Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Calm. Panther Beach

Panther Beach, Santa Cruz, California

Like few drops in the desert can not quench its thirst, this is Calm in Panther Beach. Uncomfortable and calm. A rare moment to remember the time spent aimlessly around lakes and waterfalls, when still accompanied by beauty and grace.

I composed the shot to give as much prominence as possible to the puddle in front me that was reflecting a beautiful sky made of pink and red striping clouds. The stretched puddle forms a visual line that leads the viewer further into the image towards the sky in the background.
I closed the aperture to f/11 to get most of the scene in sharp focus, which, given the time of day right past sunset, yielded a shutter speed of about 20s, that further smoothed out the water, playing into the idea of stillness and calmness. The usual graduated neutral density filter helped retaining the color of the sky and the pink clouds, by matching the exposure with the reflection in the foreground.
In post I tweaked the brightness of the foreground and improved both contrast and saturation to get closer to the beautiful view I witnessed in the field.

This image is best appreciated at high resolution. Click on the image for an even better view. Beautiful fine art prints in various formats are available from FineArtAmerica.

Torment is the second piece in a three images series at Panther Beach:
Panther Beach, Santa Cruz, California

SONY SLT-A99V, f/11 @ 22 mm, 20s, ISO 50

Monday, November 4, 2013

Torment. Panther Beach

Panther's Beach, Santa Cruz, California

The waves were unforgiving, smashing Panther Beach in Santa Cruz over and over and over again with increasing force and rendering each attempt to get closer to the edge of the water at least dangerous, both for us and our equipment. But when the Light is just right, there is no turning back: each shot became more daring, I inched forward every time, planted the tripod, composed, shot and closer again until I got right where I first wanted to be, when the waves calmed down briefly before growing strong again. I managed to fire few shots of exactly the scene I had in mind, when the sun was at the right angle and the light was dim enough, but so red to make the moss look like fire. It was like standing by the river Styx, the entrance to Dante's Inferno. Few seconds later I was knee deep in the cold Pacific water.

This is Torment, where the Fallen soul desperately waits to be finally delivered from his lost fairy. There is no future here. And never never again, will be back.

I was looking for chaos and movement in this image, which is what I got in large quantities by simply standing on the edge of the water. I dialed f/11 to get enough depth of field, and the shutter speed between 1.5s and 2.0s, where the sweet spot is to get the milky effect on the waves that I love so much. This shutter speed usually gives me the sense of motion I was after, without the foamy and calming quality of long exposures. The triangle composition gives even more dynamism to the scene. A graduated neutral density filter, again, kept the sky exposure in check. The background comes from another exposure with a more interesting wave approaching. In post processing, I slightly dodged the waves to give the idea of white flames licking up to complete the image.

This image is best appreciated at high resolution. Click on the image for an even better view. Beautiful fine art prints in various formats are available from FineArtAmerica.

Torment is the second piece in a three images series at Panther Beach:
Panther Beach, Santa Cruz, California

SONY SLT-A99V, f/11 @ 24 mm, 1.6s, ISO 50

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Falling. Panther Beach

Panther Beach, Santa Cruz, California

Chasing the Light is more often then not an exercise in frustration, almost as frustrating as chasing Beauty and Grace, now that is gone and will not come back. But the Light was kind this time with +Jagadeesh Pakaravoor  (gallery) and me on our way to Panther Beach, a beautiful and iconic stretch of coast few miles north of Santa Cruz in California. More than kind, the Light was gorgeous. The sky falling suit.
This image is the first of a series of three taken in the same spot and around the same time, connected by space, time and feelings. They form a storyline that is worth telling: this is Falling down a steep slope without the means and the will to stop. Falling into the crashing waves down below. Falling into Torment.

The theme of this image is leading lines, guiding the viewer to the hint of crashing waves that will be the theme of the next image of the series, with several elements of the composition contributing to the dynamism I had in mind when I saw the scene. The vertical composition with a wide angle strengthens the idea of movement. The side light from the right of the frame coming from the setting sun is giving contrast to the image and casting a gorgeous warm light.
I chose a very small aperture to have as much as possible of the frame in focus in one single capture, with a soft graduated neutral density filter to keep the sky exposure in check behind a polarizer. The key for this image (and the following ones too) was using a piece of cloth to wipe the lens clean of water every few minutes: waves were crashing left and right.

