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New Work: Crescent Bay Sunset

Sunset at Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach, CASunset at Crescent Bay, Laguna Beach, CA
Shen-Hao HZX 4x5-IIa with Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5
Fuji Provia 100F, 30" at f/29 - 81C Warming Filter and 3-Stop Split ND
Click Image for Larger Version

Shooting large format at the beach is tough. The camera is slow, unwieldy, and once you lock down the shot, it's a royal pain to adjust anything. This makes using a tripod in the surf essentially impossible. As soon as the water rushes in around the legs, they start sinking, which messes up everything. Plus, it's not uncommon for exposures to be 10" or longer, which makes it really impossible to set up in sinking sand.

I tried to make some "snow shoes" for use at the beach to remedy this problem, but they don't work well enough. So instead, I either set up in the dry sand or if I want to be close to the water, I must find just the right cluster of rocks that will permit me to set up my tripod on them. And that's what I did here.

Shen-Hao HZX-45IIaFrom high up on my perch on some rocks at Crescent Beach in Laguna Beach, CA, I composed this image using my large format Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa 4x5 camera with a Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5 lens.

On my way to the beach, I envisioned a photo of the Pacific Ocean smoothed out into a gentle fog with the water's surface and wet sand reflecting the vibrant colors of a fiery sunset. I wanted some dark, nearly black rocks in the foreground to break up the reflection and, luckily for me, the sand level was low at the beach that day and the perfect rocks were perfectly exposed in the perfect location under a stable platform for my tripod. And the sky was nice enough to serve up the colors that night.

I metered the scene using my handheld spot meter, calculating an exposure of 15 seconds at f/29 on Fuji Provia 100F film. A 3-stop split neutral density filter allowed me to hold color in the sky and water surface and an 81C warming filter brought out the warm tones of the sunset exactly as I hoped. The 30-second exposure smoothed out the water and the wet sand picked up the reflections just as I envisioned.

I also tilted the lens forward a little bit while keeping the film vertical. Sounds weird, but on this type of camera, I can tilt the lens and film independently of each other so that they are no longer parallel as on a standard SLR camera. Why would I want to do this? Well when you tilt the lens forward but leave the film plane vertical, you basically tilt the entire plane of focus forward so that it better aligns with the earth stretching out in front of me.

So if you imagine on a traditional SLR camera, the plane of focus is always parallel to the lens and camera back, like photographing a wall straight on. But when I tilt the lens forward on this camera, the plane of focus starts to "lay down" in front of me, like a wall tipping away from me. This gives me a huge depth of field so that everything is tack sharp from foreground to background. This phenomenon is called the Scheimpflug principle and is a very valuable tool for controlling depth of field.

It doesn't happen often, but I love when all the elements come together perfectly like they did on this evening.

New Work: Aliso/Woods Canyons in B&W

Old Fence in Aliso/Woods Canyons - Orange County, CA Click any photo for a larger view

As recounted in my post "New Work: Aliso/Woods Canyons in Fog", I recently spent some time photographing nearby Aliso & Woods Canyons Wilderness Park in the fog. While my medium format Mamiya RZ67 camera was loaded with color transparency film, I also carried my 35mm Canon EOS-1v loaded up with Ilford Delta 100 black and white film.

I debated back and forth whether to shoot B&W on my medium format because there are few things that look better in B&W than fog. It has that great, old-timey, moody feel that Hollywood epics always bank on. But then again the color of that morning light! Ah, what a tough decision. Luckily I decided to torture my spine by carrying both systems with me.

I carried only one lens for each camera - a 50mm wide-angle for my medium format and a mid-range 24-105mm zoom for my Canon. You know it's funny, when I used to carry only my digital SLR, I couldn't leave the house with less than 3 lenses. But now I just had a single mid-range zoom for my camera. Strangely enough, I didn't feel held back or limited at all. Sometimes the only wide angle lens you need is just taking 3 steps back.

With my B&W shots, I first concentrated on the muted tones created by the fog near the old fence, but then worked my way up to some high-contrast shots with dew drops on a spiderweb and light streaming through an old oak tree.

I'm currently going through a love affair with all the stately oak trees around here in Orange County. I never fully appreciated their size, age, and aesthetics until now. I guess it took some B&W film to open my eyes to their beauty. Expect more photos of these wonderful organisms in the near future - color and B&W.

