Featured Photographer – Tony Kuyper

by Sean Bagshaw
October 30th, 2014

 

This month we welcome Tony Kuyper as our guest photographer. Tony’s body of work centers around the desert sandstone of the Colorado Plateau and is as beautiful as it is definitive. In addition to his photography, Tony is well known to outdoor photographers for his skills in the realm of digital image developing, specifically in the use of luminosity mask techniques. His popular tutorials and Photoshop actions are well regarded by many of the best contemporary nature and landscape photographers. Tony is also one of the most kind, generous and humble people I know. I first became acquainted with Tony almost ten years ago and have since had the pleasure of getting to know him personally, spending time with him in the field and collaborating with him on Luminosity Mask instruction. Tony generally avoids the spotlight so I thank him for agreeing to this interview and giving us a view into his world.

Inner-Momo

Sean: Give us some biographic back story on Tony Kuyper.

Tony: My background is in the sciences. I got an “A” in Physical Chemistry in college! After getting my degree I moved to Arizona in the 1980s and have mostly been here since. I worked as a pharmacist for the Indian Health Service for 30 years.

Sean: When and how did you get your start in photography?

Tony: There really wasn’t a definitive start to it. It’s always been evolving. Arizona was a whole new world for me compared to the Midwest. I did a lot of hiking and camping trying to see it all. It’s natural, I think, to want to take pictures to hold onto some memories. But in the early days I was just using an instamatic camera. I eventually moved on to a 35 mm and even did a decade of large-format. So it’s really just a long continuum.

Sean: Your photography is centered in the American Southwest, primarily southern Utah and Northern Arizona. What about this landscape attracted you photographically and what keeps you coming back?

Tony: The initial attraction wasn’t photographic. The Colorado Plateau was just an incredible place. It was easy to fall in love with this landscape after living my first 24 years in Iowa. Photography was a way to interact with this place on a more personal level, and that eventually became more central to my travels around the area. Being in the desert feels right for me now, and that helps create a good mindset for taking pictures.

Bow-Wave

Sean: Your photography includes some wonderful large landscapes, but you are most known for your sandstone abstracts. Other than light, what are the most essential elements you look for when capturing this type of scene and what are you hoping viewers will take note of when viewing this body of work?

Tony: I tend to compose less complex scenes, so these images are in line with my general approach to nature photography. Many of these sandstone details are taken in the shadows, not direct light. In the shadows, the color of sandstone shifts considerably, depending on the source of reflected light. Only by getting in close and excluding direct sunlight can you really see what’s happening. The camera, especially in the film days, was critical to this. Our eyes naturally shift the colors to what we expect, but the camera is objective and helped me see sandstone’s alternate hues. The unexpected colors coupled with the amazing shapes and textures make for an interesting subject. So these abstracts are really just my way of exploring sandstone. Hopefully viewers will be able to see the beauty in this rock from a less traditional point of view.

Fiesta

Sean: To quote from your website you say, “Over the years, capturing light has become less and less my goal. Instead, I increasingly prefer to give in to the unpredictability of the situation and simply allow the light to capture me.” Tell us a little more about that statement.

Tony: I’ll say up front that Guy Tal had a big influence in developing this perspective. I photographed with him several times and was always impressed that any light was good light for him. He always came back with some amazing images. I came to understand it was not about approaching the landscape with preconceived notions of what would make a good picture, but rather to find a way to understand the area and eventually allow it to show me what it might have to offer in terms of light. Images created in this manner end up having deeper meaning. There’s something almost magical when I turn it all over to fate and find that it makes better choices than I do. It’s a new connection to something to I didn’t even know existed.

Elephant's-Feet-No-2

Sean: What does your standard camera rig consist of for most of your photographs?

Tony: Pretty minimal. Canon 5D2 camera, carbon fiber tripod, Tamron 28-300 lens, polarizer, and spare battery and compact flash cards.

Sean: Attention to image developing has long been an important component of your photography. What is your basic philosophy and approach to image developing?

Tony: Two things come to mind. First, connect with your image and let it tell you what to do. Each image is different and requires a unique approach. I find making actual prints to be extremely helpful in listening to the light. It’s much easier to interpret what the image needs when looking at a print than at the monitor for me. The second is to learn to use your tools and develop a skill set that is comfortable. Today’s cameras and Photoshop let us do some amazing things, but it takes some experimentation and practice with both to understand how to best use them. Other than that, I think photographers should be free to do what they want with their images. As David Kachel observed, a sense of realism is important to photography, but strict adherence to reality is not. So the whole process becomes one of interpreting light rather than simply reproducing it, and that opens up a lot of possibilities.

Sandstone-Polychrome

Sean: You are arguably the original and best known luminosity mask user and educator in the world of outdoor photography. Briefly, what are luminosity masks, how did you begin working with them and how is it that you discovered them for the rest of us?

Tony: Luminosity masks are selections based on tonal values in the image. They are created from the image’s pixel values, not from a selection tool. They can be manipulated to target specific tones and blend most adjustments perfectly into the rest the image. I Googled the term “luminosity mask” in April 2006, found out how to make the initial “Lights” selection, and was instantly fascinated with the possibilities. I knew about adding, subtracting, and intersecting selections and played with combining various masks somewhat randomly for several months to get at specific tones in my images. Based on these experiments, the Lights-, Darks-, and Midtones-series were developed for the “Luminosity Masks” tutorial published in November the same year.

Sean: Speaking to anyone not familiar with luminosity masks, what advantages do they have over other Photoshop adjustment methods?

Tony: The perfect blending that luminosity masks provide is probably the biggest benefit. While regular selections and brushes can be feathered spatially into the surrounding pixels to facilitate blending, luminosity selections are feathered tonally. This means that pixel content, specifically the brightness values, determines what gets blended, not just proximity to the selection edge. So as brightness varies across the image, the luminosity mask or selection will automatically adjust. The image is essentially its own mask. Photoshop makes it easy to manipulate the initial “Lights” mask to target different tones, so it’s possible to get this seamless blending in any tones you adjust. Sorry if that sounds a bit geeky, but that’s how it works. This perfect blending can be used to create very balanced lighting in the image. For nature photographers, it’s like to having studio lighting in the great outdoors.

