Thursday, September 30, 2010

Who does Gov. Dave want to succeed him?

This week, Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D-Wyo.) held a presser with Leslie Petersen, the former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party and Democratic candidate for Wyoming governor.

Freudenthal did not endorse Petersen. He said she is experienced and qualified, but Freudenthal had previously promised not to endorse a candidate.

I participated in a conversation with some political folks during and after the event. Everyone involved thought Freudenthal’s non-endorsement was a snub at Petersen. Some argued it was a de facto nod for Matt Mead, the Republican candidate for governor. I disagree.

(Disclosure: I was Gov. Freudenthal’s press secretary from November 2009 – March 2010. That said, I didn’t meet the Governor until shortly before he hired me, and I haven’t had much in the way of contact with his staff since I departed earlier this year. I have no insider information.)

I think Gov. Dave was, in fact, endorsing Petersen, although he didn’t say he was doing so, for several reasons.

First of all, it gives him an opportunity to stick his finger in the eye of the national Democratic party, with which he has never held a great deal of friendship. It also allows him some cover: as Petersen is a significant underdog in the race, if she still loses it will be difficult to say Freudenthal failed to exercise influence, because he will be able to say he didn’t try.

Second, well, I’m still talking about it, aren’t I? Making the political observers of the state sit back and scratch their heads keeps us talking about it. This goal seems mostly to have failed, as the chattering classes seem secure in their conclusion this was a stealth endorsement of Mead.

A few words on Matt Mead, who I do not know. While a Republican, many in the state are arguing he is insufficiently orthodox, although serious infighting among the party elite seems limited. Nevertheless, a write-in candidacy launched by Dr. Taylor Haynes threatens to split the GOP vote, as Haynes is considerably more conservative. (Haynes fell just short of appearing on the ballot after he failed to submit enough petition signatures several weeks ago.)

Mead is similar to Freudenthal. They are both moderates, both former U.S. Attorneys in Wyoming. (Mead succeeded Freudenthal in the USA’s office.) Mead has shown some of Freudenthal’s willingness to buck his national party. So it is feasible that Freudenthal would prefer Mead, I’ll grant that.

But I think everyone who sees Freudnethal’s failure to endorse Petersen as a stealth endorsement of Mead is missing the point. Several of them have argued that Freudenthal’s opinion of the Democratic Party might keep him from endorsing a Democratic candidate. I would argue that is correct… but, assuming that to be true, the governor would have endorsed Mead if that’s where his heart was.

Freudenthal also made a few remarks at the presser, which we chattering folks have mostly interpreted to be pro-Mead. Again, I think if Gov. Dave wanted to endorse Mead, he wouldn’t have hesitated to do so.
Instead, he stood with Petersen, even if he didn’t call it an endorsement.

A good deal of attention was deflected by one off-tone statement: “This isn't North Korea,” he said. “I'm not going to pick my successor.” More than a few people remarked this was arrogant. I agree, although I suspect the governor was also making a sly joke that he realizes his endorsement might move the election outcome a point or two, but not much more than that.

At any rate, I don’t think Freudenthal’s non-endorsement-endorsement of Petersen was meant to be a poke in her eye. The governor has never shown any anxiety about telling it as he sees it: if he wants Mead to win, he would say so.

Further, I suspect most people will fail to appreciate that Freudenthal didn’t endorse Petersen. Instead, they’ll hear he said the race is one of “money (Mead) versus experience (Petersen)” and that Petersen “is quite prepared.”

I asked a friend in Thermopolis – Gov. Dave’s hometown – to read a story about the press conference in the Tribune Eagle. I didn’t tell her my thoughts, but asked her to read the story and tell me hers. While a savvy media consumer, she hadn’t even been aware of the press conference or heard any reportage of it. Once she read the story, she said she thought Freudenthal was offering an endorsement-not-in-name-only.

With just over four weeks to election day, I would guess Mead’s chances are about 75%, although they may be as low as 60-65% if Dr. Haynes write-in campaign makes inroads. Whatever Gov. Dave’s intent, I doubt his press conference moved the sticks more than a point or two. If he wanted to help (or hurt) Petersen, he would have endorsed closer to the election, as people are paying closer attention.
And I’m sure Freudenthal knows that, too.

Photo of the Day: "It is Coming."

What is coming? Find out after the jump...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Dismount!"

Nikon D80, Nikkor 70-300VR, 240mm, f14, 1/500 sec., ISO 800. Center weighted meter, standard image mode, auto white balance. VR on.

