Cuchara Valley Landscapes: Blog https://www.cuchara.photography/blog en-us Jeff Stovall jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Sun, 25 Apr 2021 16:10:00 GMT Sun, 25 Apr 2021 16:10:00 GMT https://www.cuchara.photography/img/s/v-12/u271557198-o685553721-50.jpg Cuchara Valley Landscapes: Blog https://www.cuchara.photography/blog 90 120 Infrared Photography with Ilford SFX 200 Film https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/infrared-photography-with-ilford-sfx-200-film
Palo Duro Canyon
Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/8 sec, f/22, Ilford SFX 200 with R72 filter. 

Before I had my a6000 converted for infrared, I bought a roll of Ilford SFX 200 to use in my Yashica-Mat TLR and a cheap, off-brand R72 filter. But I was afraid to shoot the film because with the cost of film and development, it was almost a $30 roll of film. Then I quit shooting film in 2018 and got the a6000 converted in 2019. So the roll of SFX just sat in the fridg. This spring my interest in shooting infrared on film has been renewed, so I’ve just been waiting for a break in my work schedule so that I could spend an afternoon wandering around with my camera.



Mesquite, Palo Duro Canyon
Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/4 sec, f/22, Ilford SFX 200 with R72 filter. 

I finally got around to shooting that roll of film yesterday afternoon at Palo Duro Canyon. The film expired in 2019, but it had been stored in the refrigerator most of the time, so I figured it would be OK. I was also unsure about exactly how to rate the film for infrared exposure with the R72 filter. There’s surprisingly little information online, and I found a variety of different recommendations out there. Based on the most reliable sources I could find, I decided to go with 5 stops of additional exposure, rating the film at ISO 6, resulting in exposure times of about 1/4 second at f/22.


Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/15 sec, f/8, Ilford SFX 200 with R72 filter. 

I bracketed a few of the shots using a larger aperture, f/16, and even f/5.6 for the photo of the bush. I had mixed results-one of the images was definitely over-exposed with blown out pure white clouds, but others were inconclusive because the clouds were moving quickly and I didn’t pay enough attention to taking the images in full sun. But generally, f/22 at 1/4 second, based on rating the film at ISO 6, seemed to work fairly well. The Yashica-Mat is not focus-marked for infrared, so I was hesitant to use a larger aperture for fear of getting out of focus images.

I messed up when I bought the cheap R72 filter. I bought a 72mm filter so that it could be used on my digital lenses and the Yashica-Mat with step-up rings. The problem is that the filter is so large that it covers the shutter release on the Yashica-Mat so that the cable release can’t be attached. For these exposures I leaned on the tripod and tried to hold the camera steady while I pushed the shutter button. I didn’t notice any camera movement, so I think it was alright. (The cheap filter seems to have performed wells, but I have listed it on eBay and am planning to buy a 55mm Hoya R72. I have a set of nice Kolari 72mm filters for my digital infrared now.)


Mesquite and Moon, Palo Duro Canyon
Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/8 sec, f/22, Ilford SFX 200 with R72 filter. 

I also had my a6000 with a 28mm Minolta lens attached with a 720nm filter. This focal length is equivalent (42mm in 35mm terms) to the 80mm on the Yashica-Mat (~44mm on 35mm), so I tried to take all of the film images with the a6000 also. When I was reviewing the shot of the dead mesquite tree, I realized that the moon had risen within the branches. I quickly scrambled to get a better angle with the film camera, but the shot just didn’t turn out well. The photo presented above is much better. (And I’m sure the digital images will be better still.)

Shooting infrared on film was a learning experience, and I benefitted immensely from two years’ experience using the infrared-converted digital camera. Plus, I used my digital camera to check some of my compositions and several times decided to move on without taking a shot with the TLR. I came away with 5 good images on a 12-shot roll and bracketed several frames. I don’t think I could have been that successful if this had been my first experience with infrared photography.



Moonrise at Palo Duro Canyon
Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/4 sec, f/22, Ilford SFX 200 with R72 filter. 

SFX 200 gets disparaged by some reviewers for not being a “true” infrared film, but these photos look pretty good to me. Although it is light-colored, the vegetation doesn’t really show the Wood effect, but that may have as much to do with it being juniper and dead grass as the film. It is a grainy film, especially in the skies, but the grain is not excessive in most of these images. On 35mm it would probably be excessive. I’m unsure how much being expired for a couple of years affected the grain. I developed the roll in Df96 Monobath, and I have no idea if that is good or bad for this film. Some of the negs looked a little thin, but most of them scanned well. I processed these photos in Lightroom using Negative Lab Pro, I think using the Linear-Gamma profile setting for all of these photos. It really darkened the sky and added some nice contrast without making the photos too dark.

I’ve had a great first experience with infrared film photography, and I’ll be doing a lot more of it in the future.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) black and white canyon Ilford infrared medium format mesquite Palo Duro Canyon photography R72 SFX 200 TLR Yashica-Mat https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/infrared-photography-with-ilford-sfx-200-film Sun, 25 Apr 2021 06:01:23 GMT
Review of Yashica Electro 35 GSN https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/review-of-yashica-electro-35-gsn
My Electro 35 GSN with original strap and case. My camera also came with the auxiliary wide-angle and telephoto lens adapters (in the round black case), but I haven’t used them yet.

My Yashica Electro 35 GSN is really special to me because it belonged to a close friend of our family who passed away about 20 years ago of cancer. As a kid, I remember that she always had a camera with her-the cameras I remember seeing were always 35mm point-and-shoots (of the nicer variety), so the Yashica rangefinder is from before my memory.


Colors of Taos. Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400.

Aside from just knowing that it was hers, it is the thought of how she would have used this camera that makes it so special. She was a watercolor painter, and her favorite subjects were old wooden barns and houses, long abandoned to the wind and sun on the High Plains, and just barely standing. She would drive the backroads of West Texas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, western Kansas, and eastern New Mexico, hoping to find these old structures before they finally collapsed or were torn down. She would photograph them, then create a painting from the photograph. So whenever I'm out taking photos with the Yashica, I think about her and her paintings, and how much I would enjoy talking to her now about our shared love of the landscape.

My favorite view of the West Spanish Peak, Kodak Ektar 100

So you see my review of the Yashica Electro 35 GSN is not unbiased. Despite that, I can confidently say that it is a fantastic film camera, not without its limitations, but if you embrace those limitations and just use the camera for what it is, then together you can create some fantastic images.

Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, Kodak TMax 100

I'm not sure what the Electro 35 offers that other classic rangefinders do not-it is the only rangefinder I've ever used. What I can say is that it has a fantastic lens (with one limitation), metering and exposure are excellent, and it is a lot of fun to carry and use. This is a camera that I like to carry when I'm exploring or just out walking around. One of my best experiences with this camera was on a day trip to Taos, New Mexico in 2017. I put in a roll of 24-exposure Superia 400 and shot the whole roll within a couple of hours just walking around town.


Off the square in Taos, Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400

The Electro 35 is aperture priority only and has no manual exposure option, but it also has a fantastic-ly accurate meter, so just set the ISO dial and trust it. It is possible to add in some exposure compensation manually by adjusting the ISO dial, but I only do that if I intentionally want to over- or under-expose an entire roll, or to make adjustments for lens filters. I've also had good results in low light situations, and the camera has a bulb mode so manual long exposures are possible.

Long exposure star trails, 20 minutes, on Kodak TMax 100.

Focusing is fairly easy and very accurate-I haven't noticed many shots with missed focus. Of course, it does take some practice if you haven't used a rangefinder.


Fall aspens in southern Colorado. Kodak Ektar 100.

The other really great aspect to this camera is the lens. I had read a lot of praise for the Color Yashinon 45mm f/1.7 when learning about the camera, and this is a truly great lens. It can create perfectly sharp photos when stopped down, but also has a nice softness in the background at wider apertures and a smooth undistracting bokeh wide open. The one thing to watch out for is flare. Even if the sun is not in the frame, shooting backlit subjects is likely to introduce a lot of flare in the upper part of the photo.


The best example I could find for a bokeh image. Kodak TMax 100.

Other than the flare/haze issue, which you can see a good example of in this previous post, I don’t have any complaints about this 50-year-old film camera. I’ve put about 8 rolls of film through it and not had a single bad exposure that was caused by the meter (although I have missed a couple of shots because I left the screw-in lens cap attached). I’m confident enough in this camera that I have taken it along on family day trips as my only camera to capture and record priceless moments. And in reviewing my images for this post, I have realized that I don’t use this camera enough.

Other Example Images

I'm sharing a few more samples images below to highlight some of the capabilities of this camera. You can view a gallery of my best Electro 35 images here.


Another example of how the lens performs wide-open at f/1.7. Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400.

 


Perfectly exposed, but bad flare. I think a lens hood would help in this situation-I'll definitely be getting one to try. Kodak Ektar 100.

 


Incredible metering-I took this photo just to finish off a roll of film. Handheld in very low light, and this image is perfectly exposed. Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400.

 


Another perfect exposure. Twilight at the Great Sand Dunes. Kodak Ektar 100.

 


An irreplacable photo. My family at the top of Indian Creek near La Veta, Colorado, November 2017. We shouldn't have been able to be there at this time of year, but there was no snow. This entire area was devastated by the Spring Fire in June 2018. I'm glad I had this camera to take this photo. Kodak Ektar 100.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Ektar Electro 35 film Fujifilm GSN Kodak photography Portra Superia TMax Yashica https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/review-of-yashica-electro-35-gsn Wed, 21 Apr 2021 14:10:15 GMT
A Film to Digital Comparison https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/a-film-to-digital-comparison For the most part, comparison of film to digital for image quality is a pointless exercise. I would say that any digital sensor made after about 2013 or so (APS-C or larger) is going to provide better image quality than any film at 35mm and probably medium format sizes as well. And although I don't have experience with either one, my guess is that the latest high resolution full-frame and medium format sensors from Sony, Canon, and Fuji that provide 60+ megapixels are probably better than large format film. But I also think this line of comparison misses the point. Photographers who are shooting film in 2021 are not doing it because they need better image quality than what digital provides.

If you are reading  this, then I can tell you that I really hate the Zenfolio blogging platform. I had left the edit window open on my iPad from a couple of days ago, before I wrote the text of the post describing these images. I hit the “Save and Close” button not realizing what I was doing, and now my published post is gone forever. I don’t know if I can bear to re-write it-I’ve dumped that topic from my brain and moved on. Would it be too difficult for Zenfolio to add a reminder about over-writing a Published blog post? Fortunately I was able to bring up a cached copy of the page from my regular laptop. Whew!

While writing my last blog post, I remembered that I had captured some comparison images back in 2017, but I had never done that comparison. At the time, I was still trying to figure out what to do with my negatives-flatbed scanner or digital camera for digitizing and how to convert them to positives. When I looked back at these images, I was frankly surprised at how good the film images look compared to the digital images, and I realized that the shortcomings in this set of film images are the result of using lenses 50+ years old. The film itself is outstanding.

The Comparison

I captured these images late in the afternoon on the creek behind my cabin, facing into the sun. I had a Sony a6000 APS-C digital camera with the excellent Sony Zeiss 16-80mm A-mount zoom lens mounted to the LA-EA-4 adapter (with the translucent mirror). For the film photos, I had my Yashica-Mat 6x6 TLR with 80mm f/3.5 lens and Yashica Electro 35 GSN with 45mm f/1.7 lens, both loaded with Kodak Portra 400 film. The 80mm lens on 6x6 is equivalent to 44mm on 35mm, and I had the Sony set to 30mm which should have also been a 45mm equivalent focal length. I didn't write down the camera settings for the film shots, but the digital image was captured at 1/15 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100.


Medium format 6x6 film photo, 16 megapixels, digitized with Sony a6000. It is possible to get higher resolution and more detail from this negative. Processed in Negative Lab Pro v2.2.

 


Sony a6000 digital image, 24 megapixels, processed in Lightroom.

 


35mm film photo, 12 megapixels, downsampled JPG from flatbed scan.

 


Detailed comparison of 6x6 film image to APS-C digital image.

 


Detailed comparison of 35mm film image to APS-C digital image.


As I stated before, I think the real takeaway from this comparison is the difference in the lenses, specifically, the improvement of modern lens coatings to decrease flare in backlit images. There is really not much difference in the detail visible between the medium format image and the digital image, and I could significantly increase the resolution and detail in the 6x6 photo by digitizing at a higher resolution. And I could do the same with the digital image by zooming in and taking multiple photos. Even the 35mm image has good detail and sharpness although the grain is noticeable and the shadows lose a lot of detail. I think this comparison shows just how capable these old lenses are when used in the right setting. They are very sharp. I can easily make out the lettering on my bike in the background when zoomed in on all three photos.

A Second Comparison

Later that same day in August 2017, I stopped along Highway 12 just after sunset to take some photos of this lighted gate with Goemmer's Butte in the background. I had the Electro 35 with me, so after taking some images with the Sony, I put the Yashica on the tripod and took a couple of photos. I have two photos on the roll, so I think I took the first one with the Electro 35's auto-exposure and the second one with a manual bulb exposure. The first photo was definitely underexposed, but the second one turned out fantastic.


Yashica Electro 35 GSN with Kodak Portra 400, flatbed scan.

 

Sony a6000 with Zeiss 16-80mm lens, 3-shot HDR composite, processed in Lightroom.

Yes, the digital image is better. But I am actually blown away by how good the film image looks. Even zoomed in, the grain is not excessive and there is plenty of detail. Does it prove that film is better than digital? No, or course not. But I think it does prove that the photographer is more important than the camera, and that good, even very old, equipment can be used to produce fantastic images.

Don't be afraid to shoot film. Don't be a film snob. Just take some photos!

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 digital Electro 35 film GSN HDR Kodak lightroom medium format photography Portra Portra 400 Sony sunset Yashica Yashica-Mat https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/a-film-to-digital-comparison Wed, 21 Apr 2021 03:27:03 GMT
Thoughts on 35mm Film https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/thoughts-on-35mm-film

Portrait of Jackson E. Hounddog
Kodak Portra 400, Yashica Electro 35 GSN, processed with Negative Lab Pro

There was a time when image quality was everything to me in photography, regardless of the subject, for all images. I wanted no noise, perfect sharpness, infinite detail. I was a pixel peeper. And this is still true for my landscape photography when shooting digital, and when I am taking those types of images, I’m using whatever techniques I can-multiple exposures, HDR, ETTR-to get that ultimate image quality. But it’s not everything anymore. That’s one of the things that I’ve learned from using film.

First shot with the Electro 35, with a matching Vivitar auto-flash. A perfect exposure.
Fujifilm Superia 400, Yashica Electro 35 GSN, flatbed scan.

I developed my first roll of film just before New Year’s Day this year (2021), and a few weeks later I was telling one of my non-photographer friends about it. He said, “Let me get this straight. You take a picture on film, develop the film, then you take a picture of the film with your digital camera and use some special program to make it look good. Why?”...because it’s film. Film. Because you can hold it in your hand. Because you can smell it when you load the roll into the camera. Because when your hard drive crashes, your still have the negatives. Because it’s something in life that isn’t digital.

Taos, New Mexico, on film
Fujifilm Superia 400, Yashica Electro 35 GSN, flatbed scan

In the last two months, I have bought and/or had repaired four 35mm film cameras. They are cool. Retro. The ones from the later 70s and 80s remind me of the cameras I only saw in catalogs as a kid but could never afford. Now they cost less than a tank of gas. One of them brings back memories of holding my dad’s SLR and trying to figure out how the focusing screen worked (I think it may have been a Canon AE-1; it definitely had a 50mm lens. I have no idea what happened to it.) So there is definitely an element of nostalgia for me in using these cameras.


Star trails on film, northern New Mexico. (Roadside entertainment while waiting 3 hours for a tow truck to arrive from Santa Fe.)
Kodak Tmax 100, Yashica Electro 35 GSN, 20 minutes, f/2.8 with haze filter, processed with Negative Lab Pro.

The first summer I was using film cameras again, I decided to try an image quality comparison between film and digital. I had my Sony a6000, Yashica Electro 35 GSN with a roll of Portra 400, and Yashica-Mat TLR 6x6 also with Portra 400. I was sure the 6x6 would blow away the digital. Well, I set it up wrong with the cameras pointed at backlit trees on the creek behind my house. The flare on the Yashicas was terrible, the image from the Sony (with a Zeiss T* coated lens) blew away the film shots. But aside from the flare, the film shots look really good.

Twilight on Highway 12 near La Veta, Colorado.
Kodak Portra 400, Yashica Electro 35 GSN, flatbed scan with Lightroom edits

I did some other comparisons that summer, putting the film cameras into ridiculous low light setups where film has no chance against digital (but can actually produce some lovely images like the one above). I also took some really bad landscape photos, almost always disappointed with the results. I learned that empty blue skies look terrible on consumer-grade 400-speed film. I learned that empty blue skies look terrible on professional-grade 400-speed film, even on 6x6. But I also learned that same film can capture a wonderful portrait of a dog or incredible soft pastel colors in the clouds just before sunset (with the lens pointed away from the sun). And I learned that kids look great on any type of film taken with any type of camera, but especially on Portra.

Kids on Film
Kodak Portra 400, Yashica Electro 35 GSN, flatbed scan.

I’ve also learned that image quality isn’t everything, even on digital. ISO 12800 probably looks better than ASA 400 on a 32-inch monitor at 1:1, but they both look just fine on a 5x7 print. I’ve even learned to add grain to my digital photos sometimes to cover up the blemishes.

Pueblo Riverwalk
Fujifilm Superia 400, Yashica Electro 35 GSN, processed with Negative Lab Pro

Footnote: I wrote the text of this post before selecting the images. When I reviewed my catalog to pick out the photos to include, I have to admit that the film images look a lot better than I remembered, and I had to revise some of my statements that had been too harsh on the film. Maybe this is an example of how my tastes for photography have changed over the last couple of years.

Something else I noticed is just how incredible that the Yashica Electro 35 GSN really is. All of these images were captured with my Electro 35 the first summer that I got it. I'm sure it had been sitting in a closet for close to 40 years, and I did was replace the light seals and battery and wipe off the lens.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) 120 35mm 6x6 Electro 35 film medium format photography Sony Yashica https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/thoughts-on-35mm-film Sat, 17 Apr 2021 18:26:16 GMT
Shooting 30-Year Old Expired Film https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/shooting-30-year-old-expired-film Minolta X-570 ready to shoot!

When I inherited my Yashica Electro 35 GSN rangefinder in 2017, the bag it was in also had 2 rolls of Seattle Film Works color negative film that expired in 1992. I thought about shooting it, but when I learned that it had to be processed using ECN-2 rather than C-41, I never gave it a second thought knowing that the results, no matter how interesting, could not justify the price of developing. But for some reason I didn’t throw them away. Then the other day I saw a YouTube video that talked about Seattle Film Works and remembered that I had these rolls sitting in a box.

The YouTuber said that some later film stocks from SWF were re-branded C-41 process rather than the re-packaged motion picture film. I checked both rolls and confirmed that they both have the remjet layer on the back. But that’s OK because my current batch of C-41 chemistry is almost used up and I can develop these rolls once that chemistry can no longer be trusted for developing good film.

So this afternoon I loaded the roll of 200 speed SFW film into my X-570 and headed out for a walk through the neighborhood. I wasn’t sure about how to expose the film, so I set the ISO to 50 and shot the whole roll. The box said 20 exposures, so I got concerned that I had not loaded the film properly near the end of the roll when the shutter count got up to 23. But that’s where it stopped. I rolled it back into the canister and headed back to the house.

I have no idea what to expect from this film. The bag with the camera and film were stored in a closet in my mom’s house, so not the worst conditions although the house was vacant and probably not air conditioned for many of those years. And I’ve kept the film in a box in my office since June 2017, so the rolls have been through at least 4 hot Texas summers without air conditioning. I’m not expecting much...

I’ve got a few more rolls to develop before the chemistry is used up, but no time to develop them right now. So we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out. I’ll update this post when I have results...

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/shooting-30-year-old-expired-film Mon, 12 Apr 2021 04:10:59 GMT
Minolta AF https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/minolta-af Or Thoughts on Buying an Autofocus Film SLR in 2021

Minolta Alpha Sweet II from Japan. The seller included a very thoughtful goody bag along with the camera and lenses. I'm not sure what's in the packets.

My fascination with Minolta cameras and lenses began by accident when I bought a Sony digital camera in 2014 rather than a Canon or Nikon. Sony acquired what had been Minolta in 2005, and much of what was a Sony camera directly descended from this Minolta heritage. My first “real” digital camera, meaning I suppose an interchangeable lens camera (ILC in Sony jargon), was a Sony a58 with the “a” being a Greek letter alpha. It was one of the last of Sony’s DSLR-style cameras, which still used the A-mount originally developed by Minolta in the early 1980s for use with the first-ever autofocus system that debuted in the Minolta Maxxum 7000 camera.

I knew none of this when I bought the Sony a58; I bought it because I had read an article that recommended the a58 as the best entry-level DSLR and it fit my budget of $450. But after I had owned that camera for a couple of years, I discovered the world of vintage Minolta A-mount lenses-30 years’ worth of used glass with all but a handful of the highest-end optics now available for a steal on eBay.

Close-up with the 28-135 f/4-4.5, Alpha Sweet II with Superia X-TRA 400

The first vintage lens that I bought was the Minolta AF 28-135 f/4-4.5, known on the internet as the “secret handshake.” I paid around $100 for it in May 2016. It is a truly fantastic lens, the drawbacks being that it is really heavy and the minimum focusing distance is something like 5 feet. I thought I would use it more at the time I bought it, but I picked up the Sony Zeiss 16-80mm shortly afterwards and that became my primary lens for my serious landscape photography. Reviewing the images in my catalog for this blog post made me realize just how great this lens is and also how little I have used it.

My first Minolta camera was the original Maxxum 7000, but I only bought it to get the lenses that came with it. At the time, I just thought the camera looked cool, so it was displayed on my shelf. I was a little bit disappointed when it arrived because I thought I was getting the 50mm f/1.7 and the 70-210mm f/4 “Beercan”, but when it arrived I realized that it was the 35-70mm f/4 instead of the prime. Oh well, for $28 in November 2016 I think it was still a good deal. I picked up the 50mm the following month for $36.

Moonrise on New Year’s Day 2018, from the second roll I put through the Maxxum 7000, 50mm f/1.7, Fujicolor 200

Up to that point, I had been buying these lenses for their vintage character and using them with an autofocus adapter on my Sony a6000 mirrorless camera. But in 2017, I bought a Yashica-Mat TLR from the 1960s and immediately fell in love with film. A month later I inherited a 1970s Yashica Electro 35 rangefinder in perfect condition, and my enchantment with old film cameras was cemented.

I had never really grown to love the 50mm f/1.7 on my Sony camera; the focal length just is not great on APS-C for indoor use, and the lens doesn’t hold up well enough for serious landscape use (although as for the 28-135, reviewing my images has given me a new appreciation for that lens). But when I attached it to the Minolta 7000 body, it was magical. In fact, I liked that combination so well that I never used the other Maxxum lenses on that camera.

My favorite photo captured with the Maxxum 7000, December 2017. 50mm f/1.7, Fujicolor 200

My most recent lens purchase was the 100 mm f/2.8 macro which I picked up for $150 in May 2020 shipped from Japan. This lens immediately became my absolute favorite. James Tocchio of causalphotophile.com describes it as a “technically excellent lens capable of making images that are gorgeous and full of character.” Ken Rockwell describes it simply as “optical perfection.”

Optical perfection with the 100mm f/2.8, Alpha Sweet II with Superia X-TRA 400

The downside of vintage photography equipment, especially cameras from the 1980s, is that eventually they wear out. I discovered some type of power problem recently with my Minolta Maxxum 7000 camera-for whatever reason the camera just loses all power, and when it comes back it has lost track of any settings including the film counter. I have tried cleaning the contacts for the battery door, and it does seem to have something to do with the way the camera is held, but despite my best efforts it will shut off randomly anytime I try to use it. So I think it is time to retire the Maxxum 7000 back to the shelf.

Which brings me to the topic of this post-the replacement for the Maxxum 7000. The 7000 was the first camera ever to feature in-body autofocus, so it is a special camera. In fact, some have said that Minolta’s design for the 7000 established the design paradigm for every autofocus SLR and DSLR to follow. But being the first of a new breed, it has some shortcomings. Aside from the power failure, the early Maxxums also commonly suffer from a failure of the magnets that control the aperture. It also features only a single autofocus point, focus is fairly slow, and the controls are a bit clumsy.


December in Santa Fe, 2018. A shot from the last roll through my Maxxum 7000, 50mm f/1.7 with Ilford XP2 Super

I’ve wanted the Alpha 7 camera for a couple of years-it was released in 2000 and was the pinnacle of Minolta camera design. (I call it by its proper Alpha moniker although it was sold in North America under the Maxxum name and as a Dynax in Europe). The 7 was a prosumer camera marketed a step beneath the pro-grade Alpha 9, but it came out two years later so incorporated two year’s worth of technical advancements. Here in 2021, 7’s in excellent condition are available from Japan starting at $200; the 9 is about $90 more. The Alpha 7 is about 15 years newer than my Maxxum 7000, so it should have quite a few years left. But still, it is a 20+ year old camera with sophisticated electronics, and $200 isn’t pocket change.

I’ve been researching other options. Minolta released the Maxxum 9000 in 1985 alongside the 7000. It is a beautiful piece of machinery and features a manual film advance with autofocus. But it is plagued by the same problem with the aperture magnet and has the same drawbacks with the first-gen autofocus system (and the 7000 did miss focus on more than a few images). I wouldn’t mind having one to use on occasion, but they are harder to find in good condition and not cheap.

Mossy tree roots in Wahatoya Canyon, December 2017. Fujicolor 200, 50mm. Mossy tree roots in Wahatoya Canyon, December 2017. Maxxum 7000, 50mm f/1.7, Fujicolor 200

In between the first generation Maxxum AFs and the Alphas, Minolta released a string of consumer-grade and semi-professional cameras. The autofocus and metering systems improved with each new generation, along with other “improvements” to the user interface and camera controls. For the most part, the Minolta autofocus camera bodies of the later 80s through the mid-90s are plastics chunks with quirky controls-it was a period of experimentation in camera design. Some of the cameras were really innovative-the 7, 8, and 9-series cameras of the early 90s had the ability to save the exposure data on removable cards, and the xi cameras were released with power zoom lenses. It wasn’t until the 1995 release of the 600si that Minolta figured out a design logic that provided intuitive control of the camera, and subsequent bodies featured a similar control set with a main mode dial and a second dial to adjust aperture, shutter speed, or other settings.

Minolta released a lot of different camera bodies in the late 90s culminating with the release of their last two SLR bodies in 2004, the Maxxum 70 and the stripped-down Maxxum 50. Quality consumer digital cameras were mainstream by then; I got my first digital camera in 2003, a 4-megapixel Olympus zoom. Minolta’s best film SLR was either the Alpha 9 or 7, depending on how much you value those additional technological improvements that were added to the 7. But coming on the heels of the 7, the Maxxum 5 was released a year later in 2001 and incorporates many of the advancements of the Alpha 7 in a consumer-grade body. The Maxxum 5 has a better spec of features across the board than 2004’s Maxxum 50, and is a toss-up with the Maxxum 70 (the real benefit of the 70 is the ability to use SSM lenses).

So when shopping for second-hand film SLRs in 2021, you have the option of spending $200 or more for a pro-grade Alpha 7 or 9, or you can pick up a top-level consumer body for $50 or less (I almost bought a batch of 6 untested Maxxum 5s for $20). Using the same lens and same film, will there be a difference in the captured image? Probably not. So unless you need 1/8000 second (or 1/12000 for the Alpha 9!) over the Maxxum 5’s 1/4000 second shutter, or 8 autofocus points rather than 6, or just really want a true pentaprism viewfinder, the Maxxum 5 or 70 might be a better choice. The consumer-level cameras are smaller and lighter, they can capture just as good images, and if the film door latch breaks, you can replace it at least four times over, probably closer to ten times over, for the same price as a 7.

A thoughtful note from the Japanese seller of my new Alpha Sweet II, 28-135 f/4-4.5 with Superia X-TRA 400

You know from the title image for this post that I chose the Maxxum 5 over the Alpha 7. More specifically, I bought an Alpha Sweet II from Japan on the recommendation of David Hancock because it includes a pano mode switch (mostly useless) and a light baffle on the mirror to prevent light leaks in bright sunlight. Plus the name. I did spend a bit more for the Japanese version-I paid $50 for a kit with 2 kit zooms and a Minolta camera bag, plus another $30 in shipping. My first roll of images turned out great, and I love using the camera. It has fast autofocus, responsive controls, and is lightweight. My only complaint is I wish it was all black, and I would really like having a data back to record exposure data. But for the money I saved not buying a 7, I was able to pick up an estate sale find on eBay that included two primo classic Minolta manual focus bodies, an X-570 and XD11, three MD lenses, and an awesome Tenba messenger bag from the 80s! (But that’s a subject for another day.) And no matter how cool I might have felt carrying an Alpha 7 on my shoulder, in the end it looks like just another DSLR, but that X-570 just oozes with '80s style and is way cooler.

I would like to thank Michael Hohner for his Sony/Minolta Alpha camera spec comparison table. It has been a great help not only in writing this post but also in making sense of 20 years’ worth of camera bodies as I was trying to decide what to buy.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) alpha alpha 7 alpha sweet Japan Maxxum Maxxum 5 Maxxum 7000 Minolta photography https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/4/minolta-af Fri, 02 Apr 2021 04:58:03 GMT
First Roll with the Minolta SR-T 101 https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/3/first-roll-with-minolta-sr-t-101
La Plazuela Dining Room inside the La Fonda, Santa Fe, March 2021
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/250 sec, f/1.4, Yellow #2 filter

I came to own a Minolta SR-T 101 because it was attached to a Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 lens that I purchased on eBay in November 2017. I wanted the lens to use for portraits with my Sony mirrorless camera and really had no interest in the old film camera at all, although the all-black body of the SR-T 101 did look good on the shelf next to my Yashica-Mat TLR camera. Unfortunately, the aperture blades on the lens were slow when it arrived, and soon became completely stuck wide open. I watched a YouTube video on how to disassemble the lens and clean the aperture blades, but was never willing to buy the special tool needed to open up the lens. I did use the lens a few times, shooting wide open, but for the most part the old Minolta was a shelf ornament.


First photo with the SR-T 101 and wide-open Rokkor lens. The background just dissolves away.
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/250 sec, f/1.4

Fast forward three years and I decided that the SR-T was too good of a camera in too good of condition for its age to let sit on the shelf, so I sent it off to Garry’s Camera Repair for a CLA and ordered a spanner tool to repair the lens. The camera arrived back looking great; my tool was lost by the USPS so the lens repair was still on hold, but I decided to load up a roll of Delta 400 anyway and start shooting with the wide open lens.


Another wide open shot before the lens was repaired. Shot 1-stop longer than metered.
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/15 sec, f/1.4, Green X1 filter

Supposedly the SR-T’s light meter does not work properly with modern batteries, but Garry’s standard service includes recalibration of the meter. I checked the first few exposures against the light meter app on my phone, and the camera seemed to match up consistently. After the first few frames I quit thinking about it and just trusted the camera.


Spring snowstorm.
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/500 sec, f/1.4, Yellow 2 filter

The spanner tool arrived a few days later and my attempt to repair the lens was mostly successful (long story here). At least the aperture was working again-it was easy enough to hold a finger on the aperture ring when taking the shot.


Loretto Gate, Santa Fe
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/1000 sec, f/1.4, Red #25A filter


Top Floor of the La Fonda
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/250 sec, f/11, Yellow #2 filter


La Fonda Hallway
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/15 sec, f/1.4, Yellow #2 filter

We made a family trip over to Santa Fe for a couple of days for Spring Break, and I carried the SR-T with me as we wandered around town. I also explored the hallways of the La Fonda and found lots of photogenic spaces in the hotel. This was my first real experience shooting with a fully manual SLR, and I absolutely loved using it. I used a filter on almost every photo, mostly yellow but also red and green, and relied completely on the camera’s meter for every exposure. The 58mm focal length is very useable with the 35mm film, whereas it seemed to be quite limiting when paired with the APS-C digital camera.


Room with a View, Santa Fe
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/250 sec, f/11, Red #25A filter


Stairway in La Fonda
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/60 sec, f/5.6, Yellow #2 filter


La Conquistadora
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/1000 sec, f/4, Red #25A filter

I developed the film the day after we got back home in CineStill Df96 monobath. So far it is the only black and white developer that I’ve tried, and so far I don’t see any reason to try anything else. Negatives were scanned with my digital camera and converted using Negative Lab Pro.


Water Street, Santa Fe
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/125 sec, f/5.6, Red #25A filter


La Fonda Stairway
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/60 sec, f/5.6, Yellow #2 filter


Interior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/125 sec, f/1.4, Red #25A filter


Hall Phone, La Fonda
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/30 sec, f/1.4, Yellow #2 filter


Interior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe
MC Rokkor 58mm, 1/60 sec, f/4, Yellow #2 filter

My first experience with the SR-T 101 has only strengthened my love of film photography. I do regret having waited so long to have this camera refurbished. I have two more rolls of Ilford film waiting to run through this camera. And another Minolta SLR on it way to Garry’s...

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) 58mm black and white Delta 400 f/1.4 film Ilford Minolta photography Rokkor Santa Fe SR-T 101 https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/3/first-roll-with-minolta-sr-t-101 Wed, 24 Mar 2021 04:42:31 GMT
Infrared Processing with the B&W Artisan Pro X Panel https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/2/infrared-processing-with-the-b-w-artisan-pro-x-panel Tharps Rock and Alta Peak
Tharps Rock and Alta Peak, Sequoia National Park, May 2019
105mm, f/8, 1/100 sec, ISO 100, 590 nm (Sony a6000 with 18-105mm f/4 G lens)

Lightroom provides a simple and effective way to process black and white infrared images and achieve nice results, particularly with the use of black and white profiles such as Jim Welninski’s Black and White Artistry profiles.  This has been my primary processing method for my black and white infrared images for the last couple of years, and I’ve only gone on to Photoshop when absolutely necessary, mainly because I haven’t found a Photoshop workflow that I’m comfortable with.

That has changed now with my discovery of the B&W Artisan Pro X panel by Joel Tjintjelaar along with the excellent webinar tutorials Joel has made available on his YouTube channel. I dove into the use of the panel when I was unable to achieve my vision for my moonrise photo using either Lightroom or Photoshop. Even though there was a lot to learn with the panel and the workflow, I felt like I was able to use it effectively to create the image I had in my mind from that photo. With that success, I was ready to try using the panel on another photo in my library that I’ve never been completely satisfied with.

I captured this photo of Alta Peak in Sequoia National Park in May 2019. An afternoon thunderstorm was retreating east over the Sierras at sunset, creating the opportunity for some incredible infrared images with the sunlight filtered through the clearing clouds. This image was the last infrared photo that I captured that evening just before the direct sunlight disappeared. In my mind, I envisioned the top of the peak and the clouds just catching the sunlight out of the darkness. But my Lightroom edit from 2019 was a far cry from this vision.

Tharps Rock and Alta Peak Original Lightroom Edit

I attempted this edit in Photoshop using the panel, but failed miserably on my first attempt. I ended up creating a very stark image with nearly pure white highlights and no details in the dark foreground or the sky. I decided to re-watch both the Beginner and Advanced webinar tutorials for the B&W Artisan Pro X panel from 2020 knowing that I would probably pick up a lot of nuance the second time now that I had some experience using the panel on a couple of images. Even with the video playback set at 1.25x speed and skipping over the non-relevant parts, this was still a big time investment, but it was absolutely worth it. When I opened this image the second time in Photoshop, I felt like I knew exactly which tools to use to achieve the results I wanted. I’ll freely admit that I did have to back up a few times and start over on parts of the edit, but I think this is just part of the editing process-sometimes one approach doesn’t work so you try something else.

An important step that Joel teaches is to make a diagram showing the areas of light, dark, and midtone and contrasts. I made myself do this for my last two images, and I’ve found that it is actually very useful, particularly for working out the steps to process the image to achieve the final vision.


Unedited Image with Processing Notes

In between my attempts at editing this image with the B&W Artisan Pro X panel, I also made another attempt to realize a more dramatic edit in Lightroom and pushed the image much farther than I would normally. This edit also required substantial use of manual masking in addition to using luminosity range masks for the radial filters. The results are not bad and not too different from my final version of this image. The Lightroom edit is maybe not quite so dramatic nor as subtle. But the main problem was that after I finished the edit and came back to it, I realized that a significant halo had developed all the way around the bright clouds. I had not noticed this halo while editing, but once I saw it, I could not un-see it. And despite checking all of the sliders, I was unable to completely remove it from the image. Despite this problem, I was impressed with how far I could push the shadows in Lightroom.

Tharps Rock and Alta Peak Revised Lightroom Edit: Closer to my vision, but somehow the clouds have acquired an outline

I’m not providing a detailed description of my edit in this post, but I do want to share a few notes. Before taking the image into Photoshop, I applied an infrared camera profile in Lightroom (using the standard DCP Profile Editor approach starting from the Sony Camera Deep profile). I also made a slight adjustment to the Highlights and Shadows sliders to balance the contrast in the raw image along with applying standard sharpening, minor noise reduction, and lens corrections.

Tharps Rock and Alta Peak Color Raw Image Before Conversion 

I opened the image as a Smart Object in Photoshop just in case I needed to go back to the raw image and make changes. This imported raw color version was also used to generate luminosity masks throughout the editing process. The image was inverted to black and white using the Neutral Conversion preset in the panel. I also spent some time initially creating a hard selection of the sky, but no other saved selections were needed for this image.

I processed the image as three separate areas: first the sky, then the forest in the foreground, and finally the mountain in combination with the foreground. Other than the separation of the sky and mountain/foreground, most of the adjustments were made using either rectangular Marquee selections with the Restore feature of the panel, or using freeform selections with the Lasso tool, often in combination with luminosity masks. Once I had developed a solid understanding of how to work with these selections and luminosity masks, I was able to effectively use to various adjustment features of the panel to make subtle edits in the image. I was surprised to find that after the final step, this image did not need any noise or grain to be added to smooth the transitions in the sky. However, after publishing the image on my website, I did notice that the sky suffered when displayed in some formats, such as on this blog. I made a few final adjustments to the sky and added noise to the dark areas using BlendIf, and now the published image looks better.

