Posts Tagged ‘focus’

Making a Photograph – Two Sides of the Coin

November 23rd, 2014

I recently read an article by William Neill in the September Outdoor Photography magazine titled “Need to Know” that really resonated with me.  His main point is, don’t let the acquisition of gear and techniques interfere with the experience.  There’s so much information out there, so many people offering advice on techniques for composing, exposing and post processing.  But in Neill’s journey he has developed what he calls, ‘… a simple but effective tool set.”

A foundation of gear and technique is important in capturing the experience.  But it is the experience that is what we’re out there for, not histograms or depth of field or leading lines.

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Mastering Sharpness – Fuzzy Photos

May 2nd, 2014

How many times have you returned from a shoot with some photographs you are really excited about only to find out they are out of focus.  That’s always very disappointing and often frustrating.  And it happens all too often to me.  At the Joshua Tree Gathering this past March someone asked the question, ”How many ways can a photograph be out of focus,” and that got me thinking.  This would be a fun article to write.

But let’s get something straight from the start.  Not all ‘out of focus’ photographs are out of focus.  They may not be sharp but that can come from two causes.  They can actually be out of focus or they can be blurry.  This may seem like a subtle distinction but it’s an important one.  So let’s take them one by one and explore their causes and solutions.

But before we do, I want to make another very important point.  A photograph that is out of focus or blurry is not always a bad thing.  Often times the artist does it intentionally because that is his or her artistic vision.  When it’s done intentionally to create an expressive photograph then it’s not only OK, it’s necessary.  It’s when it’s unintentional that we get frustrated and loose great moments.

But now, let’s get into the details.  We’ll talk about blurs first.

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Ten Reasons to Take a Photography Workshop

April 19th, 2014

We all love photography.  Perhaps you are a casual photographer, using your smart phone or point-and-shoot camera to capture the precious moments in life you cherish and want to remember.  Perhaps you admire the work of others and would like to be able to capture scenes or moments like they do.  Or maybe you are skilled and have been passionate about your own photography for quite some time now.

For those that seek to develop themselves as photographers there are a couple of approaches you can take.  You can learn on your own by reading and photographing.  And if you are able to devote the time and energy to this process you will surely be successful.  However, it is more of a trial-and-error approach to learning photography and, let’s face it, we don’t all have the time or energy to adequately feed our passion.

Or, you can learn from someone who has already mastered the challenges you encounter along the way.  And one of the most effective and affordable ways of accomplishing this is through a photography workshop.

So I would like to share with you my top ten reasons for attending a photography workshop.

1.     Inspiration

Photography workshops give you the opportunity to focus just on photography and capturing the beauty that surrounds you.  The complications of your busy life are left at home or at work and for several stimulating days your existence is focused on one thing – capturing the beauty that surrounds you.

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Mastering Sharpness – Depth of Field

March 2nd, 2014

A topic that receives a lot of attention in our workshops is focus.  It’s incredibly important, so important that I consider Appropriate Sharpness to be one of the four pillars of a successful landscape photograph.  (For more, read Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars.)  Most of the questions center around depth of field and hyperfocal distance.  In fact, this is so important that I give a class on Appropriate Sharpness during just about every workshop.  Let’s start the discussion with Depth of Field

Depth of Field

This is the range, if you will, of objects in the view of your camera that are in focus.  Objects in front of this range are out of focus as well as objects behind the range.  A deep depth of field would have the flowers just a few feet from you camera and the distant mounts miles away all in focus.  The depth of field would then extend from a couple of feet to infinity and for all practical purposes would be infinitely deep.  This is often referred to as a ‘near-far composition.’

death_valley_sunrise_2012_rrpm_rc0A shallow depth of field may be just a couple of inches deep with nearer and more distant objects out of focus.  This is referred to as ‘Selective Focus.’

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12 Tips on Nighttime Photography

January 22nd, 2014

Here are some tips on nighttime photography from an informative article by Dan Richards in a recent issue Popular Photography.  Credit for these tips goes to three great photographers – Matt Walker, Darren White and Mashahiro Miyasaka.  Here is the heart of what they shared…