This image is best appreciated at high resolution. Click on the image for an even better view. Beautiful fine art prints in various formats are available from FineArtAmerica.

Calm is the first piece in a three images series at Panther Beach:

SONY SLT-A99V, f/13 @ 22 mm, 1s, ISO 50

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sunset in Hilo

Sunset in Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii

The south-east of the Big Island of Hawai'i where the city of Hilo lays is in stark contrast with the north-west where Kona, with its world famous coffee, welcomes plenty of tourists. The north-west is dry, black and the ocean is calm. The city of Hilo, capital of the Big Island, is wet and green, immersed in the jungle, its coast battered by big waves, the sky always moving, the region is inhabited by the most authentic Hawaiians, so proud of their language and mixed culture: a collection of native, european and asian traditions so intertwined that not even they can really tell where they come from. Just like the kindest host, Kawehi Cochran, who gave the most authentic Hilo experience one could hope for.

Hilo is, in fact, a peaceful little town.

And its beaches are second to none.

In front of this dramatic scene, I wanted to capture movement against the beautiful cloudscape in the background. I set the aperture at f/8 to get the shutter time up to 1/6s, which is very often a sweet spot to get movement in the waves without that foamy quality of very long exposures. The polarizer was used to remove some distracting reflections from the foreground. Given the high dynamic range of the scene, a second exposure of the sky was taken and blended in post processing with the foreground to recreate something that the naked eye could perceive easily.
The back lit spray right on the up left third was a kind present given by the goddess Luck.

This image is best appreciated at high resolution. Click on the image for an even better view.

SONY SLT-A99V, f/8 @ 35 mm, 1/6s, ISO 50

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

Black Sand

Punalu'u Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

The Punalu'u Black Sand beach is a unique and beautiful place in the south of the Hawai'i Big Island. The black sand is formed when volcanic lava flows into the ocean and it disintegrates when it gets in contact with the cold water: A beach of black sand is thus formed: unfortunately it lasts only a fleeting moment in geological terms, since the black sand is quickly washed away after few decades. This beach is surrounded by beautiful palm trees, giving a wonderful tropical feel. The sunset sky played along by being moody and menacing, which contrasts nicely with the calm water. Turtles are often companions of the photographer wandering around here, but that day they might have been too lazy to approach. Or too shy.

Like Black Ocean, this image is also a study of leading lines: the rocks in front gave a great lead pointing straight to the clouds, where I eventually want the viewer to rest. I focused roughly where the stones meet the water and closed to f/13 to get as much sharpness as possible on the foreground black rocks and the black sand: the rest of the scene in the distance is smoothen out by the long exposure and didn't need a second exposure to stack focus. A 0.9 graduated filter kept the sky in check. I slightly dodged the foreground rocks and burnt the top of the sky to lead the viewer inside the frame. The feelings the image tries to carry across are contrasting again: calm walking towards the storm.

This image is best appreciated at high resolution. Click on the image for an even better view.

SONY SLT-A99V, f/13 @ 22 mm, 10s, ISO 50

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Black Ocean

Lava field in Kona, Big Island, Hawaii

When Beauty and Grace is gone, the Ocean turns black, cold and motionless, frozen in time, heartless. Arms still pointing to the sun, setting on what once was a beautiful connection. Black would be the color if the Ocean had a heart.

And never never again, will be warm again.

Nothing left.
Nothing said.

In the silences that have become so frequent, in words never spoken like the small clouds hovering above, filled with the rain that will never fall.

The lava fields in the Big Island of Hawai'i are remarkable and unique, almost alien. This field lies in the Kona district. To connect the desolated beauty of the place with the warmer sky, I used the leading lines left by the lava once solidified to direct the viewer to the setting sun. The closer bush gives the eye another place to rest, an accent of green and hope in what would otherwise be a hopeless place. Something can still grow.

Click on the image for a higher resolution view.

Black Ocean is available in Limited Editions Fine Art Print on Etsy.

