Evening Drama

Here’s another simple but effective way to capture a very high contrast image without resorting to HDR techniques. Not that I have anything serious against HDR, but I find it very rewarding to be able to capture a shot like this “in camera”.

Yes, I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy but hey, I earned every one of those gray hairs.

Evening Drama

Evening Drama – Johnson City, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 19mm, f/16 for 1/6th of a second at ISO 200 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Evening Drama – Johnson City, Texas

How to Get this Type of Shot
The key to getting this type of shot is to recognize that the dynamic range of this scene is well beyond what your camera’s metering system can handle. In fact, the dark-to-light-to-dark pattern found in this scene is sure to fool your camera’s meter most of the time.

  • For Canon shooters this type of situation call for enabling your camera’s Highlight Tone Priority setting which “shifts” the sensor’s response curve (dynamic range) so that gradations between highlight tones become smoother. It also helps recover blown-out highlights as you can see in the center of this shot. You should always have your camera’s highlight warning (blinkies) turned on as well.
  • Another key is to use a graduated neutral density filter to “even out” the exposure values between the foreground, middle ground and background. I prefer to hand-hold Singh-Ray’s “soft” graduated ND filters and move them slightly during the exposure to obtain an even softer transition. Yes, this may create some dark areas in your image that need some post-capture work since an ND-Grad filter won’t follow the broken shape of your scene’s horizon.
  • The final key is to slightly underexpose this type of shot to add drama to the clouds and add saturation to the colors in the scene. If you overexpose a shot like this the highlights will be completely blown out and all the detail will be lost forever. No amount of post-capture processing can recover blown out highlights because there is simply no data to recover. I generally underexpose a shot like this about two-thirds of a stop to prevent this from happening.

Once you learn to recognize a difficult lighting situation like this, you’re halfway there to capturing a shot you’ll be proud of. Don’t get discouraged if this takes some practice. I took over 30 shots of this scene before I got the “one” that I liked enough to print. The other 29 ended up on the cutting room floor (metaphorically speaking of course).

Pedernales Falls Sunset

Pedernales Falls State Park is one of my favorite spots in all of Texas. Its unique geological structure, colorful foliage and shear size make it a target rich environment for landscape photographers. You could spend weeks exploring each tier of the falls and never see the same thing two days in a row. The water level varies greatly depending upon how much rainfall the area has gotten and this section of the river is prone to flash floods.

My favorite times of year to visit is in the early spring and the late fall when the sunrise and sunset are aligned with the top of the falls. As you can see in this image, the clouds at sunset can be spectacular.

Pedernales Falls at Sunset

Pedernales Falls at Sunset – Johnson City, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/16 for 1/2 second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Pedernales Falls at Sunset – Johnson City, Texas

Why Megapixels Really Do Matter

When I teach my workshops or speak in front of groups of serious amateur photographers, I love to shake things up a little bit, just to get folks thinking “outside the box”. I’ll often start out with a statement like “there is only one reason for someone other than a working professional to own a 21 megapixel camera and it’s because size really does matter”. It’s fun to see the men in the class sit up just a bit straighter after making a statement like that and the women blush slightly.

Of course I’m talking about megapixels here. Quite honestly, any camera with a 10 megapixel can take shots that can be printed up to 24″ x 36″ without any special processing and still look great. What you get with the very high megapixel sensors like that found in the Canon 5D Mark II or the Nikon D3X is incredible flexibility in cropping your image in a number of different ways without loosing significant resolution.

5D2 Cropped Image

Take the shot above for example. The original capture was a normal 2 x 3 ratio landscape orientation shot with the crescent moon in the far left of the scene. The evening I took this image the light was fading fast and I wasn’t able to recompose for a vertical shot as I would have liked. Upon reviewing the image in Lightroom, I felt that a tight vertical crop balancing the crescent moon and the “wave” of the land would look better in print and the 21 megapixel sensor in the Canon 5D2 allowed me to create the final image with plenty of resolution to spare.

A few years ago, only the high-end professional sports or fashion shooter could afford a 18 or 21 MP camera. Today, this technology has become very affordable in the Canon 1D Mark IV (16MP – $5000), the Canon 5D Mark II (21MP – $2500), the Canon 7D (18MP – $1500) and the Canon 60D (18MP – $1000) cameras. Everyone from a working pro to the advanced amateur or serious hobbyist can benefit from the continuing megapixel race and don’t let anyone tell you different. It is a race that both Canon and Nikon aim to win.

