Monthly Archives: November 2006

Caress

Returning to Blake Garden to re-capture the images lost by Lexar, I found these tree dahlia flowers high on their canes. The one is touching the face of the other, I think, in a caress.

Does the Memory Linger?

Clouds are ephemeral, blowing in the wind, forever changing their shapes and disappearing as their moisture evaporates or descends as precipitation. I am reminded that digital memory cards are also fragile, particularly (in my experience) CF cards made by Lexar. Here’s the story.

In the days of film, I lost some film due to handling problems. I remember exposing some sheet film to the light by accident while unloading sheet film in the field, botched chemistry, and even a whole batch of Kodachrome I mailed to the lab from some podunk town in Montana that was forever lost. But it has taken a real attitude adjustment for me to internalize the fact that digital memory cards are just (if not more) subject to Murphy’s law as film ever was.

Back in April, I lost a morning’s worth of work when my Lexar memory card started displaying the dread CHA error on my Nikon. The card was “unrecognized” by my computer, and the specialized rescue software supplied by card manufacturers failed to recover the images. Here’s the original story. The images were lost forever, but Lexar did replace the card.

Yesterday I spent a while photographing flowers at Blake Garden in the morning in the sunshine, and then at sunset I photographed the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay from the end of the Emeryville Pier. Yesterday when I tried to retreive the contents of the card, I couldn’t. Putting the card back in the camera I got the very same CHA error. Like clouds, and memories, these images are gone forever.

Fortunately, I can photograph at these nearby locations again pretty easily. But what generally as a digital photographer can one do about the fragility of memory cards? Here are my thoughts.

  • Recognize that memory cards are fragile, and plan around this in your workflow
  • Go for smaller rather than larger memory cards (meaning, for example, two 2GB cards rather than one 4GB card) to minimize possible loss
  • Get images off your memory cards as quickly as possible (I could have saved my morning work off the card before going out to shoot at sunset)
  • My opinion after two consecutive failures from Lexar (and none from Sandisk) is that Lexar media is inherently less reliable; caveat emptor

For comic relief, I reproduce my online support session with Lexar’s Bala below. I am not quite enough of a Borat to push this conversation as far as it might have gone, considering that Bala is obviously some person in India happy to have the job with Lexar and not that good at really irate customer placation.

Bala has entered the session.
Harold: This card gives me a CHA error on camera after a day’s shooting. Computers can’t read it, and the rescue software doesn’t recognize it. Note that this card was sent to me by you as a replacement for my original Lexar card which failed, ticket # 39565 originated 4/16/2006 (ticket closed in 5/2006). Doesn’t Lexar have any cards that actually work long term?
Bala: Thank you for contacting Lexar. I will be assisting you today!
Harold: OK
Bala: We understand that you receive card error
Bala: We apologize for the inconvenience you have encountered with our product
Harold: Yes
Bala: When do you exactly receive this error?
Harold: When I put the card in the camera and turn it on. Also, in the card reader the computer says is unrecognizable.
Bala: Please try to reformat the card in the camera
Harold: OK. Hold on, of course I lose my photos by doing that, but I guess they are lost anyhow…
Harold: Camera will not reformat. Gives me same CHA error.
Bala: What is the capacity and the speed of the card?
Harold: 2GB 80X
Bala: Do you have a different card that works fine?
Harold: Yes.
Bala: Since the above trouble shooting steps was unable to resolve this issue, it is possible that the product is defective. Hence it appears that replacement is required for this product. Would you like to replace the product?
Harold: It is defective, and for the second time. I am very disappointed in Lexar. Of course I would like to replace this…
Bala: In order to help you in tracking the RMA information and status,we will create a service request for you
Bala: Please check for the service re
Bala: request to send the card
Harold: OK. Will you send me an email?
Bala: Yes please login to isupport and check for the details to send the card.
Bala: You will receive an email
Harold: Thank you. Will this replacement actually work long term?
Bala: Yes
Bala: Is there anything else I can help you with?
Harold: Promise?
Bala: Lexar will replace your returned unit with another unit that is tested and verified to be in new or refurbished condition. You may not receive the original unit back.
Harold: OK, but that wasn’t my question. You’ve already sent me back one replacement that failed.
Bala: Lexar will inspect the product and at its option, repair or replace the product.
Bala: We will ensure to send a working card
Harold: …but will it continue working as I use it in the field. It is very hard to rely on Lexar.
Bala: It will work for sure
Bala: You can take our word
Harold: You promise?
Bala: It will work for sure
Bala: You are welcome
Bala: If you have further inquiries, please don’t hesitate to review our online support pages at http://www.lexar.com. Here you may find answers to many of the most common questions asked by our members. For further assistance contact us at (510) 413-1275 during regular business hours, 7 A.M to 5 P.M PST, Monday through Friday. Thank you for choosing Lexar. Have a Nice Day.
Bala has exited the session.
Your agent is experiencing technical difficulties. Please login again to re-establish contact.