I would say the most important steps that I have learned from working with the panel and learning Joel’s workflow are: remove contrast when darkening; darken first, then use luminosity masks to restore highlights, and build up adjustments gradually by applying minute, subtle changes to achieve a desired effect.

You can see more of my images from Sequoia National Park here.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 Alta Peak B&W Artisan B&W Artisan Pro X black and white fine art infrared Joel Tjintjelaar lightroom photography Sequoia National Park Sony Tharp https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/2/infrared-processing-with-the-b-w-artisan-pro-x-panel Mon, 15 Feb 2021 03:30:13 GMT
Attempting Fine Art in Black and White https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/2/attempting-fine-art-in-black-and-white Moonrise over the West Spanish Peak

80mm, 1/80 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 (Sony a6500 with Zeiss 16-80 mm lens)
HDR bracketed exposure, processed in Photoshop with the B&W Artisan Pro X Panel

I'm not quite sure who bestows or authorizes use of the title of "Fine Art Photographer", but I'm trying to find out so I can get mine. I hesitate to even use the term “fine art” when describing one of my images partly because no one really knows what it means and partly because it is cliche. Just search the internet for “fine art photography” and you will find no limit to the number of fine art photographers whose work is anything but. In this case, I am referring specifically to this high contrast style of black and white photography that makes heavy use of tonal values at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Sometimes the images are very dark, like my moonrise image, but they can also be very white as well. Some examples of photographers who (sometimes) work in this style are Cole Thompson, Clyde Butcher, and Joel Tjintjelaar. Another key aspect of many of the photographs of this type is the separation from reality that many times goes beyond just the conversion to black and white. Sometimes it is the removal of certain elements from the scene to simplify the composition, sometimes it is the use of long exposure, sometimes it is minimalism-but whatever it is, I really like it.

For this particular image, I initially processed the photo in Lightroom (the next image below) and was really happy with the first edit. This photo has the essence of the surreal and is certainly unique enough. But the more I looked at the image, I realized that the Lightroom image was not the image I could see in my mind. It was not dark enough, it did not have enough contrast, and it just looked too realistic. I made several additional attempts in Lightroom using many of the different approaches that I’ve learned, but I ran into several issues and came to the conclusion that I just couldn’t execute my vision for this photograph in Lightroom.

80mm, 1/80 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100
HDR bracketed exposure, processed in Lightroom (no Photoshop!)

At this point I turned to Photoshop and, after a couple of failed attempts, created an image that was closer to my vision, but unfortunately was completely unacceptable technically. The problem was that my adjustments in Photoshop were not subtle enough, and if anything is needed to turn a bright sky black, it is subtlety. My final image looked OK in Photoshop, but when exported, the compression in the image made it look terrible and amateur.

So I decided to try a completely different (and new to me) approach using the B&W Artisan Pro X panel created by Joel Tjintjelaar. I was familiar with Joel’s work and his editing panel, but he is primarily known for his architectural photography so I was hesitant to attempt to apply his techniques to landscape images. But he recently released a series of in-depth workshops using his panel on his YouTube channel and demonstrated his techniques on some landscapes images. Joel’s workflow is centered around gradually building up contrast through the use of many (ten to hundreds) subtle adjustments. I was convinced that his approach would give me the tools needed to create the image I had been envisioning. But making effective use of a new set of tools is another is another thing entirely.

In this post, I want to share the process I used to create this image and how I made use of the various tools in Joel’s panel to create various adjustments in the image. The first step is something I have never done before although I’ve seen several great photographers (including Joel) teach it, and that was to create an image map showing the changes I wanted to make in the image. This actually is a useful exercise-it forced to think about the specific adjustments I wanted to make and made me aware of some problems I would have to deal with that I had not recognized before.

Rollei Infrared 400

 

The first step in Photoshop was to create the masks that would be needed to separate the Figure (the mountain) from the Ground (sky and foreground). Creating selections has never been something I’m particularly good at, but once again, Joel’s excellent tutorials were very helpful. I created selections for the sky, foreground, mountain, and moon.

With the selections created and saved, it was time to start editing. From Lightroom, I opened the raw image as a Smart Object in Photoshop so that I could make any revisions using the original raw image. Here’s a screenshot of my Photoshop layer stack. Joel’s workflow using the B&W Artisan Pro panel applies minute adjustments directly to the image rather than using adjustment layers. Some might not consider this to be a “non-destructive” workflow, but I found that retaining key intermediate layers at various stages allowed me to go back if needed to an earlier point in the workflow. Joel recommends working on the image in sections and saving the edits for each section as a separate file containing more of the intermediate edits. I didn’t really find that necessary for this image. You can see from the layer stack that my complete edit sequence for this image comprised about ten major steps from start to finish. I probably generated four to five times that many layers in total for the entire edit.

In the following sections, I’ve written a short paragraph describing each major step in the edit followed by an image showing the state of the photograph after that stage of editing.

1. Raw Image

The raw image is an HDR composite of three exposures with the Enhance Details feature applied before merging. I found that Enhance Details reduced the halo along the mountain when the image was converted to black and white in Lightroom. I used HDR to reduce noise and retain detail in the moon. I wrote a separate post discussing these issues here.

 

2. Black and White Conversion

The image was converted to black and white using the Neutral Conversion preset in the B&W Artisan Pro panel. The neutral conversion maintains the luminance values of the color image without making any adjustments to the luminance values based on color. This approach is recommended by Joel, but is completely opposite of what many photographers teach for black and white conversion. I decided to use the neutral conversion since I was trying out Joel’s workflow on my image, but I have to admit I didn’t like doing it this way. All of my previous edits of this image made use of black and white conversions that emphasized and enhanced the sunlight hitting the top of the mountain, and the neutral conversion somewhat diminishes the contrast of light and shadow on the mountain. However, I have to admit that I had no problem enhancing the light on the peak later on in editing, so maybe Joel is correct.

I’d like to point out at this stage just how prominent the foreground is in this image. Even though it is dark, it also contains all of the contrast in the image. The mountain and moon just kind of blend in to the incredibly bland sky.

 

3. Darken the Sky

The first adjustment was to darken the sky using multiple applications of the local contrast (Smart Linear with mask) and Creating Depth tools to gradually turn the sky black. These were applied with the only the sky selected. The image below also shows the effect of applying the Low Key preset as recommended by Joel to remove contrast and darken the foreground. However, I later decided to start over with the foreground from the neutral conversion because too much contrast had been removed. Notice how the focus has shifted to the mountain which has become the dominant subject in the image, but no adjustments have been applied to the mountain up to this point.

 

4. Lighten the Mountain

Next I focused on the mountain to lighten the sunlit peak and emphasize the transition to shadow, again using the local contrast (Smart Linear-Strict) and Creating Depth tools with the mountain selected. Further adjustments were made to the mountain at a later step. 

 

5. The Moon

For the moon, I broke away from Joel’s workflow and used the Texture and Clarity sliders in Adobe Camera Raw to bring back detail in the moon. Since the raw file was imported as a Smart Object, I was able to make a new copy and edit the raw file directly, then apply the Neutral Conversion. The moon was isolated through a layer mask. 

 

6. Foreground Adjustments

The image below shows the revised foreground. Rather than using the Low Key preset, I started over with the foreground using the Smart Linear local contrast adjustments to darken, then I used the Micro Zone adjustments applied through local selections within the foreground to essentially dodge and burn. I think that this approach allows the foreground to blend seamlessly with the sky and mountain whereas the effects of the Low Key preset were far more obvious. 

 

7. Fine-tuning the Mountain

At this point, the image was mostly finished, but after reviewing the image a few hours later, I felt like the mountain still needed some fine-tuning. I once again turned to the Micro Zone Adjustments tools to selectively add contrast to the mountain, especially the sunlit peak. I also realized at this point that the sky surrounding the top of the mountain and the moon was too dark.

 

8. Final Contrast and Add Noise

I used the Special FX tool to bring back some light in the sky around the mountain and moon. This is another example of an adjustment that I had been unable to make without the B&W Artisan Pro panel. At this step, I added a couple of Curves adjustment layers to add some final contrast. I used one layer for contrast to apply a very subtle S-curve (only about plus or minus three points above and below the line) and a second layer to set the white and black points for the final image. The image also had some very subtle banding visible in the sky, even when viewed at 100% in Photoshop, so I added some slight grain to the sky using the Add Noise filter set to about 1.1% (another tip from Joel’s webinar).

 

9. Split Toning

The final step was the addition of split toning using the Sound of Silence preset in the panel. Joel has created several presets for complementary split toning applied through luminosity masks. The effect is exquisitely subtle.

I knew from previous work with the image that the final version would be cropped to a 4:5 aspect ratio, but all of the Photoshop work was performed on the uncropped image so that I would have the ability to export other versions (like a 16:9 for my computer wallpaper). The final cropped image appears as the title image for this post.

So what do you think-did I earn the fine art title for this image? Leave a comment and let me know. As for me, I’ve ordered a print to hang in my office.

Update: I shared this image on the BWVision forum and received the following response from Joel Tjintjelaar. I am humbled by his words, but also feel that maybe I can now legitimately call myself a “fine art photographer.”

”I have to say that this is very, very impressive. I'm not looking at it from a technical point of view, just from an artistic point of view, and when that happens you've done a great job: the techniques applied are non-obtrusive and natural. And I'm very impressed. The moon rising directly over the summit is a great coincidence but that's what I like so much about photography: the unexpected element. This is like an Ansel Adams photograph that Adams has never shot.”

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 B&W Artisan black and white BWVision Colorado fine art HDR lightroom photography Spanish Peaks https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/2/attempting-fine-art-in-black-and-white Mon, 08 Feb 2021 05:43:47 GMT
Practical Example of ETTR https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/practical-example-of-ettr
80mm, 1/80 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100
HDR bracketed exposure processed in Lightroom

As I was reviewing images for my last post, I noticed some noise in the sky around the moon in one of the shots. This particular image was underexposed (-1 EV), but I had bracketed the exposures (+/-1 EV), so there were two other images of the same scene available at 0 and +1 EV. In Lightroom, I simply copied the develop settings to these two other exposures, then lowered the Exposure slider by one or two stops. Because of the brightness of the moon, I expected the +1 exposure to not be usable, but the moon was not overexposed and had no loss of highlight detail. When I zoomed in to examine the sky, there was almost no noise at all in the brighter exposure-ETTR at work!


Luminance noise in the sky-the image on the left appears grainy but the image on the right is smooth. However, there is more detail in the moon in the image on the left captured with 2 stops faster shutter speed.

I also checked some other areas and realized that the noise was quite bad in several parts of the underexposed image, even though it was captured at ISO 100. In particular, the color noise was terrible in the shadows-see the comparison below. (These comparisons show the fully processed exposures at 200% magnification in Lightroom. I have applied standard sharpening with masking. Luminance noise reduction was set to zero; color noise reduction was left at the default amount of 25.)


Color noise in shadows-the image on the left shows a lot of color noise, the image on the right has none.

The next example shows a comparison of the deep shadows in the image. I don’t see a lot of noise (because I have left these areas dark), but the deep shadows are blocky in the underexposed image. The ETTR image shows more detail in these areas.


Deep shadows-the image on the right shows greater detail while the shadows are blocked up in the image on the left.

The one drawback I noticed to using the ETTR exposure was that the underexposed image had much greater detail in the moon, probably because of the movement of the moon in the longer exposure (1/40 sec versus 1/160 sec). I decided to try creating an HDR composite of the three exposures in Lightroom to see if it would preserve the detail in the moon while eliminating the noise and in fact the merged image turned out quite well.


80mm, 1/40 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100
Unprocessed raw ETTR image with histogram. Although the moon appears blown out, the histogram shows plenty of room to the right.

I hope this example demonstrates the practical usefulness of exposing to the right (ETTR) and HDR. For this image, ETTR provided a very noticeable benefit across 90 percent of the image by eliminating luminance noise that affected the sky and ugly color noise in the darker parts of the photo. And although there was absolutely no need for the typical use of HDR to expand the dynamic range, the benefits of combining multiple exposures to reduce noise and enhance details are apparent.

Bonus tip: I discovered that Lightroom’s Enhance Details feature cannot be used on a merged HDR DNG image. But the HDR Merge does work using Enhanced versions of the bracketed exposures. So for the ultimate in Lightroom image quality, you know what to do...

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 dynamic range ETTR exposure HDR lightroom moon photography Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/practical-example-of-ettr Sat, 23 Jan 2021 00:14:31 GMT
A Bit of Luck, Moonrise Over the West Spanish Peak https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/a-bit-of-luck-moonrise-over-the-west-spanish-peak
80mm, 1/80 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100
HDR bracketed exposure, processed in Lightroom (no Photoshop!)

This image was not planned in advance, and I did not pre-visualize the moon sitting directly over the summit of the West Spanish Peak when I had the idea for this photo. In fact, I was just hoping that the moon would appear somewhere in the scene around the mountain. But as luck would have it, this happened!

When photographing the moonrise, it’s always a surprise when the moon actually appears. Sometimes there are low clouds on the distant horizon that are invisible but obscure the moon, so it seems to take forever for the moon to finally appear. On this day, it was the opposite. I was not expecting it for several more minutes, and it suddenly started peeking out from the north side of the mountain. As the full disk of the moon came into view, I realized that it was gradually moving to the south as it rose and would pass directly over the summit of the peak. I’ll admit, at the time I was super excited, and it was incredible to see even if I had not been taking photographs. But I only realized a couple of days ago just how truly unique this event was.


Moonrise series from the first appearance of the moon at 4:31 to the last light on the summit at 4:45. Officially, sunset was at 4:43.

Obviously, the moon rises in the east just like the sun, and the azimuth of the moonrise moves north and south depending on the season and a whole host of other astronomical factors. So I just assumed that a moonrise over the peak like this would occur at least a couple of times a year. But a recent Photopills podcast on moon photography with moon photo guru Jennifer Khordi had me thinking about other locations to capture the moonrise over the peaks, and I had a difficult time finding viewpoints and suitable times to get the shots I had in mind. I decided to look at this exact shot in my photo planning app (PlanIt Pro) and was amazed to discover that a shot like this won’t be possible again until at least February 2024, more than three years from when I got this photo, and afterwards not again until sometime after 2030!* (Sorry you missed it Scot.)

PlanIt Pro screenshot showing the plan for the title image of this post captured at 4:40 PM on
November 28, 2020. Note that this image was captured just before sunset at 4:43 PM.

This shot was captured at 4:40 PM on November 28, 2020, just 3 minutes before sunset. A few minutes earlier the entire mountain was in full sun; a few minutes later it was in shadow, but for this image the sun was still lighting the top of the peak as the moon passed over. According to PlanIt Pro, the full moon will rise behind the summit of the peak only three times in the next ten years (February 2024, February 2028, and November 2030), but none of those are exactly like November 2020 when the moon was directly over the peak just after sunset. The best opportunity might be February 2024 when the top of the mountain should still be catching a little bit of sunlight as the moon just touches the summit. In 2028, the moon will be farther above the peak after sunset, and in 2030 the mountain will still be in full sunlight. And of course, who knows if there will be clear skies in both directions!

PlanIt Pro screenshot showing the next time the full moon will appear just above the West Spanish Peak,
right after sunset on February 23, 2024. With any luck the top of the mountain will still be illuminated.

For me, the definitive photo of this scene is the black and white version with the moon directly over the half sunlit peak-it's truly a Zen moment. But I'm also drawn to the color image below that was captured a few minutes later. As the sun dropped, the colors in the sky deepened and the summit was intensified by the alpenglow almost like a spotlight, while the moon became brighter and whiter in contrast. 


80mm, 1/25 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100
Single exposure processed with Enhanced Details in Lightroom.

I think it’s worthwhile to mention that an image like this is easily faked with Photoshop, and unfortunately it has become all too common for photographers to create an image on their computer but claim that it was captured as a single exposure. For me, much of the satisfaction is in capturing an authentic photograph of the scene-this whole post has been about my excitement to have witnessed such a unique event. Of course, some photographers wouldn’t consider this to be a good image unless it also had a bald eagle silhouetted against the moon and a buck looking straight into the camera!

*I do realize that there are other vantage points from where it might be possible to get a similar photograph at other times. But the number of publicly accessible vantage points, especially in winter, are limited, so it's not possible to simply reposition the camera a few hundred yards north or south to get the moon to line up with the peak.

P.S. I wasn’t quite happy with the look of the final image as it was processed in Lightroom, but I felt that I had pushed it about as far as I could. So I re-worked the merged HDR from the color image in Photoshop to the version below. This image was my first attempt at editing in a "Fine Art" black and white style using the methods developed and taught by Joel Tjintjelaar at BWVision.com. It's not quite perfect, but this version is a lot closer to my vision for this image. I thought it was important to still share the Lightroom-only version, so I left it as the title image for this post.

Moonrise over the West Spanish Peak
80mm, 1/80 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100
HDR bracketed exposure, processed in Photoshop
 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 black and white Colorado Cuchara HDR lightroom moon moonrise photography Photopills PlanIt Pro Sony West Spanish Peak https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/a-bit-of-luck-moonrise-over-the-west-spanish-peak Fri, 22 Jan 2021 19:12:13 GMT
Developing Black and White With Df96 Monobath https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/developing-black-and-white-with-df96-monobath
Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/125 sec, f/8, Ilford Delta 400

After a slight delay caused by receiving a spoiled bottle of liquid developer, I was able to try my hand at developing black and white film using the Cinestill Df96 Monobath developer. Cinestill was very responsive and promptly sent me Df96 powered developer and a 1-L bottle as a replacement. In the meantime, I jumped in to film developing with C-41 processing, so using the Df96 Monobath was a breeze.


Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/4 sec, f/3.5, Ilford Delta 400

I developed two rolls (Ilford Delta 400 and Kodak TMax 400) of 120 film on the same evening. The Delta 400 was expired but freshly removed from the fridge a few hours before shooting and processed within a week. The Kodak on the other hand had been exposed almost two years ago and stored on the camera shelf in my office. The Ilford film turned out beautifully; the Kodak not so much, but I think the fault lies with the film and storage rather than the developer.


Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/2 sec, f/3.5, Ilford Delta 400

Df96 could not be easier to use. I worked in the Kitchen sink and used a large pot of hot water from the tap to heat up some distilled water for mixing the chemicals. It took a couple of minutes of continuous stirring to completely dissolve the dry chemicals, then I just let mixture cool while I loaded the first roll onto the spool. I pre-rinsed the film for about a minute with warm tap water, and once the thermometer showed less than 80 degrees, I poured in the developer. I agitated by rolling the tank for the first 30 seconds, the used the stir stick to rotate the spool every 30 seconds or so for an 8 minute development time. Then I poured the developer back in the mixing pitcher, rinsed 10 times with tap water, then did a final rinse and soak using distilled water with a single drop of dishwasher rinse aid. The process was generally the same for the second roll except I let the tank sit in the hot water bath for part of the time during development just to make sure that the temperature didn’t drop too much.


Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/125 sec, f/8, Ilford Delta 400

The Ilford Delta 400 looks beautiful. The negatives looked very good and were easy to photograph, and the processed images have nice contrast with excellent detail in the shadows and highlights and subdued grain. These are the best black and white negatives I have worked with, and all of my previous films were professionally developed.


Yashica-Mat 80mm, 1/2 sec, f/3.5, Ilford Delta 400 (+1 stop)

The Kodak TMax 400 suffers from a multitude of issues, and this roll is not a fair test of the developer. The first thing I noticed was that the Kodak negatives were much denser than the Ilford negatives, and the edges of the film were very dark instead of being clear. For the most part, this did not affect the exposed portion of the frame although a few of the inverted images are brighter near the edges. This would seem to indicate incomplete development near the edges of the film, but I don’t know why this would have occurred. I agitated the Kodak roll more than the Ilford, and I left the film in the tank for a full 8 minutes.


Kodak skies over the West Spanish Peak, June 2019 (Color version)
Yashica-Mat 80mm, Kodak TMax 400

Another problem with the Kodak film is the “backing paper issue” that apparently affected TMax 120 film from about 2016 through 2018 (my roll was purchased in 2017). However, this was not the first roll of TMax I used from that batch, but it the only roll to exhibit the issue. Maybe the improper storage of the film after exposure contributed to the appearance of the issue on these photos, or maybe it was the X-ray scanners at the airport. Several of the frames on this roll have other artifacts, and the grain is very pronounced.


Yashica-Mat 80mm, Kodak TMax 400
Note the “backing paper issue.”


Invasion of Radioactive Blobs
Yashica-Mat 80mm, Kodak TMax 400

I’ve now tried developing both color negative and black and white films using the Cinestill processing kits and have achieved excellent results with both. Developing with Df96 could not have been easier, and with the results I got from the Delta film, I don’t see any reason to try a more complex developer. I am perplexed by the appearance of the TMax backing paper issue and the grain in my TMax images, so I’m planning to shoot another roll of TMax from that same 2017 batch of film to see if I can get better results from this film.

Smoke and Trees in Yosemite Valley, October 2019
Yashica-Mat 80mm, Kodak TMax 400

Aside from the developing, I’ve not been happy with hardly any of the 6x6 black and white landscape photos that I’ve captured. The exception is a roll that we captured inside a slot canyon. This is probably a good topic for another post, but I seem to be missing the point when capturing black and white landscapes.


Yashica-Mat 80mm, Kodak TMax 400

Have you tried developing with Df96? How do you think it compares to other developers? Leave a comment and let me know.

Processing note: all of these images were processed completely in Lightroom using Negative Lab Pro v2.2. These images required very little work after conversion although color toning and vignettes were added to some photos.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) black and white Cinestill developer Df96 film Ilford Kodak monobath photography YashicaMat https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/developing-black-and-white-with-df96-monobath Sun, 10 Jan 2021 03:14:32 GMT
Yosemite on Portra https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/yosemite-on-portra Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yashica-Mat 80mm, Kodak Portra 400 (still needs work in Photoshop)

I visited Yosemite for the first (and only so far) time in October 2019. It is a truly spectacular place that I have always wanted to see, but as a photographer, the thought of taking my Sony camera there is almost appalling. Of all the places that have been photographed to death, Yosemite has to be near the top of the list. But it is the place where Ansel Adams discovered his vision for photography, so how could I not want to follow in his footsteps?

My solution, and I was genuinely excited when I thought of it, was to take only my film cameras (plus my phone). I felt that might be a way to get unique Yosemite photos in the age of Instagram, or if not unique then at least different. And my guess is that even with the resurgence of film, I was probably the only person there that day carrying a Yashica-Mat TLR and a Chinon Genesis SLR.

It was a beautiful fall day as I drove into the park, and I skipped the stop at Tunnel View on the way in because I was hoping to catch the bus up to Glacier Point and hike back down into the valley. Unfortunately, the sign in the main visitor center informed me that the bus was sold out for the season (useful information that the concessionaire could have posted on their website), and smoke from the Briceburg Fire outside the park was beginning to drift into the valley as I walked back to the car. The smoke came in fast, and the valley was completely filled with smoke a short while later.


Half Dome from the valley floor. Yashica-Mat 80mm, Kodak Portra 400.

I snapped a few photos before the smoke got too bad, then decided to head back to Fresno. A young couple waved down my car and explained (in a strange accent) that they had parked at Glacier Point that morning and hiked down into the valley thinking that they could ride the bus back up. I had some sympathy for them since my plans had also been thwarted by the bus (although I did see it clearly posted that one should not expect the bus to be available to return you to your car at Glacier Point), and I figured I was reasonably safe picking up hitchhikers in Yosemite who spoke with strong foreign accents. It turns out they were from Israel vacationing in the U.S. touring several national parks. We had a nice conversation as I drove them up to Glacier Point where there was a relatively clear view of Half Dome although it was still vey smoky in the valley below.

These images were captured with my Yashica-Mat TLR and Kodak Portra 400 film. I had some issues converting these negatives with good results. Because this was only my second attempt at home developing, I initially thought there were some problems with the process. But the roll of 35mm film that I developed immediately afterwards turned out perfect, so that gave me more confidence in the developing. After working on the negative conversions some more in Negative Lab Pro, I think that the haze from the wildfire smoke is a major factor, followed by some issues with the development of the larger 120 film.


Non-waterfalls in Yosemite. Yashica-Mat 80mm, Kodak Portra 400.

Before developing these photos, the only images I had from that day were captured with my Pixel 3a smartphone. I had processed a raw image of half dome from the phone and actually made a decent photograph with some heavy use of the dehaze slider in Lightroom. My theory is that Negative Lab Pro expects a certain amount of contrast in the negative, or at least, it is setting a white and black point and then applying a set of contrast curves to transform the negative into a positive and correct the color. The extreme haze from the smoke reduced the contrast in the actual scene, in addition to raising the black levels. When converting the negative images, NLP is just pushing the negatives too far which emphasizes any imperfections in the negatives (of which there are many).


Example of smoke and haze in unprocessed and processed images (cropped photo from Pixel 3a camera).

When I created some additional conversions in NLP while consciously trying not to remove too much haze, I was able to significantly reduce many of the artifacts that appear in the initial conversions. Of course, those images look smoky and hazy rather than crisp and clear. But there are still some artifacts in the film including some tonal variations in the lighter parts of the images that run parallel to the length of the film roll along with some darkening of the negatives along the sides of the frames. I think both of these may indicate insufficient agitation of the film in the developer, so I’ll have to try to be more vigorous next time.

Despite the smoke, I did come away with the three compositions presented in this post that I really like. One of them was processed entirely in Lightroom with NLP, but the other two required some work in Photoshop to achieve my vision for the images.


Yours truly, courtesy of another solo tourist who needed a portrait for the ‘gram. 

I left Yosemite that day feeling frustrated and disappointed (and more than a little selfish that I was so concerned about the smoke ruining my photos when the fire was causing so much destruction). But after seeing these images on the film as it hung to dry, staring in awe at the computer screen when they appeared in true color, and applying all of my digital post-processing knowledge to turn them into presentable photographs, I am glad that had the opportunity to be there. And I am looking forward to having an opportunity to go back again with more film.


 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) film Half Dome negative Negative Lab photography Portra Yashica Yosemite https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/yosemite-on-portra Thu, 07 Jan 2021 05:18:39 GMT
C-41 Developing is Easy https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/c-41-developing-is-easy Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Fuji Superia 400

It turns out that developing color negative film with C-41 is really simple. After trying out the process on a very old roll of film, I was ready to develop a couple of rolls that I did not want to risk losing. The first easy thing about developing with C-41 for the second time is that the chemicals were already mixed. All I had to do was let them soak in a hot water bath long enough to get them up to the proper temperature. Of course, my wife would be upset with me for taking over the kitchen with my chemicals, so I offered to do the grocery shopping while they were warming up. (Brilliant!) I filled the container with hot water from the kitchen faucet at about 120F, and when I returned from the store everything was at about 100F.

Cuchara Valley, October 2018

The second easy thing about developing film is that loading the reels with newer film is much easier than loading old film. I did not realize this the first time when it took me approximately two days sitting in the dark bathroom to get both rolls of tightly curled 35mm film loaded onto the reels. This second time I developed a roll of 120 and a roll of 35mm, and each one was successfully spooled on the first try.

The actual development process is also easy. With the chemicals up to the right temperature, developing the film is simply a matter of pouring in the right chemical, stirring a few times while the timer runs, then pouring it out. The shortest chemical soak time is 3.5 minutes, so there’s really no rushing involved. For the final rinse, I used distilled water with a drip of dishwasher rinse aid since my kit didn’t include Photo-Flo, then I hung up the strips of film on a hanger in the bathroom.

All of the images featured with this post were captured using my Yashica Electro 35 GSN with Fuji Superia 400 film and processed in Lightroom using Negative Lab Pro v2.2 with the Frontier and Lab-Standard settings. I was able to convert the entire set of 36 negatives in one batch, then I made some minor color adjustments to a few images that I wanted to improve. These are probably the cleanest and easiest set of negatives that I have processed. I had more difficulty processing the 120 roll that I developed just before this roll of 35mm-I’m not sure why but I did have some issues with those negatives. I’ll be presenting those images and the problems encountered in my next post.

Overall, if you have an interest in developing your film but like me have been hesitant because of concerns about the time commitment or complexity of the process, I would encourage you to go ahead and give it a try. I’m using the Cinestill Cs41 chemicals purchased as part of their color processing starter kit. I think it is a great way to get started at a cost of less than $200.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) c-41 Cinestill color negative developing film Lightroom Negative Lab photography Yashica https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/c-41-developing-is-easy Tue, 05 Jan 2021 05:46:02 GMT
First Time Film Developing with Expired Film https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/first-time-film-developing-with-expired-film Half Dome, October 2019. Chinon Genesis with expired Kodak UltraMax400.

My experimentation with film photography started in 2017 when I acquired two old manual film cameras-a 1960s Yashica-Mat TLR and a 1970s Yashica Electro 35 GSN. I shot several rolls with each that year and bought a couple more film cameras along the way. But after about a year, I stopped using the film cameras even though I loved the images and loved using the cameras. The problem was the expense of film developing, particularly black and white which I had to send off at a cost of $18 per roll plus shipping each way. I considered trying my hand at film developing but just never could convince myself to make the initial investment, mainly because I was concerned about the time commitment to develop, digitize, and post-process a roll of film exposures.

San Diego, July 2003. Chinon Genesis with Kodak UltraMax 400, unprocessed for 17 years.

I finally took the plunge this year when I saw Cinestill’s post-Thanksgiving sale on their film developing starter kits. My kit didn’t arrive until just before Christmas, so I set aside New Year’s Day for learning how to develop black and white film. I even broke out the Yashica-Mat for the first time in over a year and installed some film photography apps on my phone.

My wife and baby, c. January 2004.

I had decided to start with the Cinestill Df96 monobath developer for black and white and wait to try C41 color processing another day. However, when I opened up the bottle of Df96, the developer was dark brown when it was supposed to be clear. Apparently my bottle was not sealed properly and had gone bad. So I moved on to Plan B and started mixing up the chemicals from the packets of powders included with my kit from Cinestill.


Giraffes at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, July 2003.

By far the hardest part of the process was loading the film reels in complete darkness. I had two rolls of 35mm to start with-one was a roll of found film from an antique Yashica FRII camera that I bought for the lens, and the second was a roll of Kodak 200 that was abandoned in our last film camera when we got our first digital camera in 2003. I had dug the camera out of a box in the garage in 2018, shot a few frames around the house, then abandoned it again for another year. I visited Yosemite in October 2019 and decided to only take film cameras, so the last few frames of this roll were captured in the valley. I figured that the roll was probably hopeless and would likely survive whatever damage I could bestow on it with my freshly mixed chemicals.


Half Dome, October 2019.

I spent at least half an hour sitting in the bathroom floor in the darkness before I managed to get both film reels loaded, but at least it was plenty of time to let the chemicals get warmed up. The actual developing process was fairly simple. It’s hard to judge my success from these two rolls of old expired film, but I feel confident enough to use a roll that I care about next time.

Family Portrait, c. January 2004.

The roll found in the old Yashica turned out blank-I don’t think it had ever been exposed. And the roll found in our old camera with photos taken 17 years apart turned out better than I expected. And I was surprised to find that it contained photos from a trip to San Diego we took in 2003 when my wife was pregnant with our first child and some photos of our daughter just after she was born. These older images fared better than the newer ones-I guess exposed film holds up better to baking in the summer heat of a garage in Texas than the unexposed portion still curled up inside the canister.


San Diego, July 2003.

Note: negatives were processed in Lightroom using Negative Lab Pro v.2.2.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) c41 cinestill developing expired film photography https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2021/1/first-time-film-developing-with-expired-film Mon, 04 Jan 2021 01:25:16 GMT
Paris, Place du Panthéon, Black and White Images https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/paris-place-du-panth-on-black-and-white-images

41mm, 1/40 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)
Processed with Jim Welninski’s Ilford Delta 100 profile.

Black and white images from the Panthéon in Paris. My color images from our visit to this monument were presented in a previous post. During our visit as I was wandering around the building capturing these images, I was thinking almost exclusively in black and white for the final images because of the incredible light and shadow in the various spaces around the structure. But as I mentioned in the other post, I was struck by the incredible colors when reviewing the images and decided to process most of them in color. The ones presented here mostly focus on the light coming through the upper windows and the ornate architectural details on the ceilings.


16mm, 1/40 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)
Processed with Lightroom B&W Orange Filter profile.

These images were processed completely in Lightroom, primarily using Jim Welninski’s Black and White Artistry film profiles. My favorite, the first image, was processed using Lightroom Classic, and I made heavy use of Range Masks with the local gradients. Some of the others were processed using Lightroom on the iPad which does not yet have Range Masks available, and I think this is currently one of the major limitations of Lightroom (non-Classic).


16mm, 1/200 sec (HDR composite), f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)
Processed with Jim Welninski’s Kodak High Speed Infrared profile.

 


16mm, 1/160 sec (HDR composite), f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)
Processed with Jim Welninski’s Rollei Infrared 400 high profile.
 


16mm, 1/50 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)
Processed with Jim Welninski’s Ilford Delta 100 high profile.
 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 architecture HDR lightroom Pantheon Paris photography Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/paris-place-du-panth-on-black-and-white-images Wed, 30 Dec 2020 04:51:21 GMT
Paris, Place du Panthéon, Color Images https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/paris-place-du-pantheon-color-images Central Domes of the Panthéon. The four pendentives are decorated with paintings by François Gérard depicting Glory, Death, The Nation, and Justice.
16 mm, 1/200 sec (HDR), f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)

We ended our 2019 trip to Spain and France with 3 nights in Paris which is not nearly enough time to spend there. But we recognized that going in and tried not to overplan our itinerary for the two full days we had in the city. The only definite spots on our list were Sainte-Chapelle and Versailles-and we had to add the Eiffel Tower at the last minute when our 9-year old daughter told us how she could not wait to see it while we were on the train to Paris!

On our first day of sight-seeing, we started the day at Sainte-Chapelle, then walked over to Notre Dame which unfortunately was closed after the fire. We had lunch in the Latin Quarter then decided to visit the Panthéon. I had never even heard of the building, but it was listed on our museum pass and was within walking distance, so off we went. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for me, especially because we were not able to visit Notre Dame and I've always wanted to see the great cathedrals of Europe.

La Convention nationale by Sicard, ca. 1924, shows Marianne, the goddess of Liberty and symbol of the French Republic, surrounded by soldiers of 1st French Republic and other revolutionary parliamentarians. Apsidal chapel of the Panthéon.
23 mm, 1/160 sec (HDR), f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)

If you're not familiar with it, the Panthéon is a French national monument, "the temple of the French nation." It was commissioned by Louis XV as a suitable replacement for the crumbling Abbey of Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, but it was not completed until the eve of the French Revolution and so it became a temple for Great Men. Over the years, the building has alternated between religious and secular dedications, but since Victor Hugo was interred there after his death in 1885 it has been the resting place for many French notables including Voltaire, Marie Curie, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexandre Dumas, and René Descartes.


Front Facade of the Pantheon
4.44 mm (27mm equiv.), 1/2300 sec, f/1.8, ISO 57 (Google Pixel 3a Raw)

Aux Heros Morts Inconnus (To the Unknown Dead Heroes) by Louis-Henri Bouchard, South Transept of the Panthéon (The girl in this photo is my daughter.)
16 mm, 1/200 sec (HDR), f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)

I originally thought that I would edit most of the images from the Panthéon would be edited as black and whites, but as I began to work with them, I realized that the colors were incredible contrasted against the white stone of the structure. So I've decided to split the images and present them separately for color and black and white.

Christ Showing the Angel of France the Destiny of Her People, mosaic by Antoine-Auguste-Ernest Héberta under the vault of the apsidal chapel.
35 mm, 1/160 sec (HDR), f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)

The dome is actually three domes, fitting within each other. The first, lowest dome, has a coffered ceiling with rosettes, and is open in the center to reveal the second dome decorated with the fresco by Antoine Gros. The third dome is the exterior dome.

The Apotheosis of Saint Genevieve by Antoine Gros depicts Genevieve being conducted to heaven by angels, in the presence of great leaders of France, from Clovis I and Charlemagne to Napoleon and the Empress Josephine.
16 mm, 1/200 sec (HDR), f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)

The Panthéon was the original site of Foucault’s pendulum, a 67-meter (220 feet) pendulum suspended beneath the central dome, used by physicist Léon Foucault to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth in 1851. The pendulum on display is a copy of the original.


Replica of Foucault’s Pendulum
16 mm, 1/200 sec (HDR), f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)
 


Protection of Paris Under Siege by the Huns by Jean-Paul Laurens, one of the paintings depicting the life of St. Geneviève that cover the walls of the nave. (My wife and daughter are walking by in this photo.)
16 mm, 1/13 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 kit lens)

 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 architecture France HDR Lightroom Pantheon Paris photography Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/paris-place-du-pantheon-color-images Thu, 24 Dec 2020 04:39:11 GMT
The Christmas Star Great Conjunction of 2020 https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/the-christmas-star-great-conjunction-of-2020 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.””
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭2:1-2‬

The Great Conjunction over the Cuchara Valley, December 21, 2020
40mm, 8 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600 (panorama composite with conjunction at 80 mm)

Astronomers call the apparent alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, the largest planets in our solar system, a great conjunction, an event that happens every 20 years. But a great conjunction in the night sky like this year’s hasn’t been seen in almost 800 years! The 2020 great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was the closest since 1623 (when the planets were obscured by the sun) and the closest observable since 1226; a similar sight won’t occur again until March 15, 2080.


Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn above the Crescent Moon, December 16, 2020
100mm, 1.3 sec, f/4.0, ISO 100

This year’s great conjunction also occurred on the Winter Solstice just a few nights before Christmas. Is it possible that the original Christmas star, the Star of Bethlehem, might also have been a great conjunction? The gospel of Matthew tells how the Magi, or Wise Men, were led by the star from the east to the town of Bethlehem where the Christ child was born. These men were likely some kind of Persian astrologers who looked to the heavens for signs, and it’s possible they knew of the Jewish prophecy of the Messiah. Thus, it isn’t surprising that the Magi were looking to the sky or that they interpreted an astrological event as the sign of the birth of a great ruler. And why wouldn’t God, the Creator of the Heavens, announce the birth of His Son in a way the Magi would understand? The Wise Men went first to Jerusalem where they asked King Herod where they could find the child who had been “born king of the Jews?” Herod knew nothing of this king before their visit, but he unwittingly set multiple prophecies into motion after learning of the child’s birth from the Wise Men.

But was the Star of Bethlehem an actual celestial object, or something supernatural? I think it could be both. The appearance of the star called the magi from the east, but the text does not say that the star appeared continuously. In fact, the text seems to say that the star re-appeared to the Wise Men after the left Jerusalem.

