A, perhaps over simplified, introduction to the basics of exposure – part 2
A, perhaps over simplified, introduction to the basics of exposure – part 2 avatar

Lets start with a quick review of part 1 from last month.

We discussed the exposure triangle.Each of these items have reciprocal relations and can often be set in camera.

We discussed the fact that in the opinion of your light meter the world is 18% gray and proper exposure renders it as 18% gray. (Hand modeling by Anne Marie Koschnick)We talked about the difference between incident and reflected light metering.We briefly touched on the idea that you might not agree with your meter’s opinion of the world. So now in part two lets expand on that.

Some times when subjects are deep in shadows, you meter thinks they should be brightened up. In this shot it was late afternoon and the deer was mostly deep in shadows with only a small portion getting lit with direct low angle sun.The shadowy parts were truly lightened up to the point that it looks like mid-day, but the little bit getting sun was over exposed and washed out. I switched to manual exposure and set shutter, ISO, and f stop based on what I thought would be a more realistic representation of the scene.The image is much darker  – but then the actual scene was pretty dark with only the small portions of the deer in the sun standing out. Some might argue that this is too dark – and that fine – we all have different tastes, including the engineer that programmed the light meter. Think of this as exposing for the highlights and letting the shadows fall where they may.

Back lit subjects are often grossly under exposed – sometime rendered as a silhouette. Like this Green Heron in a tree with bright sky behind him.I dialed in two stops of over exposure to get this version.Some might say why not just correct in Photoshop? Photoshop is a wonderful tool and can allow you to create images that your camera just can’t capture but when possible it’s usually a good idea to get as close to what you want in camera. Why? Well look at this Photoshoped version of the original heron image.It’s brighter than my in camera exposure compensation but look at the digital noise. This is a common result when you have to resort to Photoshop to make too big a change to exposure when you and your meter have a disagreement.

How about sunrise and sunset images. Here’s a sunrise exposed as the meter felt was correct.It’s a lovely image but the metwr’s effort to lighten up the shadows has reduced the intensity of the color in the sky. Here is is 2 stops under exposed.I find that when attempting to capture color in the sky that under exposure increases saturation.

Let’s talk about stitched panoramas for a moment. If you put your camera on a level tripod and take a series of image with the camera moved along a horizontal arc for each image, you can then stitch them together to form one continuous panorama. For example, this view of Cohoes from Peebles Island is such a stitched panorama.When shooting the series of images it is important that the exposure stay constant across all the images. So, what I do is pan the camera across my subject and watch the indicated shutter speed change as I pan. I not the range of shutter speed and select what I think is the best compromise and change to manual and set that shutter speed. Think that overboard? Here’s a stitched image not shot in manual. I was walking with my camera set to capture quick image of wild life. The black top of the bike path was very shiny as a light mist was falling. When the groundhog bolted I panned with him firing off about 7 frames. I did not shoot with the intention to stitch  them together but decided to play with them just to see what would happen. The exposure shift from frame to frame is quite evident.Just as an exercise in using Photoshop I tried to get approximately the same exposure across the images and restitched to get this.Better but no where near what you would want in an image worth framing for your wall. A couple of days later, when it was dry, I saw a ground hog near the same location. I switched to manual exposure and moved in, ready for him to run. This time the images stitched together without needing any real manipulation.I call this “Get Along Little Hoggie”

By now it should be evident that there are good reasons to ignore what your meter thinks is the proper exposure. Let’s talk about how to do it. I thought about including images of camera buttons, menus, and displays but decided that there is enough variation on cameras currently available that it might just cause confusion when you go looking for a Nikon button on a Canon camera, etc.

First let’s talk about a camera setting that really isn’t so much as over riding the meter as it is refining what the meter is looking at. As far as your specific camera, my best advice is “Read The **** Manual.”

Most camera have several metering modes ranging from an average of the whole scene, a center weighted mode, and spot metering. The first two should be pretty clear but spot metering lets you select a small portion of the image, often a 1 degree wide angle of view somewhere4 in the image. This would let you select what you really want exposed to a stander “correct” exposure. It can be tricky to use as slight drifting off the intended spot can greatly change exposure in undesired ways. As said above, dig into the manual to figure out how to set various metering modes on your camera.

