Apr 082015
 

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Kathmandu, Nepal with the Sony A7s and the Mitakon 50mm f.95

by Judd Weiss

These Nepal photos probably would not exist if not for this site. Steve Huff’s blog and wider sharing community has been the single largest influence on my photography. I don’t connect with the approach of most photography communities online. But this community of mirrorless enthusiasts has continued to inspire me and push me to keep going further with this photography obsession. I’m still relatively new to photography, starting about 4.5 years ago when I picked up the first Sony NEX-3. For about a year I treated it more like a higher quality point and shoot for parties. Since I’ve discovered Steve’s site, I’ve become a daily addict, pouring over the daily inspirations and user reports, trying to understand new perspectives, obsessively studying how you impressive bastards pull it off. I’ve never taken a real course in photography, this blog has been my photography school. It’s possible I might still be shooting glorified point and shoot style photos without it. And all the beautiful photos in my life that I cherish might never have been if not for the influence of the community here. So thank you Steve and everyone else who has contributed inspiring photos in guest posts here. I’m honored to offer my small contribution to the mix.

Despite all of my public statements at the beginning of 2015 that I’m going to tone down this photography obsession and focus more on business, I just can’t help it. I want to do everything at once. When you’re doing something you’re proud of and excited about, it feels like a crime to restrain yourself. And there was just no way I could turn down this trip to Nepal. I didn’t know anything about Nepal except that it’s north of India and that some very different world awaits.

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I didn’t Google or Wikipedia anything about Nepal. Nothing. I didn’t want any movie spoilers, I just wanted the experience to be fresh. I was brought to Nepal to shoot a conference. I’m not a career photographer, I don’t market myself as a photographer or even have a proper portfolio site online at the moment. I’m not a professional, this is not my profession. I’m an enthusiast, I’m always obsessively trying to create beautiful compelling photos to the best of my ability. And that’s exactly what the conference organizers wanted. It’s a crazy expense to bring someone from the other side of the planet out to photograph your event in a 3rd world nation, so I knew I had some huge pressure to make sure I deliver.

The photos in this post are an album separate from the conference, purely the scenic photos of Nepal I captured outside of the conference.

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I am hopelessly in love with my Sony A7s. The lowlight ability is not a leap in technology, this is some kind of magic voodoo shit. I don’t know what dark forces Sony has negotiated with to let us finally see clearly in the dark, but I’m not going to ask too many question. It’s amazing, and 12MP is actually still overkill when most of my images appear online and are seen at less than 2MP. I’m not limited by that sensor. On the contrary, the limits of light are pretty much gone. I only shoot with manual lenses. Most photographers don’t believe me when I tell them that using manual lenses is tremendously FASTER than autofocus but it’s the truth. Unless you’re center focusing ever shot, autofocus slows you down and limits your ability to compose a scene where the point of focus is anywhere but the dead center. Believe it or not, 1/3 of the photos in this post were shot from the front seat of a moving car. Autofocus would have slowed me down and outright prevented me from composing the shots the way I wanted while everything is literally speeding by me. Focus peaking, I can’t live without it.

I only brought 2 lenses, and almost exclusively used only 1, the Mitakon 50mm f.95. I suppose there may be snobs that don’t like that it’s not an $11,000 Leica, but what I do know is that this lens helps me produce images that make my heart skip a beat. I also use the Voigtlander 21mm f1.8, but rarely. I love the wide Voigtlander, and I plan to keep it even though I rarely use it. I suppose the way I often think about the lens combo is that I like to take a couple 21mm wide shots to establish the entirety of the scene. And then I go through with the 50mm and focus in on the details. I’ve taken many critical photos with the 21mm, but the Mitakon 50mm is my new baby virtually permanently attached to my camera (replacing the status previously held by my Voigtlander 35mm f1.2).

One note about the Mitakon 50mm, I’ve been chasing wider and wider aperture lenses since I got started a few years ago, and now I’ve finally gone too far. f.95 is ridiculous. I usually don’t go beyond f1.4 as f.95 is just too insane, and not the kind of shot I usually want. I suppose I like the luxury of knowing that I can totally abandon reality and push completely into a dream world by going to f.95, but I would also be totally fine constrained to a maximum aperture of f1.4. The wide aperture chase is now over for me.