No post processing today, not even the cropping this could use. An early digital image, it shows in the settings. Dynamic range would be better if I had used something sane like ISO 200, or even ISO 100, and opened up from f14 to something reasonable like f8 or f7.1. I could have maintained the high shutter speed with both those adjustments, reduced noise and increased sharpness. Oh, well.

Actually, let's throw in a few other photos of this guy. Reminds me of riding in my truck. Tech specs are similar enough I won't dwell on them here.

There's only one way off this horse.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Sunset near Thermopolis"

Nikon D80, Nikkor 18-70 (a great lens!), 56mm, f8, 1/500 sec., ISO 400, auto white balance. Aperture priority mode, center-weighted metering with, amazingly, no exposure compensation. Sometimes the D80 got it right, but not usually. Regular image capture mode (i.e. not vivid).

Sometimes it just isn't possible to use fill flash to reduce the dynamic range in a photo. There are simply too many steps of EV (exposure value) between the sun and the dark foreground. In this case, it was made worse by shooting at ISO 400: I could have fired at ISO 100 (the best case with the D80) with the same settings except a shutter speed of 1/125, still easily within the realm of handholding. (I didn't have a good reason for not doing so; I just didn't know better at this point.) Still digital capture, save for a D700 or better FX, probably couldn't have captured what I wanted.

That said... I'm happy with this. Somehow, the D80 managed to get a color-correct capture at blowout, which is a fancy way of saying the sun is the right color, not toasted white-white. The clouds also increase along a color-correct path.

Post processing was thorough but straightforward: color correction and exposure tweaking, mostly. For the technically interested, note the near-total absence of ghosting in this image: the 18-70 DX really is a gem of a lens. It remains priced that way, too, even though it's now six years old — originally the D70 kit lens. Don't let it's lack of features (VR, mostly) dissuade you if you find one for less than $250.

UPDATE: A technical note. The reason the sun blows out to the correct color is because, under most circumstances and with most digital cameras, the red channel tanks first. With a pre-ADR camera (or any Sony, Pentax, Canon or others), try this with either a blue or green blowout, such as the sky: you will likely notice as the bright areas of your image approach toast they take on a weird reddish hue.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Photo of the Day: "It's Purple."

Nikon D80, 70-300VR, 185mm,f6.3, 1/640 sec., ISO 100. Center weighted metering (remember the D80 meter deserved a recall) in manual exposure mode. Normal capture mode (the scene modes don't appear until the D3/300/700/90 and later). Vibration Reduction on the Nikkor on. Shot at "Point 00" range, or as close as the lens can focus (4.5 feet from the sensor).

Note the generally pleasing bokeh. (Bokeh is the characteristic of out-of-focus stuff.) I should have moved the blade of grass, or whatever it is, just to the top-left of the flower.

While it looks like there's a lot of post processing going on here, there really isn't. I've dialed in light sharpening, applied a strong contrast curve and tweaked exposure a bit to get some rid of the veiling. Of course, my trademarked punch vibrance and clarity are turned up, too. I like the colors, I like the lighting and I like the contrast.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Photo of the Day Bonus, Getting There is Half the Fun Edition

Gashed differentials, busted axles, smoked clutches and stripped front hubs: getting to the photo is certainly, at least, half the fun!

Here is a photo facing back toward where today's Photo of the Day was taken, although this photo is from another trip. Click after the jump to see a section of the road up the bluff and an arrow to where the shot was taken.

Sunday Photo of the Day: "Highpoint at Boysen"

Today's Photo of the Day required more time in post than any I've shared so far, mostly for one reason, which I'll discuss below. More time yet is required before this image becomes salable.

Here is the final product. Nikon D90, Nikkor 17-35mm, 17mm, f9, 1/320 sec., ISO 200. Program with matrix meter with -1EV compensation and shift to the wider (f9) aperture. Preset white balance (gray card), landscape scene mode with high in-camera sharpening. Nikon NEF raw file.

Here is an alternate post-processed image I ultimately rejected:

This was a quick-and-dirty post, if I had decided to stick with it I would have needed to do some additional work. This image was washed through Lightroom before I did some manual dodging of the right cliff face in Photoshop. Before the PS work, we had:

And finally, the original image:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Big Spring in the Afternoon"

Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-105VR, 18mm, f7.1, 1/200 sec., ISO 200. Landscape scene mode, matrix meter with no compensation on program exposure mode.

