Monthly Archives: January 2008

Beyond the Wave

In the complex and jumbled country beyond the Wave, canyons blend into canyons and rock formations twist around each other. No doubt, it would be easy to get lost in the desert.

I photographed this view in strong but shadowed lighting, using a small aperture for maximum depth of field, to keep the stripes in the foreground and the rock formations in the background both in focus.

[Nikon D200 at 34mm (51mm in 35mm terms), 1/60 of a second at f/29 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Waterdrops in the Sun

In the beautiful morning sun of a crisp new morning after all the rain, I photographed these water drops on a leaf using nested extension tubes.

Related images: Earth in a Drop of Rain; Wet Leaf.

[Nikon D300, 200mm f.4 macro (300mm in 35mm terms), 72mm of combined extension tubes, 1/10 of a second at f/40 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Winter Sunset

Yesterday was a beautiful and sunny interlude in the Bay area’s morass of soggy weather. Towards sunset, I grabbed Julian and we headed for Indian Rock. Julian climbed up, over, around, and through the rocks while I set up my tripod and long lens.

The sun was a giant round ball, and I had hopes of duplicating the series of photos that ended up as the cover for 100 Views of the Golden Gate.

It’s amazing how wrong camera light meters get the exposure for the sun. You almost can’t underexpose enough to get an appropriately exposed sun when it’s large in the photo. Using the kind of average exposure setting the camera gives you is likely to lead to an unattractive and dripping soft boiled egg yolk effect.

As a case in point, the camera wanted me to take this exposure at 1/640 of a second and f/10 at ISO 100. My exposure in fact was at 1/2000 of a second at f/20 and ISO 100, letting in something like 1/16 of the light of the suggested setting. (Comparing exposure-value pairs is explained in Chapter 1 of Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers.)

I wouldn’t have minded taking another, even darker, exposure. But I didn’t get the chance. The sun sank behind the cloud bank without ever appearing right behind the bridge as in my earlier series, the clouds covered the sky, and we had rain again today.

Worth noting: the not unattractive noise in the lower left of the image results from lightening up the extremely dark RAW exposure.

[Nikon D300, 240mm (360mm in 35mm terms), 1/2000 of a second at f/20 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Earth in a Drop of Rain

In a break in the recent wet weather, I went outside into our garden to photograph rain drops. Looking down on this large drop, nestled in the cup of a petal, I was reminded of an entire green world with blue oceans, continents, and cloud cover.

[Nikon D300, 200mm f/4 macro lens (300mm in 35mm terms), 36mm extension tube, 4/5 of a second at f/40 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Falling Water

It’s raining again today, and the Bay area is full of falling water. So I’m glad I was able to get out during an intermission in the weather to Cataract Falls, a little bit of wilderness on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais.

[Nikon D300, 18-200 VR Zoom lens at 44mm (66mm in 35mm equivalent terms), 1.3 seconds at f/29 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Cataract below Mt Tamalpais

There was a break today in the rainy weather that has hit the Bay area recently. I thought the waterfalls on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais would be running strongly, so I grabbed Julian and we hiked down to Cataract Falls. It was an adventure-filled journey, with wet crossings, a ranger to help to clear a blocked stream, and logs to clamber over. We had a great time, and it was good to get outside after days of cabin fever.

For this image of Cataract Falls, I bracketed shutter speeds, using a base exposure that was long enough to soften the water, and super-imposing a much shorter exposure that shows some of the frothy detail of the flowing water.

Related image: Cataract Falls in February 2007.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR Zoom lens at 19mm (27mm in 35mm terms), 3/5 of a second at f/22 and 1/40 of a second at f/4.0; both exposures ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

How I Used Flickr To Power My Blog and Got 1,496,603 Visits

Why do I show my work on Flickr? There are a number of reasons, but they boil down to 1,496,603. Let me explain my affair with Flickr.

When I started Photoblog 2.0 in May 2005, I made the decision to serve my photos out of Flickr. This means that the several thousand photos in my blog are sitting on Flickr’s servers, instead of my own server (where I could perfectly well have put them).

