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September has a week to go and the New York Tourism Fall Foliage map says that portions of the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains are at the midpoint of change while Long Island has not yet begun to change. The rest of the state is said to be just starting to change.
The towers of the former headquarters of the Delaware & Hudson Railroad (now the central offices of the State University of New York) seemingly rise out of the band of trees that buffer the waterfront from an expressway and a bustling downtown.
The dock at Jennings Landing, with a solitary figure relaxing at the end, floats in what Native Americans called “The River That Flows Both Ways” as it would rise and fall twice each day with the ocean tides. These days the tide ends at the Dam in Troy – 8 to 10 miles upstream of Albany.
The calendar says it is fall but just as Albany is betwixt ocean and mountain – it is also betwixt summer and fall. The oppressive heat and humidity of summer are gone but green still dominates the trees and one does not need a sweater or jacket to stroll along the waterfront.
The photographer with a low budget may look at a macro lens and say “Woa! That’s a bit steep.” There are cheaper alternatives for taking macro or macro like images without the expense of a specialized macro lens. One such option is a set of extension tubes. These tubes fit between your lens and your camera body and make it possible to focus on objects much closer to the lens.
I hear a lot of people trying extension tubes for the first time complain that they can’t get anything in focus. Often this is due to not knowing just how close their lens has to be to the object they want to photograph.
This post outlines a procedure for getting you to a point where you know what the focal range is for any given tube and lens combination. All of the examples shown are with one particular lens and tube set up and should not be taken as the final answer for your lenses, camera, and tubes. You will want to do something similar to this procedure with all of the combinations you want to use in the field.
To start this test I am using a Nikon D300s camera body with a 36mm Vello extension tube and an old Nikon manual lens – specifically a Nikkor 50mm f/2.0 prime lens. Here’s the lens and tube.
For a target I used a ruler with 1/32 inch markings. I placed the ruler on a diagonal to my camera position. I carefully placed the zero end of the ruler on the line that would be the front of my camera lens, and placed the other end of the 16 inch ruler 8 inches from the front of the lens. With this set up I can simply divide any reading I get by 2 to get the actual camera to subject distance.
Here’s the target set up.
Here’s the camera and lens set up to shoot the target.
A word about the front of the lens position. In the first image above you might have noticed that no filter was attached to the lens and that the actual front glass element is recessed some distance into the lens barrel. It is possible to get a small subject into that space but it may be difficult to light it once there and you may have a filter attached. Therefore, for ease of measurement and consistency with what I might encounter in the field, I did all my distance tests relative to the front edge of the lens.
For each lens/tube combination I did four test shots. Two with the lens diaphragm wide open (f/2.0 on this lens) and two with the lens stopped all the way down (f/16.0 with this lens.) Each set of two shots included one with the focus set at infinity and one with the lens focus set as close as it will go.
Starting at f/2.0 and infinity I moved the camera left and right along the base line until I found a ruler mark in focus in the center of the field of view. Without shifting the camera position I changed the f stop to f/16.0. After the infinity set of shots I refocused at the near limit and again moved the camera to find a line in focus and then did the f/2.0 and f/16.0 images.
Here are the resulting images:
f/2.0 at infinity
f/16.0 at infinity
f/2.0 at near focus limit
f/16.0 at near focus limit
Remember that because of the ruler angle all of its readings should be halved. So f/2.0 at infinity for this lens and tube focuses about 3.25 inches away and the depth of field is all of about 1/8 inch. Switching to f/16.0 doesn’t change the focus distance but increases depth of filed to about 1/2 inch. Meanwhile f/2.0 at the near focus limit focuses at about 2.75 inches and has a depth of field only marginally more than f/2.0 at infinity. At this point the astute reader might notice that in the near focus limit examples the focus point is not centered in the field of view and that at f/16.0 the near limit of the depth of field is out of the frame! There are two solutions to this error in shooting. Reshoot with the focus point centered or change the ruler angle to get more of it’s length in the image. If you do the latter be sure to use an angle that will make the math easy!