Exposure compensation is a method to tell you camera to change the meter’s recommended exposure by a finite amount in a particular direction. For example, for back lit birds against a bright sky start with about 2 stops over exposure. Experiment and adjust accordingly. On many cameras there is a button and thumb wheel sequence to dial in such compensation. On my Nikon camera bodies I push and hold the button with the +/- symbol and turn the read thumb wheel. On the top display panel this will show a number with a plus or minus in front of it. The number is in f stop equivalents and often is in 1/3 f stop steps. So as I turn the wheel I will see something like 0.0 +0.3 +0.7 +1.0. +1.0 adds one full f stop of exposure. What gets changes as a result of dialing in compensation depends on the selected exposure mode. On Nikon cameras aperture preferred mode is designated by an “A” (I think Canon is “Av”). In this mode the aperture is held at whatever you have selected and the shutter speed is adjusted as you dial in compensation. In shutter preferred mode (“S” on Nikons) the shutter speed you selected is held constant and the f stop is changed by dialing in compensation. So when we talk about stops of compensation we are talking about adjusting exposure by an amount equivalent to f stops but we may not actually be adjusting the f stop. Confused yet? On Nikon cameras when you dial in exposure compensation a scale will appear in the data area of the viewfinder and on the top display. It mimics an old light meter scale with proper exposure in the middle designated by a 0 and little tick marks appearing on one side or the other to indicate 1/3 stops steps away from what the meter thinks is correct. Again read your manual for details.

If you switch to fully manual exposure you have to set both shutter and aperture. The meter scale mentioned above is used in Nikons when in manual mode. So if your shooting in manual and you want to dial in some exposure compensation you don’t have to push the +/- button. You just change shutter or f stop as desired. On a lot of Nikons there 2 thumb wheels. One on the front of the body and one on the back. The front wheel adjusts f stop and the back wheel adjusts shutter so you can dial in compensation with your index finger on the front wheel and your thumb on the back wheel while looking through the view finder.

Which of these two methods you use will depend on the type of photography you’re doing and what you’re most comfortable with. They both work just fine. Since I tend to shoot landscapes and wild life where depth of field is important to me, I often have my camera in aperture preferred mode and so I use the +/- button for adjustment in most situations. If I’m shooting birds in trees I typically set my f stop to f/11.0 dial in +1 or +2 exposure compensation depending on how bright the sky looks and set ISO high enough to keep my shutter speed in the 1/500 to 1/1000 second range.

Not sure how much compensation you’ll need? Try bracketing. Again most DSLR cameras have the ability to dial in bracketing. You can select how may frames to use, the f stop equivalents to adjust when stepping through the selected number of frames, weather to make the adjustment on both sides of a correct exposure of just on one side. That is I can say shoot three frames; one normal exposure, one over exposure, and one under exposure. Or I could decide to due three frames; one normal, one one stop under, one two stops under. Or I could make all the steps over exposure. So if you’re not sure how much compensation to dial in you could simply bracket the exposure and select the best resulting image. Bracketing is also useful for scenes where the brightness range is too large for your camera to capture. With the camera locked down on a sturdy tripod you could bracket the exposure and then in an editing tool like Photoshop you could merge the multiple images into one with a technique called HDR (which stands for High Dynamic Range). There are some newer camera on the market that can do HDR in camera.

This completes the discussion of the basic in camera adjustments that affect exposure. Next month in part three we will talk a bit about selecting and/or modifying the light source to get the exposure you want.

A perhaps over simplified introduction to the basics of photographic exposure – part 1
A perhaps over simplified introduction to the basics of photographic exposure – part 1 avatar

The technical goal of photography is to record the light entering the lens of the camera.