Post processing: increased saturation and contrast, and lots of recovery. You will note that I used no exposure compensation even though I was shooting in landscape (ergo, high-saturation) mode. I should have. Even with in-camera software working to tame the image, there's just too much dynamic range here, from the deep blue water to the brown brush in the lower right of the image, which is blowing out.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Photo of the Day: What is it? (UPDATED)

I would be interested if anyone can guess what this is a photo of. I will give several hints: there is no post processing involved. The rest of the hints, such as they are, are in the shoot specs below, and they'll be crucial to working this out.

Nikon D80, Nikkor 17-35mm, 35mm, f2.8, 1/60 sec., ISO 400. Spot metering (on red circle), manual exposure, built-in flash manually fired at 1/64 power.

I'll avoid getting too cute and giving anything more away. Sometime Friday I will post another photo and maybe another clue or two if no one has worked it out.

UPDATE: I must begrudgingly admit that I am nowhere near as clever as I thought I was, with two (correct) independent guesses coming less than 12 hours after I posted this... in the middle of the night. Congrats Kathie and Sarah. As I mentioned to some, the prize is a 375ml bottle of Makers Mark, winner must only pay S&H. There is only one bottle, so which of you wants it? (I am intent on getting the last laugh here.)

It is, indeed, a lamp, shot from below.

Photography Case Study in Three Shots

No, not those three shots. These:

Two points I'd address here. First is: which photo? I happen to prefer the first one because of the lighting in the woman's hair, for a little ± space play. I do, however, like the out of focus snowflake in the middle frame, bottom-center.

Second issue: what makes photography different from painting, or writing, for that matter?

In photography, you've got everything and need to decide what to leave out. Is it OK for the woman's face to be hidden? What does that communicate? Should I have moved and gotten it in there? No, not in this case. We need to be able to step into her shoes for a moment, be her, the spectator of the cold warriors. (And boy, was it cold.) Put simply:

Photography is the art of removing what is not necessary. Painting, and writing, is the art of adding what is necessary.

Nikon D90, Nikon Series E 50mm MF, 50mm (duh), probably f1.8 or 2.2, 1/200 sec., ISO 1600. Shot natively in B&W to attempt to make lum and chroma noise look as much like film grain as possible. (I think it worked well, click for larger size.) Manual everything: the D90 doesn't meter with MF lenses, MF lenses don't autofocus, et cetera, et cetera, et al. The brave are also left with manual flash exposure, which was necessary here, otherwise KL's side-to-me would have been nothing but shadow against the bright klieg light behind her. But remember: be subtle with flash. If it's clear that you used flash, perhaps you used too much, or forgot to use gels (not a problem shooting B&W). All three photos are as the '90 birthed them into the JPEG world: no post save for resizing, tiling and ©ing.

Thank the Horse: A Photo of the Day Follow-Up

Yesterday I posted a Photo of the Day involving a horse's head. I was fortunate she (he?) cooperated, but it was hardly a staged shot. This photo is from 16 seconds later, after the moment had passed.

Just posting for context, only resized and ©ed — no other post.

Remember to look for opportunity in unlikely places, even a high school parade.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Photo of the Day: "I Can Behold Myself"

Yes, it's another horse photo...

Nikon D90, 18-105VR, 105mm, f5.6 (wide open), 1/500 sec., ISO 200. Neutral scene mode, program exposure with matrix meter, no exposure compensation.

No post processing; not even cropping. Just resized and ©ed. Again: I'm not a fan of the 18-105 (or -135), but it is capable of good, sharp shots.

UPDATE: The Ultimate Land Barge is Dead

BREAKING: I've been informed my former LTD had been found dead and abandoned on a rural highway west of Thermopolis, Wyo., strangely, the very same highway I took this photo. I recounted some of my experiences with the Ultimate Land Barge here.

Photo of the Day: "Framed."

Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm VR, 300mm, f7.1, 1/200 sec., ISO 200.

Sometimes things take care of themselves, and he is an example. Who needs to frame this?

Post included cropping and some exposure work with mild sharpening. I wish I had opened up (at 300mm the 70-300 is wide open at
f5.6) to have isolated horse here from the background. Shame.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Rock and Grass"

Nikon D90, Nikkor 17-35, 17mm, f8, 1/500 sec., ISO 200.

Unfortunately, other data (including post production) is not available. I suspect it involved a bump in saturation and some sharpening.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Smoking Section"

Remember when you could smoke in your office?

Nikon FE, Tri-X. Other details lost to time, but probably a Tamron 80-200mm f2.8 on a tripod with self-timer. Obviously a poor quality film scan, but if I found this, maybe I can find the negatives some day?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Glass"

Here's one from the wayback machine:

Actually, it's only from 2004. I just dug up a handful of shots from this roll that I were sure to be lost.

