The early bird… (in the snow)

It has been a bit quiet on this Blog this year. My apologies for that. I have taken a lot of photographs this last month, but not much that I considered worth sharing. Yesterday, however, was a day full of snow. Snow! Last year we got a little sprinkle in Januari, and that was it. This year it’s a full 20 cm in the garden, and the cold weather is expected to last for at least another 6 days. The word iceskating is on everybody’s lips. The Elfstedentocht has been cancelled in advance because of Corona, but the expectations are rising. I could not resist this opportunity and went into the city centre yesterday to document the wintery landscape.

I was looking for a mix of snow, ice and lamplight to give it a bit more ambience than just a white blanket over the streets. Therefore I had to get there early. The added advantage is that you are mostly the first at the scene and are not hindered by large groups of people or snow that is already disturbed. As I couldn’t sleep I was even earlier than the alarm clock and I was out of the front door at 5:15. The main roads had been cleaned somewhat and I had no problems navigating the snow with my bike.

[Geartalk] In my enthusiasm I may have brought a bit too much gear. In addition to my main camera these days, the Fujifilm X-H1, and 2 weather sealed lenses (16-55, 50-140 mm) I brought a wide angle 12 mm lens. Because I really like how the lens renders nightscapes I also brought the Voigtlander 15 mm f/4.5 Heliar in a last minute decision. I also took along the Fujifilm X-T2 as a second body, and to top it all of the Leica M9 and Fujifilm X100 just for fun. It turned out that because it was snowing (and blowing) the entire time, I did not use the non weather sealed lenses. I did end up using the non weather sealed 15 mm Voigtlander. A lot! It worked magically!

First stop: the Leidse Sterrenwacht, or Leiden Observatory. To render the lights in the photographs as ‘sunstars’ I wanted to photograph at a smaller aperture. The voigtlander has the most beautiful stars of any lens I ever come across (one of the main reasons for me to take it along). Because of the hard wind and snow I ended up changing lenses as little as possible, with the 16-55 and 50-140 on the X-H1, and the Voigtlander stuck to my X-T2. I took several shots at the observatory at f/16, ISO200 and a shutter speed of 2 minutes. This long shutter speed also caused the water to ‘glaze over’. A visage not dissimilar to ice, although a more thorough glance would probably fool nobody.

The Leidse Sterrenwacht. f/16, ISO 200, shutter speed 2 minutes. Notice the water and the sunstars in the lamps.

The next stop was a small alley off the singel with a lot of old houses and traditional lamps. A very nice spot, but with the hard wind and horizontal snow, the 16-55 soon got issues with water on the front lens that even the most thorough wiping could not remove. It was also a bit useless to clean the lens if 2 seconds later it would be wet again by new snow. Photographing at larger apertures was useless at this stage, as the flare on these droplets was horrible. The voigtlander curiously appeared unaffected by the snow. I switched to a larger aperture on the X-H1 and zooms, but kept the small aperture and sunstars on the X-T2.

A picturesque side canal of the Singel, also with the Voigtlander. f/16, ISO 200, shutter speed 2 minutes.

The Rapenburg, one of the famous canals of Leiden, was only a few minutes walk away, but there the winds were funnelled through the streets and even my 50-140 mm with its massive lens hood managed to get its front lens wet in seconds. I did capture a good example of the snowdrifts through the canal though.

Showing the hard wind and snow combination. The 50-140 mm could not be kept dry in this kind of weather.

My main aim of the trip was the Burcht and Hooglandse Kerk, a medieval fortification and church on the other side of the city centre. I hoped to arrive there around dawn, so that the light would be better, but the streetlights were still on to give me the ambience I was looking for. Planning this was a bit tricky, as my watch was hidden under 4 layers of clothing and my phone did not work through two layers of gloves, so my only indication of time were the church-bells that rung every half hour. Very old fashioned! En route to the Burcht I came across a few other interesting locations: the Pieterskerk, het Gerecht, de Breestraat and the Koornbrug.

By the time I reached the Pieterskerk it was becoming obvious that it was getting closer to a time a regular guy gets out of bed, as a group of students almost managed to position themselves for a selfie in the middle of my photograph. I offered to take the selfie for them if they could just wait 40 seconds until my photo was done, and continued on to the Breestraat. This usually busy shopping street was white and deserted at what I’m guessing was around 7:30 AM. A very surreal view!

A photo at the Pieterskerk and het Gerecht. It is getting lighter, almost Blue Hour at this stage. f/16, ISO 200, 2 minutes.

