Archive for September 2013

Single-image Sunday: Smith Rock State Park   12 comments

This is Oregon’s favorite place for rock climbing.  The routes are rated up to 5.14, which is extremely difficult and for experts only.  But there are plenty of climbs suitable for novices as well.  A series of trails wind through the park, allowing hikers to watch these spider-men and women practice their sport.  The Crooked River zig-zags its way around the hard formations of volcanic tuff, a dense flow of ash dumped here by an ancient volcano.  Sometimes tuff can be fairly soft and friable, but this one is very strongly cemented.

I woke very early, and worried that the cloudy weather would prevent a good sunrise.  Rain moved in after sunrise, but at dawn the skies cleared enough for very pretty light to make its way into the canyon.  The cascading song of a canyon wren echoed its way up to me from the canyon as I captured this shot.  It was very quiet and beautiful, and the recent rains gave the sage and other desert vegetation a lovely scent.  Thanks for looking.  I hope your weekend is going well!

Dawn breaks at Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon.

Dawn breaks at Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon.

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Friday Foto Talk: Sharpness vs. Depth of Field, Part II   3 comments

A train runs up the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  This is not an image with many tradeoffs.

A train runs up the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. This is not an image with many tradeoffs.

This is the second of two parts.  Last time we discussed lens sharpness in general, & learned how to find a lens’s sweet spot.  Check out Part I.  Did you do your homework?  Hint: it was finding the sweet spot for your lenses!  Remember all these images are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Just click on them to check out purchase options on the main part of my webpage.  If you can’t find something or have any other questions just contact me.  Thanks for your interest.

Now we come to the meat of the matter.  How much does all this matter?  For one thing, you should realize that photography has changed with the advent of digital cameras, specifically the emergence of high-quality digital cameras.  Sharpness and clarity are now expected by people.  This is not generally a bad thing.  But it is narrowing the range of images that people will look at for longer than a nanosecond.  And that is a bad thing.

Dawn on the upper Columbia in Washington.  Shot at f/22 to maximize depth of field.  Sharpness is not at maximum for this lens though.

Dawn on the upper Columbia in Washington. Shot at f/22 to maximize depth of field. Sharpness is not at maximum for this lens though.

Notice I said sharpness and clarity, not focus.  As an example take my post for Single-image Sunday, the Fog Returns.  It’s an image that, while perfectly focused, is not particularly sharp.  I’m using the word sharp in its broader sense here.  It is encouraging that I a little push-back against this quest for sharpness in all images.  But there are currents that are taking us in the other direction as well.  For example focus stacking (where several images are captured and combined in Photoshop to have several focus points in the same image) is subtly changing the expectations of image viewers.  To think I’m essentially being forced to do composites in Photoshop: ugh!

I posted this in a previous post, but here it is again because it's one of just three images I have photo-stacked thus far.

This image from Olympic N.P. appears in a previous post, but here it is again because it’s one of just three images I have thus far captured & processed by photo stacking.

But let’s leave that aside and focus on sharpness vs. depth of field.  You might be aware of all the tradeoffs in photography, and this is certainly one of them.  But before we discuss that, here are a few givens:

      • Some lenses are sharper than others, but that’s not your concern.  Your concern is to get the best pictures possible with the equipment you have.
      • Most images that are not as sharp as they could be are down to user error.  If you don’t stabilize your camera on a tripod (or shoot at a fast-enough shutter speed if hand-holding), do not expect a sharp image.  Use a cable release or timer delay as well.  Mirror lockup, if your camera has it, has a lesser effect but is still worth doing.
      • Atmospheric conditions, particularly at longer focal lengths, will also affect apparent sharpness.
      • Some lenses are capable of being sharper stopped all the way down than other lenses, and can thus give you a greater apparent depth of field.
      • The wider your focal length, the greater your depth of field will be.  Though it’s a continuous change, think about 21 mm. as the cutoff between very short/wide focal lengths and just wide/longer focal lengths.  Telephoto lengths (greater than 70 mm.) will yield much shallower depths of field.
      • Despite the above factor, aperture is still the biggest influence on depth of field.
Sandstone formations in Utah.  I was very close to the foreground and my focal length was not super wide.  While managing to get good sharpness in the foreground, I sacrificed some sharpness in the background.

Sandstone formations in Utah. I was very close to the foreground and my focal length was not super wide. While managing to get good sharpness in the foreground, I sacrificed some sharpness in the background.  Since I did not want this to be too noticeable, I used a small aperture – f/22.