Sony A99, 24mm, f/11, 4.0s, ISO 50

Monday, July 1, 2013

Lone Cypress

Lone Cypress, Pebble Beach

The Cypress stands alone, nobody around him, beauty and grace far away, in front of him only the Ocean, that is wider than he first guessed.
He's immersed in his thoughts up there, while the Ocean is silent, not listening to his words, ignoring his cries.

He wants to break away. But he's forbidden.
He wants to reach the Ocean. But he's forbidden.
He wants to touch the Ocean. But the Ocean is cold and distant.
And never never again - he cries - will get closer.

He still stands tall and honest on that rock, he has nothing to be ashamed of, his feelings are real and pure. He cares. From there he can see farther than the clouds above the horizon, but he is not allowed to tell what he can see, his heart crushed by the principles he must follow, written on the walls around him, imposed by the cold and heartless Ocean he is staring at. There is no future here.

There is a present. We can create the future.

The Lone Cypress on the 17 mile Drive in California is the most photographed tree in the world, the canonical composition has been explored to death. So for this image I gave up the rule of thirds and placed the tree on the top left corner, as close as possible to the top of the frame, to emphasize the idea that it's overlooking the ocean. The rock at the bottom right of the frame is the visual counterweight to balance the composition and give visual tension. Given the extreme dynamic range of the scene, I used a graduated neutral density filter to keep the sky exposure in check. In post, I slightly darkened the image to better convey what I felt in front of the tree: loneliness.

Click on the image for a wider view.

Sony A99, 35mm, f/11, 1.0s, ISO 50

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Misty Golden Gate

Misty Golden Gate

Historically I take the best images when I'm happy: I spent a lovely afternoon in the Golden Gate park, killing time wandering with my camera rather aimlessly around lakes, waterfalls and chinese pavilions, sometimes lost, still accompanied by beauty and grace in a cloudy cold day of June in San Francisco.

It made me happy.

I then moved to the Golden Gate bridge an hour before sunset, met by the fog on the Bay that I was hoping for. No golden light from the sun was cutting through the thick fog, only a small portion of the bridge was visible, while the rest was lost in the dark blue mist. There still were so many people leaving a warm and bright place, heading towards what they could not see at the end of the bridge, if there was an end, looking for something either better or entirely different, or simply crossing without knowing why. Shall we cross the bridge?

Very strong winds made a long exposure practically impossible: I planted the tripod as firmly as possible against a wooden pole to add stability. I manually focused on the closest portion of the bridge, set the aperture to f/5, in order to get the exposure time to a more manageable 1.0s to reduce the chances of camera shaking induced by the strong wind. I chose to shoot at 30mm to include the emptiness on the right in the frame.
This is an image of contrasts to reflect my contrasting feelings when I took it: the busy warm scene on the bottom left of the frame, against the empty cold mist on the top right of the frame where the bridge is pointing to. This image is a metaphor: the composition reinforces the metaphor.

Sony A99, 30mm, f/5, 1.0s, ISO 100

Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Sony 135 f/2.8 STF on Sony A99

A couple of months ago we rented a couple of lenses for an assignment in Napa Valley: along the Zeiss 16-35 f/2.8 to be used for indoors, I also rented a copy of the Sony 135 f/2.8 STF, pushed more by curiosity than actual need. This is a unique and daunting lens at first sight, it's big, built like a tank and it doesn't autofocus: the apodisation element that renders the silky-smooth bokeh it is so well known for prevents the phase-detection sensors from doing their work, forcing to go all manual. Having myself never engaged in the dark arts of manual focusing and always relied on the magic of the AF module for pretty much everything, I was preparing to stare at countless out of focus shots mercilessly heading to the electronic bin.

How wrong I was.

Wine barrels in Napa Valley

The bokeh is obviously delicious, smooth, silky, insert your drooling word here, but coupled with the A99 EVF and focus peaking the lens is also a joy to use: the apodisation element doesn't prevent the A99 from recognizing and highlighting edges that are in focus, since the algorithm runs in image space, based on the data captured by the main sensor. Focusing is a matter of rotating the very smooth focus ring until the portion of the frame you want to focus on is highlighted and snap away, knowing the result will be very, very, sharp where it is intended to. The color rendition is also superb: the image above has been barely touched in post (click for a larger view) just to remove small imperfections: a fantastic concerted effort by the camera/lens combo.