And before you start flaming me on this issue remember this; as technology continues to advance we can look forward to even higher resolution sensors that not only produce less digital noise but which also extend the dynamic range they are capable of capturing. These advances in technology are fueled in no small part by the megapixel race we all write about with such disdain. Advances in new technology often come directly from a competitive marketplace where companies “race” to gain market share. I for one, hope the “race” for a better sensor continues for years to come.

Crescent Moon

Crescent Moon – Kingsland, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 97mm, f/8 for 8 seconds at ISO 100. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Crescent Moon – Kingsland, Texas

Monument

If you’re like me, you grew up watching reruns of black & white westerns from the late 50′s and early 60′s and couldn’t get enough of the “old west”. Movies like High Noon with Gary Copper and Grace Kelly and television shows like The Rifleman with Chuck Conners were how many of us spent our Saturday afternoon when the chores were done.

My favorites were the John Ford westerns shot in Monument Valley, Utah. I just couldn’t get enough of movies like Fort Apache, Rio Grande, The Searchers and Cheyenne Autumn and I fell in love with the rugged landscape of the old west. John Ford’s westerns created an entire generation of kids longing for the wide open spaces in those old films and I guess that’s why I can’t seem to get enough of the Texas plains and canyons.

BTW – The remake of the 1969 hit True Grit starring Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn is scheduled for release this December.

Monument

Monument – Silverton, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 40mm, f/16 for 1/50th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Monument – Silverton, Texas

Hiking Gorman Falls

Here’s a shot of Gorman Falls taken at the end of another great hike in the Texas Hill Country. Colorado Bend State Park near Lampasas, Texas is one of the most pristine and primitive parks in Texas. It’s deep in the heart of the Hill Country right next to a large “bend” in the Colorado River. I could spend hours trying to describe the beauty of the falls for you but instead I’ll let this one shot and the writing of historian Jack Mathews, tell the story better than I ever could.

The following excerpt is used by permission of the author.

Gorman Falls is located in San Saba County, along the Colorado River, downstream from Bend, Texas, and above Lake Buchanan.  Since 1984, Gorman Falls has been managed, fortunately, by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. An artesian spring, ejecting about three-hundred gallons a minute, provide hand-cramping cold water for the falls. The spring is about one-quarter of a mile up from the falls. 

The sound of the waterfall is loud, a low roar, back down by the cliffs, as you walk under a canopy of sycamores, cottonwoods, and pecan trees that give shade,  plunging the ambient temperature ten degrees or more.  The temperature change is so vivid, it is like opening the refrigerator in the house after working outside in the heat.  It is no wonder that the Comanche, the working cowboys of the Gorman and Lemons Ranches, planned their day to be close to the falls when toil eased at mid-day or stopped in the evening, so that the cool air and artesian water might ease their muscles or give good medicine to the tribe.

I know of these things, maybe not the Comanche camp, by listening to my grandmother who tended the chuck wagon for her husband who managed cattle for the ranches.  My grandmother, Effie, took me to the falls many times, always pointing out on the downhill slope to Gorman Falls, “That’s where we camped and set up the wagon, built a fire right there.”  And, I would look and see bleached rocks and junipers, a clearing in the trees, and, yes, the remnants of a fire, her fire, many layers below.

I thought of the cowboys who herded cattle, sitting down and eating beans, cornbread, and beef that my grandmother cooked.  She was not that tough of a woman, of a person, to fix grub on the ranches, but she did.  She followed my grandfather because she loved him and would cook for him and his pardners, as they tended cattle in the blazing hot, anvil-hard earth, Texas sun.  Gorman Falls, with its cool, artesian water, was Beulah land, paradise, relief beyond belief, for them, for me.

Gorman Falls

Gorman Falls – Bend, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/16 for 2.5 seconds at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray Vari-ND-Duo filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Gorman Falls – Bend, Texas

Hiking Caprock Canyons State Park

I’m planning my next trip to the Texas panhandle and looking forward to hiking some of the great trails in Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway near Quitaque, Texas. Caprock Canyons State Park is one of the most colorful sections of the vast canyon lands in the panhandle. The trails in and around the park are rugged and steep, but well worth the climb. My favorite section is the Haynes Ridge trail which overlooks the entire canyon. The climb is not for the faint of heart however. To get to the best spots to shoot from you’ll ascend over 600 feet and hike about 3 miles.