“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9-10)


Great Conjunction after Sunset
40mm, 2 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600

Johannes Kepler, who first correctly explained the motion of the planets, calculated in 1603 (during a year he observed a great conjunction) that a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn occurred in the year 7 BC. A triple conjunction occurs when the perspective of alignment from our point of view causes the planets to appear to go backwards for some weeks. This retrograde motion can cause two or, in the case of the year 7 BC, three conjunctions in the same year. Perhaps this is the event witnessed by the three Wise Men who then made a long journey to Jerusalem and were then led to the home of the child by an angel of the Lord after their visit to Herod.

Recent astronomical research by Colin Nicholl suggests that the Biblical star was a great comet. I think this explanation seems more likely because a great conjunction, even a triple, is not that impressive.


Orion over the West Spanish Peak
22mm, 13 sec, f/4.0, ISO 1600

From a photography perspective, capturing these photographs of the great conjunction was a rewarding challenge. Earlier this year I completely missed comet Neowise. It was visible for at least a couple of weeks, but the closest I came to seeing it was catching a glimpse of the tail as it disappeared behind the Sangre de Cristo mountains. My friend Scot and I tried to catch the comet on other nights, but the clouds were in the way every night. Fortunately, we had better luck on December 21st when I met up with Scot on the side of Highway 12 after driving for five hours from Amarillo.

We had perfect conditions with absolutely clear skies, no wind, and not too cold. The half moon was also directly overhead which provided enough light that we were able to capture some detail in the landscape. Finding the right settings and focal length, not to mention trying to focus on the distant planets in the dark, was a real challenge and involved a lot of experimentation with exposure time, aperture settings, and ISO. Unfortunately, I mistakenly put my camera into JPG mode with an unacceptable white balance setting and did not realize this mistake for much of the time the conjunction was visible above the horizon. Fortunately, I did catch the mistake and was able to capture a few good raw images just in time. We stopped at the Gap on the way back to Cuchara to get a photo of Orion rising above the West Spanish Peak.

For this article, I borrowed heavily (some would say copied) from an excellent article on the Star of Bethlehem by Alyssa Roat on Christianity.com and another article by Jamie Carter on Forbes.com.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 Colorado Conjunction Cuchara photography Sony Star of Bethlehem https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/the-christmas-star-great-conjunction-of-2020 Wed, 23 Dec 2020 01:57:48 GMT
Moonrise Composite Edited on the iPad Pro https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/moonrise-composite-edited-on-the-ipad-pro

30 mm, 1/50 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400 (Moon shot at 50mm, 1/160 sec)

This image is a composite: the scene was captured at 30mm but the moon is from a photo taken a few minutes earlier at 50mm. When we view a scene like this in reality, we perceive the moon as being much larger than it actually is (the Moon Illusion). I like to replace the moon with a slightly larger moon when it is close to the horizon in an image so that the photo appears more like the scene I remember. But as a rule, I only use a photo of the moon that I captured at the same time (give or take a day or so) and place-I never simply drop a moon into a landscape image when it was not actually there.

I have been saving the processing of this image for use as a challenge to learn the ins and outs of processing exclusively on the iPad using Lightroom and Photoshop. I am a completely new iPad user, so I had more of a challenge just learning how to do basic tasks on iPadOS than using Lightroom. Photoshop on the iPad is a little more complicated because the interface is so completely different than desktop Photoshop.

Coming from a photography workflow based on Lightroom Classic, the first hurdle was to get the original raw files to the iPad so that I was editing a full resolution version of the image rather than a downsized Smart Preview. Although this process could be made easier by Adobe, it turned out to be really simple and straightforward.

Primary photo. Note how the moon is almost pure white with no detail and appears really small. This is not at all how it looked when I was standing there next to the camera.

Next, I separately edited the source images in Lightroom before bringing them into Photoshop to be merged. Lightroom and Photoshop now have the ability to directly send images back and forth on the iPad with the limitation that only one image can be sent from Lightroom at a time. So I was confused by how to actually open both images in Photoshop at the same time. The Photoshop app includes a Place Photo tool, but it does not have the ability to import images from Lightroom. The current options are Photos, Files, Libraries, and Camera. I expected the Libraries option to include Photoshop cloud documents, but on my iPad it is empty. Hopefully support for importing multiple images from Lightroom is coming soon.

Moon photo. This photo was captured about 2 minutes before the main photo using a focal length of 50 mm rather than 30 mm, so the moon appears to be 2/3 larger which is more in line with how we perceive the moon to look.

In the meantime, I exported the moon photo from Lightroom as a JPG and opened the main image in Photoshop. Then I used the Place Photo tool to add the JPG copy of the moon photo as a new layer. From there, it was a typical Photoshop workflow to create a local selection of the moon and surrounding sky, cover up the blown out small moon in the main photo, then reposition the larger moon image to the correct location. The blend mode on the moon layer was changed to Lighten to seamlessly merge the moon into the sky. I also used Photoshop to clean up a large smudge in the upper part of the sky (dirty lens) using the Spot Healing Brush tool, and the work in Photoshop was done.

Editing in Photoshop for iPad. Just tap “Send to Lightroom” when finished.

Back in Lightroom, I made a few final adjustments and was done. I opened up Lightroom Classic on my desktop computer (which is actually a laptop), but the Photoshop image did not sync. So then I opened Lightroom (non-Classic), and the image appeared. When I switched back to Lightroom Classic a few seconds later, it was also there. I opened up the Lightroom sync folder in Explorer on Windows, and the folder contained a 400MB PSD file of the composite image.

To complete the process of bringing the edited Photoshop file out of Adobe’s cloud and onto my local hard drive, I moved the file in Lightroom from the iPad folder to the folder containing the raw files from the shoot. This caused the photo to appear in the All Sync Errors collection, so I selected the option to remove it. This in turn prompted a warning that the photo would be removed from all synced collections, but not deleted from the desktop catalog (which is exactly what I wanted). To get the image back on my iPad, I just had to add it back into the synced collection in Lightroom Classic.

The key to understanding Adobe’s mobile workflow when starting from Lightroom Classic is to remember that Classic only syncs Smart Previews-all original files whether raw photos or Photoshop documents have to come from one of the new Lightroom apps regardless of the direction of transfer to or from a mobile device.

 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 Colorado composite iPad iPad Pro lightroom moon moonrise photography photoshop Sony Spanish Peaks https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/moonrise-composite-edited-on-the-ipad-pro Thu, 17 Dec 2020 23:07:33 GMT
Sync Original Raw Files from Lightroom Classic to Lightroom on IPad https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/sync-original-raw-files-from-lightroom-classic-to-lightroom-on-ipad The Image in Question-the original raw file is needed so that I can use Photoshop to replace the moon with another image that is not blown out.

Lightroom on the IPad is a fantastic and fun way to edit photos, and Adobe has made it really easy to do even coming from Lightroom Classic with original photos stored on a local hard drive. Simply add the photos to a synced collection in Lightroom Classic and they will appear in the Lightroom library on your other devices ready to be edited. However, the image file that is synced is only a Smart Preview of the image, not the original raw file. Smart Previews are smaller (only 2540 pixels on the long edge), compressed DNG versions of the original raw file. These lightweight copies are good enough to allow for editing and small enough to be easily shared through the cloud quickly, and all of the edits are synced back to the original raw file in Lightroom Classic. The downside to this process is what to do when you need the original raw file, such as when making a composite image in Photoshop.

Unfortunately, Adobe has not provided a simple solution in Lightroom Classic-Classic only syncs Smart Previews. But there are at least a couple of simple workarounds that allow for the original raw file to be available for editing on other devices.

The Lightroom Desktop Method

The first method is the easiest in my opinion. Simply open up Lightroom (new, not Classic) on the desktop running Lightroom Classic and re-import the raw files using the File->Add Photos command. Once the import is completed, Lightroom should automatically sync the imported original to the cloud. You can verify this by checking the Sync Status shown on the Info panel (hit the “I” key).

Sync Status Before Re-Importing

Sync Status After Re-Importing

Now the original raw file will be available in Lightroom on the IPad, but you have to tell Lightroom to retrieve it. In Lightroom on the IPad, simply tap the cloud icon and choose “Get This Original.”

The Move File Method

The second option is more manual and cumbersome, but might be necessary in some situations such as if the desktop computer is not accessible but the original raw file is available on an external drive or cloud backup. I’m not going to explain the process in detail, but essentially the original raw file is manually copied to the IPad. Then in Lightroom on the IPad, the existing image must be removed. If this image has already been edited, then be sure to copy the adjustment settings to another image first so that the edits are not lost. Once the existing image has been removed from the catalog, the copied raw file is imported directly to Lightroom on the IPad. Then copy any adjustments back to this image.

Footnote

I am using Lightroom version 6.1.0 on the IPad, version 4.1 on desktop, and Classic version 10.1.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) adobe creative cloud IPad lightroom mobile original photography photoshop raw sync https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/12/sync-original-raw-files-from-lightroom-classic-to-lightroom-on-ipad Thu, 17 Dec 2020 15:26:12 GMT
The Old Truck https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/9/the-old-truck

29 mm, 1/400 sec, f/4, ISO 100, 470 nm Infrared

We spotted this old truck parked in a little meadow alongside a county road outside La Veta. I'm fascinated by photos of old abandoned vehicles, but I haven't come across many that were in a photogenic location like this. It's almost as if the owner parked it here to be photographed. On this particular day, I was carrying my infrared-converted Sony a6000 camera. I hadn't thought about capturing a scene like this with the infrared camera, but I love these images.

The first image at the top of this post is a color infrared shot at 470 nm, the so-called Hyper Color filter. I really like the way that the colors of the truck and bumper have been accentuated and contrast with the purple-magenta aspens in the background. At 470 nm, the camera is capturing part of the visible blue spectrum of light and all of the visible colors with longer wavelengths (cyan, green, yellow, orange, red), but it also captures infrared wavelengths that overlap with the visible colors. The result is not really a "false color" image because these are the colors straight out of camera; however, they certainly are not "real" colors that we see with our eyes. Many times I shoot infrared photos with the 590 nm filter on my lens and don't bother to remove the filter, but in this case I'm really glad that I did.

The photo below was taken with my phone, and I've included it here to show what the scene actually looked like. I have to say the infrared photos are a lot more interesting!

4.44 mm, 1/1250 sec, f/1.8, ISO 55 (Google Pixel 3a RAW image)

I also captured this scene with the 590 nm filter. I thought it might look good as an Aerochrome image (red vegetation and blue skies), but there was really not a good color separation of the pickup with the grass and trees. So I decided to try a black and white conversion, and I really like it. I've decided that I like the Hyper Color image the best, but this black and white is a close second. For both of these, I added a shallow depth of field effect in Lightroom to make the truck really stand out from the surrounding scenery. This effect really makes me want to go back and try shooting this scene with my medium format Yashicamat TLR and a roll of black and white film! Leave me a comment and let me know which one is your favorite.

22 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/4, ISO 100, 590 nm Infrared
Processed in Lightroom using Jim Welninski's Rollei Ortho 25 film profile
 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 abandoned black and white Colorado Cuchara hyper color infrared lightroom photography pickup Sony truck https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/9/the-old-truck Sun, 27 Sep 2020 23:30:18 GMT
Milky Way Panorama Processing https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/9/milky-way-panorama-processing

Milky Way Over the Spanish Peaks, March 2018

I recently reworked my first Milky Way image from the original raw files (separate post in the works), and in the process I learned a completely new approach to processing night sky photos. I decided to apply this process to my first Milky Way Arch panorama photo to see if I could improve the final image quality. (Note: this post is mostly a way for me to keep track of my edits.)

This image was captured in March 2018 using the Sony a6000 and Samyang 12mm f/2 lens mounted on a Panosaurus panoramic head. The first image was captured at 4:13 am, and the final image was captured at 5:33 am. But the actual photos used for the final image were all captured within a ten minute window from 5:10 to 5:20 am. Most of the time before that was spent waiting for some clouds to clear out of the southern part of the sky. I also spent quite a while picking cactus thorns out of my leg after I sat down on a cactus. The perils of night photography!

Panorama Base Images

The photo is a merge of two separate six-frame panoramas, one for the sky and the other for the landscape. The sky images were captured with an exposure time of 25 seconds and ISO 5000 while the foreground was captured with six frames with an exposure time of about 60 seconds (manually controlled in Bulb mode, so the exposure times varied a little between frames) also at ISO 5000. A panorama head (like the Panosaurus) is a big help at night. You can decide in advance how much to rotate the head between frames based on the focal length of the lens. Then in the field, the pano head can be set to mark the start position and you only have to pay attention to the marks for rotating the head. I used my phone screen to provide just enough light to see the marks between exposures. Some pano heads have click detents so it's not even necessary to be able to see the marks on the head to rotate the camera.

Base images for the sky (top) and foreground (bottom)

If I had it to do over again, I would have tried capturing multiple exposures of each frame for stacking, but on this particular night I'm not sure that would have been an option. Given the sky conditions and the equipment I was using, I'm happy with the quality of the raw exposures and just have to make the best of what I have to work with.

Major Processing Steps

1. Merge base images for the foreground and sky panoramas.  

2. Align and mask foreground and sky panoramas.

3. Apply adjustments to blend and match foreground and sky exposures.

4. Enhance the Milky Way.

5. Apply Noise Reduction and Star Boost.

6. Final adjustments in Lightroom.

Merge Base Images

The foreground and sky panoramas were separately merged in Lightroom, then these were composited in Photoshop. For this round of processing, I decided to use the spherical projection for merging the panoramas because it allows me to use a 2:1 aspect ratio for the final crop for printing later on. My original edit used the cylindrical projection which resulted in a 16:9 aspect ratio for the final image. The screenshot below shows the merged panoramas of the foreground exposures; deceivingly, both are about 12,000 pixels wide although the cylindrical projection pano has a higher megapixel count (79 MP vs. 59 MP).

Cylindrical (top) and Spherical (bottom) Projections

Unfortunately, my a6000 produced some strange color shifts between the different panorama frames of the sky image that became very visible in the merged panorama. I did not take the time to correct this problem in my original edit and ended up spending a lot of time trying to fix it afterwards. This time around, I individually color corrected each raw file using the White Balance dropper on an area of dark sky in ACR, then merged the exported (rather than raw) images in Photoshop. Another problem was cloud cover that obscured a large portion the Milky Way core. Fortunately, I was able to use an earlier exposure of the same sky panorama frame to blend in and reduce the amount of cloud cover in the first frame. Even this single frame blending was affected by the color shift issue, so I first had to carefully match the colors of the two exposures before blending them. After merging the panorama frames using the spherical projection in Photoshop, I used the Adaptive Wide Angle filter to straighten the horizon.

Color Shift Apparent in the Merged Panorama

Align and mask foreground and sky

Once the base panoramas have been created, the first step in processing them is to select both of the merged panorama DNG files in Lightroom, then open as Smart Objects in Photoshop (in this case, the sky pano was merged in Photoshop so only the foreground was imported as a Smart Object). This allows for making adjustments to the raw files from within Photoshop when needed. I stacked the images in a single file in Photoshop, then preliminarily aligned the layers so that the foreground features of the landscape image hide the same features in the sky image. A layer mask will be used later to reveal the sky, but first the raw adjustments need to be made in Adobe Camera Raw.

I use the approach recommended by Wayne Pinkston for raw edits: set the White Balance and apply Sharpening and Noise Reduction in ACR, then perform the rest of the editing in Photoshop. He recommends setting White Balance by making the darkest part of the sky as neutral as possible. This is easy in ACR because you can select an area of the photo using the White Balance tool rather than just a spot which is all Lightroom allows.

The foreground exposure was imported as a Smart Object, and I followed Wayne's advice to keep raw edits to a minimum. I set a custom raw Profile to one that looked the clearest, and applied Sharpening and Noise Reduction only in ACR. Unfortunately, at this point I had to rasterize the foreground layer so that I could align the foreground and sky. Auto-Align did not work, so the layers were aligned manually using the Scale and Rotate Transform tools. I placed the foreground layer on top with the horizon positioned slightly above the corresponding features in the Sky layer so that masking the sky from the foreground layer would reveal the sky layer beneath.

Preliminary Alignment of Foreground and Sky Panoramas

The most tedious part of the edit was masking along the horizon. This was accomplished with the help of some luminosity and color masks along with a good bit of detail work by hand. Once the foreground was masked, I made corrections separately to the foreground and sky layers to clean up distractions. For the foreground layer, these were primarily stray lights that were scattered across the landscape. Since it was such a dark night, the lights of vehicles or houses were very bright and distracting. In the sky, I tried to remove some of the remaining clouds in the right side of the image and also removed the light trail of an airplane. For these edits, I mostly used selections of nearby areas to cover up the distractions, although for many of the small lights in the foreground I just used the Clone Stamp tool.

Blend and Match Exposures

Once the layers were cleaned up, the next task was to adjust the Sky layer to get the right color balance and enhance the Milky Way. Once again, I followed Wayne's recommendations here and kept it simple. I used a Vibrance layer set to +20 to enhance the colors, Levels to darken the sky, and a Color Balance layer to adjust the colors by adding blue to the shadows and midtones and a slight amount of green to the midtones.

The harder task was adjusting the foreground to match the sky. For this adjustment, I followed a tip from Stanley Harper and used a Color Lookup layer to apply the "NightfromDay" LUT included with Photoshop. I only used an opacity of 12% on this layer, but it was just enough to darken the landscape a bit. This was followed by a Color Balance layer to pull some blue out of the deep shadows, especially the mountains, and also add in just a hint of magenta and cyan. Finally, I used a Levels adjustment to darken the landscape just a little more so that it blends in with the sky. I would say the Color Balance layer is the key to making the foreground blend in with the sky. Because of the long exposure time for the foreground images, I had quite a few hot pixels, so I used Blake Rudis' Broken Pixel Correction to remove those. I also used his Contrast+ adjustment to enhance the details in the landscape.

Enhance the Milky Way

At this point, the foreground and sky exposures are blended and matched, so it is time to enhance the Milky Way. I started with a Curves adjustment to add contrast and darken the sky. This was applied with a gradient mask to blend the adjustment in to the foreground. Next, I added a Black and White adjustment layer using the Blue Filter preset and Luminance blend mode to enhance the contrast in the Milky Way. After this, a Hue/Saturation layer was used to add some saturation (+33) to the Milky Way, and another Curves layer added some brightness. I then used Blake Rudis' Milky Way Pop with an opacity of 33 which really deepens the colors and contrast. All of these adjustments were applied to the Milky Way only using a feathered mask. I added Blake Rudis' Nightshade 1 with an opacity of 8% to apply a slight color grade to the entire image. Then finally, I finished up the Milky Way adjustments with a Clarity adjustment (+50) applied to a stamp layer with 66% opacity and applied an Orton Effect Bright using Raya Pro to the entire image with an opacity of 12%.

Noise Reduction and Star Boost

Noise reduction was applied as the almost-final step. I used Nik Dfine on a stamp layer which did an excellent job of reducing noise, but also softened the foreground a bit too much. To limit the noise reduction, I used an opacity of 55% and also used BlendIf to exclude noise reduction from the highlights (stars).

The final adjustment in Photoshop was a Star Boost to enhance the brightness of the stars and Milky Way. I'm not sure where I learned this technique, and I had to improvise it for this image because I am not sure how I created it the first time. Star Boost uses the Overlay blend mode on a solid white layer with a Brights luminosity mask along with BlendIf to exclude the effect from darker areas. The overall effect is controlled with opacity, and the layer can be duplicated to subtly build up the effect.

Final adjustments in Lightroom

In Lightroom, I made some final global adjustments (exposure and contract bump, negative clarity, add vibrance, and add some red and blue saturation in Calibration) and added a slight vignette.

And then after coming back to this image after a couple of months, I realized that the color shifts so apparent in the sky exposures also occurred in the foreground images. For some reason, I never saw it before, but now I can't not see it. Since correcting the colors in the base images would require reworking the entire image from scratch, I used the gradient filter tools in Lightroom to address the worst areas. Since the foreground is so dark anyway, the color problems are difficult to see unless you are specifically looking for them.

When compared to my original edit of this image, this revised edit is far superior. Partly this is because I did not take the time to correct the color shifts in the raw exposures in the original edit, but following Wayne Pinkston's recommendations to go easy on the raw adjustments really improves the final image quality. Also, I think this image works better as a 2:1 panorama, and the arch looks more natural to me in the wider format.

Comparison of Final Images: Original (top) and Revised (bottom)

 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 Colorado Cuchara La Veta lightroom Milky Way Milky Way Arch panorama photography Photoshop Sony Spanish Peaks https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/9/milky-way-panorama-processing Mon, 21 Sep 2020 01:45:31 GMT
Cuchara Valley Landscapes 2021 Photography Wall Calendar https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/9/cuchara-valley-landscapes-2021-photography-wall-calendar I'm excited to announce the Cuchara Valley Landscapes 2021 Photography Wall Calendar featuring 12 images of the beautiful Cuchara area from all four seasons. The calendar is printed on high quality 100 lb. paper and measures 17" tall by 11" wide when opened (images are 8.5" x 11").

Calendars will begin shipping around October 1st. I'm happy to say that calendars will also be available for sale locally at La Veta Mercantile.

I'm selling the calendars through my Facebook page for $17.95 each. Through this website, the price is slightly higher because of the exorbitant fees charged by my hosting provider and Paypal. You can also contact me directly to order and pay at the lower price. Shipping is a flat rate of $5.00 whether you order 1 or 10. They will sell fast, so order your calendar today! Just click on the calendar image above to go to the product page.

For this calendar, I have selected a number of my older images from 2015 through 2017, whereas for my previous calendars I tried to feature more recent images. Part of the reason for the change this year is because I have not captured many images of the valley this year. We spent less time in Colorado because of the pandemic, and when we were there, I was focused on other activities (like taking my daughters to the lake to go fishing and remodeling the loft in our cabin). This year there were also fewer opportunities for photography because of weather conditions and also because of the haze from western wildfires. There were several times that I had planned to go out, and a couple of times that I did go, and the conditions just were not conducive for taking great photos. However, this has given me the opportunity to revisit my library and share some of these older images that I think are absolutely worthy of being featured in this year's calendar. In fact, I have four of these images hanging in my office. I hope you enjoy them!

Time blend of pre-dawn sky and sunrise between the Spanish Peaks.

Spanish Peaks Sunrise, November 2017.
 

Bright and Early Ranch, November 2015

 

The Gap and West Spanish Peak, March 2017

 

Summer afternoon in Cuchara.

Summer afternoon in Cuchara, June 2015

 

Profile Rock at dawn, June 2015

 

Milky Way over the Devil's Stairsteps, October 2015

 

Sunrise in the Cuchara Valley

Sunrise on the Cuchara Valley, June 2015

 

Sangre de Cristo sunset at Indian Creek, July 2016

 

Farmhouse and Spanish Peaks at dawn, September 2017

 

September morning in the Cuchara Valley.

Sunrise on the Trinchera Range, September 2016

 

Aspens in fall splendor, August 2020. False color infrared

 

Cuchara Valley in Fall Splendor, October 2015.

Fall in the Cuchara Valley, October 2015

 

Cuchara Valley after a fall snowstorm, November 2015

 

Spanish Peaks Moonrise, August 2020

 

Aerial view of the Highway of Legends and Cuchara Pass, June 2017. Inspired by the work of acclaimed Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado.

 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) calendar Colorado Cuchara La Veta photography Spanish Peaks https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/9/cuchara-valley-landscapes-2021-photography-wall-calendar Thu, 17 Sep 2020 16:27:13 GMT
A Week in Provence https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/5/a-week-in-provence For Mother's Day this year I gave my wife a photo book to commemorate our trip to Provence last summer (I highly recommend Mixbook). I also wanted to create a photo album to share with our family and friends, so I created an online photo book using Adobe Spark. I think it is an interesting and unique way to share photos. Let me know what you think.

A Week in Provence

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Adobe Spark France lightroom photography Provence https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/5/a-week-in-provence Wed, 13 May 2020 16:30:02 GMT
Eiffel Tower Panorama https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/5/eiffel-tower-panorama

Eiffel Tower Panorama
46-megapixel crop of a 20-shot panorama, 1/800 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm lens)

The Photo Merge tool in Lightroom is really amazing for stitching panoramas. My only complaint is that I wish it had the Adaptive Wide Angle filter from Photoshop built in for correcting the perspective after stitching.

I don't think I ever truly appreciated the scale of the Eiffel Tower until I was standing under it. It is an enormous structure, and beautiful to behold no matter how close or far away you are. This was not a shot I had planned to capture, but standing beneath the tower I remembered a similar image by my virtual photography mentor Serge Ramelli. Looking straight up at the tower, I realized that my 16 mm lens was not nearly wide enough for this shot. Late in the day, it was surprisingly not crowded at all within the fence (the surrounding area was very crowded though), so I decided to try a panorama.

I captured 20 frames all together to create this image. I was shooting handheld, so I tried to move the camera very carefully between shots without moving my body. The sun was going down behind the left side of the tower, and I think I must have remembered to check that area when setting the exposure (or else I just got lucky) because the highlights were not blown in any of the frames. I was shooting in manual mode to fix the exposure, but I think I left the autofocus on to ensure that each frame in sharp focus.

The image below shows the individial frames that make up this photo. I probably didn't need to get 20 images, but I think it helped to reduce stitching errors in the final output.

Individual Panorama Frames in Lightroom. The center shot on the top row was the first image captured. The exposure was set so that the highlights looking towards the sun were not blown out.

The Photo Merge tool in Lightroom offers a few options for the projection to use. For this set of images, I tried both Spherical and Cylindrical (Perspective was not able to stitch these images).

Pano Merge in Lightroom using the Cylindrical projection.

 

Pano Merge in Lightroom using the Spherical projection.

I always experiment with the Boundary Warp settings in Photo Merge, but in this case the warp curved the legs of the tower inwards. I also tried the Transform tools in Lightroom, but they were not able to straighten out the curve of the first level of the tower. So I needed to use Photoshop to correct the distortion in the stitched image.

My Photoshop skills are not great, but I thought the Adaptive Wide Angle filter would be the best option for this image. I added 3 constraint lines: one to straighten the first level of the tower, a second to make the forward legs level with each other, and a third to make the tower vertical. These constraints are forced to horizontal or vertical by holding the Shift key when creating them.

Adaptive Wide Angle Corrections in Photoshop

I decided to try correcting both the Spherical and Cylindrical versions of the stitched image. After using Adaptive Wide Angle on both, they looked almost identical. However, the Spherical version was significantly larger than the Cylindrical version, and looked very sharp when zoomed at 1:1, so I kept the Spherical version. The resulting cropped image is 46 megapixels.

A few additional corrections were made in Photoshop using Content Aware Fill to remove some distracting elements under the tower and some cloning and warping to correct a few stitching errors and remove lens flare. I only spotted a handful of stitching errors-very impressive for a handheld multi-row pano.

Final edits were done in Lightroom and consisted of cropping, conversion to monochrome using one of Jim Welninski's film profiles (Fuji Neopan 100 Acros), some basic adjustments, and the secret sauce of Split Toning. I absolutely love how this image turned out-I only wish I had somewhere to hang a 45-inch print!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. For more images of France, please take a look at my other blog posts, or visit my France gallery.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 adaptive wide angle Eiffel Eiffel Tower France lightroom panorama Paris photography Photoshop Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/5/eiffel-tower-panorama Sun, 03 May 2020 22:36:50 GMT
Luberon Landscapes https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/5/luberon-landscapes

Gordes
23 mm, 1/200 sec, f/8, ISO 100 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens)

 

There's some often-repeated advice on internet photography sites that if you can only take photos in the middle of the day with blue skies, then you should just leave the camera at home. Granted, there's nothing like golden hour light breaking through the clouds, but unless you're actually on a photography trip, chances are you won't be at the right location during golden hour-more likely you'll be at dinner.

During our week exploring Provence, I only had one opportunity to photograph a hilltop Provencal village at sunset. The rest of the time, I had to take the photos when I was there. Several times that involved stopping the car and getting out to take a shot, but my family didn't seem to mind too much as long as the A/C was still running.

Many of these are blue sky images, most of them have some clouds, but hardly any were captured under ideal photography conditions, yet these are all images that remind me of the wonderful time we had exploring the French countryside, and I am proud to put them on display.


Provençal Countryside
18 mm, 1/60 sec, f/8, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 18-105 mm lens)


Vachères
73 mm, 1/250 sec, f/4.0, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 18-105 mm lens)

 

Reillanne
18 mm, 1/2000 sec, f/8, ISO 100 (Sony a6500 with 18-105 mm lens)
 

Les Baux-de-Provence
30 mm, 1/6400 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens)
 

Lavender
105 mm, 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 18-105 mm lens)
 

Chaîne des Alpilles
44 mm, 1/320 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens)

 

Chaîne des Alpilles
18 mm, 1/400 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens)
 

Chateau de Roussan, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
16 mm, 1/40 sec, f/3.5, ISO 1600 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens)

 

Rousillon
36 mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens)
 

For more images of France, please take a look at my other blog posts, or visit my France gallery. And leave a comment below to let me know what you think.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 France Gordes Lightroom Luberon photography Provence Saint-Remy-de-Provence Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/5/luberon-landscapes Sat, 02 May 2020 23:45:53 GMT
Bracketed Drone Panoramas https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/bracketed-drone-panoramas

Final Stitched Two-shot Vertical Panorama
26 mm, 1/100 sec and 1/500 sec, f/2.2, ISO 100

One of the "fundamental" rules for capturing panoramas is that all of the individual frames must be shot using the same exposure settings or else the exposure differences will be visible in the merged images. But when merging RAW images in Lightroom using the Panorama Photo Merge tool, it is no longer necessary to use the same exposure settings for each of the individual base images.

I collected some images for an impromptu test of this capability on my last drone excursion. I had flown the drone, a DJI Mavic Pro, about a mile away from my location with a strong tailwind, so I knew I needed to start flying back with plenty of battery in reserve. Flying over the canyon, I found this composition looking down into the canyon, but the image did not include enough of the sky. The shutter was set at 1/100 sec* to capture the darker details since the canyon was in shade. I decided to swing the camera up and capture a second image for the sky and realized that the exposure was far too bright. I lowered the shutter speed to 1/500 sec and got the second image. Because I was so pressed for time when flying over the canyon, I decided not to get another exposure looking back down at the faster shutter speed.

Base exposures, as shot, in Lightroom

Back at home, I merged the two exposures using the perspective projection with no warp or fill. I think because Lightroom produces a DNG file for the merged images, it is able to adjust the exposure of each frame as it processes the panorama. The end result is a seamless stitch of the two base images thaat includes all of the shadow and highlight detail present in each one.

Panorama Merge Preview

Having the ability to create panoramas using "bracketed" exposures without having to actually collect 2 or more true brackets for each frame is really useful for a lot of shooting situations, particularly for drone photography when trying to manage many other variables that make capturing panoramas more challenging.

Another Example from Tule Canyon
2-shot bracketed vertical panorama, 1/120 sec and 1/320 sec, 26 mm, f/2.2, ISO 100

*When using the DJI Mavic Pro, I always capture stills using the built-in HDR capture setting with raw DNG output. It takes a bit longer to capture an image, but the resulting file will have better shadow and highlight detail and greatly reduced noise compared to a standard raw image. For high dynamic range scenes, I will typically capture two or more exposures manually bracketed. I do not recommend using the built-in auto bracketing feature.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) aerial DJI drone HDR high dynamic range lightroom Mavic Mavic Pro panorama photo merge photography sunrise sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/bracketed-drone-panoramas Thu, 30 Apr 2020 21:58:36 GMT
Mysterious, Unimaginable Tule Canyon https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/tule-canyon

"Mysterious, Unimaginable Tule Canyon" -Dan Flores, Caprock Canyonlands
25 megapixel crop of a 21-shot panorama, 1/640 sec, f/2.2, ISO 100
 

The drone was more than 1,000 feet away and still 350 feet up when the controller announced that the battery had reached critically low levels and it was landing. My first thought was that maybe I could retrieve it if it didn't make it back to me. I continued to hold the right stick all the forward as I quickly crossed the two-lane highway to get a better view and immediately realized that retrieval would be very unlikely if it went down in the narrow canyon just 30 yards from the shoulder. The battery was down to ten percent when the drone suddenly appeared above me, red lights flashing as it descended. I considered bringing it down on the blacktop, but thought better of it. It would be a shame for the drone to make it all the way back home then get run over after landing safely. So I set it down back on the other side of the road in the gravel. It almost flipped over backwards as the rear props dug into the dirt before the motors shut down. Even after it came to rest, the red lights continued flashing until I shut it off, but my heart was still pounding for several minutes. With the drone safely packed away, the next question was if I was able to capture any good images on the flight.

Entrance to the Narrows
26 mm, 1/200 sec, f/2.2, ISO 100

I found out about Tule Canyon because of the quarantine. The first week that the kids were out of school we spent an afternoon in Palo Duro Canyon hiking and exploring the caves. We planned to visit Caprock Canyons State Park a couple of weeks later on Good Friday, but the governor closed the state parks. So we started looking for alternatives. First we visited Buffalo Lake, a National Wildlife Refuge in a nice but not spectacular canyon. It was uncrowded and a nice place to get outdoors, but after going there a couple of times we were looking for somewhere else to explore.

I was vaguely aware of Tule Canyon and knew that Lake MacKenzie was there along with a formation known as "Cathedral Rock." A quick google search left me with more questions with some mentions of "The Narrows," then I stumbled across Dan Flores' surely hyperbolic prose describing the Narrows of Tule Canyon as "a Great Plains version of Yosemite." Then I was intrigued.

Surprisingly, I found almost nothing in addition to Flores' book that mentions Tule Canyon other than a 1915 publication from the University of Texas on the "Geology and Underground Waters of the Northern Llano Estacado" by Charles Baker that features a couple of black and white photographs of the Narrows (and is otherwise very interesting-my Ph.D. thesis was also on the underground waters of the Llano Estacado).

Flores describes the Narrows as "the most dramatic wilderness of the Caprock Canyonlands," a gorge 700 feet in depth, but less than a half-mile wide at the top and only about 75 feet wide at the bottom where the red-brown sandstone walls drop vertically down to the stream." By contrast, the section of the canyon crossed by the highway is merely "a kind of miniature West Texas Monument Valley." He says that while hiking through Tule Canyon, he had the most deeply felt sense of true exploration he has experienced, moreso than in the wilds of Wyoming, Montana, or Utah. I wondered how this "explorer's paradise" could be so close to my home and yet be unheard of.

Tule Canyon above the Narrows
2-shot bracketed vertical panorama, 1/100 sec and 1/500 sec, 26 mm, f/2.2, ISO 100

We drove down to Lake MacKenzie on a Saturday evening. It was a beautiful spring day in the Texas Panhandle with only about a 10 to 20 mph breeze from the southwest. There were some isolated storm clouds scattered around but the skies above us were mostly clear. We hiked around the east side of the lake for a while which gave us a good idea of just how rugged these canyons are-my wife ordered our 9-year old daughter to stay well back from the edge of the cliffs that dropped down towards the water.

From looking at the topo map and aerial photos, I realized that the Narrows were only a mile or so from the state highway that crosses the canyon. With any luck, I would be able to fly the drone over and at least get a closer view of the canyon than what was available online. I took off about an hour before sunset, so the light cast wonderful shadows across the canyon. Shortly after taking off, the controller issued a stern warning about high winds with an admonishment to "land immediately" or some such nonsense. I dismissed the warning and switched over to Sport mode to get there quicker.

It took only a few minutes to travel about a mile northwest until I was flying over the canyon proper. The scenery looked stunning even on my tiny phone screen. I captured photos from several angles and continued flying farther away. Thinking ahead, I planned to bring the drone back when the battery reached 60 percent knowing it would take a lot longer to come back flying into the wind. The problem with that plan was that the scenery kept getting better.

I decided I needed to get one large panorama photo before heading back. I used the automated function to let the drone capture a 7x3 multi-row panorama. By the time it finished, I think the battery had dipped below 50 percent, so I began heading back. There were still a few more images I just had to stop and grab, then the low battery warning sternly reminded me that it was time to go. I started heading back and almost immediately the battery hit 20 percent and the drone switched into Return to Home mode automatically. As I watched the distance reading on the controller tick down far too slowly, I decided to risk Sport mode so that it might move faster. Heading into the southwest wind, the drone topped out at 20 mph-half of the normal speed-but soon I could hear it in the distance. When it finally touched down on the other side of the road, the battery was at 8 percent.

Tule Canyon facing northeast towards Palo Duro Canyon at the confluence with the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The east wall of the Narrows is in shade on the right.
2-shot bracketed vertical panorama, 1/120 sec and 1/320 sec, 26 mm, f/2.2, ISO 100

Looking at these photos and having conducted some more research on this incredible landscape, I am truly amazed at how secret this place has remained. From what I have learned, Tule Canyon was originally acquired by Col. Charles Goodnight himself and became part of the massive JA Ranch; the current family purchased it from JA almost 70 years ago. Flores later argued that Tule Canyon, "the stunner of the High Plains," should belong to the people of Texas; I hope that someday it will. And now having glimpsed the beauty and wildness of the place through these photographs, I think I understand a little bit the empty wilderness of "mysterious, unimaginable Tule Canyon."

Wider 42-megapixel crop encompassing about a 140 degree field-of-view.
21-shot panorama, 1/640 sec, f/2.2, ISO 100
 

P.S. I have two large prints (and several not-so-large) of my photos hanging in my office, and this is one of them: a 40-inch wide metal print of the panorama cropped at almost 3 to 1. It is only 14 inches tall, and it needs to be at least twice that to convey a sense of the true depth of this canyon. Unfortunately, I have neither the wall space nor wallet thickness for an 80-inch print! 

All images captured with the DJI Mavic Pro.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Canyonlands Caprock dji drone drone photography landscape lightroom Mavic Mavic Pro narrows Palo Duro panorama photography sunset Texas Tule Tule Canyon https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/tule-canyon Mon, 20 Apr 2020 13:43:49 GMT
Les Basses Combes, Provence https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/les-basses-combes-provence

Gîte Marronnier
18 mm, 1/160 sec, f/8, ISO 400

As part of summer trip to Spain and France in 2019, we spent a week in Provence before going to Paris. It was the best part of our trip. We rented a Gîte (pronounced /ZHēt/, roughly translated as a rural accommodation) for the week in the countryside near the small village of Vacheres. The address for the place was simply "Les Basses Combes," the Low Valley, and the house was situated in a small valley surrounded by lavender fields and forest.