Shooting “Deep” Scenes: The Trade-off

Now let’s get to that tradeoff between sharpness and depth of field.  If you want to maximize depth of field in your image (that is, sharpness from very close to very far away), you will be shooting at small apertures.  So unless you are going the focus stacking route as mentioned above, you will be shooting a good ways past your sweet spot.  Once you are two stops above the sweet spot (f/16 if your sweet spot is f/8, for example) you’ll notice a small drop in sharpness.

Let’s take an example.  Say you are shooting a sunrise over a lake, with interesting rocks close by and beautiful forested mountains in the background.  If you get low and close to those rocks, you might choose a very wide angle in order to get everything in.  This will also help to maximize depth of field, but to really get there you will also use a small aperture like f/22.  In order to show the fascinating detail in those foreground rocks, you will be  focusing fairly close, perhaps only a foot or two past the closest rock.

Sunrise at Lost Lake with Mount Hood emerging from the fog.  This is the same scene as last Wednesday's post, the Fog Returns.

Sunrise at Lost Lake with Mount Hood emerging from the fog. This is the same scene as last Wednesday’s post, the Fog Returns.

This all sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  But as with many things in life, there’s a hitch.  One of photography’s tradeoffs has raised its ugly head!  Depending on your lens the overall sharpness of your image will be just a bit less than what it is at the sweet spot (say that is f/8).  This is because of diffraction, as mentioned in Part I.

But that’s not all.  With most lenses, that image will also have its background slightly out of focus.  If you’re lucky (rich?) enough to have a Nikon 14-24 mm. or other similar lens with a big curved front element, this effect is certainly minimized.  But it is still there.  You can focus deeper into the image, but then your foreground will be slightly out of focus.  Shooting at a very wide angle and with a high-quality lens helps out with this tradeoff, but it will always be a balancing act.

This is hot off the presses, from last night.  If you are interested in the high-resolution version, just click on it.

This is hot off the presses, from last night. If you are interested in the high-resolution version, just click on it.

I normally just accept some diffraction-related softness and go with f/22.  But this is when I’m using my Tokina 16-28 mm. lens.  With my Canon 24-105 f/4, I know it’s softer at f/22 than the Tokina and does not attain quite as large a depth of field.  This is only partly because of the longer focal lengths; some has to do with the lens optics. The Canon does more things than the Tokina, so it can’t do the one thing as well.  More tradeoffs.

Focal Point & Depth of Field

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the focal point: where to focus?  It’s a question many photographers struggle with.  For me, it not only depends on my desired focal length, but on the balance between background and foreground in the image.  You should ask yourself, which is the dominant feature in my image: is it in the foreground or background?  That main subject is what you should try to keep as sharp as possible.

Sometimes I will sacrifice and move back from my foreground, especially if my background subject is a strong one.  This will increase apparent depth of field, but it might also force a longer focal length, which in turn decreases depth of field.  Again, a balancing act.

Death Valley, California.  Good detail in the foreground sand was most important here, and the background dunes were not as big a part of the image.  So I shot at f/16 and focused on the sand in front of me.

Death Valley, California. Good detail in the foreground sand was most important here, and the background dunes were not as big a part of the image. So I shot at f/16 and focused on the sand in front of me.

Blooming beargrass on Silver Star Mountain in Washington, with Mt Adams in the background.  At this focal length (165 mm.), no chance for sharpness in both fore- and back-ground.    But I still shot at f/22 so the mountain wasn't too out of focus.

Blooming beargrass on Silver Star Mountain, WA. At this focal length (165 mm.), no chance for sharpness in both the flowers & Mt. Adams. But I still shot at f/22 so the mountain wasn’t too out of focus.

Focal Point & Subject

Say you have a strong foreground and a less important background.  It’s a seascape with a fascinating foreground and no interesting boat or other element in the background.  You may just focus on the foreground and not care much about the background, even shooting at f/11 in some cases.  This is how I handle those scenes.  But I will often bracket my apertures, shooting at f/11 to f/22 (or whatever the minimum aperture is).

Now say you’re shooting a scene where your background subject is most important, yet you still want maximum depth of field.  First off, definitely consider putting your foreground a bit further away as mentioned above.  But this time, since the background is dominant, focus closer to it; about one third into the scene is the rule of thumb.  Since your background is most important, you might increase focal length to make it bigger (longer focal lengths increase magnification).  But careful!  You could lose too much depth of field, putting your foreground out of focus.  This is more likely if you’re tempted to shoot at wider apertures (smaller f/number) to get closer to that sweet spot.