Art As Bartender and the Golden Gate

Leaving Bodega Head and the windswept Pacific, Julian and I headed down 101 for the Marin side of the Golden Gate in time for sunset. Oddly, there was no wind to mention on the North side of the Golden Gate. Sunset was beautiful, and I’m glad we were there to capture it because the next day was cold, grey, and wet. Reminding me of the dictum about San Francisco weather: “Don’t like it? Wait five minutes.”

Each of these images of the Golden Gate took a great deal longer to post-process than they did to capture. (Here’s a story I wrote a while ago on my post-processing workflow. I’ve refined and changed things since I wrote the piece on post-processing workflow, but it will give you the general idea.)

For one thing, sunset comes early and fast this time of year, so one can either capture it during the few minutes it takes place, or not at all.

For another, each image internally consists of from five to eight different layers, each processed from the RAW using different exposure values, and combined with layer masks using a number of different blending modes.

Golden Gate Twilight

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It’s fine for me to employ this degree of artifice with multiple RAW processed layers and so on, but I don’t particularly want the artifice to be apparent to someone casually viewing the images. As American critic and poet Randall Jarrell (1914-1965) put it: “Art, being bartender, is never drunk.”

Golden Gate and San Francisco

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Orchidaceae

These orchids, one on white and one on black, are the latest of my digital photograms.

Orchidaceae 1

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Abstraction

As Julian and I clambered around Bodega Head, I look down at the vast, windswept, mis-named Pacific Ocean below. I attempted to capture the light on the moving waves as an abstraction. If you know they are waves, you can see they are waves, but otherwise these images might as well be Jackson Pollacks, particularly the one below.

Waves 2

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Bodega Head

On Saturday Julian and I drove out to Bodega Head near Bodega Bay. It was windy and beautiful. We hiked all over Bodega Head and the beach near it.

It was great to be hiking again with Julian, this was the first time since his accident. Perhaps appropriately, he was much more careful than he used to be, standing way back from the edge of the cliffs, holding my hand, and asking me if things were safe.

This view from Bodega Head is looking south towards the opening of Tomales Bay and the end of Point Reyes.

Born Again Clematis

I keep a collection of dried flowers on my desk. Mostly, buds that I photographed the first time round when they were in there prime like this clematis, shown here in the first version.

Born again, I photographed the dried clematis bud with my perspective correction lens and cross-processed the heck out of it. A vertiable baptism by photographic immersion. Here’s a related image, of an old, dried flower bud.

Simple Drop

I look for simplicity or complexity in my compositions because half measures are for wusses. Here’s another simple drop.

Spider from the Kitchen Window

Despite its somewhat frightening appearance, this is a harmless (to people) European Garden Spider, Araneus diadematus.

Julian spotted it hanging down past the open kitchen window. “Dad,” he came running, “you’ve got to photograph this spider from the kitchen window!”

I used my 200mm Nikon macro with a 6T close-up filter, and the macro strobe rig on a ring at the end of this rather long and heavy lens. The red in the background is from a begonia in a hanging basket. I processed the image three times from the RAW, once for the body of the spider, once (in a darker exposure) to control the highlights from flash reflection on the spider, and in a lighter exposure to bring out the colors in the red begonia.

Golden Gate and Mt Tam from Berkeley

Here’s another image in the series taken from a porch near Kentucky and Michigan towards the top of the coastal range in Berkeley. Best, I think, if viewed larger.

Water Drops in the Morning

Phyllis was kind enough to take the kids to school this morning. I spent my free time in the garden photographing water drops in the morning sun using my Kirk Low Pod and a new toy, a Nikon PC Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/2.8 lens. This is an 85mm macro lens, roughly 127mm in 35mm terms. The “PC” isn’t short for “politically correct”; it stands for “perspective correction.”

In a way, this lens is back to the future for my thoroughly modern digital SLR. The Nikon PC Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/2.8 provides some tilts and swings, like an old-fashioned view camera. But there’s no automation. Auto-focus doesn’t work. The light meter doesn’t work. This is a manual exposure affair (instant feedback via the LCD makes manual exposure a snap).

The lens doesn’t even stop itself down automatically. You set the f/stop manually, then press a lever to view and focus through the lens wide open (so you can see what you are doing). When you are ready to make an exposure, you press the little lever again first to stop the lens down.

The point of the lens are the tilts and swings, which (among other things) help with the depth-of-field problem of extreme close-ups. In addition, the lens is designed for maximum depth-of-field with an f/45 smallest aperture and an iris with more than usual blades, leading to an attractive bokeh on out-of-focus items at small apertures.

Using this lens does remind of those good old view camera days.