I’ll be hiking it with a very experienced friend who’s in the middle of making me a custom backpack to carry my camera, lenses, lots of water and my tripod. I’ve tried dozens of packs in the past from light-weight climbing packs with no frame whatsoever to photo-packs with more padding than I’ll ever want to carry. I’ve never been satisfied at the design of any pack except Moose Peterson’s MP-7, which comes closer to my ideal than any other I’ve tried.

My friend Jack is an accomplished hiker and something of a “Renaissance Man”, having lived on his own for past 50+ years. He can tear down an engine, repair an oil well, cook a mean bowl of Texas chili and design and fabricate (sew) a custom backpack. A few months ago I laid out my normal landscape “kit” including camera, lenses, filters, tripod, water, food, GPS, torch and first aid kit, and asked Jack to design and fabricate a custom pack to hold all this in the absolute minimum of space. I showed him what I liked about the MP-7 pack (nice design, quality materials, small footprint, etc.) and what I didn’t (3″ too thick, can’t carry 2 liters of water, waisted space) and Jack went to work.

By the end of next week the pack will be complete and I’ll post some shots of the exterior, interior and load-out. I think this pack will really strike a cord with landscape and nature photographers that hike significant distances to get the best shots. We’ll be giving this pack a thorough workout at Caprock Canyons, Tule Canyon and Palo Duro Canyon just as soon as the colors begin to change in the Texas panhandle. We’ll be using the G10 and 5D2 to film this trip so I hope to have some video to go along with our stills, so stay tuned. . . .

Hiking Caprock Canyons

Hiking Caprock Canyons – Quitaque, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 29mm, f/16 for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Hiking Caprock Canyons – Quitaque, Texas

The Long & Winding Road

It’s been a wet and rainy few weeks here in southeast Texas, something that we rarely get to experience with our 300+ days of sunshine each year. Time to work around the house, pay the bills, read a good eBook and generally go into stasis until the weather improves. I have no idea how my friends in the Pacific Northwest deal with this. The thought of year-round rain is enough to send me over the edge.

But then I begin to think in black & white, remembering my beginnings in this craft and how much simpler life was when your toughest choice was Pan-X, Plus-X or Tri-X. Photography (and life in general) was simpler back then. We bought a few rolls of film, shot a few frames and developed & enlarged our own work in the darkroom. Hours spent elbows deep in sodium thiosulfate (fixer), wet printing our negatives because we were too impatient to let them dry. Dodging and burning in each print until we got just the right “look”. Ah, the good life!

Honestly folks, I wouldn’t go back to shooting film and doing my own “wet work” for all the tea in China. Using Lightroom 3 and Nik’s Silver Efex Pro saves me time, money and my sanity. What used to take hours and hours in the darkroom now takes only a few minutes in Lightroom. Need a wee bit more overall contrast? Click, Click. No problem! Want to see what a orange filter would have added to the scene? Click, Click. Go for it! Want to throw it all away and start over with a fresh perspective? Create a virtual copy and let her rip!

Nope. I’m perfectly content living in the 21st century. I’m sure Ansel wouldn’t fully approve but then again, maybe he would!

Long & Winding Road

Long & Winding Road – Canyon, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/16 for 1/10th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Long & Winding Road – Canyon, Texas

Comparing the Canon G10, G11 and G12

Canon Powershot G10Canon Powershot G11Canon Powershot G12

All product photographs courtesy & copyright Canon.

As most of you know by now, Canon has introduced a new “G” series model, the PowerShot G12 to replace their flagship model the G11 as well as the highly successful G10. In the coming weeks there will be reviews galore posted on the various industry watching blogs with in depth discussions of this new model’s features and benefits. Folks that recently purchased the G11 will start to feel “buyers remorse” and “upgraders envy” over the perceived differences between their G11 and the new G12. The amount of forum traffic on DPReview.com will climb as folks begin to post their rants and raves about this new camera.