Finally around 8:00 AM I reached my final destination, the Burcht. By now dawn was fully here, but with the snow still falling the light was filtered and still not fully there. I took several photographs from my favourite location outside the Burcht, then headed in for some more shots. By this time people were starting to appear who had the same idea, and I had to manage my shots carefully to avoid disturbance. Mind you, the 1 minute shutter speed with the Voigtlander helped in this regard. As long as people would not stand still, they would still not appear in the final image. When I descended the stairs to the plaza below the street lights cut out, and I could congratulate myself with timing it well, and look forward to getting home, getting warm and getting coffee.*

The main prize: the Hooglandse Kerk from the Burcht. The streetlights add ambience to the photo in my view.
Compare the two shots: while I like the second for its composition, it certainly doesn’t have the warmth of the first image. White balance is also in play, of course, but the lack of lights is clear!

I hope you have enjoyed the photographs and story. For me it was a great morning, albeit a cold one!

*The bike ride back along paths not cleaned was a workout..

Startrails in the city center

In my memory these past few weeks have been grey and dreary. Sure, there have probably been a few dry, nice and even sometimes sunny days as well, but on the whole, my impression has not been good. The forecast for the next week and Christmas is just as bad, I’m afraid. However, when my girlfriend took out the garbage on Friday night, she casually mentioned that the skies were clear, and she could see a lot of stars. She didn’t know what she started, but as I hadn’t seen a clear night sky in a long time, I was on my bike to the city center to execute a photography plan I’ve had for some time (fortunately the latest in Corona measures did not include a curfew).

Smack in the middle of the city center of Leiden is ‘The Burcht’. It’s an old medieval castle, and one of the main attractions of the city. I’ve been wanting to capture a milky way shot over this castle, or, if unsuccessful, startrails. However, the weather was threatening to disrupt my plans right from the start. I wasn’t even five minutes out before noticing threatening clouds on the horizon. A quick check of the wind confirmed my suspicions: they were moving my way. I would have to be quick!

On location I quickly fired off a few test shots. Unfortunately, these confirmed my expectations that a milky way shot was not in the cards. The spotlights illuminating the Burcht were so bright, that I would not be able to illuminate the night sky enough to capture a milky way without over exposing the building. Plan B then: Startrails. I had brought both the 9 mm Laowa and the 12 mm Samyang but decide to stick to the 9 mm to capture as much sky as possible. After quickly deciding on a composition, I put the camera on continuous shooting, plugged in my remote shutter release, and the appropriate exposure settings (in this case: f/2.8 and 30 seconds, at ISO200) and started the exposures.

And then we wait…

In my experience, a total exposure of an hour is a good length for startrails. 90 minutes would be better, but I almost never can get myself to wait that long. Fortunately, I brought a second body (the X-Pro1) and could entertain myself shooting in the vicinity while my main camera (the X-T2) was busy with the startrails. The clouds I had seen moving in arrived after about 10 minutes, but were thin and disappeared quickly, giving me a total exposure time of an hour before I decided to pack up, go home and go to sleep.

The next morning, I started to process the photographs. Because one photograph exposed for one hour would have been hugely overexposed the building of the Burcht itself because of the bright spotlights, I chose to take 120 separate exposures of 30 seconds and combine those in photoshop. There is an easy way to place the images into a stack, convert them into a smart image, and merge them with only the brightest parts (the trails) of an image showing in the final photograph. All it takes is patience and a large hard drive. Because of white balance differences between the lighting on the Burcht and the surrounding area, I also merged a photograph of the Burcht with a different (correct) white balance to the combined startrail image and got my final result.

I was a bit sad to see that Plan A could not succeed, but from the start I had feared as much. I’m happy Plan B did succeed, and the weather did not sabotage my plans. The final image is what I had expected and I’m happy with it. The only thing I think I could have done better in hindsight is setting the lens to a smaller aperture. This would have had 2 advantages: the image quality would have improved (the Laowa is not at its best at f/2.8), and two: the shutter speed would have increased. This is an advantage because with a longer shutter speed less photographs would have been needed to fill an hour, leading to less processing time in photoshop. A lesson for next time. You never stop learning.

So what’s the fuss al about? See below..

The final image: startrails over The Burcht. A total of one hour of exposures with the Fujifilm X-T2 and the Laowa 9 mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8.

[Snapshot] Backlit city

The Hooglandse Kerk in Leiden, with significant backlight.

On a quick trip into the city to collect my Leiden Marathon medallion and get some Christmas presents I came across this archway that was brightly backlit. The lady with the bike completed the photograph. There was very little colour in the photo, so converted to black and white.