If you do this test, and find that no matter where you slide the camera, you can’t find anything in focus, you may be using a tube that is too long for the lens. The shorter the focal length of the lens the shorter the tube length that will work. A 36mm tube on an 18mm lens will move the focus point inside of the lens! I would bet that you don’t want to try and position your subject inside the lens |:-)>
This lens, camera, and tube combination has a focus distance from 2.75 inches to 3.25 inches. Yes that all of 1/2 inch! If I put my subject outside of that range and I will never find focus. Depth of filed ranges from 1/8 to 1/2 inch. If my subject is over half an inch long I won’t be able to get all of it in focus. Knowing these limitations makes me better prepared to pick subjects to shoot.
One last example. You might think that if you put your ruler running straight away from the lens that the math is eliminated. Well that presents its own problems.
Something like the above you say.
There is one little stretch of the yard stick in focus – but as you can see, you can’t see the readings! Of course you could always reach out while looking through the viewfinder and put your finger down on the spot in focus. This will work but will not be anywhere near as accurate.
A biting wind, freezing temperatures, and a light – barely perceptible snow forms a haze on the horizon. And winter gives breath to Dylan Thomas –
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Spring will come to the registration desk tonight and find that her room is still occupied.
O.K. the March photo contest theme is “Transition.” I hope you understand my confusion.
Ah Spring! The season of things ephemeral like the pot holes that mark the highway department’s transition from winter plowing to summer repaving. While drivers face the confusion of selecting a safe non-damaging path along the road.
Imagine the confusion of the outdoor person’s closet floor. What footwear can be stored away, what can still be used for awhile longer, what needs to be dug out of winter hiding places. O.K. the skates can go away but I might get another backcountry ski in. The packboots can get stowed unless it snows tomorrow. The bike shoes can come out ….
Now if I could get a person undergoing “Gender Reassignment” to pose – that would be a transition that could provoke discussion.
Nope – I got nothing for this month! What’s up for April?
This post is based on a artists talk at Cohoes Artist Showcase V (CAS-V Friday March 6 & Saturday March 7, 2015).
Georgia O’Keeffe was a twentieth century painter best known for her flowers and southwest landscapes. In many of her canvases the background is a solid color. This isolates the subject from the context that it exists in. The four pieces that I’ve entered in this year’s showcase are a bit of an ‘ommage to Georgia O’Keeffee. All are flower images and all have been isolated. What I want to talk about today is a series of techniques that a photographer can use to accomplish that objective.
Let’s start with the obvious and least technical approach – which actually has a few variations. Only photograph objects that have a solid background.
In these first two images the background was a nearly featureless sky.
Or at least use a background that can be rendered as a fairly solid out of focus area by using a rather shallow depth of field.
Or get close enough to your subject to eliminate any background.
The second technique is to use a solid colored backdrop.
If we pull back the camera a bit you can see the set up that was used for the roses image.
Ah – but what if your subject isn’t as portable as a vase full of rose buds? How about these tulips with the chain link fence, the dead leaves, and the grass behind the fence.
Here are the same tulips 4 years later. In one I slipped a piece of white mat board between the tulips and the fence, in the other I used black mat board. I got tighter to the tulips to reduce the amount of ground clutter that I had to pluck out of the way.
The third technique may seem purely contrived and there will be some that say it’s not “real photography”. But if Georgia O’Keefe can paint her bare canvas with a solid color and then add her flower on top of that because it is “art”, then I say a photographer can use whatever tools are available to create the art image that the photographer desires. Here is a flower shot that I took while wandering around Cohoes one day – I believe it was at Canal Square. I didn’t happen to be carrying a 32 by 40 inch sheet of black mat board so I shot it “as is.”
I then used the paint bucket tool and the clone tool in Photoshop Creative Suite 5 to remove the portions that I did not want in the image. By creating a much higher contrast between the flower and the background the colors of the flower seem more vibrant – the image has more “pop”. I also cleaned up the bit of spider web and few white spots on the petals, but did not try to increase color saturation in the flower. The actual color of the flower does not change from one image to the next.
The fourth and final technique I want to cover is what I like to call controlling the light. If the subject is well lit while the background is in deep shadows – the background will disappear. Most of the time this will be achieved by using artificial light to illuminate the subject – but it can happen naturally too.
I left the top part of the background in this image to point out that there indeed was green vegetation behind the flower. The flower itself was in strong sunlight while the background was in deep shade. Properly exposing for the brightly lit flower caused the background to be a nearly featureless black.
