Between Two Lots

December 14, 2013

Between Two Lots 02


Instead of photographing the homes of people straight on I thought I’d spend some time considering the “no man’s land” that exists between homes.  The area that borders the fence next to garages.  It’s an interesting space that’s frequently overlooked by those living in the homes.

Between Two Lots 01


These were shot with a Sigma DP1m camera.  It’s equivalent to a 28mm on 35mm film meaning it’s a little tighter than what I’m used to.  I turned the camera on it’s side and got myself in close to these tight spaces which I feel worked well for the tighter field of view.  Plus there is a lot going on tonally in these regions between garages.

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Seasonal Lights in Snow Storm

December 03, 2013

Night Time Blizzard 01


Shot in Calgary, Canada at about 11PM at night in the middle of a snow storm.  The exposure is 10 seconds long so you can’t see the crazy snowfall that was happening.  Instead it’s a serene image at night.

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Shining Autumn Larch

September 15, 2013

Shining Autumn Larch


For the second time I’ve caught Larch Valley Trail during the changing of the larch needles’ colours.  We drove in from calgary, heading out at 7am in the morning which meant we reached the clearing at around 11am.  The lighting wasn’t that great at the clearing so I tried to do what I could with the forest cover.  This image unexpectedly turned out, more so than other images I had shot that day.

This was shot with the DP1m and I’m rather happy with the results.  The contrast is strong, the Foveon sensor did a great job of capturing the greens and yellows, very closely replicating what I saw with my eyes, and the flare adds a bit of “light through the forest” look that develops the mood of the image well.

This hike was travelled with my 4×5 camera, 9 film holders, a 90mm lens, a 180mm lens, and my Sigma DP1m.  I decided to leave the DSLR at home because it’s rather redundant when I’m shooting 4×5.  Either the DSLR or the 4×5 camera is not used and it’s beneficial to keep the pack as light as possible.  The DP1m adds nothing to the total weight and it’s great for quick “sketches” of compositions.

Next year I’d like to book accommodations close to Banff (or in town) so I can be at the trail-head at 6am and in the clearing for 8am to catch dawn.  Because of the poor, late morning light I only shot 2 frames of 4×5 and one is definitely a complete dud (it was shot with the lens’s aperture wide open, on the composing setting).  Our hikes are always most satisfying when we’ve stayed in Banff and headed to the hike first thing in the morning.  Next year we need to hit Larch Valley early to do it proper justice.

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New Camera: Sigma DP1m Foveon

August 17, 2013

© Sean Esopenko 2013

Yet another camera has been added to my collection:  The Sigma DP1m.  It’s a compact camera with 1.5x crop sensor however it’s not just any sensor:  it’s a Foveon.  Regular, Bayer Sensor digital cameras use an array of pixels, each pixel recording only one of three colours:  red, green or blue.  This means for every 3 megapixels of a sensor, only 1 megapixel is red data, 1 megapixel is blue data, and 1 megapixel is green data.  The final image is extrapolated, and while today’s cameras do a fairly good job at this I was desiring something with more of a film look.

© Sean Esopenko 2013

The Foveon sensor is different because for every pixel it’s recording all three colours.  So while an 18MP bayer (regular) sensor is three 6MP images extraploated together, a Foveon sensor is pixel for pixel exactly as rendered.  I also have found Sigma’s Foveon sensor is better capable of retaining colour in the hilights and it has a smoother toe & shoulder.  Many people like film because it has that “film look” but can’t exactly describe it.  I can describe it:  it has better colour & tonal rendition and the Foveon sensor is very close to film in it’s rendering qualities.

© Sean Esopenko 2013

Yes, the camera is only 16MP and yes I do have a 36MP D800 but the colours are much better out of this camera and it’s extremely sharp at the pixel level.  16×24 inch prints done with both cameras have the same sharpness and the Sigma has nicer colours and better micro-contrast.  I believe some of this is due to Nikon’s lenses being for the most part dogs and the Sony sensor inside the D800 is geared towards the high-iso crowd that wants to shoot in the dark and doesn’t care about tonality.  I’ve been shooting with the D800 for over a year and I’m not ecstatic over it.  The Nikon needs to stay in my kit because I get paid contract work that depends on it but this Sigma makes me happy.

© Sean Esopenko 2013

I will give a few words of warning to those considering it:

  • The battery life is horrible.  It comes with two batteries not because they want you to shoot all day, it’s because two batteries will only get you through 1/4 of the day.  I get about 60 shots on each battery.
  • It has no built-in viewfinder.  I got the optical viewfinder which added to the price.  Trying to shoot with the screen in bright light is frustrating and using an optical viewfinder is like going back 20 years.
  • The major processing software doesn’t support the camera.  I use Capture One Pro for weddings, portraits & fine-art work and Lightroom for architectural.   Neither of these support the new Sigma cameras.  Instead you have to use Sigma Photo Pro which isn’t that great.  It’s basically just raw converter software so you can work with the TIFFs in Photoshop.
  • The white-balance isn’t great and the camera’s susceptible to cross curves.  I’m not new to this issue due to my experience with colour film but it does add time to process the images and for those who’ve never dealt with cross curves they may face frustration.
  • This camera shoots slowly.  It takes 7 seconds to record a picture to the card.  Seven!  And if you’ve filled the buffer you have to sit and wait forever.  This is not a camera for run & gun, rapid fire photographers.
  • The RAW files are huge.  Remember what I said about an 18MP Bayer sensor recording three 6MP images?  Well a 16MP Foveon records three 16MP images.  These files are big, they take up a lot of space and because they’re so large they take time for Sigma’s Raw software to render 100% previews.
  • This thing is useless above ISO400.  That’s the deal-breaker for most people.  The noise is outrageous when shot above ISO400, looking like a camera from 2001 and all the beautiful colour information is lost.
  • It gets some pretty serious chromatic aberration in certain situations.  80% of the time it can be 100% removed with software.  10% of the time 80% of it can be removed.  10% of the time only about 40% of it can be removed.  It depends on the situation.
  • There are more negative qualities than positive qualities.  This isn’t a camera I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone.  It’s a very specialized piece of equipment that only about 10% of photographers might find useful.  It would be like telling everybody they should be shooting weddings with 4×5 film.

