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Monday, October 31, 2011

Broken Nation?

Recently I was out shooting an assignment for a client. They wanted to show the circumstances and dire state of the areas in witch a few people are trying to make a difference.

Now, this will sound like i am being a Negative Nelly, but in our country it is just common sense,- when i get assignment like these, i always take my older, less expensive gear, gear i would not like to lose,- but if i had to lose it, it would be these. I was really happy about this later that day.

I met-up with Bongani first to hear what it is that his group are doing and where they were operating from.

Bongani told me that he saw the dire need to help the street-children in the center of Johannesburg when he was going to University early in the morning. Some young people was sleeping under bridges and on pavements. He thought he just had to help them.
He started by renting an two room, run-down apartment in Hillbrow for them. It was not very good, but it was all he could afford at the time. He was a student at that time. It took a long while for the street-children to trust him, but finally a small group moved into the apartment were they could sleep in relative safety.

The view from the apartment that was rented to help the youths. This widow are shattered by bullets shot at night from the streets.

The building from the outside,- some apartments have burned down but people are still living there.

From here he began to listen to their stories and slowly build confidence and trust with them. He then started to counsel them and help them to feel loved again.

                 The broken mirror on the wall reflects a counselor talking to some of the street children.

Through a local sponsor Bongani received some money and started to expand his helping hand. Today he, and his group is working all over the Johannesburg CBD.

Next we went to a abandoned building where things got a bit dangerous as some people did not appreciate me being there and making images. We had to make a run for it as one took-out a gun and threaten us!

                                The old abandoned building were we made a run for it to get away.

Today the project has grown, and more street children gets help everyday, unfortunately more are being abandoned onto the streets also.
Due to the sensitivity of the project i cannot show any images of the street-children.
Seeing things like this makes you just realize how privileged and blessed you are. I thank God for that.

To people like Bongani and his team we can only say, we salute you and keep-up the good work.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Leica M9 and action photography...

As you know by now i am a Leica M9 lover! The al-round package this camera and lenses offers come second to none in my books.
The M-system is a challenge i look forward to and i am always looking to improve to get the most out of it. M = manual, meaning focus by hand,- the lens does not auto focus!
So a lot of M9 neigh sayers have stated that it is impossible to do sport/action photography with the M9. Well, this was not the reason why the M9 was build. It was not intend to shoot the Olympics or the Rugby World Cup.
How-ever, that said it doesn't mean you cant do it! Remember; "Practice, practice and more practice, my child."-YODA
So on a recent trip to the North Coast i made a few images at a jet-surf practice station and this is what i found; with concentration and practice...

                                        Leica M9 50 mm Summarit at F2.5 3000/s ISO 200

                                         Leica M9 50 mm Summarit at F2.5 3000/s ISO 200

                                          Leica M9 50 mm Summarit at F2.5 3000/s ISO 200
                                        "The more i practice, the luckier i get."- Gary Player :)

There are a few sporting events coming-up and you can be sure that i will post more pics on the M9 and action images.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Techniques... upsizing small pictures

Have you ever made an image where the subject did not fill the frame, something else is in the frame that you want to crop out,- only to find out the subject is now really small!
This will happen when you can't get close-enough to the action or have some-one/thing in the image that you just don't want to see.
You are thinking, if i make an enlargement of the cropped part it will be to small, noisy or pixelated?

Fear not, there is a way to upsize your image in Photo Shop to fix this problem.

This was such an image. I was at the longest range of my 400 mm Canon and it was still just to far.

So let us look at the PS steps i use to help in these instances;

1. Open image in PS
2. Filter > Noise > Reduce noise > Advance settings
    Most noise are in the Blue channel
    Strength around 8
    Preserve details close to 100%
3. Now to up-size.
    Image > image size > change pixels to % > increase only 10% at a time.
    NB; Before pressing OK,- > at bottom press Bicubic Smoother
    Do NOT miss this as it makes a big difference.
    This step can be repeated if necessary.
4. Still some noise in the upsized image?
    Filter > Convert to smart filter > Gaussian Blur > Zoom to mort important part of image > apply a small      amount of blur.
5. Because you select Convert to smart filter, you can use the filter as you want and later paint the blur   away over the important part of the image.
6. You can also leave the blur making the picture soft if you like the effect.

Naturally purest will disagree with the cropping of an image. They will say never crop,- use it, it is part of the image.
I say,- why have the technology and not use it?


Friday, October 28, 2011

Leica M9 and product photography...