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Most of these photos were taken in a single day devoted to exploring Kathmandu. I knew I wouldn’t have much chance to explore the city while I was at the conference, so I gave myself 2 extra days in Kathmandu to see and capture whatever I could. Unfortunately, due to some serious incompetence and dishonesty from a tour guide, an early morning hike out in the rural mountains surrounding Kathmandu turned into an all day affair that caused me to cancel my packed schedule of sights I planned to see in my precious remaining few hours on my last day in the country. Stuck all day in the middle of nowhere, I was furious to waste most of one of my only 2 sightseeing days, but it’s a lesson in relying on your common sense over and above the assurances of strangers who act like they know what they’re talking about when it doesn’t make sense. Even when you’re in a totally foreign land. But I digress. I did manage to get good shots of the rural mountain villages and some groups of cute kids after they got out of school for the day. I have no shame, I just go up to groups of random school kids and ask who wants to be famous. They get ecstatic when I show them nice shots of themselves and their friends in my camera. No one asked for my info to get the photos, they seemed happy just that these photos of them would be seen by people in America.

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One thing I totally didn’t expect was the weather. I knew I was going to the Himalayas. In January. I packed for very cold weather (I remember surviving the coldest winter on record in Romania), but it wasn’t that cold in Kathmandu. Once I was there I was told that Kathmandu is the valley surrounded by the mountains, and that it’s relatively warm. No snow ever falls in Kathmandu. It felt more desert like, maybe a little chilly at night, but no big deal. I had full body thermal underwear packed, but I wish I brought sandals instead.

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I didn’t have time to check out any other city, though I’m told there are some real treasures throughout Nepal. Kathmandu was both beautiful and gritty. The poverty is pretty extreme, people often live on $80 a month. There is trash everywhere. Los Angeles is not exactly a clean city, but it feels like a sterile sanitary clean room by comparison. I’ve seen plenty of stray dogs and cats in other countries, but all the stray cows was actually pretty cool. The warmth of the Nepali people was striking. Everyone was extremely friendly and graciously greeted me with a Namaste and a bow. I’m talking about the random strangers I approached with my camera. I learned to reply back “Thank you friend” in their language, which people enjoyed.

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The temples swarming with monkeys was a highlight. They’re really cute until you get up close. I was warned repeatedly not to get too close, but I didn’t listen, and one angry monkey tried to grab my camera from me. I was ready to fight him to the death, he’s not taking that (I did get a powerful angry picture of him, see below). The monkeys are rude. They are all unfriendly little shits actually. I can see why our society has so many problems, if we evolved from these bastards. Adorable as they are.

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I took a $200 sight seeing flight to Mount Everest with a few friends. I regretted it immediately afterwards. We didn’t get that close, I’ve seen mountains from a plane window before, I wasn’t that impressed, and I really could have used the sleep instead of waking up so early for a delayed and pointless flight. But when I got back to Los Angeles and saw the photos I took of these majestic mountain ridges, I’m glad I did it. I shot those mountains totally sleep deprived, wishing I was back in a bed instead of a freezing cold plane to nowhere, but I managed to still capture a few shots that are priceless to me.

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One night some of the conference attendees went out to a bar that had a local metal band playing. We were out on the patio where we could talk, which was my intention so that we weren’t drowned out by whatever crappy local band was set to play. But I was surprised and impressed with how good the local band actually was. I picked up my camera and started taking some shots of them, and damn did that amazing low light combo came in handy. They reminded me of some sort of a Nepalese Deftones. A throwback to 90s Numetal when it was still artistic, but driving and aggressive. And the guys were actually talented, the music was great, and fans were in a trance and pumped. I really didn’t expect that when I heard a local metal band was playing that night. I found the guitarist after the show and showed him a few shots I took, and he flipped out, immediately bringing me over to the singer to show him my camera screen. I promised they would eventually get these, and they invited me to share a joint with them. I got a picture of that too ;)

Pretty cool the places a little device in your hand will take you.

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One of the craziest things I saw was a citywide protest that shut down all major streets on my last morning there, while I was rushing to get to the airport. Fortunately they were letting tourists through (the protesters don’t want to look like they’re cutting off vital income to the country). The protests were orchestrated by Maoists. Not Socialists, not Communists, but Maoists. With flags and banners of Mao. I’m just going out on a limb here, but it felt like it had to be China’s influence to me. Nepal is safe from out right occupation since it’s so closely linked to the massive India, but that doesn’t mean China isn’t going to meddle. Purely my speculation, but seeing very poor people that live off less than $100 a month carry around printed flags and banners of China’s Chairman Mao leads me to assume who’s funding this…

I WISH I had walked around and captured some compelling shots of the protests, but I was rushing to the airport, worried about catching my flight, and could only get a few imperfect shots as my taxi sped by.

