Equipment & Techniques

My thoughts on equipment & techniques — but first Aspect Ratio

When opened this 1st photo has a ratio of 1:1.25 like an 8×10.

When opened this 2nd photo has a ratio of 1:1.5 like a full size 35mm file or piece of film.

When opened this 3rd photo has a ratio of 1:3 like the Linhof panoramic camera described below.

 

Before anything else the first thing you must do is wrap your head around aspect ratio.  If you don’t do math well please don’t bail out and hope to absorb this some other way.  Sooner or later the aspect ratio of a camera will effect you so get it over with now.

The aspect is simply the ratio of an image’s width divided by its height.  It is usually expressed as whole numbers such as 4×5, but here I’ve expressed it as a ratio where the shorter length is figured as 1 such as 1:1.25.  Do the math and you will see that 1:1.25 is the same as 4×5.

A full sensor 35mm camera uses a 24×36 mm sensor. A 35mm film camera takes a photo exposing a piece of film with the same size.  The aspect ratio is 1:1.5  because 36 is 1 and a half times larger than 24. That means you can get a print 8″ x 12″ (or 12″ x18″ or whatever) from a 35mm file, negative or transparency. This confused me the first time I asked a commercial vendor for an 8″ x 10″ print from a 35mm format slide.   His question to me was “where do I crop?”  And that introduced me to aspect ratio in photography.

I asked for an 8×10 because that was very standard for portrait frames back in 1992.  The 8×10 goes way back, kind of like Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman.  An 8″x10″ camera was the de facto negative standard a century or more ago.  That is why 8×10 prints are still popular today. The 8×10 has an aspect ratio of 1:1.25.  Thats because the 10″ side is longer by 25% than the 8″ side.  Note the 1:1.25 is different than 1:1.5.

Of course there are other standards, 4×6, 5×7, 11×14, etc.  If you go back to the 1930s you find square medium format film cameras became very popular along with other sized that are barely used today.  The square medium format films have a ratio of 1:1.  Why?  Because they shoot a square piece of film where the width and height are the same!  What good is this you say? Wedding and event photographers loved this format.  It allowed a crop horizontally or vertically from the same piece of film. Another popular 1:1 found its way into a some consumer cameras of the 60s.  It gave the user a 40 mm x 40 mm negative or slide.

On to the market in early 2011, Fuji has a new camera for sale, the HS20EXR.  It is a fixed lens digital camera.  It offers 3 different ratios, 1:1.333, 1:1.5, & 1:1.778.  The last one is better recognized as 16:9.  In the camera all of the formats use the longest width of the sensor. To get the other formats the camera uses a different set of height pixels to make the ratio.  The dot density and the 1.333 size make it almost perfect for an 11×14 print.  The 1.778 (16:9) makes it perfect for video.  I’m not trying to sell the camera to you, but I am trying to make you think about the size of the print you want.

There were many, many ratios in the film past, and some were quite popular with photographers.  I won’t cover them all here, but some of the ratios were 1:1.167 (6×7 centimeters), 1:2 (6×12 centimeters), 1:1.333 (4.5×6 centimeters and 6×8 centimeters), and 1:3 (6×17 centimeters).  Another interesting one was the 6×9 centimeter format. What was its ratio?

Click on the photos above to see the differences!  They are all horizontal examples.  The ratios are the same if the photo is vertical.

 

 

Camera Bodies

I currently shoot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.  The 5D Mark II is the bottom of the few full sensor Canon bodies.  Don’t assume that is a bad thing.  The more expensive bodies have more battery power and faster electronics for very quick shooting like sports photography.  And they are heavier.  The 5D I believe is a easy to use, feature rich camera for those who want to do general shooting without overly specializing in particular and demanding aspects of photography.

That being said the 5D Mark II comes with a 200+ page manual, and more bells and whistles than any camera I have ever owned.  It takes individual photos or full HD 1080p video.  It has been used to film TV commercials and Hollywood movies.  It packs so much capability that I don’t expect I will ever learn it all or even need to learn it all.  But it does have many features I tend to use in a camera.  It has a 21 megapixel sensor which gives large 23-33 megabyte raw files. There are 7 shooting modes plus 3 you can program yourself.  These include Aperture Priority, Program, Time Value, Manual, Bulb & a couple of automatic modes. There are 4 metering modes.  It has the ability to automatically bracket a metered reading by 1/3 stop increments up to 2 full stops.  It can record jpegs in 6 sizes and raw in 3.  It will do a few combinations of these also.  It will shoot from ISO 100 to 6400, way higher than anything I’ve ever needed or used.  A 16 gigabyte memory card will hold over 550 raw files.  There are lots more to the feature list than the few things I’ve mentioned.

