Monthly Archives: May 2007

Not Your Father’s Lensbaby

The Lensbaby 3G is not your father’s lensbaby. Although the optics are the same as the older Lensbaby 2.0, this is a new Lensbaby. Compared to the straigthforward and somewhat retro-looking LensBaby 2.0, the Lensbaby 3G is almost like a contraption from Rube Goldberg.

The older Lensbaby is a simple, bendable tube with some optical glass and a place to fit magnetic f/stop disks. With the 3G, in addition to the tube, lens, and place for aperture discs, the 3G sports a mechanism for locking the Lensbaby down, focusing posts, and a barrel focusing ring. You squeeze release pins together to unlock the 3G, and you use the focusing post knobs to fine-tune the positioning of the “sweet spot.” In Lensbaby parlance, the sweet spot is the area of focus, and part of the point of the Lensbaby is that it gives you unprecendented control over the extent of the sweet spot in an image.

I recently got my hands on a Lensbaby 3G, and when I tried out the 3G I discovered that it does in fact provide a great deal of additional functionality beyond the earlier Lensbaby. Since you can lock the lens in place, tripod work is now possible. Among other things, this makes long shutter speeds a possibility: so the Lensbaby can be used effectively in darker environments. The possibility of lock-down also means that you can systematically vary exposure and other aspects of an image (being able to repeat an exposure is an important part of best photography practice).

Finally, the combination of being able to grossly stretch, compact, and bend the lens together with fine positioning (using the focusing post knobs) and fine-tune focusing (the focusing collar) gives me the possibility of correcting perspective in an image, much as one can do with a view camera or with my (very expensive) 85mm Nikon perspective correction macro lens.

With the photo of the Red Poppy (above) and the Pink Camellia (below), to get started I mounted the Lensbaby 3G on my Nikon D200, and the camera on my tripod. It’s nice that you can use Aperture-preferred automatic metering. Next, I inserted the f/4 aperture disk, and a +4 close-up filter from the Lensbaby Macro Kit.

My general process was to get the tripod, camera, and Lensbaby 3G roughly in position. Next, I wiggled and waggled the Lensbaby to get the sweet spot where I wanted. When I was satisfied, I locked the lens down, using the focusing collar to fine tune the focus and the focusing post knobs to fine tune the area of the sweet spot.

The Red Poppy (above) was blowing in the wind, so some of the background blur is wind, and some is pure Lensbaby. I clamped the camellia branch in place so the Pink Camellia flower would stay still (so the effect is entirely due to the Lensbaby).

You can expect more Lensbaby 3G images from me in the days to come. This is such a fun toy!

Here are some of my favorite Lensbaby 2.0 macros: Flower within the Flower; Me and My Shadow; Poppy Central ; Snake; Leaf Critter.
Related link: Lensbaby category on Photoblog 2.0.

Pink Camellia

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Posted in Flowers, Lensbaby, Photography

Golden Gate at Night

This is a two minute time exposure of the Golden Gate and San Francisco, taken at night in cold and foggy conditions, from the rather oddly named Slacker Ridge (one of the high points in the Marin Headlands directly above the Golden Gate Bridge).

On Monday night Mark and I had gone hiking on the Coastal Trail high above the 101 Freeway. We reached a ridge that looked towards Gerbode Valley in one direction and back at the Golden Gate Bridge in the other. It may help you to picture the spot to think that we were above and to the west of the Waldo Tunnel, what my family calls the “Rainbow Tunnel.” You go through this tunnel just before you cross the Golden Gate Bridge to reach San Francisco.

Monday was balmy, and as we returned to the car through the almost tropical night I kept looking with longing at the dark heights above us. Clearly, I am becoming obsessed with night photography.

Looking at the Park Service Marin Headlands trail map, I could see that the Coastal Trail made its way around these heights (which were unnamed on the map) to met McCollough Road. The AAA Sausalito-Mill Valley map had a little more detail, and showed a spur trail going up the back of the heights (also unamed on the AAA map) not far from the junction with McCollough Road.

Last night, I decided to try my luck. The evening was variable with some wind and fog, and I figured I’d either face a white-out or maybe get some interesting photos. One of the appeals of night photography, of course, is that you just never know.

I dressed warmly, in woolies top and bottom, a polypro vest, and a down jacket. There was room for my headlamp under my Patagonia balaclava.

It was easy to find the side trail marked on the map. In the physical world, the heights were named on a Park Service sign. As I’ve mentioned, the name was somewhat odd: Slacker Ridge. I didn’t feel like a slacker having marched up there in the gathering night with my camera gear and tripod in my bag on my back, and with the wind and fog from the Pacific getting my clothes and camera gear damp.

The weather may have been chill, but the photo looks warm to me with the drifting fog illuminating the scene unpredictably as the fog moved across the area being captured by the long exposure.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area


Behind us, the coyotes sang their eerie song and the stars twinkled over Gerbode Valley. In front, the lights of San Francisco and the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge made a vivid light show.

In this image, I held the shutter open for a minute to turn the motion of the cars into solid streaks of yellow and red light. I also underexposed by a couple of stops at f/11 to allow the background to go black while making the colors of the cars in motion more vivid.

