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.

2503324-

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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Follow me on Instagram: @difruscia

Movies That Inspire and Excite

by Adrian Klein
August 4th, 2014

Chances are you would rather be out exploring and enjoying outdoors whether curb side view, hiking miles into the woods, paddling majestic waterways or the myriad of other options instead of reading a blog post. I can relate, seeing amazing places in photos and videos is rarely enough.

Not long ago I was having lunch with someone that said something I could not relate to at all. He said seeing amazing places in videos and photos is good enough for him and he doesn’t need to go see them himself (obviously he is not a photographer or outdoor enthusiast). For me it’s the exact opposite. When I read, see or hear about locations that offer great adventures or fantastic photo opportunities I want to go. It whets my appetite for more. I may never get to a particular location I am viewing photos of or dreaming about yet it certainly fuels the fire to simply get out. Being an armchair adventurer is not the goal. Getting out is and that is exactly what happens!

Baraka

One way I get inspired is watching flicks that make me think about places I have been, where I want to go, how I take my photos. Below is a short list of movies that makes me excited about getting out for the next outing or capturing the next spectacular photo.

One Man’s Wilderness
Few of us will ever attempt (or even desire to attempt) what Richard (Dick) Proenneke does for many years of his life. After spending decades working in the rat race around age 50 he decides to leave it all behind for year-around living of solitude in the Alaskan Wilderness. He creates his cabin, tools and more documenting his journey in writing along with some video and photo work.
I first heard about the story when someone gave me the book as a gift and since then I have also received or purchased multiple documentaries on his story. I will likely never make such an extreme change in lifestyle yet it’s a great reminder to me how important alone time is outdoors for photography, for rejuvenation, for simply reflecting on life and escaping the hustle and bustle daily life brings for many of us.

http://www.dickproenneke.com/

SALT
If you are picturing Angelina Jolie as a Russian spy right now chances are you are on the wrong blog. During the summer of 2010 I was getting ready to head for bed one evening when I figured I would watch a few minutes of TV before calling it a night. There are not many shows I watch and considering our TV gets less than 20 stations (mostly CSPAN and community access) you can tell our family is not big tube watchers. That said a couple stations I do enjoy from our wide assortment includes OPB and Discovery. That night I clicked on OPB and was immediately engulfed with what was on…which I found out afterward was the short film SALT. I subsequently took the time to watch the full video less than a week later.
Murray Fredericks as a landscape photographer documents his numerous solo adventures on Lake Eyre in Australia. Besides stunning video and photos he talks about what he is thinking while spending weeks alone on this vast open lake including SAT calls with his family. I place this in the must-view-category for any landscape or adventure photographer.

http://www.saltdoco.com/index.htm

Baraka and Samsara
Anyone that is serious into time lapse photography knows of the movies Baraka and it’s recent sequel Samsara. When I first met my wife over a decade ago she mentioned a movie Baraka playing at our local independent theatre that I would likely enjoy. Entering the theatre filled with mostly empty red velvet seats I had low hopes. Walking out I was in awe. 96 minutes of amazing footage with no words other than a few tribal chants.
Since then I have purchased Baraka and earlier this year my wife bought me the sequel which I have also watched and enjoyed just as much.  If you have not seen either of these you are missing out. They are worth your time.

http://barakasamsara.com/baraka/about

The Other Side of the Ice
There are two kinds of people, those that gravitate to the ocean and those that gravitate to land. I am naturally drawn to spending my time on land with a little water sprinkled in for good measure. I have full respect for those that can spend many weeks and months on a ship and little time ashore.
In The Other Side of the Ice a family successfully navigates the infamous Northwest Passage over a five month journey. It does not happen without amazing views, emotional struggles and close calls. I will say this is the only title in this post that I have not seen the whole movie. I read the book which I feel was very good yet all the reviews and trailers for the movie don’t excite me as much as the book. If you are not a book reader then the movie is an option.

The Other Side of the Ice

Happy People
There are very few of us left on planet Earth choosing to live without most of what the modern world offers… smartphones, high tech cars, piped heat/water, online ordering, the list goes on. This documentary shows the life of trappers and their families living in Bakhtia, the heart of Siberian Taiga. It’s a reminder that we don’t always need all the fancy gadgets of the modern world to survive and be happy.  When I leave the house and forget my iPhone, and I wonder how I will do a few hours without it I need to remember and think of folks in this film. Although not the life for me to live day-in-day-out, they obviously do quite well with very little. What can you do without?

180 South
At home sick one day roaming Netflix streaming I came across this movie. I remembered hearing about it yet hadn’t taken the time to watch it until this point. Amazing documentary, plain and simple. If you are in search of adventure, good stories and amazing visual feasts look no further. It’s hard to watch and not want to back your bags the next day for exotic lands. When thinking of travel and adventure documentaries, 180 South is first to come to mind.

I leave you with a quote from another movie about adventure, Into the Wild. I love the book and movie yet it’s more main stream which is why I left it out of this post.

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.”
- Christopher McCandless

What movies get you excited about getting outdoors for photography or fun?

Something Different, Something Fun: 3 AutoPainter Apps for the Smartphone by David M. Cobb

by photocascadia
July 28th, 2014

Something Different, Something Fun: 3 AutoPainter Apps for the Smartphone

By David M. Cobb

Meerkerk Garden Monet style.

Meerkerk Garden Monet style.

I recently downloaded the AutoPainter apps by Mediachance for my iPhone, and immediately began to play. The apps use your photos to imitate the styles of famous painters like Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, etc. You can download AutoPainter 1, 2, and 3 to turn your iPhone images into painterly shots. (Of course not all images work–a crappy image will be a crappy painterly image.) I’ve found the apps work particularly well with flowers or greenery, so think like an impressionist and you’ll get the idea of what works and what doesn’t work.

To create a painterly image open one of the AutoPainter apps, choose an artist, go to your camera roll to choose a photo, and click begin–the app does the rest. Each AutoPainter offers four different artists to choose from, so there are 12 artists combined on the three apps. I’ve included two samples in the styles of Monet and Van Gogh as examples of converted images that I liked.

Gorge Wildflowers Van Gogh style.

Columbia Gorge Wildflowers Van Gogh style.