Sandstone-Aurora-RAWSandstone-Aurora

Sean: Many of the talented outdoor photographers I’m familiar with today include luminosity mask techniques in their image developing skill set. When you first began experimenting with luminosity masks did you have any idea how important they would become to modern outdoor photography?

Tony: Not really. The scientist in me thought it was pretty neat what the different luminosity masks could do, so that’s why I wrote the tutorial, sort of like writing a research paper. However, it was my quirky way of using Photoshop and a bit complex at the time, so I didn’t think it would be widely adopted. The actions to make the masks were available right from the start and that probably helped others get on to using these techniques more quickly. But overall the interest in these techniques was definitely more than I expected.

Sean: In 2006 you published your first luminosity mask tutorials and Photoshop actions on NaturePhotographers.net. How have the actions, and the way that they are used, evolved since you first put them out there?

Tony: While the initial series of masks (Lights, Darks, Midtones) are useful, I quickly found that the narrower tonal range selections made from the primary Lights- and Darks-series to be more useful. These secondary masks became more important to me and I’ve developed tools to make them accessible. Something else quite unexpected is that I also use the Darks series of masks frequently in sharpening my images. They’re an effective way to reduce or remove light halos and over-sharpening while maintaining proper image sharpness.

First-Lightening-RAW First-Lightening

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sean: The techniques and actions you introduced almost a decade ago have become a standard tool for outdoor photographers all over the world. Do you see them continuing to evolve and improve, and if so, how?

Tony: I think the basic knowledge about luminosity masks is becoming more widespread, but there is still some confusion about how to use them effectively. Deciding when use them, which mask to choose, and how to efficiently incorporate them into the workflow are some of the issues. Developing tools and educational materials to streamline luminosity mask integration will help more people adapt to them. It’s something I’m continuing to work on.

Sean: What piece of advice do you have for photographers interested in improving their image developing skills and realizing their creative potential?

Tony: I think the best way to improve at anything is to make it personal. For photography, that means having a genuine interest in the subjects you photograph. It’s easy to tune into the light and find images when you care about your subject. This also makes image development a creative exercise instead of a chore. If you’re personally committed to what you photograph, you’ll naturally work to improve your technique both in the field and at the computer. You’ll practice and study and find ways to get better.

Sean: Where do you see your interests in photography going in the future?

Tony: I recently moved to Tucson. It’s a whole new world to explore. Very different than the Colorado Plateau, but lots of variety. I’m going to have to branch out from sandstone, but am definitely looking forward experiencing light in a new place.

F-stop Gear – Kenti Backpack Review By Adrian Klein

by Adrian Klein
October 27th, 2014

When I am getting ready to head out for a hike or take my camera gear I normally don’t travel very light, except of course when I am backpacking. One of F-stop Gear’s smaller packs forces me to travel lighter than I normally would and this pack is the Kenti, the smallest in their Mountain series and the one that has the built-in ICU. I really like what it has to offer, some of what differs from other packs I have used whether F-stop or other brands.

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Many attachments and clips on the straps and belt including two metal d-rings on the straps.

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Side view showing several compartments, the top and side can lead to the same spot depending on your configuration internally.

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Looking into the top with the main compartment closed off for storage on top.

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Looking into the top with the main compartment open, seeing the same areas you can also access on the side compartment zippers.

Basic Specs – 25 liters, 3.4 lbs (1.54 kgs), 17” tall, 11” wide and 8.5” deep. Exterior is DWR-treated, 330D Double Ripstop Nylon with 1500mm Polyurethane coating. Can carry your DSLR, a few lenses, accessories and some others small items like a snack and light jacket.

Feel – When I first put it on I felt like I was ready to hit the trail for a run, not a hike. Because of it’s size the Kenti sits high which I was not used to but really like as it feels more out of the way around my lower back. When I have this loaded with little room to spare I am pleasantly surprised how well the bag holds with little to no sagging feel.

The roll-down top allows for more storage as needed. External large zippered pocket leads to several other smaller pockets for storing your smaller items.

The roll-down top allows for more storage as needed. External large zippered pocket leads to several other smaller pockets for storing your smaller items.

Zippered hydration bladder pocket with outlet for bladder hose. Soft comfortable padding between bladder and your back.

Zippered hydration bladder pocket with outlet for bladder hose. Soft comfortable padding between bladder and your back.

Build – Every generation of F-stop bags honestly gets better and better, this one is no exception. My first one from them I still have from years ago and I love it because it’s bright red and in great shape but you can see the difference in materials and overall build compared to their newer packs. I see no reason this won’t last through heavy use from the mountain trails to the urban back alley.

Hydration – Something I have asked for and I see is integrated in this pack is a place to put a hydration bladder that is outside of the pack with drain at bottom should it leak. A bladder inside the pack and thousands of dollars in gear is not a good combo. I had no issues putting a couple liters of water in my Camelbak bladder and getting it to fit in the hydration slot.

There are few things to note about hydration for this pack. 1) Although I got the bladder to fit fine I could not make use of the H2O hose outlet as seen in the photos. It’s simply too tight of a squeeze for the front of my hose. That said I had no issues letting it sit between the zippers, they stayed firmly in place. 2) Although my backpacking pack I use is similar in that the hydration bladder sits behind my back it has more of an arch to keep it from my pack. That said even though this area is directly touching your back when wearing the pack it felt fine without feeling the shape of the bladder with water. 3) Unless you want to keep your water bottle in your pack with gear this pack lacks an outside water bottle option.

iPhone shot with Canon DSLR and 24-70L lens in side compartment. Plenty of room for a telephoto if that is your preference. Each side opening has an internal zipper pocket as well.

iPhone shot with Canon DSLR and 24-70L lens in side compartment. Plenty of room for a telephoto if that is your preference. Each side opening has an internal zipper pocket as well.

I know this part of the chest strap is for helping attach items and accessories yet I find poking out a tad more than I would like. Nice features like Velcro strap for bladder hose. iPhone shot.

