July 1st, 2015

A Cure for Soft Lenses?

First light on peaks above North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

First light on peaks above North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

In my recent post about high-resolution cameras, I stressed the importance of sharp lenses to get the most out of these 36+ megapixel sensors. But lens sharpness is an issue with any camera – at least when you start making larger prints. Even with a 16- or 20-megapixel sensor, lenses make a significant difference in large prints (16×20 inches and up). This is especially true in the corners; most professional-quality lenses are sharp enough in the center (at least with middle apertures like f/8 or f/11) for even a 36-megapixel camera. It’s the corners and edges that separate the decent lenses from the great ones. Those great ones are hard to find, and tend to be expensive.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could fix imperfect lenses with software? Well yes, of course. But my experience with such fixes hasn’t been good. I’ve seen some great before-and-after examples online showing a blurry photo fixed with software, but when I’ve tried those programs myself I’ve invariably been disappointed. These cures tend to be just more-sophisticated sharpening methods, which may help a little, but if you apply more than a small amount things get really crunchy, or you see other weird artifacts. I can usually do just as well by selectively adding more sharpening to the corners in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw.

Piccure+

A few months ago I stumbled across another program that promised to help with fuzzy images, called Piccure+. I decided to download the free trial, and found that it worked surprisingly well. It’s not a magic bullet; there’s really no substitute for sharp lenses. But it can help with those soft corners, or overall softness caused by diffraction. Like any of these tools, it will definitely make the image look too crunchy if you overdo it, but I’ve been able to push the sharpening effect further in Piccure+ than with other software I’ve used, with good results and minimal artifacts.

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June 28th, 2015

Photography Weather

Sunset over an alpine lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset over an alpine lake, Yosemite

After a long stretch of blue skies, subtropical moisture is moving into the Sierra Nevada this week. That means clouds, thunderstorms, maybe a rainbow or two, and possibly even a chance to photograph lightning – in other words, photography weather! Here are the forecasts for Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows.

This is a typical weather pattern for the Sierra in summer. We’ll get stretches of clear blue skies, then subtropical moisture will move in for a few days, a week, or sometimes even longer, triggering afternoon showers and thunderstorms. Although some clouds and showers are likely this week, it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen on any given day, as the individual storm cells are usually small and localized, and can form and dissipate quickly. It helps to watch which direction the clouds are moving, and, if you can get an internet connection, keep an eye on weather radar. Of course you need to stay away from lightning, and avoid high, exposed ridges when thunderstorms are around.

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Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View – after applying the Dehaze control

Last week Adobe added an update to Lightroom CC, designated the 2015.1 release. It includes a couple of new features. The main one is a Dehaze slider, designed to reduce the appearance of atmospheric haze. It’s found in the Effects Panel of the Develop Module.

I’m usually skeptical of things like this. Is it really different than adding Contrast or Clarity? Well, yes, actually. Adobe says, “The Dehaze technology is based on a physical model of how light is transmitted, and it tries to estimate light that is lost due to absorption and scattering through the atmosphere.” I’m not sure how they do that exactly, but it seems to work more effectively than just adding Contrast or Clarity.

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June 21st, 2015

Photographic Memories

Sunbeams in a redwood forest, northern California coast

Sunbeams in a redwood forest, northern California coast

Today is the solstice, the official start of summer. It’s felt like summer for weeks here in the Sierra foothills. It’s been hot, and dry. Four (!) fires broke out near Mariposa and Oakhurst Thursday; fortunately they were all subdued quickly.

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Redbud reflection in the Merced River, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Redbud reflection in the Merced River (part of the portfolio)

I’m honored to have a portfolio of my images, plus an in-depth interview, included in the latest issue of Photograph digital magazine from Craft & Vision. Regular readers have probably seen most of the images in the portfolio before, but it’s nice to view them all together, and I thought the questions the interviewer asked were interesting and thought-provoking.

There are three other portfolios in this issue – a fascinating and diverse collection. I enjoy looking at different kinds of photography, and especially liked Jordan Manley’s portfolio, as it blends elements of sports, photo-journalism, and landscape in an artful way.

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June 14th, 2015

Planning for Flexibility

Redwoods and rhododendrons, Del Norte Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Redwoods and rhododendrons along the northern California coast

As promised, here are some more images from our time up in the redwoods. I just love this area, with all its damp, primeval moodiness. Claudia and I were there for almost two weeks, and experienced a great variety of weather, including fog, overcast, sun, clouds, and some colorful sunsets. And on the last day of the workshop we went to a beach near Trinidad during a minus tide, where we found some beautiful pools and reflections, and easy access to starfish and other tide-pool creatures.

The variable weather required flexibility. Anyone who’s taken a workshop with me knows that I rarely tell the group very far in advance where we’ll be going. I’d rather wait until the last minute to assess the weather, then go where conditions seem most promising.

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June 12th, 2015

Tuolumne Clouds

Cloud formation reflected in a pond, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Cloud formation reflected in a pond, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Claudia and I did head up to the high country yesterday afternoon, and found some great clouds. We drove through a nice downpour near Crane Flat, then continued up to Tuolumne Meadows, where I photographed a beautifully-shaped cloud reflected in one of the ponds (above). Later a storm cell formed over the peaks to the east, creating another dramatic cloud formation (below). That cell gradually dissipated, but some clouds still lingered until sunset (the last photo below). It was a really fun afternoon – I’m glad I finally made it up there!

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June 11th, 2015

Into the High Country

Sunset clouds over Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset clouds over Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I haven’t had many opportunities to get into the Yosemite high country since Tioga Pass opened, but I hope to head up there soon – maybe even this afternoon, since it looks like some clouds are building. Clouds and thunderstorms always make the summer days in the high country interesting, and potentially photogenic.

This photograph, from July of 2003, shows one of the most spectacular cloud formations I’ve ever seen. Claudia and I were in Tuolumne Meadows, and watched and photographed a thunderstorm move through from east to west. I hoped that after the storm passed we’d see some interesting light, but no such luck – it was just overcast. So I decided to follow the storm, and drove west toward Tenaya Lake.

We stopped near the eastern end of the lake. I got out of the car and looked out to the west, but the scene didn’t look very interesting in that direction. Then I looked over my shoulder. Holy crap! I saw this turbulent line of clouds, lit by the setting sun, and knew immediately that I was in the wrong spot – I needed to be on the other side of the lake.

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June 7th, 2015

Back From the Redwoods

Sea stacks at sunset , Redwood NP, CA, USA

Sea stacks at sunset , Redwood NP, CA, USA

We had a wonderful time last week during our redwoods workshop. It was a really nice, fun group, with great camaraderie and lots of laughter, aided and abetted by the relaxed atmosphere at the fabulous Requa Inn. We got some fog, which is always a great complement to the forest scenes, and were also treated to a couple of beautiful sunsets along the coast.

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Oaks and redbud in the fog, Mariposa County, Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Oaks and redbuds in the fog, Mariposa County. A sharp lens, good technique, and the 36-megapixel sensor on my Sony A7r captured an incredible amount of detail in this photograph; I’ve printed it up to 40×60 inches with great results.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about Canon’s new 50-megapixel cameras, the 5DS and 5DS R. These models haven’t been released yet, but many Canon users are wondering whether they should upgrade.

Since these cameras aren’t available for testing yet, it’s hard to say anything definitive about them. But since I bought my 36-megapixel Sony A7r over a year ago I’ve learned a lot about working with high-resolution cameras, and some of those lessons might be relevant to people who are considering buying one of those new Canon models, or a 36-megapixel camera like the A7r, Nikon D800, or Nikon D810.

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