I had a shoot earlier this week with an existing client and the best food stylist in the country. As you can imagine food with products or shoots where food are the products are not just slapping food on a infinity table and shooting away, it is an industry full of its own little secrets.
Gay and her team makes any product/food look good. Something that makes my work as photographer much easier,- and best of all i can also call her my friend.

But we are not going to discuss food-styling secrets today. No, i want to tell you how the Leica M9 fared in the shoot.
As this was not as serious as previous food-styled shoots i did with Gay,i was able to make a few M9 images in-between the set-ups.
I merely did this to see how the M9 will perform. I usually shoot these images with my Canon gear and today was no exception.
I have said before that i love the look the M9 gives to an image, but that i don't want to do my commercial work with it. When you work with clients and especially if they have been with you a long time, you don't want to have a different look all of a sudden,- no matter how much i love my M9, no, you stick to the same format.
Anyone who had shot glasses before will tell you, they are not the easiest to capture detail on. So we threw the M9 into the deep end and started with some;

I realize that F 2.5 is not the usual F-stop at witch these type of images are made but why not try it for this test, right?
As this is new product-range are going on sale in December i can't show to much of the product line, but i will show you how the M9 did;

                                        Look at the detail on this image enlarged to 100%.

                                              Again F2.5 Summarit 50 mm 100% enlarged

                                           Once again the detail in these images are outstanding!

With these directly from camera with no PS done you have to agree,- SUPER!
And don't forget,- at 35 MB in J-peg format, any client will be satisfied, for if they want to make enlargements,- billboard size is absolutely possible.

All images was shot with the Leica M9 in Raw format and the studio Broncolor lights was triggered with the Pocket Wizard Transceivers.

Conclusion; the M9 can, and will perform excellent in a studio environment. No question.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Youth Community Project 9

Energetic! The one word that comes to mind when i think of Martins.
This young man runs a computer-center in the Vaalrand, all completely out of goodwill.

He is currently teaching around 200 people, adults and scholars, at a computer center where no teachers are available. This is done with no financial compensation from the owners of the center.

Martins saw that people in his community are not computer literate and therefor are not coping in the corporate world. Since he started teaching computer skills people have been able to get better jobs and are much more confident.

The way in witch Martins conducts a class made me want to sit and have a class again.

Pic 1
This pic was made with the 16-35 mm Canon lens on the D40.
I used a of-camera light to bring the face of Martins out and the rest of the scene a bit darker.
I will have a complete posting on this type of shooting later, i call it "strobist shooting".

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Leica M9 field test... panoramas and bokeh

Much has been said about the bokeh in photography. However, for those of you that still goes...huh? i will give a small description.

The word bokeh is a Japanese word meaning "blur" or "haze". It refers to the part of the image in front, or behind the sharp subject. In other words, the blurred area.
It has been discussed so much because the lens is responsible for this and we all know that the competition for the best lenses are pretty intense.
The bokeh is influenced by the size, shape and smoothness of the opening defined by the aperture (F-stop) blades of the lens.

The race are so intense because the "finer" the bokeh, the better. Photographers tend not to want "coarse" bokeh.
A fine bokeh is seen as smooth, circular shapes in this blurred, defocused area and are formed by reflections on shiny objects or light the lens pic up on the back-ground.
A coarse bokeh is seen as oval, pentagon or octagons shapes and is a direct reflection of the number of blades in the lens.
               Notice the smooth, round shapes of the light picked-up on objects in the background.
                                                      Leica M9 - F2.5 - 50 mm Summarit

Bottom line, lens manufactures have realized we as photographers wants smooth bokeh and this is more expensive to make,- why lenses are so darn expensive. But remember the golden rule,- spend more money on good glass and your images WILL improve. Good glass also lasts a lifetime where a good camera will definitely be outdated with-in six months. Look at the winning formula that the Leica company have on their M lenses,- you can still use every M-lens made since the start of production on the newest M9 and they still perform absolutely fabulous.

Back to bokeh. The best to see a bokeh is with the F-stop wide open,- F2.5 or lower. This is precisely one of the reasons why we who use the Leica M cameras are going so crazy over the Leica M-lenses! Some say you don't shoot a Leica M any other way as wide open,- to make maximum use of the bokeh.

My beautiful wife in the library in the Oyster Box, Umhlanga. Leica M9 50 mm F2.5, ISO 200, 125/s.