I know this part of the chest strap is for helping attach items and accessories yet I find poking out a tad more than I would like. Nice features like Velcro strap for bladder hose. iPhone shot.

 

External Straps – You can carry the tripod on the side which I did a few times yet I would suggest getting the Gatekeeper Straps as this allows for carrying it on the back center area. This would also allow you to carry other items here such as snowboard or crampons if desired. I have a feeling I will be using this pack for that purpose this winter.

Main Body Access – Admittedly I am not used to side access compartments for my camera backpacks. That said once you get used to using it nice to swing it onto one should or the other to get access to your gear without putting your bag down. Top access is roll-down for expandability as needed which is pretty cool (reminds me of my Ortlieb panniers that I use for biking). For side access I notice I don’t always remember which side I have my camera and which has my extra lenses. A trick to remember is referencing your hip belt and knowing which gear is in the side with the hip belt pocket and what gear is in the side without. If you have a mirror-less camera system or something similar in size you could put most of your gear on one side and leave the other for clothes or other items.

The Kenti and I wait out rain showers to get the photo I am after. iPhone shot.

The Kenti and I wait out rain showers to get the photo I am after. iPhone shot.

Pockets – There is plenty! I still remember a trip many years ago to Europe traveling on the bus talking to some climbers from England. They commented on my pack (and American’s in general) how we have so many pockets and compartments in most of our packs. I can’t deny that is me 100% whether it’s a photo bag or not. You will find plenty of places to put small and medium sized items like filters, batteries and cards.

Weather Resistance – One thing I need is something that is built to hold up to the elements and has a rain cover that you can get as an add on. It’s wet in the Northwest so I need this. Although I use the rain cover when it’s raining I have gone without it for short distances in light rain and the DWR-treated exterior repels water quite well. Don’t forget if you use the rain cover and end up tucking it in the bottom compartment to remove it later so it can fully dry out. I have come close a couple times to leaving a damp cover in there which wouldn’t smell nice weeks later!

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There are several colors to choose from yet I like blue, makes for good contrast for man & nature stock images.

Overall I really like this pack and for now will be my go to when I want to travel light with less gear. What is your pack of choice for travel light with your photo gear?

Disclosure Note: I am on the F-stop Gear pro team.

Four Takes on the Same Scene: Getting Creative by David Cobb

by photocascadia
October 19th, 2014

Four Takes on the Same Scene: Getting Creative

By David Cobb

This fall I conducted a photography workshop in Glacier National Park through the Pacific Northwest Art School, and the fall color was some of the best I’ve seen there in years. One afternoon we headed out to an aspen grove to capture fall color and I used the opportunity to practice pans, zooms, and multiple exposure images, which I like to do in the fall when the light is still bright on the trees. I also figured it would be a good time to teach these techniques to those interested. I remembered reading a book by photographer Freeman Patterson, who would throw a hoop in his backyard and then try to come up with original images while staying within that hoop. To help expand our creative thinking, I thought I’d try a similar exercise while keeping my tripod in place.

Aspen Grove Multiple Exposure

Multiple Exposure image – 5 shots on 1 frame

I first started with multiple exposure images and set my camera to three images on one frame, then took three shots while moving my camera slightly (between each shot) in the shape of a V. Depth-of-field is of little importance here, since you’re going for the “impressionistic look.” Three images weren’t enough to capture the impressionist “feel” I was after though, so I increased it to five images on one frame, taking each shot in the shape of an X and moving my camera each time no further than one-quarter of the distance of my baby fingernail. That did the trick, and I was able to capture the impressionist “feel” I was after.

Aspen Pan

Panning my camera vertically while taking my image.

Next I started to pan my camera up and down while taking a shot. Each person moves differently, so a time that might work for me might not work for you. Instead, concentrate on your follow-through with the camera. If you anticipate stopping when you hear the shutter click, the image will look a lot less fluid and probably won’t be very good. Once everyone got the hang of that trick, we moved onto another–this time zooming while shooting. You can get some interesting results with fall color when you zoom and shoot, but I have learned that when you zoom in on a solid object (like tree bark) your image will be more successful.

Aspen Blur

Zooming my lens while taking the shot

Once the sun set over the distant ridge, it was time to take a “normal” shot. I framed the image in my usual way by using my live-view in conjunction with the zoom to make sure of my focus. This automatically turns on camera lock-up, so the image should be tack-sharp. With aspen leaves I often turn up the ISO, since the leaves are quaking, and I pull the trigger. This image can be used as a reference shot to compare against those more “creative” images taken earlier.

People in the group were learning and having fun and I walked away with an idea for a blog. I think that’s a good day of photography.

Aspen Forest

A normal shot, taken once the sun went over the ridge

Chip Phillips Photography Workshops

by Chip Phillips
October 7th, 2014

Palouse Spring Morning

 

I’ve been a little bit out of the loop for a while now tending to my baby who’s now almost 5 months old.  Those who say it gets easier after the first 3 months must have had better luck.  He is a real sweet guy, doesn’t cry much, and we are having a great time with him, but boy is he a challenge to get to sleep!  Unfortunately his sleep has regressed for now.  He was sleeping  7-9 hrs straight at night, and for the past month he has been at about 3 hr stretches at first, then less until morning.  I know this is better than some, but it is sure hard to get used to when he was doing so much better.  He has been diagnosed with acid reflux so we are pretty sure this has been part of the challenge.

I apologize to the people who have been waiting so long to get in on a workshop, but plan to start getting busy soon-things just take a bit longer with the new one around!

I have contacted most of you who wanted a workshop last season and gave you first grabs at my schedule for this year.  I have filled up one workshop, and some private spots,  and am tentatively scheduling another for May 29-31st.  Cost would be $495/person and I am keeping it at 5 people max.  This workshop would start a bit before  sunset on the 29th, and end after a sunrise shoot/early morning shooting on Sun.  This would be in addition to any private or small groups I can fit in as well around the same timeframe.

I am also accepting clients for other times of the year as well if my schedule permits.

More information on my workshops can be found here.