In this next shot despite being tight to the back lit subject, there is a lot of extraneous clutter in the image.
In this next image I’ve closed the drapes to eliminate the back light, switched to a longer lens, moved back, and lit the scene with an off camera flash. As you can see the spill over from the flash is still lighting extraneous objects, including the now dark drapes in the background.
In the next shot I moved the flash more to the side and a bit higher. As you can see, we still have flash spill issues.
In the final shot I’ve lowered the camera position to crop out the table top and other extraneous items.
Or for that matter how much is any piece of art worth. For this essay I’ll stick to photographs – because that’s what I do.
There was a rather well know photographer named Ansel Adams – perhaps you’ve heard of him. He mainly worked with large format cameras using black and white film to photograph landscapes. He spent many hours in the darkroom perfecting his prints. He’s been dead since 1984 but his heirs carry on running his original gallery. They offer reprints and posters of his work. They also buy and sell original Ansel Adams prints. The original prints go for $8,000 to $50,000. Their web site says, “Price is determined by a host of factors, including desirability or demand, scarcity, size, condition, provenance, and connoisseurship. We recommend perusing our section on Collecting Photography for a detailed explanation.”
Nathan Farb is a more contemporary landscape photographer. Nathan also works with a large format camera – but used color film. An unframed, unmatted 11 by 14 inch ultrachrome print starts at $475. For Cibachrome prints he says, “Please contact me for pricing information.” He sells posters starting at $100.
Carl Heilman is also a landscape photographer. Carl started out working with 35mm film camera and now does a lot of work with digital cameras. He has “Archival Quality Inkjet Prints” – a 12 by 18 inch print starts at $190. Framing and matting adds $225. Shipping depends on size and where it’s being shipped. Carl also has posters which start at $95 for an 18 by 24 inch poster. If you want Carl to frame and matt that poster – it’s the same add on as framing and matting the archival quality inkjet print.
If I put equal sized prints from all three side by side – well Ansels would stand out as they are black and white – but the uninformed viewer would be hard put to see substantial differences in quality. So what makes for the difference in price? In a word “Reputation.”
Well, I certainly am not so vain as to think that my work is in league with any of these fellows. They’ve each spent a lifetime working solely at photography while I worked at an office job to support my family and dabbled in photography. I have worked hard to improve the quality of my work. I have studied the work of the giants to learn what and how it works. I have spent not an inconsiderable amount on material and equipment to produce images that others may enjoy and that will last more than a few months hanging on your wall.
So, lacking an established reputation to drive my prices, how do I determine what is a fair price for my work.
Let’s take a trio of images I recently displayed at a juried art show. They were all captured during a weeklong trip to Acadia National Park. I was there to attend a photo workshop conducted by Carl Heilman. During that workshop we usually met in the parking lot some time before 4am so we could drive to a good location to capture sunrise shots. We returned to the college we were using as a base of operations for breakfast and classroom work until lunch. After lunch we were on our own until dinner. We dined together and then headed out for field work until a good hour after dark. By the time we got back to our rooms it was after 10pm. I quickly downloaded the days shooting to my computer so that I could have something for the next day’s critique session in the classroom. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for sleeping. I only point this out to say the trip wasn’t a “lay on the beach and take a few chance photos” vacation. It was work! I selected three images to enter and paid my $15 jury fee. I was lucky and all three images were selected for the show. I didn’t print them in advance as there was no guarantee that they would be selected. Once selected I made 12 by 18 inch prints on my archival quality inkjet printer. The paper they were printed on goes for $2 a sheet. The metal pigmented ink that the printer uses is $16 per cartridge and the printer has 8 cartridges. It’s difficult to exactly calculate the cost of ink as the amount of each color used varies from image to image. On average I estimate I use about $8 of ink per print. A sheet of 24 by 36 inch matt board from Michaels was $7.99. Half of the board was used as a backing and half for the surface matt. I found 18 by 24 inch frames at Michaels for $39.99 each. Luckily they were on sale – on a buy one get one free basis. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I unwrapped the frames to use them that I discovered that instead of glass they used Plexiglas in the frames. I printed the images. One had to be reprinted due to a printer hiccup during printing (there’s $10 in the trash can). I cut the mats and used 3M spray photo mount glue to attach the prints to their backing boards. I attached “D rings” and a hanging wire to the back as required by the show organizers. It was a full day’s worth of work to do the printing and framing.
