Posts Tagged ‘technique’

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.’

sego_palm_130629__SM36636

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Is HDR a Four Letter Word?

November 17th, 2012

HDR.  Many people respond to those three letters in shock and disgust.  For them, HDR is synonymous with over the top processed images.  It embodies all that they think is wrong with digital photography and the implied MANIPULATION that goes with it.  It is a shocking insult on reality.

I’ve heard of photography contests that strictly forbid HDR and insist that all the photographs that are submitted be a single exposure.  I’ve judged photography competitions in which the other judges viewed an HDR image that was just slightly over the top and felt it should be placed in the Manipulated category.

But the letters HDR stand for High Dynamic Range.  Nothing sinister about that.  It’s a situation frequently encountered when out photographing.  That’s when the dynamic range of the scene, the difference between the darkest and brightest spots in the scene, is greater than the dynamic range our camera’s sensor is capable of capturing.  When we encounter this situation we’re going to get clipping where the highlights or shadows or both lack detail, are blank.  This is not a desirable situation.  If there’s anything that’s shocking here it’s that the camera, that supposedly great recorder of reality, does not, cannot see what our eyes see.  So what can be done about that?

Well, if you’re shooting color film the answer is simple. Nothing.  Move on.  You’ll never be able to capture high dynamic range images on color film (without clipping) no matter how beautiful they are.  If you are shooting black and white you can do what Ansel Adams did – water bath development.  He exposed for the shadows and adjusted his development process and chemicals to get a proper development of his highlights.  Sounds to me like he’s doing what we digital photographers do with HDR – adjusting the process to capture the full dynamic range (Read “How Ansel Adams did HDR”)

If you’re a digital photographer you can use the HDR technique – capture two or more images with bracketed exposures that span the dynamic range and then blend them together using software like PhotoMatix Pro.  So where’s the problem?  I mean, doesn’t that sound like a good thing, taking photographs we weren’t able to do at all with color film or with great difficulty with black and white?

But somehow HDR has become a four letter word in some circles.  It’s become synonymous with that word that is so offensive to some – MANIPULATION.  HDR images are manipulated images.  Never mind that HDR can be used to create photographs that are a lot more like what our eyes see than what our cameras are even remotely capable of capturing. 

Many of these same people that think that HDR is a four letter word are also prone to look down their noses and ask, “Did you PHOTOSHOP that picture.”  Yes, with Photoshop we can easily drop in moons that weren’t there.  And our photographs are cheap because of that.  But it was OK in the days of film when the masters that we so admire did it.  What’s the difference?  Is it that it was hard when you did it with film and therefore to be admired but it’s easy with Photoshop?  Don’t know.  Could be.

And with HDR a similar thing might be happening.  With the software tools that are available you don’t have to settle for recreating what our eyes saw, you can take your images over the top, give them that grunge look.  Or that painterly look.  It’s up to you and your vision.

Now, for the record (not that it’s important) I choose not to go for the grunge or painterly look in PhotoMatix Pro.  I prefer to control the dynamic range, remove highlight clipping and return an image to Lightroom that I can continue to work on.  And when it comes to moons in my  photographs I prefer to be there when the full moon comes up behind my  favorite bristlecone pine.  It’s a lot more fun that way.

But I have no argument with those that drop moons or cloudy skies or whatnot in their photographs.  And I have no argument with those that choose to express themselves with grunge HDR images.  I readily confess that some of them are extremely effective with the grunge look.  That’s just not my style, not my personality. 

The only thing I think we all owe our viewers is to be honest about it.  When people come into my booth at an art festival and ask if I manipulate or Photoshop my photographs I  answer, “Of course.”  I often go on to say, “Let me put it this way.  I approach photography from the mindset of a painter.  I want to have all the creative freedom a painter would have.’”  And more than once, they have responded, “Oh, I get it.  You’re an artist.” 

Smile

Love it when that happens.


What do you think of HDR?  What do you think of manipulation in Photoshop?  Leave a comment.  We’d love to hear your opinion. 

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HDR for Every Day

September 9th, 2012

We landscape photographers tend to avoid photographing during the middle of a sunny day.  The light is harsh with no color.  We prefer golden hour or twilight.

But there are times when we have no choice as to when we can shoot.  When we’re on vacation with family we can’t wait until sunset at every location that sparks our interest.  So we get the shot and hope for the best.  But there’s a technique we can use that will greatly enhance our chances of capturing a more compelling photograph.

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Rock and Surf

August 18th, 2012

I was fortunate to be in Big Sur last week photographing that magnificent coast with the members of our workshop.  Ansel Adams made some beautiful photographs here as did, of course, Edward Weston.  An increasingly common technique used by photographers is to employ a neutral density filter to get very long exposures that turn the ocean into a sea of ethereal mist.  Many of these photographs are incredibly beautiful.  Personally, I connect with the power and energy of the ocean, something these beautiful photographs do not capture.

Adams’ technique was to stop the motion in of the surf as in this photograph titled “Rock and Surf.”  Freezing the water was essential to the effectiveness of the composition.

rock and surf

Rock and Surf (1951)
Ansel Adams

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How Ansel Adams Did HDR

August 13th, 2012

High dynamic range (or HDR) is a condition frequently encountered by landscape photographers where the digital camera’s sensor cannot handle the dynamic range of the scene.  In other words, the scene has very bright highlights with areas of deep shadow.  The resulting image will have clipped highlights (highlights that are pure white with no detail), clipped shadows (shadows that are pure black with no detail or at best, muddy) or both.

In digital photography we have several options including HDR, the techniques whereby we take multiple shots at varying exposures.  The most underexposed image will capture the highlights and the most overexposed image will capture the shadows.  Then we blend them all together with software like PhotoMatix Pro.  The result is an image with bright highlights that still have detail and dark, crisp shadows, also with detail.

But what do film photographers do when they face this same situation?  After all, film may not be able to capture the dynamic range of the scene any better than digital can.  And with film there is not the option of taking multiple shots at different exposures and blending the negatives together.

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Lightroom Tutorial – Polarizer Filter

July 27th, 2012

A Polarizer filter is generally the first filter a landscape photographer buys.  It is so versatile.  It can darken blue skies, reduce harsh reflections and intensify colors.  Many photographers put polarizers on their lenses and never take them off.

But this is a Lightroom tutorial.  So why in the world am I talking about polarizer filters?  Well, it’s because I have a trick I’d like to share with you, one that I’ve never seen discussed anywhere else.  It’s what you can do in Lightroom to create the polarizer effect without a polarizer.  In fact, it can be better than the real thing, especially if you are shooting with a wide angle lens.  Because, the angle of view can be so great that part of the sky will be affected by the polarizer and the rest will not.  So it looks pretty unnatural when the sky in part of your image is dark and the rest is washed out.

So, what’s the trick?  Well, consider this image taken on a recent trip to Hawaii.  I shot it with my Canon G11 and I don’t even own a polarizer filter for it.  It’s a photograph of the ongoing eruption in a crater in the Kilauea caldera.  In the bottom of the crater is a lake of lava.  The smoke you see is a plume of noxious gas.

polarizer_1

(Click on the image for a larger view)

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Photoshop Discoveries 2

December 27th, 2007

Use of Spot Healing Brush

I have an image that is a shot of the Eastern Sierra at sunrise.  There are gorgeous clouds hanging over the peaks.  The early morning sun lit them on fire along with the mountains.  It was amazing!

My exposure was pretty close to being right on.  And yet, there was one part of the clouds that technically wasn’t clipped but was very close.  The RGB numbers were not 100% but were in the high 80% to low 90%.  The thing was there wasn’t much detail and it really stood out.

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