Feel free to fill out a contact form on my website if you are interested in setting something up and I will try my best to accommodate you best I can.

If you are just interested in finding out a bit about my editing tips and tricks, my set of image editing videos can be purchased here.

 

Double Rainbow, Palouse

 

 

A Look At My Lightweight Backpacking Kit by Sean Bagshaw

by Sean Bagshaw
September 29th, 2014

I grew up backpacking in the California Sierra and Oregon Cascades with my family and have continued to explore the back country and high mountain wilderness ever since. In my twenties and thirties I spent most of my time in the wilderness climbing, carrying ridiculously heavy packs and taking the most direct path to whatever summit was close by. These days I prefer to take more leisurely trips into the wilderness to photograph mountains instead of climbing them. My most rewarding outdoor experiences come from spending a few days with the camera, far away from more crowded roadside landscapes. When I first began going into the wilderness to photograph I simply traded out my climbing gear for camera gear, convinced that a heavy pack was the hallmark of a burly woodsman. Now that I have both hiking boots planted firmly in middle age I find that carrying too much weight has become painful, demoralizing and potentially injury inducing.

Flame of Asgard

In the past few years I have made it a priority to lighten my backpack so I can get up in the hills with a minimum of suffering and maximum of comfort and mobility. It is a work in progress, but I now have a set-up that seems to be working well for me. I figured some people would be interested to know what my back country kit is composed of and that was the motivation for this article. Fellow PhotoCascadian, David Cobb, also an avid back country photographer, previously wrote an article detailing his lightweight backpacking set up. Most of my gear choices are based on suggestions from friends and some basic Internet research and comparison. I don’t have any personal or financial stake in the companies or gear on my list. I genuinely like and endorse all the gear I’m using. However, there are many other options out there which would work equally well or even better.

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My main goal is to keep my total fixed pack weight (not including clothes, food and water, which varies day by day and season by season) under 15-18 pounds.

Pack –  I use an Osprey pack that is closest to the current Xenith 75 Model: 5.4 lbs. This is the one place where I am willing to go a little heavier for better comfort and load distribution. I find that a good pack can make a heavy load feel lighter than it would with a less able but lighter pack.
TentBig Agnes Copper Spur UL1 : 2.5 lbs. Super roomy single person for the weight and very weather proof for a three season tent. I love the big side entry door and high ceiling.
Sleeping bag -Three season - Mountain Hardwear Phantom 45: 1.2 lbs. Good for me down to about 35 degrees F. Cold weather – Marmot Helium: 2.4 lbs. Good for temps down into the low teens or even colder if I wear layers. Both of these down bags are super comfy and light.
PadBig Agnes Q-Core SL: 1.1 lbs. I’m getting older and stiffer so the 3.5 inches of air cushion really helps me get a good night’s rest. It also keeps me warm down into the low teens.
StoveMSR Pocket Rocket: 0.2 lbs. Super light, super small, super fast, super reliable.
Kitchen KitMSR Quick Solo Pot: .5 lbs. It’s a pot.
Water treatmentKatadyn Hiker: 0.75 lbs. Basic and reliable, although not the lightest out there.

This puts my basic kit at 11.65 or 12.85 lbs depending on which sleeping bag I take. I have another couple of pounds of odds and ends like first aid kit, head lamp, 10 essentials kit, fuel, mug, etc. That brings me up to about 15 pounds total. This leaves about 20 pounds for extra clothing layers, food and camera gear to stay under my 35 pound limit. For camera gear I choose from the following options.

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Camera – Canon EOS 5D mark III or Sony NEX-7
Lenses – 24-105mm or similar. 16-35mm and/or 70-200mm if essential.
TripodMeFoto Road Trip or Gitzo Mountaineer.
Camera clipPeak Design Capture Pro Camera Clip. I hike with my camera outside my pack so I’m ready to shoot at any time without needing to take off the pack and unload it. I find the Peak Design clip an excellent way to carry the camera outside the pack in easy reach.

Depending on how light I want to go will determine which camera, tripod and lenses I take. For the most lightweight rig I’ll take the Sony NEX-7, single 16-55mm lens (roughly 24-82mm equivalent) and the MeFoto Road Trip tripod.

 

PRE-VISUALIZATION PART 2 – PROCESSING

by photocascadia
September 21st, 2014

In the last part of this series I talked about starting the process of pre-visualization in the field, you can read the first part of the series here:  http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/pre-visualization-part-1-starting-the-process/#.VB9OpksyPiM  Just as important, is continuing the pre-visualization through my digital processing workflow.  In this segment I’ll talk about how I use my pre-visualized idea to control my image throughout the workflow.

Just like in the field, I want to have a roadmap to help guide me through the processing.   I remind myself what I’m trying to achieve with this image and what I’m trying to communicate.  This helps to guide me while processing.  Typically, this leads to a lot of problem solving, trying to figure out what tools and techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop will help me realize my final vision.  I usually experiment quite a bit.  Along the way I discover what is working toward my final vision for the image and what is not.  A lot of times I like to walk away from processing and come back later, this gives me a fresh perspective and a chance to re-evaluate how the image is turning out according to my vision.

This is just a guide however.  During this process I’ll often evolve my overall vision for an image.  If a particular technique is working really well and starts to take the image in a new direction that I find compelling I’ll consider adjusting my pre-visualized ideas.  It’s common for images to turn out even better than I had imagined, of course it goes the other way as well.  I’ve had many stubborn images that just don’t turn out the way I had anticipated, but most of the time they come pretty close to my pre-visualized idea.