  • Use a fast, wide lens.  Wide lenses slow the apparent motion of the stars.  Fast lenses gather more of the faint light.
  • Use a tripod.  The shortest practical exposure is 30 seconds.  Star trails require anything from tens of minutes to an hour or more.
  • Use an intervalometer.  This is essential for exposures greater than 30 seconds or if you plan to take a sequence of 30 second exposures.
  • Be aware of the weather.  An overcast sky will foil nighttime photography plans and a wind will wreak havoc with long exposures.
  • Be careful.  Scout the location ahead of time.  Use a headlamp, especially  one that has a red light so as not to destroy your night vision.
  • Include interesting foregrounds.  They can be silhouettes or you can light paint them.  You also have the option of creating a composite image by capturing a well exposed image of the foreground at low ISO and a high ISO image of the sky and then blending the two.
  • Focusing is really difficult.  Autofocus doesn’t work so you must use manual focus.  Pick the brightest star in the sky and use live view to focus on it (don’t change your focal length to focus; use the focal length you’ll be using for your image).  Another alternative is to focus on an object at infinity during the day and then marking the focus point with fluorescent tape so you can reset the same focus at night.  Again, use the focal length you will be shooting with as the infinity focus point changes as you zoom in and out.
  • Exposure is critical.  If you’re going to shoot starry  night photographs your exposure length will be 30 seconds (with a 24 mm lens or wider).  Shoot wide open and run tests with different ISO settings.  If  you’re going to use a long exposure to get star trails determine the ISO setting your 30 second exposure and then adjust ISO and f/stop to compensate for the length of exposure.  If your ISO is 6400 at f/2.8 and 30 seconds, if you want a 60 second exposure reduce your ISO to 3200.  A two-minute exposure requires an ISO of 1600.
  • Take a workshop.  That’s always good advice, no matter how experienced you are.  There’s always more to learn.
  • Don’t get disheartened.  This is not easy stuff but practice pays off.
  • Get in shape.  Good locations for night photography are going to be where there’s minimal light pollution and that’s a long ways away from city lights.
  • When the temperature is cold wrap a hand warmer around your lens to keep it from fogging over on those long half hour to hour exposures.

Well, that’s it.  Yea, and I confess; I threw in a couple of my tips too.

Hey, here are a couple of blog posts I’ve done on nighttime photography a while back there.

Exciting Nighttime Photography in 10 Easy steps

Nighttime Photography

So, go on out there and give it a try.  Have fun and be careful.


We always enjoy hearing from you so please feel free to leave a comment and share your experiences with us.

Also sharing this post on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and the like is also appreciated.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.

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Two Minutes of Light

September 17th, 2013

You read this story again and again.  The setting may be different but the plot is always the same.

It’s a dreary, overcast day.  You had planned this photo session for months, scouting it on Google Earth for the best location, checked the sun position on TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris), and received inspiration from the photographs of other photographers.  You made travel plans and booked lodging.

You arrived early at the iconic location, having traveled across the country and driven many miles in a rental car to get there.  But as you approach the sky turns dark with low hanging, gray clouds.  The light is a disappointment but you walk out to a viewpoint and set up anyway.  You keep telling yourself that good fortune happens to those who are prepared.

The minutes tick by and the sun, unseen behind a thick cloak of clouds, continues its inexorable decent to the horizon.  Other photographers join you and you ask each other, “Will it happen?”  Most shrug their shoulders and reply, “It doesn’t look like it will.”  It turns chilly and a cold breeze starts blowing.  Many photographers mutter, “It’s not going to happen,” pack up their gear and head back to their cars and a warm meal waiting them in the comfort of a nearby restaurant.

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A Conversation about Fine Art

April 13th, 2013

What’s on your mind?

I’ve been thinking about ‘fine art.’

You’ve got to be kidding. I mean there are PhDs that study this sort of thing, masters of the arts that won’t touch the topic. What makes you think you can think about ‘fine art?’

I don’t know. I just wonder about it. I’m trying to be an artist and I wonder what it all means, if I’m truly an artist or if I’m getting any closer.

Ok, you’re a photographer, aren’t you? So you must be thinking about fine art photography. You must be nuts! Nobody agrees on what fine art photography is.

Yea, fine art photography, that’s it. What do you think? Do you have any ideas of what it really is? I mean I’ve heard people say that if you want your photography to be art all you have to do is to call it art and it is so. ‘My photographs are fine art.’ Lord knows you hear that enough. But that seems a bit too simplistic, a bit too easy. It seems like it should be more than that.  I mean, can you snap a picture, run down to Costco to get a large print and call it art?

 

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Best Photograph of 2012 – Eastern Sierra

March 10th, 2013

We are continuing our selection of the best of my 2012 photographs.  In the first round we selected the best California Desert photograph.  Four photographs were presented and the one that ranked the highest was Death Valley Sunrise.  See Best Photographs of 2012 – California Desert for the other three.

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We have just concluded the second round in which you selected the best Eastern Sierra photographs of 2012.  There were six to choose from in this category.  I’d like to share them with you one by one and tell you a little bit about  each of them.

Let’s get started with this one.

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Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars

May 20th, 2012

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to what goes in to making a great landscape photograph. It turns out there are four things, four pillars if you will.  Four, that’s a good number.  There are the four legs of a table or the four wheels of a car.  And not to forget the four sacred directions of the Native Americans.

In landscape photography the four pillars are evenly divided between the aesthetics and the technical.  So what are they?  The two aesthetic pillars are Fantastic Light and Strong Composition.  No surprise there.  The two technical pillars are Appropriate Sharpness and Optimum Exposure.  No surprise there either.  If just one of those pillars is missing, well, the table collapses, the image suffers.