This 'Leica-look' is what are achieved when the Leica lenses are used wide open. The newest Leica lens has a maximum aperture of F 0.95!
This special look is what made the great masters like Henri Cartier Bresson so fond of Leica's.
When used correctly is will make your image 'pop', stand-out as the rest of the image will be rendered in the smooth, creamy-like bokeh.

The bokeh is also used in its lesser mode in advertising shoots. Especially when the shooter want to hold the viewer's attention on an object in the fore-ground but want the shot to relate to something in the background. In this instance the bokeh will be less blurred to see the background,- but more out of focus than the subject.

In this example, the blurred area is in the back-ground and the sharp object, which is the cups on sale is in the foreground. The viewer is shown the design on the cups, but at the same time reminded of the colorful, delicious deserts in the background for witch to cups will be used.
The shot was made with a Canon camera and Canon 70-200 mm lens at F5.6. The difference between this Canon lens and the Leica lenses can easily be spotted.

In this shot, with the same equipment and setting as the previous shot, the subject was put more to the back in the shot with the snack out of focus in the forefront. Both works well and keeps the eye on the subject with a 'teaser' also in the shot.

This is a nice way to show-off those nice postcard-i-was-there-shots. Some-one standing in the fare-ground with the Pyramids/Eiffel Tower/Lady Liberty in the back-ground, blurred, but still recognizable. :)
                                                I-was-there-image. Prague Castle. F5.6

What-ever your view, when you use the bokeh with the right effect, it will make a deference to your images!

Let's now go on to the M9 and the panorama field test i took the little guy out for.
Well what better way to do a field test than to take a few subjects, i mean kids, with. :)
So, my boy, two of his friends, all 12 years old and full of energy and myself, set out to a small Nature Reserve with a little rock hill that they suggested we climb.

As it goes with 12 year old boys, there was no taking it slow once we got there. They raced to get to the top first where slogans like 'slow-couch' was yelled at me from the top!

I was taking it easy, looking for interesting places to shoot.

As i said this was to be a test to see how the M9 handle panoramas. So using the technique in Monday's blog-post i made my first image.
I didn't want to start to big and did five images, F5.6, this is what it looks like; straight from the camera, just stitched together, no post production, around 100 MB j-pegs.

After making a few more i head for the top,- only to see this,-

                                                     Priceless! F2.5 ISO 80, 3000/s
We spend a few hours looking at bonzi's growing in the Reserve, exploring some cracks and climbing some rocks. While we did all of this i made a few images and was just once again blown-over by the quality of the M9!

Just look at the sharpness on this image! After it was converted to J-peg it was 54 MB!
Below is the image at 100% enlarged. Keep in mind that i decreased the file-size to 0.5 MB for the site.

Here is an image made from 8 shots from the top of the hill of a nearby shopping mall. Again directly from camera no PS done, 200 MB. M9 - 50 mm Summarit - F5.6 - 2000/s

We had a fantastic time and i spend some quality time with three marvelous young men. And with the final word also the final image of the day;
I have to say once again the Leica M9 is brilliant! I don't want to influence you in any way,- just go and hold it, play with it and GET it! :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Techniques... photo-stitching

I have had a few questions from people asking me about the "long pictures"(photo-stitched together), panoramas, hanging in the studio and in the ad-agencies i work for/with.
So i decided to write a small article on the subject.
Please note that this is the way i do it and that it is in no way the start and end of how to do it, this simply is how i simplified the technique and it works for me.

                 This was around 15 images stitched together, file-size is about 65MB j-peg file.

When you see a scene like this and you want to capture the scene from side to side, make sure of a few things and follow my rules and you should be ok.

No filters on the lens. As you are going to swing from side to side the way the light falls onto the scene and the way the light falls on the filter will change.

There are no limit to how many images you can put together,- just remember, the more images, the bigger the file-size, the longer a computer take to proses the files.

The closer you are to a scene the closer together your images must be stacked, otherwise the perspective will change to much, e.g a building is close to the end of the image it will look like it is leaning to one side.
That said,- sometimes it can/will work for you, after all art is subjective. The clients loved this one and didn't want me to rectify the perspective.

    Notice how the wall in the fore-ground curves and the buildings on the side is not 'square' to the scene
               This image was around 12 from side to side, and 2 from top to bottom. 75MB j-peg

This technique  can be used horizontally or vertically, as below.

                           This beautiful buildings in Hong Kong was 5 x images stitched vertically
                                                                          50MB j-pegs

1. Set the ISO to where you general shoot for the scene in front of you. I shoot ISO 100 in daylight. Your choice.

2. Set the Light-meter according to your scene, e.g sunny/cloudy/shady etc. Try to stay away from AWB as this may affect your picture.