Here is an example of carrying the vision I had for this image in the field through my digital processing workflow.  The color, tone, and overall mood was being lost in the Raw capture.  It took a lot of work in Lightroom and Photoshop to bring out the potential I had seen in the field.  Having that pre-visualized idea in my head helped to realize my vision for this image.  Even though this was a single exposure capture, I used many of the tools and techniques that are covered in my Tonality Control Video, you can learn more here: http://www.zschnepf.com/Other/Videos2

Raw Capture

Raw Capture

Final Master Image

Final Master Image

 

A New Gadget by David M. Cobb

by photocascadia
September 10th, 2014

A New Gadget

By David M. Cobb

 

I’ve spent far too many hours looking for lost lens caps over the years, and many times I replace them with lost lens caps I’ve found in the field. There is a new gadget designed by Darren Siegel who began Hufa to stop those lens caps from disappearing. It’s a pretty simple clip that hooks on to your camera strap, and when you take your lens cap off, you just clip it to your strap – pretty easy. Not that they designed it for this function, but I find they work pretty well with filters too when I’m out in the field. I’ve added a video below so you can see how the clip functions.

Sony a6000 Mirrorless Camera Review

by Adrian Klein
September 4th, 2014

To start off I know Chip covered this camera in one of his recent posts yet I figured I would provide my thoughts and images for what it’s worth.

As I was packing up for a backpack trip this past spring my DSLR equipment seemed heavier than usual. Tip top shape I was not yet a lazy couch potato waking up from winter hibernation was not me either. At this point I figured it was time to start shopping for a mirror-less setup that would shave significant weight for backpacking, long hikes and other travel situations where lugging bulkier or heavier gear was less than optimal.
I looked at a number of models online reading many reviews and talking to some photographers as well. Eventually I settled on the Sony a6000 and Sony lenses, for a number of reasons. It’s the newest model in what has been known as the NEX series. The Sony a6000 is a 24.3MP APS-C HD CMOS with BIONZ X image processor. ISO range 100 to 25,600. Shutter Lag of only .02 seconds with 11 fps and weighing well under one pound!

I have had the camera for a couple months now on several outings, even to photograph a wedding for a family member. This has given me enough time to detail my thoughts and opinions which fall in both the good and the not so good sides.

Sony a6000 Camera Review

My Sony a6000 with the 16-50mm OSS kit lens. Taken with iPhone.

What I like

Weight – One of the primary goals was to buy a good interchangeable lens system that shaved many pounds from my DSLR setup. Weight details come from weighing my gear on a mailing scale, not product descriptions. The lightness did not go unnoticed on my first backpack trip using this setup. I will let the data do the speaking here.

Canon to Sony Weight Compare

Size – Besides The Sony a6000 weighing in at less than half the weight of my Canon DSLR setup it’s about half the size too. This photo shows my typical Sony and Canon setups for comparison. As small as it is I can put it with the pancake mid-range lens in a coat pocket to carry around if desired (tad too large for most pant pockets). I am pretty sure I sounded like a broken record to my wife after explaining my excitement a half dozen times that I had to contact f-stop to send me their new tiny micro ICU because their “small” size I have was too big!

Sony a6000 and Canon 5D setup for size comparison.

Sony a6000 and Canon 5D setup for size comparison. Taken with iPhone.

Speed - Shutter speed is lightning fast. I am very in impressed with it but I guess I shouldn’t be with the 179 point phase detection and 25 point contrast detection system. The double digit 11 fps from this sized camera is mighty good. The auto-focus works very well with good results. If the camera is on you can be that person that aims, focuses and snaps a sharp photo in… well, a snap. Notice I said camera powered on. If it’s not you will have to wait up to 5 or 6 seconds for the camera to power up which is a little slow.

Price – Considering I am used to spending $2k to $3k for just a camera body this one rings in lower than most lenses I use for my Canon setup. At $650 without lenses ($750 with kit lens) it’s hard to go much lower price wise. Additionally 2 out of the 3 lenses I bought, 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS and 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens, that run on the cheaper side are decent lenses. The 55-210 I bought on sale for a whopping $148 and the 16-50 came with the camera for an additional $100. The 55-210 is better than I expected and the 16-50 does the job but is definitely soft on the edges, plan to crop about 10% to 15%. But what can you expect for the price!? The next best option with similar range is the 16-70mm for $1k which I am debating getting for myself. The 10-18mm f/4.0 is $850 (and the most I have paid for a full plastic lens) yet it’s a pretty solid wide angle. And for you prime users there are a number of options all with decent price points and good reviews when paired with this camera.

Menu and Controls – From all that I have seen prior NEX cameras had much less user friendly menu which is one reason it kept me at bay, picture oriented which for me is slower and takes longer to find what you need. That said I find the overall ease of navigating the menus a fairly short learning curve. It’s all text based now and similar to Sony a7 series. Adjusting the aperture and shutter in manual mode is easy and only a couple clicks for ISO adjustment. My hand grips the body rather well. It’s as small as a camera can go. Any smaller and it would be too small for me.

Dynamic Range – This is good too. What I am able to pull down from the highlights and pull up from the shadows is fairly decent. You still want to shoot to the right yet it’s good to know I have a little wiggle room here. Below is a sample comparison with the raw file and the single processed shot.

Comparing the raw file to the processed file. Processing in ACR only. Sony a6000, 16-50mm and ISO 400.

Comparing the raw file to the processed file. Processing in ACR only. Sony a6000, 16-50mm and ISO 400.

EVF – Although this also falls in the negative category the one advantage is that you can use this to image review for already taken images and zoom in for the details. Rather than separate setups for your large LCD, simply put your eye to the eye piece and the image review changes to the EVF automatically. This is helpful in bright situations where it’s harder to see the LCD.

Apps and Wireless – Although I don’t use them all it’s nice to have a myriad options for how you take photos and get them onto your phone or computer. For example they have a free phone app called PlayMemories (although limited in features) will allow you to trigger the shot and send a 2MB file to your phone if you choose.

IQ/ISO – This really is one that ends up in both the positive and not so positive category. Overall it’s amazing to see what a small camera with 24MP can produce. In the right situations and ISO it produces a very clean file with excellent detail. Not that I shoot much JPG yet the in camera processing produces a cleaner less noisy JPG vs RAW at higher ISO’s. That said I can clean up the noise pretty well on the RAW so that it’s almost as clean. Here are some examples around ISO.

 

Sony a6000 test photo along the Oregon Coast. This is from a single file at ISO 400.

Sony a6000 test photo along the Oregon Coast. This is from a single file at ISO 400.