Back to focusing, the keeper rate was extremely high through the entire weekend both with static (easy) and moving objects.
Here's a shot of +Lina Mosashvili fooling around in a mustard field: I asked her to not stand still to practicing my focusing technique, especially with the 135 STF for this review. The separation between subject, foreground and background this lens can achieve is just godly.

Girl in a mustard field in Napa

From the same mustard field, here's an image I was very happy to include in my stock portfolio: yes, it's just a flower, but that bokeh...

Mustard flower in Napa
I can't wait to rent the Sony 135 STF again and try it out on more portraits and, why not, food photography.

The STF has also a dedicated aperture ring that controls a secondary aperture with ten blades that can be steplessly set between T/4.5 and T/6.7: it can be used to tweak the amount of light transmitted and the depth of field. When the dedicated aperture ring is set to A, the primary aperture is controlled by the camera. The system is rather confusing, but once wrapped your head around it, it allows for some very fine control. I simply left it at T/4.5 and rolled with it. This lens is meant to be used wide open anyway.

The APD element is not only unmatched bokeh, but it also decreases light transmission by about 1.5 stops that might rather soon force to increase ISO when not shooting in bright conditions: that is why the 135 STF is marked as T/4.5 which means that the light transmitted when, for example, the lens is at maximum aperture is the same as the light transmitted by an equivalent lens stepped down to f/4.5. In other words: this is not a bright lens.
On the other hand, the A99 doesn't suffer much from pumping up ISO, which reinforces the idea that the Sony 135 STF and the A99 are a match made in heaven by the Gods of Photography for us mere mortals: get one, go out and shoot.

Thumbs up:
  - Fantastic bokeh
   - Very, very, very sharp
   - Built like a tank

Thumbs down:
  - Manual focus only (is it really a problem now?)
  - Hefty price tag for a very specialized lens
  - Not a fast lens

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Heidelberg Red Castle

Heidelberg red castle
Sony A900, 135mm, f/8, 30s

Despite battles and wars and destruction surrounding the history of Heidelberg Castle since it was first built in the thirteenth century, a lot of romance is connected to it: in the seventeenth century the newly-wed Prince Frederic V welcomed his young wife, English princess Elizabeth Stuart, to Heidelberg with splendid colors and fireworks. Since that day the Heidelberg Castle is illuminated four times a year, which draws a multitude of tourists (and photographers) to the show every summer.

The gardens around it also witnessed the last meeting between Goethe, on the occasion of his 75th birthday, and his life-long lover, Marianne, who left these words reflecting on the event:

"On the terrace a high vaulted arch
was once your coming and going
the code pulled from the beloved hand
I found her not, she is no longer to be seen"

This is also where +Lina Mosashvili and I spent our first day together more than three years ago, few weeks after I took this image.

I was standing on the other side of the river, but I still wanted to fill the frame with the castle and have a nice black framing around it. I shot at 135mm to close up on the ruins but still keep the purple smoke in the frame. By closing to f/8 to have good sharpness from the lens, the camera gave me 30 seconds of exposure which nicely blurred the smoke. Later I cloned out every distracting element, like the tip of the bridge that was obstructing the lower right part of the image.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Halekala, the House built by the Sun

Haleakala Volcano in Maui
Sony A900, 50mm, f/11, 1/20s

On the peak of the Haleakala mountain in Maui, the Space Observation Centre is today borrowing the House built by the Sun, according to the Hawaiian tradition, and enjoying every day a spectacular sunset above the clouds. Two islands on the right in the middle of the ocean are also quietly taking part in the show. Again according to the legend, Māui's grandmother helped his grandson capture the sun and force it to slow its journey across the sky in order to lengthen the day. The day was very long indeed for us while climbing, by car of course, the twenty five miles of a very windy, winding and scenic road that took up to the 3000m on the top of the volcano. The Space Observation Centre is unique for its position that gives some of the clearest viewing conditions in the world. Sadly the Centre wasn't open to the public: don't think we didn't try.