3. Set your camera on AV function. As a general rule in photography F8 is one of the most reliable F-stops to have everything in focus.

4. In AV mode look through the viewfinder and while half-pressing the shutter move from the one side to the other over the scene you want to capture. While you are doing this look in the viewfinder at what the shutter-speed is doing,- it will give you more than one speed-count as the light change through the lens. Take note of the highest and the lowest of the shutter-speeds.

5. Now, set the camera on M (manual mode). You have already set the ISO and WB, so all you have to set is the F-stop, F8 remember and then set the Shutter-speed to the fastest speed the camera showed you when you did number 4 above, remember?
I always chose the fastest speed because you can always bring dark areas back if a bid under-exposed, but when it is to bright (over-exposed) the details are burn-out and nothing can recover it.

6. I'm not going to teach you how to stand and hold the camera, but you should stand firm and be able to swing the top part of your body from one side of the scene to the other with-out moving your feet.
Make sure your focus is on the part most important part of your scene,- you have to decide this for yourself.
I normally swing once or twice through the scene without shooting,- half-pressing the shutter button to make sure i am not over-exposing and also to get a horizontal or vertical 'line' in the scene on witch to keep the scene strait.
Before i do no 7 i try to shoot a shot of my hand or foot and again one of my hand or foot after the panorama shots. I do this to simplify the post production, to know were a panorama start/ends. Believe me,- you shoot a few, one after the other, you would want to know where the one starts and ends.

7. Shoot! Take your time and shoot along the 'line' in 6 above. You should overlay your images not less than 25% over the next one.

                            This was made in the Kruger National Park. 21 images, 75 MB j-peg

8. Post production. I do the automate in Photo Shop CS 4,- it is yet to let me down. If you prefer you can place the images manually and move them by hand until correct in PS. This is quicker;
 In Photo Shop >file >automate >photo-merge >chose images. Remember to flatten image when you are done and continue with post production until happy :)

9. When you have a final image on witch the perspective is off,-like building leaning to their sides, correct it in PS like this;
In PS > edit > transform > Perspective > get the rectangular marquee tool > mark the image from border to border > 'pull' the image on the top/bottom corners until correct. Ps,- this will 'shorten' the image if done to extensively.

10. This is only the basics to help you get started. At my workshops we go into this in more detail and cover the post processing in detail.

Once you master this technique it can be done even with moving subjects/objects in the scene. Have a look at the blog-post named Youth Community Project 6 and you will see a image with soccer players i made while they were playing!

I love to make these kind of images as the are something special and always gets comments and framed they look absolutely look breathtaking.
Remember; "NO! Try not. Do or do not. There is no try." - YODA

                                   This image was made-up of about 25 shots. 150MB j-peg.
           Made next to the N1 close to Vereeniging at an roadside stop with a scrapyard and truck-stop

If you liked this, please join me at my next workshop and learn more about photography and how to get better, learn more and ultimately enjoy this art-form more.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Leica M9 test in the theater...

My very gifted brother was playing one of the leading parts in a theater production of The Sound of Music last week.

It was quite a performance. In the week that they did the performance in a small rural town, more than 3000 people saw the show! All actors did the show without remuneration and all funds went to charity ,- a good result overall.
Of cause the whole family rocked up to cheer him on and to support the worthy cause.

As for myself, i was not about to miss-out on a chance to take my beloved M9 out to town.
It sounded like the perfect place to have a field test of the performance of the M9 in a dark place. So much have been said about the Hi-ISO noise on the camera and i was eager to test it for myself.
We were seated in about the fifth row from the front and it being the local town hall i did not have an elevated view of the stage which meant that people in front of me will have their heads in the shots.
This was not about to stop me!