This is a close up crop at 100% of the grass in the larger image above at several different ISO's. You can see a significant difference from 400 to 1600. All images shot RAW.

This is a close up crop at 100% of the grass in the larger image above at several different ISO’s. You can see a significant difference from 400 to 1600. All images shot RAW.

Sony a6000 with 16-50mm kit lens and ISO 400 and Hoya NX Polarizer.

Sony a6000 with 16-50mm kit lens and ISO 400 and Hoya NX Polarizer.

Zoomed in 100% on flowers from image above. RAW file without sharpening. Plenty of detail considering this is a landscape photo and this only one small piece.

Zoomed in 100% on flowers from image above. RAW file without sharpening. Plenty of detail considering this is a landscape photo and this only one small piece.

Video – Although I am not a big video guy this seems to produce good videos from the little I have played with this feature. It’s full HD 1920 x 1080 with 30 or 60 fps.

Could Be Better

This is where most of what I like about the camera stops, albeit the positives are significant for me. Realize besides an iPhone for snap-shots I have been shooting with only a full-frame Canon DSLR for many years now so I tend to get picky about certain things. Also some of what I list is not meant to be a knock to the a6000 but rather things to simply be aware of. Below is my list in no particular order.

Battery Life – What can I say other than this thing EATS through batteries faster than a 5 year old eating through his Halloween candy stash. Keep in mind that although I have live view on my Canon DSLR I don’t use it unless I need to so I am used to a single battery lasting many days for most of my shooting. My perspective might be different if I was heavy live view user prior to this camera. For the Sony I would say plan on using 1 to 3 batteries a day depending on how much you are using your camera. Total battery life is around 90 min. If long exposures or video is your thing I would have an arsenal of batteries.

IQ/ISO – In Chip’s post he mentioned images looking good to ISO 400. I would say that is true, maybe up to 800 at most. After that it really goes downhill for me which is unfortunate. This will limit bumping up the ISO if you are into night photography or working with low light often. That said depending on your end goal cleaning up with noise removal tools has vastly improved the last few years and go a long way to making a decent image from the ISO 800 to 1600 range as long as you are using good glass. Using the cheaper lenses, not so much.

Weather Resistance – Keep in mind this camera is not weather resistant in any way, or the lenses I bought for it. I got caught in a major downpour on the Oregon coast only carrying my camera in my thin coat jacket pocket. I am sure it was quite a site to see me jogging with my four year old daughter in one arm and using my other to try and cover my pocket with the camera as we searched for cover. It survived but lesson learned.

EVF – I know some folks like electronic view finders (EVF) yet for me optical is much preferred despite one comment about the one piece I like about it. It’s very noisy in low light which gets tougher to ensure sharp manual focusing.

Battery Charger – Really this is lack of charger. Who plugs in their camera to charge!? I would have preferred Sony raise the price $25 and simply include the charger. It seems odd that I need to buy this separate.  Not to mention there is no visible sign that the battery is fully charged without turning on the camera, another strike against direct charging. I bought the Wasabi Charger and extra batteries from Amazon and it’s working fine to also charge my two Sony batteries.

Sounds – I run my Canon as silent as possible. The only sound you hear is the shutter. That said I cannot figure out how to turn off the sounds for auto focus, timer, etc which I would rather not have. If you are reading this and I missed how to do it please email me. This would be welcome news to my ears.

Bracketing – For landscape photographers being able to auto bracket with timer is a big deal. I am used to using a remote trigger yet if I forget it or it breaks I know I can always use auto bracketing with timer on my Canon. Not an option on the Sony. Additionally from my testing don’t even bother trying to press the shutter for bracketing on a tripod. Your images are almost surely to come out soft or blurry. I bought the Sony RM-VPR1 Remote.

Weight – Of course you are wondering why in this section when the light weight was such a plus. Well it’s not a negative to the camera or lenses by any means. It’s simply something to be aware of which is that using a very light camera and lens setup on a lighter tripod is more susceptible to shakes and vibrations resulting in soft shots. Hanging your pack from your tripod can help yet it’s not fool proof. Don’t forget to chimp your images because what you think is sharp might be anything but.

Dial Size – For me it’s not an issue yet I could see someone with larger hands finding the controls tougher to work with, especially the dial on the back. That circle dial controls many functions and isn’t much bigger than a dime. Again I cannot blame Sony because with a smaller camera comes smaller buttons and controls. If you tend to shoot mostly in auto mode then this is less of an issue.

Lens Selection – Although able to buy a wide, mid and telephoto Sony lenses that are good, overall they need to beef up their lens selection (this applies to APS and full frame). It would be nice to buy higher quality lenses for all the same focal ranges I have with my Canon. Hopefully this is coming soon. My only real complaint with the current lenses I have is are soft in the corners. A little bit of lens correction and or crop goes a long way and still leaves a big file.

Sony a6000 with 55-210mm at 210 and ISO 400. Handheld.

Sony a6000 with 55-210mm at 210 and ISO 400. Handheld.

Sony a6000 with 16-50mm at 16mm and ISO 200, f/16 and .5 seconds

These are 100% crops from the corner of an image (obviously different scenes but I realized I did not do it for the same scene). There is definitely a quality difference on the edges between the 10-18 and 16-50.

These are 100% crops from the corner of an image (obviously different scenes but I realized I did not do it for the same scene when I went to write this). There is definitely a quality difference on the edges between the 10-18 and 16-50 lenses. RAW files with no processing or sharpening. I forgot to note in the text on the image yet both were shot at f/16.

Conclusion

Overall it’s a good mirror less camera system with room for improvement to be great. For any hobbyist or photo snapper it’s a dream. For someone looking to high quality work for prints and stock it’s good to meet the needs with some exceptions that I covered above. I did not buy this to replace my DSLR system and I would not recommend that unless you have a old or bottom end DSLR. This is a great compliment to your DSLR system for when you have to or simply desire lighter traveling and still want great quality photos. The price is certainly right. I spent about $2,000 for my full setup which includes the body, three lenses, two polarizers, battery charger, four batteries and remote trigger.