There is a minus side from my point of view.  It has only 9 autofocus points, and even though it is lighter than its other full sensor siblings it is still a heavy camera.

 

Full size 24x36mm digital sensors vs. smaller digital sensors

When I made the migration from film cameras to digital the thing I wanted most was a full sized sensor.  I was used to shooting on a 24x36mm piece of film and I didn’t want to adapt to a smaller format.  I also wanted something that could use the few Canon lenses I kept.

A full sized sensor became very important because most of my photography has been in the wide to ultra wideangle range.  This is going to become another technical explanation.  You non-techie readers may want to bail out, but try to bear with this.

The normal range of a camera (1x or life size) is generally considered to be the square root of the sum of the square roots of the images height and width.  A 35 mm camera has an image size of 24mm high by 36mm wide.  The math is this: 24 squared is 576, 36 squared is 1296, 576+1296= 1872, the square root of 1872 is 43.27.

So a 43 mm lens length is normal for a 35mm camera?  Yes and no.  It used to be.  At one time Nikon sold a 43-86mm manual zoom lens.  I shot with one for years.  It gave a theoretical range of 1x to 2x life size on the zoom.  But over the years 50mm became more of the idea for a normal lens for the 35mm cameras and that is where current thinking lies.

In case you are wondering how this translates over to medium format cameras be they film or digital then 80mm is generally considered to be normal.  For years most medium format cameras shot a square picture of 56x56mm.  Do the math and you will get an answer of 79.20 mm, therefore the 80mm lens for medium format became the adopted practice.  Some of the other medium formats have other size normal lenses.

Back to the 35mm cameras.  So what about the sensor or film size?  Most electronic cameras today use a number of different sized sensors.   Most are smaller than 24x36mm and may even have a slightly different aspect ratio than 1:1.5, the aspect ratio of a true 35mm camera.  If the camera has a fixed lens this is no problem, the manufacturer has allowed for this and will tell you what the zoom range is.  After a while you will figure out where you like to shoot.

If you have an interchangeable lens camera body with a smaller sensor the situation becomes a bit more complicated.  Many camera lenses are sold with fixed focal lengths.  These are called prime lenses.  If the lens has an adjustable focal length it becomes a zoom lenses.  In either case the focal lengths are expressed in millimeters (mm) compared to a standard sized sensor of 24x36mm.  If your camera has a standard sensor size and you use a 100 mm short telephoto lens you will get a photo that is roughly 2x magnification.

You must know the size of the sensor and make a ratio between the small sensor and a full size sensor.  Many of the smaller sensor variants cover an area of  13.8×20.7 mm to 19.1×28.7 mm.  There are others also.  If you do the math you’ll see the two examples just given are exactly or almost exactly 1:1.5 ratio.  You will also see that the sensor area of each is a lot smaller than 24×36 mm. Generally, most reduced size Canon sensors relate to a full size sensor with the ratio of 1:1.6, although some of them with the 19.2 x 28.8 mm sensor have a ratio of only 1:1.3.  With the 1.6 that means you use a multiplier of 1.6 on your lens size.  The multiplier for many Nikon cameras is about 1.5.

With the 1.6 multiplier that means your 100mm lens will act like a 160mm lens telephoto on certain interchangeable lens Canon bodies. A Nikon lens equivalent gives 150mm.  If you want a long reach on a reasonable budget a 300mm f/4 lens becomes a 480mm f/4.  Even better add a 1.4x tele-extender and you have almost a 700 mm reach at f/5.6.  That is almost 14x normal and it still gives you enough light to compose and autofocus in the viewfinder.  Besides being affordable for many shooters a 14x reach is also very impressive. Think of this in terms of binoculars.  Most standard magnifications of binoculars are 7x.

This is great if you have long lenses and like to shoot telephoto because everything works out great for the telephoto shooter.  But what happens if you like to shoot wide to ultra wide with a smaller sensor camera?  What is your photo size in relation to life then? Unfortunately the multiplier is the same.  A 20mm lens that was ultra wide becomes a 32mm lens, which is barely in the wide class.  A 24mm lens, which is still quite wide becomes a 38+mm lens, almost back at the normal range.

Recognizing this problem Canon, Nikon & other vendors have made lenses in the wide area that counter this effect.  Canon, the brand I know best, makes a lens rated 10-22mm for their reduced sensor format.  It yields a 35mm photography equivalent of a 16-35mm focal length, which covers almost all of the wide angle bases.  It is cheaper than an equivalent 35mm lens because it is smaller and uses less glass.  It uses the same camera mount as a full sensor lens.  Add to this the fact that reduced sized sensor cameras with or without interchangeable lens capability have captured most of the market. So why not use this?  Many people do and are quite happy.