Les Basses Combes
35 mm, 1/25 sec, f/8, ISO 400

We spent the days exploring the surrounding area, visiting a few of the larger towns on market day, and generally taking things very slow. This was specifically not a photography trip (nobody told me that, but I am smart enough to know), so I was not heading out at sunrise and sunset to capture stunning landscapes. But I did carry my camera with me everywhere and managed to get quite a few wonderful images. Most of my sunset photos were taken on our evening strolls around the valley. The only sunrise I photographed was out the window of our bedroom (we slept with the windows wide open every night).

Sunrise Through the Upper Window
28 mm, 1/8 sec, f/1.8, ISO 35 (Google Pixel 3a in Night Sight mode)

 

The Backyard
31 mm, 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 400
 

A Provencal Storage Shed
22 mm, 1/160 sec, f/8, ISO 400
 

Purple Field of Something Not Lavender
42 mm, 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 400

We took a walk around the valley each evening after returning home from a day of exploration. The sunsets were usually subdues and not too vivid, and there were often thunderstorms visible in the distance. The air was still and warm, and heavy with the scent of the lavender and other fragrant flora.
 

View from the Garden
24 mm, 1/200 sec, f/8, ISO 400
 

Vacheres and Lavender
73 mm, 1/250 sec, f/4.0, ISO 400

The little village of Vacheres was only about a kilometer away from our house as the crow flies, but it was at least twice that far on the road. I'll make a separate post all about the village-the entire top of the town consists of abandoned stone houses, and someone has restored the partially collapsed old chapel into an art exhibit space. And the views of the valley and surrounding countryside are stunning from the top of the hill.

Poor Attempt at Milky Way and Lavender Field
12 mm, 2.0 sec, f/2, ISO 25600 (Samyang 12 mm f/2 lens)

This photo of the Milky Way is really the only one I wish I could try again. I waited until our last night to attempt this shot, and when I went out I realized I had my bearings turned around. I planned to shoot along the rows of lavender facing south, but that direction was actually east. When I realized my mistake, I just gave up on getting the image because of the light pollution in that direction, but I went ahead and took some test shots at ISO 25600. This was the best result, and looking at it now I think I could have come away with a really nice image. But for a two second exposure at ridiculous ISO, this one's not terrible.
 

18 mm, 1/25 sec, f/8, ISO 400
 

All images captured with Sony a6500 with the 18-105mm f/4 G lens unless otherwise noted.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 France gite lavender Lightroom Luberon photography Provence Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/les-basses-combes-provence Sat, 18 Apr 2020 00:29:18 GMT
My Travel Photography Kit https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/my-travel-photography-kit

Roissillon, Provence.  36 mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens)


Last summer (2019) my family made our first trip overseas to Europe. We spent eight days in Avila, Spain taking part in the first Avila International Music Festival, then we ventured over to the south of France for another eight days in Provence, and we finished our trip with three days in Paris. Landscape photography was not my main objective on this trip-I did not intentionally wake up early for sunrise a single time. What was important to me, however, was having the ability capture beautiful, excellent quality, memorable photos of my family visiting these historic places and landmarks without having to lug around a tremendous amount of gear.

Reillanne, Provence. 18 mm, 1/1000 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with SEL18105G lens)
This image is a composite of a 2-shot pano of the background and another shot with the girls. I was standing against a stone wall on the other side of the street and could not step back far enough to get the whole arch in the frame.

 

My Sony mirrorless kit proved to be fantastic. With the collapsible 16-50 mm kit lens mounted on the a6500*, I had a lightweight and unobtrusive package that I could sling over my shoulder and carry all day. I saw a lot of other tourists carrying full-frame DSLRs, and even a few with large zooms (you know, the big white ones with the red stripe), and every time I was thankful that I was not carrying one of those.

Muralla de Avila, Spain. 35 mm, 15 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100. (Sony a6500 with SEL18105G lens)
One of the few images that required use of a tripod.

 

For this trip, I limited myself to taking only what would fit in my regular camera bag which mainly meant that I could only pack three or four lenses. (I took four, but only used three of them.) In addition, I had two camera bodies because I wanted to have my regular Sony a6500 and my infrared-converted a6000. The infrared camera also necessitated bringing lens filters that otherwise could have been left at home. I brought my regular tripod with me-it stayed in my suitcase for most of the trip although I did use it a couple of times.

Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain. 20 mm, 1/200 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100, 590 nm infrared. (Sony a6000 with SEL18105G lens)


Here's a list of what I took and how it proved most useful:

Sony a6500 APS-C Mirrorless Camera (or any a6000 series): APS-C mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than their full-frame or DSLR counterparts and provide exceptional image quality. Apart from the small size, the features I found most useful were:

  • In-body image stabilization (IBIS) for handheld shooting in low light;
  • Silent shutter which allowed me to take hundreds of bracketed shots inside the cathedrals without being obnoxious;
  • ISO invariance which allowed me to shoot handheld at low ISO (refer to my other post for more info); and 
  • Articulating screen so that I could hold the camera up high over my head to get above the crowds or minimize architectural distortion.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. HDR Panorama from 12 frames, 2 bracketed exposures per frame. 12 mm, 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens.)
I captured this 12-frame panorama while holding the camera as high above my head as I could reach. I cropped out the 200 or so people standing in front of me holding up their cell phones.

 

Sony 16-50 mm Kit Lens: This lens is definitely underrated. When powered off, it is very small and makes for a compact package mounted on the a6500. I have absolutely no complaints about image quality or sharpness, particularly in the context of a lightweight lens for walking around all day.

Near Vachere, Provence. 50 mm, 1/250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100. (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens.)
This shot is slightly out of focus, but good enough. After I finished taking her portrait in the lavendar, she picked the stem and started running towards me with a real smile on her face. I pulled the camera back up and hit the shutter button just in time to get my favorite photo of the entire trip!

 

Samyang 12 mm f/2 Manual Wide-Angle Lens: After this trip, I consider this to be an absolutely essential lens for travel. I don't use the wide angle all that much for my regular landscape photography (typically 16 mm is wide enough), but it is my standard lens for astrophotography. I found it to be fantastic for indoor shooting in the buildings we visited. These were typically very dark inside, so having a wide aperture was helpful. Manual focus was also useful. I usually set the aperture and pre-focus on the lens, and with the camera in manual mode, set the ISO to 400 and shutter speed to 1/40 second. Then I could walk around the building focusing on composition without worrying about exposure settings (see comments above regarding ISO invariance and IBIS).

Avila Cathedral, Spain. HDR composite of 4 images. 1/25 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with Samyang 12 mm f/2 lens)

 

Sony 18-105 mm f/4 Zoom Lens: I used this lens almost exclusively on the infrared camera. For most tourist situations, I felt like it was too big and heavy to carry comfortably, and I didn't typically find that I needed longer reach than the 50 mm of the kit lens. The exception was for recording my daughters' violin performances at the music festival where the relatively fast f/4 aperture and longer zoom were essential.

Glanum, Saint-Remy-de-Provence. 23 mm, 1/640 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100, 590 nm infrared. (Sony a6000 with SEL18105G lens)


 

Sony Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8: This one stayed in the hotel room safe for the entire trip-it should have stayed at home. While this is my favorite lens to use indoors at home, I just didn't find much use for it on the trip.

Porte Notre Dame, Reillanne, Provence. 18 mm, 1/320 sec, f/9.0, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with SEL18105G lens)

 

Google Pixel 3a Smartphone: Probably any smartphone camera released in the last couple of years would suffice for quick snapshots in good light while traveling, but I found the Night Sight feature of the Pixel to be incredibly useful, and not just for night shots. I used it whenever I wanted to get good image quality in "lower" light settings, such as inside cathedrals or twilight outdoors. I even used the Pixel instead of the Sony a lot of times when indoors because I knew Night Sight would give me a better quality image that would not require as much post-processing work. Night Sight combines multiple exposures (and does a lot of other processing) to produce an image with very little noise and good detail, and it can produce images as DNG raw files for additional post-processing. The Pixel was also fantastic for the times I didn't want to carry the larger camera but still wanted to take good photos, like when walking to dinner. This is the first phone camera I've had that can produce images good enough to replace my actual camera in a lot of situations.

Paris. 1/35 sec, f/1.8, ISO 360. Image captured from a moving boat with Pixel 3a in Night Sight mode.

 

Tenba Messenger DNA 11 Bag: This bag is the perfect size for my uses. I was able to fit all of the above gear (except the tripod) in the bag along with a water bottle, but it was small enough to put inside my suitcase on the days we were changing destinations. I've also been using it for more than three years and it still looks like new.

Reillanne, Provence. 105 mm, 1/60 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with SEL18105G lens)

 

Summary

While I am currently devoted to Sony cameras and would not hesitate to recommend them, the larger point I want to make is that a compact mirrorless camera is a fantastic travel photography tool. With larger APS-C and full frame sensors, these cameras provide exceptional image quality, but they are much smaller than equivalent DSLRs.

*The Sony a6500 was released in the fall of 2016; I bought mine pre-owned in May 2018. In 2019, Sony released the a6100/a6400/a6600 as the successors to the earlier a6x00 models. To my knowledge, everything in this post applies equally if not moreso to these newer cameras. Note that only the a6500 and a6600 have IBIS, and not all of the models have an articulating screen or silent shutter. But in terms of image quality, they are all excellent.

Note: I originally wrote this post 8 months ago but held off publishing it until I had more images from my trip processed. But months later, I'm still working on the images, so I've decided to publish it now with the images I have processed, and update those later on if I have others to share.
 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 a6300 a6400 a6500 a6600 ISO invariance Night Sight photography Pixel 3a Sony travel Zeiss https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/my-travel-photography-kit Mon, 13 Apr 2020 22:47:27 GMT
Cathedral HDR Processing and Color Correction https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/cathedral-hdr-processing-and-color-correction Choir of Avila CathedralHDR of 4 raw images, 12 mm, f/5.6, ISO 400

HDR composite of 4 raw images, 12 mm, f/5.6, ISO 400

One of the issues I encountered processing my photos from the Avila Cathedral is the color cast from the different lighting sources inside the cathedral. The interior is generally very dark with timed spotlights installed throughout that are activated by buttons at the stations. Most of these are incandescent with a few LEDs mixed in, providing generally very warm lighting that contrasts with the much colder sunlight coming in through the high windows. The camera tends to pick something in the middle for a white balance resulting in yellow casts on the spotlighted interior features and cyan or blue casts where sunlight is reflected. With all of the different structural elements and textures found within, it is very difficult to remove these color casts.

I processed several photos using radial filters in Lightroom to reduce or eliminate the color casts. This process can be tedious but works rather well. Greg Benz published a short tutorial video on using color-based luminosity masks (color masks?) to quickly remove color casts from interior photos, so I decided to give it a try on this image that I had already processed in Lightroom but had not attempted to remove the strong blue cast from the left side of the photo. In the end, I got very good results using this technique, but it was a bit more work than I expected.

RAW exposure brackets starting at 1/40-second at 2-stop intervals.

I shot 5-exposure brackets for all of my images in the cathedral using a default exposure of 1/40-second at ISO 400. With my 12 mm manual lens, I was able to set the focus, aperture, and exposure with the brackets, then I didn't have to worry about camera settings and could concentrate on composition and exploring the cathedral. (For an in-depth explanation of these settings, take a look at my previous post on capturing an interior panorama of the central nave of the cathedral.) For many of the scenes inside the cathedral, 12 mm was not wide enough, so I was capturing a lot of 2+ shot panoramas that necessitated using a fixed exposure setting on the camera. In addition, the light varied wildly from one shot to the next, so it was much easier to have the camera setting fixed. Any images that included the high windows that were brightly lit by the sun required multiple exposures anyway, so bracketing made sense.

Of the 5 bracketed exposures, the brightest was slightly blurry and not usable. Even shooting at 12 mm with in-body image stabilization on the Sony a6500, the 0.4-second exposure was a little bit too long. The middle exposure at 1/10-second was very sharp, so the 4 darker exposures were combined using Lightroom's merge HDR process. After merging the exposures, the image was brightened 3 stops to produce the image below.

In capturing the images of this cathedral, I also found a very practical use for ISO invariance. The base exposure for my brackets (1/40th sec, f/5.6 at ISO 400) is underexposed by about 3 stops for this image of the choir. Since I was using a 2-stop bracket interval, I picked 1/40 sec as the base exposure to allow me to get a sharp image at 2 stops longer exposure time (1/10th sec). Any longer would risk getting a blurry image (as evidenced by the brighter exposures at 0.4 sec which I had to discard). So I should have been capturing these images using a 3-stop higher ISO (ISO 3200) which certainly would have resulted in the loss of highlight detail. However, based on my previous testing of ISO invariance of the a6500, I knew that I could simply set the exposure to a "safe" base exposure and make whatever exposure adjustments needed in Lightroom. And since HDR processing inherently reduces noise, the final image is almost free of noise, even in the deep shadows.

HDR of 4 raw images

HDR composite pre-processed in Lightroom before editing in Photoshop. Note the heavy blue cast on the left side of the image.

In addition to bringing up the exposure to account for under-exposing the base image, other edits in Lightroom included strong adjustments to highlights (-71) and shadows (+80), sharpening, slight noise reduction (+10 on the luminance slider), and liberal use of the Transform sliders to straighten the image and reduce some of the perspective distortions.

The pre-processed image from Lightroom was opened as a Smart Object in Photoshop, then the layer was duplicated using "New Smart Object via Copy" to create an independent copy. I opened the copy in Camera Raw and white balanced on one of the large organ pipes on the left side of the image. This copy was very warm and far too red, but the blue cast was removed.

Back in Photoshop, I generated a mask on the original layer using the Colour selection tool in Raya Pro and clicking on one of the darker blue organ pipes. (In his example, Greg Benz was using Lumenzia. I'm sure other Photoshop panels have similar functionality.) I had to expand the mask, then manually painted in several areas of the organ and stonework. Without these manual adjustments, the combined exposure was very flat and almost devoid of all color in the gilded woodwork around the organ. This manual editing of the mask was the most tedious part of the process, but I found it to be necessary to achieve acceptable results. I'm sure this process could have been easier with better use of the color masking tools.

Color mask used to blend the two white balanced raw images.

After blending, the image was cropped to a 16:10 aspect ratio. I created a selection of the lower right foreground of the choir then used Transform->Warp to correct the perspective in that corner. I finished the adjustments in Photoshop with some color adjustments including a slight yellow Color Fill layer using the Color Dodge blend mode to brighter the image and a red to yellow Gradient Map to provide some additional warming and color toning. I used BlendIf on both of these color adjustment layers to protect the highlights from becoming too bright and to keep the red cast out of the shadows. (I learned these useful color adjustments from Blake Rudis at f.64 Academy.)

Photoshop Layer Stack

For comparison, here's the same image processed completely in Lightroom. The blue cast has been reduced but not eliminated, particularly on the organ and stonework. When I review the two images, I still feel like I've lost something in the gilded woodwork around the organ pipes compared to the Lightroom image, but the blue cast ruins the image. And I like the overall warmer tone of the Photoshop-processed image. If you've used this technique for removing color casts and have any advice, I'd love to hear from you. 

Lightroom Edit (No Photoshop)

Final image edited in Lightroom. The blue cast has been reduced but not eliminated, particularly on the organ and stonework.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 Avila cathedral color correction gradient map HDR lightroom luminosity mask photography Photoshop Sony Spain https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2020/4/cathedral-hdr-processing-and-color-correction Mon, 13 Apr 2020 14:03:56 GMT
Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/11/chimney-rock-at-ghost-ranch Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico81 mm, 1/80 sec, f/9, ISO 100, 590 nm Infrared

81 mm, 1/80 sec, f/9, ISO 100, 590 nm Infrared

While on a spring weekend getaway to New Mexico, we ventured over to Ghost Ranch, the former home of Georgia O'Keefe. We were introduced to Ghost Ranch a couple of years ago when visiting the Georgia O'Keefe museum in Santa Fe. Her paintings of the incredible landscapes of the area have been a great inspiration to me as a photographer, and I intentionally try to mimic her simplifications of the landscape in my compositions.

The scenery at Ghost Ranch did not disappoint, and I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area. We spent the afternoon hiking one of the many trails. As we returned to the trailhead, the afternoon sunlight broke through some passing clouds, spotlighting the rock formation known as Chimney Rock. I was carrying my infrared-converted Sony a6000 with a 590 nm filter on the lens-as soon as I saw the preview image on the back of the camera, I knew I had captured a special image. (I submitted this photo to the Ghost Ranch Calendar Photo Contest. It didn't win overall, but it was selected to be included in the 2020 calendar.)

When I sat down at the computer to process this photo, I quickly realized one of the great challenges with infrared photography-dealing too much contrast. When working with a regular digital camera to create black and white images, it is sometimes difficult to create enough contrast in the scene. But with strong lighting, the contrast in the scene can easily overpower an infrared image. For this image, the direct sunlight reflecting off the rocks was incredible strong, but the shadows reflect very little light. It is not a problem of dynamic range-the raw image has detail in both highlights and shadows. Processing this image was all about controlling the contrast already present rather than building up contrast in a flatter image. And although you will often hear that infrared images can be captured during at midday when regular cameras are useless, I have learned that 

In-camera Preview-Note the loss of detail in the bright front of the rock formation and in the deep shadows behind it.

Writing this post in November 2019, I have a lot more experience both capturing and working with infrared images. When I captured this photo, I had only had the infrared camera for a little over a month and had not processed many images. I also had very little experience working in black and white, so creating a print-worthy photo from the raw image presented an incredible learning opportunity!

I've since learned how to process many of my black and white infrared images in Lightroom, but this image really needs the power of Photoshop. I still have much to learn about processing black and white images in Photoshop, but I consider this photo to be my first real success using the skills I have developed. One of the best resources I have found for learning about infrared photography is a seminar by Vincent Versace at B&H Photo in 2015 that is available on Youtube. I think Vincent is a great teacher and incredible photographer. Unfortunately, his books have become out of date with the rapid advancements in image processing software.

For this image, I used many of the techniques presented in Vincent's "From Oz to Kansas" book and from the B&H seminar. The raw image was separately processed for shadows and highlights (I would have used alternate exposures from a bracketed set, but my other exposures were blurry), and these base images were blended in Photoshop. I used several filters from Color Efex Pro 2 including Skylight, Contrast Only, Detail Extractor, Dark Contrasts, and Tonal Contrasts. Each of these filters was applied locally within the image by painting through luminosity masks so that the adjustments are gradually accumulated. The image was further adjusted with dodging and burning applied with Curves layers and addition of Clarity with the Camera Raw Filter. The final image was cropped and toned in Lightroom.

I have to say that I was still not totally happy with the appearance of the final image on the screen, but now having seen it printed in the calendar, I don't think I could make it any better. I am planning to add a print of this photo to my personal gallery in my office.

 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 Chimney Rock Ghost Ranch infrared lightroom New Mexico photography Photoshop Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/11/chimney-rock-at-ghost-ranch Sun, 03 Nov 2019 16:14:58 GMT
Cuchara Valley Landscapes 2020 Photography Wall Calendar https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/10/cuchara-valley-landscapes-2020-photography-wall-calendar I'm excited to announce the Cuchara Valley Landscapes 2020 Photography Wall Calendar featuring 12 images of the beautiful Cuchara area from all four seasons. The calendar is printed on high quality 100 lb. paper and measures 17" tall by 11" wide when opened (images are 8.5" x 11").

Calendars will begin shipping around November 1st. I'm happy to say that calendars will also be available for sale locally at La Veta Mercantile.

Shipping is a flat rate of $5.00 whether you order 1 or 10. They are selling fast, so order your calendar today! Just click on the calendar image above to go to the product page.

 

Late Spring in the Cuchara Valley, May 2016.
 

Dodgeton Trail, January 2019.
 

Arch of the Milky Way over West Spanish Peak, June 2019

Milky Way over West Spanish Peak, June 2019.
 

Sunrise on West Spanish Peak, August 2017.
 

Spanish Peaks near La Veta, June 2019 (590 nm Infrared).
 

Moonrise at Piney Ridge Ranch, June 2016 (Digital Composite).
 

Spring in the Cuchara Valley, June 2019.
 

Sunrise at Yellow Pine Ranch, July 2017. Kodak Portra 400, 6x6.

Sunrise at Yellow Pine Ranch, July 2017 (Kodak Portra 400 Film).
 

Twilight on the Highway of Legends, August 2017.
 

West Spanish Peak at Twilight, June 2019.
 

Autumn Storm on West Peak, October 2015.
 

Ancient tree on Vista Ridge, November 2017.

Sunset view from Vista Ridge, November 2017.

 

Trinchera Range at Night, June 2019.

 

Sunset over the ancient village of Reillanne, Provence, France, July 2019.
 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) calendar Colorado Cuchara La Veta photography Spanish Peaks https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/10/cuchara-valley-landscapes-2020-photography-wall-calendar Mon, 21 Oct 2019 19:45:53 GMT
Interior Panorama of the Cathedral of the Savior, Avila, Spain https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/9/interior-panorama-of-the-cathedral-of-the-savior-avila-spain Catedral de Cristo Salvador, the Cathedral of the Savior, the oldest Gothic cathedral in Spain. Construction began in 1091 and was completed (mostly) by 1475. It is both cathedral and fortress with the apse forming one of the towers in the wall of the city. Our visit to the cathedral was one of the highlights of our recent trip to Spain and France, my first time overseas.

I've wanted to visit the great cathedrals of Europe for almost my entire life, and ever since I became a photographer, getting an interior panorama of one of these ancient structures has been on my list. I spent more than 2 hours wandering around the interior of the cathedral with my camera, in awe of the unbelievable and almost incomprehensible skill of the builders and artisans, and hoping that I could somehow capture the raw image data that would allow me to produce a photograph that could somehow convey a hint of what I saw.

This image shows the view from the crossing looking forward into the Capilla Mayor with both transepts captured to the left and right. This image is a composite of 86 individual photos captured with a 12 mm wide-angle lens on my Sony a6500 APS-C camera to capture a more than 180-degree field of view (the upper windows to the left and right are actually behind where I was standing). I originally captured 215 (43x5) raw images shot in 5-image brackets at 2-stop intervals. I was shooting handheld (no tripod); all images were captured at ISO 400 using a base exposure of 1/40th of a second. Even though I was using the in-body image stabilization, the longest exposure (0.4 sec) of each bracket was blurry, so I had to remove 43 exposures. I also removed the shortest exposure (1/640 sec) because it was not needed-even the brightest highlights in the upper windows were not blown. With 129 exposures remaining, I learned that Lightroom has a limit of 100 exposures for the HDR Pano Merge tool. After reviewing the exposures, I decided to keep only the darkest and brightest remaining exposures (1/10th sec and 1/160 sec, 4 stops difference) for a total of 86 source images.

All of the processing was done in Lightroom using the HDR Pano Merge tool. Unfortunately, I didn't make a note for the panorama settings. After merging, I used the Transform tools to adjust the perspective, then cropped the image to the final version. The resulting image is almost 92 megapixels. I initially thought I would need to use Photoshop to make the perspective corrections, but I'm happy with the Lightroom result. I had to make some strong adjustments using the Vertical, Aspect, and Scale sliders to correct the distortion and retain much of the field of view-by default, Lightroom removed a lot of the outer parts of the image to the left and right.

In capturing the images of this cathedral, I also found a very practical use for ISO invariance. The base exposure for my brackets (1/40th sec, f/5.6 at ISO 400) is underexposed by about 3 stops for the center image of the chancel. Since I was using a 2-stop bracket interval, I picked 1/40 sec as the base exposure to allow me to get a sharp image at 2 stops longer exposure time (1/10th sec). Any longer would risk getting a blurry image (as evidenced by the brighter exposures at 0.4 sec which I had to discard). So I should have been capturing these images using a 2-stop higher ISO (ISO 3200) which certainly would have resulted in the loss of highlight detail (needlessly since a faster shutter is used). However, based on my previous testing of ISO invariance of the a6500, I knew that I could simply set the exposure to a "safe" base exposure and make whatever exposure adjustments needed in Lightroom. And since HDR processing inherently reduces noise, the final image is free of noise, even in the deep shadows.

Be sure to check out my other post (coming soon) of a virtual tour of the interior of the cathedral.

Update (April 2020): This image was critiqued by Blake Rudis at f.64 Academy (he said that anyone who goes through the effort to capture and process 86 source photos deserves to have their final image critiqued!). Blake's criticisms were very constructive. His main comments were that the image was too dark, it had an overall cyan color cast, and the highlights in the upper windows had been pulled down too far. I made some quick edits in Lightroom to address these comments, and I think the image is much better for it. Thanks Blake!

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 Avila cathedral HDR HDR panorama ISO invariance lightroom panorama photography Sony Spain vertorama https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/9/interior-panorama-of-the-cathedral-of-the-savior-avila-spain Mon, 09 Sep 2019 20:35:50 GMT
Milky Way Panorama Stacking with Sequator https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/8/milky-way-panorama-stacking-with-sequator Arch of the Milky Way over West Spanish Peak, June 2019

Final stacked and processed image: 8-frame panorama from
32 exposures stacked in Sequator.
Sony a6500, 12 mm, f/2.0, 20 sec, ISO 1600

This image represents my second successful attempt to photograph the full arch of the Milky Way (out of three attempts-the first attempt at this same location was a complete failure. What a difference four years of experience makes!). In this post, I want to share how I optimized capture of the raw images by applying knowledge of my camera's ISO invariance and how the raw images were processed using Sequator to improve the final image quality.

ISO Invariance and Image Capture

ISO invariance is a buzz-phrase in the digital camera world these days, but I think most people have not yet grasped how to make use of ISO invariance in practical situations. To break it down simply, increasing ISO reduces the ability of the camera sensor to capture highlight data. For astrophotography, we can preserve highlight detail by using a lower ISO then boosting the overall exposure afterwards in post-processing. Based on my previous testing of my camera, I found that ISO 1600 seems to be a good option for maintaining dynamic range (i.e., highlight detail) while still providing a decent in-camera exposure (not too wildly underexposed). Without this understanding, previously I would have been shooting this scene at ISO 6400 thinking I was getting a better exposure at the expense of increasing noise a little.

If you want to learn more about how to improve your astrophotography by taking advantage of ISO invariance, Justin Majeczky has an excellent video, and Hal Mitzenmacher has a nice post about his experiment.

On this early June evening in southern Colorado, dark night started at 10:12 pm. The moon was a waxing crescent, 38 percent illuminated, and at the time the raw images were captured, was about 30 degrees above the horizon directly behind me. It took about 11 minutes to capture the entire sequence of 32 images, so by the time I finished, the moon had dropped about 4 degrees closer to the horizon (and a little while later it disappeared behind the range of 13,000 ft mountains that I was standing on.) The setting moon was in a great position for lighting the foreground and landscape in my composition, but it was a little bit too bright, so the Milky Way did not appear as prominent in the sky. On the other hand, I was able to capture foreground and sky in a single exposure; the foreground had to be darkened significantly in post-processing. (Side note: you have to make the most of the conditions. I initially planned to go out a couple of nights later with a friend because the moon would have set by the time dark night arrived. But the forecast called for clouds and storms for the next 7 days, and indeed, this was the only clear night that week. Also, the shot had to be taken right after astronomical twilight before the Milky Way arch rose too high in the sky.)

I hiked up to the ridge about two and a half hours before dark, partly to get some sunset and twilight photos, but mostly to avoid hiking through the forest in the dark (I figured I could muster the courage to hike back to the car in the dark since it was the only way to get home.) I had plenty of time after sunset to get the pano rig set up, figure out how many frames I needed, and determine how much to rotate the camera between shots. I had decided beforehand that I wanted to try stacking the images to see how the image quality could be improved.

Last sunlight on the Sangre de Cristos.

As soon as it was dark enough, I captured a couple of 8 or 9 frame pano sets to make sure I had a good set of images to stitch together in case the stacking didn't work. For the stacked set, I captured 4 exposures for each frame. The wind was howling at my back, so I had to use my body to block the wind from the camera. Even so, on the last set of frames the camera was almost blown over and I had to grab a couple of extra exposures after I got all three legs of the tripod back on the ground. Then I quickly packed up and headed down off the ridge before I got blown off of there myself.

Processing with Sequator

Sequator is a free application for stacking astrophotography images-it's essentlially the Windows alternative to Starry Landscape Stacker. Sequator is fairly easy to use and offers some powerful features for separating the foreground from the sky while stacking. The website offers detailed instructions and provides some tutorials; however, the author of the program is a Taiwanese software engineer so some of the explanations seem to have lost something in translation. Since this was my first experience with Sequator, I experimented with some of the options and wanted to share what I found to be the best settings.

The overall process include four main steps: pre-processing the raw files, stacking multiple exposures to create individual panorama frames, panorama stitching, and final post-processing.

Raw File Processing

I made the following basic adjustments to the raw files in Lightroom before stacking the images in Sequator:

  • Increase exposure +2, adjust Highlights (-80) and Shadows (+80)
  • Set white balance
  • Applied Lens Corrections and Sharpening (Lightroom default with +50 masking)
  • No Luminance Noise Reduction applied

You can see in the comparison below that the sky in unadjusted raw file is too dark. The foreground landscape on the other hand is just about right for a night photo and had to be darkened again in a later step. After adjusting the first raw file, the same settings were applied to all 32 exposures, then the images were exported as TIFFs.

Before and After Comparison on Unstacked Raw File

Sequator does support stacking on raw files, eliminating the need to export the pre-processed raw files to TIFFs. This would probably be the best option for properly exposed images (not intentionally underexposed by setting a low ISO in camera) or for single-frame, non-panorama images. In this case, I wanted to brighten the exposures on the raw files, not the stacked outputs, and I wanted to apply lens distortion corrections for pano stitching, so I exported all of the exposures as TIFFs before stacking.

Sequator Processing

The screenshot below shows the Sequator settings used to process the individual pano frames for this image. The inputs are the four exposures to be stacked for each frame. For the base image (used as the reference for stacking the sky and foreground), I selected the last exposure as the base image for the first frame and the first exposure as the base image for the last frame to try to minimize movement between the first and last pano frames. I'm not sure this is important or that it even works, but that's how I did it since I was stacking for a panorama and the Milky Way moved significantly over the 11 minutes that it took me to capture all of the exposures. In my haste to pack up and get off the ridge and out of the wind, I forgot to capture a dark frame for noise reduction, so I didn't specify a noise image. For the outputs, I just named the files 1.tif, 2.tif, ..., 8.tif for later stitching.

For Composition, I selected "Align Stars" with the "Freeze ground" option so that Sequator would separately stack the sky (moving) and foreground (not moving). If you separately exposed for the sky and foreground, you could select a different option. For the Freeze ground option, you must mask the sky area. This does not have to be exact (the giant brush is the only option), but it is important not to select any of the ground in the mask. This step required maybe 30 seconds per frame.


Sequator Interface with Selected Settings and Sky Mask

Since this was my first experiment using Sequator, I wanted to see how some of the options affected the output stacked image. In particular, I was curious about the effects of High Dynamic Range and Enhance Star Light. I processed the same set of four exposures three times with both options off, HDR on, and both HDR and Enhance Star Light on. I didn't see a huge difference in the results, so I decided to process my images with HDR on and Enhance Star Light off.

Comparison of Sequator Processing Options

I did not use "Auto brightness" or "Reduce light pollution" since the images were part of a panorama and those settings would likely be different when applied to different images. The other important setting is the output color space. The default here is sRGB, but I changed it to AdobeRGB since it is a larger color space. Unfortunately, ProPhotoRGB is not an option.

With the selected options, Sequator took about 14 seconds per frame to stack 4 exposures. After I had decided on which options to use, it only took about 20 minutes to process all eight panorama frames (32 exposures in 4 stacks).

The image below shows the original raw file compared to the stacked image. Although the Sequator output is darker, it has almost no noise in the sky and foreground, and the stars are just as bright. Compared to one of the single exposure panoramas that I captured earlier that night, the stacked image looks much better.

Comparison of Input Raw Exposure and Output Stacked Exposure

Panorama Stitching and Final Processing

Lightroom had no issues stitching the eight frames of stacked exposures processed by Sequator. The stitched panorama is 70 megapixels, and the final cropped image is almost 45 megapixels.

Stitched panorama in Lightroom before cropping.

I processed the stitched pano in Lightroom, focusing on trying to enhance the Milky Way and darkening the foreground. As you can see in the uncropped pano, the shadow of my tripod and camera are quite visible, so I took the final image into Photoshop to remove the shadow.

Summary

Overall, I'm very impressed with the capabilities of Sequator-I think it will be an essential part of my astrophotography workflow whenever I have multiple exposures to stack. I am also happy with the quality of the raw files produced by the a6500, especially compared to the night images I was getting from my a6000 previously. Unfortunately, I am disappointed with the final image. The Milky Way is not as prominent as I would have liked, probably because of the brightness of the moon even though it provided great light for the foreground. And the West Spanish Peak seems too diminished even though it dominates the view from that ridge.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 astrophotography Colorado Cuchara iso iso invariance lightroom Milky Way photography sequator Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/8/milky-way-panorama-stacking-with-sequator Wed, 21 Aug 2019 21:04:59 GMT
Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/8/moro-rock-sequoia-national-park Tharps Rock and Alta Peak

Alta Peak, Sequoia National Park
590 nm Infrared, 105 mm, 1/100 sec, f/8, ISO 100

About 15 years ago (in ~2004), I had a set of National Geographic desktop wallpapers. One of the photos was from a mountain lake surrounded by craggy peaks high in the Sierras in Kings Canyon National Park. The first time I saw that photo, I had never even heard of Kings Canyon, but it sure looked like an incredible place to visit and has been on my list ever since. Earlier this year in May, I had an opportunity to visit Kings Canyon while on a business trip to Fresno. I arrived in Fresno about 10 a.m., picked up my rental car, grabbed some lunch at Chick-Fil-A, and headed west toward the all-but-invisible Sierras.

Endless ridges in Sequoia National Park

Endless ridges of the Sierra foothills in Sequoia National Park
590 nm infrared, 40 mm, 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 100

I had done some research before the trip looking at photos of the park, but surprisingly didn't find a whole lot of interesting landscape photography. As is common with many of our national parks, the part of the park easily accessible to the public, that is, from a paved road, is only a tiny fraction of the area designated as national park. It turns out that the incredible photo I remember from my desktop was captured in a remote part of the high country deep in the wilderness and probably only accessible on a multi-day backpacking journey.

Deer Ridge, Sequoia National Park

Granite slab and springs, Sequoia National Park
590 nm infrared, 41 mm, 1/640 sec, f/8, ISO 100

Knowing that scene was not something I was going to see on my afternoon drive through the park, I spent some time on the plane looking for other photo opportunities in the area. That's when I discovered Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park. Sequoia neighbors Kings Canyon to the south, and like its neighbor, the park is about a lot more than the giant Sequoia trees. One of the most scenic, and accessible, places in the park is Moro Rock, a monolithic granite dome that is visible thousands of feet above the highway into the park. From what I read, Moro Rock sounded promising for getting some nice photos at sunset. With this knowledge, I planned to spend the afternoon sightseeing from the car (a convertible VW Beetle), then end the day at Moro Rock. I made the drive through Kings Canyon, stopped at Grant Grove, then drove over to Sequoia where I made the obligatory stop to see the General Sherman tree. The giant Sequoias are spectacular and breath-taking to behold, but are not terribly appealing to me photographically, so I looked around then headed on to the parking lot for Moro Rock.

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park. See the tiny people down at the base.

Moro Rock and the view from on top is a must-see spot in Sequoia, so I was expecting quite a few people to be there for sunset. Fortunately, this place has not become Instagram-famous yet-I only had to wait about 15 minutes to get a parking spot in the small lot at the trailhead. The trail starts out almost where the exposed rock begins, so almost immediately you are walking on the rock, or rather, on stairs carved into the rock. The steel handrails are very welcome, and the views are spectacular all the way up, which provides a nice reward every time you pause to catch your breath.

Moro Rock "Trail," Sequoia National Park

When I reached the top, there were only about 25 people up there with me, and that number rapidly shrank as the sun got lower. With a brisk cold breeze blowing over the rock, it did not take long for all but the photographers and their devoted companions to head back to the car. Boy did they miss out on watching the sun set!

An unnamed dome on the flank of Lippincott Mountain with the peaks of the Great Western Divide rising up 3,000 ft behind.

An unnamed dome on the flank of Lippincott Mountain with the peaks of the
Great Western Divide rising up 3,000 ft behind, Sequoia National Park
590 nm infrared, 90 mm, 1/250 sec, f/8, ISO 100

I had both my regular color camera and infrared camera. Before the sun got too low on the horizon, I was shooting with the infrared and getting some incredible images. All of the high peaks were still covered in deep snow, there was a clearing storm retreating east over the mountains, and the sun was just about level with my position on the rock. From the top of Moro Rock high above the valley of the Kaweah River, I had incredible views in almost all directions, and with the light constantly changing as the sun got lower and the storm clouds moved over the peaks, I was frantically pointing the camera all over the place.

The Great Western Divide of the Sierra Nevada, May 2019

The Great Western Divide of the Sierra Nevada, Sequoia National Park
590 nm infrared, 45 mm, 1/200 sec, f/8, ISO 100

I was especially enchanted by the Great Western Divide, a subrange of the Sierra Nevada that includes some of the most majestic and craggy peaks in all of the Sierra. I didn't realize it at the time, but the view of the Divide includes the higher peaks of the Kaweah Peaks Ridge, comprising eight peaks over 13,000 feet, behind the first ridge. You can get some scale for the size of these mountains when you realize that the granite domes near the snowline in the photo are some 3,000 feet lower than the summits.

Castle Rocks and Paradise Peak

Castle Rocks and Paradise Peak, Sequoia National Park
49 mm, 1/5 sec, f/8, ISO 100

When the sun finally got low enough that a high ridge blocked the direct light from the high peaks, I took a break from shooting infrared and realized that almost none of the other photographers up there had been taking any photos that whole time. Literally every one of them were congregated on the west side of the rock waiting for the sunset. Even without an infrared camera, the light on the Great Western Divide would have produced some incredible black and white images, but the Instagram crowd was not interested.

Granite Spring and Deer Ridges in Sequoia National Park

The Instagram Shot, Sequoia National Park
41 mm, 1/40 sec, f/8, ISO 100

As the sun got lower, the hazy western skies were glowing orange and yellow, and I did capture a few nice color images. But they don't compare to the absolutely stunning infrared shots that I got while all of the other photographers up there were having social hour.