Nikon FE, Tamron 80-200mm f2.8 MF, Kodax Tri-X 400 (the original XXX, not the newer formulation). Assuming my six-year-old shooting notes are right, this was taken at about 100-115mm, f5.6 and 1/30 sec. off a tripod.

I can't remember how I caused the ghost effect here, although I can remember I tried two ways. Assuming my shot-notes are right, and this was taken at 1/30 sec., I used some creative lighting to make the effect -- beaming lights at the window. The glare causes the effect.

This is lab-processed film. I have some B&W stuff I've processed, and some day I'd sure like to get the equipment and chemicals put together for a B&W darkroom, but this went off someplace. Amusingly, even by 2004 most small to midsized cities had shuttered any one-hour B&W processing and just dropped everything in the mail. I was shooting B&W for a newspaper and ended up shooting C41 (color) process B&W just so I could get it processed in an hour. Oh, progress.

And just in case you missed it Tuesday, Nikon has announced the D7000, probably the best digital body they're now offering within a mortal man's budget. Paired with the recently introduced 16-35mm and the brand-spanking-new SuperChub 200 f2, and you'd have quite the rig.

Er, of course, the 16-35 is $1,100 -- the same price as the D7000 -- and the new SuperChub is... gulp... six grand worth of kit.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Ying and Yang"

Nikon D90, 17-35mm, 17mm, f8, 1/1000 sec., ISO 200. Aperture priority, matrix meter, landscape scene mode with -1/3EV exposure compensation.

The cloud and bluff are a nice contrast to one another. Post processing involved cropping, additional saturation and some color work. Original is below.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Horse, Eating"

Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-135, 135mm, 1/125 sec., f5.6. ISO 200, matrix meter and program exposure mode in landscape scene mode with -1/3EV exposure compensation.

You may have noticed a pattern here. In photos taken in landscape scene mode, almost all of them have negative exposure compensation dialed in. Of the few that do not, most of them could have used it.

While it looks significantly different than the original, post processing is straightforward. Besides the cropping, I've added: vibrance, clarity, contrast, blacks and just a hair of exposure. I've also tweaked the white balance for just a little warmer than what came out of camera.

At full size you'll be able to see that this isn't as sharp an image as it could be. At 135mm, f5.6 is wide open on this lens, which just isn't going to cut it. I should have gotten closer, boosted ISO a stop or otherwise found a way to stop-down, probably to f8.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Photos of the Day: Two studies in depth and exaggerated perspective

Sorry, folks, but I was unable to get a photo up yesterday. Today I'll give you two to make up for it.

These photos demonstrate depth and exaggerated perspective in photography. I will not offer any commentary other than to remind you to try different things, including shooting from very low (or very high) or playing with the angle of your composition. With the exception of cropping, resizing and ©'ing, these are as they came from the camera. See you tomorrow!

Nikon D90, Nikkor 17-35mm, 17mm, 1/160 sec., f3.2, ISO 200. Auto white balance, program exposure mode with matrix meter and -1/3EV exposure compensation in landscape scene mode.

Nikon D90, Nikkor 17-35mm, 17mm, 1/200 sec., f3.5, ISO 200. Aperture priority exposure mode, matrix meter and -1/3EV exposure bias, in landscape scene mode.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Photography Case Study: "Fall Fest Fun" by James Green

Today I've invited my brother, a more talented photographer than I, to guest blog while I'm busy doing a number of things. His blog, "Twenty-Two For a Moment," can be found here. Take it away, Jimbo:

For today's guest blog, I've chosen to use a picture which I feel really incorporates as many I guess 'techniques' as possible which are unique to me and that I am good at: manual metering and focusing.

This is a shot from the "Fall Fest" in Lone Tree, IA on August 16, 2009, also visible here on my flickr page.

Tech specs...
Nikon D40 with Vivitar 28mm 1:2.5, ISO 200, 3 sec exposure... that's about it.
This is a lens from the 70s or 80s, non CPU meaning it doesn't talk to the D40. Implications: no metering, no auto-focus (, no Exif data).