Besides the multiplier problem another issue is a lens engineered for a smaller sensor camera will not work on a camera made with a standard sized sensor.  Think about it.  A lens for a reduced size sensor has to focus light into a smaller area than a lens for a full sized sensor.  If it is engineered for this smaller area then how could it possibly cover the larger area?

If I chose a full sensor camera in the future that smaller sensor lens would not work on the full sensor body.  In other words small sensor cameras are really a different format than full size (35mm) cameras.  The smaller sensor cameras are still very close to full size sensor cameras in capability.  Most shooters consider small sensor interchangeable lens digital SLR camera to be fine for what would normally be 35mm work.  The manufacturers tend to show both together on their websites.  Many professionals carry both formats to be used depending on the shooting situation.  But by design small sensor SLRs are compatible only in a one-way direction.

I did not want to deal with this issue.  Because of my preferences I found myself in a position with only a very few choices in camera bodies.

 

 

(Shiprock, NM, Aug., 2004, shot with the Linhof 617)

 

Linhof Technorama 617

For about 10 years I owned a Linhof 617 with a Schneider 90mm lens.  This camera lens combination gives a 3:1 aspect ratio.  Some panorama buffs have told me it was not a true panoramic camera because the lens did not move across the film exposing 120 degrees of view or more.  The Schneider was a fixed lens mounted to the camera. It was approximately equal to a 25mm view in a 35mm camera within its particular aspect ratio.  It had no tilt, no shift, no movement unless you moved the whole unit.

If I had wanted to spend a few thousand dollars more I could have bought a 72mm lens for the camera yielding about an 18-20mm lens equivalent view.  I can think of only one place I’ve been where this would have been more useful than the 90mm.

The Linhof is a very demanding camera.  It is totally manual with no electronics what so ever.  If you do not load the film just right it will wind incorrectly, sometimes overlapping photos, sometimes shortening them. Sighting the camera is done with a snap on viewfinder.  The viewfinder is quite accurate for landscape work, but it is not accurate for close up work.  That is because of the parallax of the viewfinder vs. the lens.  The front center of the viewfinder is about 2 inches higher and 4 inches farther back than the front center of the lens.  When you get close to a subject those differences begin to have an effect on your composition unless they are compensated for during the setup of the shot.

Because the camera has a large ultra wide lens it must be level, otherwise a curved horizon will appear in the photo.  To avoid this a spirit level is mandatory and I always used it.

The lens itself has a huge front lens element.  Filters must have a 95mm thread or you need an adapter & holder for 4×4 flat filters.  This large size made the filters very expensive.  In 2000 I seem to recall a 1 stop central neutral density filter for this camera cost $300.  A central neutral density filter was also mandatory.  Because of the extreme wide angle nature of the lens the light fall off at the edges of the photo required the 1 stop central neutral density filter.

The Linhof was tough on film.  A roll of 120 yielded only 4 photos.  A roll of 220 doubled that.  When you burn film like that you slow down and think of what you are going to do.  And that is the simple reason why despite its lack of ease of use I was attracted to the Linhof 617.  It slowed you down!  Because it wasn’t automatic, and because it was costly it made you think of what you were going to do, and how to make the most of it.  This was an invaluable lesson and it spilled over into my more normal format photography!

I shot numerous rolls of film with the Linhof, and I blew a lot of rolls for sure.  My keepers are technically correct, but very few are great shots.  For me I found the few really good photos from it were best if cropped down to a more manageable size or a more popular aspect ratio.  This could be because I was so used to shooting a more popular ratio that the extreme rectangle of the Linhof never took hold of my sense of composition.

You will see a perfect example of that in the photos in this website.  I found the Linhof panoramic format required a lot of getting used to, and it demanded a different mind set than a more normal aspect ratio camera.  But it was a lot of fun.

If you shoot film and can afford this type of camera I cannot recommend it enough.  The rigorous way of shooting that it imposes on you in both technique and composition is only beneficial in the long run.  I have never owned a 4×5 (or larger) field camera, but I imagine the same would be true there also.

Some day someone may adapt a large digital sensor back to the Linhof 617.  If that day ever comes I will really miss the 617.


 

Canon Lenses

It was the promise of the lenses that made me switch from Leica & Nikon over to Canon.  I don’t think that promise has been broken.  I have found all of them but one to be sharp.  Their lenses render colors bright and clear.  Over the years I have been able to expand my range of lenses with forward compatibility.  Obsolete lenses of the 90s still work fine on the cameras of 2011.