When I had submitted my entry forms for the show I said the price for each was $150. Once framed and ready to hang I was willing to drop that price because of the use of Plexiglas in the frames. I got quite a few compliments on the work and one person that was very interested in one work – until he asked the price. Then it was, “Well, I have to talk to my wife.”
You could argue that the laws of supply and demand should set the price and that his walking away was an indication that there is insufficient demand for art priced at $150 in my local market. That may be true and I have little argument to counter that except – suppose I gave the gentleman a high resolution color corrected image file. If he wants the image to hang this on his wall – to be reminded of a moment of pleasure in a beautiful location, or to be inspired by natural beauty, or just to set a tone for a room where he might entertain guests. Well then he is not going to take the file to Walmart and get a cheap print that may not hold up or even be accurately printed. If he takes it to a professional photo printing business, say McGreevy Prolab in Albany. They offer what they call Giclée Prints – which is just a fancy French word for high-end inkjet prints and is the closest to what I print at home. The price for this type of print is charged by the square inch. A one off 12 by 18 inch print is $39.88. With print in hand he could drive over to Michaels and visit their custom framing shop. It will be around $400 for the cheapest frame and matt available. Suddenly my original $150 is starting to seem quite reasonable. The fact that both of these businesses exist and appear to be healthy in my local market also calls into question the assertion that there is insufficient demand. It would seem then that at the low end of the art market, there is a lack of understanding of the cost of producing the works of art. You’ll notice that I have not factored in the cost of equipment and software. To do so would require trying to figure out what a reasonable life expectancy for those tools is and how much of the tool life is used for purely personal images. I have also not tried to include my own labor. Some images do not consume much in the way of time – other images only come to life with hours of computer time spent on refining. Some images are quickly captured in the field. One image of a Heron capturing and eating a fish required my standing and staring through my view finder for nearly an hour as the bird waded in the shallows of a pond fishing. What is the time of a trained photographer worth – minimum wage, $30 per hour, $100 per hour, more?
I started by asking, “How much is that photograph worth?” Worth being a key word in the question. The discussion lead to a description of “cost.” So let’s talk for a moment about value versus cost. Truly, value is driven by market forces. Ansel Adams’ original works fetch between $8,000 and $50,000 not because of the cost of production but because of the value placed on them by upscale patrons of the arts. There are enough wealthy people desiring Ansel Adams works to inflate the price well above the cost. Nathan Farb also has enough of a following to support fair prices – more than likely prices that earn him enough to live comfortably, but that’s a question you’d have to ask him. There are no wealthy patrons seeking out works by Dave Koschnick – so my prices are driven mostly by material costs. If I sold that one image for $150 at the show, I would have gone home with the other two in hopes that I might sell them at another time. But in the short term would have not quite covered what was laid out to be in the show. Fellow artists tell me I sell too cheaply. That when I set my prices low I attract only customers who do not appreciate the value of my art. On the other side, I ask myself – if I can’t sell it for $150 in this market what makes me think I can suddenly sell it for the $250 they suggest.
In a final bit or irony, a few years back a co-worker saw a print that she loved and wanted to buy for her husband as an anniversary present. As it was printed at a size that didn’t fit over the counter mats and frames I ended up cutting a mat and framing it for her. She was a friend and I just charged the $75 I put into the project. When her husband opened the gift, the conservation went something like this:
“You spent too much.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did.”
“It wasn’t that much”
“I know what Nathan Farb goes for.”
I’m flattered that he mistook a Dave Koschnick for a Nathan Farb – but it doesn’t get me any closer to selling art at a fair price.
Many articles on landscape photography extol the virtues of the wide angle lens. Among those virtues, we are told, they have great depth of field and allow the photographer to capture broad expanses as well.