No Metering: I have had this camera since August 2008 and it has been the basis for almost all of my learning-through-trial, error, and experience. I have always shot exclusively Raw and in full manual, just discovering a couple of months ago from my girlfriend that there's this little gauge on the screen that tells me if my settings will make a picture too light or too dark. This is how I discovered "metering". Well, it turns out 9 times out of 10, just by looking at a scene I can guess the ISO, Exp, and aperture within 1/5 EV of the camera's light meter, and when I'm off, my guess usually yields a result closer to what I desire than the meter does, so I never use the meter anyway. That being said, I don't think older lenses like this work with higher-end cameras' light meters either, so if you're using something like this you have to meter intuitively. It's really something you figure out by taking test images until you develop a feel for what's going to look right. That makes digital cameras a great tool for learning. You can take test images and review them immediately. So, I learned how to use my camera in full Manual without even being aware of the meter, and developed heuristics for honing in on the exposure I want.

For what's going on here, there is plenty of light for things I want to highlight: firecracker and rides. As such, I don't need a higher ISO (which would compromise every aspect of image quality, as the D40's high-ISO performance is, in my opinion, grossly overrated) than the base 200, nor a particularly fast aperture, like 2.5 (which would compromise sharpness and depth of view), so I went with ISO 200, and I think aperture is about F/8, though I didn't record it and this lens leaves no Exif data, so that's a guess. In a scene like this, you really won't notice a lot of difference in brightness with a 1 second exposure versus a 30 second exposure; I chose 3 seconds because that got one fire cracker, got full movement of the foreground ride transforming it from rickety swings to an immaculate top, kept moving people from being awkward semi-blurry-yet-recognizable blobs, and still retained stationary people, giving a kind of almost emo-mood to them as they seem to observe the world happening in a weird chronological isolation. So there's a lot going into the 3 second exposure, but a lot of times (not always) things work together in a way that makes it work out without leaving you wishing for different exposures for different elements.

No Auto focus: The front rim of this lens says "Auto" which is a reference to the aperture ring inside automatically closing to whatever you have it set to when you click the shutter, and there isn't a socket on the back for an AF attachment, so there is definitely no way to auto focus this lens, and furthermore, this may have been built before auto focus existed (speculation, I don't know that). However, the manual focus ring on it is very pleasant and is easy to manipulate precisely. From closest focus (.2 meters) to ∞ is about 720° of twisting, so you can't quickly shoot from focusing right in front of your face to focusing on the moon, but you can really dial it in and I can't describe how smoothly it turns. It feels as solid as a rock and as precise as brain surgery.

With F/2.5, this lens if fast and great for low light, but because it has to be manually focused, it's honestly very difficult to use for most applications. You wouldn't likely want to carry it around a party and use it to take no-flash shots of friends, you just can't accurately focus it easily enough. There are two good ways to focus this in a low-light situation that don't involve giving up and using a flash and slow aperture (so focus doesn't have to be precise), but they really limit what you can take a picture of.
1) The first way applies to taking a picture of something close. You will need a tripod to keep the distance between the camera and the subject constant. Then just take test shots and adjust the focus until your subject is sharp in them. It's dirty and it's slow, but it works. (Note: The auto focus boxes in your camera will still work so you can look for a solid green light (at least, that's how my Nikon tells me whatever is in the AF box is in focus), but at least with the D40, if your eye can't see whether or not it's sharp through the viewfinder, it's too dark for focus indicator also. A flashlight can get you around this problem, though, if you are able to shine it on your target while adjusting focus.)
2) The second way of focusing in low light is what I did here; it's very quick, easy, accurate and reliable. For this, the closest thing I really want to see is 20 feet away, and I want detail behind that also. So at 28mm, I will be fine just focusing to ∞. Because of manufacturers being wise enough to factor in thermal expansion, the lens doesn't hard-stop at ∞, but that's usually okay. The focus indicator will work if you put something bright and far away (for me, usually a street light) in the focus box. Just that dot of light and you turn until you get a solid green focus indicator light, or just until the dot of light you see is maximally sharp. This only takes a couple of seconds, and will allow you to shoot at F/2.5 in focus as long as you're shooting something far enough away.

In a way I don't think about composition at all and in a different way it consumes me. I mainly don't think of it in terms of composition, and I have no hard-and-fast rules besides avoiding "The Rule of 3rds" because someone else thought of it and I feel using it would be unoriginal. Here, I wanted to capture a ride in a way that really screamed "Carnival", and capture a fire cracker very clearly. The elements really highlight that it's a fair scene, and the setting shows you it's a small town. There's nothing to indicate what town, but it works out okay. So, besides wanting these elements, also important was getting enough of the ride to really see what it is, and I wanted there to be people in it, so no 30 second exposures here (no one stands still that long). I like important elements to be bright with the rest being dark, so I didn't want to do anything to brighten up shadows or generally less-bright foreground.
A big concern in a scene like this can be the street lights. High-pressure sodium lights are great; they are the most energy efficient bulbs available, crushing fluorescent; they don't care about weather; and they last longer than anything other than LEDs, so they're great for security, like street lights. However, the quality of light is abhorrent. They have a terrible "color rendering index" meaning the distribution of wave lengths doesn't make colors look right to our eyes, and the color temperature is very 'warm', aka yellowish orange. To fix this, I will usually either greatly 'cool' the color temperature in Ps or, if I don't want to settle, just do black and white. However, the street lights don't provide the light I'm really painting with here, the flash powder of the firecracker and the more pleasant colored ride lights do. (Note: Cooling the color temperature in this image does make it more visually appealing in a way, but at the cost of a lot of the mood.)