The 5D Mark II SLR camera, my current choice, comes as a body or in a kit with a 24-105mm f4 lens.  I bought it as a kit.  There are other lenses of course.  My nephew happened on a 24-70mm f2.8 Canon lens.  He swears by it.  I like the 24-105 because it covers 90% of the shooting situations I tend to favor.  It will slightly vignette at 24mm using a filter.  Fortunately the effect is slight and is usually cropped out with little or no distress to the composition.

I have found the 24-105 has proved to be so broad in its usefulness that I have not used my 16-35mm f2.8 nearly as much as I originally anticipated.

Both Nikon and Canon cover a broad range of focal lengths.  They have fisheyes and they both seem to start at about 14 mm super wides, which gives about a 114 degree field of view.  Canon now makes an 8-15mm f4 fisheye zoom that moves from a round picture to a full rectilinear frame. In the 70s & 80s Nikon even made a 6mm f/2.8 ultra, ultra wide lens.  It was a very large manual focus lens with limited application.  It had at least a 220 degree view!

Both brands cover all sorts of prime focal lengths and zooms.  Both brands top out with 80-400mm or 100-400mm variable aperture zoom lenses.  I find the Canon 100-400 to be versatile & sharp, especially when on a tripod.

In the super telephoto area Nikon seems to top out at 600mm while Canon reaches 800mm.  Years ago Canon even made a 1200mm f/5.6 (non reflector) super telephoto on special order.  Both brands make 300mm f4 lenses in a reasonable price range.  Coupled with an extender these lenses offer a pretty good reach for around $2,000.

Both companies offer a range of specialized lenses for specific types of work.  There are macros & tilt shift lenses to choose from.

In the past the widest I had ever gone was 19mm.  The longest was 300mm with a 2x extender.  I never liked the way the extender treated the photo so I shelved it and traded it in on my digital kit later.

When I traded in my old film cameras and lenses for digital I kept my 300mm f4 telephoto.  I traded for a 16-35mm f2.8 zoom, the 24-105mm mentioned above and a 100-400mm variable aperture zoom.  I added a 15mm f2.8 fisheye a month later.  All that time I thought the 100-400 was a large lens, until in a moment of weakness I bought a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom.   Now that is a bazooka!  I should have gotten an f4 because it is smaller and lighter for field work.

Of all these lenses I use the 24-105mm most, but I think the fisheye offers the most fun.  You will see this here and there as I show photos from the fisheye on the website.

 

 

 

—MORE COMMENTS

This is not a set of instructions, although I will explain a few technical things as it is warranted.  If you need an instruction book there are great ones already in print.  Anything I add here will hopefully be useful to you, but these are opinions strictly from my perspective.

This website is a compilation of photographs I have made from the early 1990’s to present that move me the most and impress others the most.  I often tell people who like my photos that they don’t see the tens of thousands I have thrown away or don’t show.

I look for two basic things to photograph: landscapes, and human effects on the landscape.  With the second subject the older the better.  I have done other types of photography certainly, but these two are my favorites so you will see the most of that sort here.

Some of the subjects here will be familiar.  Some will be new looks at familiar subjects, and some will show places that have never made it into print.

 

Cameras

In the past I used both 35mm and medium format roll film cameras.  From the 1970s to 2005 my 35mm film cameras were Yashicas, Nikkormats, Nikons, Leicas, and finally Canons.  As I finally learned enough to make decent photos my style gravitated to wide and ultra or super wide lenses.  I first started with Canon products in 1994.  As of this writing I use them exclusively.

I also used various medium format roll film cameras.  I used them extensively along with the 35mm and I miss them greatly still.  I was fortunate enough to be able to use Hasselblad, Pentax, and Linhof medium format cameras.

Medium format film has one commanding advantage over 35mm film.  The various sizes in the format yield a film surface 3-5 times greater than a 35mm piece of film.  Most standard 35mm film is 24 x 36 mm in size.  That is almost exactly 1” x 1.5” therefore a 35mm slide has a photographic surface area of 1.5”.

Medium format film is always about 2.25” tall or about 56 mm.  Compare that one 56 mm dimension to the 24 mm dimension.  The other dimension in most medium format cameras is larger still.  Depending on the particular camera its other dimension can be anywhere from 1.75” to 6.75”.  That gives a range of 44.5 mm to 171 mm.  Compare that against the 36 mm dimension.

All things being equal this means you should be able to get a sharper print using medium format film than you could with 35mm film because the film doesn’t have to be enlarged as much to reach a standard printed size.  With medium format film a razor sharp print up to 3’ x 5’ is possible, even larger.

