In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Photo Critique Series: “Glen Coe” by Tim Smalley

"Glen Coe" by Tim Smalley
“Glen Coe” by Tim Smalley

This week’s photograph was made by Tim Smalley near Kinlochleven, Scotland. By having his image chosen for this critique Tim will receive a free 16×20 matted print from Aspen Creek Photo. If you’d like your images considered for future critiques you can upload them to the Flickr group I created for this purpose.

The first thing that grabbed me about this photograph is the wonderful light. The dappled sunshine, rich colors, and strong contrast create a powerful mood. It looks like a scene from Lord of the Rings; I could imagine winged Nazgûl swooping down over the valley.

Tim said that “There was a certain emotion that I wanted to express” about Glen Coe. “The weather is often quite mixed . . . and there can be some phenomenal light, even during the day as the sun breaks through parting clouds.” (more…)

Camera Calibration for Raw Files

Camera Calibration and Profiles Video

Vision is the most important part of photography. Your eye is what makes the difference between a great photograph and a mediocre one.

But when realizing your vision and making it come to life in the final image, getting the right color is vital.

Recently I posted two videos about using curves in Photoshop, Lightroom, and Camera Raw. But there’s a more fundamental step that I haven’t talked about, something you might want to do with Raw files before adding curves, correcting white balance, or doing anything else: choosing a profile.

What is a Camera Profile?

A camera profile is a translator: it’s translates the colors that a camera captures into the colors they should be. In other words, if a certain camera tends to turn reds into orange, the profile will correct for that and convert those reds back to their proper hue. Of course there’s no such thing as “correct” color—it’s all subjective. So profiles can come in different flavors: more saturated, less saturated, more contrasty, etc. Choosing the right flavor for your image is the first step toward making your visualization come to life.

I’ve posted a new video on YouTube that delves into this seemingly esoteric yet actually quite simple subject. In it I show you how to choose different profiles in Lightroom, and explore whether creating a custom profile might be worthwhile. I evaluate some profiles I made with the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, a $99 package for making custom camera profiles in any lighting situation. Yes, full disclosure, they actually gave this to me for free—I must be hitting the big time!

Also, there’s one more reason for exploring different profile options: reducing noise, banding, and posterization. I show an example where the profile choice made a dramatic difference in noise and banding.

Camera Calibration Tab in Adobe Camera RawI didn’t have time to demonstrate it in the video, but the same profile choices are also available in Adobe Camera Raw—just look under the Camera Calibration tab, third from the right, as shown here.

So here’s a link to the video:

Camera Calibration and Profiles

As always, it helps to view this at the highest resolution, 480p, and click on the double-sided arrow to make the video larger.

I hope you enjoy it! Comments are always appreciated, and if you like video, please share it with a friend: Email this article, or click on one of the buttons below to post it on Facebook or Twitter.


High Country Wildflowers in Yosemite

Pond and shooting stars along the Glacier Point Road
Pond and shooting stars along the Glacier Point Road

It’s late July, and spring is long gone from the Sierra foothills, where I live, and in most of California—indeed, most of the United States. But in the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada the wildflowers are just getting started. Shooting stars are abundant right now between 7000 and 9000 feet in Yosemite. I made the photograph above near the Glacier Point Road last Sunday. But shooting stars are early bloomers, and the rest of the high-country flowers are only beginning to emerge. The peak bloom at these elevations will probably arrive in early August.

Wildlfowers in August? Absolutely. Flowers bloom late in the mountains—in fact one of the best wildflower displays I’ve seen in Yosemite occurred in September after an exceptionally heavy winter.

The best places to look for flowers are often small meadows at around 7000 to 8000 feet. Many areas along the Glacier Point Road fit this description, including Summit Meadow, right next to the road, and McGurk Meadow, which requires a short hike. Naturally these areas are described in my book, the Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite—Location 21 (click here to purchase a signed copy directly from me). (more…)

Photo Critique Series: “Red Sky at Night” by Ellie Stone

"Red Sky at Night" by Ellie Stone
“Red Sky at Night” by Ellie Stone

This week’s photograph was made by Ellie Stone at Lake New Hogan in Calaveras County, California. By having her image chosen for this critique Ellie will receive a free 16×20 matted print from Aspen Creek Photo. If you’d like your images considered for future critiques you can upload them to theFlickr group I created for this purpose.

We’ve all seen many sunset photos. For an image like this to grab out attention it either has to portray an exceptional sunset, or somehow integrate a less-than-exceptional sunset into an unusual and striking composition.

