Category Archives: Technique

You know you’re a photography nerd when…

You start getting excited about setting up a new camera bag kit. 

“It will have this camera, and this lens, and this filter, and this Tripod. I’ll be setup to do anything in an ultra light package!”

Just thoughts I have while hiking on a trail. 


The “Full Moon” is never full

Every time I take pictures of the full moon up close I notice it’s never quite full.  It always looks full with the naked eye but you can never be sure, it looks like it’s slightly off.  Turns out it is.  You’re not imagining things, a full moon is almost never full.

I took some astrophotography pictures through my telescope this weekend hoping to get a nice picture of this year’s “Blue Moon”.  Which isn’t blue BTW, it just means the second full moon of the calendar month; in other words, just another full moon.  But it is a cool event and a reason to take a picture.

Working the picture in Post Production I noticed the same slight edge of the moon not being full I always seem to get.  I took it on the day of the “full moon” but because of my helpful SunSurveyor app I knew ahead of time it wasn’t at 100%.  According to the app it was 99.8% full when I shot it, and would be 99.86% at moonset; the next morning when it rose it would be 99.26% and waning.

2015 full blue moon
The July 31st 2015 Blue Moon

I noticed this happens all the time so I started to wonder if it ever was 100% at some place on the earth after it set for me.  Turns out it’s not, due to orbital mechanics the moon is rarely at 100% full from the earth.  The orbit of the moon is tilted 5 degrees from the earth’s orbit to the sun, so the times that the sun, earth, and moon form a perfect line are kind of rare… And causes lunar eclipses.

So a true 100% full moon is a lunar eclipse (hey, I did get a picture of a few of those!), if you want a nice bright perfect circle full moon take your shot right before or after a lunar eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse
The cloudy night create bookends for the eclipse event.

Or just accept that you’ll always have a rough edge on your full moon shots.

Behind the scenes in Cathedral Valley

Just one of those “What goes on behind the scenes” posts.

Sunset my first night in Upper Cathedral Valley had me giddy. Besides being my first time in this place I had a nearby campsite overlooking then entire valley and saw exactly 5 other human beings all weekend, it was all mine.
The remote Cathedral Valley campground has only 6 sites, but only 2 filled up the early summer weekend I was up there. And 30 minutes up the mountain is tons of National Forest camping if you do need a backup.

Anyway I spent the evening I arrived scouting the area and noticed this would be a great site for taking pictures at sunset.  I used the android app “Sun Surveyor” to give me a compass direction where the setting sun would split the 2 “cathedrals”. After making dinner at camp it was a 20 minute dirt road drive to my spot.  Then it took a little bit longer than anticipated wandering 400ft onto the plain to setup the shot because I was avoiding patches of Biological Soil and tufts of desert grass that have a hard enough time surviving without being stomped by a hiking boot.  Desert environments are some of the most delicate in the world so stick to trails as much as possible.  If you’re out in the back-country where trails don’t exist stick to slickrock, animal trails, and dry washes.  It may involve some zig-zags and backtracking but it keeps the terrain looking untouched for the next photographer.

Taking the shot in Upper Cathedral Valley
Photographing the Cathedrals of Cathedral Valley

Sometimes you just end up enjoying yourself so much you can’t handle it.  That’s how taking pictures this evening was.  I took about 50 pictures of the same thing it was just so beautiful, I had a hard time stopping. Every moment seemed better than the last.  I had to take a picture with my phone of me taking pictures I was having so much fun.

Upper Cathedral Valley Sunset
Needle Mountain Sunset in Upper Cathedral Valley

All of the pictures turned out great.  It was really hard choosing which one was best.  I tried a few different angles and compositions but when the subject material is so beautiful everything works.

The technical details?

I used a Depth of Field app on my phone to calculate the hyper focal distance for the picture and used that to set my focus manually (the camera Focus Peaking confirmed things were good to go).  The benefit of m43 is that the comparatively wide DOF means I could still keep my aperture in the lens’ sweet spot instead of jacking it up to f/22 where diffraction becomes an issue.

Shooting into the sun with a wide lens I knew the range of light would be difficult to capture (I notice I shoot into the sun a lot).  I tried to balance the exposure equally between sky and shadow with a bit more emphasis on the sky.  I didn’t mind if some shadows stayed inky black and mysterious.  The OMD-EM5 II has an onscreen historgram but also an option that colors pure whites and pure blacks red and blue respectively on the screen in real time. So it was easy to balance the amount of black shadows I had in the image.

The OMD also has a programmed HDR button that basically turns Exposure Bracketing off and on.  I have it configured to (-1,0,+1).  The 3 exposures were blended using Lightroom’s new built in HDR module.

I’m also using the fully articulating screen; with wide angle shots like this I like to get in low and close to the foreground.  Having the screen kept me from bending over, contorting, or laying on the ground to look through the eyepiece.  It really limits your impact on the environment when all you leave is 3 Tripod holes and 2 foot prints instead of trampling everything within 4ft.  Many large camera makers still consider articulating screens the realm of consumer cameras.  I think they should be standard on all cameras above the prosumer level for how helpful they are in landscape work.  The amount of stress they save your back from crouching into weird positions is too valuable.

The last and most important part of taking the shot was that I had a small bottle of bug repellent on me.  The flies and gnats were out in force as soon as I stopped walking.  If I hadn’t had that emergency bottle in my camera bag I wouldn’t have had the patience to wait the 20 minutes for the light to work for me.