Great Western Divide

Great Western Divide and Kaweah Peaks Ridge, Sequoia National Park
29 mm, 1/4 sec, f/8, ISO 100

Technical Photography Notes

All images were shot with either a Sony a6500 or infrared-converted Sony a6000 paired with the Sony 18-105 f/4 G lens. Infrared images were captured using a Kolari Vision 590 nm lens filter. Most of the images were processed in Lightroom. Black and white conversions for the infrared photos are based on the built-in black and white profiles provided by Adobe, Jim Welninski's black and white film profiles, or Nate Johnson's X-Chrome profiles. If you want to produce better black and white photos from your digital camera using Lightroom, I highly recommend both of these profile packs, and Jim's black and white artistry courses are fantastic! Update (February 2021): I am now using the B&W Artisan Pro X panel by Joel Tjintjelaar to process my infrared black and white images in more of the "fine art" style. There's a steep learning curve, but the results are worth it.

Black and White Conversion Profiles

Tharps Rock and Alta Peak 590 nm infrared processed with B&W Artisan Pro X panel in Photoshop
Deer Ridge, Sequoia National Park 590 nm infrared processed with Jim Welninski's Polaroid 664 film profile
Endless ridges in Sequoia National Park 590 nm infrared processed with Nate Johnson's Puretone B&W profile
An unnamed dome on the flank of Lippincott Mountain with the peaks of the Great Western Divide rising up 3,000 ft behind. 590 nm infrared processed with Jim Welninski's Rollei Ortho 25 film profile
The Great Western Divide of the Sierra Nevada, May 2019 590 nm infrared processed with Jim Welninski's Kodak T-Max 400 film profile


 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) 590 a6000 a6500 black and white Great Western Divide infrared Moro Rock photography Sequoia National Park Sony sunset x-chrome https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/8/moro-rock-sequoia-national-park Sun, 18 Aug 2019 19:45:59 GMT
ISO Invariance, Dual Gain, and the Sony a6500 https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/6/iso-invariance-and-the-sony-a6500 Key Points (TL;DR)
  • Noise is not created by using higher ISO, it is created by a lack of light. The tradeoff of increasing ISO in camera is not noise, it is loss of dynamic range and highlight detail.
  • The current generation of Sony crop-sensor cameras (a6300, a6400, and a6500) have a primary base ISO at 100 and a secondary base ISO at 400* thanks to implementation of dual gain ISO technology. Note that this does not apply to the a6000 which does not have dual gain ISO.

*Based on testing of my own a6500 camera. This is different than reported at Photonstophotos.net which shows ISO 320 as the second base ISO for the a6500.

  • ISO invariance is somewhat dependent on your choice of raw processor. In my testing using Lightroom or Capture 1, the ISO 400 image pushed +4 stops looked better than the ISO 6400 image. But when using RawTherapee, the ISO 6400 image was much cleaner**.

**Refer to this article for some clues as to why.

  • For night and astrophotography using the a6500 (and a6300 and possibly a6100/a6400/a6600), ISO 1600 appears to offer the best tradeoff of minimizing noise and artifacting in underexposed images while maintaining dynamic range and highlight detail. In other words, an ISO 1600 image pushed 2 stops has about the same noise as an ISO 6400 image, but the ISO 1600 image will have much better highlight detail.
  • When shooting handheld in low light, set the aperture as needed, set the shutter to whatever is appropriate to avoid blur based on the focal length (taking advantage of IBIS or lens stabilization), and set the ISO to 400.
  • For maximum image quality, always expose to the right (ETTR) when shooting RAW. Maximize the amount of light reaching the sensor by opening the aperture and slowing the shutter, then use a higher ISO if needed to move the histogram.

If you find any of this information useful, please let me know and leave a comment.

ISO Invariance

Talk of ISO invariance has been gaining popularity with camera geeks for the past few years and hit the frenzy level a couple of months ago when Tony Northrup made his "ISO is Fake" video which stirred up a lot of controversy. Tony created a followup video on ISO Invariance that really intrigued me because he demonstrated the effects of "Dual Gain Architecture" used in many modern camera sensors including ones made by Sony. I have read about ISO invariance a few times but never took much interest in it because I didn't see a practical implication for my photography. It's a complex topic that kind of turns the exposure paradigm upside down for digital cameras; if I can't benefit from it, why spend my time trying to figure it out?

ISO invariance is the property of some cameras that allow the exposure to be adjusted in post-processing as if the ISO had been increased at the time of capture. For example, a raw image file from an ISO invariant (or ISO-less) camera will produce roughly equivalent images whether the image is captured at ISO 3200 in camera or captured at ISO 400 in camera and then brightened by +3 stops in Lightroom. (And if you don't understand why it is 3 stops, you should probably stop reading this post now.)

Tony sums up the practical benefits of ISO invariance in his video: "High ISOs will clip the highlights, low ISOs will not, and often the noise levels are identical."

Dual Gain sensor architecture essentially means that the camera sensor has more than one base ISO. Essentially, the camera has two ISO values where noise is minimized and dynamic range (ability to capture highlight detail without clipping) is maximized. By knowing if a camera is ISO invariant and the base ISO for that camera, it is possible to take advantage of that knowledge to improve image quality in certain situations.

After watching Tony's video on ISO invariance, I saw another video by Justin Majeczy that demonstrated the benefits of taking advantage of ISO invariance for night and astrophotography. Justin found that he was losing a lot of highlight detail in his night imagery by using higher ISOs in camera. With an ISO invariant camera, he could shoot at lower ISO with the exact same total exposure (e.g., 15 seconds at f/2.0), then increase the brightness in post producing an image with no increase in noise and much improved highlight detail.

My Testing

I wanted to test this concept with my Sony a6500 to see if I could get the same benefits. The first step is to determine the base ISOs for the camera, so I headed over to photonstophotos.net and started looking at the charts. Several of the charts for noise for the a6500 show the dual gain ISO to occur at ISO 320. Interestingly, the same charts for the a6300 and a6400 which have very similar sensors show the dual gain ISO to occur at ISO 400. More on this later.

Read Noise for Sony a6500. Note the drop in noise at ISO 320 indicating implementation of dual gain ISO.
Graph and data from PhotonsToPhotos.net.

Comparison Using ISO 320 as Base

I set the camera up on the tripod in my office and pointed it at the corner with my espresso maker that includes very dark shadows along with very bright outdoor highlights through the French doors. Starting with ISO 320 as the base, I decided to use ISO 5000 as my default exposure because it is 4 stops brighter than ISO 320 and would be a reasonable ISO to use for astrophotography. The shutter speed for the metered exposure at ISO 5000 and f/8.0 was 1/13 second, so I lowered the ISO to 320 and captured a series of exposures at 1-stop ISO intervals (320, 640, 1250, 2500, 5000, 10000, and 20000). Then in Lightroom, I changed the brightness values to match the ISO 5000 image, i.e., +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, and -2. I also set Highlights to -80 and Shadows to +80 so that blown highlights and shadow noise would be very obvious.

Unadjusted raw exposures using ISO 320 as base.

Unadjusted raw exposures.

 

Images after exposure and highlights/shadows adjustments.

The results were not what I expected; the ISO 320 image was considerably noisier than the ISO 5000 image. Looking at the detail comparison below, the ISO 320 image has larger white specks as opposed to the more uniform grain in the ISO 5000 image. Also note the improved highlight detail in the LED left of the gage. The increased noise in the ISO 320 image would be expected with a non-ISO invariant camera, but I had already seen from the charts that the a6500 should be ISO invariant from ISO 320.

Comparison of ISO 320 Exposure (+4 Brightness) and ISO 5000 Exposure

Going back to Photonstophotos.net, the charts for the a6300 (and a6400) indicate the dual gain ISO kicks in at ISO 400 rather than ISO 320 as shown for the a6500. These camera all share basically the same sensor-it is reportedly identical for the a6300 and a6500 while the newer a6400 may be slightly different and has a better image processor. Based on this information, I decided to try the test again using ISO 400 as the base ISO to see if the results improved.

Read Noise for Sony a6300 and a6500. Note the dual gain drop in noise occurs at ISO 400 for the a6300.
Graph and data from PhotonsToPhotos.net.

Comparison of ISO 320 to ISO 400

The image below shows a side-by-side comparison of the ISO 320 exposure to the ISO 400 exposure with both brightened by 4 stops in Lightroom. I used a slightly longer focal length for the ISO 400 series, so these images are not exactly lined up at 100%. I zoomed in on the darkest part of the photo to show the substantial difference in noise levels between these two images. The ISO 400 image on the right is much cleaner without a lot of the salt noise so prevalent in the ISO 320 image. The ISO 400 image also has much cleaner colors while the ISO 320 image suffers from some major color contamination. This comparison clearly shows that, at least for my a6500, dual gain ISO occurs at ISO 400, contrary to the results published on Photonstophotos.net.

Comparison of ISO 320 Exposure and ISO 400 Exposure (Both at +4 Brightness)

Comparison Using ISO 400 as Base

Now knowing the ISO 400 is the appropriate second base ISO to use for testing the a6500, I repeated the experiment starting at ISO 400 and captured images at ISO 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800, 21600, and 51200. This time the comparison of the underexposed ISO 400 exposure to the ISO 6400 exposure revealed little difference. Processed in Lightroom, I see less noise in the deep shadows in the pushed ISO 400 exposure but at the expense of some color variations.

Shadow Comparison of ISO 400 Exposure (+4 Brightness) and ISO 6400 Exposure

However, looking at the highlights, there is a substantial loss of highlight detail in the ISO 6400 exposure. Looking at the comparison below, outside the window there is a white pillow with a green fern embroidered on it. The fern is clearly visible in the ISO 400 exposure, but completely lost in the ISO 6400 exposure. Similarly, all color is lost from the tan electrical panel in the upper left corner-it appears as flat gray in the ISO 6400 image.

Highlight Comparison of ISO 400 Exposure (+4 Brightness) and ISO 6400 Exposure
 

Comparisons with Different Raw Processors

Sometime in the middle of all of this testing, I came across a post by Thom Hogan that was very critical of ISO invariance and blamed a lot of the misinformation on use of imprecise math by Adobe in their raw converter (Thom's post is very informative and well-written). Thom holds up Raw Photo Processor as the gold standard for raw processing, but also mentions that RawTherapee uses precise floating point math, so I decided to run the images through RawTherapee (version 5.6 in Windows) to see what it can do. I also have Capture 1 (version 12.0) installed on my system, so I gave it a try as well.

I tried to use similar settings as in Lightroom. For Capture 1, I set Highlights and Shadows to 100 and Noise Reduction Luminance to 0 and Color to 10. In RawTherapee, I set Highlight Compression to 500, Shadow Compression to 50, Luminance Noise Reduction to 0, and Chromiance Noise Reduction to Automatic Global. 

The Capture 1 results looks very similar to Lightroom with a little more noise in the ISO 400 exposure and a little less noise in the ISO 6400 exposure. In Raw Therapee, the ISO 6400 exposure is very clean while there is some very noticeable color contamination in the ISO 400 exposure. Just based on the shadows comparison, I would have a hard time choosing between the ISO 400 image from Lightroom and the ISO 6400 image in RawTherapee.

Shadow Comparison of ISO 400 Exposure (+4 Brightness) and ISO 6400 Exposure in Capture 1

 

Shadow Comparison of ISO 400 Exposure (+4 Brightness) and ISO 6400 Exposure in RawTherapee

ISO 1600: Best Option for Low Light Raw Images?

Although there does not appear to be much of a noise penalty for shooting at ISO 6400, there is a substantial loss of highlight detail. Looking at the series of images, the ISO 3200 exposure shows some loss of detail, but I didn't notice any loss in the images shot at ISO 1600 and below. In the shadows, I don't see much difference at all between ISO 1600 and ISO 6400. Based on this comparison, I think ISO 1600 provides a good tradeoff for maintaining dynamic range and highlight detail while providing a usable preview image and letting the camera do some of the heavy lifting of boosting the exposure from the base ISO. I will capture some exposures at ISO 400, 1600, and 6400 to confirm this choice the next time I get to shoot at night.

*Update: I shot images for a Milky Way panorama recently and captured exposures at ISO 1600 and 3200. That's only 1 stop difference in exposure, so not a great test, but honestly I can't tell any difference in the images.
 

Highlight Comparison of ISO 1600 Exposure (+2 Brightness) and ISO 6400 Exposure

 

Shadow Comparison of ISO 1600 Exposure (+2 Brightness) and ISO 6400 Exposure

 

Low Noise at High ISO

I have added this final section just to show some comparisons to demonstrate that high ISO by itself does not cause noise, but rather, it is the lack of light that necessitates shooting at high ISO that leads to noisy images. Martin Bailey recently talked about this on his podcast and recommended increasing ISO to reduce grain.

I wanted to test his recommendation, so I captured these images as part of my ISO invariance test to explore using high ISO and found these results to be rather interesting. The first comparison shows the ISO 6400 exposure (the proper metered exposure), and an ISO 25600 exposure lowered 2 stops in post. The ISO 25600 exposure does show substantially more blown highlights outside the window, but in other areas of the image it actually looks much better. The image details are slightly better, and the shadows have much lower noise.

Comparison of ISO 6400 Exposure and ISO 25600 Exposure (-2 Brightness)

Shadow Comparison of ISO 6400 Exposure and ISO 25600 Exposure (-2 Brightness)

The final comparison below is intended to demonstrate that the amount of light captured has more influence on image noise than ISO. For this comparison, I set the ISO to 51200. The image on the left was captured as part of the test, so it is 3 stops overexposed from the metered correct exposure at ISO 6400. The image on the right was captured at the same ISO but using the proper metered exposure setting. It is clearly evident that reducing the amount of light captured by 3 stops drastically increases the noise in the image. Although the image is fairly clean of shadow noise, the loss of highlight and upper midtone detail at 3 stops overexposed at high ISO is unacceptable.

I think Martin is correct in his assessment of lowering noise by increasing the ISO, but I'm not sure I would even intentionally shoot this way (Martin does explain in detail how to protect the highlights using this method). Given the very good noise reduction capabilities now available in almost every raw processor, I think I would rather save the highlights and use software to reduce grain rather than risk capturing an unusable image.
 

Comparison of ISO 51200 Exposure (-3 Brightness) and ISO 51200 Exposure (+0 Brightness)

 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 a6300 a6400 a6500 APS-C astrophotography dual gain ETTR grain high ISO ISO ISO invariance luminance night photography noise noise reduction photography Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/6/iso-invariance-and-the-sony-a6500 Thu, 06 Jun 2019 17:43:19 GMT
Better Negative Scans Using Flat Field Correction in Lightroom https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/5/better-negative-scans-using-flat-field-correction-in-lightroom Goemmer Butte and La Veta, July 2017. Kodak Portra 400.

36-Megapixel Stitched Composite of Scanned Negative Using Flat-Field Correction

I've written a few posts about camera-scanning film negatives and converting the negatives in Lightroom. I've been beyond thrilled with the results produced by Negative Lab Pro, but one lingering issue I've seen is a lack of uniform color across the frame and particularly in the corners caused by uneven lighting of the negative when scanning. I've had to manually apply fairly strong vignetting correction in the Lens Corrections panel to correct for this issue.

Here's an example showing the manually corrected image with the settings followed by the uncorrected scan after conversion. You can see that because the digitized negative is dimmer near the edges of the frame, the inverted image is brighter in those areas. In addition to being brighter, the colors are thrown off as well. And although the "corrected" image is better, the colors and brightness are still visibly uneven near the edges of the frame.

Moab, Utah, August 2001

Manual Vignetting Correction Applied

Vignetting Correction Settings

 

Moab, Utah, August 2001

No Vignetting Correction Applied
 

In the 8.3 release of Lightroom Classic, Adobe added the Flat-Field Correction tool designed to remove shading and color cast from images. The tool corrects for shading using a calibration frame that is shot using the same optical setup as used for photographing negatives. Simply shoot a calibration frame before or after shooting a roll of negatives, then use the Flat-Field Correction tool to automatically detect and analyze the calibration frame and remove the light falloff and color cast from the negative photos. (It turns out this tool has been available as a plugin from Adobe Labs for several years, but I don't recall ever reading about it when researching camera scanning of film negatives.)

With my scanning workflow, I shot my roll of negatives, then removed the negative carrier from the front of the rail, set the camera to manual focus so that the light source was out of focus and adjusted the exposure (I had to reduce the exposure time since the light source by itself is much brighter), then shot the calibration image. Then in Lightroom, I turned on automatic Lens Corrections and set the white balance on the calibration frame, then ran Flat-Frame Correction before making any adjustments to the scanned negatives. The tool runs quickly and exports the corrected images as DNG raw files. The original raw files are removed from the Lightroom catalog but preserved on the drive (there is an option to delete the original raw files after correction.)

So how well does it work? Take a look at the photo below. The top image is the converted raw file without Flat-Field Correction applied. The lower image is the same capture processed after Flat-Field Correction. I also included the calibration frame below the comparison for reference. (Keep in mind that the square 6x6 negative was captured from the center portion of this frame. The shading effect is even more detrimental when capturing 35mm negatives that fill the frame.) The effects of shading are most visible in the lower right side of the image where the greenery is brighter and more yellow. In the shading-corrected image, the colors and brightness are uniform across the photo. It is also apparent that Negative Lab Pro provided a much better overall conversion of the negative when the shading had been corrected.

Not flat field corrected

Not Flat-Field Corrected

 

Flat field corrected

Flat-Field Corrected

 

Flat field calibration frame

Flat-Field Calibration Frame


An additional benefit of using flat-field correction is with stitching of multiple frames to increase the resolution of scanned images. For example, after cropping, the 6x6 photo above captured in a single frame with a 24-megapixel camera has a resolution of only about 12 megapixels. But a medium format 6x6 negative holds a lot more detail that can be captured by moving the camera closer to the negative and taking multiple images. However, when I've attempted this in the past, the shading issue created visible banding across the final stitched image. Flat-Field Correction eliminates this problem allowing for very high resolution stitched negatives. The photo at the top of this post is a stitched composite of 3 images of the medium format negative with a cropped resolution of almost 37 megapixels. I was amazed at the level of detail in the negative when I zoomed in to 100%. Just FYI, I made some strong tonal and color adjustments to this image in Negative Lab Pro, then exported a TIFF copy for some additional work in Lightroom. This image is my personal favorite film photo that I've captured-I don't know why exactly but it's something about the way Portra captured the colors and the overall scene.

Flat-Field Correction provides excellent results, is quick and easy to use, and maintains an all-raw workflow within Lightroom for color-correcting scanned negatives. I will definitely be using this tool as a regular part of my camera-scanning workflow with Negative Lab Pro.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) 120 35mm camera scanning color color correction digitizing dslr scanning film Flat Field Flat-Field Correction lens negative Negative Lab Pro photography shading vignetting https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/5/better-negative-scans-using-flat-field-correction-in-lightroom Sun, 19 May 2019 22:28:30 GMT
Re-creating the Aerochrome Film Look in Lightroom https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/4/recreating-the-aerochrome-film-look-in-lightroom

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
590 nm filter, 18 mm, 1/320 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100 (Processed in Lightroom using Aerochrome Profile)

Yes, it is possible to emulate the infrared Aerochrome look entirely within Lightroom through the use of LUT-based custom profiles. Like me, you may read these words and think, "But you need two custom profiles-one for the white balance and one for the channel swap. It won't work!" But like me, you would be wrong. Read on to find out why.

Aerochrome Film

Since getting started with (digital) infrared photography just a couple of months ago, I have become more and more attracted to the look of Aerochrome, specifically, KODAK AEROCHROME III Color Infrared-Sensitive Film 1443, "an infrared-sensitive, false-color reversal film intended for various aerial photographic applications where infrared discriminations may yield practical results." From what I can tell researching online, Aerochrome III 1443 was the last revision of a series of Kodak color infrared films (preceded by 8443, 2443, etc.). (In fact, the "Aerochrome" moniker was used by Kodak to refer to their entire line of color reversal films for aerial photography, not just the infrared-sensitive films.) Color infrared films were originally developed for camouflage detection and were later employed for remote sensing applications with aerial photography. Depending on the lens filter used (Kodak recommended a deep yellow, Wratten No. 12, to block all blue light), Aerochrome produces cyan to deep blue skies with white clouds and renders vegetation in various shades of red, pink, and purple.

Aerochrome has been out of production since 2007, but it can still be found in limited quantities and has been used for some interesting projects in recent years, most notably Richard Mosse's art/documentary works INFRA and Enclave that portray the civil conflict in the eastern Congo.  An earlier version of Aerochrome, Ektachrome 2443 EIR, was used in the 2004 Oliver Stone film Alexander in the scene when Alexander is almost fatally wounded in a battle in India to represent the surreal perception that might accompany near-death experiences. As I write this post in 2019, there are many examples of true Aerochrome film imagery to be found on Flickr.

Rio Grande Gorge
590 nm filter, 22 mm, 1/400 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100

Digital Processing

Creating the Aerochrome look from a digital infrared image is not difficult, but typically requires the use of Photoshop or similar pixel editor to accomplish the required red-blue channel swap. Of course, the digital image must be captured using a suitable camera sensitive to infrared wavelengths-I have used images captured with a 590 nm cutoff filter (sensitive to wavelengths longer than 590 nm) for the images presented here. I suspect that digital images capturing less of the visible spectrum (e.g., with a 720 nm filter) may not work as well for mimicking the Aerochrome look.

The basic process is to white balance the raw image, swap the red and blue channels, then adjust the hue of the various colors to dial in the look. If you are a user of Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw for infrared, then you already know that a custom DNG profile is needed to extend the range of white balance adjustment for infrared raw images. I created a custom DNG profile using the "Camera Deep" profile as a baseline for my converted Sony a6000 camera. I then white balance the image using the eye dropper tool in Lightroom to select an appropriate neutral in the image (such as a cloud). Then the image is opened in Photoshop where I use a Channel Mixer adjustment layer to swap the red and blue channels and a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to adjust the colors in the sky and vegetation for whatever look I want for the image. Further color fine-tuning can be accomplished by adding a Selective Color adjustment layer. I used all three adjustment layers to dial in the reds for the image of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge northwest of Taos, New Mexico.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
590 nm filter, 18 mm, 1/160 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100

With the 7.3 release of Lightroom Classic in April 2018, Adobe implemented a new Profiles feature that allows for the use of color lookup tables (LUTs) to create color profiles. I previously explored how these LUT-based color profiles could be used to invert and color-correct digitized color film negatives so I imagined profiles could also be used for swapping the color channels of infrared images, except for the white balance issue. Since a custom DNG profile is needed for proper white balance, I did not think it would be possible to also apply a LUT-based profile without counter-acting the white balance profile. But then I came across a post by A. Cemal Ekin demonstrating how he created a LUT with a red-blue channel swap on top of the white balance profile (be sure to refer to his detailed instructions).

I followed the instructions he provided, but the first time I tried to create a LUT, something didn't work right and the image was completely blue in Lightroom after the Aerochrome profile was applied. I tried again, making sure to follow each step exactly, and this time it worked! The image required some white balance adjustment in Lightroom after the profile was applied (the eyedropper tool will no longer work), but otherwise the LUT worked very well. I think the trick is to make sure in the Profile dialog in Camera Raw that the Basic Settings box is checked and that ProPhotoRGB is selected as the color space for the LUT.

Caveats

Using a LUT to swap color channels and produce quality results without artifacting is really asking a lot, but it can provide exceptional results. The outcome will vary by image. In general, I think LUTs can provide a useful option for rapidly testing out various looks for false color processing and can even be good enough for images that will be shared on social media or on a blog. For an image that I wanted to print, it would be worth the extra effort to make the color adjustments in Photoshop. Based on what I've seen so far, I plan to create a set of LUTs for my false color images and use them first in processing images. Then depending on how well the conversion looks and where I want to go with a specific image, I'll make a decision on whether to use Photoshop.

Red Star Ridge, Palo Duro Canyon
590 nm filter, 12 mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

The best results will be obtained when the capture conditions match the conditions of the image used to create the profile. The first image in this post of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge was used to create the LUT in Photoshop; I got excellent results using that LUT on other images of the gorge and bridge. These last two images from Palo Duro Canyon were processed using the same profile, but were captured 6 weeks earlier on an overcast day in a different state using the same camera but different lenses. I had to spend more time setting the white balance and working with the color calibration panel in Lightroom to dial in the look. The results are not as good-probably acceptable for Instagram and good enough for me to evaluate the image and decide where I want to go with the image, but I would re-process these images in Photoshop if I wanted to print or add one to my portfolio.

Capitol Peak, Palo Duro Canyon
590 nm filter, 24 mm, 1/250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

Bonus Tip

Despite the possible limitations on image quality, LUT-based profiles offer a lot of flexibility for processing false color images. The image below was processed in Lightroom using the exact same profile with different adjustments in the color calibration panel (primarily the Blue Saturation slider). I had previously created a similar version of this image in Photoshop, but comparing them now I prefer the Lightroom version. LUT-based profiles are very powerful-I suggest you give it a try!

Capitol Peak, Palo Duro Canyon
590 nm filter, 24 mm, 1/250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 Adobe Aerochrome Camera Raw channel swap infrared Lightroom lookup table LUT photography Photoshop profile Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/4/recreating-the-aerochrome-film-look-in-lightroom Thu, 25 Apr 2019 09:34:40 GMT
Processing a Monochrome Infrared Image in Photoshop https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/4/processing-a-monochrome-infrared-image-in-photoshop

590 nm filter, 105 mm, 1/250 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100

After I had my camera converted for infrared photography, I knew I would have to start processing more images in Photoshop. Infrared images come out of the camera in the same RGB files that the camera produced before it was converted. But instead of red, green, and blue wavelengths of visible light, those RGB pixels now represent some combination of other wavelengths of invisible light-RAW image processors like Lightroom are simply not set up to work with these types of images. Working in color to produce false color infrared images typically involves swapping the red and blue channels in the image data so that skies are some shade of blue and foliage appears as a warm hue. Lightroom (or other RAW processors) can be used to create black and white images from infrared photos, but generally do not offer enough control to produce "fine art" monochrome images.

What I did not realize-and that became abundantly clear to me when I opened my first infrared image in Photoshop-was that I had absolutely no clue how to post-process an image in Photoshop. I mean, where is the Clarity slider? I learned how to process RAW images in Lightroom, and so I have used Lightroom almost exclusively to process all of my regular landscape photos. I had learned just enough Photoshop to get by when I needed to accomplish something that can't be done in Lightroom such as blending exposures or adding specific artistic flairs like an Orton effect. But for basic image enhancement, I didn't know where to begin.

So for the past two months, I have been intensively studying image processing in Photoshop, particularly focusing on black and white conversion and artistic processing of monochrome images. I'm certainly not an expert; but I'm at the point where I think I'm ready to process some of the infrared photos I've captured in the last month, and I have learned that, when in doubt, use Curves.

The farmhouse image is one that I've been wanting to develop, but my first attempts did not turn out well at all. When I was in the field taking the photos, I did not realize the dramatic differences in lighting that were occurring as the sunlight filtered through the clouds. In infrared, the sun was like a spotlight that in this particular image was shining directly down on the old house and the grasses on the horizon. Unlike regular photography where I seek to enhance the images to match what I saw and felt capturing the image, with infrared I didn't see the scene this way at all. To my eye, it was all dead brown grass and blue-gray clouds, and I was getting really tired of the southwest wind blowing my hair in my face. But for me, this is one of the most fun and exciting aspects of infrared photography-with images made of invisible light, I am free to be as creative and imaginative as I want with how I develop those images. In my mind, I could see the farmhouse almost glowing beneath the turbulent clouds. The challenge then is how to develop the image to achieve that artistic vision.

I have previously written about how the RAW file was processed for further editing in Photoshop. For the remainder of this post, I want to describe the layer stack in Photoshop, mostly for my own benefit so that I have a written explanation of my decisions, but also to provide an example workflow.

Black and White Conversion

I used dual Black and White Adjustment Layers to convert the RAW image to monochrome. In the primary monochrome conversion, the yellows and blues were lowered causing the sky, farmhouse, and foreground vegetation all to appear darker.  A basic contrast adjustment using Curves was also included at this stage with this adjustment. I used a second Black & White adjustment layer with a clipping mask applied to a copy of the RAW color image to layer in lighter versions of the house, bright clouds, and the clump of grass in the lower left by increasing the blues and yellows.

Artifact Removal

One of the issues with this particular image were some horizontal lines in the smooth shadow areas of the sky that appeared after some strong contrast adjustments. I've never observed these in images from this camera previously, but I'm also not sure I've ever pushed the pixels as hard either. It is something I will keep and eye out for and I may check with LifePixel to see if they have an explanation. Nevertheless, with this image the problem was sever enough that I needed to remove the lines. I tried using various noise reduction approaches, but those only smoothed the lines without removing them. Ultimately, I found that the Surface Blur Filter on a stamp layer was very effective. This was applied only to shadow areas in the sky by painting in through a Darks luminosity mask to limit loss of detail from the blurring.

Tonal Adjustments

The next set of layers are contrast adjustments using Curves. Curves is the primary tool for making tonal adjustments in Photoshop. I think it will take a lot of practice to master, but the approach I am trying to learn is to make several small adjustments that build upon one another to produce the desired result in the image. I used a group of multiple Curves adjustment layers with some Soft Light blending layers plus an additional Curves layer at the end to correct the white and black points. This set of layers accounts for most of the tonal adjustments in the image.
The first group includes six Curves adjustment layers created using Raya Pro 3 with luminosity masks to target different contrast zones in the image (two each for Highlights, Shadows, and Midtones). The group of Soft Light blending layers were used to darken the sky. These were also created using the Darken Sky tool in Raya Pro and use a solid black pixel layer with a Brights luminosity mask set to Soft Light blend mode to enhance contrast. I used two of these layers to enhance the effect and added a group mask to apply the effect only to the sky.

After the tonal adjustments, I added a Camera Raw Filter on a stamp layer primarily to use the Clarity slider (set to 50). The Clarity adjustment was faded into the shadows using BlendIf. I also added a radial filter in Camera Raw to bring down the highlights in the bright clouds above and left of the house. At this point, the image was about 95% done and the remaining layers were used to add some artistic and finishing effects.

Artistic Effects

I wanted this image to have a somewhat dark, moody feel. The clouds over the house were actually the precursors of a supercell thunderstorm that arrived a couple of hours later and sent our family into the basement three times when the tornado sirens were activated. I mentioned before how the wind was howling with the outflow from the approaching storm system, and it was actually the lightning that sent me running back to my car just after I captured this image. So I wanted some of that atmospheric instability to be present in this image.

To darken the image and bring in some of that moody feel, I used a technique I learned from Jim Welninski. I don't know what it is called, but it uses a blurred stamp of the image set to the Multiply blend mode, so I call it a Blur Multiply. I added a layer mask to lessen the effect on the foreground and bright clouds in the sky, then lowered the opacity of the layer to 33 percent. I added an Orton effect layer above the Blur Multiply layer, also using a foreground/highlight mask and even lower opacity of 12 percent to limit the effect.

I also wanted to emphasize the sunlight on the house, I added a Curves adjustment layer set to Screen with a black layer mask, then brushed in the light coming in from the top of the image to create more of a spotlight glow on the house.

Finishing

At this point I was happy with the overall mood and tone of the image, but it still needed some finishing touches. It was a little bit dark after adding the artistic effects, so I used a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the image just a little. Then I added a custom vignette, another technique I learned from Jim Welninski, using a Curves adjustment layer with a layer mask. The general shape of the vignette is created with the lasso tool to create a selection on the layer mask, then a Gaussian blur is applied to feather the vignette. Even with the vignette, I felt that the top and bottom needed to be darkened to close the image, and there were some distracting bright clouds right along the top border. I used two layers to burn the top and bottom and darken the distracting highlights.

I decided to add film grain to this image-it seemed to fit the aesthetic of the old abandoned farmhouse. Grain was added through the Blur Gallery filter on a smart layer.

The final touch in Photoshop was split toning. The split toning was initially added in Lightroom, but I wanted to see if I could achieve the same effect in Photoshop. I used a Gradient Map adjustment layer to apply the color toning, but my first attempts were unsuccessful. Since I was trying to match the effect applied in Lightroom, I first edited the gradient to match the hue and saturation of the highlight and shadow tone colors (at 50 percent brightness), but the effect was still not right. The key was to change the blend mode of the Gradient Map layer to Linear Light then reduce the fill to 50 percent. (And yes, I could have also used the Camera Raw Filter, but that requires the addition of a stamp layer.)

Final Adjustments in Lightroom

To finalize the image, I cropped it to a 4:3 aspect ratio and then applied a post-crop vignette in Lightroom. The final image is at the top of this post.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 black and white fine art infrared monochrome photography Photoshop Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/4/processing-a-monochrome-infrared-image-in-photoshop Sat, 13 Apr 2019 19:33:31 GMT
(Not Quite) Foolproof Backup https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/4/foolproof-backup I had a scary near-data-loss experience yesterday. I use an external SSD drive as my disk storage for recent photos and videos, and the USB connector came right out of the drive! But I have a good backup strategy, so I opened up the folder on my primary photo library drive and found that none of my files from 2019 had been backed up-my trip to L.A., family photos from New Year's and Spring Break, my daughter playing her violin at the school talent show, and lots more-32 GB to be exact. I didn't panic because most of those files were still on the SD cards in my cameras, but it was going to take a lot of work to re-import and organize all of those files.

The first thing I did was copy everything off the SD cards to get the files into the photo storage library, then I manually ran backup to get all of those files copied onto my two backup drives. Then I looked online and discovered that failure of the micro-USB connector is a common problem on this particular series of Sandisk portable SSD drives and that the actual SSD can be removed from the enclosure to retrieve the data. I was able to rig up a connection to the SSD using an old desktop computer (see the photo below) and retrieve all of the files, and even though my drive was one month out of warranty, Sandisk (with some coaxing) has offered to replace my faulty drive with a newer version. I am grateful for the replacement, but really Sandisk should have notified their customers about this issue. I've been having connection problems with that drive for the past 2 years, but never realized the problem was with the drive.

My (Not Quite) Foolproof Backup Strategy

Although I didn't lose any data this time, I have unfortunately experienced a catastrophic data loss previously, so I have attempted to put in place a process to prevent that from happening ever again. Recent experience indicates my plan is not foolproof, but it still works well for me. If you are trying to figure out how to protect your data, maybe my plan will be helpful, or maybe you can tell me how to improve it.

In theory, my data is on 3 to 4 hard drives and uploaded to Backblaze at all times. Because I have limited space on my computer's internal SSD, I use a portable 500 GB SSD (the one that failed) for new and recent photos (last ~2 years) and a second 2 TB external HDD as primary storage for my entire photo library. The SSD for recent files is labeled "PHOTOS" and the HDD is labeled "PRIMARY". All of the data on PHOTOS, along with my Lightroom catalog (stored on the computer's internal SSD) are copied daily to PRIMARY using a scheduled backup.

PRIMARY is copied daily to another external 4 TB HDD called BACKUP_A which is both mirrored daily to yet another 6 TB external HDD (BACKUP_B) and continuously backed up to Backblaze (along with the internal SSD of my laptop). Both of the external backup drives are hidden inside my desk so are unlikely to be stolen if my office is ever broken into.

I take the PHOTOS drive and sometimes the PRIMARY drive with me when I travel depending on the trip. I like having full access to my entire photo library and being able to make a single backup of imported files while I am traveling. I also keep the files on my SD cards for a while, and I always check to make sure those files have made it on to the BACKUP_B drive before I reformat an SD card.

The problem I ran into is that my backup program did not automatically pick up the 2019 folder on the PHOTOS drive, so none of those files were copied anywhere else. I have decided to add that drive to my Backblaze drive list just in case this ever happens again.

For local backups, I use Syncback Free for Windows. I have been using this software for several years. I did not have it configured properly, so it was my mistake that caused my recent files to not get backed up.

For cloud backup, I am using Backblaze. Backblaze offers unlimited storage for $60 a year. I've had very fast upload speeds for backing up data, and I've had a good experience downloading files that I accidentally deleted off my laptop a couple of times. I started using Backblaze instead of buying a third external drive to keep offsite. The cost of a drive pays for about 2 years of Backblaze service, and Backblaze continuously backs up my data whereas I would update an offsite backup every 2 to 3 months at best.

Update (4/24/2019)

I received my replacement portable SSD from Sandisk today, exactly 2 weeks after filing the warranty claim. To their credit, they did honor the warranty even though my drive was out of warranty by one month when I made the claim. I think the replacement process is far too cumbersome for the customer and definitely too slow. They sent me the newer version (Extreme 510 Portable SSD) of the drive I had, but judging by the Amazon reviews, I'm not sure the problem with the USB connector has been fixed. We'll see if I can get another 3 years from this drive.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Backblaze backup catalog cloud HDD Lightroom photography Sandisk SSD storage Syncback https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/4/foolproof-backup Wed, 10 Apr 2019 21:32:24 GMT
Options for Processing Infrared Raw Files for Sony Cameras https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/3/processing-infrared-raw-for--sony

Preliminary Edit for Instagram

Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw vs. Capture One vs. Sony Imaging Edge

The conversion of a raw capture into image data is critical for any photographic image, but I think it becomes even more important when dealing with infrared images, i.e., images captured with a camera sensitive to infrared wavelengths. I believe there are at least a couple of reasons that infrared raw conversion so critical. First, whether the final image is intended to be monochrome or false color, infrared images typically have to be pushed a lot harder in post-processing through extreme color shifts and high contrast adjustments. The image at the top of this page is a preliminary edit (sadly, I saved over this edit in Photoshop and lost it) that shows an example of how far I want to push this image in Photoshop, especially when compared to the camera preview shown below.

The second reason is more speculative on my part, but I believe that an IR raw capture itself is not as good as a standard color capture from an unconverted camera because the RGB color filters of the Bayer array were designed to pass light in the Red, Green, and Blue wavelengths of the spectrum, not the infrared wavelengths. But these filters do pass light in the infrared wavelengths, as shown in the diagram below, which is why we are able to convert standard cameras by replacing the internal IR-blocking filter; however, the Bayer color filters are only secondarily transmissive to infrared light and each filter has a different transmissivity with the red filter passing the most light and the blue filter passing the least amount. Therefore, the captured raw image may be disproportionately skewed to the red channel (which explains why it is so important to watch for clipping of the red channel in the histogram at the time of capture). In addition, the wavelengths captured by the RGB filters overlap more in the IR spectrum, so it is more difficult to separate these color channels later on in post-processing, leading to a greater chance of image degradation.

