Monthly Archives: July 2007

Pink Rose

I photographed this pink rose from our garden with the same setup and technique as Gaillardia and Iris ensata ‘Azuma-kagami’.

Related images: Rose Studies, Quartet of Roses, my Rose set on Flickr.

Persistence of Vision

This is a photo from the end of the Berkeley Pier looking towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The Berkeley pier seems like it goes half way across San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz, but at one time it must have stretched futher than it does now. The boards block the end of the pier, prevent people from falling into the water, and make a good canvas for graffitists.

When taking the photo, I positioned myself well back from the boards at the end of the pier, used a moderately telephoto lens, a decently long exposure, and stopped the lens down as far as possible. The point of these choices was to maximize depth-of-field and get boards and the Golden Gate Bridge in focus (with the partially blurred water a bonus). [62mm focal length for 93mm equivalence in 35mm terms, 3/5 of a second at f/32, tripod mounted.]

I exposed the original RAW capture for the Golden Gate Bridge, which meant that the boards in the foreground of the photo appeared very dark and underexposed. To correct this problem, and bring out the wonderful glowing colors on these boards, I needed to do a second pass at the RAW original, correcting the exposure values with the boards in mind.

The two versions, one corrected for the Golden Gate Bridge, sky, and water and the other using exposure settings for the boards needed to be combined as layers using a mask. If I’d applied the light exposure values I used on the boards to the bridge, the bridge would have been overexposed, so the point of the mask was to selectively apply the exposure values.

I was able to create an appropriate mask by converting a duplicate of the darker version of the image to LAB color. Next, I dropped the A and B channels of the image, leaving just the luminosity information. I used an adjustment curve to heighten the contrast, and converted the image to grayscale. I used Photoshop’s Image > Apply Image command to use this black-and-white version, which showed the boards as black shapes and everything else as white, in my original, layered image. A little hand painting on the mask finished the job.

Here’s why the process I used to create this image from a single RAW photo is not exactly High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography.

Heart Like a Gerbera

I spent most of the morning recently photographing water drops on a single pink Gerbera daisy in my garden. This was engrossing, fun, and satisfied. As I worked, I realized the task required a great deal of patience. But not much fortitude: my garden was my model, I did not have to shlepp my equipment very far, and I literally had the comforts of home. I also thought about the paradox of macro photography. The heart of the matter in these water drop photos is shown within the world of the reflections. To successfully capture the reflected world I distanced myself with a complicated apparatus including a telephoto macro lens.

Gerbera Drop

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While it is possible to create wide-angle macros, my normal process is to use equipment that disturbs my models (for example, a water drop on a Gerbera) as little as possible.

Heart Like a Gerbera

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Forget about auto-focusing. There’s no way this technology works for the macro, and it is annoying to hear your poor lens chug back and forth, searching, always searching, for the point of focus that is never to be found.

It’s never easy to successfully find the best point of focus on a very small and constantly moving subject like a water drop. I find it works to concentrate on an idealized water within the water drop, and to focus to bring out the water drop essence that I’d like, paying only partial attention to the water drop that seemingly is (as seen in the camera viewfinder). This is a sideways, allusive focusing technique. It helps me capture the heart of the matter.

Gaillardia

I captured this Galliardia using the same setup and technique I used recently with the Iris ensata ‘Azuma-Kagami’. Part of my thinking is to have a series of flowers on white, like these popping poppies, that can be used in the design of my books to run off the pages.

Related story: Zen and the Single Poppy.
Other Galliardia image: Photograms for the Digital Era.

f/64

I ordered some bare-root dahlias from Swan Island Dahlias, and planted them in the late spring. This is a photo, taken at f/64 for maximum depth-of-field in sunlight in my garden, of one of the first serious flowers from these dahlia plants.

The aperture, f/64, is one of the smallest available lens apertures and therefore provides the greatest depth-of-field. How small an aperture you can use depends upon the specifics of individual lenses, and f/64 is more typical of a large format lens than a dSLR lens. I’m fortunate to own an 85mm manual lens that will stop down to f/64.

Group f/64 included Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston and took its name from the aperture f/64, because of the high depth-of-field the tiny aperture implies. In the minds of group members, this great depth-of-field implied a certain style of photography. As the f/64 manifesto put it:

The name of this Group is derived from a diaphragm number of the photographic lens. It signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image which is an important element in the work of members of this Group.

