A Tale of Two Images

I posted these two landscape images in the dpreview.com’s Canon SLR Lens Talk forum as I usually do each week and had an interesting comment come back. I had labelled my images with “Just a quick comparison to show that even a ‘point & shoot’ can take nice landscape images” and got a response back stating “it mostly demonstrates the post-processing work done. these sort of ‘comparison’ pictures should not be post-processed otherwise its not really a ‘fair’ test.”

Actually both of these images were taken only minutes apart under the same lighting conditions from the same tripod location. I intentionally chose to process them in Adobe Lightroom using the same “settings” so I could compare the results.

Well, that comment got me thinking about some of the misconceptions folks have about how digital photography really works and I decided to write up a short post that I hope clarifies some of these issues.

Lower McKinney Falls G10

Lower McKinney Falls (G10) – Austin, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon Powershot G10 set on full manual mode and tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 25mm, f/7.1 for 2 seconds using the built-in neutral density filter at ISO 80 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Lower McKinney Falls 5D2

Lower McKinney Falls (5D2) – Austin, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on full manual using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 105mm, f/13 for 13 seconds at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray Vari-ND-Duo neutral density and warming polarizer filter. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Analog vs. Digital
We use our sense of sight to perceive the world in which we live in an “analog” fashion. In the “old days” SLR cameras recorded this analog impression on film to create a negative. Today, our DSLR cameras do the same thing by converting this analog impression (photons hitting a CMOS sensor) to a digital “RAW” format. This file format is then stored on your DSLR’s CF or SDHC memory card.

The Digital Negative
Just as a film negative is not the final printed image, a “RAW” file is not a viewable or printable format like a JPEG or TIFF image is. The term “RAW” means that this file stores information directly coming from the sensor, almost without processing. The RAW file contains all the information about the image including each primary color (Red, Green or Blue) recorded in 14bit, lossless compression. It’s a lot of information, but it’s not the photograph.

The Camera’s LCD
When you review an image on your camera’s rear LCD, you are NOT looking at the RAW file. You are looking at a JPEG image created by your camera’s internal processor from the RAW data using a predetermined set of processing choices.

Post-Capture RAW Processing
The same is true when you import your RAW files into Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. The previews are JPEG images created by the software for you to review “prior” to making your explicit processing decisions. That’s why these initial previews look so “flat” and “lifeless”. That’s also why the previews from Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom will look so different from the previews presented by Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional. Each piece of software “interprets” the RAW information a little differently when creating the initial preview.

Let me be very clear on this; you can’t “see” or “print” a RAW file. You can only “see” or “print” a RAW file that has been “processed” into a JPEG or TIFF image. The choices on how you process your RAW files are purely subjective and the final image does not and can not accurately represent what you saw with your own eyes. No camera made can capture the same resolution or tonal gradations that the human eye can. And no software program today can convert that information captured into a static image which accurately represents what you “saw”.

The Bottom Line
All we can do as photographers is to attempt to process our RAW files into JPEG or TIFF images that capture a tiny bit of the emotions we felt when we took the shot. The post-capture processing decisions we make on exposure, contrast, black-point, hue, saturation, luminance, sharpening and noise reduction are our personal choices used to create what we hope will be a compelling image. So the next time someone says “Nice shot but show me the RAW file” just smile politely and tell them to go to hell under your breath.

BTW – If you really want to know what a Canon RAW file contains, checkout this link: http://lclevy.free.fr/cr2/

Rock of Ages

I’m dedicating this week’s posts and images to my friends in “The Great White North”, which looking at the current weather report, is anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line. It looks like you folks are in for some darn cold temperatures and a whole lot of SNOW later this week. We had a couple of inches of snow a few weeks ago and that was plenty for me. I honestly don’t know how I ever survived in the suburbs of Chicago and Philadelphia all those years ago.

So here’s to you my friends. Summertime in Texas!

Rock of Ages – Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand-held. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/8 for 1/125th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Weekend Gear Updates

Canon has released a firmware update for the EOS 5D Mark II but not the long awaited 24 fps video. According to Canon this minor firmware update fixes the following issues.

EOS 5D Mark II Firmware Update Version 1.2.4

  • Supports the WFT-E4 II wireless file transmitter that was released in December 2009.
  • This firmware update corrects a phenomenon that if the [C.Fn II-1 Long exposure noise reduction] setting is set to [2: On], noise may appear in images that are captured while the previous image is still being generated.

 

Adobe has also released some updates recently. Camera Raw 5.6 and Lightroom 2.6 are now available on Adobe’s support site. These two updates add support for the latest camera models like the EOS 7D and Powershot G11.

