Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wandering Rio

Brazil, described as an "intense dream" in its own national anthem, is a place unlike any other I've visited.

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Having been briefed by our security services on what not to wear, where not to go, and how not to get kidnapped, I was entering the country geared for an onslaught of intense poverty and crime. Instead, I found Rio de Janiero to be a very metropolitan city full of vacationers from both Brazil and Europe. Not to say Brazil was without poverty and crime, there are still several favelas run by armed drug gangs in Rio, but I would rate it above Jamaica in terms of being a pleasant place to visit.

While my trip was mostly work, there was still a bit of time for play. Right after landing we ventured up a winding road past exhausted hikers and bikers until we reached the Chinese View. I assume the name comes from the Asian-inspired gazebo situated at the lookout point. It provided quite the view of Rio. It also happened to be the least-foggy day of our entire visit, so I'm lucky we stopped there first.

Chinese View Panorama

(By the way, it was here at the first stop when I started clicking several quick shots to later create a panorama that I discovered the M8 does not like to take more than 5 shots in rapid succession. I didn't lose any photos, but it did lock up on me. I made sure to pace my shots after that and never had another issue.)

Next it was off to Ipanema. I looked for the girl from Ipanema, but all I found were tourists. While the water was beautiful, my preconceived notion of beaches lined with perfect Brazilian booties was shattered.

Ipanema

There were some obvious cultural differences between Brazil and the U.S. The first thing I noticed as we moved through town was that everything was covered in graffiti. But it wasn't just gang tags and Jenny's phone number, it was some nice art.

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The second big difference was that at all-you-can-eat buffets, or self-service restaurants, you had to pay by the weight of food you ate. Where's the fun in that? In the United States we're all about beating the system by eating more food than we pay for. I guess in Brazil you have to beat the system by enjoying the most-expensive but lightest food possible. Who wants to eat an entire kilogram of lettuce? Then again, a kilogram of cotton candy might not be so bad, but that was only an option on the street.

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We managed to summit Sugar Loaf, a mountain named for the fact that it looks like a pile of unrefined sugar, right as the sun was setting, which made for some great photos. I took the opportunity to run both the Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4 and the vintage Leica Leitz Hektor Wetzlar 135mm f4.5 through their paces.

Sugar Loaf

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I owe a big thank you to our hostess and guide throughout the trip. Whenever I asked her what I was eating or drinking, the only answer I got was, "Very typical. This is very typical Brazilian food. You try." That turned into a running joke, so by the end of the week, EVERYTHING was "very typical."

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Wednesday afternoon we took the train up Corcavado to see the Christ the Redeemer monument.

French girls

It was crowded chaos around the base of the monument with everyone trying to get enough room to pose with their arms outstretched in front of the statue. I stepped on a lady who had laid down on the sidewalk behind me attempting to get the perfect angle.

The Brazilians have really cashed in on the Jesus statue. You can get anything from a Jesus snowglobe ...

Jesus Snow Globes

... to authentic Jesus sandals.

Jesus Sandals

But the most exciting part of Corcavado was the fact that several monkeys showed up to say, hello as we were waiting to take the train back down.

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Shooting monkeys was the hardest part of the trip. They were constantly moving, and I'm still not super quick with the rangefinder focus. Plus they have a tendency to keep the sun behind them. I'm guessing this is a natural defense mechanism that makes them harder to see in the trees, but it also makes them extremely hard to photograph. I have way too many shots of monkey sillhouettes.

Thursday I made it to the botanical gardens, but I'll save that for another post. I'll sign off with this view from the roof of our hotel on Copacabana.

Copacabana at night

Abrigado, Rio.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A little bit of press

It's always fun when one of my photos on Flickr gets discovered. This week a photo I took while at The Resort on Artesian Lakes up near Cleveland, Texas showed up on both Boing Boing and B&H Insights. Thanks for the highlight!

Just a floating log next to our canoe

Boing Boing

B&H Insights

Update: The Houston Press Hair Balls Blog picked up another one of my alligator photos today as well. Alligators are a hot commodity this week!