These images of water drops on our alstroemerias (Peruvian Lilies) captured with the rig I’ve described and and a 36mm extension tube. Each exposure approximately 0.4 of a second with the aperture set to f/45 for an effective aperture including the tilt and extension tube of about f/60.

Alstroemeria and Water Drops 2

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Sunset and Moonrise

It was a beautiful evening yesterday, with a hint of the day’s fog still in the atmosphere. I had my eye on a house about half a mile up the hill from us that looked like it would have a wonderful view of the Golden Gate and the rest of the San Francisco Bay. They’d recently under-grounded all the power and phone wires in the area, so this view was newly unobstructed.

I drove up to this house, parked my car, and rang the bell. They were very gracious about letting me set up my tripod, stay as long as I liked, and take as many pictures as I liked.

The view of the Golden Gate was great, but I also liked sunset towards Richmond and Mount Tamalpais (above).

I was getting ready to pack up when I turned around and noticed a great big moon rising over the Berkeley hills (below).

Both images show a range from dark to light far greater than could have been recorded on film. The so-called dynamic range is also greater than that possible from a single RAW capture. The sunset over Mount Tamalpais comes from three different RAW captures, and the moonrise comes from four different RAW captures.

Within a single RAW capture, there’s a five f/stop range from dark to light, depending on how you do the conversion from RAW. That 5 f/stop range translates to 2 to the 5th power, or 32: there is a 32X possible exposure range within a single RAW capture.

The sunset used seven different RAW conversions from the three (differently exposed) RAW captures, and the moonrise used eight different RAW captures (from the four RAW captures involved).

Each RAW capture was incorporated in the image in Photoshop as a layer. I used layer masks and a Photoshop Paintbrush to blend the various layers of the image to get the effect I wanted.

All in all, the end results are closer to the way things appeared to me than any single capture would have been, however well processed. I think you’ll really be able to see the increased exposure range in these images if you look at each in their larger size.

Rising Moon

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To Clone Or Not To Clone

This image is based on a capture from February 2006 taken on the valley floor in Yosemite’s very early spring.

If you look carefully at the left center of the image in the larger size, you’ll see a line of vehicles parked along the valley’s Northside Drive. On the right center side of the image you can see a Park Service building, and before I retouched it out there was a long red construction fence, part of the work that was going on in the valley at the time.

When I post-processed this image recently, the decision about whether to remove the cars, building, and red construction fence posed technical, aesthetic, and ethical issues.

I like the thought of using digital photography to return Yosemite to its wilderness state, although I recognize philosophical problems with this idea. In an earlier image, I used digital retouching to portray Vernal Falls as it would be without people, or fence around the observation platform, a sort of willfully and wistfully anachronistic Carleton Watkins or Eadweard Muybridge view.

My initial temptation here was to do something of the same sort. However, there were serious technical challenges to removing all human artifacts in a convincing fashion. Furthermore, as I considered the issue the cars and building didn’t really detract from the power of the image. Most people wouldn’t even notice the line of cars, unless I pointed it out to them.

But the red construction fence had to go. With the image in its smaller size it looked like a strong magenta color cast on a small area of snow rather than a fence, or some kind of digital capture flaw, and was simply distracting. The red plastic fence was also pretty easy to remove using the Clone Tool.

I leave a discussion of ethical and philosophical issues to a future story, although here’s my initial take on these issues.

Ducky Dialog

This is a photo of Nicky’s beloved Ducky.

A dialog between Nicky (“N”) and Phyllis (“P”) (a/k/a Mom) the other day:

N: Ducky isn’t feeling very well today. I’m going to put him to bed so he can rest.

P: OK. You tuck him in nicely.

[A little later as Nicky is going to bed ...]

N: Ducky is scared.

P: What’s Ducky afraid of?

N: Ducky thinks the moose will come off the wall and hurt him.

P: What moose?

[Nicky points at a cartoon drawing of a moose on the wallpaper.]

P: You know the moose won’t jump out of the wall, right?

N: Yeah, but Ducky doesn’t know that.

P: Why don’t you give Ducky a big hug, and I’ll give you a big hug too!

[Much hugging and kissing. Some time elapses.]

P: How’s Ducky now?

N: He’s much better and not scared any more.

Ice Storm in Yosemite

This is a capture of the old apple orchard near the Curry Village parking area, taken in March of 2006.

The challenge in post-processing was to render the various “whites” of the snow and ice (actually, they are greys) so they looked differentiated, not muddy, and without any too-obvious color casts.

I could not have done this work without converting the image to LAB color. I opened the Image > Adjustments > Curves dialog, and concentrated on the curve for the L (lightness or luminosity) channel. Clicking within the snow and ice on the apple tree branches on the image with the curve open told me what part of the curve I needed to manipulate.