Suppose for a moment that photography was filling a five-gallon bucket with water. If you put one drop from an eye dropper in the buck the result would be almost imperceptible. You could keep putting drops in for a long time and eventually you’d have something that resembled a bucket of water. On the other had if you pointed a fire hose at the bucket for a couple of minutes – well there’d be water everywhere and you wouldn’t have a very good result. If you had the ability to turn the fire hose on for a very brief time you might also get a bucket full of water. If you could change the size of the bucket, a very small bucket would be more appropriate for the eye dropper and a very large bucket would be appropriate for the fire hose. In this analogy, you can see three things that work together to get a container of water: a) the size of the container, b) the flow rate of the water supply, c) the duration of the flow.

In your digital camera, the water is replaced by a stream of photons – light – reflected off the subject. The bucket is the image sensor. The aperture of the lens (f stop) is the size of the hose. The shutter speed controls how long the flow lasts.

So, when you hear people talk about “The Exposure Triangle” they are talking about the three things that you can set in your camera to get the desired exposure: a) shutter speed, b) f stop, c) Sensor ISO.

A small digression. The term ISO is probably an unfortunate misnomer that is widely used. ISO stands for International Standards Organization. Among other things, the ISO has established a numerical scale to indicate the sensitivity of an image sensor to light. Calling a number on that scale an “ISO setting” is like saying the numbers on your radio’s volume dial are “UL settings.” The important thing to remember is that the so-called ISO setting is akin to changing the bucket size in our water analogy.  The higher the ISO number the less light it takes to get an image – think, higher number smaller buckets.

Within limits, the f stop and shutter speed are a reciprocal relationship. If you close the lens aperture one full f stop and double the shutter speed you will get the same exposure. For example, f/8.0 for 1/60 second is the same as f/11.0 for 1/30 second. Switching from f/8.0 to f/11.0 cuts the flow rate in half so we need to let it flow for twice as long. Now bring in the ISO setting. An exposure of f/8.0 for 1/60 second at ISO 100 if the same as an exposure of f/8.0 for 1/30 second at ISO 50. Dropping from ISO 100 to ISO 50 doubles the size of the buckets so we need to let it flow for twice as long.

Back in the days of film, ISO was fixed by the chemistry of the film, yes there were ways that special processing could alter the ISO by about a stop or two for some films but for the vast majority of photographers the ISO was what the manufacturer said it was. Go back even further and about the only exposure control was how long you took the lens cap off – subjects had to sit very still.

Today we have this triangle of settings at our disposal, but what is the right setting? We could argue what the meaning of right is but we’ll save that for part two. For today let’s just say that your camera is equipped with light measuring systems and it (or the engineer that built it) has an opinion of what right is.

There are two commonly used types of light meters. Those that measure reflected light and those that measure incident light. You point a reflective type meter at you subject and measure the light being reflected toward the camera. You hold an incident meter in front of your subject and measure the light striking the subject. (A flash meter is a special version of an incident light meter). Before cameras had built in light meters most serious photographers used hand-held meters and reflected meters were more common than incident meters. Today most hand-held meters are incident or capable of both incident and reflected readings with the few reflected meters are spot meters. The meter built into your camera is a reflected light meter. It’s quite obvious that for many subjects you can’t approach the subject to take incident readings.

To the meter the world is 18% gray. Meters are color blind and want to make everything look like it is reflecting 18% of the light striking it.

Your camera may have several metering modes like averaging, center weighted, or spot.

(Here’s an article that discusses the advantages and disadvantages of various metering devices. http://www.sekonic.com/united-states/classroom/meteringtechniques/benefitsofincident.aspx)

Why are there so many exposure modes on your camera?

Often times, a landscape photographer is shooting a still subject with the camera rigidly fixed on a tripod. Camera shake and motion blur are not a problem. In this type of shooting many photographers elect to use an automated mode called “Aperture Preferred”. The photographer sets the aperture (f stop) and the ISO. The camera selects an appropriate shutter speed. A sports photographer is more likely concerned with stopping motion and will set the camera to “Shutter Preferred” and select shutter speed and ISO and let the camera set aperture. Newer cameras have a mode where the photographer sets both aperture and shutter speed and lets the camera select ISO. Then there are many “Program Modes” where the camera will select all the setting based on the type of photography specified by the particular program mode. You will see on a lot of point and shot cameras a set of icons to depict the mode. The modes may include things like, close up, landscape, portrait, night, party, etc.  Personally, I find that these program modes go a long way toward insuring bad photography! They make certain assumptions about light levels and shooting conditions that don’t always hold and they often don’t tell you what setting they selected making it difficult to know if you should override or select another mode. In manual mode, the photographer has to set everything.