Withe almost silent shutter-sound of the M9 no one around me even knew that i was making pictures.
I had the ISO on 1000 and the shutter was around 45/s to 60/s. On the 50 mm Summarit lens the setting was F 2.5.
I had absolutely no problem with the manual focusing system.
Due to the large file-size of the M9, 18+MP i was happy to crop the final images to a size where the people in front of me wasn't to big of a problem.
When i zoom in-to the images at 100% you can hardly see any noise.
All images came directly from the M9, no post production was made.
Here are a few of the images i made;

To date i have worked with some exceptional lenses. The white/grey Canon lenses you always see at sport meetings are simply super-fast and sharp,- why do you think you see then all the time? They are freakin good,-that's why!
I have seen and worked with some Carl Zeiss-lenses which are above all, or so i thought. Then you get the Leica M lenses... a class above all others is all i can say.
Their newest is a Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm F 0.95.
Granted it cost $ 10 000, but it is top of the world!
I am currently saving for a Leica 35 mm F 1.4 also a remarkable lens.
If i can give you just one tip today it would be this,- forget to try and keep-on buying the latest camera with all the bells and whistles, invest in buying the best glass. You make pictures through the lens and the camera is just the recording device,- better glass = better images.

The day after the the theater show we had a special lunch at the director of the performance's restaurant.
What a beautiful setting he have. The food was absolutely from another world! Well done!
As usual i had the M9 with me and made a few images.
The one is of my youngest brother and his wife and the other is of the Director/restaurant owner.
Both made at F2.5 ISO 160 with the 50 mm Summarit.
As the Leica M9 comes with the post production software Lightroom, i used this to put the images through one of the presets,- the first through 'antique light' and the second through 'bleach look'.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


When shooting in any rural community in Africa you will find a groups of people,- mostly children gathering around to look at what you are doing.

Dirty faces, curious faces, interesting faces, young and old faces, you name it and they are there.
It is for this reason that i have learned to keep a second, and sometimes a third camera on one shoulder to capture some of these faces as the shoot goes on.

After all the eyes are the windows as the saying goes. So here are some of my favorites.


 Most was made with the Canon 70-200 mm, F2.8 lens, this lens is a gem when it comes to this sort of portraiture,- fast and very sharp, if you look closely you can see my reflection in some of the eyes.

The people on our road...

Recently i was send on a shoot in a rural area. I love this kind of assignments as it is always open to meeting people, and people is what makes it interesting.

This is not so much about the shoot i had to do for the client, but more about the people i met on that special day.
Two worlds coming together and letting each other look through the windows of the other.
Although the shoot itself went as planed i saw a unusual scene at the next-door neighbor...

Talk to any black person in SA and they will tell you that the Witch-doctor sect is a very secret one indeed. Very seldom will these greatly respected people expose themselves to be photographed, all the less in the room where the practice their rituals! The owners of the house where i was shooting warned me that this was a special kind of witch-doctor,- the type that trained other witch-doctors and that he was not a friendly man!

Needless to say i was not about to let such a chance go by. After introducing myself at the gate of the property i asked permission to enter the property, when granted i took off my shoes and socks and proceed.
At the door i asked permission again to enter, after which i went into the low-roof, dark little house.
To my right i could see the room where the bone-reading was done but i dared not entered that way.

I sat on the floor across from the witch-doctor and started to talk with the man. Over a period of an hour i learned that he was in the proses to teach 2 prodigies.
I was warned when i entered not to take any pictures as this will anger the 'spirits'. (i definitely didn't want to do that!)
After a long discussion where i chose my words very careful i convinced the witch-doctor to pose for a picture, but not only any picture ,- i wanted to shoot him with his students in the ritual room!
He deliberated with his students in their native tongue and i sat in silence saying a quite prayer that my wish be granted.
Finally they all looked at me, i was allowed on condition that i provide him with the images so he can print it for himself. I said that i would do more than that and that i will make large prints for all three of them and courier it together with the images on a disc to them. Needless to say we had a deal.

We all went into the ritual room, a dark room,- no light except a few candles in one corner.
I have only seen a shop with as many little bottle and jars with all kinds of stuff in them in Hong Kong.
Row upon row, all shapes and sizes. All con-tense was secret of cause and i didn't even want to know what they was. All three witch doctors changed into their traditional clothing.
I made sure my Canon D40 was properly loaded, the off-camera Canon 580EX II triggered via the Pocket Wizard Transceiver ready, and the lens-cap off the 16-35 mm Canon F2.8 lens.
These are just some of the images he allowed me to make.

Afterwords we talked a little more and he was pleased. He commended me in the way i was respectful towards his ways and culture and i thanked him for allowing me into his world. Sometimes, most of the times, it helps to treat people with dignity and respect, and to know some of the local customs also helps.

Needles to say, but i send him the prints and a disc and he phoned me to thank me.
I'd like to think that me and that Sangoma have made a small connection in each other's worlds.

Like i said in the beginning, sometimes when two worlds connect, all you have to do is look into the other and enjoy the ride,- that is what life is about...