Merge to Panorama carries over your settings.

Just a quick aside, more helpful things from Lightroom.  When you edit a photo then merge that photo into a panorama using Lightroom.  The edits you made carry over to the rest of the panorama.

It’s not surprising but sometimes the old method of merging panoramas in Lightroom and Photoshop was a bit hit and miss.  For instance it might only merge your RAW images so no edits carry over, or it would merge your one edited photo into 5 other unedited photos.

Now if you edit the first photo and merge it with the rest it automatically clones your edits across the all images before merging so it all matches up in the end.  Again, kind of an “of course it does” kind of thing, but before it didn’t…

Lightroom’s divisive new “Dehaze” feature.

The latest update to Lightroom CC has added a new “dehaze” slider that allows Lightroom to increase or decrease the haziness of an image.  It’s kind of a nice thing to have with landscape photos since pollution and dust can cause hazy conditions that can fade out distant mountains.

This last weekend I was in Cathedral Valley and a forest fire nearby gave some good shots to test the new feature out on.  Here’s the first evening looking north down into the the Valley.  You can see how the hazy orange smoke faded the whole landscape.  Original imported photo on the left and only +50 dehaze applied to the right:

Lightroom Dehaze
Cathedral Valley with Lightroom Dehaze

Some midday shots had even more smoke blown in and the haze got thick enough to obscure Thousand Lakes Mountain.  Or so I thought.  I tried the dehaze slider on them and it was amazing how much detail was extracted out of what looked like a flat grey mountainside.  In fact the dehaze slider was able to reveal some more of the redrock cathedral like formations on the mountainside below the higher altitude pine trees.

Lightroom dehaze on Cathedral Valley
+100 dehaze on the Walls of Jericho in Cathedral Valley.

Look back at that grey mass and see how much detail you can find. Although at this point the image is so overcooked I don’t think anybody would bother editing it this way it still gives a good example of how powerful the simple slider is at cutting through thick smoky haze.

But I mentioned this feature is “divisive”.

The weird thing is the massive online pushback against this new feature.  As the first photo shows it can do some nice edits to a photograph that was not under ideal circumstances.  Many people say it will be overused like HDR was, leading to some obviously manipulated photos as if that didn’t happen constantly already with the normal editing tools.
Others say it doesn’t add any new features to Lightroom because a “Photoshop Master (their words) can edit the tone curves to do the same thing.”  Which is true but it’s not nearly as easy as moving a slider.  And so far I haven’t seen any of these “masters” provide an example that pulls out the detail that the slider got out of the picture above without ruining it even worse.  And the amount of edits and customization for each individual situation is exhausting.
Bumping up contrast and clarity has always cleared out haze, much to my annoyance in beautiful foggy shots, so an effects slider to add or remove haze at the end is nice.  So why would so many Lightroom users be so against it?

I think really it comes from the fact that only Lightroom CC users got the tool and the users who purchased a one time copy didn’t.  The people badmouthing the feature are invariably the same that don’t have the feature and are felling a little burnt that they didn’t new add-ons the people with a subscription got.  So they have to tell you how worthless it is and how they can do it anyway if they want to.

Nobody in their right mind would be so vocal in disliking a new tool that they’re not forced to use and doesn’t get in their way.  They’re vocal because for the first time since the new subscription option the Lightroom CC users are pulling ahead of the people who bought a standalone copy of the program.
And it’s not like we didn’t know this would happen.  That was the appeal of the subscription, you pay monthly but your copy of the software will always be the most recent copy Adobe is selling.  But if you buy Lightroom 2014 in a store, on a CD, and load it on your computer, LR 2014 is all you get.  They may send out bug and security fixes but you don’t get the new features unless you buy LR 2015.  And again with LR 2016 and onward.

Still, a nice new tool that might come in handy from time to time.
Despite what “the internet” may say.

Everything has it’s place. Don’t think you have to prove yourself by staying in Manual mode.

PASM are all a set of tools, each has their use.

If you only use the hammer in your tool box for every job you’re probably not doing as an effective job as you could be.

Always Save Your Negatives.

It used to be you would always keep your negatives because creating a print loses some detail, and copying a print lose more, and each copy of a copy compounds the issue.

In the digital world we don’t have negatives and prints, but RAW files and JPEGs are much the same.

Creating JPEG files is very similar to making a print from the RAW file which is like your untouched negative; some data is dumped and the image is compressed.  The small artifacts and errors are usually too small to be noticed but if you re-edit the JPEG and re-save it (compressing it again) those artifacts and errors will grow and be magnified.  The same error compounding as when you make a copy of a copy of a copy.

This video shows what happens when an image is re-saved and compressed on top of itself as a JPEG 500 times.

Moral of the story:
Save your RAW files (negatives) untouched, and export new JPEG copies off of them for the edits you make.  If you want to make new edits or change the photo, create a new JPEG using the RAW file as the base so you don’t perpetuate any errors created in the last JPEG save.
Luckily this is the standard operating procedure of Lightroom.  Your original file is untouched and Lightroom shows what your edits will look like; but a copy of those edits doesn’t exist until you export the image creating a new JPEG.  Even if you delete Lightroom and it’s catalog you’ll still have your folder full of untouched RAW negatives you can rebuild from.