[Snapshot] Project Neowise

As everybody and his uncle is now posting images of the comet Neowise online, I had to get a go at it. Light pollution where I live is heavy, and cloud cover frequent, but in the past week there were 2 clear nights in which to capture the phenomenon. It took a while to find it, but once you know where to look it gets easier.

[Fujifilm X-T4 | Fujinon XF 16-55 mm f/2.8 | 16.5 mm | f/4 | ISO500 | 30 seconds]
I found I liked a landscape shot with the comet in it much better than a shot of just the comet with a bit of foreground, so the comet is quite small in the photograph. The shutter speed is on the long side, and the comet is showing a bit of a trail because of it.

Top 15 of 2015

An old tradition, but recently a bit forgotten. Two years ago it started with the top 13 of 2013, now it is time to start compiling the top 15 of 2015. This kind of list is always a problem, as the photographs that I take can be on my shortlist for quite a number of reasons, ranging from ‘I really like this photograph’ to ‘my new nephew smiles so cute in this photograph’. I think, however, that this photograph can be on the list!

Dewdrops at sunrise
Dewdrops at sunrise

The Misty Mill

7:00 AM. The temptation to stay in bed was almost great enough to do just that and forget about my photography intentions of last night. The weatherman had predicted thick fog for the morning, but from the window it was difficult to see what state the world was in. A quick peek through the windows to the backyard confirmed the weatherman’s prediction of fog, and since I was already out of bed at this point, I decided to give it a go.

My target for this morning was a windmill not far from the house, but outside the city. Likely, the fog would be denser out in the fields than in the street, but I still hoped to get a nice shot of the mill and the sunrise. My backpack and tripod were already prepared the evening before and I had used the TPE app to determine the location for my shot, so all was set.

However, while biking to my chosen location, the first cracks in my plan were becoming apparent. The weatherman’s prediction of ‘thick fog’ turned out to be an understatement and the visibility was down to 50 yards at some points. I didn’t find the mill until I was nearly on top of the thing, and doubts were beginning to creep in whether the sun would be able to pierce this thick shite soup.

After setting up my camera and tripod at the right spot, my doubts were confirmed. According to google maps, the spot I had picked for this morning’s exercise was approximately a hundred yards from the target, but the mill was not even visible. At this point my “Sunrise and the Mill” seemed a bit pointless, so I decided to try something else instead. Fortunately, I have a habit of taking as much of my photography gear with me as I can carry, and when my eye caught some beautiful spider webs filled with water droplets, my 60 mm semi-macro lens was fished out of the backpack.

While I love macro photography, the lack of a true 1:1 macro lens and patience to fumble with a tripod in the bush usually prevent me from trying extensive projects in this area of photography. This time, however, the tripod was already set up, so I tried some shots. The first shots at f/2.4 were a bit hazy, but changing the aperture to f/4.0 did wonders for the sharpness and I was quite happy with some of the results.

The fog provides a beautiful white background to the drops. Taken with the Fujifilm XT-1 and 60 mm lens.
The fog provides a beautiful white background to the drops. Taken with the Fujifilm XT-1 and 60 mm lens.

More drops. This photograph is taken somewhat lower and the green color of the grass hives it a bit more contrast. Fujifilm XT-1 and 60 mm lens.
More drops. This photograph is taken somewhat lower and the green color of the grass hives it a bit more contrast. Fujifilm XT-1 and 60 mm lens.

I never thought barbed wire could be made beautiful. Fujifilm XT-1 and 60 mm lens.
I never thought barbed wire could be made beautiful. Fujifilm XT-1 and 60 mm lens.

As I was busy playing with my macro equipment, my sneakers (I had unfortunately neglected to fish my waterproof shoes from the closet last night) were getting more and more soaked and I was happy to change location when after a while the sun did manage to make an appearance. For the landscape shots I changed lenses and grabbed my ‘superzoom’ 18-135 mm lens. While I am not always entirely happy with the results this lens produces, when stopped down it is acceptable most of the times. After a few shots of the still barely visible mill and a few sheep that were very patient models, I decided to return home and defreeze my feet. It was at this moment that I realized that the sun would be a beautiful background for the droplet-spotted spider webs, so the tripod was unfurled again and I took one last shot.

After a while, the mill became visible. Taken with the XT-1 and 18-135 mm lens.
After a while, the mill became visible. Taken with the XT-1 and 18-135 mm lens.