Mount Rainier in the morning.  This is a shot where sharpness on the background is important but so is good depth of field.

Mount Rainier in the morning. This is a shot where sharpness on the background is important but so is good depth of field.

Recent foggy shot at Lost Lake. While sharpness is somewhat important for the baby tree, great depth of field is not that important.

Recent foggy shot at Lost Lake. While sharpness is somewhat important for the baby tree, great depth of field is not that important.

You can always keep a very wide angle and crop later, thus helping to get better (apparent) depth of field and sharpness both.  The tradeoff in that case is a smaller digital file, which is not really good if you’re thinking of printing the image large.  If you’re using focal lengths of 50 mm. or greater, focusing one third into the scene should be your default point of focus.  Just don’t get too locked into this, and always try to check focus right after the shot by zooming in on your LCD.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  I’m willing to answer any questions on this somewhat convoluted topic, so fire away.  If you’re not getting a quick answer it means I’m probably out shooting!  Have a great weekend everyone.

It's getting dark earlier!  Although some depth of field is important here, I opened aperture up a bit (f/8) to avoid using a high ISO and keep exposure time reasonable (to avoid smearing the clouds and moon out too much).

It’s getting dark earlier! Although some depth of field is important here, I opened aperture up a bit (f/8) to avoid using a high ISO and keep exposure time reasonable (to avoid smearing the clouds and moon out too much).

Wordless Wednesday: Fishing in the Fog   8 comments

Lost_Lake_9-19-13_5D3_036

Posted September 25, 2013 by MJF Images in Nature Photography, People, Photography

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

Visiting the Olympic Peninsula   33 comments

A rewarding sunrise from Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains highlights the peaks of the North Cascades in Washington.

A rewarding sunrise from Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains highlights the peaks of the North Cascades in Washington.

Back to my bread & butter, a travel-tip post on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, home to one of America’s best national parks.  I spent a week there in August.  I know I know, what took me so long to write about it?  I’ve been posting pictures for other posts, but it’s finally time to give my take on this beautiful place.  I’ve been there several times, but never as extensively as this one.  It is in my opinion the most diverse national park in the country.  Where else can you hike among flowers in alpine meadows, see glaciers, walk through a misty rain forest, or along a beach studded with sea stacks and brimming with tide pools?  Throw in skipping stones on a beautiful lake and a good soak in a hot spring and you have a pretty special place.

The crescent moon rises over the rugged Olympic Coast at Cape Alava.

The crescent moon rises over the rugged Olympic Coast at Cape Alava.

Places to Visit on the Peninsula

The best time to visit the Olympic Peninsula is anytime during the warmer months, mid-May to September.  April, even March can be nice, also less crowded.  You can have rainy weather at any time, but it is much less common July to mid-September.  Here are the spots I think are worth visiting.  I’ll start with the two most popular places.

      • Hurricane Ridge.  This area accessible via a twisting climbing road from Port Angeles is probably the most spectacular place in the park, and the Peninsula as well.  The views are astounding.  You can see into Canada, over to the Pacific Ocean, and out into the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.  The flowers peak in late July to early August.  There is a small visitor center and a few short trails.  If you drive the gravel road (doable in a 2WD) east to the end of the ridge, you will have more views.  And if you hike a mile or two out one of the trails here you can see Puget Sound and the North Cascades: awesome!
Mount Olympus and companions bask under a beautiful dawn sky as viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Mount Olympus and companions bask under a beautiful dawn sky as viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

      • Hoh Rainforest.  Although this area on the west side of the Peninsula can get crowded, the trails have people dispersed in a hurry.  A few short nature trails give a good feel for the forest, and there is a very long trail that heads up the Hoh River, eventually reaching alpine meadows and views of the Blue Glacier. There is also a good visitor center.  Note that you’ll pay an entrance fee (currently $15) to access either Hurricane Ridge or the Hoh, but not for most of the other locations listed below.
Dusk gathers in the foggy forest of the Olympic National Park, Washington.

Dusk gathers in the foggy forest of the Olympic National Park, Washington.

      • La Push Beaches.  The coast near La Push is spectacular.  Several short trails head to beaches, which are popular for backpacking.  But you can also simply drive to Rialto Beach or First Beach.  It’s beautiful.  Do yourself a favor and take a couple walks along the beach.  Time it for low tide for some superb tide-pooling.  Pick up a tide table or jot down times from the internet.  Catch a sunset if at all humanly possible!
The beautiful Olympic Coast at First Beach near La Push, Washington.