We waited the for the sun to set completely to avoid flares, reduce the dynamic range of the scene, and to maximize the contrast in the beautiful cloudscape. To achieve the vast panoramic vista that we had in mind and include both the building on the left and the islands on the right, but still have plenty of details on the Observation Centre and the impressive clouds, we shot five images with a 50mm lens using a sturdy tripod and panning left to right, that we later stitched together in Photoshop to achieve the final panorama. The mountain at the bottom left and the clouds at the upper right form roughly two trapezoids that frame the scene in the middle to focus the attention on the clouds and the ocean beneath us. The final size of the image is more than 50mpx.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fishing in Maui

Fishing in Maui

We were not alone in our waiting for the sunset on this beautiful beach in Maui, after a long winding drive from Hana: two fishermen were going around their business pretty much ignoring our camera and the beautiful sunset behind them. Standing on the beach behind the tripod, it felt like we were literally transformed inside a magnificent painting: this is precisely what we aimed to recreate in post-processing, by blending two exposures (one for the sky and one for the foreground) and shifting the colors towards more saturated primaries, away from the more natural tones of the original scene. The rocks in the foreground direct the eye towards the two fishermen still minding their own business.

The highly irregular horizon on the left and the fisherman right across the horizon, where we wanted to keep good shadow detail,  prevented us from using a standard graduated filter to bring the sky exposure back in check, calling for manual luminosity blending workflow back at home. We finished up the blending mask manually to highlight the contour of the hawaiian and his fishnet. 

Sony A900, 24mm @f/11, 0.8s, +2/3EV

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Neuschweinstein Castle

Neuschweinstein castle
A900, f/7.1 @ 24 mm, 1/160, ISO 200

Neuschwanstein castle is a sort of a hallmark of Germany. When you are looking at the tour guide brochures, the castle stands as the most popular celebrity on every cover. Besides, every girl has it already well packed in their sub-consciousness through the Walt Disney’s ’Sleeping Beauty’, where Neuschwanstein inspired the creators of the cartoon.
So you can imagine how glorious this place must be!

That’s why we were very surprised when told by a friend of ours that castle is a bluff, not really a castle and not even worth visiting.
We still decided to go as we knew that at least the view of the Alps would not disappoint us and our cameras. Having reached the village named Hohenschwangau, we spent the most part of the day admiring the magnificent view from the bottom of the hill and cheering from happiness of being in that place.

The castle was there - probably in the most beautiful place in the whole country - built by Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, in 1886 as his refuge from the political complications of those days and materialisation of his personal fairy-tale. The castle was built around the thematic of a swan expressed through numerous sculptures and pictures in its interior.

Ludwig II spent his childhood in the Hohenschwangau castle, built by his father Maximilian II of Bavaria, that now neighbours Neuschwanstein adding to the beauty of the scenery. Hohenschwangau was decorated with scenes from medieval legends and poetry. There still as a child the king identified himself with Lohengrin from the legend of the Swan Night which obviously took deep roots in his spirit and fantasy and finally realizes itself through the castle.
To this very legend of the Swan Night Richard Wagner once dedicated a romantic opera. In his turn, Ludwig II, Wagner’s great admirer, dedicated the composer the whole Neuschwanstein castle installing a stage ready for opera performances of the renowned musician.

There is no other way to enter the castle rather than joining a tour: as the day passes along with final calls of the visitors bus, tourist start to disappear. You can live the sunset up there almost alone. Almost cause there's always a couple of landscape photographers passionately clicking with their cameras to capture the glory of the hills embraced with the last beams of a sleepy sun.

There is a road that leads back to the village through the woods surrounding the castle:we recommend to walk down there and be alert. No-no, no-one will rob you. But… engaged by the thoughts about the fairy-tale castle, when evening’s darkness prevails the setting sun, in the stillness of the nature you can hear the voice of the Swan King calling out from the trees: ’Cu-Cu…Cu-Cu...’.

