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


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.


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.


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


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.


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:

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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.


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


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







































  1. Judd, thanks for showing us these photos. I liked the great majority of them and one of my favourites is the one of the man lighting a cigarette (the one near the top of the page).

    There are maybe a couple which are too weak/boring and they should not be in this portfolio. If I could get rid of one image, it would be the one of the guy on the jetski. You can tilt the camera and saturate as much as you want but you won´t save a boring composition. Just IMO. 🙂

    My brand of photography – like most people´s – is to document my environment. You say that this was not your point and you wanted to convey how it felt to be there. But alas, sir, you contradict yourself! You did in fact document this event! Documentary photography is by definition a record of what is and what was.

    But just because a camera is a machine doesn´t mean that you cannot express your feelings about an environment in a photograph. Here, you have indeed documented Ephemerisle in a very personal way. You haven´t added or taken away anything. Boosting saturation or dragging the shutter does not invalidate a photograph.

    If I can add a technical note: this post partly demonstrates the notion that it can very much matter what camera you use (I guess that means no Nobel Peace Prize for me).

    The NEX-3 could not have done the job as well. The Foveon cameras would not cope. The M9 would not do well at all, based on what I have seen. The Canon you mentioned – with its limited DR compared to the A7S – could not have done as well, either, given the amount of bright lights.

    Maybe the D4 could have done it, but then again, DSLRs limit your lens choices and the D4 is a big camera with big lenses that is best at home shooting F1 or football (and it may be possible that the A7S could do those things just as well). The D4 and M are not only more expensive but, for this application, more compromised.

    Sometimes more is less. But with the A7S, less is more. And thus concludes my POV. 🙂

    P.S. Seasteading seems to be an interesting concept. Sort of like how some university students in England would live on river boats – am I right?

    • I appreciate your perspective. Thank you for sharing.

      If you want to be semantics nazi, sure I am documenting the event. But my goal isn’t exactly to document it, but to glorify it. To present it in the most engaging way I possibly can, that reveals the personalities of the crowd and the experience of being there.

      You’re right, no other camera would have allowed me to capture this. MAYBE the D4, but that is NOT a feasible option as portability was essential to how I enjoyed the event. I wasn’t hired to shoot this, this album of photos was my contribution, offered among many others who contributed so much. I was actually enjoying my time, and the D4 would have totally been in the way, besides the fact that I hate shooting with SLRs, and locking myself into the viewfinder would have prevented me from capturing many of these moments this way. AND I just can’t live without focus peaking anymore. So no, I actually couldn’t do this with the D4 either, and wouldn’t even want to try.

      The Sony A7S is the best camera for my purposes, and I couldn’t have captured many of these beloved images of mine with any other camera in the history of photography. I’m in love 🙂

  2. It’s one of the best thing I’ve seen on this site. Incredible pictures, perfect rendition of the mood, reminds me of parties I did when I was younger. Thank you for sharing, I love them all. Seriously, awesome.

  3. First, it was a very well written article; thanks for putting so many enjoyable words to your photos. Some of the photos are really striking; some that I’d never think to shoot and that I enjoyed very much. As a whole, I think the collection suffers from a mixture of stuff that was very appropriate to shot with a 35mm lens and stuff that wasn’t. Some of the shots looked like they needed to be shot with a tele, because you were too far away, and the frame includes too much that detracts, rather than enhances. I’m all for WA shots that include lots of scenery; I love a photo of a grizzly that’s a speck in the landscape as much as a closeup, but the landscape itself has to be worth looking at. There are a few too many slow shutter/swirling lights photos for my taste; in many, the lights themselves make a nice pattern, but the frame doesn’t include a great abstract composition – it just seems that you got caught up in the lights 🙂 On the tilted horizons, it works for some; not so well for others. On the whole, I think you’ve got some fantastic photos there, but the presentation suffers from a lack of editing. Knock it down, carefully, by half, and you end up with a much stronger set. There’s been a lot written on what it takes to narrow photos down to a good portfolio. It’s not easy and I won’t claim to be any kind of expert at it; I’m just sharing my reaction.

    • I always appreciate constructive criticism and feedback from photographers far more established than me. Thank you for taking the time to write that.
      I think having a 50mm lens on me would have benefited some shots, but I kept my setup as portable as physically possible. So I stuck with one lens. No camera bag. At night I had the camera in my coat pocket, small flash in my jeans pocket. During the day, and just held it in my hand everywhere I went. All I had were shorts, shirt, sandals and a camera (if that damn fixed viewfinder was detachable, I could have squeezed the camera into my shorts pocket!).
      But I do agree with you about framing the shot properly to bring your subject into more prominent focus.
      Thank you for your thoughts!

  4. Judd,

    My compliment for several reasons:
    1. You manage to put the power of camera such as A7s in context with your images here. Before looking at these pictures, I never too wow with the whole high iso capability issue. Oh yes, it is advantageous, and it brought a new whole possibilities to picture taking, but I was never seen it as something really necessary for up to more than 6,400. The images you post really show what it means to have a camera such as A7s.