The beautiful Olympic Coast at First Beach near La Push, Washington.

      • Ozette.  Actually if you have time do both Ozette and Cape Flattery.  The drive out there from Port Angeles is so beautiful.  Once at Ozette, which used to be a thriving if isolated community but now is not much more than a trailhead, you can hike out a few miles to Cape Alava.  This is the furthest west you can go in the continental United States.  It’s spectacular.  You can hike south along the beach then turn left and make a loop back.  It is about 9 miles for the loop.  The lake is a big one, very worth paddling on if you have a canoe or kayak.  I camped right on the lake and had some very nice starry skies (see image).

If you go to Cape Flattery and have time for a hike, you can head south along the coast on Hobuck Road.  It will give you a feel for how the Makah Native American tribe lives, and you’ll end up at the trailhead for Shi Shi Beach (pronounced shy shy).  Also, at Neah Bay, there is a very worthwhile museum focused on the native culture of the Makah and other coastal tribes.  Cape Flattery is spectacular, the northwestern-most point of the U.S. (excluding Alaska of course). On the drive out there, make sure and check out the beautiful beach at Salt Creek County Park.

Tide pool ornaments on the Olympic Coast.

Tide pool ornaments on the Olympic Coast.

The day's last rays of sunlight strike a sea stack off the northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

The day’s last rays of sunlight strike a sea stack off the northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

 

      • Lake Quinault.  Like many places on the Olympic Peninsula, this beautiful lake lies on American Indian tribal land.  It is bordered, however, by Olympic National Park.  There is a very nice lodge on the southern shore, plus a beautiful nature trail that winds through enormous trees.  The rainforest here is at least as lovely as that in the Hoh Valley.  Drive east past the lake for trailheads that strike off into wilderness.  There are rustic campsites up here, and BIG trees.
Lake Quinalt on Washington's Olympic Peninsula is a beautiful place for a sunset stroll.

Lake Quinalt on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is a beautiful place for a sunset stroll.

A pretty little waterfall nestles in a verdant alcove near Lake Quinault.

A pretty little waterfall nestles in a verdant alcove near Lake Quinault.

 

      • Lake Crescent.  This glacially-carved lake is the most beautiful lake in Washington, if you ask me.  Steep mountains rise from a curving lakeshore.  Many people just drive right by it on the way from Hurricane Ridge to Hoh Valley.  Don’t be one of these people!  A small beach at the west end of the beach is a good place for a picnic.  Roads head along the far northern shore from either end, and a hiking trail ascends to Pyramid Mountain for even better views of the lake.
Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington is calm under misty skies.

Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington is calm under misty skies.

      • Sol Duc.  This valley covered in beautiful forest is additionally blessed with a (developed) hot springs.  Though I prefer undeveloped hot springs, this one is nicely done.  A short hike takes you to Sol Duc Falls, a beautiful (but popular) cascade.  Reach this valley by turning south just west of Lake Crescent.
Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park.

Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park.

      • Overnight Hikes:  The two classic trips are up the Hoh River and along the coast.  For the former, start at Hoh Visitor Center and head up to the Blue Glacier. You can turn north at the ranger station to enter a lovely lake basin.  Then if you do a shuttle you can exit through the Sol Duc Valley.  For the coast, talk with rangers at the park’s wilderness desk for local information.  You need to factor in slower hiking times plus tides.  There are several possibilities including the hike from Ozette to Rialto Beach, along with Third Beach to Ruby Beach.  Many other backpack trips are possible in the park, including some that ascend quickly into great mountains and lakes from the east, Hood Canal side.
Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

A huge leaf after overnight rainfall in the Hoh rain forest.

A huge leaf after overnight rainfall in the Hoh rain forest.

 

The rugged coast along the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington was a particularly serious threat to early shipping, and especially during bad weather.

The rugged coast along the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington was a particularly serious threat to early shipping, and especially during bad weather.