And now for the good:

  • This camera is ultra-sharp down to the pixel.  If I were to compare a regular digital camera without an aliasing filter to this, I’d describe this camera as having “sub-pixel” accuracy.  It’s bloody sharp and these files can be enlarged a lot more than your average digital photograph.
  • I’ve shot with Canon, Nikon & Sony and this camera retains the colours in the hilights better than anything I’ve used.
  • The tonal quality of this camera is great and looks a lot like film.  The hilights & shadows ease in and out smoothly and don’t end abruptly like my D800.
  • Similar to my Sigma 35mm 1.4 this little camera’s lens has excellent micro-contrast.  Nikon & Canon both need to learn something from Sigma and Zeiss.
  • Once the images are white balanced the colours are stunning.  Yellows are captured better than any digital camera I’ve seen.  The subtleties I see with my eye are recorded beautifully.
  • It has a leaf shutter.  Flash sync at all speeds!  Hello bright sunlight flash photography!
  • It’s nice and small.  I’m pretty sure the DP1m, DP2m and DP3m combined weigh the same as my D800 without a lens.

© Sean Esopenko 2013

So this new little camera will be my primary “research & study camera.”  I’ll be taking it to new locations before bringing the bigger cameras.  I used to use a Mamiya 7II for this but with good film scanners being so expensive this was the next best thing.  The camera is practically unusable above ISO200 and it’s autofocus is sluggish but my subjects don’t go anywhere and I don’t mind using a monopod where required.  I have a D800 already so if I need something that can shoot moving people in the dark I can get that heavy beast out.  But for fine art prints up to 24″ wide the Sigma is going to be my go-to camera.

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East Village Power

August 16, 2013

East Village Calgary power station


A power station located near the future East Village in Calgary, Canada.

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Alberta Badlands Silt

June 30, 2013

alberta badland photograph by sean esopenko summer 2013

There was flooding in Southern Alberta, Canada and the badlands of Drumheller have subsequently built up a bed of silty mud that I haven’t seen before.

Unfortunately due to devastating flooding in the Banff & Canmore regions my wife and I won’t be doing as much hiking in the mountains as we had planned to do this summer.  However, this weekend we made a day trip to Drumheller, Alberta, and saw some landscape that I feel is highly under-appreciated.  The region is textural and contrasty with colours that I don’t usually see when hiking the mountains.  I find landscapes tend to lack reds and the trees carry a single green hue but Drumheller’s badlands provide a myriad of ground colours and the squat foliage is a welcome change.  Be sure to bring plenty of water with you and a hat, however, because it was blisteringly hot and you don’t want to suffer from heat stroke!

Oh and as a bonus you can check out the Royal Tyrrell Museum during the same day trip!

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Other Side of the Fence

May 24, 2013

Other Side of the Fence


Last Sunday I went for a walk through an old neighbourhood in southeast Calgary.  Focusing on foliage crossing through peoples’ fences I was interested in the dividers between public and private space and how nature doesn’t concern itself with these dividers.

On another note I am getting another Mamiya 7.  These images were cropped to a 6:7 ratio mimicing 6×7 film.  I really like the 4×5 and 6×7 ratios at vertical orientation.

update:  I didn’t get the Mamiya.  The camera arrived defective and after much consideration I decided to not bother with medium format film.  I don’t have a good enough scanner and I can’t justify today’s prices for high resolution scanners.

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Wetland and Cellular Towers

April 20, 2013

Wetland and Raido Towers Wetland and Raido Towers - Original


Depicted here is more wetland on the border between Calgary, Canada and the rural farmland surrounding it.  The wetland has been quite large as of late due to heavier precipitation.  Tall reeds such as this haven’t grown here for decades.

This time I thought I’d share what goes into an image during the post stage, after the photo’s been shot.  The digital darkroom gives an exorbitant amount of expressive freedom in one’s imagery.  Here I emphasized the cloud cover to make it look more like what I saw the day I was shooting.  I also performed a subtle crop and tweaked the foreground.  Some people brag about an image done “entirely in camera” when I see them as missing an opportunity to push their artistic vision even further.

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Farmland Suburbia

April 12, 2013

Farmland Suburbia


The town of Conrich, near Calgary, Canada, is growing.  More and more of these 1/4 acre monster homes are showing up here, encroaching upon the farmland.  People move here because they see it as idyllic then complain about the smell of the surrounding farmlands.

Processed with DxO Film Pack as Portra NC

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Spring is Frozen in April

April 11, 2013

Spring is Frozen in April


Shot near Conrich Alberta, just 100 meters outside the Calgary city limits in Canada.

This marsh forms every year around this time and dries up around late June. It’s home to various waterfowl and thankfully the farmer doesn’t attempt to till over it.

D800, Sigma 35mm 1.4, Capture One Pro 7, DxO filmpack Provia 100F

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