Is Digitally Bracketing Exposures A Good Idea? By Sean Bagshaw

by Sean Bagshaw
August 19th, 2014

On the topic of creating high dynamic range (HDR) photographs I was recently asked a question about the viability of taking a minimal number of bracketed exposures in a high contrast situation and later filling in the gaps in the exposure range with digitally generated exposures. While this isn’t a new concept in high dynamic range photography, it is one that comes up frequently and isn’t entirely intuitive. I felt that others might benefit from reading the Q&A or sharing their own thoughts on the topic.

The contrast range in this scene was too great to be contained in a single exposure.

The contrast range in this scene was too great to be contained in a single exposure.

QUESTION: I photograph with a Nikon D5000. One of the features I am less than satisfied with is that auto bracketing is limited to three exposures. Sometimes that is simply not enough. The conventional wisdom seems to indicate:

1. don’t spread out your brackets more than one or two exposure values (EV).
2. Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw can safely push/pull an exposure ±2 EV

What if I exposed three captures -3 EV, 0 EV and +3 EV? Then I should be able to make virtual copies of these in Lightroom, spreading each ±1 EV and the ends also ±2 EV. I would then end up with effectively an 11 stop range which is large enough for all but the most extreme lighting conditions I have encountered.

Do you think this technique has a decent chance of producing a quality HDR image? Note that my goal is to produce fine art prints, so to be useful for me it would have to produce very clean digital negatives.

Bracketed exposures from -3 EV to +2 EV

Exposures bracketed in camera from -3 EV to +2 EV

ANSWER: The first consideration is how the high dynamic range image will be created. You can combine bracketed exposures using one of many HDR software applications or you can manually blend exposures using masking techniques. Exposure requirements will vary depending on the contrast of the scene and the blending technique. Having a full set of exposures at one stop increments can be more important for HDR software than manually blending exposures. HDR software usually does best (and often requires) being given a full range of exposures with narrow and consistent EV increments, as you point out. One stop is common, but I know people who go to extremes and bracket in 1/2 or 1/3 stops. I don’t use HDR software in my workflow. All the HDR software I have used tends to create image quality and adjustment control issues of various types, regardless of how the bracketed exposures were created.

Even though I usually take a full range of exposures, often only two of the exposures are required when manually blending using masking techniques. If I have one complete exposure for the sky and one complete exposure for the landscape, then I only blend these two exposures and keep my life simple. This video from my Extending Dynamic Range tutorials demonstrates a simple two exposure blend.

You may get lucky while using your camera’s three shot auto bracket feature and find that you captured the precise two exposures you need for such a blend, but since every scenario is different there isn’t a reliable way to reproduce this every time.

In more extreme contrast situations there may be brighter areas of the sky or very extreme areas of shadow and highlight in the landscape that require the use of additional exposures. When manual blending, one can make decisions about which exposures and how many exposures to use on an case by case basis. Having a full range of exposures to choose from is helpful in this respect. Blending exposures with masks is a challenging skill, but with practice I find that better control and better final image quality can be achieved. Some very fine printed images are being created with HDR software to be sure, but if the best quality is your goal you will eventually run into some downsides.

So, if you don’t capture a full range of exposures is it a good option to fill in the gaps digitally? As you describe, it is possible to create virtual copies in Lightroom with different EVs. Per the “conventional wisdom” Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw certainly can be used to push or pull exposure. However, to what degree this can be done and what can be considered “safe” is subjective. It depends on whether you push or pull the exposure and what side affects you are willing to accept.

If the best image quality is your goal, having “properly” exposed captures can be just as important as the number and increment of those exposures. What constitutes a “proper” exposure isn’t necessarily intuitive. Digitally reducing  exposure (pushing) in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw is generally “safe”. In fact it can actually be preferable. One way to hide noise in an image is to digitally decrease exposure making the image darker. Intentionally over exposing (also known as Exposing To The Right or ETTR) and then digitally lowering the exposure produces better image quality. This is why ETTR is commonly advocated in digital photography. When it comes to bracketing, digitally creating +1 EV and +2 EV exposures from a +3 EV capture in Lightroom should give great results in the mid-tones and shadows. The highlights will be clipped but these should be contained in your darker exposures.  For a more complete run down on the virtues of ETTR and some examples check out this article by Jeff Schewe.

Digitally increasing exposure (pulling) is where you will run into problems. Dark regions of an image are very data poor so they have a low signal to noise ratio. The reason they are dark is because relatively few photons (signals) were collected by the sensor. Digitally increasing the exposure of underexposed images boosts the signal but also boosts the noise. With a low signal to noise ratio the noise will overpower the signal. An image captured at -3 EV and then digitally lightened two stops to -1 EV will show substantial quality issues. For best image quality it is preferable to avoid lightening dark areas as much as possible.

If you are using HDR software the following is important to note. As far as I know, no HDR software is capable of reading the exposure adjustments you make to raw or DNG files in Lightroom or Camera Raw. Raw adjustments are only parameters contained in the metada and HDR software does not access these parameters. This means that in order for HDR software to use your digitally bracketed exposures you would first need to open the virtual copies and save them as tif files with different EVs, and then load the tif files into the HDR software.

So, your proposed technique can work to an extent if you take the right steps. In many cases it may even produce very good results. However, to minimize noise, it would be best to create your digital exposures by always lowering the exposure of the brighter frames and not the other way around. For example, generate +1 and +2 EV virtual copies from a +3 EV capture, -1 and -2 EV copies from a 0 EV capture and -4 and -5 EV copies from a -3 EV capture.

There are occasions in which I will create exposures digitally for the purpose of blending. Sometimes I fail to take a complete range of bracketed exposures or I’m not able to use one or more of my exposures due to things moving in the frame between shots. At a minimum I make sure I have one exposure for highlights, one exposure for mid-tones and one exposure for shadows. Usually I try to capture a full range of exposures if I can. This ensures the most flexibility. A properly exposed series of images with one stop increments will give you a more complete gradient of tonal information to work with compared to capturing just three exposures taken at three stop increments.