Choosing to “mash-up” and outsource Flickr’s photo serving with my own WordPress and MySQL installation was a very Web 2.0 decision, and it has proved to be a smart move from a technology perspective. Flickr takes care of many aspects of image management that I don’t have to worry about, including having each of my photos available in a variety of standardized sizes, image tagging, and image searching. Flickr also saves me from having to manage commentary on my photos, and allows me a great platform for entering into dialogs with people who are interested in my work. For example, hundreds of people on Flickr have stopped by to visit the image below, without me ever having blogged it:

Cone Flower Photogram.jpg

View this image larger.

In fact, my presence on Flickr has taken on a life of its own. My Flickr photostream is complementary and as important to me as my blog. According to Flickr (as of January 25, 2008) 1,496,603 people had paid visits to my photos. This is a huge number. It’s hard to see how else I could have exposed my photos to so many people. Besides that, the Flickr community of photographers are a great, creative, and supportive bunch. Here’s my profile on Flickr.

Are there any downsides to using Flickr as an image server? Well, a couple. Flickr’s filters can add contrast and over-sharpen images, so with some photos I have to prep to counteract these effects the way I would with a specific printer. Essentially, I have a Flickr profile that I apply with some of the images I post to Flickr.

Then, there’s the whole issue of putting my photos up on the web where anyone can grab them. True, photos can be “stolen” even when you host them yourself. But there seems to be a feeling in some circles that photos posted to Flickr are fair game.

I’ve been careful to maintain the copyrighted status of my work on Flickr, and avoided the Creative Commons license that Flickr seems to advocate. Nonetheless, it is a safe bet that some of my photos have been copied without permission or payment in their low resolution Flickr versions. I view this “spoilage” as the price I pay for the extravagant exposure and virtual community I get on Flickr. Of course, sometimes the virtual Flickr community collides with my physical world, and I do meet Flickerites in some remote places. These meetings are a true pleasure!

The summary version of this story is that I signed on to Flickr to get a free ride with organized image serving. This has worked pretty well, and the exposure of my work and the friends I’ve made has been a very nice bonus.

In addition, in this day and age, photographers need to look to multiple revenue streams. The advertising revenue that a photo blog can bring is very welcome as one of these. My Flickr photostream and my photo blog are synergistic, with Flickr helping to bring people interested in my photos to my blog. At the same time, Flickr is an extension of my blog, where people can dialog about the photos, and use Flickr’s searching mechanisms. Besides the traffic, my photos on Flickr have caught the eye of many photo buyers who have subsequently licensed my photos.

Tidepool Creature

This is a close-up of a tidepool creature, taken the other day in James V Fitzgerald Marine Preserve near Moss Beach, California to the south of San Francisco. Perhaps the marine creature is a jellyfish? If you look closely you can see me and my tripod reflected in the tentacles.

[Nikon D300, 105mm f/2.8 macro lens (157.5mm in 35mm terms), 36mm extension tube, 2.5 seconds at f/40 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Resistance to Spirals Is Futile

There’s something hypnotizing about spirals. Even when I start with a perfectly good “straight” photo of a spiral, I feel compelled to extend the spiral in Photoshop. I guess I may as well accept that resistance to spirals is futile.

The compositing technique I used to make this image involved making both large and small copies of the original photo, pretty full explained in World without End.

Related images: Endless Stair, Spirals (shell and stair), Spirals (shell composite).

Trifecta!

I’m really excited to have three photography books coming out in the next few months. These are very different books. The commonality is that each of the three books is illustrated with my photos, and that I’ve written the text as well.

Here’s a quick description of my books, along with the book covers. In the due fullness of time, I’ll be blogging a bit more about each title, as well as showing some excerpts. By the way, the titles are available for pre-order on Amazon (hint, hint!).

100 Views of the Golden Gate is a “coffee table” book published by Wilderness Press that portrays the secular, serene, and spiritual grandeur of the Golden Gate, following the path laid down by the great Japanese artist Hokusai, who wrote about Mount Fuji, “Each view is different, and each view expresses a lifetime.”

Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers published by O’Reilly Media is an illustrated technique book that shows the essential light and exposure principles needed to take great photographs.

The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite & the High Sierra is published by Countryman and distributed by WW Norton. It is part travel guide for photographers, and part a display of photos of the grandeur of Yosemite.

Stairs

Monday was a school vacation in honor of the great Martin Luther King. The weather was dark and stormy. I took my older two boys, Julian and Nicky, into San Francisco to explore the (mostly interior) passages of the Hyatt atrium (below) and Embarcadero Center (above).

Atrium

View this image larger.

Of course, I was multitasking, combining parenthood and Dad-dom with photography. My camera backpack and tripod were on my back. Like the last time I was in Embarcadero, I gravitated to the dingy spiral stairs in the dark nether regions of Embarcadero #2. (You can see some earlier versions towards the bottom of the linked story.) The stairs don’t look dark in the photo above, but they were only dimly lit on this very gray day. Amazing how this low-light subject brightens up in the face of a long digital exposure!

[Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, 10 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Book Imposition

This photo shows imposition proofs for my Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers. The book is due out in the next few months, published by O’Reilly, and is being printed in Italy. In the photo, these large proof sheets are laid out on our living room floor.

Each of the large sheets of paper represents a signature of 16 or 24 pages that will be bound into the final, printed book. This kind of proof is about how the pages will be ordered on press, and definitely not about color reproduction (there are other kinds of proofs that deal with color). When imposition proofs are done right (as these are), they show the printer has thought carefully about how the pages will be printed on press because images with strong color bias are located in “columns” on the same press form (each form represented by an imposition proof sheet).

Dennis Fitzgerald is the Production Editor at O’Reilly. Dennis was kind enough to bring these imposition proofs over last night in foul weather, and to be carefully and meticulously sheparding the book through the shoals of production.

Capillarity in the Key of Green

This is a greener version of Capillarity, shown in an earlier post on black and on white.

Nikon D300 Review

OK. I’m going to give the punch line away. I love my new Nikon D300. I love this camera with a passion that rivals that of my feelings for some film cameras in the days of yore like my Leicas, my Nikon FM2, and my large format Deardorf. This is the first digital Single Lens Reflex (dSLR) that I’ve used that approaches what a dSLR should be, and maybe even the Platonic ideal of a dSLR. This is definitely not the “Chef of the Past” or your father’s camera. The D300 gives a pretty good sense of what digital cameras for serious prosumers are likely to be in the future. If you want, you can buy your Nikon D300 from B&H Photo.

Leaving passion and infatuation out of things for a moment–hard to do, since for us photographers our feelings for our gear always involve strong emotions–the improvements in the D300 compared to the previous model (the D200) are mostly incremental rather than revolutionary. The camera still has some serious drawbacks, or at least presents issues that are somewhere on that ever present feature-bug line. For example, informed and well-intentioned photographers will reach differing conclusions about the sensor, which is smaller than a 35mm frame in a ratio of 1.5 to 1 (more on this issue later). And the D300 form factor is a behemoth. If you don’t have the committment to schlepp a heavy piece of gear around, this isn’t the camera for you (and more power to you).

This is a camera capable of taking images that resolve comparably, in my opinion, at least to medium format film. For example, take a look at this photo of the California coast, shot with the lens wide open:

California Coast near San Gregorio

View this image larger.

[California Coast near San Gregorio, Nikon D300, 18-200mm Zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms), 1/50 of a second at f/3.5 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

It’s pretty clear to me that with a 14-bit RAW capture like this one (at ISO 100) the limiting factor is becoming the quality of the optics rather than the sensor, capture, and on-board processing mechanism. Note that the 14-bit capture is new (the D200 captured in 12-bits), and adds considerable information and tonal quality in the photos I’ve examined closely so far. A downside to this increased file size is that larger file sizes clog memory cards and disk storage. For me, this is a price well worth paying, but I’d suggest ameloriating the issue by using memory cards that are as fast as possible to speed processing of the larger-size image files. (SanDisk Extreme IV cards are a good choice, and what I’ve standardized on.)