In part two we will get into how and why you might want to ignore what the camera says is the correct exposure. In part three we will look at ways to control exposure that are not camera settings.

Depth of Field – A brief Introduction
Depth of Field – A brief Introduction avatar

What is it?
What affects it?
Why do I care / How can I use it?

A Wikipedia definition:
  “In optics, particularly as it relates to film and photography, depth of field (DOF), also called focus range or effective focus range, is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image. Although a lens can precisely focus at only one distance at a time, the decrease in sharpness is gradual on each side of the focused distance, so that within the DOF, the unsharpness is imperceptible under normal viewing conditions.”

Let me emphasize ” … a lens can precisely focus at only one distance at a time …”
Here’s an image with a foreground and a background clearly out of focus, and a 2 foot deep area that appears to be in focus. I focused on the bird’s eye and at f/11.0 had enough depth of field for the whole bird to appear sharp.

Three things affect Depth of Field

1) Lens Focal Length
2) Lens aperture (f-stop)
3) Camera to focus point distance

Below are three examples showing the impact of focal length. All three were shot at an aperture of f/8.0 and all three were shot from a fixed location. All three had the rock out in the water as the focal point.The first was shot at 16 mm and has apparent sharpness from foreground rocks all the way across the river to the trees on the other shore – more than 100 yards away. The second shot was at 70 mm. The foreground rocks are gone. The focus point rock is sharp for it full depth but the trees on the far shore are getting pretty fuzzy. The third was shot at 300 mm. Both the foreground rocks and the distant shore are gone. The focus point rock is not sharp for it’s full depth. So at 16 mm we had apparent sharpness for over 100 yards. At 70 mm the sharpness was down to less than 10 feet. At 300 mm the apparent sharpness was further reduced to less than 3 feet.

Aperture – what is it,
how does it affect
Depth of Field?

Aperture is stated as the f-stop or f-number. The f stop is the focal length in millimeters divided by the diameter of the diaphragm opening. Here are two images of a lens at different f-stops. You can clearly see the diaphragm blades and the difference in the size of the opening.

The bigger the hole in the diaphragm the lower the f-stop. The smaller the hole the bigger the f-stop. In general the bigger the f-stop number (smaller hole) the more depth of field. But as shown in the previous example the shorter the focal length the greater the depth of field so the effect of changing f-stop is less pronounced at shorter focal lengths. Here are two sets of four images. One was shot at 16 mm and one was shot at 70 mm. The f-stops used at 16 mm were f/3.5 (lens wide open), f/7.1, f/16.0, and f/22.0. If you study the example closely you will see slight differences in depth of field – but only slight. The four shots at 70 mm were shot at f/5.3 (lens wide open), f/8.0, f/16.0. and f/22. In this series you will see a more pronounced change in depth of field as the lens is stopped down.  [Note, the 16 mm f/7.1 was supposed to be 16 mm f/8.0 but I accidentally adjusted it as I was struggling to keep balance in a precarious position – chalk it up to operator error! ]

Here’s the 16 mm series.

And here’s the 70 mm series – watch the distant trees go from quite blurry to almost in focus.

So far we’ve looked at focal length and f-stop and how they affect depth of field. No lets look at something that is not as apparent to the casual photographer – camera to subject distance.

Here are two image shot with the same lens at 300 mm. In the first the camera to subject distance is less than a foot and the apparent depth of field is only a few inches. The upper twig in the image is less than 2 inches behind the lower twig on the Aspen tree. The second image was used earlier and shows a rock where the depth of field is at best 3 feet. The rock is a good 10 to 15 feet away from the camera. So in this example an increase of camera to subject distance on the order of 10 to 12 times has resulted in an increase of apparent sharpness on the order of 10 to 12 times. I’m not sure that you can expect such a linear correlation of depth of field to subject distance to hold.