      • Dungeness Spit.  I would be remiss in not mentioning Dungeness Spit near Sequim.  A hike along the Spit is a different experience, reaching far out into the sound.  And it is flat as a pancake!  Sequim is a small town east of Port Angeles.  It benefits from a climatic phenomenon called the rain shadow effect.  It means the rainfall in Sequim is about 16 inches, while over in the nearby rain forests of the western Olympic Peninsula it exceeds 150 inches.  The Olympic Mountains effectively block storms coming in off the Pacific Ocean.  The air rises and cools as it hits the mountains.  Cool air cannot hold as much water in its vapor form as warm air can, so it rains and snows over the high country.  As the weather passes over the peaks and air descends toward Sequim on the Puget Sound, it warms and dries, holding the remaining moisture back – until it hits the Cascades further east.
Low clouds cover the entrance to Puget Sound, with the lights of boats.  Viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Low clouds cover the entrance to Puget Sound, with the lights of boats. Viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

 

Onward from the Olympics

You can make your visit even more special by visiting Victoria in Canada.  Just take the ferry from Port Angeles and make sure you have your passport with you.  There are countless lodging options, but perhaps the nicest are the many beds and breakfasts.  You can also stay in one of the hotels lining the truly beautiful harbor.  Whale-watching tours are available, but you should also keep watch from the ferry.  Orcas are not uncommon.

Fog and mist moves in on the beautiful Elwha Valley on the Olympic Peninsula near Lake Crescent.

Fog and mist moves in on the beautiful Elwha Valley on the Olympic Peninsula near Lake Crescent.

From there you can take a ferry over to the San Juan Islands, getting a taste of the slower life there before continuing by ferry back to the Washington mainland north of Seattle.  Some years back my girlfriend and I took her Westphalia camper from Portland up through the Olympic Peninsula, over to Victoria for a bit of culture, then to San Juan and Orcas Islands for more beauty and nature, then home via I-5.  It was a magical trip, perfect for a two week vacation in summertime.

I hope you get to visit this special place some day.  Or return for more in depth exploration if you’ve been there before.  If you are interested in any of these images just click on them.  They are all copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry about that.  If you have any questions, please contact me. Thanks for reading and have a great week!

A large sea stack and beautiful gold reflection from the sea highlight sunset at Cape Alava on Washington's Pacific Coast.

Beautiful gold reflections on the sea highlight sunset at Cape Alava on Washington’s rugged Pacific Coast.

Single-Image Sunday: The Fog Returns   17 comments

I spent a night up at Lost Lake this past week.  It’s a beautiful place to camp (or rent a cabin), surrounded by forest and with a postcard-view of Mount Hood.  They’re getting set to shut things down up there – the snow is not far away now – so it was quiet.  Weather was sunny and warm everywhere but in the mountains fall has come. That means it got downright cold at night.  As a result the fog moved in overnight and this was the scene at dawn.  If it weren’t for the fog, the frame here would nearly be filled with Mount Hood.  But the fog quickly lifted and the mountain emerged in all its glory.  Fog is scarce in these parts during summer, and its return is a definite sign that fall is here.

I like to relate these posts to the previous Friday’s Foto Talk topic.  In this case it’s actually more relevant to next Friday’s continuation of Sharpness vs. Depth of Field.   This is an example of an image where depth of field is not important.  With some images, like this one, perfect sharpness as well is not all that important.  Let me know what you think about this image, and be sure to read up on this stuff in last Friday’s post plus the second part next week.  Hope your weekend is going well!

Dawn at Lost Lake, Oregon.  100 mm., 1/15 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100.

Dawn at Lost Lake, Oregon. 100 mm., 1/15 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100.

Friday Foto Talk: Sharpness vs. Depth of Field, Part I   15 comments

Good morning Sunshine!  One more shot from my recent trip to Olympic National Park.  I needed maximum depth of field here and so things are not at maximum sharpness for this lens.  Is it enough?  I think so.

Good morning Sunshine! One more shot from my recent trip to Olympic National Park. I needed maximum depth of field here and so things are not at maximum sharpness for this lens.  Is the image sharp enough?

This is a bit of a sore subject with me.  One reason is that it’s one of those things in photography that is a trade-off, a limitation if you will.  When you’re going for either super-deep or super-shallow depth of field, a fall-off in image sharpness can occur.  This is a much bigger deal with the small apertures (big f/number) used to maximize depth of field than it is with large apertures (to throw background out of focus).  It’s also more noticeable with some lenses, and generally speaking the higher quality your lens the less falloff in sharpness.

But there’s another more important reason I’ve avoided this topic on Friday Foto Talk to this point: I think it’s an overdone subject, at least the way it’s discussed on so many photog. forums.  Too many folks obsess too much over the sharpness of a particular lens or lens/camera combination.  In my experience, images that are not as sharp as I would have liked are not the fault of my equipment. They’re my fault!