Let’s look at them one by one….

joshua_tree_spring_sunrise_2011

Joshua Tree Spring Sunrise (2011)

(click on the images to enlarge them)

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Photo Foundations – Focus

February 11th, 2010

When I’m asked how I get such intense landscape photographs I respond that it all begins with the fundamentals, the photo foundation.  Given that you have the other elements of a great photograph – a terrific subject and fantastic light – you are still not guaranteed a compelling image if it doesn’t have a solid foundation.

What is the photo foundation?  It’s two things – a proper exposure and the correct focus.  These are so basic we never talk about them much but, if you’re like me, you’ve had to walk away from a potentially great image because one or both of these were not carefully attended to in the field.

This post discusses focus.

Focus

 

Sharp images are the goal of most landscape photographers.  We have two options when it comes to focusing – autofocus and manual focus.

Autofocus

 

Cameras use multiple built in focus points to focus the lens.  When you depress the shutter half way, the processor in the camera determines which of these focus points to use and which to ignore.  It then focuses the lens.  The processors are extremely sophisticated and generally do a very good job.

But not all the time.  Sometimes they choose the wrong focus points.  Fortunately, most digital cameras allow you to tell the camera what focus point to use.

One thing to take into consideration when using auto focus is the fact that the focus may be off ever so slightly.  This can be corrected by sending your camera and lenses to your manufacturer’s service center and having them calibrate your body to your lenses.

Manual Focus

 

With early film cameras manual focus was the only way to go.  Various devices were used to help the photographer get a sharp focus including prisms and split images.

But without these devices it’s difficult to manually focus while looking through the view finder of a digital camera.  But with the development of Live View (the ability to see your image before you capture it) on digital SLRs, manual focus is now the most precise way to focus.  Here’s how.

Display the image on you LCD screen using live view.  Select the object you want to focus on and zoom in on it.  Focus the lens (make sure it is set to manual focus) and zoom back out.  Take your picture.  It’s as easy as that.

Hyper Focal Distance

 

Above we’re referred several times to selecting the object you want to focus on.  But how do you do that?

The goal is to have the nearest and farthest objects both in focus.  This requires two things – depth of field and focusing at the hyper focal distance.  What’s that?  Well, simply put, at any given depth of field it is the distance that will have objects at infinity just in focus.  You don’t want to focus on the objects at infinity because that will place your foreground objects out of focus.  And you don’t want to focus on your foreground objects because infinity will be out of focus.  You want to focus somewhere in between.  But where?

Generally speaking, given that your depth of field is adequate to cover both foreground and background, you want to focus 1/3 the distance between your closest foreground object and infinity.  That’s because the depth of field is much shallower in front of the focal distance than it is behind.

You can actually print charts off the internet or by little circular slide rules that give you the depth of field and the hyper focal distance for any aperture – focal length combination.  I know photographers that carry a tape measure in their camera bags to precisely determine the hyper focal distance.

But there’s an easier way.  On your live view screen or through your view finder, select an object that is 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the frame and focus on it.  Then shoot at f/22 and you got it.  However, if you are concerned about the effects of diffraction then maybe the circular slide rule calculator would be a good idea, if nothing more than to give you extra piece of mind.

Selective Focus

 

The opposite of a large depth of field is selective focus.  The goal is to have a very limited part of the image in focus and the rest out of focus.  To do this you minimize the depth of field by shooting with a wide open lens; that is, maximum aperture.  Longer focal length lenses have a shorter depth of field so one technique you might try is moving away from the subject and shooting wide open with a longer focal length lens.

When you’re using selective focus it’s critical that you get a very sharp focus on your subject.  In a flower that may be the pistils and stamens.  I wildlife, it’s the eyes.

Hand Held Photography

 

It’s worth mentioning hand held photography.  Most of the time landscape photographers will use a tripod to get the greatest sharpness in their images.  But there’s a freedom and spontaneity that comes with hand held photography.  And it’s still possible to get sharp images although not as sharp as you can get from your tripod.

The trick is to match the shutter speed with your focal length.  The formula is very simple.  The shutter speed should be 1 divided by the  focal length or faster.  For example, if your focal length is 50mm then you can get a sharp image if your shutter  speed is at least 1/50.  If your focal length is 200mm then you need to use a shutter speed of 1/200 or shorter.

You also want to do everything else to steady your camera like tucking your left elbow into your chest to give the camera a solid platform with your body.

Focus Summary

 

In summary, to get the sharpness you desire, first determine what object you want to focus on.  Determine the aperture and focal length settings that will give you the depth of field you want whether it’s hyper focal distance or selective focus.  Then focus.  If you’re using autofocus, select the focus point that is on the object you decided to focus on.  If you’re using manual focus, use live view to zoom in on the focus object.

Well focused, sharp images will provide your photographs with a strong photo foundation.

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