Illustration of the sensitivity of converted sensors to visible and infrared wavelengths. Note how each color filter of the Bayer array has a primary transmissivity in the visible spectrum (less than about 720 nm) and a secondary transmissivity in the near infrared spectrum (greater than 720 nm). If the Bayer array color filters did not have this secondary transmissivity to IR wavelengths, the internal IR-blocking filter would not be needed nor would it be possible to use a standard camera for infrared photography! (This image was taken from www.ir-photo.net. Please click on the image to see the original page and a more detailed description with more illustrations.)

Lightroom vs...

Back in 2015 Vincent Versace (Nikon Ambassador and Monochrome Master) gave a talk at B&H on infrared photography. He devoted a good portion of that talk to the importance of using the camera manufacturer's software to set the correct white balance for infrared raw captures and gave a demo showing how much better the Nikon software was at setting a good white balance for an IR image than other raw processors. I heard essentially the same thing from Dan Wampler, Creative Director at Life Pixel, during my complimentary training session. Dan recommended that I use the free version of Capture One for Sony since I converted a Sony a6000.

Camera Preview (Monochrome, +2 Contrast, +1 Sharpening, +1 EV), 590 nm filter, 105 mm, 1/250 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100
 

Based on the recommendations of these two photographers/instructors, I decided to try processing the same raw capture using Lightroom, Capture One, and Sony Imaging Edge (formerly Image Data Converter) to see for myself the differences on the final image. My goal was to produce a processed raw ready for further editing in Photoshop with the eventual goal being to produce a high quality monochrome image. So in this test, each of the raw processors is being used is just that, a raw processor and not an image editor. Raw adjustments were aimed at preparing a base image file with maximum image quality for further manipulation. I'll make some preliminary judgments based on the exported processed image, but I'll withhold a final conclusion until all three exported images have been fully developed in Photoshop.

Update (February 2021)

At the time I wrote this post, I didn't see a discernible difference in the quality of the images produced by Lightroom or Capture One. With a couple of years of processing infrared images under my belt, I now feel qualified to offer a stronger opinion. While the advice from Vincent Versace and Dan Wampler is well meant and probably was quite true even as recent and three or four years ago, I don't think it is relevant today. When Adobe released the updated Profiles with Lightroom Classic version 7.3 in 2018, the ability to process infrared raw images in Lightroom was greatly enhanced, and I have not found any need to use any other raw processor for my infrared images. After raw conversion, I am using Lightroom for most black and white images and generally for quick false color edits to conceptualize an idea. For my best quality images, I am using Photoshop in combination with the B&W Artisan Pro X panel for black and white images or the CLiR panel for false color images. If you are wanting to produce high quality infrared images, I think both of these panels are sound investments.

Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw

Before an infrared raw file can be properly processed in Lightroom, a custom DNG profile must be created to properly while balance the image. There are any number of tutorials on the internet detailing the process, but I have not seen one that mentions you can select a profile other than Adobe Standard. For my a6000 and a6500, I almost always use the Deep profile for landscape images, so I created an infrared profile based on the Deep profile along with some of the other available camera-matching profiles that I use. I was using Lightroom Classic CC 8.2.

Starting with the Deep Infrared profile, I white balanced the raw image in Lightroom using the dropper tool to select a suitable sample from the image. I first tried the bright cloud above and left of the windmill, then zoomed in and clicked on the bright grass at the lower left corner of the doorway to the house. Additional adjustments included the following:

  • Basic: Exposure -1.00, Highlights -100, Shadows +60, Whites +67, Blacks -33, Clarity +33, Vibrance +18, and Saturation +5
  • Tone Curve: Medium Contrast
  • Detail: Sharpening Amount 60, Radius 0.5, Detail 100, Masking 70, Noise Reduction Luminance 10, Detail 0
  • Lens Correction Profile and Chromatic Aberration Removal On

I also made some slight Saturation and Luminance adjustments in the HSL panel to enhance the blue clump of  grass in the foreground. 

 

Capture One

I am much less familiar with Capture One than Lightroom, but I focused on making basic adjustments and read the documentation when in doubt. I was using Capture One Pro Sony version 12.0.2.

I started with the white balance and used the dropper tool to select the same area of grass at the lower left corner of the doorway.

Capture One adjustments included:

  • Lens Correction: default Sony profile, Distortion 100, Sharpness Falloff 50, Light Falloff 100
  • Base Characteristics: ICC Profile Sony A6000 Generic, Curve Film Standard
  • Color Editor: slight bump to Saturation and Lightness to the blue grass
  • Exposure: Exposure -0.66, Saturation +23
  • High Dynamic Range: Highlight 100, Shadow 40
  • Levels: manually adjusted black point to 12
  • Curve: Contrast RGB
  • Clarity: Method Natural, Clarity +20, Structure +10
  • Sharpening: Amount 200, Radius 0.5, Threshold 1.5, Halo Suppression 0
  • Noise Reduction: Luminance 50, Detail 50, Color 50

The image was exported as a 16-bit TIFF using the ProPhoto RGB color profile.

 

Sony Imaging Edge

Sony Imaging Edge Edit, formerly known as Image Data Converter, is the clunky, slow, and basically undocumented software that Sony provides to process raw images. I expected this software to offer the ability to generate a high quality TIFF image using the camera settings, but I also expected it to offer the ability to start from scratch and disregard the camera settings. But as far as I can tell, aside from a few options such as white balance and creative style, it offers no ability to "reset" the image (there are no defaults independent of the camera settings). I did explore the various settings and made some adjustments, but in the end it seemed that Imaging Edge Edit offers very little in the way of raw processing. (I do want to mention that the Remote application that is part of the Imaging Edge suite is actually very useful, so I'm not throwing the whole suite under the bus here, just the Edit application.) I was using Edit version 1.4.00.

Imaging Edge Edit adjustments included:

  • Brightness: +1.00 EV
  • Creative Style: Deep
  • Contrast: Contrast +50, Whites +100, Blacks -50, Highlights -50, Shadows +50
  • D-Range Optimizer: Auto
  • Highlight Color Distortion Correction: Advanced
  • Color: Saturation +10
  • Sharpnedd: Amount +50, Overshoot +10, Undershoot +10, Threshold 2
  • Noise Reduction: Auto

The image was exported as a 16-bit TIFF using the "Wide Gamut RGB" color space. After importing the TIFF into Lightroom, the image was very flat and lacked detail, so I applied some basic Lightroom adjustments to the TIFF to bring it on par with the other processed images. Both versions are shown below.

 

Detail Comparisons

The following images present several side-by-side comparisons of the final processed raw files. The first shows the differences in color in the 3 images that were white balanced on the same small spot. There really is not right or wrong here except that the bright clouds should be white and there should be good color separation. I think Lightroom and Capture One are about equal with Imaging Edge seeming to have a lot of yellow in the clouds and foreground that is not present in the other two images. I should also mention that the white balance can change substantially depending on the exact spot being sampled with the dropper tool, so it would be nearly impossible to obtain identical white balances.

The next set of images compares the details in the images for three different areas of the photo-the farmhouse and windmill, the clump of blue grass (shadow detail), and the brightest area in the clouds (highlight detail).

Details

Looking at the farmhouse, it is difficult to pick a winner between Lightroom and Capture One, but I think Lightroom is showing finer details more clearly. I found that I could get much more detail using the Structure slider in Capture One, but that introduced very visible artifacting in the sky. In this comparison, the sky is smooth in Capture One, but there is some visible texture in the Lightroom image. After seeing this, I made some further adjustments in Lightroom (not shown here) to eliminate the texture while maintaining the detail (reduced Clarity to +10, increased sharpening masking to +70, and increased noise reduction to Luminance +25 and Detail +75).

The Imaging Edge image was very mushy as exported, and with the sharpening applied in Lightroom as shown here there is significant pixellation and haloing along the edges. The windmill looks about the same from Lightroom and Capture One; I might give Capture One a slight edge for the appearance of the sails. But the Lightroom image seems to show an incredible amount of more detail in the white grasses in front of the house where individual grasses can be seen whereas there is a continuous gray blob in the Capture One image.

 

Shadows

In the deep shadows and foreground detail, I have to pick Lightroom as the winner here. The Capture One image appears fuzzy, although there is some blotchiness in the blue grasses in the Lightroom image. I do recognize that the apparent lack of detail in the Capture One image could be related to my inexperience with the program and could possibly be improved with better sharpening settings. The Imaging Edge colors are very flat and the dormant grasses have no definition.

Highlights

In the highlights, all three images have good definition. I don't think there is a clear winner here except the Lightroom image does have better color separation between the sky and clouds.

 

Conclusions

So what is the verdict? As I said at the beginning, I want to fully process all three versions through Photoshop to see which one produces the best final image. I can say that I see no benefit whatsoever to using Sony Imaging Edge Edit-it is slow and does not appear to offer any benefits to image quality. Plus I'm not real sure what most of the sliders are designed to accomplish. Both Lightroom and Capture One have produced what appears to be a high quality image ready to be pushed around and abused by Photoshop. We shall see if one of them can withstand the abuse better!

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 capture one image data converter imaging edge infrared lightroom photography raw Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/3/processing-infrared-raw-for--sony Wed, 27 Mar 2019 04:59:09 GMT
Improving My Best Photo https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/3/improving-my-best-photo Final blended image.Time Blend of 3 Images, 16 mm Final Blended Image of 3 Exposures

A few days after Thanksgiving in 2017, I went out before sunrise to one of my favorite locations for taking photos of the Spanish Peaks. That morning I witnessed the most beautiful, incredible sunrise I have ever seen, and I was able to capture it with my camera! The image above shows the scene as I remember it that morning as I stood beside my Jeep for an hour watching the colors develop in the sky and waiting for the sun to break over the horizon in the gap between the mountains.

Time Blending

I previously wrote on this blog about how I missed the composition for the pre-dawn images I captured that morning. Fortunately, as sunrise approached, I reframed the scene in the camera and got the shot with the little oak tree in the foreground as the sun appeared in the gap between the Spanish Peaks. This photo of the sunrise has been my favorite, and, writing this post in March 2019, I still regard it as my best landscape image hands down. However, I've always preferred the incredible colors in that pre-dawn sky to the bland white clouds that were there when the sun finally appeared. I've also known that the image needed some work in Photoshop to clean up a few details before it could be printed, but I just haven't had the inclination to invest the time working on this image. Recently I decided to frame a print of this image to hand in my office, so I finally have the incentive to spend some time on it in Photoshop. I also realized that I could combine the sunrise image with the pre-dawn image to create a time blend composite of the scene showing the incredible drama in the clouds with the splendor of the moment of sunrise. This post is about that process.

Time blending is an exposure blending technique used to combine two or more photos of the same scene that were captured over an extended period of time. In this case, I have blended two images, one captured during the blue hour before dawn as the approaching sunrise created some fantastic color in the sky and a second image captured 40 minutes later at the moment the sun appeared over the mountains. Because the gap between the Spanish Peaks is at about 9,000 feet in elevation, by the time the sun was high enough in the sky to be visible, all of the color was gone from the clouds.

Image Workflow

The workflow for this image started with the selection of the base exposures to be blended. The selection was easy for the sky exposure-the colors peaked about 15 minutes after I got my camera set up and starting taking photos, so I just used the photo with the most impressive sky. For the foreground with the sunrise, I actually picked a different photo than the one I used for the original edit. I love the sun star in my original image, but the lens flare resulting from shooting directly into the sun was almost overwhelming. An image captured just a few minutes earlier when the sun was not fully above the horizon did not have nearly as much flare, but also did not have as prominent of a sun star, but I decided the improvement in overall image quality was worth the loss of the light streaks around the sun.

Base Exposure for Sky16 mm, f/5.6, ISO 100 Base Exposure for Sky
16 mm, f/5.6, ISO 100

Both of the base images are HDR digital negatives generated from a set of 3 bracketed exposures shot at 2 stops apart. It may seem unusual to use HDR composites as the base images, but the HDR images were much cleaner than any of the single exposures. I prepared both images in Lightroom with global adjustments for exposure and contrast. I consider these images to be half-developed leaving plenty of room for further adjustment in Photoshop after blending. The sunrise image also suffered from some severe edging and some chromatic aberration along the crest of the mountains because of the intensity of the sun.

Base Exposure for Sun and Foreground16 mm, f/22, ISO 100 Base Exposure for Sun and Foreground
16 mm, f/22, ISO 100

Because the twilight image was shot with the camera at a slightly different spot, I had to stretch the image and mask out the mountains and foreground before blending. I set the sky as the bottom layer with the foreground sunrise image on top, then used a luminosity mask with an additional gradient mask to fade out the sky and reveal the underlying twilight image. This mask also required some additional painting to let in more of the sky layer.

Once I had the two exposures blended, I decided to try adding in the more prominent sun star from the later exposure. I'm really not very experienced with exposure blending in Photoshop, so this part was tricky and took a few attempts to get right. In the end, the sun star is less prominent that I had hoped, but the alternative was the introduction of more lens flare. The sun star was added using the Luminosity blend mode with careful painting in of just the light beams.

Sun Star Exposure16 mm, f/22, ISO 100 Sun Star Exposure
16 mm, f/22, ISO 100

I used several of the tools built into Jimmy McIntyre's Raya Pro panel for Photoshop to improve the blended image including the details enhancer and chromatic aberration removal. To remove the severe edging on the mountains, I used a Blur layer and just painted in a mask along the edge of the mountain.

I said at the beginning that I wanted to create an image that shows the scene as I remember it. Blending in the incredible twilight sky with the moment of sunrise helped to capture a lot of that feeling, but the image still needed a little bit of magic. To create the effect I wanted, I used another Raya Pro tool called "Magic Green Lands" which is basically an action that adds in every conceivable over the top enhancement effect to the image in Photoshop. Needless to say, it must be used with restraint, and when done so, can add in some very nice glow and drama. I applied with a setting of 30%-probably too much but I want this image to really have a magical feel.

I finished the image with some noise reduction, sharpening, and a light vignette in Photoshop, then added another vignette and some saturation adjustments in Lightroom. The final image is at the top of this post and will soon be hanging on the wall of my office. I am really happy with the way this image turned out-I hope you enjoy it too.

Photoshop Adjustments

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 Colorado Cuchara HDR La Veta Lightroom orton photography Photoshop Sony Spanish Peaks sunrise time blend time blending twilight https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/3/improving-my-best-photo Mon, 18 Mar 2019 01:45:11 GMT
Enhancing a Color Image with Black and White https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/3/enhancing-a-color-image-with-black-and-white Monochrome Blend with Color35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200 Monochrome Image Blended with Color
35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

I've been working on black and white processing quite a lot lately because I recently had my older camera converted to infrared, but since I don't yet have many infrared images to work with I've been re-processing some older images from my library. Through this process, I've re-discovered some of my early images. Of course, most of them are terrible, but even the photos that have a strong composition or subject look absolutely awful the way they were originally processed. This morning I came across this image of the southern Colorado countryside just after a midsummer thunderstorm and thought it could make a strong monochrome because of the dramatic clouds, strong light, foreground and background contrast, and the old house as a subject.

I processed the image several times. I started with created a relatively flat color image in Lightroom that was then converted to monochrome and finished in Photoshop. I was trying to mimic a Photoshop tutorial from Jim Welninski using a gradient map conversion, but my Photoshop skills really let me down and the final result was not good. But I really like this photo in color also, so I re-processed it from scratch in Lightroom using my current workflow. And then I tried another attempt at black and white in Lightroom which I think turned out really well.

Color Image Processed in Lightroom35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

Color Image Processed in Lightroom
35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

However, when I finished both versions, I could not decide which one I liked better. I compared both side by side, flipped back and forth between the two, and realized that I preferred the color image but love the contrasts of the monochrome. So what if I combined them in Photoshop using the monochrome image as a base and introducing some of the color?

Monochrome Processed in Lightroom35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

Monochrome Image Processed in Lightroom
35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

I layered up the images in Photoshop, lowered the opacity of the color image, and it was blah. But one of the techniques I had seen in a tutorial video made use of the Multiply blend mode, so I switched the blend mode to Multiply and Dang! I liked it, but it was dark and needed a little more something. I had an idea from the black and white conversion process that I had been practicing earlier. One of the techniques in Jim's tutorial is to add a blurred stamp layer using the Multiply blend mode to create a moody look, so I experimented with using that technique to blend in my color image. It worked really well and only a few additional adjustment were needed to create the look I was going for. The end result is a color image that has some elements of the underlying monochrome like the strong contrasts in the clouds and really deep colors. (If there's a name for this technique, I'd love to hear it! I guess it is a variation of the Orton effect.)

Here's the recipe for Photoshop:

  1. Layer the monochrome image on bottom and the color image above.
  2. Add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer above the monochrome. Use a strong brightness value (~85) and moderate contrast (~15) to really lighten up the image.
  3. Duplicate the color layer, then blur the lower color layer using Gaussian Blur with a radius of around 20 to 30. Set the blend mode of the blurred layer to Multiply and lower the opacity slightly (I used 85%).
  4. Leave the top (unblurred) color layer set to Normal and lower the opacity to about 50%.

PS: This image was captured with my first "real" camera, a Sony a58 with 18-55mm kit lens. I can definitely see the shortcoming of the lens when I zoom in, and the image does not seem to be as flexible with heavy processing as what I am now used to from my a6500 or a6000. I can also tell that I was struggling to find the right settings-I mean, f/10 and ISO 200! But despite those technical shortcomings, I still like this photograph and have really enjoyed revisiting some of these older images.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a58 black and white blend mode Colorado contrast drama Lightroom monochrome Multiply photography Photoshop Sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/3/enhancing-a-color-image-with-black-and-white Mon, 11 Mar 2019 04:21:46 GMT
Exploring Infrared https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/2/exploring-infrared Capitol Peak at Palo Duro Canyon, 590 nm Infrared24 mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 Capitol Peak at Palo Duro Canyon, 590 nm Infrared
24 mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

I recently had my older camera, a Sony a6000, converted for infrared photography. What this means is that the camera was modified to remove the original infrared-blocking filter that sits in front of the imaging sensor and replace it with a filter that allows infrared light to pass. Camera sensors have the ability to "see" light beyond the visible spectrum that we can see with our eyes. Digital camera sensors are sensitive to both ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths of light, so cameras are equipped with these filters to block out most of the non-visible light from reaching the sensor. Removing this filter while blocking some or all of the visible light spectrum allows us to capture captivating images of this alternate invisible world that is around us all the time.

Hoodoo at Red Star Ridge, 720 nm Infrared12 mm, 1/160 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 Hoodoo at Red Star Ridge, 720 nm Infrared
12 mm, 1/160 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

I had my camera converted to allow light of wavelengths longer than 470 nanometers (nm) to pass, or roughly all of the visible spectrum from middle blue to red (ROYGBIV without the indigo or violet) plus the invisible infrared wavelengths. The company that converted my camera, LifePixel, calls this the Hyper Color conversion (because they already used the terms Standard, Enhanced, and Super Color). What this really means is that I can add other light-blocking filters in front of the lens to achieve more of an infrared effect to the images. For example, I have a 590 nm filter that allows orange, read, and infrared wavelengths into the camera, and a 720 nm filter that only allows in deep reds and infrared.

Winter Juniper, 470 nm Infrared12 mm, 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 Winter Juniper, 470 nm Infrared
12 mm, 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

Why did I pick the 470 nm Hyper Color filter? Because I couldn't decide, and it provides more flexibility because I can always add an external filter to get a deeper infrared effect, but the filter inside the camera is permanent. I looked at a lot of infrared images when I was trying to decide, and ultimately I picked the option that gives me the most options. At this point, my favorite images have been shot with the 720 nm filter, but then again I've only used the camera for one day.

GSL Trail in Palo Duro Canyon, 720 nm Infrared12 mm, 1/100 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 GSL Trail in Palo Duro Canyon, 720 nm Infrared
12 mm, 1/100 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

A few days after receiving the camera back from LifePixel, my daughter and I went out to Palo Duro Canyon to take some photos. Even though it is now late February, the junipers and yuccas still reflected a lot of IR light, and the winter sky was perfect. I had planned to shoot a lot of images using all three filters (470, 590, and 720), but in the end I really favored the 720 nm look-I used the 720 nm filter on more than half of the images and the 470 nm on only about 5 percent. I'm not surprised-I originally became interested in infrared photography because of the high contrast black and white landscapes associated with deep infrared images. Besides, mid-winter in a semi-arid canyon is really not the ideal time or place for testing of an IR camera, but I did learn a lot and came away with a few nice images.

Claire in Hyper Color, 470 nm Infrared24 mm, 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 Claire in Hyper Color, 470 nm Infrared
24 mm, 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

Shooting with a mirrorless camera allows me to preview the image in the viewfinder before taking the picture. I found that regardless of the filter, I could get a good preview image by setting the picture style to monochrome with +2 contrast. In fact, for black and white images, several of the camera JPGs looked really nice. But for infrared, it is critical to shoot in RAW. Another benefit of mirrorless is that the camera autofocus still works accurately whereas a DSLR must be in Live View for accurate autofocus. This was only a partial benefit since one of the two lenses I used is manual focus (Samyang 12 mm f/2), but focus peaking and the focus magnifier in the viewfinder were both helpful. I also found that I needed about +2 EV exposure compensation regardless of the filter. I used a range of +1.7 to +2.3 EV for all of the images shown on this page with one exception using +0 EV. Going forward I'll probably stick to +2 and leave the camera in Aperture Priority.

Winter Sky, 720 nm Infrared12 mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 Winter Sky, 720 nm Infrared
12 mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

Lens selection is another potential issue for infrared photography because internal reflections within the lens can produce hot spots in the images. I shot with the Sony 24 mm f/1.8 Zeiss and Samyang 12 mm f/2. Both lenses worked well with no hot spot issues at the apertures I was using (mainly f/5.6 and f/8).

Fall Color in February, 590 nm Infrared24 mm, 1/250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 Fall Color in February, 590 nm Infrared
24 mm, 1/250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

Processing the images is possibly more challenging than the capture. The easiest option is black and white, but even for those the character of the images is greatly different from anything I've ever worked with. I ended up with more monochrome images from the day, mostly because I used the 720 nm filter for more shots and because monochromes are the easiest to process in Lightroom. But I did experiment with a few of the color images and actually produced a few that I like. Processing the color IR images is more difficult in part because I am having to learn to use processing tools other than Lightroom; Photoshop (or something similar) is essential for swapping color channels, and the Nik Collection seems to be a favorite of most IR photographers posting online. Monochrome images, either 590 or 720 nm, can be processed in Lightroom with good results. Hyper Color images can also be processed in Lightroom depending on the desired final look. But any kind of false color processing requires a more powerful editor. I plan to write some future blog posts on IR processing once I develop some better skills.

Hoodoo, Palo Duro Canyon, 590 nm24 mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 Hoodoo, Palo Duro Canyon, 590 nm Infrared
24 mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

So far, I'm really happy with my decision to go with the Hyper Color (470 nm) conversion for my a6000. The Hyper Color images are the closest to reality, but with a surreal twist, while the Super Color images are definitely other-worldly. And the intense contrast produced with the 720 nm filter is wonderful. Once again, winter is not the ideal time for capturing false color imagery of vegetation, so I'll definitely be exploring more with artistic processing these in the future.

Observations/Recommendations

  1. A mirrorless camera is a better choice than a DSLR for IR conversion because it has accurate autofocus with any lens and live preview of the final image in the viewfinder. Select a camera like the Sony a6000 that has a dedicated viewfinder since you will be shooting during the middle of the day and it will be impossible to compose and review images on the rear LCD.
  2. Use a monochrome picture style in camera to get a good idea of what the final image will be like. Even with a good white balance set in camera, the unprocessed IR images don't look right.
  3. Check exposure by reviewing the captured images and checking the histogram. The histogram may not be accurate, so this is another reason to set a monochrome picture style to help evaluate exposure.
  4. Producing good IR photographs is as much about the post-processing as it is about the capture. Plan to spend a significant amount of time developing a new skill set for IR image processing.
  5. The less restrictive conversions, like LifePixel's Hyper Color, really do offer a lot more flexibility for IR image capture and experimentation. With the converted camera and one or two additional external filters, I can capture very different types of images with a single camera.
  6. Infrared photography is really fun! Personally I think it also allows me to be more creative with my processing because IR removes the expectation of reality from my photos. It is after all invisible light, so who knows what it really looks like!
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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) 470 590 720 a6000 black and white channel swap Hyper Color infrared IR lightroom monochrome photography photoshop Sony Super Color https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/2/exploring-infrared Wed, 27 Feb 2019 05:03:28 GMT
Reworking an Old Image https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/2/reworking-an-old-image A good friend of mine recently purchased some framed prints to hang in his office, and one of the images he selected was one of my oldest photos. I have many of these older images in the galleries on my website because while I don't feel they represent my best work, they still show off the tremendous natural beauty of the Cuchara area so I want them to be seen.

Ancient Bristlecone at Bonnet Park (Original 2015 Version)18 mm, 1/60 sec, f/13, ISO 100

The image in question is this photo of an ancient bristlecone pine on the edge of an alpine meadow above Cuchara known as Bonnet Park. The park is easily accessed by ATV on the Indian Creek Trail from either Bear Lake or via the Dodgton Trail from the Spring Creek Trailhead in Cuchara (it can also be accessed from the Indian Creek Trailhead but that section of the trail is now closed because of the Spring Fire of 2018 and may not re-open for some time). Without an ATV, it is a very long hike. We were fortunate to have use of a borrowed ATV in June 2015, so we hit the trails and stopped at Bonnet Park to take a break and explore.

Glowing Aspen Grove at Bonnet Park80 mm, 1/125 sec, f/9.0, ISO 160 One of the things I remember very clearly about visiting the park that day was the vibrancy of the vegetation. In early June at high elevation, the snow had only recently melted and the aspens had just leafed out. In the afternoon sun, the leaves seemed to be glowing. My original edit of the bristlecone photo definitely had too much saturation in the colors, but really not by much.

Bonnet Park, June 201518 mm, 1/60 sec, f/22, ISO 160

For the image of the bristlecone, we decided on an 18"x24" metallic print framed with a 2" matt. I knew this image would need some work to bring it up to standard, but I cringed when I opened it up in Lightroom. I knew I could fix the heavy use of clarity and saturation from my earlier edit, but the leaning, curved trees in the background bothered me the most. This image is a vertical panorama of 5 original photos that I captured with an entry-level DSLR (Sony a58) and consumer-grade superzoom lens (Tamron 18-200). That camera was fine, but the lens was definitely lacking in resolution. Fortunately, stitching several photos provided plenty of resolution for the print. I decided to start over from scratch and re-stitch the original images so that I would have the most image area available to work on the distortion in the trees. The image below shows the uncropped image after stitching-the distortion was even worse than before!

Stitched Vertical Panorama, Uncropped

I made use of the Adaptive Wide Angle filter in Photoshop to correct most of the distortion, but my initial attempt resulted in stretching the top of the bristlecone too wide. I tried again with Adaptive Wide Angle followed by some careful use of the Puppet Warp tool, and I was able to straighten out most of the trees (not the bristlecone). The bristlecone was looking a bit flat and gray, so I applied some heavy clarity just to the tree to make it match the original edit a little better. In the end, I think I've come out with an image that is better aligned with my current quality standards and aesthetic but still matches the original version that my friend wanted for his wall, and for that, I am glad I spent the extra time getting this photo ready before sending it to the print lab.

Ancient Bristlecone at Bonnet Park (Revised Version)18 mm, 1.60 sec, f/9, ISO 100

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) adaptive wide angle Bonnet Park bristlecone Colorado Cuchara lightroom panorama photography photoshop Sony vertorama https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/2/reworking-an-old-image Sun, 24 Feb 2019 02:38:11 GMT
Sunset at Griffith Park https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/2/sunset-at-griffith-park Sunset Panorama of Downtown L.A.24 mm, 0.5 sec, f/9.0, ISO 100

I recently made a trip to Los Angeles for some meetings as part of my job as a water resources engineer. This was my first visit to L.A. proper, and when I realized I would have some extra time after my meetings, I immediately thought of photographing at Griffith Park. I have been a fan of Serge Ramelli for several years, and having seen many of his tutorials on capturing sunsets at Griffith Park, I knew this was where I wanted to go. But what scene did I want to capture, and where did I specifically need to go?

Taking Flight Over L.A.70 mm, 1/200 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400

I did a search of Griffith Park images and quickly found the scene I wanted to try to capture. For the cover of his book on L.A., Serge used a twilight photo of downtown Los Angeles with the Griffith Observatory in the foreground. It is a truly spectacular scene and a fantastic image, so I decided my goal would be to try to get a similar shot. Knowing that the sun sets early in California in January and that my meeting downtown would not end before 3 o'clock, I would have limited time to get back to my hotel, change clothes and grab my photo gear, get a ride to the park, and hike to the right spot to get the view of the observatory positioned in front of the downtown skyline. I did some online research and checked the maps of the park, but I also decided to take a gamble and just ask Serge for some guidance. So I sent him an email, and to my surprise he responded a few minutes later with some instructions on how to find the right location. I went back to looking at online maps and quickly found to exact location on the trail.

Sunset at Griffith Park18 mm, 1/20 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100 (Do you see the helicopter?)

As I was preparing for the trip, I decided to take only a single lens so that I could carry my camera in my work backpack and not have to carry a separate bag of camera gear. I used the Sony 18-105 G on my a6500. This lens is not my first choice for landscapes, but it is a good all-around performer with a versatile range of focal lengths. Although it is fairly large for an e-mount lens, I needed the extra reach over the Sony 16-50 mm kit lens or the Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8. From my review of images on Flickr, I was estimating I would need something in the range of 65 to 80 mm (on APS-C) to get the shot I had in mind. Other than the camera and lens, I also packed my filter sleeve with a circular polarizer and an extra battery in my backpack and stuffed the tripod in my suitcase.

Hollywood Sunset27 mm, 1/4 sec, f/9.0, ISO 100

The meeting was in downtown and ended right on time at 3:00. Traffic was light and I made it back to my hotel in Hollywood with time to spare. I called an Uber to take me to the observatory so that I wouldn't have to worry about finding a place to park. The driver arrived quickly and we headed for the Hollywood hills. Unfortunately, the Uber navigation app was acting up and instead of directing us to the observatory parking lot, it took us into the neighborhood directly below the observatory. Ten minutes later, we were back on the main thoroughfare heading to the western entrance to Griffith Park, but once again we had to turn around because the rangers had set up a roadblock on the drive to the observatory. By this time, the sky was already turning yellow, and I was starting to fear I had missed my chance to get the shot. We took the road up Vermont Canyon and passed the Greek Theater into the park.

Griffith Observatory at Twilight70 mm, 8.0 sec, f/9.0, ISO 100

Traffic slowed down at the entrance to the observatory parking lot, so I jumped out at the western trailhead and took off up the trail. The Mount Hollywood trail is very steep at the beginning and I was gassed but made myself keep moving uphill as I glanced around at the late afternoon sky that was turning more orange by the minute. Fortunately, the trail levels out and it was only about 3/4 mile to the spot I had picked out. I arrived at the photo spot and was a little bit surprised to find myself alone overlooking a city of 4 million people.

Twilight at Griffith Park18 mm, 15 sec, f/9.0, ISO 100

Once I got the camera set up on the tripod, I had about 20 minutes to spare before the light show started. Over the following 45 minutes, I got to witness one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. I had the observatory out in front and slightly to my left with downtown behind it, the streets of Hollywood directly in front, some lower mountains and more city skyline to my right, and higher mountains with the Hollywood sign behind me. As the sun got lower, the sky started glowing bright yellow until the sun suddenly dropped below the clouds on the horizon and put a spotlight on everything in front of me. This scene lasted for exactly 10 minutes until the sun set below the horizon, but that was when things started to get really amazing. I was constantly taking photos but changing the composition all the time. With amazing views all around and the light getting more and more incredible every minute, I could not capture what I was seeing fast enough. I wanted the close zoomed in shot of the observatory, the wide panorama of the city, and the crazy orange glow over the Hollywood sign. And to top it off, there were 4 helicopters circling around overhead watching the city come to life as the night approached. It was an absolutely stunning experience for a photographer!

Griffith Observatory at Nightfall57 mm, 20 sec, f/9.0, ISO 100

Despite having quite a lot of shots out of focus after I switched to manual then forgot to switch back when I changed to composition, I still managed to come away with the twilight shot of the observatory in front of the downtown skyline, a wonderful photo of the Hollywood sign under that crazy orange and yellow sky, and a blue hour night shot of the observatory all lit up. Definitely a productive evening of photography and well worth the effort to get there.

Downtown L.A. from Griffith Observatory18 mm, 13 sec, f/8.0, ISO !00

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6500 cityscape Griffith Observatory Griffith Park Hollywood Hollywood sign Los Angeles photography skyline sony sunset twilight https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/2/sunset-at-griffith-park Tue, 05 Feb 2019 19:57:36 GMT
Review of Negative Lab Pro https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/1/review-of-negative-lab-pro Delicate Arch, August 2001Kodak Gold 200. Negative converted with Negative Lab Pro with further edits in Lightroom.

In a previous blog post, I presented a Lightroom-based method to invert and color-correct digitized film negatives using profiles. I was very happy with the results and especially excited to have a relatively simple way to convert negatives in an all-RAW workflow. Then in October I was contacted by Nate Johnson, the developer of a new Lightroom plugin for color negative conversion called Negative Lab Pro that produces fantastic results and provides an all-RAW workflow within Lightroom. Now that I've had some time to work with the plugin, I'd like to share my thoughts and show some sample images with comparisons to my previous profile conversions. (Full discolsure: I was given* a fully licensed evaluation copy of Negative Lab Pro for this review.)

Negative Lab Pro is a plugin for Lightroom that provides a new dialog for converting negatives. Negatives can be scanned using a traditional scanner or digitized using a digital camera, and Nate has spent time optimizing the results for both types of scans. But to me, use of a digital camera provides many benefits over a scanner not least of which is the ability to capture RAW images of the negatives.


The conversion process is straightforward. Before conversion, the scanned negative should be white-balanced using the orange mask and cropped so that only the exposed image is showing. Then launch the Negative Lab Pro dialog to begin the conversion.


Aside from its ease of use, one of the incredible features of Negative Lab Pro are the color emulation modes based on the Fuji Frontier and Noritsu professional scanners. Nate set out to produce a product that could specifically recreate the wonderful tones associated with film images created by these scanners. Negative Lab Pro makes use of custom RAW camera profiles and a finely-tuned color matrix to reproduce the beautiful colors and tones of the scanners. The first option in the dialog is the Color Model. In addition to Frontier and Noritsu, other color models are available for black and white negatives or for basic color conversions. I've found that I prefer the Frontier profile for photos of people because of the warmer skin tones, and I like the Noritsu profile for landscapes. After selecting the Color Model, the negative can be converted by clicking on the "Convert Negative" button.

For a lot of images, Negative Lab Pro does a great job with just the default settings, but includes a number of advanced features that give you very precise control over the conversion. These include pre-saturation, auto-color, auto-density, tone profiles, tonal adjustments (lights, darks, etc.), and fine-tuned color balancing of highlights, midtones, and shadows. Many of these adjustments work similarly to their Lightroom counterparts, and I've found that making the adjustments in the plugin produces the best results (and avoids having to remember that the Lightroom sliders work backwards on negatives). Nate has produced a very detailed written guide to using Negative Lab Pro and also has several in-depth video tutorials on Youtube where he demonstrates the use of all of these features.

 

Image Comparisons

In this review, I am presenting several example images that were converted in Negative Lab Pro and also using my LUT-based profile method for comparison. Because the profile method can produce good results and does not require the purchase of an additional plugin, I think it is important to show the differences in the final images to help you decide if Negative Lab Pro is worth your money. Unless otherwise noted, the following images are all conversions of camera-scanned negatives taken in August 2001 on a trip to Utah on Kodak Gold 200 film. I used the Noritsu Color Model and various other settings per each image in Negative Lab Pro. For the LUT profiles, I used dedicated profiles for some images and the best match for others. The Negative Lab Pro conversion is shown first followed by the LUT Profile conversion.

Wasatch Range: The Negative Lab Pro conversion stands out because of the warm tones in the sky, clarity of the distant mountains, and perfect colors of the forest in the foreground.

Negative Lab Pro Conversion

LUT Profile Conversion

 

Wasatch Waterfall: The LUT conversion has a green cast that I did not even notice until I saw the Negative Lab Pro conversion.

Negative Lab Pro Conversion

LUT Profile Conversion

 

Balanced Rock: Negative Lab Pro wins with perfect blue sky and enhanced red tones in the rocks.  Negative Lab Pro ConversionMoab, Utah, August 2001

LUT Profile ConversionMoab, Utah, August 2001

 

Delicate Arch: Negative Lab Pro wins again with great color in the sky and dimensionality of the layers of rock in the foreground.

Negative Lab Pro ConversionMoab, Utah, August 2001

LUT Profile ConversionMoab, Utah, August 2001

 

Mount Timpanogos: Again, Negative Lab Pro has perfect color and clarity. The blue sky was created in Lightroom using a gradient mask, but definitely looks more natural in the Negative Lab Pro image.

Negative Lab Pro Conversion

LUT Profile Conversion

 

Roberts Horn at Sunrise: The foreground in this image was badly underexposed while the sky was almost blown out. I used the Highlight and Shadow Color Balancing tools in Negative Lab Pro to add some warmth to the sky while keeping the shadowed forest cooler. This is a difficult image, and I'd say both methods perform well. I prefer the warmer highlights in the Negative Lab Pro conversion so I give it the edge.

Negative Lab Pro ConversionMoab, Utah, August 2001

LUT Profile ConversionMoab, Utah, August 2001

 

Provo Sunset: Both images were enhanced in Lightroom after conversion because neither conversion retained the warmth of the sunbeams coming through the clouds which are evident in the original print of this photo. I spent a lot of time making sure the LUT conversion matched the print very closely, but only a few minutes on the Negative Lab Pro conversion. Both look great-this one is a tie.