An example of a shot with foreground so close it is difficult to get everything sharp front to back.

An example of a shot with foreground so close it is difficult to get everything sharp front to back.

The Sweet Spot: Testing your Lenses

You might have heard of this before.  The sweet spot of a lens is that aperture where sharpness is at its peak.  It is generally about two stops above (smaller than) the lens’s maximum aperture.  So for example with a 24-70 mm. f/2.8 lens, the aperture that will yield the sharpest images is about f/5.6 give or take.  Since the sweet spot varies quite a bit by lens, you need to take each lens and experiment to find it.  Once you find it, it’s a good go-to aperture for images where depth of field is not a concern, particularly if you’re printing very large.  But don’t be like so many others and over-emphasize this.  Photography is about making pictures; it’s not a sharpness contest.

If you want to make this a real test, one where you can check your lenses’ real-world sharpness at the same time as finding their sweet spots, you’ll need to pick a day with clear air.  Dawn is usually clearest.  Go up high or out away from pollution, on a mountain or out on the prairie or desert is good.  Hey, you might as well have fun doing this!  Pick a mountain or hill at least a mile away with some good detailed features.  Trees backlighted along a ridge-line are perfect!   You want everything at infinity, and you want details at a variety of sizes.  If you’re testing a long tele lens, heat waves or dust will ruin the test, so a clear day is key.  If you’re testing a macro lens, print out a focus test chart from the internet and set it up carefully (google a tutorial).

A simple shot where it's easy to have everything in focus, thus the choice of f/8 for aperture.

A simple shot where it’s easy to have everything in focus, thus the choice of f/8 for aperture.

Back up on the mountain, put your camera on a tripod and use a shutter release or timer delay, plus mirror lockup if your camera has it.  Put it on aperture priority mode and focus by using Live View and zooming in.  Focus is of course critical.  After you focus, look at the focus indicator on the lens.  That is the point of focus for infinity, a good thing to know for each lens.  (I use this knowledge, for example, to focus for night shots of stars.)  It’s also good to check autofocus while you’re at it.  Just focus using AF then go to Live View and check the focus by zooming in.  If it’s off, you can adjust that on most DSLR cameras.  Check the manual or internet for directions on this.

Farmhouse in the Willamette Valley, Oregon.  Depth of field not a big concern, but shot at f/11 just to make sure.

Farmhouse in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Depth of field not a big concern, but shot at f/11 just to make sure.

 

Now you’re finally ready to shoot.  Start with your lens wide open (max. aperture).  Keep shooting, stopping down one stop with each shot, until you come to the lens’s minimum aperture.  Then view each image on your computer monitor, zooming in to 100% to check sharpness.  Look at a variety of edges, from large shapes to small detail, and narrow it down to two or three to view in compare or survey mode in your software.  Don’t obsess, just make a call.  After you find the sweet spot take another look to see how the sharpness falls off in both directions from that aperture.  Don’t worry if you find some flaws in sharpness, especially if they’re in the corners.  It doesn’t mean your lens isn’t a good one.  This is just telling you its limitations, that’s all.  Always remember that sharpness is a relative thing and certainly not the most important thing in photography.  You’re just gaining information about your lenses, not seeing if you want to sell them!

A full-moon shot from the other night, the low light made me shoot at f/8.  I needed some depth of field here, and not everything has perfect sharpness.  But using my sharpest lens (a Zeiss) plus tripod sure helped.

A full-moon shot from the other night, the low light made me shoot at f/8. I needed some depth of field here, and not everything has perfect sharpness. But using my sharpest lens (a Zeiss) plus tripod sure helped.

You’ll see in your experiment that sharpness starts out pretty good, gets better to a certain point, then falls off (with some lenses quite dramatically) as you go to smaller and smaller apertures.  With every lens I’ve had, sharpness is much worse when the lens is stopped all the way down (minimum aperture) than when it is wide open (maximum aperture).  This is because of diffraction.  As light rays pass through a smaller and smaller opening, they are bent to a greater and greater degree.  Since your lens is the thing that’s supposed to do the bending of light rays, it’s obvious that if the rays also bend when going through the aperture opening then sharpness will be negatively affected.

Same place as previous shot but next morning.  I shot it at f/11 because the trees across the lake are much closer than the mountain.  So I needed good (not great) depth of field.

Same place as previous shot but the next morning. I shot it at f/11 because the trees across the lake were much closer than the mountain. I needed good (but not maximum) depth of field.