So that's pretty much it. The big things to overcome here are no auto-metering and no auto focus, but even with a CPU lens I would ignore the meter here, and with something like this, manually focusing is easy. Composition was pretty straight forward; the biggest obstacle there is getting the courage to stand in the middle of a crowd of cynical tweens with a camera and a tripod while they wonder 'what's this idiot doing?'.

Post Processing...
Just kidding. I literally opened the RAW in Adobe Photoshop Elements and saved as a jpg with quality of 12. Temperature is as shot, no hue, saturation, contrast, brightness, exposure etc adjustments, no cropping or noise reduction, this is 100% as shot. Everything is standard, normal, or as shot. For the record, I almost always do touching up to pictures, it just wouldn't have improved this one any.

Above average, B. It's not the most spectacular photo I've ever taken, but I like it. It incorporates a lot of techniques necessitated by the situation that I think I am good at and have developed on my own that are useful skills to have but that most people never really deal with. I don't think I could have exposed it any better; there is no noise since I got away with ISO 200 and it's sharp. I like the saturation although the colors look more interesting if cooled down a bit. I am really pleased with the composition; I could have gotten the rest of the foreground ride in the frame but I think it works better like this: you can tell the ride will be symmetrical from the light patterns being the result of rotation, but you infer the rest of the symmetry without actually seeing it, which would be distracting since there is no other symmetry in the image.

I like the fire cracker, but it would be nice if I had maybe started and stopped a second earlier, getting more of the early part of this firecracker and missing the shooting up for the next one which can be seen as a blue fishhook inside this one.

There is a tree attempting to occlude the bottom right portion of the firecracker and while it generally fails, it does interrupt the smoothness of the lines there, yet is too dark for it to be evident what is causing the disturbance there. I don't know what the ride to the left is, but the blur is kind of weird and it doesn't make a nice shape of lights the way the closer ride does. Fortunately, it kind of looks like a ghost train and with the ghosts under the near ride and the still people kind of looking like they are standing amidst ghosts, it works for me thematically.

I think the entire image is a tad crooked, but most of the light patterns are abstract enough and concrete objects so subdued that that doesn't hurt it. The flares of the street lights I like a lot here, they're beautiful. There's a kind of awkward partial house behind the near ride, but I said B, not A.

That pretty much wraps it up. I think it covers everything. Hopefully there is something to be learned from this by someone. I enjoyed writing it. Thanks for reading.

James Green

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Bighorn River Near Dusk"

Nikon D90, 17-35mm
f2.8, 17mm, f13, 0.6 sec. Handheld, ISO "Lo1" (ISO 100 equivalent), no flash or VR. Aperture-priority exposure mode, landscape scene mode with matrix meter engaged.

This was taken a few hours before yesterday's photo of the day and only about 50 meters away.

A few notes. The camera settings were dictated by one variable: shutter speed. There is a certain sweet-spot with moving water, which varies by the speed of the water. Shutter too slow and it turns to fog. Shutter too fast, and you lose the sense of movement. Six-tens of a second turned out to be the best speed for this shot. Handholding was accomplished by bracing against the handrail of the bridge from which this shot it taken.

Once I determined .6 sec. was the optimum exposure length, I found the camera wanting f16 at ISO 200, the base ISO on the D90. Furthermore, I should have dialed in some negative exposure compensation: the pink/orange highlight of the cloud is dangerously near blowout.

ISO "Lo1" and f13 was the best I could do since I didn't have an ND handy. I'm left dealing with a few things that each slightly degrade image quality here, but hopefully the cumulative effect isn't too bad.

At ISO "Lo1" the D90 loses some highlight control, which is why those clouds are so near blowout. f13 is just starting to get soft from diffraction. Fortunately, there isn't enough near detail for a hint of blur to become too much of an issue.

I don't have post-processing information available for this photo, but I have two other issues I'd like to touch on.

