Trump Protests

For all that's happened over the last few weeks that I've disliked, I can at least say it's been interesting living in Washington, DC. I slept in for the actual inauguration, but as someone who was packed in tight over a mile and a half away as I watched President Obama's first inauguration from near the Washington Monument, I can assure you that the crowds this time were indeed quite small. But I did make it out that night to the anti-inaugural ball at one of DC's best music venues, Black Cat. This was a fundraiser for the wonderful groups Casa Ruby and One DC. Over a dozen acts played, including hometown heroes Priests...

This was taken with my latest lens - a vintage JC Penny (!) 28mm f/2.8 lens Minolta mount (which I adapted onto a Sony a7sii), bought for $11 on eBay. These "brand" lenses were typically really made by legit lens or optics companies, and I'm quite happy with the glass in this one. Note the slender snake-like lens flares.

But on to the protests, which started the next day with the wonderful Women's March on Washington...

Taken with my trusty Helios 44-2 58mm f/2, which is a lens I will always keep coming back to. It's easy to find one for less than $50 - I don't know of any better bargain in lenses out there. Shutter: 125, ISO: 250, Aperture: Probably around f/8.

The beautiful architecture of the new African American Museum made for a nice frame here. Helios 44-2. Shutter: 200, ISO: 100, Aperture: Somewhere around 5 - with the Helios click-stop aperture ring, I'll often float between the set stops.

Note the great arm tattoo - "I love you." I didn't know this person and wouldn't have felt comfortable taking such a close shot at this angle, but my friend had asked if photographs were ok and they they said yes. I still cropped the bottom a bit so I could comply with Instagram's absurd no-nipples rule. Helios 44-2. Shutter: 1/200, ISO: 400, Aperture around f/4.

That was a special and powerful day, but what you may not have seen on the news is that smaller but still sizable protests have been almost daily since then. This one was taken 4 days after the Women's March, on January 25, when rumors of the travel ban were swirling. The travel ban was issued two days later.

Just outside the White House. The Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. Shutter: 1/100, ISO 3200, Aperture: f/1.8. This is the only native lens for my a7sii I own, and the only one I'm interested in owning at the moment. I'm usually not one to chase sharpness, but I do love how sharp it is at faster apertures.

On January 29, the day after the travel ban took effect, there was a large protest that moved between the White House and a few blocks away at the newly opened Trump Hotel. These shots I took with the Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9.

Near the White House. Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9. Shutter: 1/400, ISO: 125, Aperture around f/2.8.

It was quite a sight seeing such a crowd outside the hotel's door. Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9. Shutter: 1/250, ISO: 200, Aperture around f/4.

Not sure how someone managed this given all the police and security that were around. I suppose they had allies crowd around them while they worked. The moment the protest broke up, workers came out and got to work on removing it. Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9. Shutter: 1/400, ISO: 160, Aperture: around f/2.8.

Walking up Pennsylvania Avenue. Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9. Shutter: 1/400, ISO: 160, Aperture around f/7.1.

Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9. Shutter: 1/400, ISO: 160, Aperture looks fairly open, maybe f/4 or so.

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."

On the Threshold of Winter (with the Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9)

I shot a performance of composer Michael Hersch's On the Threshold of Winter opera for the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. It was one of my first times shooting with the Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9 portrait lens, adapted as usual to my Sony a7ii via a $10 M42 screw-mount adapter. I was so happy with how it handled low light. The beautiful set design also helped...

Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9. Shutter 1/160, ISO 1250. The aperture was probably around 2.2 or so - it doesn't need to be stopped down much for nice sharpness.

This particular Takumar lens dates from the 1960s. Later versions of it got the Asahi "super-coating" and in the 1970s it was made in an f/1.8. From what I've read and seen, the f/1.8 is a little better - they improved what was already a great design. The differences seem pretty minor to me though, and I was content to save a little by going with the f/1.9 - I got one in pristine shape for about $300 from an American seller on eBay. Another shot with the lens was used by Vanderbilt University for the poster promoting the opera's upcoming performance there.

I love the bold word layout the designer used. The figure in the background is a work by sculptor Christopher Cairns. Shutter 1/125, ISO 1000, aperture around 2.5.

Soprano Ah Young Hong after getting her hands dirty. Asahi Takumar 85mm f/1.9. Shutter 1/125, ISO 1000, Aperture probably around f/2.8.

I also used my native Zeiss lenses for wider shots. The following was one of my favorites, which came at the end of the opera.

With the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 ZA. Shutter 1/80, ISO 1250, aperture 4.0. The lighting was pretty much just a spotlight on the singer, which made composition fun - lots of black negative space to play with. Placing her in the upper half of the frame makes her look elevated somehow, running contrary to the obvious sense of exhaustion.

Another shot with the 55mm f/1.8 was used by the Baltimore Sun for their very enthusiastic review of the opera...

Shutter 1/60, ISO 800, aperture 2.8. Exquisite colors as usual from the 55mm.

Ah Young Hong

Promo shots I did for opera singer Ah Young Hong. This one was with the Helios 44-2 58mm, which can be very nice for overexposed shots.

Shutter: 1/40th, ISO: 1000. F-stop probably somewhere around 5.

We loved this outtake, done with the Helios 40-2 85mm next to one of the Juan Munoz sculptures outside of the Hirshhorn Museum.

Shutter: 1/500th, ISO: 80, f/1.5 to get the full swirly Helios bokeh.

One of the shots we were going for was something to use on the poster of an upcoming opera. The tone needed was dark and gritty, which was tough since our photoshoot was in the day and dark alleys weren't an option. But we found a good indoor wall of big stone bricks:

And with just a bit of editing the shot was grungy enough...

Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5 lens. Shutter: 1/50th, ISO: 1250, F-stop around 5.6.

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.