With large apertures you’ll probably see the softening coming in more at the edges (and especially the corners) of the image, not at the center.  Who puts their subject in the corner when shooting wide open anyway?  Still, better-quality lenses tend to minimize this.  Controlling diffraction at the small-aperture end, on the other hand, is a lot tougher. Some wide-angle lenses have large, curved front glass elements.  The Nikon 14-24 mm. f/2.8 and a few other ultra-wide-angle lenses account for diffraction at the small end, at least to some degree.  But diffraction is part of the physics of optics, so it cannot be eliminated, only controlled.

So now that we know what we’re dealing with, the question is: how does it affect our photography.  Let’s dive into that topic next Friday.  In the meantime, you have your homework.  Go out and determine where the sweet spot is for each lens in your bag.  Don’t worry if it’s hard to tell the sharpest point, say between f/5.6 and f/8.  If you shoot mainly for a lot of depth of field, write down the smaller aperture (f/8).  If you do a lot of portraits, wildlife and other shallow depth of field stuff, record f/5.6.  See you next time, and happy shooting!

The Willamette Valley.  Though I was not real close to the barn, I shot this at f/11 to keep the background trees in focus and the clouds from going too soft.

The Willamette Valley. Though I was not real close to the barn, I shot this at f/11 to keep the background trees in focus and the clouds from going too soft.

Wordless Wednesday: Apple of My Eye   15 comments

Eye on You

Inside   43 comments

It’s been awhile since I’ve participated in a weekly photo challenge.  A difficult challenge for an outside photographer like me.  In fact I think the theme for me should be inside looking out!

If you’re interested in any of these images just click on them for purchase/download info.  These versions are too small and anyway are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  For many more takes on the theme, see Inside.  Let’s start with a few caves:

There are numerous sculpted caves in the granite of Baja California's desert.

There are numerous sculpted caves in the granite of Baja California’s desert.

A cave in southern Thailand features beautiful terraced speleothems.

A cave in southern Thailand features beautiful terraced speleothems.

Beach Cave

A beach cave on California’s Lost Coast.

And now inside a few interesting structures:

Inside a Buddhist Temple in Laos.

Inside a Buddhist Temple in Laos.

View from inside one of the colonial buildings surrounding the square in the town of Quetzaltenango ("Xela") in the Guatemalan highlands.

View from inside one of the colonial buildings surrounding the square in the town of Quetzaltenango (“Xela”) in the Guatemalan highlands.

In the little-visited Mayan ruins of Xpuhil in the southern Yucatan, Mexico, it's possible to climb up a dark passageway to a chamber with a high keyhole view out.

In the little-visited Mayan ruins of Xpuhil in the southern Yucatan, Mexico, it’s possible to climb up a dark passageway to a chamber with a high keyhole view out.

Couldn’t resist a peak inside a flower.  I feel so much the voyeur!

View inside a Spring Tulip.

View inside a Spring Tulip.

And finally, inside the landscape:

Inside aptly named Wall Street, Bryce Canyon, Utah

Inside aptly named Wall Street, Bryce Canyon, Utah

The sun peeks into the narrow confines of Antelope Canyon, Arizona.

The sun peeks into the narrow confines of Antelope Canyon, Arizona.

Inside the dense rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington on one of the many misty days.

Inside the dense rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington on one of the many misty days.

Inside the narrows of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon during high waters of spring.

Inside the narrows of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon during high waters of spring.

Single Image Sunday: Fearless   27 comments

Like many Sundays I am posting an image that dovetails with this past Friday’s topic on negative space.  This is not a particularly great photo but it certainly draws your eye.  It’s also a reminder to myself that I do not include enough negative space in my people pictures.  In this picture the negative space is perfectly placed in the upper left quadrant.

A friend of mine brought his girlfriend along on a hike high up on Mount Hood and she turned out to be a mountain goat, totally fearless.  And it’s not like she’s particularly young (hope she’s not reading this!).  I used to have similar inclinations, but I’ve certainly mellowed.  Here she simply wanted to perch somewhere with a good view of Hood.  She seemed so relaxed up there, which you absolutely need to be in order to do it safely.  It made me very nervous!  I hope your weekend is going well.

On the Knife Edge

Friday Foto Talk: Negative Space   19 comments

The battle between the rising sun and thick fog at Reflection Lake on Mount Rainier turns in favor of the sun.

The battle between the rising sun and thick fog at Reflection Lake on Mount Rainier turns in favor of the sun.