Foggy morning in Aliso/Woods Canyons Wilderness Park - Orange County, CA
Foggy morning in Aliso/Woods Canyons Wilderness Park - Orange County, CA

Dew on spiderweb in Aliso/Woods Canyons Wilderness Park - Orange County, CA
Oak Tree in Aliso/Woods Canyons Wilderness Park - Orange County, CA

New Work: Aliso/Woods Canyons in Fog

We had a stretch of foggy mornings here in Orange County back in November. Dense fog makes for great photos in the right environment and it's one of the few things that will get me out of bed before sunrise. I'd been exploring the Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park on my mountain bike quite a bit over the previous couple months and had scouted out a couple areas that would be perfect to take advantage of the fog.

Fence in fog - Aliso & Woods Canyons Wilderness Park, Orange County, CAMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 lens
Fuji Provia 100F, 1/2 second at f/16 - Lee 2-stop split ND
Click for larger version

When shooting foggy landscapes, you need subjects receding off into the distance. See, the only thing that makes fog look like fog in a 2-dimensional photo is that there are subjects in the background areas that appear more faded than the near subjects. If you have a rock right in front of you, a tree 50 yards away, and a hill 500 yards away, you're golden. The near rock will be un-occluded by the fog and will thus appear relatively crisp. The tree in the middle ground will be slightly faded due to the dispersion of light caused by the fog, and the hill in the back will be very soft and muted. All this equates to fog in the resulting shot. The more you have of these layers, the better.

But if instead you have a simpler scene of a barn 50 yards away surrounded by trees that are just 60 yards away, then the sense of fogginess gets lost. Everything will be about equally muted by the fog and, thus, the photo will look flat. There won't be that sense of depth and layering created by having subjects at varying distances from the camera.

Knowing this, I envisioned a photo in Aliso/Woods Canyons that would utilize a dilapidated gate from an old corral in the foreground, the fence receding into the mid-ground, and several layers of hillsides into the background. All these subjects at varying distances would give me my "fog look."

I decided to use my medium format Mamiya RZ67 for this photo - partly because I just wanted to try out this new camera, but I also wanted to capture the minute details in this scene with better resolution than 35mm. I could have captured maximum resolution with my large format 4x5, but I knew the fog would dissipate quickly, so I wanted something a bit quicker to set up.

Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 LensMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 lens
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With my Mamiya packed up in my backpack along with my 35mm camera loaded with B&W film (those pictures coming soon), I set off on my mountain bike to my planned spot. Between the medium format camera, 35mm camera, accessories, and tripod, my pack was pretty heavy. Carrying this much weight while on a mountain bike can be a little tricky, but I'm getting more and more comfortable with it - and it sure trumps walking in terms of speed and effort.

It was a beautiful morning. I saw half a dozen coyotes deep in the fog like ghosts watching me through the haze. It was calm, cold, and quiet. Mornings like these remind me to go riding at sunrise more often.

At my desired spot, I worked out a composition as the light intensified. Using my handheld spot meter, I calculated an exposure of 1/2 second at f/16 using Provia 100F film. I knew the photo would come out quite blue due to the blue light of early morning and the further bluing caused by the moisture in the air. I could have warmed it up a bit with my 81C warming filter, but I decided to let the blue color ride, banking on the fact that it would create an appropriate mood to match the fog. I also used a Lee 2-stop hard-edge split ND to hold back light in the background.

After firing 2 more identical exposures, I ventured off on to another trail in search of a different composition. I eventually found myself in a small meadow of golden grass where orb spider webs dripping with dew dotted the meadow, picking up the backlighting from the morning sun like chandeliers.

With my Mamiya and 50mm wide-angle lens (equivalent to roughly 24mm in 35mm format), I tried a vertical and horizontal of a particularly beautiful web. Both utilized backlighting to highlight the dew, but the horizontal framing ultimately won out. I chose an aperture of f/8 to blur the background a bit so as to draw more attention to the web, which brought my shutter speed to 1/30. A Lee 3-stop hard-edge split ND held back light in the bright background. I could have used 5-stops of split ND to prevent the background from blowing out, but I wanted to keep it bright to give a better sense of the bright morning sun breaking through the fog.

Dew on Spider web in Aliso & Woods Canyons Wilderness Park, Orange County, CAMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 lens
Fuji Provia 100F, 1/30 second at f/8 - Lee 3-stop split ND
Click for larger version

With one roll of medium format film exposed and another roll of 35mm black and white completed, I rode my way back uphill to the car and treated myself to some McDonald's breakfast on the way home. Good times.