The first is exposure blowout, when things get too hot for the camera settings and turn to mush and white. Newer Nikon bodies have a setting called Auto D-Lighting, or as Rockwell refers to it, Automatic Dynamic Range, which tries to reduce this problem. Figures 1, 2 and 3 show a portion of this image with exposure reduced four stops in Lightroom, and a portion of another blown out image taken with a D80, both before and after that same four-stop reduction.

Figure 1.                                    Figure 2.                                    Figure 3.

The D80 lacks ADL/ADR, whichever you prefer to call it, and it shows. The D90 image, while on the bloody edge of overexposed, retains a color-correct falloff toward blowout. That is D-Lighting at work, making th best out of a difficult situation. With the landscape scene mode (which jacks up saturation) and ISO "Lo1" set, this is pushing the camera pretty hard. But look at the D80 images: there is zero color falloff once you hit blotto overexposure: it just turns straight to white. Also note that the D80 does have a setting in the RETOUCH menu for "D-Lighting," but it doesn't make nearly as much of a difference as the in-camera routine of newer bodies.

The other point I wanted to touch on, actually complain about, is metadata handling in Adobe products. Lightroom reads today's image as ISO 100, which is close enough to correct for me, but Bridge just throws up its hands and displays a blank in the ISO spot for metadata. Photoshop also reads ISO 100. Bridge incorrectly says this was taken in program mode (it was really in aperture-priority mode). Lightroom is stingy about telling me whether or not I used flash. You get the idea: none of these three programs consistently tells me everything I need to know. End rant.

While I have misplaced my post-processing notes, I do have the original photo:

Photo of the Day: "Fireworks, Thermopolis, 2009"

No post processing here: just resized and ©ed for web with a little cropping top and bottom.

Nikon D90, Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8, ISO 1000, 17mm, f8, 20 sec. bulb exposure. Manual exposure with shade white balance. The lighting is from a Nikon SB-800 fired manually (at 50% power) off-camera with a yellow gel to match the fireworks. On a tripod. "Bulb" exposure means I manually started and stopped the exposure with a wireless remote, instead of using a predetermined time. This allowed me to get the firework from beginning to end and close the shutter before another went off.

There are several variables in fireworks photography. Aperture must be small enough (large enough f-number) to have some depth of field, especially with subjects in the foreground, but large enough to get some light. ISO sensitivity should be high enough to allow a workable shutter speed but low enough to minimize noise. Shutter needs to be long enough to get the entire firework, but short enough to freeze subject motion.

Or, you can have your subjects in total darkness, only illuminated (and frozen) during the 1/10,000 sec. of flash. Just make sure they don't mind your flashing around behind them. It took a number of attempts to get this particular shot.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Photography Case Study: “Who You Callin' Turkey?”

From the barnyard, here’s a kiddo with a rooster sunning on his shoulder. This was one of my last newspaper assignments.

Image details.
Nikon D90, 18-105VR, 25mm, 1/200 sec.,
f16, ISO 200. Program exposure mode with matrix meter and built-in flash at default value. Auto white balance, neutral scene mode, zero exposure compensation. VR on.

Technique and camera settings.
While children can be the devil to shoot, stumbling around the barnyard with 20 or 30 of them inspecting the garden, the tractors and the animals is sure to provide some opportunity. Here is no different. Another photo, of a girl feeding some pigmy goats, might have been the winner if the lighting had been different.

This photo’s central characteristic is the interplay of light and shadow, as well as considering compromises in lines and angles. Shadows are subdued here but provide depth and contrast in the boy’s face.

Figure 1 is a 200% actual-pixels enlargement of the boy’s hair and the rooster (click for full size). It is taken from the unprocessed original file. As you can see, even at f16, sharpness is decent enough even though diffraction has begun to soften things.

Why f16, one might ask. There’s plenty of depth of field here. I used f16 because I had to. ISO 200 is the lowest setting on the D90, and 1/200 sec. is the highest shutter speed the camera can shoot with its built-in flash. This is called flash sync speed. Interestingly enough, the best Nikon in wide use today on this front is the D40, which can sync at up to 1/500 sec., which would have allowed me to shoot at about f9 in this instance.

(There is a lower ISO setting on the D90, called “Low 1” or “Lo1” in the menus, which is advertised as “equivalent to ISO 100.” But the drawbacks of using a setting admittedly beyond the peak performance of the camera outweighed the drawbacks of shooting at f16 this time. If I had thought to bring my external flash with me, a Nikon SB-800, I also could have shot with a larger aperture, because the D90 – and many other Nikon mid- and high-level bodies — can sync with the 800 at higher shutter speeds, at the expense of flash power.)

