Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Still Learning Nikon's Settings

I've been using digital Nikon cameras since the D70 and, for the most part, have been a serious student of the controls. Still, as I became more and more used to the settings, and each camera wasn't that different from the last, I've definitely let the finer points slip, especially if I wasn't using that setting much.
Enter "Auto ISO." I read Steve Perry's excellent book about Nikon autofocus and listened to his video  extolling the virtues of auto ISO with manual exposure, but it wan't until Arthur Morris, having plunged into a Nikon setup only recently mentioned the sticky setting of exposure compensation that I decided to look into this combo a bit deeper. I could find nowhere in Nikon's documentation where it was stated what actually happened with Auto ISO and exposure compensation, and no one writing on the web had clearly spelled it out. So, I decided it really isn't that hard to figure it out. All I needed was a few minutes with my own D850 and adjusting the settings while in manual plus auto ISO.
Here's the thing: Auto ISO and manual exposure adjusts the ISO to give a standard histogram, within the limits that it can, based on the upper and lower limits the user sets. If exposure compensation is dialed in, the the ISO is adjusted upward or downward to match that instruction. shutter speed and aperture are as set in the manual settings, but ISO varies not just to maintain a normal histogram, but also to allow for the extra brightness or darkness dialed in by "exposure compensation.
I remain cautious about auto ISO and manual. Certainly it can be useful for rapidly changing light when I really need to keep a minimum shutter speed for moving targets. However, it may negate some interesting light features that manual setting allows me to accentuate. If I add the "exposure compensation," auto becomes even more "auto." I's rare that this is actually contributing to whatever unique quality of light I was seeking.
Granted, this is coming from a photographer torn between landscapes and wildlife. If I ever figure out that I should just stick with one or the other, then perhaps these dilemmas will be resolved. On the other hand, great light is great light, and I may never really want it "compensated."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Trouble with Lightroom Mobile

Lightroom mobile is a great idea. Photographs made on the iPhone automatically connect with desktop Lightroom, in theory. This is especially desirable since the new iPhone 7, via Lightroom, can make photos in DNG format.
I've read everything I could find from Adobe and LR gurus about the process, but I couldn't get the upload to happen with my system. Every instruction was followed precisely, repeatedly checked. Nothing.
Turns out, a Google search reveals lots of people with this problem. Lots of advice that doesn't produce the desired result.
The problem is bandwidth, folks. The upload doesn't happen directly to one's desktop or iPad. It is all processed via the cloud. If it doesn't get to Adobe's cloud site, it doesn't get to the desktop, even if the desktop is sitting next to the phone. It's easy to send photos directly via Airdrop, but the photos are first converted to jpg. If one has a slow internet connection, as I do with DSL, the phone always says it's syncing, but it never syncs. A reasonable broadband connection, via cable, and magically it happens, just like all the instructions say. But they never tell you it won't work without adequate bandwidth.
So, I live in a rather remote spot. Remote enough that the cable companies aren't interested, and DSL is the best I can do. The only way I can get the transfers to work is to visit friends with better internet. This considerably blunts the convenience of using the phone as a camera. For me, the process is way easier if I just use a camera and transfer the files via memory card.

Is Landscape Photography Political?

Short answer from my hero, Robin Morgan: "There is no atom that is not political."
Longer answer: when the planet is in danger from climate change, and when the post powerful man on earth can detonate nuclear winter, of course it is. Especially when we have overwhelming evidence that that man has the emotional maturity of a 12 year old boy.
How can we care about our beautiful places, lit by the best of special light, without concern that they, and we, are in grave danger?
Is there anything we can do, living in a "democracy" where only some votes count?
Is it enough to photograph the special places?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Tablet Challenges

I've used a pen tablet by Wacom for years for my photo processing. It makes everything more precise. My old tablet lacked features of the current models, so I got a new Intuous Pro model for Christmas.
It seemed to work as I gradually learned the features and customizable keys, but I was not convinced that the pen pressure sensitivity was working, supposedly a default characteristic when using Photoshop. Then, one day, the lights defining the perimeters and keys no longer stayed on.
A call to Wacom was an exercise in frustration. While the tech support representative agreed that something wasn't right, she had no idea how to sort it out or solve it. Send it in for repair, she said, a feat made more difficult by the fact that I never got the follow-up email with instructions to do so. For a product that was malfunctioning 2 weeks after being unboxed, I could only wish there were another maker of tablets that had any credibility.
Amazon seemed the easiest route to return, but I decided to give a software approach another look. I uninstalled and re-installed the same current driver. It's working properly now, and I'll give it another couple of weeks to prove itself functional. Failing that, it's back to Amazon and a quest to find another company with real support. Does such a thing exist?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

