Friday, March 27, 2009

The flowers are back!

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8 + extension tube

Spring is here. This means I can go back to spending countless hours kneeling on grass, taking tens of shots of the same flower. And then spend a few more hours zooming on the processed images, awing at the sharpness of petal details... OK, I'm being a bit ironic. I'm not really a "pixel peeper" and, between work and family, the time available for photography is quite limited. I really enjoy every minute I can spend doing it, though. Particularly when it comes to shooting flowers. As I mentioned before, these are beautiful and patient subjects. And I still have a lot to practice concerning close-up photography.

These photos are quite recent. I particularly like the one below, taken one late afternoon. The golden light hitting the petals was just perfect. And the out-of-focus leaves in the background seem to form a turbulent liquid mass that I find quite beautiful. The composition could be improved, though. As I said above, I have to keep practicing. But just look at how sharp are those tiny grains of pollen on the petals!... ;)

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8 + extension tube

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A day at the zoo (II)

Back to the zoo trip. A few more photos, now featuring some very large fellows.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 135/2.8

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Patterns and composition

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8

When a photo depicts several distinct elements, without any of them standing out, the image may become confusing and uninteresting. In the absence of an obvious attention grabber, the viewer's eye must be lead as it travels along the image, otherwise it may quickly get lost among randomly distributed information. A photographer should therefore compose the image so that some kind of order or pattern is sufficiently evident. This can be done by actually changing the subjects' position, when possible (there is nothing unethical in that!), or by choosing a more appropriate framing or perspective.

The two photos above were taken during a recent beach walk. A 85mm lens on an APS-C sized sensor is great for framing small subjects on the ground, without having to bend over in uncomfortable and inelegant positions. In the first one, the curved pattern created by the water stream on the sand and seaweeds is quite obvious. The second one is a bit more subtle. The seaweeds seem to draw a spiral that ends in the mussels in the center. Without this imaginary curve unifying the different elements, the image would not have much to stand on, since both the seaweeds and the mussels are, by themselves, quite unremarkable.

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's all in the clouds

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4

What makes the photo above minimally interesting are the cloud formations above the landscape. There wouldn't be much to photograph with a clean sky.

But the interesting thing about clouds is that they can change fast. Less than half and hour later, I took another shot of the same lake shore:

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4

Friday, March 13, 2009

A farewell to DA*

That's it, I've done it: I sold my Pentax DA* lenses! The DA* 16-50/2.8 and the DA* 50-135/2.8 have left my home forever. And why? Just because I wasn't using them anymore. After going back to using fixed focal length lenses, I am just unable to use a zoom. It sounds pretentious, I know, but it's the honest truth.

My attitude towards taking a photo is quite different whether I'm using a set of primes or a zoom. With the latter, the process is more careless, I'm less aware of the composition, of the importance of choosing the most appropriate shooting position. Some people think that the expression "zooming with your feet" is just a joke, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

Another thing is image quality, which is noticeably better with fixed focals, when compared to most zooms. Still, my former DA* zooms actually produced quite good results. Both were excellent at 50mm. The 16-50/2.8 performed reasonably well at shorter focal lengths and was a very versatile lens. As an added advantage, the minimum focusing distance was quite short, allowing for nice close-up work. This lens got a bad reputation in the photo forums, apparently due to faulty quality control leading to some defective samples. But I think some "mass hysteria" is also partly responsible for this... The 50-135/2.8, on the other hand, has apparently received consensual approval.

I'm showing below a couple of photos taken with each lenses, as a kind of farewell post.

Pentax K10D + DA* 16-50/2.8

Pentax K10D + DA* 50-135/2.8

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A day at the zoo (I)

Last Christmas, I took the family to the Lisbon Zoo. It's one of the oldest zoos in Europe and a fascinating place, weirdly located in the middle of a dense urban area. It must be interesting to live in this neighborhood, open the window in the morning and listen to the chirping of exotic birds and roaring of tigers, mixed with the city traffic.

It was a day well spent for all. And a great opportunity to use my Sonnar 135mm, which had been a bit neglected. This is the first batch of photos, portraying some curious "couples".

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 135/2.8

Friday, March 6, 2009

Flash at twilight

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4

I've mentioned before my intention to attempt using flash in low daylight conditions. These photos were taken at twilight with the Pentax AF-540 flash mounted on the camera shoe. With manual lenses, TTL just doesn't work. So that's a trial and error procedure to get an appropriate exposure, which is fine with me. With the camera on manual mode, I measured the exposure for the background (about 1/10 - 1/30 second at f8 or f11) and set the flash on manual, adjusting the power ratio in order to get an appropriate exposure. The lowest setting (1/64) ended up working fine, due to the short distance.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4

The results came out nicely, in my opinion, even though the flash presence is quite obvious. I must try off-camera flash now. Of course, the wireless mode on the AF-540 doesn't work with manual lenses... I'll have to start looking for compatible wireless triggers on the net. I've seen good reviews on the FlashWaves system. Does anyone have experience with this?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4

This horrifying water spiting creature is part of an old granite fountain, in Braga. I'm sure it did not look this ugly when it was sculpted, a few centuries ago. Time has not been kind to this fella. Pushing up contrast hasn't helped either.