Group f/64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.

At this point, a disclaimer. As much as I love the work of many of the great photographers who were part of Group f/64, my own work does not hold to the stated Group f/64 principles. In some cases I strive to echo and reference non-photographic artists, e.g., Escher, Nolde, and Hokusai.

Digital photography, I believe, takes the dialog of what photography is (or should be) one step further from “pure photography”. The techniques of digital post-processing surely do resemble those of painting, drawing, and other art forms. (For more on this, see my essays When Is a Photograph Not a Photograph? and Myths, Metaphors, and Digital Photography.)

One strand of thought about contemporary photography is to insist that the only authentic photo is the image as shot by the camera. For instance, a recent contest run by National Geographic Magazine requires submission of only the “original, unmodified camera image”. (Somewhat oddly, the contest prize is a chance to see your photo reproduced in National Geographic. Regarding digital modification of photos, one can assume that National Geographic applies the same strictures to its staff photographers.)

As a matter of aesthetics, I love the work of many of the Group f/64 photographers. However, the philosophic posture of Group f/64 is limiting. (OK, I know the manifesto was a response to insipid and derivative pseudo-painterly imagery.) With the advent of digital, and the possibility of introducing an incredible visual wealth into photography, the posture is insupportable and stifles creativity. Nationnal Geographic (and others) get this one wrong.

More dahlia photos: Wet Dahlia, Dahlia Days, my Dahlia set on Flickr.

Diffusion of the Moon

Only a fifteen second exposure, with more light than you’d expect: the bank of clouds surrounding the moon acting like a giant source of diffusion lighting.

Related stories: Multi-RAW Processing versus automated HDR, Taming Extravagant Dynamic Range, Golden Gate Moonrise.

Castle Cake

Phyllis made this castle cake for Julian’s tenth birthday party using a mold she got from King Arthur Flour. The cake is in a grand tradition that includes Faulty Towers Cake, Herbie-the-Love-Bug cake, and (unpictured) dragon cakes, dinosaur cakes, fantasy cakes, Thomas cakes, and much more.

Related stories: Blowing out the Candles, Nicky and the Chocolate Sandwich, Peering at the Golden Gate, Flowr Pie.

Moi


Derrick Story took some headshots of me yesterday, and I spent a bit of time retouching this one. It’s a funny thing: there’s quite a balance between smoothing wrinkles yet leaving the details that show who I am and the life I’ve led.

Mt Tamalpais from Berkeley Marina

We left the Berkeley Pier and I drove down to the breakwater in front of the channel leading to the Berkeley marina. In this twenty second exposure, I was pleased to capture the moon along side Mount Tamalpais, and a red sail gliding by in the dusk.

Fantasy in the Key of Freesia

In the Eisenhower-era movie The Incredible Shrinking Man, the hero begins shrinking after accidental exposure to radiation and insectiside. In the end, always growing tinier, after numerous battles with house cats, spiders, and successively smaller creatures, the hero keeps his dignity and soliloquizes, “So close – the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept.”

With similar spirit and gusto, it amazes me how easily photography ranges from the cosmos of stars in their journey to the universe of the macrocosm.

When I looked at the scene of water drops in my garden on a sunny morning, I realized that to capture the sense of the macrocosm as a universe I needed to get down in the middle of the scene:

Fantasy in the Key of Freesia

To accomplish the feeling of being right in the middle of the “water drop forest”, I knew the camera couldn’t be positioned to look down. There had to be a sense of being right in the middle of the universe of freesia and water drops. So I used a special tripod modified for close-to-the-ground macros, the Low-Boy from Kirk Enterprises. By the way, this tripod is also great for taking photos of small kids, it gets you at exactly their height.

Besides being low in height, I needed to be close-in the to drops and flower stems without disturbing them. To accomplish this, I used my 200mm Nikon macro telephoto lens. One of the neat features of this lens is a tripod collar, making the switch from horizontal to vertical very easy. In 35mm equivalency terms, on a Nikon dSLR, this would be a 300mm lens, bringing you approximately six times closer than optically “normal”.