Here are two more examples. The same bird as used in the opening image shot at a distance of less than 50 feet resulting in a depth of field of about two feet. The second, shot with the same 500 mm lens has a subject distance of about 8/10ths of a mile and has a depth of field of more than a mile.

The bird.

The really long shot!

How can this be? Here’s the church shot with a much shorter lens.

And here’s an annotated aerial shot showing the spatial relationship of the elements in the long shot.

Think about it this way. With a subject at 8/10ths of a mile away the lens is effectively focused at infinity and anything farther away is still infinity.

So where do you focus? When Carl Heilman is trying to maximize depth of field for an image he is making, he says to manually move your focus back and forth until the foreground and background are equally out of focus. I find that easier said than done. Other sources advise you to focus 1/3rd of the way into your image. That’s also easier said than done in a lot of situations – like where you have a shore bound rock with featureless water behind it for quite a distance. Most modern DSLR cameras have something called a “Depth of Field Preview Button.” This button stops the lens down so that in theory you can see the actual depth of field when looking through the view finder. In practice this is also sketchy at best as stopping down usually darken the viewfinder to the point that is difficult to see much detail in the viewfinder. I usually pick some object past where I want the near edge of the acceptably sharp area to be and then review the image by using a magnifying loop that will block stray light from hitting the display. (See https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/899482-REG/Hoodman_ch32_Compact_Hoodloupe_3_2_Viewing.html for an example product made by Hoodman.) For wildlife the choice is easy – focus on the eyes.

When discussing this topic you might hear the term “Hyperfocal Distance.” Hyperfocal distance is the distance between a camera lens and the closest object that is in focus when the lens is focused at infinity. Alas, back when cameras were mostly manual and there were no connections for sending lens information to body computers, most lenses had marking to facilitate focusing at the hyperfocal distance. Here are three images of lenses with and without such markings.

The first lens is a 50 mm prime lens. There are a series of short colored lines on the lens barrel between the f stop ring and the focus ring. The colors correspond to the colors on the numbers on the f stop ring. So if the f stop ring is set for f/16.0 (blue colored number), you would line up the infinity mark on the focus ring with the left blue line and you are at the hyperfocal distance. You can then read the focus ring value lined up with the right blue line and see what the distance to the near end of the depth of field area is.

The second lens is a zoom lens and the lines are all white but are curved. This lens is a push/pull zoom. You zoom by sliding the end of the lens barrel back and forth. You basically read the focus ring numbers the same as on the prime lens but the curved lines clearly show the decreasing depth of field as you zoom to longer focal lengths.

The last lens is a modern zoom with no hyperfocal distance indicators and no f stop ring. You set f stop with a dial on the lens body. The computer in the body tells the lens what f stop to use. So you are back to having to figure out on your own where to focus.

Bokeh? (pronounced bōˈkā )

It’s not exactly part of depth of field but it can be a consideration when deliberately going for a shallow depth of field. You’ve seen it on Christmas cards. The kid standing in front of the tree. The kid is sharp but the tree isn’t and the lights on the tree are rendered as soft globs of bright color. What we’re talking about is how a lens renders out of focus highlights. This is pretty much a product of the number and shape of blades in the lens diaphragm. It is not unheard of for a photographer to make a lens purchase decision based on how it renders bokeh. Here are two versions of the same subject. In the first I focused sharply to show where the shiny spot on the rocks was. In the second I switched to manual focus and deliberately racked the lens out of focus to to generate the nine sided spot in the second image.

Why should you care about Depth of Field?

Well, for sure you probably want enough depth to capture all of your subject. On the other hand you might want to reduce depth to reduce the distraction of extraneous items in your frame. Here’s an image where I wanted some foreground rocks and the far shore to both be in focus. The sheer expanse of the subject dictated a wide lens and I then made sure to stop down enough to get the desired depth.