When I saw the image in the Light Table mode of Adobe Bridge, the world was indeed abstracted out of the photo. All I saw was the S-shaped curve made by the car lights. Perhaps a little like the curve one should aim for in Photoshop when editing the Luminosity channel of a photograph in LAB color mode.

Posted in Digital Night, Photography, San Francisco Area

Gerbode Valley

I was standing with Mark on a ridge with the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco on one side and the empty wilds of Marin Headlands on the other. We had hiked the couple of miles up from the parking lot by the bridge in the gathering dusk, and now it was full night.

Mostly I photographed the light show created by the bridge, the 101 freeway, and the city. How strange to be alone on a wilderness trail with a view of the Metropolis. As the coyotes started to sing, I turned to the dark side and, in an act of faith, took a three minute exposure into the wall of blackness represented by Gerbode Valley. I could see the stars in the sky, but not much else.

In the photo, you can see Gerbode Valley, almost as clear and green as if it were daylight, running down to Rodeo Beach. The buildings near Rodeo Beach are casting a red glow, and ships are moving on the Pacific. A moving object, which I first thought to be an airplane but is more probably a shooting star, traverses across the sky.

Standing there in the darkness, caressed by the almost tropical breezes off the ocean, I mused to Mark about how weird it is to be using digital technology to take these impossibly long exposures just as the early pioneers of photography did (but in their case due to the low light sensitivity of their emulsions, and not by choice).

Related story: On Night Photography.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Iris Rising

Yesterday in my garden, this Iris bud was spotlit by the sun. I purposely underexposed (at ISO 100, 1/6 of a second and f/36) to make the brown fence behind the flower go towards a dark black and to bring out the vibrancy of the colors of the bud.

In this day and age of digital captures, with the vast exposure range inherent in a RAW exposure, it’s important to remember that the most dramatic images start by using silver-halide era exposure techniques, where the photographer controls over and under exposure to facilitate a specific vision of a photograph.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Ethereal and Ephemeral

Close up, the water drops on the heliotropic Carobrotus edulis flowers (a/k/a ice plants) looked ethereal, ephemeral, and pretty in pink.

Photographed with my 200mm f/4 macro lens, positioned on the tripod using the 200mm’s built-in tripod collar, a 36mm extension tube, and the Nikon 6T close-up filter at ISO 100, 1/8 of a second, and f/40 for maximum depth-of-field.

Related story: Water Drop Photograph Techniques.

Posted in Photography, Water Drops

Testing the Night Sky

This is a one hour exposure from the roof of my house last night using my 10.5mm digital fisheye lens, with the camera exposing manually on Bulb at f/5.6.

I used my best guess for the exposure settings based on the dark night sky. I think I’m a bit off here because this sky is really a bright city sky. You can see the light artifacts of the city in the image, although more poetically it is possible also to see a great eye in the sky. If you look closely (check out the middle of the lower right) you can also see impressions of the camera optics.

I set the camera up on the roof on the tripod at about 10PM after the kids were in bed. We watched a little TV (I leave to your imagination whatever else we may have been doing), then I went to sleep.

Phyllis woke me a little after 11PM (Mathew was up and down all night, so he functioned as a good timer!). I got dressed and put on my headlamp, and climbed up to our upper roof.

The exposure had completed, and the computer in the camera was chugging away processing the image. I noticed that the battery was running on empty, and that the whole Nikon D200 camera felt a bit warm to the touch.

I brought tripod and camera downstairs, with the camera still chugging away. My brain was a little sleep silly, so I thought I could just plug the camera into an outlet, in case the battery totally ran out before the camera finished processing the image. Silly me! The AC adapter for the D200 is a Nikon accessory you can buy for about $80.00.

Finally the camera completed processing the exposure. I took the memory card out, and copied the image to my computer. In Adobe Bridge, the image looked way overexposed. (This morning I partially compensated by sliding the exposure and brightness down, and the shadows up, when I converted the RAW image.)

When I removed the battery for recharging, the battery was one hot potato.

Stay tuned. What I really want is an image showing an extended star arc. Perhaps a four hour exposure will do it. From my city roof, on a clear night, I’d figure about four hours at f/22.

I’ll have to wait a fews days to make this exposure. Right now, there’s no four hour window without a moon to spoil my exposure.

I’m armed! I’m dangerous! I’ve ordered the Nikon EH-6 AC adapter, and I plan to run an extension cord up to our roof.

Related story: On Night Photography.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Nature’s Harp

It had rained lightly overnight. But the water drops were quickly disappearing in the morning sun. I went out into my garden with my camera bag and tripod while Phyllis got the kids to school.

There was also a soft breeze. The wind and sun felt caressing, but the wind was enough to make extreme macro photographs a problem, because even small motions are magnified when you are up close.

I spotted these water drops on a spider web attached to the stems of some heliotropic ice plants (Carobrotus edulis). The spider web acted to keep the water drops pretty much still. You can see some of the heliotropic (meaning they open when it is sunny, and close at night) flowers of the plant reflected in the water drops.