Medium format also has some disadvantages over 35mm cameras.  They handle slower, they load film slower, they are heavier, they don’t offer nearly as much in the way of telephoto or super wide lenses, and the hardware is usually much more expensive.  This is especially true with filters.  Just the same for over 10 years I used both 35mm and medium formats side by side, and I considered the slow handling of roll film cameras to be an advantage.

Compared to the excellent Hasselblad 4.5×6 & 6×6 centimeter system I eventually preferred the Pentax 6×7 centimeter system.  It gave an excellent photo in a good landscape format, offered a good range of sharp lenses, and had an excellent meter.  I always used my medium format cameras on a tripod.

Over a 5 year period from 2005 to 2010 a number of events conspired to take me away from even casual photography.  In that period I only picked up a camera a few of times.  On 2 of those occasions I used someone else’s digital camera.  One was a dress ball, one was a wedding.  I was impressed with the ease of use of each of these cameras, but I was both impressed and dismayed with the great number of photos I could take in a such short period of time.

During my interregnum my nephew, Keith Rabbin, picked up a top end Canon reduced sensor sized digital camera.  On one visit he proudly showed me his 10-22 mm lens.  I was quite impressed with its reach.  It is equal to a 16-35 mm on a full size sensor camera.  It covers the ultra wide to wide angle ranges, a larger area than I was used to shooting in.

Then he reminded me he thought I was a pretty good photographer and I should get back in the hobby again.  I ‘sushed’ him.  All I could think of was how would I get the time to edit anything I shot, and what it would cost to get back in the game.

 

Filters

OK, lets spend some money!  Camera gear is expensive enough, but if bought well and treated well it should have some resale value.  Filters are a different story.  There are way too many different versions in gobs of different formats.  A small to medium camera store can’t carry them all, and would be smart to wonder when they will sell one if they buy it used.  I believe if you are not careful the filters will $20 or $50 dollar you to death.  That being said a filter used properly will enhance your photo and stretch your ability.

Filters come in lots of forms.  They come in gels, resins, glass, rolls, drop ins, special effects, grads, reverse grads, variable densities, multiple sizes & umpteen different colors to name a few.  They can be mounted in rings, proprietary systems, or cut from a roll and sandwiched between some cardboard.  You can stack them or use them individually. Do you get the idea?  You may never have enough filters, but it is possible, even likely you will never be able to afford them all either.

If you want to see all the things you can’t afford or may never even use try downloading the brochures from Cokin, Lee, B+W, Hoya, Tiffen and others.  Beyond this it becomes imperative to realize what you actually need and what you would merely like to have.

If you are making movies or videos then look out.  The number of filters you might need could get out of hand and become endless.  If you are doing portraits your need may lessen somewhat.  As a landscape photographer I have narrowed it down to only a few, but it is an expensive few.  My graduated split neutral density filters alone new total a pretty penny, and I still need a few more.

The first thing I’ve done is limit the sizes of screw in ring filters I need.  I’ll grant you the sizes are the largest (therefore the most expensive) because of the faster lenses I currently favor, but at least there is now a limit.  Currently I the sizes I use are 72mm, 77mm, & 82mm.  When it comes to flat filters I am going exclusively 100x100mm for non graduated filters and 100x150mm for graduated filters.  The 150 side allows you some latitude in moving the graduated part of the filter across your field of view.

Whenever I shoot I always use either a Skylight 1A filter or a UV Haze filter on each of my lenses.  I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other.  The 1A will add a very small amount of warmth to the photo.  The UV will improve the contrast ever so slightly.

The over riding reason for the basic filter is for lens protection.  When I drop lenses they always land on the front rim.  I think it must be Murphy’s Law.  Or the heaviest part of the lens falls first, or expensive glass is attracted by the Earth’s magnetic field.

Junk science may explain it all, but I do know that when I drop a lens it always seems to hit the ground on the front rim.  I would rather break a $50 piece of glass than an expensive lens.  The effects of skylight or UV filters on transparency film or digital pixels are minimal so using these filters is potentially more beneficial than not.  If I fail to mention filtration about a photo then you can assume it is either a skylight or a UV.  Sometimes when my camera is firmly mounted on a tripod I will remove all filtration.

For some situations I will use polarizing filters and happily so. Polarizers will cost you a stop or more, but if handled properly they will give you improved contrast and color saturation.  While the polarizer effects the light you capture, its capability is also effected by the light of the scene.  The polarizer will tend to give its best when pointing 90 degrees away from the sun. Don’t let that stop you from using it elsewhere, just remember the 90 degree thing.