The beggar

Houston Press

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shooting in hyperfocal mode

I'm way behind on blogging. I haven't posted anything about boat repairs and frustrations, July 4th, or the weekend trip to The Resort at Artesian Lakes. However, a friend posed a question to me last week about what kind of camera she should get to capture photos of her two sons who are constantly moving. She said her digital camera was too slow to focus and take the shot. I promised an explanation of how to set up any camera with manual controls to take an instant, in-focus shot.

If you've ever used a disposable camera, you probably noticed, you don't have to focus. The lens in these disposable cameras is set to take advantage of what is called the hyperfocal distance. It essentially means that everything from about three feet away and continuing on to infinity is within acceptable focus. Generally, you can set a camera pretty close to hyperfocal mode by switching the aperture to f8 or f11. The higher the f-stop, the larger the area that will be in focus, but above f16, image quality usually starts to suffer.

Step 1: Set the camera aperture to somewhere between f8 and f16.

Now we've theoretically got the kids in focus even if they're moving around within the photo area. However, if they're moving fast, we have to make sure they're not just blurs. I find that the slowest shutter speed I can use without massive blurring of moving people is 1/60 of a second. For speedy children, I'd probably go for something more like 1/250 of a second. You can always go faster if there's enough light, it's a slow shutter that's the problem. If the photo is too bright, try a faster shutter speed. If it's too dim, go for a slower shutter speed.

Step 2: Set the shutter speed to no slower than 1/60s.

Now we have running kids in focus and not blurred. If it's a bright, sunny day, then no worries. We should have plenty of light. However, using a high f-stop and a fast shutter speed reduces the light that gets to the film or the camera sensor. If it's getting dark outside or you're in the house, you might need to counteract that reduction in light by increasing the sensitivity of the sensor in a digital camera by turning up the ISO. Normally usable ISO levels are about ISO 1600, but some digitals boast ISO up to 6400 and beyond. The higher you set the ISO, the brighter the photo will be, but the grainier and noisier it will look.

Step 3: Set the ISO to 400 outside during the day or to 1600 indoors or at night.

Not having to do any math, the camera should now click as soon as you press the shutter button and even if the focus isn't set exactly on the moving kids or dogs or whatnot, they should still be in acceptable focus.

The catch is, not all cameras allow you to set these things. Most of the cheaper point and shoots have dumbed it down to a picture of a mountain, a face, a flower, and a moon. If that's all you've got, set it to whatever symbol is night mode or sports mode and hope for the best.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Goodbye little X1

It's been my favorite camera for the past year, but it's time to say goodbye to the Leica X1.

Goodbye little X1

There's no sense in having M-mount lenses for film but not to be able to use them for digital as well, so my used M8 should be arriving today, and for budgetary reasons, the X1 has to go. Unfortunately, I can't just raise the debt ceiling like the U.S. Government.

If anyone's interested in it, drop me a line.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Leica M3: Round 3

When we were in Old Town Spring a couple weekends ago, I ran another roll of T-Max 100 through the M3 with the Voigtlander Nokton Classic f1.4. As I mentioned before, returning to film on a camera that doesn't even have a meter was a bit nervewracking. However, it seems that taking a reading with the light meter app on my iPhone and then overexposing by 1 stop seems to be the sweet spot on this camera. I also had even better results with the Caffenol-C this time around.

Old Town Spring

Walking the tracks at sunset

The instant coffee adds a pleasant brown stain to the negatives, which can either be left for sort of a sepia look or can be removed after scanning by converting the digital image to B&W.

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Waiting

Gazebo

Girl on a train

4th of July

The M3 scans were just a bit softer than the X1 shots. That image quality loss is most likely from scanning the negatives. However, the Nokton at f1.4 created a much dreamier look with excellent Bokeh compared to the X1's Elmarit f2.8.

I'm really worried I'm about to talk myself into selling the X1 to buy an M8.

Update: Yup, I did it. I bought a used silver M8 from Gil Lavi. The X1 and the custom adapters I've built for it will be on eBay and craigslist tomorrow.