Posts Tagged ‘sharpness’

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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Is That What Your Camera Saw?

July 24th, 2014

Occasionally at art festivals a visitor to my booth will point to one of my photographs and ask, “Is that what your camera saw?”  This question points out a common misunderstanding about the physics and art of photography.

Those of us who are serious about our photography capture our digital images in RAW file format.  That’s a format that does a minimal amount of processing on the image before it saves it to the memory card.  It is more like what the camera sees.

The other format is  JPEG and is not what the camera sees but rather a highly processed image that is controlled to a large extent by the settings the photographer sets in the camera – settings like sharpness, contrast and saturation.  So if the photographer likes saturation he just has to up the saturation setting in the camera.

JPEG is much closer to the photographs that were captured in the wonderful days of film.  Each different type of file had its own unique way of responding to the scene.  Kodachrome film was great for reds while Ektachrome was perfect for blues.  Fujichrome was prized for its treatment of greens and its high contrast.

So what did the film camera see?  The question is really, “What did the film see?”  Was it a faithful documentation of reality?  Not in the least.  The same can be said for JPEG digital files.  They are no more a faithful documentation of reality than film was.

The fact is, RAW files are closer to what the camera saw than film or JPEG files ever were or will be.  And, as one workshop participant put it to me, “I don’t like shooting in RAW because the photographs are so plain and uninteresting.”  There you go.  What the camera sees, exactly what the camera sees, is often plain and uninteresting.

So the physics of digital images captured in RAW format is that the images are the closest to what the camera sees.  But from an artistic point of view, these images generally do not speak to us.  These are documentation but that’s not art; art is interpretation.

Now, a RAW file is the perfect starting point from which to create art.  It is neutral, unbiased and open to the artist to express what she saw, what she experienced that inspired her to set up the camera and compose the image, that led to the decisive moment that the shutter was pressed.

In the days of film we relied on our selection of the type of film that would do the best job of rendering particular situations.  In the digital era we have much more powerful tools that we ever had with film – Lightroom, Photoshop, Photomatix and all the wonderful software that we have access to that allows us to express our vision, our interpretation of reality.

So, are my photographs what the camera saw?  Not at all.  They are what I saw.


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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 Light – Dawn

March 23rd, 2013

Not long ago I was photographing dawn in Joshua Tree National Park.  I must confess, dawn is my favorite time of day.  And I have thrilled to more spectacular dawns in Joshua Tree than anywhere else.  There are ;often clouds that ignite as the sun approaches.  And the other morning was no exception.

I’d like to share with you three photographs taken that morning.  The alarm went off at 4:30 and we left the motel in Twentynine Palms a 5:30, an hour and a half before sunrise.  There were clouds in the morning sky, the first ingredient for a spectacular sunrise but by no means a guarantee.  I selected Sheep Pass at the west end of Queen Valley because it offered both Joshua Trees and some impressive granite outcrops for an interesting foreground.  We arrived about 45 minutes before sunrise.  It was still dark with the barest glimmer of light in the east.

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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….

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Joshua Tree Spring Sunrise (2011)

(click on the images to enlarge them)

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