system to get the proper exposure.  This is always a factor when you are using ND filter attached to the lens!

For this shot I used the Fuji 35mm lens with a lens hood attached to keep incident light from striking the objective element at an angle.

X-Pro1-Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse Sunrise

Here are a few more sample images for you to think about.  I hope that you enjoy them!

Avalon Pier Sunrise

Outer Banks Fishing Pier Sunrise, 60 second exposure

Sunrise

60 second exposure, Outer Banks FIshing Pier Sunrise

So, take heart, get a ND filter and go out and try some long exposures at sunrise or sunset. If you do not have access to the ocean then use the exposures to slow the motion of the Clouds!  There are all sorts of possibilities out there for you to experiment with!

Using Light Painting with Very Long Exposures!


Bringing Out Foreground Details..

A few months ago Jamie Davidson and I led a photo workshop and excursion to Charleston, SC. The workshop was in both Infrared and Color photography and we had several sunrise shoots in various locations.  One of my favorites was on Foley Beach looking out at the Morris Island Lighthouse.  There was a groin  (rock break wall) there as well as a boneyard (driftwood forest).

Morris Island Lighthouse Sunrise

My Vision:

What I had in mind was to photograph the  Morris Island lighthouse in silhouette  with the sun rising behind it with driftwood in the foreground as a very long exposure to flatten the ocean surf.  I also wanted to have some surface detail in the driftwood and beach in front of the camera so I knew that I would have to use a very high power flashlight to paint those items during the exposure. Long exposure photography will generate very etherial images that will draw the viewer into the image.  Learning how to generate these types of images is a very worth while endeavor and I hope that you are interested enough to experiment with it as well!

My Equipment:

  • I wanted to shoot this with my Fuji X Pro 1, but at that point I was still waiting for its delivery.
  • Canon 7d camera body.
  • Canon 17-40L lens.
  • Remote shutter release cable.
  • A very stable carbon fiber tripod!
  • Sure Fire U2 variable LED tactical 100 lumen flashlight.
  • Fortitude to get up very early and drive/walk out to the beach (no small task!).

Singh Ray Variable ND

After arriving on site, I looked  for a suitable piece of driftwood to place in the foreground and have it frame the lighthouse.  I setup back about 20 feet so that I could get enough depth of field to have both the tree and the lighthouse both in focus. Setting up the tripod well back from the surf to keep the water from under cutting its legs I framed the shot above.  It looks bright enough but it was so dark that I could not even see the tree!  Please keep in mind here that I also wanted to slow down the movement of the water, so I have installed a variable 8 stop neutral density filter from Singh Ray on the lens.  Even at its minimum setting there is still a 2 stop darkening of the image throughout he viewfinder.  What I am looking for is an exposure time of at least 30 seconds  but longer if possible. What I do is to set the ND at 2 stops then use the flashlight to provide a bright spot for focus. After focusing, I setup the camera in manual mode by adjusting the aperture to f/11 to f/16 and the shutter speed to a starting point of 30 seconds.  I then adjust the variable ND filter to give me a 0 ev exposure in the metering system!

It is this special filter that allows me to really slow down the shutter speed  enough to smooth out the ocean surface!  You do not have to use a variable ND, a set filter like a 6 or 10 stop ND from B+W filters will work fine, but you have to setup the composition and focus before you attach the filter because you will not be able to see through the viewfinder once it is installed.  All of these ND filters are expensive, the B+W ND’s will be over $100 and the Singh Ray will be just at $400!  But EVERY photographer needs some sort of ND filter in order to slow down the shutter speed to smooth out water or cloud movement for a soft etherial image.

The viewfinder must also be covered up once everything is set and before the exposure is made in order to not effect the camera meter.

Ultra Bright Tactical Light

Trip the shutter and step away from the camera/tripod.  Now taking the ultra high power flashlight I use it to paint the surface of the tree and sand around it.  This is a continuous movement of the flashlight over the tree and sand again and again.  I do not want them brightly lit, rather I am looking for just enough light to ensure that the tree is  not a silhouette and that the sand has some detail and structure in its surface.  This can be difficult and you might have to walk closer to the tree in order to have more light from the flashlight fall on it.  But being digital we can take several images before the sky becomes too bright to work!

You can use any light source but you do need to be careful not to use a light that is yellow in color.  The tactical lights are expensive but do not fail due to the bulb and will last a lifetime.  At high power the batteries will only last for an hour or two, but most of these lights have several power levels and can stretch the battery life up to 20 hours!  They are great for photography but they can also save your life in an emergency as well.

Here is a Black & White version of the image above.  This was converted in Photoshop CS6 with Nik Filters Silver EFX Pro 2.

Morris Island Lighthouse Sunrise

If you look up at the very TOP of this page you will see my Blog Banner Image, which was also taken at this location within moments of the Lighthouse image!  This type of photography (long exposure can be very pleasing in it process and is certainly easy on the eyes!

Below is one further image, this time taken by the Fuji X Pro 1 without light painting in the mid morning.  For this image I did use a 52mm B+W 10 stop ND filter, but no light painting as it was already too bright out and was not necessary.

Ultra Long Exposure with the Fuji X Pro 1

Please let me know what you think!

Georgia Grist Mill & Covered Bridges with the X Pro 1


A Few Hidden Treasures…

Starr’s Mill, GA

BW Auchumpkee Creek Bridge, GA

Well my wife and I spent a day exploring the counties north of Columbus Georgia on Thursday looking for covered bridges and grist mills!  We actually visited 2 bridges and 2 mills but only one of the mills was really worthy of any type of photography (more on that later…)  All in all a very enjoyable day!

GPS Track of this trip. Yellow Pins are Mills and Bridges!

I will drive hundreds of miles out of my way to visit a Grist Mill or Covered Bridge and today was no exception.  We left Columbus early and drove about 150 miles in a large circle to hit these 4 locations.  There is just something very special about these old landmarks don’t you think?  I still have about 15 more mills to visit in Georgia and around 20 more bridges!  We have 2 more trips planned this year there, one in August and another in September.  If I can capture 4 or 5 good locations then it will be well worth the time and money to visit them!

 

 

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!