Negative Lab Pro Conversion

LUT Profile Conversion

 

Outdoor Portrait: One final comparison to demonstrate how Negative Lab Pro handles skin tones. This is a photo of my family in southern Colorado on a windy day on October 2017. The image was shot on Kodak Ektar 100 with a Yashica Electro35. The Negative Lab Pro conversion was done using the Frontier Color Model with no further adustments in Lightroom. The comparison image was converted in Lightroom using a LUT profile, then manually adjusted further to remove color casts and adjust highlights and shadows. While the LUT image is a little more vibrant, I see a blue cast on the mountains in the background and the skin tones are very red. The skin tones in  Negative Lab Pro image are much more natural and there is no blue cast in the background. In this case, both are good conversions. I like the "pop" of the LUT conversion, but the Negative Lab Pro image looks more natural.

Negative Lab Pro Conversion LUT Profile Conversion

Hopefully you agree with me that based on these comparisons, Negative Lab Pro does a better job on the conversion in almost every case. I have processed several dozen images and have only come across one image that I thought was definitively better using the LUT profile conversion.

Top Features

  1. All-RAW workflow within Lightroom.
  2. Fantastic results.
  3. Built-in color emulation modes based on the Fuji Frontier and Noritsu professional scanners.
  4. Advanced features such as tone profiles and tonal adjustments that allow for finely tuned conversions of scanned negatives.
  5. Batch conversion and ability to sync conversion to multiple images in Lightroom.

Conclusion

Negative Lab Pro is a very powerful yet easy to use plugin for inverting and color correcting film negatives. Nate has done an excellent job testing and optimizing the plugin to work with most modern digital cameras and types of images, and he provides useful and detailed instructions and video tutorials. Based on my experience using the plugin, I can highly recommend Negative Lab Pro.

 

*As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I was given a fully licensed version of Negative Lab Pro for this review. But I wanted to mention that I after trying out the plugin, I was so impressed with the results that I bought a license. Nate Johnson, the developer of Negative Lab Pro, contacted me and offered to give me a copy of his plugin in exchange for a review. But the version I downloaded was the trial beta that was limited to only ten image conversions. Thinking I has mis-understood Nate's original offer, I purchased a license in November. Nate contacted me a few days later and offered to refund my money, but instead I asked to apply the money to the purchase of his X-CHROME black and white preset package. So in the end, I did receive Negative Lab Pro for free, but I certainly believe it is well worth the money.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) adobe c-41 color color correction ektar film fujifilm invert kodak lightroom lookup lut negative negative lab pro photography portra preset profile superia https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2019/1/review-of-negative-lab-pro Tue, 08 Jan 2019 23:57:04 GMT
Spring Fire Benefit https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/7/spring-fire-benefit Sunset above Indian Creek, July 2016.Sunset above Indian Creek, July 2016.This photo was captured at the top of Indian Creek Road looking west into the heart of the area burned by the fire. I do not know if any of these trees survived the devastation. Net proceeds from sale of this image will be donated to local charities benefiting those affected by the Spring Fire of 2018.

The Spring Fire of 2018 has devastated much of this beautiful area, yet many of the most scenic places including the Cuchara Valley were saved thanks to the efforts of the firefighters. To assist with the recovery, I have selected a set of images showcasing the beauty of some of the burned areas. The net proceeds from the sale of these images will be donated to local charities benefiting those affected by the Spring Fire of 2018. My photo printing lab, Bay Photo Lab in California, has generously offered a 30% discount for these prints meaning that I can donate more from the sale of each image.
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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 Colorado Cuchara La Veta photography Sony Spanish Peaks Spring Fire sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/7/spring-fire-benefit Sun, 08 Jul 2018 22:32:42 GMT
Light Source Color Compensation for Film Negatives https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/6/light-source-color-compensation-for-film-negatives One of the most important lessons I learned from Peter Krogh's excellent multimedia book, Digitizing Your Photos With Your Camera and Lightroom, was to use filters to compensate for the orange mask of color negative film. I had read various pros and cons in forum discussions and other blogs, and even saw one direct comparison that claimed no benefit, but Peter makes a convincing argument for light source compensation, particularly in a Lightroom-only workflow. Based on that recommendation, I ordered a set of colored filters, and based on my own testing, I am now convinced of the benefits.

The most obvious benefit that I am seeing is for photos with lots of blue sky, but I think the benefits apply to all images. I shot a roll of Ektar last fall in Colorado. In addition to the gold and orange aspen leaves, every one of those images has a lot of clear blue sky. I originally digitized the roll using my LED light pad with plain white light, and I had to clean up the sky in every image in Photoshop because I was seeing very obvious blotches that ruined the photos. I just assumed that it was a problem with my exposure or with the processing by the lab that damaged the negatives. By the time I had finished cleaning up these images, I never wanted to touch a roll of film again. Look at the image below for an uncorrected example.

Digitized using white light source. Note lighter vertical streaks on right side of image. I recently re-digitized a few of those negatives using a set of colored filters on the same light source, and there is no blotchiness at all in the skies. I am also getting a nicer blue whereas the original scans had somewhat of a greenish tint in the blue.

Digitized with color compensated light source. Based on the explanation that Peter provides in his video, I think the problem I was experiencing might be a limitation of Lightroom/Camera Raw not having the latitude to correct the difference in the color channels resulting from the orange mask of the film base. When the negative image is converted from a raw file to a TIFF, that color information is baked into the file. When we apply the extreme color conversions needed to invert the negative and remove the mask in Photoshop, the color information is stretched too far causing the infidelities in the converted positive image. By using the filters to compensate for the orange mask in the raw capture, the required color corrections are not as extreme, so the end result is a much cleaner image. The image below is a 1:1 comparison that shows the difference in scan quality (please pardon the lack of focus-I obviously need more practice with the rangefinder).

Color filtered light on the left; white light on the right. Incidentally, in preparing the sample images for this comparison, I noticed a distinct difference in image quality between the image converted in Photoshop as a TIFF as compared to the image converted in Lightroom using a profile applied to the raw file. The converted raw file is much cleaner-see below. I did not apply any additional noise reduction to the image on the left. If you have not read my guide on converting negatives in Lightroom using profiles, please check it out.

Comparison of converted image. Lightroom processed raw on the left; Photoshop TIFF on the right. Peter Krogh recommends using a dichroic light source that can be tuned to neutralize the mask of each specific type of film. It is a great solution, but unfortunately I don't have one of those and they are large and expensive. I did, however, find a recommendation from John Fechner (fechnerimaging.smugmug.com) in a discussion forum for a combination of color gels that he found does a good job of neutralizing the orange mask. The combination of filters that he recommends are Rosco Cinegel #3202: Full Blue (CTB), Cinegel #3204: Half Blue (1/2 CTB), and Cinegel #4415: 15 Green. My experience so far is that this combination works really well.

Here's a comparison of a negative captured without and with the color correction gels. Note that straight out of camera, the negative on the right is already nearly white balanced and the orange tint is almost completely removed. The histograms below the image show the separation between the blue and red channels in the unfiltered negative. Even though these are raw images, the inversion and color correction includes some extreme adjustments to the color channels. By using the color filters, the raw image starts out more balanced and the end results are cleaner because less extreme adjustments to the red and blue channels are required. For a more detailed explanation of why this works, refer to Peter's excellent book.

Left image captured with white light; right image captured with filtered blue-green light.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) color correction digitizing dslr scanning ektar film fujifilm invert kodak negative orange mask photography portra scanning superia https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/6/light-source-color-compensation-for-film-negatives Tue, 05 Jun 2018 05:16:56 GMT
Simple Guide to Digitizing Film Negatives https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/5/simple-guide-to-digitizing-film-negatives Inverted and color corrected raw capture of a 35mm frame. In this post, I present a simple and inexpensive solution for digitizing and inverting/color correcting film negatives. My goal is to cut through all of the BS out there on photo forums (you know, about how great Vuescan is or how you need to buy some Photoshop plug-in to get great color from your negatives) and show you how easy it can be to get great results.

I hope this information will convince you that "your camera is the best scanner" and helps you to get started, but if you plan to do much of this at all, I highly recommend Peter Krogh's multimedia book, Digitizing Your Photos With Your Camera and Lightroom.

I grew up with film because I was born in 1974. I was never all that interested in photography, but I did have cameras and take pictures, so I used film. Mostly I remember using cheap 110 film cameras as a kid-we didn't have anything nicer. My dad had some kind of SLR, but I was not allowed to touch it. As a teenager, I had a couple of Canon Snappy point and shoots which I thought were great, then when I got married my wife had a nice automatic SLR with a zoom lens (a Chinon Genesis). Unfortunately I never really appreciated that camera (although she took some fantastic images with it) because digital cameras were becoming mainstream at that time and had the big advantage (to my mind) that the photos were on the computer. I got my first digital camera in 2003 (a 4-megapixel Olympus point and shoot) and didn't touch a film camera again for 14 years.

Over the years, it always bothered me that we had a trunk full of 4x6 prints and film negatives that rarely came out, but we never did anything about it. I did some research once on scanning film negatives, but the consensus then was that it was impossible without specialized film scanning equipment and software. I got serious about photography in 2014 then took an interest in film photography in 2017. After seeing my first batch of scans from the lab, I was convinced I had to scan and convert the negatives myself to get the kind of image quality that I wanted.

Thus began untold hours of searching the internet and scouring discussion forums for the occult knowledge of how to digitize and invert/correct the images. On the digitizing side, there are two camps: those that use scanners and those that use digital cameras. I will allow that the dedicated film scanners of old (e.g., the Plustek, Coolscan, and Dimage) probably provided a great balance of speed, ease of use, and image quality, but sadly those are no longer widely available and reliable. But I spend a month with an Epson flatbed scanner and found it to be intractable for more than an occasional roll of 12 frames of 6x6. The process was excruciatingly slow, the scanner is huge, and the resulting images are not without their problems. Suffice to say that flatbed scanning is not for me, and I was able to achieve much better image quality using a makeshift camera scanning rig. So the flatbed went back to Adorama at the end of 30 days.

I had much better luck camera scanning with a 35mm prime with extension tubes. I used a negatvie carrier from an enlarger taped onto the end of the lens hood to hold the film. Once I became comfortable with camera scanning and achieved some consistency in my process, I realized that this setup was not going to work as a long-term solution and continued the search. At this point, I decided it was time for some true expert advice, so I bought a copy of Peter Krogh's multimedia book on digitizing photos. Peter is a strong advocate for scanning with a digital camera because of the excellent results that can be obtained and the ease of use compared to a flatbed scanner. I strongly recommend his book, particularly if you are planning to digitize a large collection of negatives, but I am not using the exact process he describes.

My Camera Scanning Setup

I am using a fairly simple rail system in combination with a small mirrorless camera, macro lens, and LED light panel (see the complete equipment list at the bottom of this page). I bought 35mm and 6x6 negative carriers from an enlarging system on ebay for about $15 each. I am also using a set of 3 color filters on the light panel to provide some color correction at the time of capture. Those filters were about $30. The rail system parts cost about $90; the light panel was $85. So my total investment for a film scanning rig is about $235. I also paid $150 for the macro lens, but that has other uses beyond scanning film.

Sony a6000 camera with 30mm macro lens, 6x6 negative carrier from an enlarger, and Desmond rail system. The rail system holds the negatives parallel to the camera's sensor and keeps everything still. I can get very detailed 22-MP images of the 35mm negatives and ~14-MP single-frame images of 6x6 negatives. This setup also allows for capture of very high resolution images of the 6x6 negatives by panorama stitching multiple exposures. The rail system allows me to move the camera forward, backward, and side-to-side, and the negative holder can be raised and lowered. Combining 2 shots produces a 32-MP stitched image of the 6x6 negative; even higher resolution is possible by moving the lens closer and stitching more images.

Camera Scanning Process

The camera scanning process is simple. I shoot in raw and use aperture-priority exposure with the aperture at f8 and typically +0.3 exposure compensation to shift the histogram slightly to the right. It is best not to expose to the right too much because the darkest areas of the inverted photo are the lightest on the negative, and overexposing tends to affect detail and contrast in those areas. If you are just starting out, I recommend capturing a few frames and checking the results rather than capturing an entire roll of negatives at once. After you are comfortable with the process and are seeing consistent results you can capture entire rolls without stopping.

It is important to capture an image of the unexposed negative either in the area between frames or the area around the image if your negative holder shows it. The cutouts of my negative holders are slightly larger than the exposed frame, so I use the area outside the image for white balancing.

Also remember that dust is your enemy. Leave your negatives in the protective sleeves from the lab until you are ready to load them into the negative carrier. Wear some type of lint-free gloves (I'm currently using nitrile lab gloves) when handling the negatives, and use a rocket blower and/or static brush to clean the negatives as you load them into the carrier. Also having a diffuse light source will reduce the appearance of dust and lint on the digitized negatives, but you will still have dust to deal with later on.

I use the Sony Imaging Edge software to remotely control the camera for capturing images of the negatives. Using the Sony a6500, the software offers a live view on screen so I never have to touch the camera. Having a large image on my computer monitor simplifies the process of moving and aligning the strip of negatives between frames. I also have Lightroom set to watch and auto-import images as they are scanned, so I can quickly invert and color correct a digitized negative to check exposure or focus if needed while I still have the negatives in the carrier. Usually I will digitize the first couple of frames then check those in Lightroom before capturing the remainder of the roll.

Inversion and Color Correction

I work primarily in Lightroom because I prefer working with an all-RAW workflow (Photoshop TIFs are typically 150+ MBs). Until the April 2018 update to Lightroom, it was not possible to easily get consistent, reproducible results working exclusively in Lightroom, but it is now possible to create and use profiles in Lightroom for negative inversion and color correction. The profiles must be created in Photoshop, and they are specific to your particular digitizing process, but once created they can be used to invert and color correct any negatives from that same film stock within Lightroom and often with just one click to apply the profile. I have written a separate post detailing the process to create negative inversion profiles, so I won't repeat that process here. Assuming you have created some profiles to apply, here is an overview of the process for inverting and color correcting an entire roll of negatives in Lightroom.

Update: There is a new plug-in available for Lightroom called Negative Lab Pro that hands-down produces fantastic results and provides an all-RAW workflow within Lightroom. Please take a look at my full review.

1. Select an image from the roll for white balancing. In the develop module, select the Adobe Standard profile then white balance on the unexposed film base. These settings can be synced to all the other images on the roll.

White balance on the unexposed film base. 2. In the Profile Browser, select the film negative profile that provides the best color conversion of the negative. Profiles that are too dark or light can usually be applied with some exposure adjustment to get good results, but avoid profiles that have a strong color cast.

Select a profile for inversion. 3. Adjust exposure for the image. You can also recover highlights and open shadows (using the opposite of those sliders), but go easy on the whites/blacks sliders and temperature/tint sliders. These adjustments are pretty much baked in to the profiles, so there is not much latitude for adjustment. If the image needs large adjustments of these sliders, look for a better profile or create a new profile for that image.

I reduced the exposure (by increasing the exposure slider), reduced the highlights, and opened the shadows. Look at the detail in the shadows! 4. You can apply additional edits to the image, but remember that a little goes a long way. I've found that contrast and clarity work well and also use the gradient tools frequently. On my images, vibrance and post-crop vignetting do not seem to work well.

5. Apply sharpening and noise reduction. I apply a moderate amount of sharpening to the image with aggresive use of the Masking slider depending on the film type to avoid sharpening the film grain. Remember that you don't need to sharpen the image (that was done with the film and lens), you only need to sharpen the digital capture of the negative to compensate for any loss of sharpness in the capture process. My camera does not produce much noise at base ISO, so I don't apply much noise reduction at all. If I wanted a cleaner image, I would just shoot digital.

Aggresive use of masking to avoid sharpening the grain. 6. Clean up any major dust spots or lint using the spot removal tool. I do this step last because it can really bog down Lightroom. I only correct spots that are obvious when viewing the whole image. If I need to remove every speck of dust from an image, it is much faster to work in Photoshop, and I would typically color correct in Photoshop also.

Spot removal-before. This negative was very clean.

Spot removal-after. 7. Share your work! Note that Lightroom Mobile does not support custom profiles, so you'll have to export the final images as JPGs instead of sharing directly from Lightroom Mobile. With the June 2018 update, Lightroom CC (not Lightroom Classic) now syncs custom profiles with Lightroom Mobile. Following these instructions from Julianne Kost, I was able to import the film profiles to the Lightroom CC desktop app, then sync my edited RAW files directly from Lightroom Classic CC to my Lightroom Mobile account where I can share them anywhere from my phone.

Update (November 2018)

There is a new plug-in available for Lightroom called Negative Lab Pro that hands-down produces fantastic results and provides an all-RAW workflow within Lightroom. I have a full review posted here.

Light Source Color Compensation

Peter Krogh recommends using a dichroic light source that can be tuned to neutralize the mask of each specific type of film. I don't have one of those, but I did find a recommendation for a set of gels that does a good job (see Equipment List below for details). The gels help to balance the colors captured by the camera so that the digitized negative has a better balance of red, green, and blue. Although the colors can be corrected without using the gels, I am getting better results using them, particularly in blue skies and in the shadows of the positive image. I have written a separate post about my results using color filters when digitizing the negatives.

Here's a comparison of a negative captured without and with the color correction gels. Note that straight out of camera, the negative on the right is already nearly white balanced. The histograms below the image show the separation between the blue and red channels in the unfiltered negative. Even though these are raw images, the inversion and color correction includes some extreme adjustments to the color channels. By using the color filters, the raw image starts out more balanced and the end results are cleaner because less extreme adjustments to the red and blue channels are required. For a more detailed explanation of why this works, refer to Peter's excellent book.

Left image captured with white light; right image captured with filtered blue-green light.

Equipment List

Camera/lens: I'm using a 24-MP Sony a6500 camera with 30mm f/3.5 macro lens. The macro lens produces very sharp images and provides auto focus on the negatives. Tethered shooting with on-screen live view is available using Sony's Imaging Edge software.

Film Holders: I am using negative carriers from enlargers. These are readily available on ebay for $20 or less. Get one for each size of film that you work with. These can be attached to the rail with screws or epoxy.

Light Source: Artograph Lightpad Lightbox (6"x9"). The light pad provides an even source of white light, but it is not completely diffuse. If your lens has too much depth of field or if the negative is too close to the light, the grid of LEDs will be visible in the image. A layer of diffusion filter can help.

Color Correction: Set of 3 color filters to help neutralize the orange mask at the time of capture. I'm using Rosco Cinegel #3202: Full Blue (CTB), Cinegel #3204: Half Blue (1/2 CTB), and Cinegel #4415: 15 Green based on a recommendation from John Fechner (fechnerimaging.smugmug.com) and it seems to work really well.

Rail System: I'm using the Desmond DVC-220 rail, Desmond DPLEX-50 clamp to hold the camera, and Desmond DLR-2002 200mm double macro rail with a negative carrier mounted at each end. I just flip it over to switch from 35mm to 6x6. Now that I have the system, I could have bought shorter rails.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) 120 35mm camera scanning color correction digitizing dslr scanning ektar film fujifilm kodak negative photography portra scanning superia https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/5/simple-guide-to-digitizing-film-negatives Wed, 30 May 2018 06:46:16 GMT
One Click Inversion of Color Film Negatives in Lightroom https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/5/one-click-inversion-of-color-film-negatives-in-lightroom Update (November 2018)

There is a new plug-in available for Lightroom called Negative Lab Pro that hands-down produces fantastic results and provides an all-RAW workflow within Lightroom. Please take a look at my full review.

Introduction

Since I started shooting film again just over a year ago, I've been hoping to find a simple process to invert scanned color negatives in Lightroom, but until recently it's been impossible. But with the 7.3 release of Lightroom Classic in April 2018, Adobe has now given us the tools to invert color negatives with just one click. I don't pretend to fully understand the process or the inner workings of the software that makes this possible, and I would have never figured this out on my own. I am grateful to Matt Kloskowski for publishing a couple of Youtube videos on the powerful new Profiles feature of Lightroom.

In the most recent video, Matt explains how to export a color lookup table (LUT) in Photoshop then create a new Lightroom profile based on that LUT in Camera Raw. Using this process, I was able to create a LUT from a color correction layer group in Photoshop then create a profile to invert a scanned negative in Lightroom using that same LUT. This LUT-based profile can then be used on other scanned negatives in Lightroom to invert the image with just one click. So there's a little bit of work required up front to create some profiles for your film stocks, but once created, you can use those profiles to process all of your negatives very quickly.

Before & after applying a film negative profile and adjusting exposure. Unfortunately, there is no universal profile for a given film stock. However, using a standardized capture process, no more than 2 or 3 profiles are needed for each film stock, primarily to get a good conversion under different lighting conditions. I have created a set of profiles for each film stock based on a variety of photos captured under different lighting and exposure conditions. Using a handful of these, I can quickly preview and select one that provides a near-perfect inversion and color correction for almost any photo. And since the Profile Browser provides preview thumbnails and full size previews of the selected profile, it is very easy to select the best profile to apply to the image. So far I've found that I can usually find a profile that provides very good color correction, then make brightness adjustments using the exposure slider.

Although the sliders still work backwards because the image has been inverted, this method does not require any cumbersome messing around in the Tone Curve to correct colors in the image. In addition, I no longer have to take every image into Photoshop. The Lightroom method is much faster and avoids having to create and store a huge TIFF file for every scanned image. For my workflow, a 36-exposure roll of raw files requires about 864 MB of disk space; when converted to TIFFs and color-corrected, those images require nearly 15 GB! I was filling up my laptop's SSD with 2 or 3 rolls of film. Besides just being faster than working in Photoshop, by converting in Lightroom you are still working with a raw file instead of a converted TIFF, so the photos retain much higher image quality after conversion.

So enough already, how do I get started? Here's a detailed summary of the process I'm using so far-this is probably not the best process, it is just what I have found to work in the few hours I've been experimenting. If you find improvements to make this process work better, please let me know!

Step 1: Set Profile and White Balance in Lightroom

Starting from a "scanned" raw image (I am using raw files captured using my camera, not a scanner), set the profile to Adobe Standard and set the white balance on the negative. I usually use the White Balance dropper tool to select the unexposed negative in one of the scans, then apply these settings to all of the scans from the roll.

Set white balance and set profile to Adobe Standard.

Step 2: Send Image to Photoshop

The next step is the send the negative image to Photoshop. Be sure to set the color working space to ProPhotoRGB in the Color Settings dialog before inverting the negative. My default was sRGB which did not work well.

Step 3: Color Correction in Photoshop

Now for the magic! I am using the fantastic Photoshop action provided by IamtheJeff to invert and color correct the negative (Update July 2018: IamtheJeff's 2018 action cannot be used to generate a LUT, you must use the previous version. See next paragraph.). This action does all the work-inverting the image, removing the orange mask, and setting white and black points for each color to remove any color casts-to transform the scanned negative into a beautiful color corrected image. But, the results of the inversion and color correction are specific to the film stock, lighting conditions of the photo (e.g., daylight or tungsten), the particular scanning setup (color of light used to scan the negative), and the initial white balance of the negative before the profile is applied. Essentially, we are creating a color map to transform the colors of the negative into correct positive colors so if two negatives have different colors-for example, if they are scanned using a different color light source-then the color map will incorrectly transform the colors and the resulting image will be incorrect. This is why we need to develop several profiles for a particular film stock using images captured under various different lighting conditions and scenes so that we can select a profile that matches the lighting of the negative. And because everyone has a different scanning setup-my lightbox emits a different color of white light than your flash-my profiles will not work for someone else. To use this method, you must develop the profiles yourself and maintain consistency in your negative scanning process.

Read all about IamtheJeff's method here. IamtheJeff updated the action in 2018. This new version cannot be used without modification to generate a lookup table because some of the adjustments are performed directly on the background layer and not in adjustment layers. Be sure to use the previous version (which still provides excellent results) here. After running the action, I now have an inverted and color corrected image. Note that all color correction adjustments are grouped into a single layer separate from the untouched background layer containing the negative. (Also note that I am also Jeff, but I am not IamtheJeff.)

If you want to use IamtheJeff's updated action, you'll need to make a few modifications so that the background layer remains untouched and all of the inversion adjustments are separate from that layer. One of my readers (Lloyd O'D.) reports that he was able to successfully get a profile into Lightroom using the new action by deleting the invert command and replacing it with an invert adjustment layer, then disabling or deleting the Merge Layers command at the beginning which should be left as a layer. The steps generating the C, M, and Y fill layers can also be deleted if you don’t want to use those for manual color tweaking. Lloyd also said that he thinks the new action seems to produce better out of the box exposure/contrast, but I didn't really notice a difference on the images that I tested.

Inverted and color corrected in Photoshop

Step 4: Create Lookup Table

Export the Color Correction layer generated by the action as a Color Lookup Table (File->Export->Color Lookup Tables). Make sure that only the Color Correction group layer is selected. In the export dialog, make sure that the settings are 32 Grid Points and CUBE format.

Step 5: Create Profile from LUT

Next, select the Background (negative) layer and open the Camera Raw Filter. Go to the Presets tab, then Alt-click on the New Preset icon at the bottom of the window. This is where the magic happens. Give the profile a descriptive name (I am using the film stock plus a letter for different types of images) and assign it to a Profile Set (e.g., Film Negative Profiles). Then select Color Lookup Table in the lower part of the dialog and select the CUBE file you just exported. Set the color space to ProPhotoRGB. You can also set Min and Max to 100. This setting controls the Amount slider for the profile in Lightroom, and 100% is the only value that will work. Click OK to save the profile and close Camera Raw.

Apply Profile in Lightroom

Restart Lightroom, and your newly created profile should be available in the Profile Browser. If you apply this profile to the raw image it was based on, you should get an identical result to what you saw in Photoshop. If yours looks different, make sure you set the color workspace to ProPhotoRGB before inverting the image.

Before & after applying profile from the first image. I repeated this process for several images, then started trying out the profiles on other negatives from the same film stock. I am finding that one of the profiles will typically work for any given negative, even negatives from other rolls shot on the same type of film. I have found that the negative MUST be white balanced under the Adobe Standard profile before applying the inversion profile. I use the unexposed frame outside the image for setting white balance, and this setting can be applied to all images on the same roll. For some negatives applying the profile is all that is needed, but other images require an exposure adjustment and maybe some highlights and shadows adjustments. I have now digitized more than 20 rolls of older negatives and have found this process to work great. The most time-consuming part is cropping each image individually after capture.

Also, do not try to auto white balance the corrected image, it will not work as expected. Adobe's documentation on profiles states that profiles are applied at the end of the image rendering pipeline, so the auto white balance tool is actually looking at the raw negative image, not the inverted image you see on the screen (also why the sliders are still reversed for some adjustments). You can still manually adjust the Temperature and Tint sliders if needed.

Overall, this process is working really well and will save a ton of time and disk space not having to convert all of my film scans to TIFFs. Once again, a huge thanks to MattK for sharing his knowledge of LUTs and profiles, and to IamtheJeff for making the awesome color correction action freely available. If you find this helpful, please let me know! And if you need info on the camera scanning process, I highly recommend Peter Krogh's multimedia book Digitizing Your Photos with your Camera and Lightroom.

I have written a couple of other articles on digitizing film negatives. One covers my start-to-finish camera scanning and conversion process, and the second demonstrates the benefits of using filters to compensate the color of the light source for the orange mask of color negatives.

Update: I was asked on the Photoshop Family forum to share some sample profiles. I shared a couple of sample profiles created using Portra400 outdoors. For my test, I was able to use one of these 2 profiles to color correct about 90% of the images on 3 different rolls of Portra400 film. The other images were under different enough lighting conditions, i.e., indoors and pre-dawn, that the profiles did not apply. I was doubtful that these would work for someone else because the LUT depends on your particular scanning setup, and this has been confirmed-the profiles are specific to how the negatives are scanned and initially white balanced so they will not work for someone else using a different scanning process.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) adobe c-41 color ektar film fujifilm invert kodak lightroom lookup lut negative photography portra preset profile superia https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/5/one-click-inversion-of-color-film-negatives-in-lightroom Thu, 24 May 2018 22:20:29 GMT
Auto ETTR on a6500 https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/5/auto-ettr-on-a6500 I read about a method over on the FredMiranda.com forum for "Auto ETTR" for the Sony A7RIII using the new Highlight metering mode that is also available on the a6500, so I decided to run a quick test to try it out. ETTR (expose to the right) is a method used to obtain the best possible image quality from a single exposure by intentionally over-exposing the image as much as possible without clipping the highlights. In some situations, this method would actually under-expose an image if needed to prevent the highlights from being lost. In theory, it sounds simple, but since our cameras don't show a true histogram of the RAW image data, it can often appear that an image has been overexposed when in fact the highlights could be pushed further in the RAW image. Thus, any new feature of a camera that can simplify or improve the process of ETTR could be very useful.

For Auto ETTR, Fred's method involves setting the camera's metering mode to Highlight, then adding +2 stops of Exposure Compensation. He said in his testing with the A7RIII that +2 was very safe and would not over-expose the highlights (http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1519071/9). My question is, how does this method work with the a6500 and is +2 still a safe value? In the past with the a6000, my method has typically been to use about +0.7 exposure compensation with Multi metering to push the exposure just a little.

This morning we had some nice clouds to the east, so I stepped out on the driveway to snap a few frames with various exposure settings. I used the Sony a6500 with Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 lens shooting in Aperture priority mode, ISO 100, and f/5.6. I took a series of images starting with a base exposure using default Multi metering with no adjustment, then switched to Highlight metering with exposure compensation of 0, +1, +2, and +3 successively. This test is very unscientific, and in fact, the light changed considerably while I was shooting. But let's look at the results anyway. All images processed in Lightroom 7.3.1 using the Adobe Color profile. I set Highlights to -100, Shadows +70, White to Auto, and adjusted Exposure and Blacks manually to try to match the base image. (And after publishing this article, I have realized that this was a very poor scene for a test of ETTR. But it is a good test of highlight recovery.)

Looking at the series of images, it is difficult to compare the Multi metering exposure to the others because the sun was behind the clouds, so the backlight was not nearly as intense. Even so, the sky was extremely bright yet the image retains good detail in the clouds. However, I'm not sure what the camera would have done if the sun had been directly in the scene. After I switched to Highlight metering, the sun started to break through creating a much stronger backlight. Looking at the four Highlight metering images, only the +3 exposure appears to be blown out where the clouds around the sun are pure white. I would say the +2 exposure is just about right for the highlights. So Fred's method appears to work for the a6500 as well as the A7RIII.

Multi Metering +0Multi Metering +0 Highlight Metering +0Highlight Metering +0 Highlight Metering +1Highlight Metering +1 Highlight Metering +2Highlight Metering +2 Highlight Metering +3Highlight Metering +3

However, looking at the shadows is a different story. I'm seeing a lot of noise, even in the Highlight +3 image, but I also recognize that this was an extremely high contrast scene and probably exceeds the capability of the sensor to capture the full dynamic range. Further testing is definitely needed, but here are the results zoomed in at 200% to show the noise.

Multi Metering +0Multi Metering +0 Highlight Metering +0Highlight Metering +0 Highlight Metering +1Highlight Metering +1 Highlight Metering +2Highlight Metering +2 Highlight Metering +3Highlight Metering +3

Noise in the base (Multi) exposure is OK, but is really excessive in the Highlight metering exposures, even at +2 and +3. But again, I think this scene was pushing the sensor too far. I'll do further testing, but for a backlit scene like this one, I would typically be bracketing for HDR.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 a6300 a6500 backlight dynamic range ettr hdr photography sony https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/5/auto-ettr-on-a6500 Tue, 15 May 2018 14:31:38 GMT
A Missed Composition https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/4/a-missed-composition The last colors of fall illuminated at sunrise. The area in the foreground of this photo was burned, but the background hills and mountains were spared the devastation. All proceeds from sale of this image will be donated to local charities benefiting those affected by the Spring Fire of 2018. This photo, captured a couple of days after Thanksgiving and edited a couple of days before New Years, is easily one of my top 5 of 2017, yet the image below, captured just few minutes earlier from nearly the same spot and with dramatic pre-sunrise light and clouds, is not nearly as powerful. The difference, and I realized this the moment I saw the image above on the back of the camera, is the little scrub oak tree in the foreground on the left side of the image. Without that tree, the sunrise image above would still be a nice photo (but not as nice). But that tree balances the composition and provides an interesting foreground subject, and also tells the story of the photo by showing us the last color of autumn before winter sets in.

Incredible colors just before sunrise, November 2017. In contrast, in the pre-dawn photo I neither excluded the tree nor included it as a focal point; I missed it entirely as I set up my camera and just chopped it in half at the bottom of the frame. In my defense, I could claim that as I set up for the shot in darkness I failed to notice the tree. But the truth is that I did notice it and tried (and failed) to exclude it from the composition. It is the fact that I did notice it in the darkness that I realized my error when I saw the sunrise image. And I should have known better since this location is probably my favorite and most frequently visited viewpoint in 2017.

 

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 colorado cuchara la veta landscape photography spanish peaks sunrise https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/4/a-missed-composition Sun, 22 Apr 2018 23:43:58 GMT
My Photography Gear: Sony a6000 https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/4/my-photography-gear-sony-a6000 Occasionally when I share a photo I get the photographer's favorite question, "What kind of camera do you use?" I'm sure that 95% of the time, the person asking genuinely just wants to know, but it's always hard not to think of the question as an insult as if anyone using the same camera could produce the same image. My experience has been that my ability to produce good photographs has improved with practice, that photography is a skill that must be developed over time. I think it is absolutely true that a trained photographer with an older or cheaper camera will always produce better images than an unskilled photographer with the latest and most expensive gear. Sure, the newer gear may produce technically superior images with better resolution and less noise, but those images may not be worth viewing.

Twilight glow along Highway 12.Sony a6000 with 16-80mm ZA 55mm, 0.4 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100

The reason I'm writing this post is because I have recently made the decision not to upgrade to a full frame digital camera. It seems that every photography website or podcast assumes that a full frame camera is a given necessity for landscape photography, but I strongly disagree and will explain why in the following paragraphs. But first, let me tell you about my digital photography gear (I've also recently developed a love for shooting with vintage 35mm and medium format film cameras, but that's a topic for another day).

I bought my first DSLR-type camera in 2014. Not having any prior experience other than having owned a string of Olympus and Canon point-and-shoot digital cameras since 2003 (upgrading whenever my daughter broke the last one), I hit the review sites and picked up a Sony a58 based on several articles that cited that camera as the best entry-level DSLR. I am so grateful for those recommendations because that decision got me into the Sony system. What I didn't realize or appreciate at the time was that the Sony DSLT cameras provided many of the same benefits of their line of mirrorless cameras, most notably the EVF and all of the associated capabilities that it brings instead of the optical viewfinder found on DSLRs.

After two years, my photography skills had improved to the point where I recognized the need to upgrade, primarily for better lenses to improve the overall resolution of my landscapes. I researched and obsessed for months and eventually decided on the Sony a6000 mirrorless camera, but with a twist-I intentionally decided to continue using Sony A-mount lenses for my landscapes. At the time, I only had a couple of higher quality A-mount lenses, but it made sense to me to continue using those and to also purchase a used copy of what is now my primary landscape lens, the Zeiss-branded Sony Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 ZA. The truth is I had read so much about this lens and its capabilities that I almost didn't make the jump to mirrorless just so that I could use it. So I purchased the a6000 kit with the small 16-50 power zoom and 55-210 telephoto zoom along with the Sony LA-EA4 adapter that enables the use of A-mount lenses with the same focusing system I had on the Sony a58 DSLT camera.

My Landscape RigSony a6000 with 16-80mm Zeiss Lens and LA-EA4 Adapter Although it may look a bit silly mounted on the small camera, the 16-80mm "Zony" lens did not disappoint. My opinion is that it is optically superior to the 16-70mm version available for Sony e-mount cameras although many of the advanced focusing abilities of the a6000 are not available. It is a trade-off that does not bother me at all, although I am currently upgrading my e-mount lens collection to include the top-end APS-C Sony Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 and the Sony 18-105mm f/4 G series for family and travel photos.

The decision to buy these more expensive lenses was directly tied to the decision not to upgrade to a full frame camera for the foreseeable future. Sony's current mid-range full frame offerings include the a7II and now the a7III. In fact, the a7II is actually available now for less than the a6500, so why would anyone stick with APS-C rather than going full frame? For me, the simple answer is the cost of full frame lenses is still very high, and APS-C mirrorless cameras and lenses are so much smaller. Including my recent acquisition of the Zeiss 24mm, I have a total investment of about $1,300 for my landscape lens kit that includes a 12mm wide-angle prime, a 24mm prime, and a 16-80 zoom. An equivalent full frame kit would cost upwards of $2,500 assuming I could get some good bargains on eBay, and all 3 of those lenses are huge by comparison to my APS-C lenses.

San Luis ValleySony a6000 with 16-80mm ZA 16mm, 1/15 sec at f/9.0, ISO 100

So what is the trade-off? In terms of image quality for landscape photos, I don't think there is much at all. APS-C cameras currently top out at 24 megapixels, but the Sony a7II and a7III are the same. Yes, there are full frame cameras that offer (much) higher resolution but with a much higher price tag as well. Yes, the full frame camera offer higher dynamic range. DXOMark rates the a6000 at 13.1 Evs, compared to 13.6 for the a7II and now 14.7 for the a7III (and 14.8 for the Nikon D850). The current top-end a6500 returned a score of 13.7, so it looks like full frame sensors (from Sony and Nikon at least) are providing one-half to one full stop higher dynamic range than their APS-C counterparts. But I have not encountered many situations where I felt limited by the dynamic range of my camera, and it is easy enough to bracket landscape photos if I need the extra range.

On the other hand, APS-C cameras offer greater depth-of-field than full frame cameras. I hardly ever encounter situations where I need to focus stack my images, and if I do, I only need 2 shots, yet it is very common to focus stack 3 or more images when using a full frame camera because of the reduced depth-of-field (and yes, I realize this is not a benefit for portrait photography.)

Where I see the greatest difference between APS-C and full frame cameras is in low light and night photography. Based on DXOMark's ISO scores, current full frame cameras offer from about 1-1/3 to 1-2/3 stops advantage over APS-C. That is a significant, but not huge, difference, and for someone specializing in night sky photography the upgrade to full frame would absolutely be justified.

For now, I am content with the abilities of my a6000. I am jealous of some of the advanced capabilities and features of the latest cameras, but I also feel that I haven't learned to fully exploit the capabilities of what I have. Although the a6500 offers a lot of improvements over the a6000, the price of that upgrade is very steep and there's really not much of an improvement in real-world image quality. Maybe the mythical a6700 or a7000 will offer something to persuade me.