The use of fill flash and the considerations implicated therein is the major technical takeaway from this photo.  I had to weigh the variables. If the lighting had been even brighter and I was looking at, say, f22 at 1/200 sec., I would probably have dropped to ISO Lo1. I may have tried a shot without any flash, which the program exposure mode would have probably shifted to something along the lines of f8 at 1/1000 sec. Fortunately, while f16 is beyond the normal realm of apertures I prefer to shoot at, it isn’t yet beyond my comfort zone. Circumstances also help: while the 18-105VR is a lackluster lens, the 24-30mm range is where it’s at its best.

It was a very bright day, obviously, when I took this shot. I should have planned better, taking that SB-800 with me to enable shooting at more moderate apertures with fill flash. A neutral density filter (something to darken the image) would have helped, too, although I don’t own one. It was fortunate I was not shooting the 17-35 f2.8 that day, because diffraction becomes crippling sooner – with f13 or even f11 being the sharpest aperture – than with the 18-105.

I wish I had the same photo without fill flash to illustrate how important it is in a scene like this. Without it, the rooster’s feathers would have zero detail and the boy’s face would look considerably different, under harsher lighting.

Shot technique.
Move around and remain thoughtful of the sun’s position. Being thoughtful doesn’t mean taking every photo from the same perspective. The shadow here provides needed depth and contrast. For another shot, having the sun right behind my back may have been better. Sometimes a silhouette, with the subject between the sun and camera, is best.

Kids are always moving, so I needed to be, too. There were a few shots I missed, because I couldn’t get into position before the subject had gotten bored with whatever they were up to and moved on.

Post processing.
I didn’t do much in Lightroom except confront a difficult decision on cropping and straightening and some color work.

You may have noticed that the ground isn’t quite level – actually it isn’t near level. In the original, below, you see that it is closer but still not right. Why did I rotate the image away from level?

The problem is that light pole next to the boy’s head. It must have been leaning because lens distortion should be at its minimum at 25mm and even if it were at its worst it wouldn’t cause an effect like this. Even though the post must be leaning, it remains too distracting if not righted, even at the expense of the horizon. If I were now so-inclined, I could Photoshop the pole out completely in a few minutes, but that wouldn’t be photojournalism. The exaggerated angle might even make for a more dynamic composition, as I don’t find the horizon as distracting but it is nevertheless subconsciously noted.

The white balance is unchanged from the camera default. I’ve added quite a bit of recovery to give the highlights some added depth, as well as some fill light to brighten the boy’s face. Those two adjustments threw off the rooster’s feathers, so I dialed in +2 blacks.

Clarity is reduced 5% to help soften the otherwise jarring edge between the rooster and the sky and to smooth over some diffraction-induced artifacting in the boy’s hair. A medium contrast curve was applied, as was moderate sharpening and masking.

Color correction is twofold, both in the blue channel. Saturation is increased while luminescence was reduced, to restore the punch late-summer Wyoming skies are known for. The neutral scene mode I often used in the D90 for newspaper photos did a good job of maintaining skin tones but often sucked all of the drama out of the sky.

As I mentioned, this is a study in contrast, light and shadow. It helps that boy and rooster cooperated handsomely, both focusing on the same thing (and not the camera at that!).

A modicum of preparation helped, although a better effort on this front (bringing along the external flash) would have helped more.  I wish the shingles on the barn roof were a slightly different color than the boy’s skin and hair, but if they had been black it would have been too much. And that damn light pole.

Finally, I should have gelled the flash. It’s pretty clear that the lighting on the breast of the bird is coming from a cooler source than the rest of the light, now that I look at it. Unfortunately, that sort of minute color correction is very difficult to do in post.

Image grade.
Original: C-
Post: B+

Poor planning (again, not having an external flash) caused the original image to be less than it should have been. Normatively, I would have found a spot without the leaning light pole of Red Lane in the frame. The shadows may have been too perpendicular, but perhaps if I had moved about a step, or a step-and-a-half to my left (about where the boy is looking) I could have gotten rid of the pole and put some sky between his head and the roof of the barn.

Post processing brought about half of this image’s potential back, with increased contrast and crispiness, but the white balance error between the flash- and sun-lit portions of the rooster are detrimental. Some sharpness was coaxed out of the pixels, too, with better color. It’s a start.

Next time…
A surprise! I suspect I’ll have a guest blogger filling in as I expect to be swamped by the end of the week. If it pans out, fantastic, and if not, I’ll make the time. Until then…