Also, it is generally best to use a polarizer on focal lengths of 35mm and longer.  The wide lenses smaller than 35 mm cover a lot more angle of view.  At some point in that wide angle view the effect of the polarizer begins to lessen.  If you are shooting something with sky, for instance, you will see a deeper blue sky where the filter has its greatest polarization, and a drop off of that blue as the distance from the greatest polarization increases.

On very rare occasion I used to use an 81A or 81B warming filter, but on digital cameras I have perhaps become lazy by changing the color cast on the body or in the computer.  Changing the color balance in the computer over a very wide range is a useful tool, but frankly, it is bad photographic methodology.  I am using this as a trade off to save weight and expense.  The best thing to do is to shoot the finest possible photograph with the tools you have in the field, then make the fewest changes possible on your computer.

I use split neutral density filters as required, and I find these are extremely important tools to have available.  For colorful sunrises and sunsets a graduated split neutral density filter or two of them stacked is an absolute necessity. These can be used in two basic forms, gray and colored.

This photo is shot into the sun with a 3 stop soft edge split neutral density filter and a 2 stop reverse grad filter mounted in front of the camera lens by a Lee Filter holder.      (click on photo to enlarge)

Either type of split neutral density filter is most often used at sunrise or sunset to balance a lighter area and a darker area, but they have application elsewhere in photography.  When shooting a sunrise or sunset the sky is often considerably brighter than the foreground.  A 2, 3, or 4 stop soft or hard edge split neutral density filter will darken a bright part of the frame so the entire photograph can be normally exposed.  The split is positioned along the horizon and is not seen in the photograph as the color of the filter should blend with the rest of the scene.

Gray filters are used when you want the true colors of the scene to appear in your photo.  Half of the filter is colored gray.  They have a hard edge, meaning the gray goes to clear abruptly, or a soft edge meaning the gray goes to clear gradually.  I find 2 & 3 stop filters of both styles are a necessary part of my kit.  They can be stacked to get a total of 5 stops.  A 4 stop filter is next on my list.  If I stack 2 filters I can get a 7 stop variance that way.

Colored filters are used when you want to change the color of the sky.  For instance Coffee filters (actually the color of coffee with cream) often appear in photographs or movies. The real sky does not have a coffee color, but it can make a very effective image.  Lots of other colors exist to entice you.

Other split neutral density filters can add color across most or all of the photo.  A sunset filter works this way. Depending on the manufacturer it is colored red orange to yellow over most or all of its length.  Personally I don’t favor sunset filters.  I believe they give the photo an artificial color hue.

 

Enhancing Filters

For a while I used enhancing filters, but I have avoided them since 2003.  Occasionally they render very useful and remarkable colors, but more often will give strange color shifts.  They often fool the meter by 1/2 stop or more.  Because of this bracketing becomes a defensive behavior with enhancing filters.  Most interesting is that the enhancing filter is perhaps the most controversial in a photographer’s bag.

I was at a workshop in 2003 hosted by two very famous photographers.  Each of the photographs they showed to the class was technically perfect and compositionally wonderful.  They were 8s, 9s, & 10s.  At the workshop each of the students got to show some of their work.  I showed a few of my photographs, some of which are reproduced here.  Most got good reviews.  One caught flak.  I was asked if I had used an enhancing filter.  The answer was yes.  One of the workshop photographers did not approve of enhancing filters because he believed they distort the light and fool the viewer.

This leads me into technical photo arguments, which I do not propose to answer here except by my personal actions.  The workshop leader/ photographer mentioned is well known in landscape and still life.  He has published books, and is an expert in Photoshop.  He knows all the tricks.  He can blend two photographs to make one.  He can extend color range, make masks, fill in blown out portions of film, apply gradients, play with layers, etc., etc.  But he wouldn’t accept enhancing filters.  Everything else seemed to be OK, but enhancers were out of the question.

I have already stated it is preferable to make the best photo you can in the camera before using the computer.  I also feel that for a landscape photographer there should exist a point of truth in each photo.  Thus I try, not always successfully, to use the least amount of computer change or enhancement.  I can’t tell you where this point of truth is because it often boils down to a trade off with art, and that too is what many of us try to do.

But some things are certain and some are compromise.  Whether electronic or manual, digital or film, reality is changed when you shoot a photo.  A photo is often an excellent imitator of reality, but it is not reality.  Furthermore, as time passes our memory of an event fades, but our opinion of the event seems to become more and more firm in our minds.

How does this relate to photography?  It means that as a photographer the light we capture is changed to deceive the viewer and ourselves whether we try to make a deception or not.

That should be very controversial, but it is true.  No matter how we try we are only reproducing a moment in time using the tools and skills we have available.