Here are a couple of bird shots where the distance to the subject dictated a fairly long focal length. I then had to pick an f stop that would give me enough depth to get the whole bird in focus. Once those two decisions were made I then selected an ISO high enough to get the shutter speed high enough to eliminate blur resulting from camera movement as I was shooting without a tripod.

Here’s an image where I wanted enough depth to capture the mushrooms but wanted to limit it so that the distracting background was rendered out of focus.

When shooting at extremely close distances, depth of field becomes very shallow. There are a couple of techniques that can help. One is to make sure as much of your subject as possible is in one plane. Here are two flies. By shooting side on I only needed enough depth to capture the width of the flies. If I shot head on I would have needed twice as much depth.

Focus Stacking

Here’s a tiny lilac blossom that does not have enough depth to capture the whole blossom.

After taking it I read up on a technique called “Focus Stacking.” The camera need to be locked down and the subject need to be motionless. So this isn’t something you do hand held on a windy day! I have tried it exactly once and clearly need to refine my process. Here’s the camera and subject that I used for my test of the technique.

I had an extension tube between the camera body and the lens. This allows closer focus than with the lens alone. It also reduces depth of field. The items to the left of the camera are a radio frequency remote release that allows triggering the shutter without touching the camera thus reducing the likelihood of camera movement during exposure. The other item is my Hoodman loupe. Looking through the viewfinder in this position was difficult and also increased the risk of moving the camera during focusing. So using live view with the loupe on the screen allowed a more delicate focusing process. I took three shots, each focused  on a different mushroom. I combined the three shot in Photoshop resulting in more depth of field than I could get in a single frame. Here are the original three shots.

Here’s the combined final image.

Here are links to a few articles of interest



www .photopills.com/articles/ultimate-guide-depth-field


And finally, I highly recommend checking out a free application called DOF Master available for multiple platforms. The web version has a series of boxes that are either filled from drop down menus or filled with numerical data about you settings. When the form is filled you will be presented with a report showing the near limit, far limit and total depth. Check it out at http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

Water, Water, every where
Water, Water, every where avatar

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

But we’re not here to talk about parables or ancient mariners.

It’s summer, it’s hot, a vacation some place with a cool breeze – some place near water.

There are quite a few articles, tutorials, and blog posts with tips about shooting water, shooting near water, even shooting in water.

Here are a few links:











If you read through all the links you will find that they are heavily weighted toward subject selection and composition with a smattering of technical how-to bits. They are certainly worth the read. We will briefly look at a couple of technical items. Specifically, the use of polarizers and neutral density filters.

Wikipedia says:
“A polarizing / polarising filter is often placed in front of the camera lens in photography in order to darken skies, manage reflections, or suppress glare from the surface of lakes or the sea.”

We can dive deep into the weeds of the physics of light and what we mean by polarized light but let’s see if we can perhaps over simplify it to an understandable level. Pretty much everything you see is because light reflects off of it – except for things like your tv, light bulbs, the sun and stars all of which directly emit light. We can think of light as travelling in waves. Unlike the waves on the ocean or a lake moving along on a horizontal plane, light waves can travel on almost any plane. When those waves strike something and reflect off – they reflect in multiple planes. When a strongly directional light source strikes a shiny surface causing glare – much of the glare are waved in one plane. If we can block the waves in the plane of the glare without blocking light in other planes we can reduce the glare. That’s what polarizers do – they block light in one particular plane. To use one you rotate it until the glare is minimized.

What does this mean in practical terms for photographers. Here are a series of images that I shot to demonstrate the difference between shooting with and without a polarizer.

The first pair do not involve water but clearly show the elimination of unwanted glare and reflections. In the without shot the glare and reflections on the car windshield make it pretty much opaque. With the polarizer, you can see the steering wheel, seat backs, and the back window – through the windshield.

With polarizer.

Without polarizer.The second pair is of a frog. Without the polarizer, you can see the portion under the water but degraded by a blue cast of the sky reflecting on the surface. If the light from the sky had been brighter you might not be able to see the portion below the surface at all. With the polarizer, you can more clearly see below the surface of the water.