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Anyway, these pictures are worth more than any of my words. This is a landmark album for me, and easily the most exotic photos I’ve ever taken. I hope they help you get a better idea of the experience of this different world.

Full album and original post can be found on my blog here:

http://hustlebear.com/2015/03/12/kathmandu-nepal-january-2015/

You can follow me on Instagram at http://instagram.com/juddweiss

I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/juddweiss

[All the rest of the images in order (excluding those already used and excluding nepal-2015-1029.jpg):

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This final shot was a defocused cityscape take-off from my connecting flight in Guangzhou, China.

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Sep 102014
 

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Shooting Ephemerisle 2014 with the Sony A7S and a Voigtlander 35mm f1.2

By Judd Weiss – Visit his site HERE

Most places I go lately, I am the best photographer around. But I come to Steve Huff’s site and community specifically because here I am definitely not the best photographer. I’m learning fast, but I’m relatively new to photography, upgrading from a point and shoot to the original Sony NEX 3 only about 4 years ago. Discovering Steve’s site almost 3 years ago was a major turning point in my photography. I started taking it more seriously when I saw what you guys were up to. I’ve been inspired. The daily inspirations that so many of you have contributed has made me rethink what I’m doing with the camera I’m holding. I’ve never taken any photography classes, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t received an education. This community around Steve Huff’s blog is one of the greatest influences on my development as a photographer. So thank you to all who have contributed their vision and creations here. I am very grateful. (Thank you Judd!! Steve)

I’d like to also make a contribution, from my favorite work yet. I shot this entire set of photos with the new amazing Sony Alpha A7S full frame mirrorless camera, with a manual Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 lens. That combo allowed me to achieve low light shots never before possible in the history of photography. Ephemerisle was the perfect event to test out what the Sony A7S can handle in extreme low light. And the Sony A7S was the perfect camera to capture the experience of the dark glowy night that made Ephemerisle shine.

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These shots are unapologetically processed, and I admit I went a bit intense with the colors, but I wanted to, to accurately reflect the surreal nature of Ephemerisle. Some of these photos are a little abstract, but believe me when I tell you those are very true to the experience. What a visual experience! Ephemerisle was incredible. I did the best I could to run around and convey what it was like to be there, over stimulated by this new beautiful foreign universe everywhere you looked.

It’s fair to think of Ephemerisle like Burning Man on the water. Imagine a bunch of RVs at Burning Man connected together, but floating. With dance stage platforms between them.

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I think Ephemerisle was the most exciting and fun time I have had, that didn’t involve a girl, since maybe my college days. I loved running around in that crazy dream world meeting the cast of characters you’ll see in the photos below.

I’m not saying Ephemerisle is better than Burning Man. There’s no way an event of a couple hundred people can in any way rival the scope and all the amazingness of the 50,000+ strong Burning Man festival. But I will say that I enjoyed Ephemerisle more. I loved Burning Man, but the desert is a harsh place. No doubt the sea can be unforgiving as well, but I was very happy to trade an over abundance of dust for an over abundance of water.

No way I would bring my beloved new Sony A7S and Voigtlander lens to get ruined by the intense barrage of fine dust on the Burning Man playa.

 Shot at 12,800 ISO

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Burning Man is incredible as it lights up the middle of the desert nowhere into an epic glorious city; being out in the middle of the water nowhere, lit up only by the most amazing glowy party you’ve ever seen, Ephemerisle too is a bright beacon of a testament to our evolutionary progress, while floating over the type of early ocean microbes of life that began it all. How far we’ve come, to create such a stunning atmosphere. A cool blend of excitement and serenity. Like Burning Man, being at Ephemerisle confronts you to face both our fragility and our promise that can only be truly seen in an intentional community that has left many of the comfortable constraints of modern society.