Let me pick on black and white photography.  I love B&W.  It is considered classic, high art, dramatic, serious, you name it.   Many photographers change from color to B&W as their skills increase.  I am one of them.  If I can render an image in B&W successfully I often prefer it over its original color image.

Yet black & white is pure artifice.   It is artifice because very few things in nature exist in black & white.  Most things exist in color.

It is also artifice because it is recorded with man made devices such as Cameras, film, digital files, etc.  These devices can render a scene very accurately, but not quite perfectly at least not perfectly in regards to our memory of an event.  As I said in the Philosophy opener, the simplest snapshot is a managed slice of time with a particular point of view, all orchestrated by the photographer.

I had another instructor in a different workshop.  He had a totally different philosophy on filters.  He didn’t use them at all.  He didn’t like filters, any filter, and never used them.  He had a very good reason for this.  He was an excellent Ilfachrome printer.  In the darkroom if he wanted more yellow he added yellow pigment.  There was no reason for him to use filters. In the lab he would blend any color he wanted.

I know of other famous photographers who use the enhancing filter and successfully so.  It is part of their bag of tricks.  I even met one fellow, a fellow workshop attendee, who bought 3 different brands of enhancers, went to one place and shot the same photo with each filter to compare results.

What is right is really up to the individual photographer.  There are a few photographs in this book with enhancing filters.  They are mentioned as such in case anyone has a thing about this.  Below I show an enhanced and a non enhanced view of the same scene.  I suggest you look at these.

After all these years the important parts of my field kit has boiled down to camera, lens, skylight or UV filter, circular polarizer, hard and soft edge split neutral density filter, tripod, flash, 18% gray card, 1% spot meter, and remote shutter release.  Oh yes, and something I almost never use, but carry just in case, an enhancing filter.

Why is the enhancer picked on?  My unnamed instructor was right.  For me, at least, I have decided it distorts reality too much, and distorts it more so than other tools used in the field.

Otherwise, the answer about enhancing filters is up to you.

 

    

San Xavier del Bac, AZ.  Left with the enhancing filter, right with no enhancing filter.  Both shot near noon, hand held on the same roll of film.  This is an example where use of the enhancing filter may be a preferable choice.

Grand Canyon looking west in the late afternoon from Pt. Sublime, shot with an enhancing filter.  This examples renders an artificial color.

County Park, Mono Lake.  This is a sunrise photo with an enhancing filter.  The filter has made the color palate very nice, but the colors have become neon, totally artificial, and completely unbelievable.

 

From Film to Digital

Aaron, my eldest son, and I took a trip to Mono Lake in August, 2004.  That was my last big shoot until 2010.  I shot some photos during the intervening years, but never got them developed.  From that trip until August, 2010 I dropped photography because I was too ill, too tight for money, or too busy doing other things.

By 2010 when I was ready to get back in I was unsure of who was left to properly develop my film.  Both of my favorite processors had left the business.  Over that period of time there had been a revolution in photo equipment.  Film had become almost passé while most cameras had become digital.  Photographers weren’t using film, they were using electronic equipment with sensors, and lots of memory.

Digital to computer photo transfer has one benefit that is so great it is a game changer.  It puts a relatively inexpensive first generation image on your computer.  An image on film is a first generation photo.   A print from film is a second generation.  Something is always lost.  Who controls the quality of that print?  If you send it out commercially it is not you, but the lab.

To control the quality you have to scan the film into the computer.  The scan becomes a second generation.  Now you print the photo, but the print is now a third generation.  Contrast and color are often subtly changed from generation to generation.  That is one reason why Photoshop exists, to make 3rd generation scans look like 1st generation prints.  With digital data and computer software you have the potential to make your print look like it just came out of the camera.

That is the exact problem I faced in my first workshop so many years ago.  My transparencies were bright and sharp, but the commercial prints had muddy colors and sometimes the focus was fuzzy.  I began to scan my own transparencies and print from them.  The printing quality improved, but something was still lost.

I changed over to digital because a digital camera offers direct 1st generation transfer to your computer.  The control of your print quality may not be total, but it becomes potentially total.


 

OEM vs. 3rd Party Equipment

When it comes to cameras and lenses this subject was pretty much decided for me back in the 1970s and 80s.  I was shooting with a Nikon & bought a lens made by a well known 3rd party manufacturer.  The lens didn’t fit well on the camera, it was loose and rattled about.  I returned it, but that wasn’t quite the end of the issue for me.  In the 80s I bought a Minolta paired with a 3rdparty lens for my wife.  The lens fit the camera well enough, but the mounting ring was loose to the lens so the lens rattled slightly on the mount ring.  That was the end of the issue for me.