The shape of the stems with the web and drops reminds me of a harp, hence my title for the photo. But I also see this as some kind of minature fiber construction.

Photographed on tripod with my Nikon 200mm f/4 macro lens at f/36, using a shutter speed of 1/6 of a second at ISO 100.

Posted in Photography, Water Drops

Winter Morning in Yosemite

It had snowed overnight. In the predawn darkness, Julian and I left our warm room in Yosemite Lodge and, using our headlamps, made for the banks of the Merced River.

As the sun came up, with camera on tripod, I photographed Middle Brother (above). A little bit later, the sun made its way into the crevasses of a Yosemite Falls (below), not yet engorged with the snow melt of the day.

It was hard getting out of bed and into the cold. But I’m reminded that sometimes my own inertia and fondness for comfort is the thing that stops me from taking the photographs I want to take. Whenever I stop listening to my internal objections and just get on with it, not letting the little things stop me, I am usually pleased with the results.

Yosemite Falls at Sunrise

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Related stories: Living Photography, Golden Wonder, Julian in Yosemite, Yosemite Storm.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Living Photography

A Personal Statement about My Workshop

For me, photography is life and life is photography. You can’t separate who you are from the photos you make. Every good photo shows something of the spirit and soul of its creator.

It’s called digital photography for a reason. Digital photography is a new medium. The craft of digital photography combines the craft of photography with the discipline of software. Digital photographers can spend more time with the computer than with cameras. And digital cameras are special-purpose computers with a lens and a scanner attached.

A pixel is but a pixel: meaning that if the final digital image works it doesn’t matter how we get there. A digital image can be created using one part digital capture and one part digital painting in Photoshop.

My workshop Digital Workflow: From the Field to Flickr explains these aspects of the technical craft of digital photography in the context of my work. But the workshop is not about me as much as it is about the participants in the workshop, who’ll each leave the workshop with their own personalized digital workflow.

Technique without soul and vision is nothing, so my real goal in my workshop is to help each participant understand what photography means in their own life. We’ll explore photography together as a journey, not a destination, and accept a happy, busy, creative, and fun week together as a quest. This is a visual, philosophic, and sentimental quest. The results may not be what you expect, but I can guarantee adventures along the way.

Related links: Digital Workflow: From the Field to Flickr from July 7-14 at the Santa Fe Workshops; Golden Wonder; My Santa Fe Photo Workshop.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Writing

On Night Photography

Photographing at night can be literally a trip into the unknown, dark and impenetrable. Often you can see neither your photographic subject nor your camera controls. You may be flailing around in the murk and gloom, at some risk of tripping over obstacles or falling down unseen cliffs. It’s hard to have an accurate idea of how vistas will render on digital. Light pollution from unexpected sources–a car passing, or a security guard shining a light at you to see what you are doing–is always possible. Almost certainly, it will be much colder than during the daytime.

So why bother?

One answer is because of the challenge. It’s technically demanding, so successfully photographing the night feels rewarding.

Night, and darkness, are there. Something like half our time is spent off the diurnal clock. Absent the luxuries of cilization, this nocturnal world is our world, and yet it is largely unseen. Making the unseen visible is one of the highest uses of photography.

So photography of landscapes in extremely low light shows us things we’d never see otherwise. And this revelation is often surprisingly interesting or beautiful (a case in point, these unexpected landscapes taken well after sunset).

If you decide to try night photography, dress warmly. Carry several light sources, preferably including a headlamp. You’ll need to know your equipment, including your tripod, well enough to work it essentially by feel.

Night exposures are almost by definition manual exposures, so you should expect to make trial exposures and adjust accordingly. As I’ve explained before, you’ll need a programmable remote device to make exposures longer than the maximum shutter speed setting on your camera (often thirty seconds).

Yosemite Valley at Night (above) is a 180 second exposure with the lens wide open taken from the road near Curry Village. It was part of the same series of exposures as Night in Yosemite, but instead of facing Glacier Point the photo shows the view past Mirror Lake and up Tenaya Canyon.

I literally couldn’t see what I’d pointed the camera at as I exposed the image (partly because the car headlights shown in the lower right blinded me). During the exposure, some people with a bright lantern walked slowly past, glancing at me with curiousity as I desperately tried to shield the lens from their light.

In the photo, clouds obscure Half Dome (shown on the right side above and in daylight below).

Half Dome

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Peeking Bridge

OK, so this is the Golden Gate Bridge peeking, not a Peking Duck. A cheap shot, I know, but I have a weakness for puns. Also, I’ve been losing weight lately, which tends to make me think of everything in the context of food.

This view is from Coyote Ridge, looking across Tennessee Valley, with the Old Springs Trail passing through a gap in Wolf Ridge and continuing as the Miwok Trail.

The Marin Headlands is amazing as a wilderness so close to San Francisco. As I’ve commented before, I feel more alone (and more at risk) in a wilderness where you can view civilization than a wilderness where, well, there is only wilderness surrounding.

Related story: Pirate’s Cove and Marin Headlands.
Related link: Park service trail map of the Marin Headlands.

Posted in Hiking, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area