                                                              Night Photography

My latest effort is to work on night photography. Everyone seems to have a slightly different take on the best practices, with some common themes.
1. Darkness is essential. In general, this may take a bit longer than one would hope. If you're after stars, wait until it's really dark.
2. Some daytime work is also essential. It's just too hard to come upon a good plan when the world is pitch-black. Plan the photo in the day. Make the photo in the night.
3. Care and deliberation are essential. Recently, I did the first 2 photos of the night sky with my lens cap on. That didn't work so well. Take time setting up. This involves knowing the location ahead of time, bringing a headlamp, going slowly (it's dark).
4. Composition is just as important at night as in the day. This goes back to the daytime work and the planning. Think foreground.
5. Equipment:
1. tripod with good head. My preferred tripod is currently a Feisol carbon fiber. I recently upgraded by ballhead to a RRS BH-55, and I couldn't be more pleased with the ease of use and steadiness.
2. camera that has decent high ISO results. I'm currently using a Nikon D800E.
3. Cable release is most helpful, although a timer or shutter delay will work for photos that have less than a 30 second duration.
4. Headlamp. It is really helpful to set up and take down and check your level and get back to your car without tripping.
1. f-stop of 2.8 allows shutter speeds of 20 seconds. Longer times will result in obvious star movement. If you want pinpoints, stay under 20 seconds. And, that varies with focal length.
2. Wide angles give a more expansive sky and show less movement. I'm using 14mm currently.
Lenses are not created equal. Some expensive lenses still show a distorted star. This is known as coma. It is an optical imperfection related to certain lens designs. I'm using a Rokinon 14mm manual focus lens, which is quite inexpensive. Nikon makes a 14-24mm f2.8 lens that is widely felt to be the best wide angle lens available for the 35mm format. Neither of these lenses demonstrate coma.
3. ISO of at least 3200 and up to 6400 is needed generally to get the dimmer stars without movement blur. This is why the good high ISO performance of the camera matters. There is a way of getting around this, which is another subject, but it involves the use of a tracker which electronically moves the camera with the stars, allowing much longer exposures.

Here's a look at the sky on September 20th around 10 p.m. in McCall, Idaho.
And, here's a link to the gallery with more night shots:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Polarizing filters are used routinely in landscape photography. There are many examples of how much they can contribute to a scene, by removing reflections, intensifying colors, and darkening skies.
Light coming from the sun is vibrating in multiple directions. The filter basically blocks light in one direction, allowing parallel beams of light to get through in the other direction. This is called "polarization by transmission," and is described further here: http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/light/u12l1e.cfm
To complicate matters, light is actually polarized by reflecting off water, and the interaction of the two kinds of polarization can be interesting. By rotating the circular polarizing filter, one can see the different effects of the light altering characteristics of the filter in any given direction. Some of the most dramatic variations can be seen by rotating the filter while pointing the camera at a rainbow. It can become much more intense or almost invisible. Here, we're again dealing with light polarized by more than one factor.

Sometimes, the polarizing effects can negate some of the benefit of the scene.
Example: After a long hot hike to a mountain lake, facing about 90  degrees from the sun, I might assume that a polarized photo is the one I want, particularly if I'm wearing my own polarizing filters in the form of sunglasses when I make that decision.
One problem with that thought is that it is usually wise to consider all options when making a landscape composition. The view isn't likely to fly away after all.
Here's the photo without a polarizing filter:

and with the filter:

The critical difference here is the lack of reflections of the partially snow-covered mountains and the trees in the water, making a photo that has much less impact. Same location, camera and lens.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Is Memory Cheap?

There is a lot of talk among photographers that "memory is cheap," referring to the ever decreasing cost   of memory cards and hard drives. The thought being, since memory is so cheap, photograph anything and everything and keep it forever. Sometimes we find that a long overlooked photo is really good, and, years later, uncover its true potential. OK. That happens. But, much more commonly, good photos never get discovered in the morass of all those unedited files kept because we made too many photos in the first place and then didn't delete them when we had the time and energy.
Memory may be cheap, but our creativity isn't. For me, choosing to work on a few really good photos is much more likely to happen if they aren't buried in hundreds that should have been deleted months or years ago. If I cannot bring myself to search through thousands of files to find what inspires me to move ahead, then I'm seriously impeding my own progress.
There are limits to how messy a desk can be before we just give up trying to find anything. Even well organized piles become obstructive when they get too high. Same with photos. I am much more productive when I can look through a few good images to find the one that I want to process than when I try to plow through hundreds. I just lose the motivation. Motivation and creativity are not cheap. To me, that's what matters.