With polarizer.

Without polarizer.Next, we have a partially cloudy sky. The difference here is not as pronounced but the polarizer darkens the sky creating more contrast to the clouds.

With Polarizer.

Without polarizer. Finally, we have a long shot showing summertime atmospheric haze. A polarizer can help reduce haze.

With polarizer.

Without polarizer.Here’s a link to a post with sample images that show a greater difference between shooting with and without a polarizer. My examples suffer from shooting on a day where light conditions reduced the need for a polarizer.  http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/technical/polarizers.html

There are quite a few other similar articles.

Next up on our tour of shooting water deals with moving water. A popular aesthetic is to capture sylvan cascades a milky white blur flowing through an otherwise sharp image. Thus creating something of a sense of quiet serenity. Like this image of a small stream burbling over moss covered rocks.

To do this you need to mount the camera on a sturdy tripod to keep it motionless and use a long exposure to allow the moving water to blur. How long does it have to be? Well that depends on how you want the image to look. Obviously the longer the exposure the smoother the water will be. I’ve seen images of the ocean with 5-minute exposures that result in an ocean with no waves! Just a smooth glassy surface! For falling water to create a milky effect you need shutter speeds longer than 1/8 of a second. Of course, there may be times when you don’t want to smooth the motion out. Freezing the motion with a fast shutter speed can convey more of a sense of power and tumult.

Here’s an image of a wave breaking just off shore. I think that freezing the spindrift blowing off the top of the wave more accurately captures the sense of the wave pounding down despite a stiff wind trying to blow it back out to sea.

Here’s a pair of images shot a few minutes apart. One was shot at ISO 50, f/36.0, 1/6 of a second. The other was shot at ISO 100, f/11.0, 1/100 second. They present a completely different feeling.

Here’s a pair of the Cohoes falls. One was shot at ISO 100, f/22.0, ¼ second. The other was shot at ISO 200, f/11.0, 1/800 second.

Let’s say you wanted to duplicate the smoother shot of water flowing under the ice on the Mohawk River. Set you’re ISO to 50 … wait your camera only goes down to ISO 100 – Dang! Now stop down to f/36.0 … wait your lens only stops down to f/16 – More Dang! You see where this is going. So what is the solution. Enter the neutral density filter. Wikipedia defines it as: “In photography and optics, a neutraldensity filter, or ND filter, is a filter that reduces or modifies the intensity of all wavelengths, or colors, of light equally, giving no changes in hue of color rendition. It can be a colorless (clear) or grey filter.” That’s sun glasses for your camera that don’t affect the color you see.

There are a couple of neutral density filter types. Solid fixed value ND filters reduce light by some fixed number of f stops. Graduated, and/or split neutral density filters reduce light in part of the image but not in others – Handy for darkening sky without affecting the foreground objects. Variable neutral density filters affect the full image but have an adjustable amount of darkening. In a pinch, the polarizer discussed earlier can be used to reduce scene brightness about a stop and a half. Both neutral density and polarizers come in a couple of different mounting systems. Most lenses have threads at the front to let you use screw on filters. Some very large, very long lenses have a slot at the back for drop in filters. I’m not sure how you adjust the position of a drop-in polarizer. Then there are systems like Cokin that have filter holders that mount to the front of the lens and have slots for filters. The Cokin system makes it much easier to adjust the position of things like split neutral density filters. Before you run out and buy, do your homework. Not all filters are created equal. I have heard a fair number of complaints particularly with variable neutral density filters.

The last thing I want to cover is one of my favorite types of water shots – reflections. When I was thinking about this tip session I thought I’d look back through some of my reflection images to see if I could demonstrate some general rules about shooting reflections. Things like look for reflections in shaded water, keep the sun behind you, etc. but in the end, it is just a matter of seeing the reflection. Any size body of water can reflect. Any type of light can lead to a reflection. Reflections in calmer water can be easier to see but even rippled water can reflect. The only tip I can give is remember “The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.” Huh?? The angle of what is reflected in the water must be the same angle of the camera to the water to be able to see the reflection. Move up or down to match the angles. Here are a few samples.