My assumption is that I’m writing this review largely for people who already own Nikon dSLR equipment. I’m studiously neutral in the Canon-Nikon debates. Both brands are good. And both companies operate on the razor blade model: the real cost comes when you buy the lenses, which lock you into a system. So if you already own a Nikon dSLR like the D80 or the D200, the D300 will feel very familiar right out of the box.

Here are some of the incremental improvements that make me happy (besides the ability to do 14-bit RAW captures) with my D300:

  • The optical viewfinder is close to 100% accurate (not true of earlier models)
  • The sensor (more accurately, the low pass filter in front of the sensor) can be cleaned using a microwave mechanism. This has been a huge issue for me with my previous Nikon dSLRs, considering the gritty field conditions I often work in, and my propensity for stopped down my lenses (which shows sensor dirt more than with the lens wide open). So far, this feature seems to work well, and I have it set to clean my sensor each time the camera starts up.
  • The Active D-Lighting mode uses real-time data to process high contrast images, allowing better exposures of images that have both very dark and very light areas. (I’ll write more about this feature in another blog story later.)
  • You can set the camera so that the mirror goes up and the photo you are about to make is displayed in advance on the LCD screen. This is very cool, and useful in a number of situations including (for example) tight macros and grab shots above a crowd.
  • This camera shows far less noise than previous models, even at fairly high ISOs. Exposures over 30 seconds will generate plenty of noise, but it’s hard to create a noise-filled image in normal conditions, no matter how high you boost the ISO. Given the increased quality of high ISO images, in many situations I’d opt for boosting the ISO rather than using flash.
  • Rubber connection covers (for the remote control, for example) are attached to the camera, not loose caps which inevitably get lost.
  • The shutter makes such a wonderful, solid thunking noise when you make a capture. You’ve got to love the audio effects on this camera!

I think that the only real carping you could do about the Nikon D300 has to with the sensor size. Like all of Nikon’s DSLR offerings up to now, this sensor is smaller than 35mm in a ratio of 1.5 to 1. This means that lenses bring subjects closer than you’d expect compared to a similarly designated lens on a 35mm camera, although there are anomalies related to how particular lenses play on specific cameras. My 200mm f/4 macro lens produces a very different angle of view than the 200mm setting on the more recent 18-200mm VR zoom lens (go figure!).

In general, having a sensor that is a bit smaller than the 35mm comparison size is good for telephoto lenses (they get more telephoto), but not so good for wide angle lenses (they don’t stay as wide angle).

Since Nikon has just introduced its first full sensor frame model (the D3, which costs several thousand dollars more than the already not inexpensive D300), it’s worth having a further look at this issue.

First, lenses specifically designed for digital cameras may not project full frame onto the sensor. This is a way for extreme wide angle lenses to stay wide angle, as in the photo below of the atrium at San Francisco’s Embarcadero Hyatt taken with a digital fisheye (there’s no very good way to express the 35mm equivalent of this lens):

Atrium

View this image larger.

[Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, 3 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

So, whether full-frame D3, or somewhat smaller frame D300, some digital lenses don’t use the entire sensor area in any case. The optical impact of sensor size is a mixed bag, but the impact of sensor size on noise is clear: it’s a “true fact” that the smaller the sensor size the more noise. But noise processing is getting so much better that noise is becoming less of an issue. (For a related story, see Noise as a Historical Artifact.)

To digress for a moment, my Dad, a professional logician, has strenously objected the the phrase “true fact” on the grounds that all facts are by definition true.

Anyhow, I’ve gone a bit far afield. Here’s my last word (for now): At first I thought the D300 was what the D200 ought to have been. That’s true. But now I think that the D300 moves closer to what a dSLR, with the emphasis on digital, ought to be–and shows the likely direction of DSLR cameras of the future.

Existential Escalators

When I was young, they warned me about the escalators. “Once you step on the escalators,” I was told, “you may never find your way off.”

But did I listen? No. The lure of the existential escalators was inevitable. And now I travel up and down forever, trapped, a ghost in the machine, the flying-Dutch-person of the moving stairs.

Related images: Endless Doors (World without End), Endless Stair.