The bridge taking visitors to the castle is a very common spot to take a snapshot: we needed to differentiate our image from the thousands taken in this very shot. We chose a wide angle view framed on the left by trees and on the right by the hills to give the impression of looking at a painting. The valley in the back gives depth by adding a third plane. The shot was hand-held, but having good light we could still choose the optimal aperture of the lens (around f/7.1) that gave us a very workable 1/160s shutter speed to ensure a sharp image. The fairy tale quality we had in mind at the moment we saw the scene was enhanced in post-processing by carefully choosing the green of the trees that form the base of the image.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Golden Gate

Golden Gate in the mist

The Golden Gate in San Francisco is on fire! Or it looks like it's on fire when it's surrounded by fog and mist during a warm autumn evening, and it's framed accordingly. It's a wonderful metaphor of the two cities behind the bridge, San Francisco and Oakland, so different, and both on fire for different reasons. San Francisco is the hot cultural capital of USA, smug and posh, but open and diverse. Oakland is the working horse of California, also the center of attention during the days of the 99% movement.

While we were driving into the city with the idea of shooting a sunset on the bridge, a thick fog welcomed us: "Hope it stays as is until the bridge". We crossed the Golden Gate with very limited visibility, but when we drove up to the vista points, we left the fog behind us, under, us and joined a pretty consistent flock of photographers attracted by the same even.

This image was taken on a Sony A900 full frame camera, with a long focal length (approximately 200mm) with the intent of compressing the planes, and a long exposure of 30 seconds to smooth the mist around the base of the bridge. The red tone comes naturally from the city and the bridge lights around the Bay.

Sony A900, 200mm, f/6.3, 25s

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cornwall sunset

Cornwall sunset

Newquay, Cornwall, UK. 
This image was just an intuition of a typical sunset in Cornwall when shot initially, one of those instances where the vision is not quite clear at the beginning, but it forms itself over time, in this case in the arc of a couple of years. The sunset was there, the beautiful setting on the coast of Cornwall, in England, was giving the subject, and the wide dynamic range of the sensor was used to capture as much information as possible by exposing to the right without clipping the highlights. The vision wasn’t quite there during the first editing though, but by looking repeatedly at the image for months, after more than a year, it started shaping itself: by giving more emphasis to the brooding stormy sky in post processing, and by underlining the wave coming into the opening in the rocks on the right, the image came to life. It now shows better what you might feel when witnessing the power of the Atlantic ocean.

The image was taken hand-held with the aperture set close enough to get good depth of field, but still being able to hold the camera still at around 1/25s: the steady-shot technology delivered a sharp image across the frame. The relatively slow shutter speed also gives a nice feeling of movement in the crashing waves. In post processing we increased contrast and saturation in the sky while reducing brightness to bring the dynamic range in check and enforce the stormy feeling that was so present in the original scene.

Sony A900, 24mm, f/7.1, 1/25s, +1EV

Welcome to our blog!

Francesco Emanuele Carucci photography
We are lucky enough to live in and travel for our photography to some of the world’s most picturesque and interesting places like Californian coast of the Pacific Ocean, volcanic peaks of the Hawaii islands, endless waterfalls of Iceland, breathtaking San Francisco with its “ups and downs”, good old Italy with antique cityscapes and “pregnant” vineyards. Through our photography blog we would like to share with you our experience of these places and transfer what we felt while looking at the stunning views that are captured in our images.

In many remote places we have visited we were held in surprise by the human presence we discovered.  In the era when human intervention in nature often leads to negative consequences, we have found a number of places where it blends into it, complies with its rules and even guards it. The equilibrium between the two, nature and humans, is a shared theme of our photography and is represented by images like “The House Built by the Sun” featuring an observatory peacefully nested on top of the Haleakala volcano in Maui; or “Hohenschwangau Castle” planted in the Bavarian Alps harmonizing with the overall landscape rather than disrupting it; or “Fishing in Maui” where two fishermen pull their nets in silent agreement as the calm Ocean sings a lullaby to the sleepy nature…

As we strive to convey the feelings, photography to us is a fusion of art and technology with both of them being equally important for a great image. That is why we do out best to be artistically evocative as well as technically brilliant! We achieve this ever moving goal by constantly upgrading our photography equipment to the latest technology, improving the tools and techniques, and taking extra care while editing the images during post processing. On the blog we also share the knowledge that we gather during this never ending learning process and hope that you join us in our journey!