Adobe Camera Raw 5.6Adobe Camera Raw 5.6

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.6

 

Gear Friday – Powering your Speedlites


I’m a strong believer in David Hobby’s “Strobist” techniques and Kirk Tuck’s “minimalist” lighting philosophy as detailed in his best-selling book Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography. Back in the late 70’s I dabbled in this with very little success using Vivitar Thyristor 285 strobes, which strangely enough, some folks still use today.

As a Canon shooter I use Canon’s 580EX II Speedlites for all my product (and now) commercial photography work. Although not as sophisticated as Nikon’s SB900 and CLS (creative lighting system), Canon’s Speedlites work very well in the field with one exception; they suck batteries dry at a furious pace.

I solved this issue by switching to Sanyo’s Eneloop rechargeable batteries as I described in my post earlier this week and by using Canon’s CP-E4 battery pack as shown below. The CP-E4 holds eight AA size batteries and when plugged into the 580EX II Speedlite, it more than doubles the flash capacity and reduces the recycle time considerably.

When using the CP-E4, the four batteries already in the Speedlite are used to control the strobe and the eight external batteries are used to power the strobe. This separation of power seems to work very well and I’ve taken several hundred shots without draining the battery pack. My only complaint about this setup is the cost. Canon charges around $135 (USD) for their CP-E4 battery pack although you can find after-market packs for around half this price.

Strange Rocks at McKinney Falls

Here’s another shot taken a few weeks ago at McKinney Falls State Park in Austin. This shot of the upper falls shows just how powerful the flow of water can be over thousands or even millions of years. The crevices cut into the rock are large enough to fall through and I had a tough time just setting up my tripod without slipping on the strange wet rocks.

Strange Rocks

Strange Rocks – McKinney Falls State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual (M) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 40mm, f/16 for 5 seconds at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray Vari-ND-Duo neutral density and warming polarizer filter. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Photo-Hiking in the Hill Country

Hill Country Hiking – Bandera, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual (M) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand-held. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/11 for 1/30th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Photo-Hiking around the Texas Hill Country on a cool autumn day is a treat for the senses and a workout for your legs. The hiking trails in this part of the state go on for miles and miles with switchbacks around every corner.

Garmin Dakota 20 GPSIt’s easy to become disoriented and the park trail maps are fairly worthless for the most part. That’s why there are three things that a photographer should bring on any photo-hike.

  • Plenty of Water
  • A Good Compass
  • A Mapping GPS

The Garmin Dakota 20 is a new model based upon Garmin’s proven Oregon design. This rugged little GPS combines touchscreen navigation, high-sensitivity satellite prediction, barometric altimeter, 3-axis electronic compass and microSD slot in an affordable ($349 USD) package. It also boasts 20 hours of battery life (2 AA cells) which beats the Oregon models by four hours.

Detailed topo maps are available from Garmin or on the Internet for almost every part of the globe. Some folks have even mapped out all the best photographic spots in a certain National or State Park and offer these tracks for free or for sale at very little cost. Now I’m no GPS expert but after using the Dakota 20 for navigation and geotagging my images a few times I can’t imagine going on a photo-hike without it.

Water

Here’s another shot taken during the Texas Landscape Safari at our first shoot in the Colorado Bend State Park near Lampasas, Texas. The geology of the area is fascinating and looks as if it belongs in Hawaii, rather than some remote corner of Texas. Each time I visit, Gorman Falls looks different (depending upon the flow from the springs) and offers unique photographic opportunities. This is one spot that I never tire of visiting.

Water – Colorado Bend State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 35mm, f/14 for 1 second using a Singh-Ray Vari-ND-Duo neutral density filter at ISO 100. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Simple Landscape Composition Rules

I hesitate to write this post since there are about as many rules of composition as there are photographers and the best landscape images I’ve ever seen break these rules with impunity. It’s hard to describe what makes the composition of a certain image “work” for me and I rarely follow the “rule of thirds”. For me it’s more a feeling of “rightness” than anything else, although I do tend to follow Moose Peterson’s advice; “Regardless of where the horizon is, a good landscape image needs an interesting foreground, middle-ground and background to pull the viewer into the image”.

Take this image for example. I walked around this small lake at Buescher State Park in Smithville, Texas looking for different shots to capture. The late afternoon light was almost perfect and the still lake reflected the autumn colors beautifully. The reflections in the water made a wonderful foreground with the trees providing the key subject of the middle-ground and the high, thin clouds providing a striking background. I used the tree branches on the left to add some framing to the image.

Picture Perfect – Buescher State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual (M) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand-held. The exposure was taken at 47mm, f/16 for 1/10th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.