In this post we will study one example of effectively using much longer lenses. Among the features I find useful is the ability to select and isolate subjects from their surroundings. I also like the spatial compression they create. For example a subject 100 yards away, with a background another 100 yards beyond that when photographed using a 500mm lens on a 35mm full frame camera would likely seem to be much closer together. The lens and sensor in this example would be similar to looking at the subject through a 10 power telescope so the subject would appear to be 10 yards away and the background would appear to be 20 yards away. A side effect of this property is the steepening of slopes. Take a close-up photograph a flower with a mountain ridge a mile behind it using a wide angle lens and the ridge will appear much flatter than it is. Back up and use a longer lens and the ridge will get steeper – but may end up out of focus due to the shallower depth of field of the long lens.
All of the photos used in the post were shot with either a Nikon D70 or a Nikon D200. Both are digital SLR type cameras with APS-C sensor size. All of the lenses used were zoom lenses. Since we are only interested in the relative effect of long versus wide lenses I will not give all the details of each lens and exposure. Neither will I calculate the equivalent focal length that would be needed for the same field of view on a full frame 35mm camera. I leave that to you!
The subject of the photos is a Church on Van Schaick Island in Cohoes, New York. Our first image is close enough to the church that we need a wide angle to get the whole building into the frame. The second and third images are within a few blocks of the church and show that it is in an urban neighborhood. The last two images are from 0.78 miles (1.26 km) away. One is shot with a wide angle and shows what we’re shooting across and isolating our church from. The last image is shot with a 500mm lens through a chain link fence (which degraded the sharpness a bit). In it a distant hill – about a mile behind the church, across the Hudson River and all of North Troy – is made to look like it is directly behind the church. In this image we have not only isolated the church but have changed the appearance of its location from urban to rural!
A couple of days ago somebody asked me about photos with light as a theme. Of course I quipped that all photography is about light. But then my mind pulled up an image from decades ago. I vaguely remember seeing it in a photography magazine back in the early to mid-1970s. It was either Popular Photography or maybe Petersons Photographic. The image was of a young man in an overstuffed chair with a light bulb where his head should have been. The article detailed how the shot was achieved – in camera. Briefly – a camera loaded with daylight balanced color slide film was mounted on a tripod and a neutral density filter was attached to the lens. I seem to recall that the exposure was on the order of 2 minutes. The subject kept his body as still as possible but continuously rolled his head during the exposure. An un-shaded lamp was behind his head. Rolling his head revealed the lamp bulb while also keeping his head from registering on the film. The end result was a warm, almost golden, image of a rather surreal scene.
So I decided to see if I could quickly and easily make a similar image without resorting to layering multiple images in Photoshop.
I decided to sit at my dining room table so I could have something to rest my arms on. I put a small folding table behind the chair and went hunting for an appropriate lamp. Instead of an incandescent bulb lamp I used a desk lamp with a daylight balanced, four tube, fluorescent bulb. I positioned the lamp so that the head was aimed squarely at the back of my head. I mounted my Nikon D300s on a tripod and framed the image area carefully cropping out extraneous items. This resulted in a focal length of 40mm on mu 18 – 70 mm zoom. With the lamp off I did a test exposure. I set the ISO as low as it would go at 100. I stopped down to f 29 and exposed for 30 seconds. Thirty seconds is the longest shutter speed I could get without having to use a cable release. I turned the lamp on and used the camera self-timer to get enough time to get around the table and into position before the shutter opened. I rolled my head quite rapidly to try to minimize any portion of it being visible in the image. I was quite dizzy when the shutter finally closed. Of course most of my friends would tell you I was dizzy long before trying to take this image |:-)>
Looking at the finished product, clearly, my effort is nowhere near as elegant as the one I remember. That’s not to say the experiment was a total failure. I did get a surreal image with little or no effort. I like the weird multiple lens diaphragm ghosts.
I think there a number of improvements I can easily make. My remote release is not working and it’s time to invest in a better release that will let me do longer exposures. A longer exposure coupled with using a more limber model will help to get rid of the unwanted blur of the shoulders and hands on the table. I will also look around the house and find a better light source. The lamp I used was too bright. Something with an incandescent bulb and maybe a dimmer should work better. I think the better approach would be to experiment with photographing a lit bulb until I find something that will allow me to get an image of the bulb without it being totally washed out, as in this image. Once I get that exposure I can light the front of the subject with something other than a flash if necessary to balance the exposure. Using a flash would freeze the head motion so we don’t want that. I’d say check back here later – but at my current pace it will probably be a month or two!