To help cut through some of the rhetoric I thought I’d post a quick and dirty comparison of the G10, G11 and G12 cameras based upon the information currently available. Right off the bat let me state that this comparison is from a still photographer’s perspective only. The video capabilities of both cameras are very cool but beyond my area of expertise.

G12 Features
High-sensitivity 10 Megapixel CCD
28mm wide, 5x zoom lens, Hybrid IS
HS System
7.0 cm (2.8″) Vari-Angle LCD, Electronic Level, OVF
ISO capabilities from 100-12,800, with expansion
Front Dial, Full Manual control & Multi-Control Dial
RAW shooting
HD movies, HDMI
High Dynamic Range mode
Smart Auto mode
Multi-Aspect Shooting
FA-DC58B lens filter adapter (Watch out Lensmate)

Sensor:
According to Canon, the G12 includes Canon’s new “HS” system – a combination of a high-sensitivity 10.0 Megapixel CCD sensor and powerful DIGIC 4 processing, which delivers exceptional low light performance. They claim it enables the camera to support a maximum ISO of 3200 at full resolution and works to reduce the occurrence of noise at all ISO speeds for high quality images. Users can also set their own parameters in Auto ISO mode, with the ability to limit the maximum ISO speed they want to employ during shooting.

ISO:
G10 – AUTO, High ISO Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
G11 – AUTO, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
G12 – AUTO, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500, 3200

Pixels:
G10 – 14.7 MP
G11 – 10.0 MP
G12 – 10.0 MP

Image Stabilization
According to Canon, the G12 now uses their latest “Hybrid IS” system which corrects both angular (rotational movement) and shift shake (linear shake). The “Hybrid IS” system moves the lens elements to compensate for both types of movement – enhancing the effectiveness of the optical Image Stabilizer during macro shooting.

Processor: Same (DIGIC 4)
Lens: Same
Focusing: Same
Exposure Control: Same
Shutter: Same
White Balance: Same
Viewfinder: Same

LCD:
G10 – Fixed 3.0″ PureColor LCD II, 461,000 dots
G11 – Vari-angle 2.8″ PureColor LCD II, 461,000 dots
G12 – Vari-angle 2.8″ PureColor LCD II, 461,000 dot

Maximum Image Size:
G10 – 4416 x 3312
G11 – 3648 x 2736
G12 – 3648 x 2736

Interface:
G10 – A/V Out
G11 – HDMI, A/V Out
G12 – HDMI, A/V Out

Flash Sync:
G10 – 1/500th
G11 – 1/2000th
G12 – 1/2000th

Continuous Shooting:
G10 – 0.7 fps
G11 – 1.1 fps
G12 – 4.2 fps (Wow!)

Conclusions:
Honestly, it looks like there are really only four significant differences between the Powershot G12 and it’s predecessor the G11; the Hybrid IS system, the High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode, the ISO expansion capabilities and the 4.2 fps continuous shooting mode.

  • If you plan to use the G12 as a travel camera, anything that provides a sharper hand-held image like Canon’s “Hybrid IS” is a huge plus in my book.
  • Since I’m not into HDR photography, I’ll leave this new “in camera” HDR feature for others to comment on.
  • I’m unimpressed with the ISO expansion capabilities in this camera. Pushing a penny-sized CCD sensor to ISO 3200 and above usually results in very noisy and grainy images. I’ll reserve judgment until I can test the G12 at ISO 1600 and 3200 but I’m not too hopeful.
  • However, if Canon’s claim of 4.2 frames per second is correct, we’ve finally seen a P&S camera that can be used for action shots. This could be Canon’s “killer feature” and a significant reason to upgrade.

Some Final Thoughts:
I think the Powershot “G” series are superb cameras capable of delivering exception results under the right conditions. I do think that Canon has done the right thing in concentrating on improving the sensor in these cameras, rather than on just adding more megapixels with each new model.

I look at the G12 as an incremental release. Nothing earth shattering but some nice new features which build upon what’s available in the G11. I can’t see many G11 owners rushing out to buy a G12 but for folks looking at a high end P&S camera for the first time, its a great choice.

The real question is whether the G12 can beat the new Nikon Coolpix P7000 in image quality. I’m sure Nikon has had just about enough of folks buying a D3 or D700 as their “primary” camera and a Canon G10 or G11 as their “travel” camera.

But that’s a post for another time!