This image certainly captured a great sunset—the color is amazing, and the wavy, zig-zagging lines of the clouds create wonderful patterns. The scene has a powerful, end-of-the-day mood. Ellie used a 15-second shutter speed to blur the choppy water—a good decision, I think, as that smoothed out the waves and added an interesting, soft texture that contrasts with the hard-edged foreground rocks.

I’m not sure, however, about the decision to include those rocks in the first place. It’s often difficult to decide whether to include a foreground or not: Does the foreground add interest to the scene, or is it an unnecessary distraction? In this case I think the sunset sky and water are enough to hold our attention. The sky, especially, is exceptional, and to me should be the focus of the composition. The rocks don’t seem as interesting.

There’s another question to ask yourself before including a foreground: Do the lines and shapes of that foreground complement the background, or clash with it? To me the lines and shapes of these foreground rocks don’t integrate particularly well with the background.

I know some books say that you should always include a foreground, middle ground, and background in landscape photographs, but I think that’s one of those arbitrary rules that should be ignored. It’s great to include all three, but only if each is adding something to the photograph. The world is infinitely varied, and no rule can encompass every situation. As Edward Weston said, “Pictures came first. Rules followed. No one ever became an artist by learning rules or keeping them.”

With that in mind, here’s a version where I’ve cropped out the foreground. The camera position forced me to eliminate most of the water along with the rocks, but since the sky is the most interesting thing in the scene, and should fill most of the frame anyway, I think the cropped version works pretty well.

Crop A, eliminating the rocks
Crop A, eliminating the rocks

Crop B, including just one of the foreground rocksOf course if you can find a foreground that adds interest, and meshes with the background, by all means include it. While I don’t think the somewhat jumbled arrangement of rocks in the original version is appealing, there’s one, isolated rock on the left has a great shape, so I tried another crop which includes just that rock and a piece of sky. That works too: it’s simple, and the diamond shape of the rock echoes some of the diagonal lines of the clouds. But this composition emphasizes the foreground more than the sky, and with such a spectacular sunset I’m not sure that’s the right idea.

As always, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the foreground and the various crops presented here. Which version do you like best? Or is there some other framing that you think might be even better?

Technically this is well executed. If you’re going to include a foreground, then both foreground and background should be in focus! And they are here. The overall exposure looks right. Ellie said that she used a neutral-density filter to slow the shutter speed and blur the water’s motion, but wishes she had used a graduated filter to lighten the rocks relative to the foreground. Perhaps that might have helped, but with reflections you have to be careful not to lighten the foreground too much, as it looks unnatural when the water becomes lighter than the sky.

Despite my nitpicks about the foreground this is a very nice photograph, with great light, color, and mood, and with an effective use of a slow shutter speed to smooth the texture of the water.

Thanks Ellie for sharing your image! You can see more her work on Flickr (be sure to check out her amazing “Misty Bay Bridge” photo).

If you like these critiques, share them with a friend! Email this article, or click on one of the buttons below to post it on Facebook or Twitter.

As part of being chosen for this week’s critique Ellie will receive a free 16×20 matted print courtesy of the folks at Aspen Creek Photo. If you’d like your images considered for future critiques, just upload them to the Flickr group I created for this purpose. If you’re not a Flickr member yet, joining is free and easy. You’ll have to read and accept the rules for the group before adding images, and please, no more than five photos per person per week. I’ll be posting the next critique in two weeks. Thanks for participating!

Hidden Yosemite Workshop

North Peak and Greenstone Lake, sunrise
North Peak and Greenstone Lake, sunrise

I just finished teaching the Hidden Yosemite workshop for The Ansel Adams Gallery. Every year this is a really fun class, and this time was no exception. There’s something about being away from the roads that adds an extra dimension to the workshop. We had a great group, and the weather was excellent. Saturday morning at Greenstone Lake was probably the photographic highlight, with glassy water and a great mix of sun and clouds—the first time I’ve seen clouds at sunrise from this spot. The photograph above shows the first blush of light on North Peak; later, in the image below, I used a four-stop neutral-density filter, plus a polarizer, to slow the shutter speed and blur the fast-moving clouds.

We had a slide show on the last day of the workshop, and everyone in the class showed great images from Saturday morning—how could you miss with light like that? But we also saw many interesting, imaginative photographs from all the other locations we visited. It was great to see everyone’s growth over the five days of the workshop. I’ll post a link to some of the student’s photos at some point.

Fast-moving clouds above Greenstone Lake
Fast-moving clouds above Greenstone Lake