Taking all of the above into account, let’s address the central motivation behind your question, the limited auto bracketing capability of your camera. If your camera would auto-bracket more than three exposures it is unlikely that you would be considering using digitally created exposures in the first place. I recommend making it a non-issue by not using the auto bracket feature at all, regardless of how many shots your camera will bracket. My camera will auto bracket up to seven EVs but I never use auto bracketing unless I have a specific reason to (such as hand-held bracketing for example). Nearly every scene requires a different number of exposures and the range of exposures is rarely centered perfectly around the meter’s 0 EV. Using an arbitrary number of auto bracketed exposures means regularly capturing too many or too few exposures (in your case with a max of three, usually too few). And if the actual exposure is shifted from what the camera meter picks as 0 EV, then you might have the right number of exposures but going in the wrong direction. Manually bracketing exposures solves these issues. I take my first frame at 0 EV and then I check the histogram. Sometimes one exposure is all I need. If the histogram shows clipping of highlights or shadows or both, then I compensate my exposure up and/or down one stop at a time until I have one frame with a histogram that properly exposes for the shadows, one frame with a histogram that properly exposes for the highlights and some number of one stop increments in between. Sometimes the scene dictates two exposures, or three or five or eight or eleven. Whatever the contrast range requires, this technique ensures that I have what I need, but not more.  This video from the Extending Dynamic Range series illustrates this concept further.

Another manual bracketing technique I use is tonal region bracketing using my camera’s live view feature. In aperture priority mode I move the exposure target box around on the screen to various tonal zones, such as an area of brightest sky, mid-tone land and dark shadows, and take a shot in each zone. The camera automatically adjusts the exposure for each zone as I shoot. The result is a series of exposures that should contain the proper exposure for each tonal zone. They may not be one stop increments, but as long as I have optimal exposures for highlights, mid-tones and shadows I don’t care. Of course, this technique doesn’t work well when using HDR software which expects consistent EV increments.

Finally, not every scene we encounter has high contrast light so bracketing is frequently not necessary. When photographing in balanced, low and medium contrast light situations all the tonal information readily fits within a single exposure. I regularly come across people auto bracketing nine exposures in low and moderate contrast light, just as a matter of habit. In such situations it isn’t necessary to take two exposures, let alone nine. I start with one exposure and look at the histogram. If I see that all the tonal values have been captured, I’m done. Taking valuable time and filling up memory cards with additional exposures is something I do only if I absolutely have to. Many of my images are captured in a single exposure. With a single exposure I attempt to get a proper exposure (ETTR) without clipping the highlights. In post this enables me to decrease the EV and do as little shadow recovery as possible. This gives better results than starting with an underexposed image and trying to lighten it to bring out shadow detail. Again, see the Jeff Schewe article for more insight into why this is the case.

Featured Photographer-Patrick Di Fruscia

by Chip Phillips
August 7th, 2014

by Chip Phillips

 

This month we welcome Patrick Di Fruscia as our guest photographer.  Patrick has been an inspiration to me from the very beginning.  I remember looking at his images on Flickr in awe, and thinking “I want to take pictures like that some day!”.  I am happy to have the opportunity to ask him some questions!

 

Live-Before-you-Die---Moraine-Lake,-Alberta-,-Canada

 

How did you get your start in photography, and who are/were your inspirations? I used to work as a marketing manager in a sport supplement company and one day the owner came to me and asked me to undertake the task of learning photography. He grew tired of paying professional photographers to take pictures of athletes and images of his whole product line. At first, I thought this was an absurd request but decided to try it anyway. He purchased my first camera, and there I went, trying to learn this great tool. I literally started reading everything I could find about photography and quickly this task became a hobby. I was taking pictures of pretty much everything from buildings to cars, flowers, insects..you name it. My hobby really turned into a passion the time I did a road trip across the charming province and Quebec and ended up on top of Mt Ernest Laforce in the Gaspe Peninsula. I knew then that this was my calling. That day it hit me like some sort of divine intervention… I wanted to experience, see & feel the beauty of our beautiful planet and photography was the perfect medium to do it. Since then I have set my lifelong goal to always perfect my craft. I know that this will be an endless curve and I will only have myself to blame if I don’t live up to my full potential. As far as Inspirations, didn’t really have any to start with.

 Long-Way-Home---Faroe-Islands

What are some of your favorite new photographic locations, or locations that you haven’t shot yet that you are looking forward to shooting? I really want to visit New Zealand and Patagonia..these two locations are definitely on the top of my my bucket list.

 

Your images have always been inspirational to me, especially your images from Norway. Tell us about your connection to Norway.  I was really fortunate to meet a photographer friend from Norway back in 2005 named Terje Sorgjerd while on a photography trip in Costa Rica. He then invited me over to his country to join him on a road trip. I immediately fell in love with this beautiful country. So much that I decided to join him again in 2010 for another great road trip…this time we made it all the way to Lofoten. This is a definite must place to visit for all landscape photographers. I barely scratched the surface of this great country. Really want and need to go back soon.

 Desolate-Beauty---Wet-Valley,-Norway

Many people have jumped ship from Canon and gone over to Nikon. Are you part of this crowd, and why or why not? Or, have you always used Nikon? Tell us a bit about your equipment. I did also jumped ship from Canon to Nikon. I have lots of demand for large prints and for now I feel that Nikon offers the best tool for the type of photography I do. The high megapixel and high dynamic range of the Nikon D800E brings me want I need in order to produce large prints. I am not sold to one company or another, I use whatever I feel can help me deliver the highest images possible for the type of photography I do.

 Sharpened-version

What are you excited about in regards to photography in the future? What are you concerned about?  I cant really say that I am excited or concerned about anything in regards to the technical side of photography aside from maybe one day we will have sensor that can capture the images exactly as the human eye can see it with high dynamic range. This will definitely make my life easier. What excites me the most about photography is the fact that this is a career/passion that I can do till the rest of my life. No need to think about retiring when you do something you love.

When-the-Heart-Rules-The-Mind---Lofoten,-Norway

Stay Strong & Live with Passion
Patrick Di Fruscia
www.DiFrusciaPhotography.com
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