The fog lifted somewhat and the mill was just visible. Luckily, the sheep were patient with me and held their position. Taken with the Fujifilm XT-1 and 18-135 mm lens.
The fog lifted somewhat and the mill was just visible. Luckily, the sheep were patient with me and held their position. Taken with the Fujifilm XT-1 and 18-135 mm lens.

The last of the macro-photo's. This one is taken with the sun directly behind the spider web. Fujifilm XT-1 and 60 mm lens.
The last of the macro-photo’s. This one is taken with the sun directly behind the spider web. Fujifilm XT-1 and 60 mm lens.

On the way home it was clear that nearer to the city the fog had lifted considerably. On my way to the mill the opposite side of the river could not be seen, but now it was the perfect spot for a few more photographs of fog-shrouded trees reflected in the water. I nearly decided to cross the river and see if the view from the opposite side was as magnificent as it was from this one, but my feet convinced me otherwise so I went home for an appointment with a hot shower!

On the way back home I came across this view. Fujifilm XT-1 and 18-135 mm lens.
On the way back home I came across this view. Fujifilm XT-1 and 18-135 mm lens.

Last shot of the morning. The absence of wind led to great reflections in the water.
Last shot of the morning. The absence of wind led to great reflections in the water.

Hope you enjoy the results.

 

Winterwedstrijden 2015

Hoewel ik een grote fan ben van Fujifilm en ik het concept ‘systeemcamera’ een goede ontwikkeling op de cameramarkt vind, is er één gebied waar dit type camera nog altijd wat achterblijft (of bleef?) op de digitale spiegelreflex: autofocus. Sommige camerafabrikanten lukt het beter dit te ontwikkelen, en het schijnt dat Olympus met de OM-D E-M1 de snelheid van een spiegelreflex bijna heeft weten te evenaren, maar Fujifilm bleef altijd toch een tandje achter op dit gebied. Het vlaggeschip van Fuji schijnt echter qua autofocus snelheid een eind in de goede richting te gaan.

Vorig weekend had ik de gelegenheid om de XT-1 en de Fuji’s 18-135 mm uit te testen tijdens het fotograferen van de winterwedstrijden op de Kagerplassen. Hoewel ik nog niet geheel overtuigd ben van de kwaliteit van de 18-135 (bij het bouwen van zo’n zogenaamde superzoom – groothoek tot tele in 1 lens – moeten altijd offers gemaakt worden ten opzichte van de kwaliteit), heeft de XT-1 wél overtuigd. Snel, degelijk gebouwd, waterdicht en natuurlijk Fuji’s mooie retro ontwerp is het een prachtige camera om te gebruiken. Natuurlijk zijn er ook enkele puntjes wat minder handig, maar daarover wellicht later. Hieronder in ieder geval wat foto’s van de dag.

Kagerplassen
De Kaagsoos, Fujifilm XT-1 en Fujinon XF 18-135 mm

Winterwedstrijden
Fujifilm XT-1 en Fujinon XF 18-135

Winterwedstrijden
Fujifilm XT-1 en Fujinon XF 18-135 mm

Winterwedstrijden
Fujifilm XT-1 en Fujinon XF 18-135 mm

Winterwedstrijden
Fujifilm XT-1 en Fujinon XF 18-135 mm

Winterwedstrijden
Fujifilm XT-1 en Fujinon XF 18-135 mm

Winterwedstrijden
Fujifilm XT-1 en Fujinon XF 18-135 mm

Winterwedstrijden
Fujifilm XT-1 en Fujinon XF 18-135 mm

Top 10 van 2013 (5)

Deze foto heb ik genomen op het Rapenburg in Leiden met de Fuji X10. Ik kwam hem toevallig tegen toen ik mijn foto’s aan het doorbladeren was (geeft ook weer aan hoe wetenschappelijk verantwoord mijn top 10 selectie is).

DSCF7294

Leiden in 35/60

Omdat de fantastische 60 mm Fuji momenteel meer dan de helft van de tijd op mijn camera te vinden is en de 18 & 35 mm vaak een beetje jaloers in de tas achterblijven, besloot ik afgelopen zaterdag om de 35 mm op te schroeven en de stad in te gaan.

Bij voorbaat had ik natuurlijk de rest thuis moeten laten, maar de gedachte misschien die ene foto te laten schieten die beter met de 60 genomen had kunnen worden weeerhield me daarvan. Het gevolg was dat ik het toch niet kon laten, en ook de 60 mm heb gebruikt.

Als ik het gebruik van mijn lenzen zou kunnen gokken, dan denk ik dat het momenteel op 15%-30%-55% zou staan voor de 18-35-60 mm lenzen.

Hier zijn wat resultaten: