An Unexpected Capture...
Above, is a shot I took at the Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas. We head out there after lunch and was met by an unexpected thunderstorm. At the beginning, I was a little bummed because I couldn't take any shots of the beautiful red rocks with the heavy down pour, but the rain dwindled as we proceeded slowly on the scenic route. Then, we came about this scene. I knew I was looking at something special... with the dramatic clouds above, and far in the distance you can see the rain casting a veil over the canyon ridges. It did take quite a bit of post-processing to get it to look the way I liked. For those curious, here's the original unprocessed image, converted directly from raw:
Valley of Fire...
One thing checked off my bucket list.
Valley of Fire State Park, about 1 hour outside of Las Vegas, has been a place I've read plenty about and I have been wanting to visit for a long time. Out in the middle of a desert-like terrain, lies large groups of brick-red sandstone formations. Most of its surfaces are full of small holes and caves caused by extensive erosion, dating all the way back to the age of dinosaurs.
We got lucky... because it was partially cloudy that whole day, it alleviated one of my biggest concern: the desert heat. We arrived there around 5:30pm, and stayed a couple of hours until the sunset. The visitor center did not open, so we didn't have a map of the park, but we did manage to find most of the points of interest, except for the Elephant Rock.
One thing I noticed after reviewing the files was that white balance can be tricky shooting a color-biased scene like this. In many shots, I had to manually tweak the WB back to what I remembered the scene was. I think next time, I should just set the WB to "day" so at least the files will have the same starting point and I can apply the same adjustment to the whole set.
Here's a 6-shot stitched panoramic photo of the sunset:
What Summer Is Made Of...
Just another summer weekend... I was eager to use the newly acquired lens and get to know it better.
Come to think of it, today was quite eventful. My son finally got over the fear of putting his head in the water, and right after he did it, he looked up at me and I was able to capture his smile.
He also just recently learned to ride his bike without the training wheels, and today he took his virgin voyage around the block during our evening stroll.
It's fun watching him grow up. To see all the things he get anxious about, able to overcome them, and finally learn to enjoy them. When was the last time we, as adults, did something out of our comfort zone?
Best Show on Earth...
The Ringling Bros. Circus is in town, at the Staples Center, and my mom bought tickets for us to take my son to see them. I was worried about them not allowing cameras so I did a quick search online. I found that they had a strange rule of not allowing lenses longer than 3 inches. Good thing Leica lenses are known for their compactness, and my 90mm Macro-Elmar is only about 1.5 inch when collapsed. It's funny... at the entrance, the lady checking bags saw my camera and told me to not to extend my lenses because they will catch me.
Well, of course I packed my latest new toy, the 35'Lux, but I shot mostly with the 90'MEM. Being handicapped at f/4, I set the ISO to 800 and locked myself with 1/90 seconds shutter. I figure I just try to minimize the camera shake and hope to bring up the exposure in post-processing. It turned out well, although I wish I had capture the human cannonball with more crispness. The full set of images, including some tigers and elephants shots can be seen [HERE].
The latest 35mm Summilux has been on my wanted list for so long that sometimes I feel it's just a wish that will never come true. It doesn't help that during the lens shortage of the 2011 and 2012, people were selling them at $2000 above retail. However, lately we finally started to see some transactions in the normal range and even below retail. I simply could not hold myself back any longer when I came across a deal for a never-used copy at well below retail price. So here we are... I'm now a proud owner of this fabulous lens.
Upon receipt of the lens and testing it, I quickly noticed a problem. When focusing at near distance between 0.7 and 0.8 meter, the rangefinder patch stopped moving as I turn the focus ring. Since I've never experience this with any other lens, my first thought was "Oh man... I got a lemon!" However, since I bought it from a reputable seller, I wanted to make sure the problem isn't with my camera. Since a new Leica store has recently opened in Los Angeles, I decided to take my lens and camera in to test it with their bodies and lenses. The lens worked perfectly on their demo cameras! The manager explained that perhaps my camera is just barely out of the tolerance and I should send it in for a CLA. I guess that's the price of owning a mechanical precision equipment. The shots above were taken at the Leica store.
Afterwards, we headed to The Grove for lunch and gave me a chance to take some first shots with the lens. Since the problem only happens at the nearest focus distance, I was still able to use it without problems. It wasn't after getting home and loading the files in Lightroom did I realize how incredible the images were. The sharpness, the colors, the contrast... all perfect! As part of my workflow, I usually like to click on the "Auto" adjustment and see whether it improves the image, and with this lens, I almost always prefer the image straight out of the camera, that is just amazing. I get the same feeling that I get when I shoot with the 50'Lux... "Magic!"
Here are some more shots from today... and in case you're wondering, the f-stop number is wrong because I added a 0.6 (2-stop) ND filter.
"Cuyamaca" is an old Indian word that means: You shall come back. No, not really, even though it's true. This is our third time camping in the Rancho Cuyamaca State Park, and this time during the July 4th long weekend. Instead of watching fireworks on Independence Day, I opted for some amazing sunrises.
The campground itself is probably one of the best I've ever been. Wife approves because of its clean bathrooms and showers. We got a camp site that was situated on a slight hill, so we found ourselves slipping down the bed throughout the night :D Next time I'll find a better campsite... and there will definitely be a next time! The full set of images can be viewed [HERE].
You'll notice that there are lots of burnt trees in the photos... and that's because of the great Cedar Fire in 2003. On the last day, we started to notice a big plume of smoke behind the eastern hills. The rangers told us there was a fire in the desert east of us, and they let us know if we need to evacuate. It was kind of surreal because we were also here during the fire in 2003 and had to pack up early and run for our lives. The smoke was still there when we left on Sunday... I hope it will be contained soon.
BTW, if you really want to know what "cuyamaca" means, it can be found [HERE].
Morning Glory Sparklers...
Over the weekend, we noticed that the fireworks stands has begun to setup and getting ready to start selling fireworks. I had an idea to take some shots with my son playing with the sparklers. The above shot wasn't quite what I had in mind... I wanted to get closer with the sparklers closer to his face and in focus more, but alas, he was a little timid since this is his first time playing with them. We still have a bunch left... maybe I'll try again tomorrow :)
My Journey into Leica...
A path not to be taken lightly, not without reservations, and not without dedication, but the results can be sweet, OH SO SWEET! This is a documentation of my trials and tribulations into the world of Leica Rangefinder Photography, and I hope you'll enjoy coming along with me.