Stylistically people often compare Ephemerisle with Water World, and you can see where that’s coming from, only this wasn’t dystopian. Whatever was rough around the edges wasn’t post-apocalyptic, it was prototype. This is from the future, clearly. These are experiences our grandchildren will inherit when they are our age. But it’s a beautiful future. When the sun goes down, we light up even brighter. Humans evolved from a state of continual starvation in a struggle to survive among brutal nature, and now we master the harshest environments to throw parties of abundance like this for recreation. Humans have no shortage of serious problems, but it’s things like Ephemerisle that compel me to acknowledge our bright future of possibilities ahead.

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You might think I’m hyperbolizing a little much. And if I hadn’t been there, that’s totally what I would think while reading this. But there’s a reason for these reflections of anthropological grandeur. Ephemerisle is comprised of exactly the group of intellectuals, business leaders, and artists who are focused daily on the topic of our evolutionary potential as a species. These ARE the people consciously working to design a more beautiful future for all of us. What a treat it is to see one of their early prototypes. And I have to say, I’m in love with this particular prototype they call Ephemerisle.

I’ve got to thank everyone involved for coming together to create Ephemerisle. They made these photos. I just captured what I saw as well as I could. Their vision created this reality. Congratulations to all of their beautiful minds. These photos are my humble tribute.

Ok guys, get ready to watch the colors move…………

The full album and original post can be found on my blog here: http://hustlebear.com/2014/09/04/photos-ephemerisle-july-2014/

You can follow me on Instagram at http://instagram.com/juddweiss

I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/juddweiss

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Note: The widely acclaimed Canon 5D MIII could not have achieved many of these shots. For example: The below shot, while not the cleanest photo in history, was shot at 51,200 ISO (!!) at 1/125 second, handheld from a bobbing moving boat in the dark. It was challenging to stand, and hard to see clearly, let alone to take a clean photo. Try to get anything remotely usable in those conditions with another camera setup.

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Again, the below shot is not perfectly clean and crisp, but it was shot at 32,000 ISO from a moving bobbing boat.

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I love how the camera rendered the daytime shots as well.

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Oct 262012
 

From Steve: Just an FYI. This site allows opinions, photographs and articles from a wide variety of people. Any camera can be discussed, almost any topic can be written about and I let everyone share their thoughts. This is not a political site and I am not even close to being a supporter of the Libertarian Party :) This is an article about Judd’s experience shooting this convention. Two weeks ago I posted abut the Democratic Convention and if anyone wants to submit a story about the Republican convention then feel free to contact me and submit one. 

I did not write this but it is here as a guest post. As they say in TV Land, just because something is posted does not mean I agree with it. I disagree with many guest posts here but I allow the freedom for many to do so even if I disagree. No need to get your panties all in a bunch because this article is a bit different than what is usually here. Anything you do not want to read doesn’t have to be read. Blog posts are easily skipped. 

Complaints about 4 letter words and the theme of this post is nonsense and again, comes from Judd as a guest post. In his style. Thanks :)

 

It’s October in an election year, so you know what that means.

It’s Politics Time!

Shooting the Libertarian National Convention with my NEX-5n by Judd Weiss

Embrace it my friends, don’t fight it. It’s good for us once in a while to think about what the fuck the government is doing with our money. Yeah, thinking about this stuff can get aggravating very fast, there’s certainly no shortage of negative energy in the realm of politics. So I actively try to mix in some positive energy into an often very negative world. One of my tools is my camera, which has become pretty much biologically attached to my arm for the last 2 years:

My Sony NEX 5n.

This was my first time at the Libertarian Party National Convention, and I WAS SHOCKED!! Imagine what would happen if a car company fired all its salesmen and stuck all the car engineers in a room and said “You’ve all helped engineer a truly exceptional car, now we want you guys to work together and agree on this year’s comprehensive marketing and sales strategy for the company within 3 days.” Yeah that’s what the Libertarian Party National Convention was like. All out brutal warfare! Nastier because it’s nerd warfare, and they sharpen their arguments to hit as hard as possible, with no account for the damage and fallout.

I’ve been a Libertarian since I picked up Anthem by Ayn Rand when I was 14. Ayn Rand has inspired a lot of people, and laid much of the foundation for the libertarian movement. Part 2 of the film adaptation of her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged is out in theaters since last Friday (I just reviewed it here). Go to any libertarian event and you’ll see that there are very different elements within the party and the movement. Which is cool, people come to the ideas of liberty from different perspectives and for different reasons, I can only see that as a positive thing.

