Crosswalks and Bokeh

Hellios 44-2 58mm f/2 lens. 16th Street NW at U Street NW, Washington, DC.

Crosswalks are ground zero for street photography. One of my favorite street photographers, Tokyo's Tatsuo Suzuki, does a lot of his work walking through Shibuya Crossing where he always has thousands of passing faces to choose from. Having strangers in close proximity with a wide open space around you, which usually means more (or at least more uniform) light than on the sidewalk, is perfect for using a mid to wide-angle lens with zone focusing to get street portraits. There's the added bonus that people are so focused (forgive the pun) on getting to the other side of the street that they're less likely to stop and yell at you for taking their picture.

So I use crosswalks a bit for standard street photography...

Rough Day. I'm tempted replace his backpack with a briefcase and the cars with 1960s Buicks and Fords.

I was so excited by the idea of catching Justin Bieber's face like this that I ran up so I get the shot while the shirt-wearer was still in the sun and I could get lens flares.

Everyone always takes some variation of this shot sooner or later. Cliché or not, it's too fun to resist.

A map of DC walking through DC.

But what's drawn me more lately is using crosswalks for abstract bokeh experimentation. They're good spots for that because the various background lights will be nice and far away (and completely out of focus), and no matter how abstract the shot is the white stripes give an easily recognizable reference, and nicely frame the dark silhouette-blobs of anyone in them...

The Soviet Jupiter-3 50mm f/1.5 lens. This is an example of how delicate this lens's blur spots can be, with most of the blur spots brightest around their edges, and showing various personality and shape depending on where they are in the pictures frame. This was looking across U Street NW, at 14th Street NW - one of my favorite DC intersections.

I've written before what a great bargain the Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 is. One of the reasons it's one of the best lenses you can find for under $50 is the bokeh...

While the blur spots don't have quite the subtle personality of the Jupiter-3, look how ginormous they can get. The Helios 44-2 can focus to very close distances, giving far off lights extra big blur spots.

Next up is a more obscure lens, at least going by popularity on flickr - the Asahi Takumar 35mm f/2, which I found mounted to a Pentax in a bin of old film cameras. The camera's price tag said $80. I brought it to the register, unscrewed the lens from the Pentax body, and told the store owner, "I don't need the body." He replied, "I don't need the body." I said, "How about $75 for the lens?" and she said sure. Probably not perfect haggling on my part, but it was a good deal for both of us - they go for around $125 to $200 on eBay, but this one is pretty beat up and hazy.

Not bad, but not as good as the Jupiter and Helios.

One more, this time back to the Jupiter-3...

 Dupont Circle, looking north up Connecticut Avenue NW.

Dupont Circle, looking north up Connecticut Avenue NW.

...I liked how the abstraction doesn't make it any less clear what's being shown here - I was lucky with how well the white of the crosswalk so nicely frames the couple's interlocked hands. When I posted it on 500px, photographer Joseph DiPolito commented with a more clever caption than I ever would have come up with - "Love is always out of focus."

If You Leave Showcase

I'm a big fan of the If You Leave page. They curate photos from around the world that consistently have a wonderful balance of artistry, technique, and experimentalism. The other day I submitted this bat photo to their flickr pool.

Pentax Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5 lens at f/3.5. Shutter: 1/250. ISO: 2500.

I had taken many bat photos over a period of two weeks, but this was my favorite, for both the clarity of the wing's transparency and how the face is in a perfect profile creating a silhouette that (to me anyway) is suggestive of determined movement. I was hoping it might make If You Leave's various social media feeds, but when it did I saw that it's one of 200 photos that will be reviewed for two November exhibitions - one in London, one in Berlin. Only 20 photos will make the cut, but it's fun to be in the running!

The idea for the photo came about one night after I shot one of the free summer punk shows in DC's Fort Reno Park. I was walking through a quiet corner of the park after dusk, and I noticed bats overhead. I started to come back to that spot almost nightly, getting a lot of mosquito bites and figuring out the best ways to catch the shot I wanted.

Yet again, I found I got the best results with my Asahi Takumar 135mm. It's not very fast (f/3.5) for low light, but with manual focus I didn't want too wide open of an aperture anyway. I used zone focusing of around 10 to 16 meters. I'd try to focus a bit while shooting, but it was quite a challenge - the Asahi focus ring has a very long throw, and bats are such fast, zigzaggy flyers. I found that 1/250, maybe 1/200, was the slowest I could go with shutter speeds.

One thing about shooting as the light fades - our eyes are so good at adjusting to dusk that the light might look the same to you as it did at sunset 30 minutes or an hour earlier, but you've had to make constant adjustments to your camera's settings. The aperture of pupil has opened all the way up to about f/2.1 from anywhere as high as about f/8.3. The next time you've been out in low light for a while, check out how much bokeh your naked eye can have. It can be tricky to actually see well, but if you hold your hand in front of your eyes while focusing on something a few feet away, you'll see in the corner of your eye that your hand is in a nice f/2.1 blur.

One night while going after these shots, I stayed long after the usable levels of light had faded. I was enjoying the full moon and the peace of the empty park when I noticed one of these deer walking not twenty feet away from me. It had no idea I was there. I was amazed at how silently it moved over the grass, and also nervous it would notice me and come after me with those antlers. But it moved on, and after he and his friends met by some streetlights I got this shot.

This one was with the Helios 40-2 85mm lens. Shutter: 1/10. ISO: 3200. I believe I had the aperture somewhere around f/2.5. 

Three Silhouettes

Turner Classic Movies has, to my joy, been running film noir classics all summer. In keeping with their summer of darkness, here are 3 black and white silhouette shots.

The first was selected for Explore on Flickr. That mostly just means bragging rights, but the image got over 6,000 views so that's neat I guess. I was walking up Wisconsin Avenue in Washington DC, and I noticed a guy walking into the light of the alley I was passing. I was shooting the Zeiss Distagon 35mm wide open at f/1.4.

Zeiss Distagon ZA 35mm f/1.4. Shutter: 1/60th, f/1.4, ISO: 400.

The next is with the Helios 44-2. Not the type of shot that lens is best for, but I was happy that the bird waited there long enough for me to move until I was catching it against one of the brighter bits of cloud.

Helios 44-2. Shutter: 1/1000, f/11, ISO: 100. Extra tweaking in editing to turn the gloomy up!

Next is Hemlines playing against the sunset at Fort Reno here in DC. This one goes back to the Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5. I talked about that lens in my last post, but I have to say again what a bargain it is to get this kind of performance from a lens that can bet found well under $200. The sharpness is so crisp that it picked up individual hairs here very clearly from 15+ feet away.

Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5. Shutter: 1/2500, f/7.1 (or something close to that), ISO: 250.

Last Autumn

The limited edition version of the double CD package of composer Michael Hersch's Last Autumn is now available. It comes with a 24-page booklet, and I did all the sculpture photography in it. I'm so happy and grateful with what the designer did with my photos - everything came out beautifully. The music itself is amazing - very powerful.