    2. Your opening statement about how Steve’s site affect your behaviour in taking pictures is really refreshing. I like this site and often visit it, but I admit I never really grasp it to the extent that you got, for me it’s really a fun site where we talk about cameras, and lately the topic of camera or gear don’t affect me much as it used too, but now you reminded that this site also provides something else…. Thank you for bringing me back this awareness.

    3. Of course, the images you took. They are absolutely fantastic. Please post more.

    All in all, this is one posting that really hits a lot. It hits the context of using the camera that it discussed, and it provide inspiration from wonderfull images.


    • Thank you Jaihutan for sharing your thoughts.
      I just spoke with Steve, and another guest post from me of a totally different set is coming soon!

  5. Great set. I have always loved the way the CV 35/1.2 v2 renders, so creamy wide open. I haven’t really tried mine yet on the A7s but am looking forward to putting it through it’s paces

    • The lens is almost permanently attached to my camera. I occasionally use the Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 for some cool wide shots, but the 35mm 1.2 is usually the lens I see the world through.

  6. Great images – really capturing the moment 🙂 The images here and on your blog are very small; could you post a few full size on your blog?

  7. I was curious about the usage of flash too. Clearly you shot some with slightly longer exposures with a flash. The on camera one? Details! Byw the way, this stuff reminds me of the photography of IRdeep. Similar style when he shoots burner parties.

  8. Nice

    What flash did you use, and did you use the second curtain sync? Or was someone using a strobe light to freeze the subjects while the lights blurred around them?
    Photo # 6 and # 7 for example.

    • Hi Huss!

      I used the tiny pocketable Sony HVLF20AM flash. That was all I needed and all I wanted. There definitely wasn’t someone else holding any gear. Everything about my setup was small and pocketable. I had the flash in my jeans pocket, and the A7S in my coat pocket. When I wanted to use flash I’d quickly pull it out of my jeans pocket, slide it on and flip it up and shoot! I was able to move fast with it all so I don’t lose all the amazing moments happening around me.

      I always shoot in manual mode. The shots with flash were with a slow exposure. I would reduce the shutter speed to between 1/3 second to about .8 seconds. This allows me to let the background saturate in. Sometimes after the flash pops I would shake the camera to create a really surreal background while the main subject is already burned into the image clearly. It’s a cool effect that I’ve only discovered recently while experimenting. I’ve never seen anyone else do it, but I imagine I’m not the first. You really have to pay attention to the lights in the background, because the movement of your camera is effectively painting with them.

  9. I think these are some of the best pictures seen on this website recently.

    Why? Because sometimes we don’t use a camera to record an event precisely as it was. This is sometimes impossible. All too often people become obsessed with “recording” an event with a photo but never actually recording what the event FELT like.

    Life can sometimes be about shimmering light, impressions of objects, distortion and confusion. These pictures capture that emotion perfectly.

    This is pure photography. Anyone who worries about the DOF, over exposure or whatever, is just not getting it. You clearly went through an intense experience full of life and light. Shimmering, surreal, confusing light. Like a dream. Some of these shots capture that impression perfectly.

    Keep up this “impressionistic vision”. I really like it.

    • Here, here. Rufus, you summed up my thoughts exactly. If you want a record of what something looks like, buy a postcard. If you want to record a feeling, photograph it imaginatively, with passion and you will have something altogether more inspirational.

    • Precisely Rufus! Thank you.

      I have absolutely no interest at all in ever documenting an event. You can document the event with a security camera. I’m trying to capture the experience of being there, as powerfully and beautifully as I possibly can. Reproducing the scene accurately isn’t one of my objectives. I’m comfortable with the surreal, and I enjoy it. And going in a surreal direction with these photos was so appropriate to accurately capture a surreal event like this.

      I want my photos to be compelling. I’m not shooting in order to obey technicalities, as if they’re some sort of gods to be worshiped. Depth of field, exposure, colors, angles, and all photography technicalities are merely tools to achieve something memorable. I’m still mastering them, but they are not the goal, they are the vehicles.

      Thank you so much for those kind words Rufus, I really appreciate it 🙂

    • Agree. Style and approach can be flexible as called for by the event and the photographer’s vision for that event. These images have color, movement, and energy that reflect the experience and are not meant to be like a studio head shot of a perfectly lighted model shot from a tripod. I’ve seen thousands of those studio shots but not many like these shots. I enjoy these images much as I enjoy the impressionist painters like Monet. It’s just trippy fun.

      • Thank you for those kind words bgood!

        Actually, I haven’t seen photos from myself like these either. I pushed myself into new unfamiliar territory with this set, and I hope to keep exploring this terrain.

  10. While the event might be cool, I don’t like these pictures: perhaps it’s because of the dark shadows on some pictures, blown highlights on daylight photos, too shallow depth of field on portraits and not straight orizon. Maybe all of these is made on purpose..

    • I LOVE manual focusing with the A7 series. I can’t shoot without focus peaking anymore, it’s essential to how I photograph now. Because of focus peaking I’m faster with manual focusing than most people are with auto focus. I’ve never used the auto focus feature on the A7 or the A7S, and I never plan to. And I prefer true manual focus lenses over lenses with electronic manual focus by wire, as I love the control you get from really feeling the lens elements move directly with the turn of your wrist.

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