What I didn’t expect to see was how intense the infighting was for ideological control of a third-party. If you put a bunch of intellectuals together, you know you will get some bickering, no matter what. That’s fine, that’s healthy, that’s cute. This wasn’t that. This was different. There’s a left-right divide within the party, not really regarding any serious difference in views, but over a strong difference in focus. Some want the party to focus its energy and message on economic matters like deregulation, cutting spending and taxes, etc. Others want the focus to be on ending oversees wars and ending the drug war. Fortunately nominating Gary Johnson as the Presidential nominee went pretty smoothly. After all, Gary Johnson was not only a 2 term Governor of New Mexico, but he gives a lot of emphasis on ending the War on Drugs and bringing our oversees troops home, while he also appeals to the Tea Party side of things advocating for slashing our national debt, limiting government’s size and scope and spending, and freeing up our markets with less regulations.That went fine. All hell broke loose during the nominating process for the party’s National Chair position. The more radical faction surprised everyone with a well planned coup to put in very strong Anti-War people into Chair, Vice Chair and executive party positions. Someone paid for busloads of anti-war delegates and many already printed signs encouraging a majority to exercise the “None Of The Above” voting option in order to restart the nominating processes and get their guys in office. And they succeeded. Long term I think that was a very bad play, it caused some bad blood. But I’ve got to hand it to them, that was impressive.

Anyway, yeah, so there was some contention at the convention, and some hurt feelings. Until I posted a Facebook album of convention photos I took. Then something magical happened. People suddenly felt a lot more united again. The photos made them look important. The photos made the movement look important. They liked how there were portrayed. They were proud to be part of that crowd. They saw themselves as part of the same group again, united by the same force. Many changed their profile picture to one of my black and white shots. Seemingly sworn enemies would tag each other and comment on how good the other looked and start making jokes again. It was amazing having a front row seat to this, getting a Facebook notification for every like, comment, and profile picture change.

So that’s my small contribution towards the cause. I want to see these nerds look better and be more cooperative. But I’m not a professional photographer. Never charged for a photo. It’s just a hobby. I’ve only started taking photography more seriously about 2 years ago when I upgraded from a point and shoot to the Sony NEX. I’ve only learned what aperture means about a year ago. So I’m still kind of raw, but I’m building my confidence behind the lens. Especially as I’ve now got over a 1000 profile pictures to my credit. Seriously, that’s insane! That count explodes every time I shoot a convention.

There’s a couple things in my mind when shooting a convention or a conference. First of all I tend to shoot black & white in that environment because I think conferences look very boring in color. This is not a pool party on a sunny day, or a luscious garden. The background is white walls and carpet with nauseating color patterns. Besides, the people who come to conferences tend to think they’re involved in something important, and black and white makes them look more historically significant and epic.

The next thing I think about is being sneaky. I’m trying to capture the person in their moment. I want a part of who they are revealed in the image. Those are more interesting photos to me. That’s my challenge when I shoot. Posed shots of people smiling at the camera are ok, but they’re usually kind of boring because there’s really nothing very interesting about them. Also, when people know there’s a camera pointed at them, their guard goes WAY up, and you lose the authenticity of their personality in the shot. That means I lost my shot, and I’m annoyed. I totally understand, because I’m like that too, I’m not the most photogenic and I get a little uncomfortable when a camera is pointed at me. My only options are to take photos before they realize a camera is around, or to snap off so many damn shots until they become numb to the camera and drop their guard, behaving normally again.

Either way the small size of the NEX is a huge blessing. Having an APS-C DSLR size sensor in a camera that fits in my pocket has been incredibly valuable to me, and opened me up to much more of what photography is about. Because it’s small enough to be with me in normal social interactions, it’s not very intrusive and intimidating, it’s allowed me to capture so many more moments that I would have otherwise not kept visualized. Moments that have brought my friends together to bond over and even help mend their friendships.

Beyond the ideas, an ideological movement has many other pieces of the puzzle needed for resonating and becoming successful. In our digital Facebook age, we can’t over emphasize the importance of photos that capture our important moments and allow us to share our memories with others.

I shot all photos from the Libertarian Nation Convention with a Voigtlander 35mm 1.4 adapted to my Sony NEX 5n.

Be sure you go and visit Judd’s website, HUSTELBEAR.COM

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