This is not to say 3rd party manufacturers should be avoided.  Many 3rd party manufacturers have excellent reputations and by now I hope bad engineering is a thing of the past.  What I am saying is I do not buy 3rd party equipment and I can offer no hands on experience other than the ones described above.

I will mix brands on tripods and tripod heads.  I have had good luck with many of the major manufacturers of this equipment.  I tend to prefer the type of tripod head that takes a large plate, about 3.125 x 2.375 inches.  This is the type that requires a wrench or nut driver to apply the plate to the camera or lens.  They fit on Fobas, Arca Swiss & others.  These seemed very expensive when I bought them, but they make for a very stable platform.  I cannot state strongly enough the importance of using a solid and stable platform.  If you are using a heavy camera these types of mount will more than pay you back with a solid and stable camera.

I have also found that the small tripod plates that you finger tighten to the camera or lens will slip.  I have them, but I try to avoid using them.

Many filters are made by the camera manufacturer, but here 3rd party manufacturers are as good as the OEM, or actually are the OEM.  I use Singh-Ray for split neutral density filters with the Lee system from Great Britain to mount them.  For screw on filters I use B+H, Tiffen, and Hoya.

 

On Camera Flash Heads

I use these and I have used more complex off camera power supply and umbrella systems.  My advice on these is two fold and very simple: 1) Learn how to use the equipment you have; and 2) Never, never, never leave batteries in your flash (or any other device) when you put them in short or long term storage.

Number 1 should seem obvious enough, everyone should learn how to use the equipment you have.  Strangely enough, most snap shooters and a few photographers I’ve met buy equipment and expect to learn it intuitively.  That may work for some, but not everyone.  Read your manuals & learn them.

The reason for #2 is less obvious to some.  Sometimes AA batteries leak material out of them which will corrode the surrounding metal. If you can catch this when the problem is not too bad it can be cleaned with Scotch Brite pads or other abrasives and your equipment will still be useable.  If left unattended long enough this corrosion or battery acid will eat right through metal rendering it useless.  You pay a lot of money for your equipment!  Take care of it!

 

Digital Noise

You may be saying to yourself if I can shoot at higher ISO speeds then why not do so?  This may be fine for you or it may only be fine in certain situations.  Its all really up to you, but here is a trade off.  It is called digital noise, or image noise, or just noise.  Digital noise is random color information on your photo that varies in brightness.  It is kind of like grain on film except grain is from the emulsion and noise is from the electronic circuitry of the camera.  As the technology gets better I expect the noise will become less and less noticeable.

I have a few photos below to illustrate noise.  All are with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105 f/4 lens, no filter, f/8 aperture, 50mm focal length using the Evaluative metering mode.  The camera is on a tripod triggered by a shutter release.  Lighting is via a Verilux lamp with a 27 watt natural spectrum fluorescent light.  ISO is changed from photo to photo as shown.  The digital file was opened in RAW, not altered, then exported to Photoshop.  In Photoshop the file was changed to a bit depth of 8, the same area was selected for each enlargement then saved as a JPEG file.  Image size was not otherwise changed.  If bit depth was left at 16 then the file could not be exported as a JPEG.

First we have the overall scene, a simple still life, not artsy, but colorful, and definitely underexposed.  All I did was follow the meter, but that will be for another discussion.  When I have time to shoot this again I will, but for now these show the noise and that is what this is all about.

In the still life we have an Economist magazine, the UV filter that normally resides on the lens used for this shot, a pack of gum, some cheap U.S. postage stamps, a roll of ribbon, the manual to my 5D and an Orange County Council BSA shoulder patch.  In case you don’t get the joke look at the koala bear holding a cup of tea then note we were a Quality District (koala tea).

I chose an area to enlarge away from the center of the lens.  The example area is the same in each photo.  I start to see the differences between ISO 640 & 800.  Remember, that is my eye, not yours.  Others may see noise at different ISOs.  The higher ISO photos show the noise best in the green of the camera manual, but noise is still seen elsewhere in the enlargement.

 ISO 100, 1/5th of a second

 ISO 200, 1/10th of a second

 ISO 400, 1/20th of a second

 ISO 640, 1/30th of a second

 ISO 800, 1/40th of a second

 ISO 1600, 1/80th of a second

 ISO 3200, 1/160th of a second

 ISO 6400, 1/320th of a second

Noise kind of reminds me of reciprocity failure in film.  You use a long exposure on film or a high ISO on digital and you get something you may not want.  In either case stretching the technology to the extreme renders a photo, but may render some issues with it.  I doubt this is a valid comparison, but I can’t help thinking of it anyway.


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