I stopped the lens down to f/40 for maximum depth-of-field. One of the nice surprises was the star effect on the water drop on the left (a natural effect, not added in Photoshop), reminding me that the universe of the macrocosm has stars too.

Iris ensata ‘Azuma-kagami’

I originally got this cool Iris ensata ‘Azuma-kagami’ as a bare root plant from White Flower Farms, planted it in my garden, and forgot about it. Yesterday, we saw this flower. It struck me as surpassingly beautiful, and I photographed it yesterday and today in studio.

For this shot, I photographed the Iris ensata ‘Azuma-kagami’ (I do like how the name of this flower rolls off my tongue) vertically with a light box behind it. I lit the flower from the front with a tungsten spot equipped with a diffuser and barn doors.

To make the photograph, I used my 85mm perspective correction Nikon lens. This is a really neat hunk of glass, but entirely manual. You even have to stop the diaghram down manually with a push button when you’re ready to make the exposure.

The base exposure on the Iris ensata ‘Azuma-kagami’ is (at ISO 100) 3 seconds and f/48 (one of the nice things about this lens is how far it stops down). I layered in a second, darker exposure for parts of the flower at 2 seconds (still at f/48).

Related story: Iris.

Simple Pleasures

Wet flowers in my garden after early morning rain are not profound. These are simple pleasures.

To read more about my session with these flowers, and the water drops on the flowers, see Heart Like a Gerbera and Patience.

No Time to Be Lost

I’m reading the wonderful Aubrey-Maturin series of sea stories aloud to my oldest son, Julian. If you stick around “lucky” Captain Jack Aubrey, you’ll surely come to recognize his motto, “There’s no time to be lost!” Funny, but I don’t often think of landscape photography as something where rushing is important. But the theme of three recent photo sessions, all involving tripod mounted photography, has indeed been that there is no time to lose.

In this photo of the channels in Drakes Estero at low tide, the beautiful glow of reflected sunset clouds vanished seconds after my exposure ended:

Estero at Low Tide

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In this photo of the moon rising behind the Golden Gate Bridge, shortly after my exposure the moon cleared the clouds and the dramatic lighting was lost:

Golden Gate Moonrise

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In this photo of the Golden Gate in the incoming fog, after I made the thirty second capture, clouds overwhelmed the bridge and the delicate blues went black:

Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Baker

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As a side note, I’m photographing the Golden Gate more than usual these days because my book, 100 Views of the Golden Gate, is reaching completion. With a March, 2008 pub date I only have a couple more months in which my photos can be included. So there’s no time to be lost.

And speaking of no time to be lost, in landscape photography some other sayings apply. Fortune does indeed favor the prepared mind. If you know what lens and other equipment you are likely to use in advance, you won’t fumble and miss a photo. And, she who hesitates is truly lost. If I dither with indecision, I usually don’t get the photo. The correct mode is clear, calm, deliberate: realizing, of course, that there is no time to be lost.

Patience

It rained overnight, rare for around here in July. We were in a cloud in the morning. Wisps of fog, and natural water drops in the garden. Conditions were perfect for water drop photography: overcast but bright, and periods without wind.

I photographed the reflection of a Gerbera daisy in a drop of water on a Gerbera petal using my 200mm f/4 lens, a 36mm extension tube, and the Nikon 6T closeup filter.

The photography took a bit of time. This is precise work, and the exposure can only be taken at the right instant. I had the mirror locked up, and it was hard to tell whether the water drop was still enough, and how well the framing worked. I had a hand blocking the viewfinder to keep backlight from creeping in and spoiling the exposure.

I considered: what was the most important skill for this kind of photography? Patience.

If you look carefully in the reflections in the large drop on the petal (not the one with the Gerbera reflected, try the larger size), you can see two lumps. These lumps are myself and Julian. Julian was sitting with me on the wet grass in our garden. Waiting for me to finish photographing. Waiting for me to play a game of chess with him. Another kind of patience.

Day Lily

This morning I was up early. Even though I had a great deal of writing and office work to do, I couldn’t resist photographing this beautiful day lily while Phyllis got the kids to school. This was a three second exposure at f/36 with my 200mm f/4 telephoto macro. Fortunately, the wind paused for me as I took the picture, and Phyllis came back with a warm caramel macchiato for me, bless her.