Betwixt Summer and Fall
Betwixt Summer and Fall avatar

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.

2015-09-23_09-37-20Mid way between Lake Tear of the Clouds and New York Harbor we see the last vestiges of morning fog lifting off the Hudson River mid-morning.

2015-09-23_11-44-19In Albany, as the noon hour nears, in the deepest shade of the Corning Preserve a few drops of dew still cling to the blades of grass.

2015-09-23_11-24-04Fleabane, in all its purple glory, bounces with the gentle breeze.

2015-09-23_11-20-09_012015-09-23_11-20-112015-09-23_11-21-33A flight of four Canada Geese reach takeoff speed in the shadows and then only fly a few yards to the protection of a small pond. They don’t have the “Urge for Going” quite yet.

2015-09-23_11-17-45Under a small tree leaning out over the pond one finds a paradox of tiers of shadow, reflection, and deeper shadow on the glassy smooth surface all bordered by a band of pond scum.

2015-09-23_11-25-40The 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.

2015-09-23_11-26-46A Black Walnut shell probably broken open by a hungry squirrel lies abandoned in the grass.

2015-09-23_11-28-24The 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.

Getting started with extension tubes
Getting started with extension tubes avatar

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.

Channeling Dylan Thomas (Whoever he was)
Channeling Dylan Thomas (Whoever he was) avatar

Friday March 20, 2015 – midafternoon. The vernal equinox is due at 6:45 PM – yes spring is due in less than 4 hours! But old man winter is having none of it.2015-03-20_15-04-37_01

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.”

A tug boat that hails to “8th Sea” lies locked in ice on the Hudson River – not yet ready to ply summer’s waters.2015-03-20_15-04-27

A small tree is gnawed nearly bare by hungry deer.2015-03-20_15-07-38

A bench sits empty by the cold, cold, cold ground of an old cemetery.2015-03-20_15-08-32

New snow forms wispy drifts on the frozen surface of the pond.2015-03-20_15-14-00_01

Spring will come to the registration desk tonight and find that her room is still occupied.

Oh! “TRANSITION” avatar

I thought you said transmission.01-Transmission

O.K. the March photo contest theme is “Transition.” I hope you understand my confusion.

I thought a bud on a tree branch might do – but that’s too clichéd.02-Bud

Besides some of the trees are confused too. The Red Oak never completed the fall transition and now it needs to start the spring transition.03-Tree

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.04-PotHoles

In winter the clear frozen pond is a place to skate.05-WinterPond

And in summer Great Blue Heron – and young boys – find it an ideal fishing spot.06-SummerPond

But in spring it is a confused sheet of unsafe ice and water.07-SpringPond

Even the sign posters are confused by the pond conditions.08-PondConfusion

Then there are the “Vernal Ponds” – existing only in the transitional period between frozen snow covered ground and soft summer ground.10-VernalPond-209-VernalPond-1

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 ….11-Footwear

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?


What if Georgia O’Keeffe was a Photographer?
What if Georgia O’Keeffe was a Photographer? avatar

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.

Slide 01

Slide 01

Slide 02

Slide 02

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.

Slide 04

Slide 04

Or get close enough to your subject to eliminate any background.

Slide 04

Slide 04

The second technique is to use a solid colored backdrop.

Slide 05

Slide 05

If we pull back the camera a bit you can see the set up that was used for the roses image.

Slide 06

Slide 06

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.

Slide 07

Slide 07

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.

Slide 08

Slide 08

Slide 09

Slide 09

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.”

Slide 10

Slide 10

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.

Slide 11

Slide 11

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.

Slide 12

Slide 12

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.

Slide 13

Slide 13

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.

Slide 14

Slide 14

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.

Slide 15

Slide 15

In the final shot I’ve lowered the camera position to crop out the table top and other extraneous items.

Slide 16

Slide 16

How Much is that Photograph Worth?
How Much is that Photograph Worth? avatar

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.