I finally get to talk about one of my favorite terms in photography: negative space.  Negative space?  If you’re new to photography speak you could be wondering:  do I need to know the sort of mathematics that only a handful of people in the world understand?

No, negative space is not a feature of String Theory.  It’s positive space alright, it’s just blank positive space.  I thought about looking up the origins of the confusing term, but I feel a bit lazy right now.  My guess is that it was coined by advertisers & graphic designers who think of it as a place that will hold text and other stuff.  It’s sort of like a hole in the picture.

Throwing your background out of focus, as here with Belding's ground squirrels in eastern Oregon, will help create negative space.

Throwing your background out of focus, as here with Belding’s ground squirrels in eastern Oregon, will help create negative space.

Portland's so-called "big pink" skyscraper as photographed from Forest Park.  Perfect negative space in the top third.

Portland’s so-called “big pink” skyscraper as photographed from Forest Park. Perfect negative space in the top third.

 

Here are a few benefits of including negative (blank) space in your pictures:

      • Negative space simplifies your picture, thus satisfying the universal K.I.S.S. principle.  A simpler composition is often (not always) more effective.
      • It adds a calming influence.  That can be good if the rest of the shot has a peaceful mood, and it can also be an interesting contrast if the mood is the opposite.
      • If you want to sell your image as stock negative space is necessary.  Stock are pictures put to a variety of uses, particularly advertising.  Graphic designers will put their ad copy or other stuff in your negative space.  The injustice of it all!
      • If you ever get an image on the cover of a magazine, it will likely be a picture with negative space.  They will put stuff like other small images, the list of stories in the magazine, etc. in your negative space.
      • Negative space in some of your images can add needed variety to your portfolio

 

Gokyo Lake in Nepal.  I have another version where the lake waters have not been desaturated, as I did here to make it better negative space.

Gokyo Lake in Nepal. I have another version where the lake waters have not been desaturated, as I did here to make it better negative space.

Night falls at Angkor Wat, Cambodia.  This negative space is in the left upper corner and probably could stand to be lightened a bit.

Night falls at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. This negative space is in the left upper corner and probably could stand to be lightened a bit.

On the Olympic Coast in Washington recently, I could have zoomed in a bit more on this sea stack, but I liked it's lonely feel.  I was not conscious of the negative space at the time.

On the Olympic Coast in Washington recently, I could have zoomed in a bit more on this sea stack, but I liked it’s lonely feel. I was not conscious of the negative space at the time.

 

Negative space needs to have at least some of these characteristics to be effective:

      • Think smooth areas with not much detail, if any.  Expanses of boring sky or water are good.  See the example images.
      • It needs to cover a significant portion of your image, say 1/3 to 1/2.  It can be slightly less, but not much.  It can even cover up to 1/3 or more in some cases.
      • Negative space doesn’t always need to be situated in the top or bottom of your image.  It can be in the upper left or right quadrants, lower left, whatever.
      • Speaking of location, negative space in the middle rarely works.  It can; just don’t expect graphic designers to like it.  Who cares about them anyway?
      • If your negative space is very dark, it will not be as good for certain purposes (see above).  It’s still negative space, just not quite as useful as lighter areas.
      • If your negative space is very colorful, consider desaturating it a bit.  If it’s too vibrant it creates more interest.  You don’t want your negative space to be too interesting.
I was more attracted to the clouds in the sky than trying to include negative space here at Portland, Oregon's waterfront.

I was more attracted to the clouds in the sky than trying to include negative space here at Portland, Oregon’s waterfront.

 

 

A good example of borderline negative space, the clouds over the Nyika Plateau in Malawi are almost too interesting to make good negative space.

A good example of borderline negative space, the clouds over the Nyika Plateau in Malawi are almost too interesting to make good negative space.

This negative space above a kissing couple in a Portland park is almost too dark to be effective, but it works.

This negative space above a kissing couple in a Portland park is almost too dark to be effective, but it works.

If you shoot for stock, negative space should be in most of your images.  If you don’t, include it anyway, for some of the above reasons.  By the way, you can always shoot a subject both with and without negative space.  Many stock shooters do this.  Happy shooting!

If you’re interested in any of these images, just click on them.  You will then be shown purchase options for the high-resolution versions.  These here are very small and not suitable for much outside of the blog.  They’re copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission anyway.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest & have a great weekend!

Clear blue sky at sunset in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge makes for nice negative space.

Clear blue sky at sunset in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge makes for nice negative space.

 

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