Update May 15, 2018: Less than a month after writing this post, I have upgraded to the a6500 as my primary landscape camera and will get my a6000 converted for infrared. I really did not plan to upgrade, but the opportunity came up, and the a6500 does offer some compelling improvements for other types of photography (IBIS and improved high ISO JPGs). I was also motivated because after trying out the a5000 (which lacks a separate viewfinder) which I planned for infrared conversion, I was concerned about using that camera in bright sunlight with only the rear LCD for composing the image. The a6000 should be much more usable for infrared.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 a6500 alpha aps-c mirrorless photography slt sony zeiss https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2018/4/my-photography-gear-sony-a6000 Fri, 13 Apr 2018 21:43:42 GMT
Sand Dunes Panorama https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2017/11/sand-dunes-panorama One of my favorite photographers always says that you should make an image black and white when there is no color in the photo. But I think that sometimes the best black and white images are full of color. A couple of days before Thanksgiving we headed over to the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool near Hooper and stopped by the Great Sand Dunes on the way for some sunset photography. The image below is a 52-megapixel stitched panorama of 5 photos captured just as the sun was hitting the horizon to the southwest. The colors in the sky and clouds and the peaks catching the last rays of the sun were simply stunning.

Sand Dunes Sunset Panorama5 images, 24 mm, 1/6 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 After creating this image, I realized that it might also make a good black and white photo, so I converted the image to black and white and produced the next image.

Great Sand Dunes Panorama5 images, 24 mm, 1/6 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 While the colors in this photo of the Great Sand Dunes were absolutely stunning, to me the black and white image is more powerful and has more of a sense of scale and drama in the landscape. When I look at it, I almost feel like I am flying toward the mountains over the dunes. Which one do you prefer?

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) a6000 colorado great sand dunes panorama panosaurus photography san luis sony sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2017/11/sand-dunes-panorama Wed, 29 Nov 2017 18:32:49 GMT
Sleeklens Workflow Review https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2017/3/sleeklens-workflow-review I don't use many presets in my photo editing workflow. Specifically, I use 2 presets: one for landscapes and one for portraits. Typically I apply the preset after importing the images to Lightroom, then I tweak the setting and make local adjustments. I have tried out some free presets on occasion, including a VSCO film pack and a set from ON1, but generally haven't been happy with the results. Plus, I like playing with the sliders. Except that I usually end up moving the same sliders the same way in the same amount for every photo.

Recently I was given the opportunity to try out the "Through the Woods" preset workflow for Lightroom from Sleeklens in exchange for an honest review. So I downloaded and installed the presets, glanced through the recipe booklet, and here's the result:

Edited with Sleeklens PresetsAerial sunset; HDR composite of 5 bracketed shots captured with the DJI Mavic Pro The Through the Woods workflow is a collection of 51 presets and 30 brushes for Lightroom specifically created for landscape photography. Some of the presets are "all-in-one," designed to give an image a particular look with one click. Others are targeted at making certain adjustments, such as exposure, color, polish, or vignette, and are designed to be stacked one after another. Similarly, the brushes are presets that can be used with Lightroom's graduated filter, radial filter, and adjustment brush tools to make targeted adjustments to the image.

The image above is an HDR composite of 5 bracketed exposures captured with the Mavic Pro (if you want to learn how to get these results from the Mavic's tiny camera, read my previous post). The image below is the unedited photo after HDR processing using Lightroom. The only adjustments applied are a lens correction profile and minor cropping. The sky is nice, but lacking in vibrancy and contrast, and the foreground is lost in shadow.

 

Unretouched HDR Composite To get the final image above I used a series of 5 presets, then added 2 radial filters using the supplied brushes. The presets used are:

  1. Through the Woods - All in One - Dawn Rising
  2. Through the Woods - Base - Cinematic
  3. Through the Woods - Exposure - Less Highlights
  4. Through the Woods - Tone/Tint - Warm It Up
  5. Through the Woods - Vignette - Subtle Black

These 5 clicks got the image about 95% of the way, but the foreground was still very dark and the horizon was just missing some intensity that should be there because the sun had just dipped out of sight and was still very bright. I used a large radial filter across the foreground with the Light - Add Golden Sun brush to relight the foreground, then a second large radial filter along the horizon line with the Haze - Golden brush to bring the intensity back. The final step was to add +25 Luminance Noise Reduction to smooth out the shadow noise (Sharpening was set by the presets and did not have to be adjusted manually.)

The images below provide a side-by-side comparison of my original edit using my regular manual workflow and the result achieved using the Sleeklens workflow.

Manual Edit in LightroomRetouched in Lightroom using my default landscape preset followed by manual adjustment of sliders and filters. Edited Using Sleeklens WorkflowOnly Through the Woods presets and brushes were used; no manual adjustments were made.

So which is better? Honestly, I have to say that I like the Sleeklens image better than my manual edit. The overall result is similar, but I like the golden light on the horizon, details in the center of the clouds, and the foreground elements better in the Sleeklens image. And considering that this was my very first attempt using the workflow in comparison to a manual process that I've used on hundreds of photos, I am very impressed with how well it works and how easy it is to use. I will definitely be using this workflow more in the future.

If you are interested in this workflow, check out their tutorials (https://sleeklens.com/lightroom-tutorials/) to see what is possible or visit the "Through the Woods" preset workflow page (https://sleeklens.com/product-category/lightroom-presets).

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) DJI HDR Lightroom Mavic Mavic Pro Through the Woods aerial drone photography preset radial filter sleeklens sunset workflow https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2017/3/sleeklens-workflow-review Fri, 10 Mar 2017 17:15:54 GMT
Exposure Bracketing with the DJI Mavic Pro https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2017/2/exposure-bracketing-mavic-pro The DJI Mavic Pro is impressive, but there's no getting around the fact that the tiny camera has some serious limitations. It may have a Sony sensor in there, but size still matters when it comes to photography, especially for landscapes with dramatic lighting. The smaller sensors like the one in the Mavic just don't have the dynamic range of larger sensors like the ones in APS-C and full frame cameras. For reference, the 1/2.3" sensor in the Mavic Pro measures only 7.66 mm diagonally compared to 28.2 mm for an APS-C sensor or 43.2 mm for a full frame camera sensor. The full frame sensor is 28 times bigger, so it can gather 28 times the amount of light! On top of that, the Mavic is a moving platform, so the challenges to image quality and sharpness are even greater. However, as the image below shows, this camera is still capable of capturing some incredible images although a little extra work is required to get to the final result.

4 shot HDR, manual bracketingLightroom HDR composite of 4 images To work around the limitations of the small sensor, exposure bracketing is a must when capturing scenes with high dynamic range so that details are retained in both the highlight and shadow areas and image noise is reduced. I've been doing some testing with my Mavic Pro to get an idea of what the camera is capable of and how to best use bracketing to get the highest quality images out of the camera.

First off, I don't recommend using the built-in auto exposure bracketing (AEB) with the camera in auto mode. In this mode, the brackets are captured by changing both shutter speed (good) and ISO (not so good). While this may be beneficial in some cases, such as in windy conditions, increasing ISO has the effect of increasing noise and reducing dynamic range producing images with less detail (see test here). So it is really counter-productive to capture a set of images with reduced image quality in an attempt to get better image quality. You will get a better image from the bracketed set than from a single photo, but it won't be as good as what you can get with just a little more work. And although the app shows a difference of 0.7 EV for each exposure frame in the set, it is really only 2/3 EV, so the total exposure range goes from -1.31 to +1.31 EV.

For the next test, I looked at using AEB in manual mode so that only the shutter speed changes. The good news is that it works, but with the same limitation of only covering about -1-1/3 EV to + 1-1/3 EV which is really a limited range to cover when the sensor is already challenged. For this test, I started with a base exposure at about -1 EV because the bright part of the sky was so bright in the frame. The image below was the result; AEB worked well for this image, but the sun was excluded from the frame so the total dynamic range of the scene was more limited.

5-shot HDR, AEB in manual modeLightroom HDR composite of 5 images Because of my concern about only getting an effective range of 2-2/3 stops out of a bracketed series of 5 shots, I did another test wherein I manually changed the exposure to capture 5 shots with a step of about 1 EV between shots. Except that I only captured 4 images instead of 5 and overshot the third exposure by using the on-screen exposure guide rather than my head! I intentionally included the sun in the frame to really test the capabilities of the camera sensor. Even with my mistakes in capturing the brackets, the 4 shots created a really nice HDR composite with clean highlights, even around the sun, and greatly reduced noise.

The first image in this post shows the final result; the two images below compare the HDR composite to the base exposure. Although the top image (base exposure) has good detail and low noise in the foreground, there is no detail in the bright area around the sun. Also notice the very apparent noise in the darker clouds in the upper left part of the image. And this is with a healthy dose of Noise Reduction applied in Lightroom! Compare that to the lower image and you will quickly notice how much better the composite is, particularly in terms of preserved highlight detail and reduced noise.

Base exposure, 1/30 secondBlown highlights and no detail in the sun, lots of noise in the darker clouds 4-shot HDR compositeDetailed highlights and much less noise

So my recommendations would be to use 5-shot AEB in manual mode for most shots. To ensure the highlights are not blown, start with a base exposure of about -1 EV using the dial on the right side of the controller. For scenes with greater dynamic range, such as a sunrise/sunset with the sun in the frame, either capture a set of 5 bracketed shots manually with about 1 EV difference in each shot, or shoot 2 sets in AEB and adjust the exposure by 1 EV between the sets. For either of these methods, start with a base exposure of 0 EV and decrease for subsequent shots. And, always shoot in RAW!

Update: Sometime after I wrote this post, DJI updated the firmware to include a built-in HDR capability that captures a bracketed set of images and saves the output as a raw DNG file, similar to using the HDR Merge feature of Lightroom. So now rather than bracketing, I always capture stills using the built-in HDR capture setting with raw DNG output. It takes a bit longer to capture an image, but the resulting file will have better shadow and highlight detail and greatly reduced noise compared to a standard raw image. For high dynamic range scenes, I will typically capture two or more exposures manually bracketed

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) 1/2.3 AEB aerial DJI drone HDR high dynamic range Mavic Mavic Pro photography sunrise sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2017/2/exposure-bracketing-mavic-pro Thu, 16 Feb 2017 04:01:07 GMT
DJI Mavic Pro AEB Testing https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2017/2/dji-mavic-pro-aeb-testing I recently bought the DJI Mavic Pro aerial camera (AKA, drone) to step up my landscape photography and try some aerial videography. For its size and portability, the Mavic is an incredible system, but there are drawbacks and one of those is the camera sensor size. DJI included a Sony 1/2.3" sensor with a resolution of 12 MP. The camera produces clean, sharp images during the day, but is more challenged in low light.

DJI Mavic ProImage from DJI I'm a new pilot and still just learning about the Mavic and aerial photography, and I have been trying to get a feel for the true capabilities of the Mavic's camera for shooting high dynamic range scenes such as sunset and sunrise. Last night I put the Mavic up to grab a couple of sunset shots to test out the auto exposure bracketing (AEB) settings. I set the camera to shoot AEB 5 shots in RAW with white balance set to Cloudy. I left the exposure adjustment set to 0 (EV 0). Here's the series of shots captured by the Mavic:

Shot  Shutter  ISO  deltaEV
1        1/30    164     0.00
2        1/30    104    -0.66
3        1/30    259     0.66
4        1/60    132    -1.31
5        1/15    204     1.31

I had previously noticed that the Mavic changed the ISO rather than adjusting shutter speed only. While most photographers would likely prefer the camera to not adjust ISO, I suppose it makes sense to limit the longest shutter speed for shot stability. It's also interesting that while the setting shows 0.7 EV increments between shots, the increment is really only 2/3 EV.

Base Exposure1/30 sec, f/2.2, ISO 164 The image above is the base exposure (1/30s, ISO 164). Note the loss of all detail in the brightest part of the sky and lack of detail in the darkest areas. This image was not too noisy, but some of the other exposures with higher ISO were quite noisy.

Now look at the HDR composite of all 5 images below. Surprisingly, the HDR cleans up really well with some liberal application of noise reduction in Lightroom (I saw far less noise in the composite than in the individual images), and the HDR image definitely has more shadow and highlight detail, especially in the bright part of the sky. (I had the gimbal cover on, so there are some reflections. Also, I was not in a very pretty location for this shoot!)

5-shot HDRLightroom HDR composite of 5 images While I was able to get decent results for this sunset using the Mavic's built-in 5-shot AEB function, manual bracketing is the way to go the best detail from bracketed shots in windless conditions when shutter speeds of up to a few seconds are possible. In this case, the brightest image needed a shutter speed of only about 1/8 second which would have easily been possible. A wider range of exposures, +/-2 or +/-3 EV, can also be captured using manual bracketing. In windier conditions, AEB may work better because the shutter speed will be faster, but probably at the expense of ultimate image quality by raising the ISO. It would also be nice if DJI would allow us to manually set the ISO and capture the bracketed shots by only changing the shutter speed.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) AEB DJI HDR Mavic Mavic Pro aerial drone high dynamic range photography sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2017/2/dji-mavic-pro-aeb-testing Wed, 08 Feb 2017 20:17:07 GMT
Best Photos of 2016 https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/12/best-photos-of-2016 Over the last 10 days I've showcased my picks for my Best Photos of 2016. Here they are in descending order:

Number 1

Number 1 of my Best Photos of 2016 is the best photo I've ever taken. Sunsets in the San Luis Valley are usually pretty spectacular, but this one was really great. This old house near Hooper had been on my list of places to photograph for a while, and I got the perfect opportunity in mid-May when we visited the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool. This was my first photographic excursion in Colorado after getting the Sony a6000 camera. Currently I'm using a Sony Zeiss lens for almost all of my landscape work, but at this time I only had the 16-50 kit lens. Honestly, I'm not sure the Zeiss would have produced a better image.
Another photographer stopped to get some shots of the sunset, but he left as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon. I got this shot as he was driving away.
If you like this one, there's an HD acrylic print hanging in The Timbers Art Gallery in Cuchara right now with your name on it!

Hooper Sunset16 mm, 1/10 sec, f/8, ISO 100

Number 2

This incredible sunrise in the Cuchara Valley comes in at Number 2 in my Best Photos of 2016. I can't say how many times over the summer I got up at 4:30 in the morning to shoot sunrise only to have completely boring clear blue skies (just ask Scot Mangold). But it was certainly worth the effort on this day in late September. The cows were moving about and got in the way of a few shots, but the longhorn is perfect in this one. And those clouds...

Number 3

Moonrise Over Wahatoya comes in at Number 3 on my list of Top Photos of 2016. This spot is my favorite shooting location in the Cuchara/La Veta area because it has such an inspiring view of the Spanish Peaks. This image was captured as part of a time lapse sequence of the rising moon. The camera was set up to properly expose for the foreground, so the moon was basically just a solid white disc in my original photo. I returned to the same spot on the next evening and captured a zoomed in shot of the moon, then superimposed the moon in the original photo. Technically, the moon is larger than it was in the original photo, but I think this image presents the scene more as it actually looked because our brains perceive the moon as being larger when it is closer to the horizon. Hopefully you agree!

Moonrise Over Wahatoya24 mm, 1/13 sec, f/9, ISO 100

Number 4

Number 4 in my Top Photos of 2016 is sunrise of the West Spanish Peak captured on Memorial Day. When I first reviewed this series of images from that morning on my computer, I was disappointed. But after looking at them a few more times, this image has become one of my favorite photographs.
If you are familiar with this scene, known locally as "the Gap" because it is the spot where the Cuchara River flows through the Dakota Wall (and Highway 12), you might notice the absence of some yellow road signs and power lines in my photo. I do use Photoshop to occasionally remove objects from my images, and this was one of those occasions!

Sunrise, West Spanish Peak22 mm, 1/15 sec, f/10, ISO 100

Number 5

Number 5 in my Top Photos of 2016 is another shot of the incredible sunset from the top of CR 421 in mid-July. This one was captured just 3 minutes after the image I shared as #9, but the sun had broken through the clouds, and the entire landscape was bathed in orange glow. I can tell you that the scene was more beautiful in person!

Sunset Over Mount Blanca16 mm, 1/20 sec, f/16, ISO 100 Number 6

The old truck under the Milky Way is Number 6 on my list of Best Photos of 2016. Scot Mangold and I had perfect cloudless skies in mid-July when we went up to Cordova Pass to get this shot. We sat a dim green light inside the cab of the truck and used an external flash to light the truck. 
I brightened this image quite a bit from the last time I posted it because Facebook's image compression made it look really dark, especially on phones. Hopefully it will look better this time.

Old Truck and Milky Way14 mm, 25 sec, f/4, ISO 5000 Number 7

You've probably noticed this old church on the north side of Raton Pass along I-25. It is the remains of the St. Aloysius Church in the abandoned mining town of Morley. This image was captured using a 1970's vintage Yashica ML 50 mm f/1.7 lens mounted on my Sony a6000, probably wide open but I'm not sure, and comes in at Number 7 on my list of Top Photos of 2016.

Number 8

This photo of the thunderstorm blowing up over the Spanish Peaks is Number 8 in my Top Photos of 2016. This same storm produced the dramatic clouds that made yesterday's image so dramatic. I like this image because it captures the dynamic of the storm that was just exploding on top of the mountains. It also marked the late start of the summer monsoon in 2016.

Thunderstorm, Spanish Peaks16 mm, 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 Number 9

Number 9 in my Top Photos of 2016 is this image of the sun setting over Mount Blanca from a viewpoint along CR 421 outside of La Veta. The atmosphere with the orange glow is what makes this photo, and the three fir trees lined up make me think of photos of Tuscany. The clouds were incredible because it was raining over the Spanish Peaks behind us and a storm was actually building right overhead. We were chased off by the thunder a few minutes later.

Sunset Over Mount Blanca30 mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

Number 10

Through the end of the year I'll be sharing my Top 10 Photos of 2016 from the Cuchara/La Veta area and southern Colorado. Some are new, but most have been shared before; hopefully, you won't mind seeing them again. First up is an image of the full moon rising behind Goemmer's Butte on June 20th. The wildflowers were in full bloom, and I was lucky enough to have lined my camera up perfectly to get the rising moon behind the arm of the East Spanish Peak right next to the butte.

I originally shared this photo on Instagram and cross-posted to Facebook. It didn't get much attention on Instagram, but it jump started my Facebook page with almost 14,000 views and more than 240 likes!

This photo is a single exposure, 6 second at f/9, ISO 100. I probably should have used a faster shutter speed, maybe like 3 seconds, because the moon itself is overexposed. Fortunately, this one still turned out well, and I learned a lot about capturing the moon in the process.

Moonrise at Goemmer's Butte50 mm, 6 sec, f/9, ISO 100

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado Cuchara Goemmer La Veta Milky Way Sony Spanish Peaks Wahatoya West Spanish Peak a6000 aloysius aspen moon moonrise photography post-processing sunrise sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/12/best-photos-of-2016 Sat, 31 Dec 2016 20:48:46 GMT
Serge Ramelli https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/12/serge-ramelli This photo of Paris was captured by one of my favorite photographers and virtual mentor Serge Ramelli. I have learned more about photography and post-processing from watching his free video tutorials than from any other source. I have also purchased a few of his full courses and can say that as much as he shares in his free videos, the full courses are much more in-depth and worth the investment. If you are curious about getting started in photography or want to take your photography and post-processing to the next level, I highly recommend Serge Ramelli.

Check out Serge Ramelli's Youtube channel! He has over 400 tutorials on photography and the number one channel on Lightroom worldwide. If you want great tricks and tips on photography check him out! https://www.youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=cmoeu

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Ramelli Serge paris photography photoserge post-processing https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/12/serge-ramelli Tue, 06 Dec 2016 17:46:59 GMT
Aspen Cathedral https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/11/aspen-cathedral Aspen CathedralPanorama stitch of 20 photos, 16 mm, f/10, 1/8 sec, ISO 100

This image is my second attempt to realize an artistic vision to mimic a "cathedral vertorama" in a forest of aspens. My first attempt was last October and was a complete failure; at least this year I was able to produce a usable image.

A vertorama is a vertical panorama; the technique is popular for photos of cathedrals because it creates a surrealistic effect where you can see the entire cathedral from floor to ceiling straight up (Here's an incredible example: Tewkesbury by Mark Wycherley). To create the image, the photographer has to take several photos and stitch them together to get the whole scene in.

For this image of the aspens, the scene is 180 degrees wide, so I had to capture 5 images going from left to right, then repeat that process 4 times to capture the scene from the forest floor to the sky. The camera was mounted on a tripod, and I used a spherical panoramic tripod head (Panosaurus 2.0) to ensure that the individual photos would align properly-my mistake last fall was attempting to handhold the camera. This image is the result of 20 photos stitched together.

So why did I say this one is not a complete failure? Well, it doesn't quite achieve my vision; when I look at the photo I don't feel enveloped by the forest. I really needed to capture more of the forest on each side to achieve the cathedral effect. In hindsight, I should have used my 12mm lens. I had that lens with me, but decided to use my 16mm Zeiss instead. 12mm would allow me to capture more than 180 degrees horizontally without having to capture more images. I also should have taken images all the way over the top of the tripod vertically to where the camera is actually pointing backwards. The end result would be much better with a cobalt blue sky above the yellow leaves; I knew the conditions weren't optimal when I captured these photos, but I only get one opportunity each year, so I tried anyway. Finally, after doing some research on indoor vertoramas, I probably need to experiment with some perspective warping in Photoshop to enhance the desired effect.

Overall, this was a good learning experience, and I did end up with an image worth sharing. I received several encouraging comments when I posted it to Facebook. So I'll try again next year!

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado La Veta Sony Spanish Peaks Wahatoya a6000 aspen autumn panorama panosaurus photography vertorama https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/11/aspen-cathedral Thu, 03 Nov 2016 21:59:48 GMT
The Old Truck https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/8/the-old-truck My photography buddy Scot Mangold had the idea to capture the Milky Way above this old abandoned truck at Cordova Pass. I didn't even know the truck was up there, but when he told me about it, I thought it would make a fantastic Milky Way shot. We planned to go up there at the end of June, but the skies turned cloudy that evening, and we ended up waiting a full month before we had another opportunity to get up there.

Cordova Pass, on a gravel road about 6 miles above Cuchara Pass, is at 11,248 ft and is in a really remote area with completely dark skies and no light pollution. The conditions were absolutely perfect on the night we picked with clear skies, fairly warm temperatures, and no moon.

However, it was completely dark, and even brilliant as the stars appeared, they didn't provide any light on the ground. I had never tried light painting before, a technique where the photographer uses a light source at night to light a subject. I decided to try lighting the truck using an external flash unit. With some experimentation, we found that setting the flash on its minimum power and using 2-3 pops at different angles provided a really nice light on the truck as well as the grass and trees in the foreground. Since the flash is daylight-balanced, it provides a neutral white light that complements the colors of the Milky Way.

We created some added interest by placing a dim light inside the cab of the old truck. The button on the back of my headlamp glows up green when the battery is attached, and provided a perfect light source. It was so dim that we couldn't tell it was in there, but in our long exposure photographs, the lamp provides an eerie glow coming from within the truck.

After we finished shooting the truck (with our cameras), we took a few shots of the Milky Way and trees before some clouds started to roll in forcing up to pack it up for the night. Overall, it was a lot of fun with some real challenges trying to work in complete darkness, but we came away with some fantastic images!

Milky Way over Cordova PassMilky Way over Cordova Pass16 mm, f/3.5, 15 sec, ISO 8000

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado Cordova Pass Cuchara Milky Way Sony Spanish Peaks a6000 abandoned astrophotography light painting long exposure night photography truck https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/8/the-old-truck Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:00:31 GMT
Moonrise Over Wahatoya https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/6/moonrise-over-wahatoya  

Moonrise Over WahatoyaMoonrise Over Wahatoya24 mm, 1/13 sec, f/9, ISO 100

Last weekend I was reading about how to photograph a moonrise and came across an interview with Ansel Adams sharing the story of how he captured one of his most famous images, Moonrise, Hernandez. The short version (click here for full story) is that he was driving along and came upon the scene with the full moon above the mountains and the gravestones lit up by the setting sun. He knew that he had only moments to capture the scene before the light was gone, so he literally ditched the car, frantically grabbed the camera gear, and set up to take the shot. In the rush, he could not find his light meter, so he quickly calculated the exposure in his head using the known value of moon's brightness. (I would not even know where to begin!) He dialed in the settings on the camera and snapped the photo. Then before he could flip the film plate to get a duplicate exposure, the light faded and the scene was gone.

the Moon Illusion), this is very close to what I saw standing there in the field.

Capturing time lapse frames with the Sony a6000

I'm no Ansel Adams, but I shared this story because trying to capture this image make me realize how truly skilled that Adams was. This image shows the scene as I saw it with my eyes, but I couldn't capture it with my camera. You can see in the time lapse video that the moon becomes a white circle with no detail, and that is exactly what I had in this photo. After sunset, the difference between the dark landscape and the very bright moon is more than my camera can capture. Since the camera was recording frames for the time lapse, I couldn't take a second photo exposed for the moon, so instead I went back to the same spot the next night and took another photograph. I used a longer focal length for the second image, so the moon appears bigger than it really was, then I combined the two images together. But because our eyes can see the difference in brightness and the moon appears larger to us when near the horizon (

Moonrise TimelapseSolstice moon rising over the Wahatoya

For more information about Ansel Adams and his work, visit the Ansel Adams page at Artsy. This page provides visitors with Adams' bio, over 150 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Adams exhibition listings.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Ansel Adams Colorado Goemmer La Veta Spanish Peaks West Spanish Peak artsy full moon moon moonrise photography sunset time lapse https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/6/moonrise-over-wahatoya Wed, 22 Jun 2016 03:34:22 GMT
Amarillo by Morning https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/6/amarillo-by-morning Incredible colors just seconds before the sun appeared on the horizon.24 mm, 1/8 sec, f/8, ISO 100

This morning I got up early to capture a sunrise time lapse at a wheat field on the edge of the city. I've shot a couple of time lapses in the last few weeks since getting the Sony a6000, but this was my first attempt to get a sunrise. Our 6-year old daughter was the flower girl in a wedding last weekend, and I noticed this spot as we passed it several times going to and from the wedding venue. I knew the sun would rise across the wheat field, and thought it would make for a really nice sunrise shot with the nearly ripe golden wheat in the foreground. I never imagined I would get rewarded with such a spectacular sunrise (although I did get a little excited driving out there and seeing the city lights reflected in the low clouds!)

For all my landscape shots, I use the Sony Zeiss 16-80 mm A-mount lens adapted to the a6000 using the LA-EA4 adapter. I bought this lens used a couple of weeks ago and am just astounded by its rendering of color and contrast. The lens is also very sharp and takes full advantage of the 24-megapixel sensor of the a6000.

My photography planning app (PlanIt! Pro for Android) said that sunrise would be at 6:32am with blue hour starting at 5:50. I wan't sure exactly when I needed to start shooting, but I figured the start of blue hour would be good. I arrived around 5:40am. I hadn't really scouted the location ahead of time, although I did look it up on Google Maps the night before. There is a row of street lamps behind the camera, but fortunately I was able to turn off the main road and get a hundred yards or so away from the lights so that they did not affect the shot.

I set up the camera just on the edge of the wheat field and zoomed in slightly to exclude the road that is just out of the frame to the right. By the time I arrived, there was already some faint light above the horizon, so it was easy to tell where the sun would appear. The photo below shows my camera setup (captured at about the same time as the title photo just as the sun appeared on the horizon).

I used the Sony Playmemories Time-lapse app as the intervalometer and to control the camera settings. The app does a great job of simplifying the capture process, and also provides some useful presets. I used the sunrise preset, but I did change the default settings. I set the camera to shoot in RAW+JPEG so that I would have the raw files to process for the final video. I also changed the capture interval to 8 seconds and extended the capture duration (number of exposures) to about 50 minutes so that I could get about 15 minutes of photos after the sun rose above the horizon. I set the auto exposure tracking to Mid (just a guess on that one). Also, I changed the Interval Priority setting to Off. Since it was still fairly dark when I started capturing, the camera needed to use an exposure longer than the 8-second capture interval, and this setting allows the exposure duration to override the specified interval. The camera wanted the first exposure to be longer than 30 seconds, but 30 seconds is the maximum exposure time allowed by the app. Finally, aperture and ISO were fixed at f/8 and ISO 100 by the preset. You can also see from the screenshot of the camera that I still had 62% battery life remaining after capturing 390 frames, so the app does a good job managing battery usage.

Playmemories Time-lapse app settings With the app set up, I was ready to shoot so I leveled the lower rule of thirds line on the horizon, focused on the clouds, and started shooting. While I was waiting the 52 minutes, I tried to read the chapter for my 7am Thursday morning Bible study, but the sunrise was more than a little distracting!

The Playmemories Time-lapse app automatically creates a movie file, but my experience has been that the files suffer from flickering and are not very smooth, so I prefer to post-process the photos and produce the video file afterwards. For this shoot, I developed the raw files in Lightroom. I expected some difficulty to get a smooth transition from darkness to light, but had no problems at all and had to do very little to the raw files to get really incredible images. First, I selected an image from the most intense time of the sunrise to use as a template and applied my standard landscape preset which includes highlights/shadows and white/black point adjustments, camera calibration, sharpening, and lens profile corrections, then I adjusted the white balance. I also added a graduated filter on the bottom of the frame over the wheat field to brighten the foreground and bring out the golden color of the wheat, then I cropped to a 16:9 aspect ratio for video and synced the adjustment to all of the images. Images were exported at 4K resolution; it took about 2 hours to export all 390 images.

The exported images were exported to a video file using VirtualDub with the msuDeflicker plugin which does a great job of removing flicker. I was tempted to try using LRTimelapse, but the Sony app did such a good job controlling the exposure that I didn't need to use it.

The final step was to add in some music (good old George Strait, what could be more appropriate?) and render the final video. Enjoy!

Wheat Field Sunrise

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Amarillo Playmemories Sony Texas Zeiss a6000 alpha sal1680z sunrise time lapse wheat https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/6/amarillo-by-morning Thu, 09 Jun 2016 23:18:28 GMT
Continually Learning and Improving https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/4/continually-learning-and-improving Some of the best advice I've taken to improve my photography was to ask another photographer to critique my portfolio and give me his honest opinions. Last fall, I asked Darryl, one of the senior managers in my firm whom I know to be an accomplished photographer, to review my website. He took my request seriously and spent several hours going through my images, and the comments he provided were brutally honest but also constructive and very helpful in showing me what I needed to do to improve my work.

BeforeBeautiful scene, but definitely the wrong time of day. In the days of film, landscape photographers had to develop two skill sets: the ability to frame and capture a compelling image with the camera and the technique to develop and process the captured image in the darkroom to produce a print. With digital cameras, photographers still need two sets of skills, but the digital darkroom with software tools like Lightroom and Photoshop have replaced the wet darkroom. (And digital has made both much easier as evidenced by the explosion of really good photography all over the Internet.) Darryl's critique included many comments that addressed both aspects of photography.

RevisedStill the wrong time of day, but a little more interesting with some dodging and burning. Maybe I can be at this spot at sunrise next fall.

On the camera side, the most frequent comment he gave was something to the effect of "wrong time of day" which translates to what is probably the fundamental law of landscape photography: "Capture interesting light." Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do to improve those boring images in my portfolio other than replacing them with better images captured at the right time of day. That means getting out there for sunrise and sunset when the light is interesting.

BeforeI really thought this was the best I could do with this photo. Notice how hazy the mountains seem to be. As for post-processing, Darryl gave me some excellent suggestions to improve several photos, but he also downloaded and edited several images to illustrate his recommendations. And my eyes were opened! I was absolutely amazed at the difference in some of the images-some photos that I had thought were good looked positively bland when compared to the version that Darryl had edited. Suddenly I realized how very little I understood about developing my digital negatives to their full potential. So I spent a couple of months this winter learning more about post-processing techniques and how to achieve the best results from my software.

Sangre de Cristo RangeRevisedThis one opened my eyes! No, it's not the greatest photo ever, but the peaks are so much sharper and clearer than in my original version. I started by reading Jeff Schewe's book "The Digital Negative" which explains the fundamentals of how digital cameras capture an image and the steps needed to transform the raw digital information into a photograph. This book was particularly useful for explaining in detail how to properly apply adjustments such as sharpening and noise reduction. If you are a photographer who is unsure of exactly what all of those sliders in Lightroom are doing, this book is for you! The book also explained when and how to apply local adjustments, such as dodging and burning, to an image to enhance the visual impact of the photo. 

OriginalNo drama!

In addition to reading the book, I bought a video course on retouching in Lightroom from my online photography mentor, Serge Ramelli (<French accent> "A French photographer living in the beautiful city of Paris" </back to Texan> ). I initially learned how to retouch photos in Lightroom by watching Serge's free Youtube tutorials. Serge has a very dramatic processing style which some may think is over the top, but his prints are sold in upscale galleries around the world so he certainly knows how to produce attractive images. Not everything Serge teaches in his retouching course is necessarily the best technique, and he lacks the technical understanding of Lightroom's inner workings that Jeff Schewe explains in his book. But, Serge does know how to get the most drama from an image through dodging and burning, what he calls "complexing the light," and he is truly a master. In the Lightroom course, he spends a lot of time explaining and demonstrating his dodge and burn techniques, and after watching I felt much more confident applying those techniques to my own images. RevisedMore drama with highlights applied to the flowers and sunset and a slight Orton effect on the foreground.
With Darryl's examples and a new understanding of post-processing, I then started working on the images in my portfolio to see how they could be improved. Not all of the photos needed to be re-visited, but I think the ones I have re-processed are much stronger for the effort. Based on the examples I've shown here, do you agree? In some future posts, I'll discuss some of the specific techniques that I have been using and show some examples of how those techniques improve the images.
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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado Cuchara Culebra digital negative dodging and burning lightroom orton orton effect photography photoserge post-processing retouching schewe serge ramelli sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/4/continually-learning-and-improving Thu, 28 Apr 2016 18:12:34 GMT
Photo Essay: A Winter's Walk https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/3/photo-essay-a-winters-walk A walk through Cuchara and up to CK rocks on a cold and foggy day. All images captured with 35 mm prime at f/1.8, minimal post. (Scroll to the bottom for a harrowing tale of survival in the wilderness!)

My Survival Epic (OK, not so much)

I took these photos while our family was in Cuchara for Spring Break. On Friday the girls went to Pueblo for the day and I stayed behind to work. In the late afternoon I went out for a walk with my camera to take some pictures of the beautiful freezing fog that was hanging over town. As I was wandering, I came across the CK Rocks Trail and decided to hike a little ways up the trail. I didn't turn around until I reached the rocks at the top. As I headed back down, I slipped and all my weight came down on my foot which was pointed backwards underneath me. There I was, alone on a rugged trail above a nearly deserted town in winter, my wife and kids were gone for the day and would not be home until well after dark, and no one even knew I had left home or where I had gone! Fortunately, I was able to get up and carefully walk back down (although here it is early Monday morning and I'm wide awake typing this post while my ankle throbs). So please remember to hike with a companion or at least make sure someone knows where you are because a camera is no help at all when you get injured. But I did get some great photos!

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado Cuchara aspen frost hoar photography winter https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/3/photo-essay-a-winters-walk Mon, 21 Mar 2016 10:55:45 GMT
West Peak in Fall https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/2/west-peak-fall I love the view of the West Spanish Peak from this spot. The outcrop of the dike ends here with a natural arch in the wall. The dike leads directly to the mountain which was capped by clouds lit up by the sun on this evening as if there was a light behind the mountain. It was a truly spectacular sight, especially with the shafts of sunlight spotlighting the wall in front of the mountain.

Natural Arch in Dike35 mm, 1/13 sec, f/11, ISO 100

 

This photo is proof that the secret to great photography is to capture interesting light (not that I think this is necessarily a great photograph). I captured the photo below at this same spot a couple of weeks earlier during the afternoon; while it was a beautiful scene, it did not make a very interesting photograph. I think that the magical light in the clouds and the contrasts in color are what makes the photo really special.

Spanish Peaks18 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

 

The image at the top of this post is the one I added to my portfolio. The light was constantly changing, so I took several different pictures of the scene. I had a really hard time both deciding which image was my favorite. Initially, the photo below was the one I added to my portfolio, but I was never really happy with it. The light in the clouds was truly dramatic, but the processed image looks a bit "over-cooked." The other image was captured only 2 minutes earlier that this one, but the light in the clouds was much less intense. Usually, I would definitely go for the image with more drama in the light; this time it just seems to be too much. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Glowing Sunset on the West Peak55 mm, 1/15 sec, f/11, ISO 100

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado Cuchara La Veta Spanish Peaks Wahatoya West Spanish Peak dike sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/2/west-peak-fall Sat, 27 Feb 2016 01:00:53 GMT
Wahatoya Trail Waterfall https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/2/wahatoya-trail-waterfall March 2017 Update

If you found this photo because you read that Forrest Fenn's treasure was buried beneath the rocks at this waterfall, then please know that I have no idea what that person is talking about and I certainly have not found any treasure. Good hunting! Wahatoya Creek Waterfall35 mm, 2.5 sec, f/7.1, ISO 100 The Wahatoya Trail is our favorite place to hike in the Cuchara/La Veta area. The trail starts at the end of the Wahatoya Camps, aka "Little Kansas," and follows Wahatoya Creek up the valley between the Spanish Peaks. Legend has it that the Utes considered this area to be the Garden of Eden, and it is easy to believe that this trail will lead you there. This small waterfall is found only a short distance from the trailhead, but there are many more wonderful spots all along the trail. I'll share some more photos along the trail in a future blog post.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado Huerfano La Veta Spanish Peaks Wahatoya Wahatoya Creek photography https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/2/wahatoya-trail-waterfall Fri, 12 Feb 2016 16:28:58 GMT
San Luis Desolation https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/2/san-luis-desolation Abandoned House, San Luis Valley18 mm, 1/6 sec, f/11, ISO 100 The night before Thanksgiving we went over to the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool near Hooper or, as Claire calls it, the Hopper Pool. This old deserted shack is about half a mile south of the dirt road that heads to the pool. It caught my eye because I had recently been looking at some of Aaron Groen's work (www.homegroenphotography.com) after hearing him mentioned on ImprovePhotography's Tripod podcast. A lot of Aaron's work features abandoned houses and barns on the prairies of South Dakota set against a brooding sky at sunset or photographed at night under the Milky Way. I really like the style and mood of his photos and wanted to try something similar.

Blanca Massif and Sagebrush75 mm, 1/13 sec, f/10, ISO 100 I left the girls at the pool around 4:15 and drove back over to the shack to scout around and get the camera set up before sunset. The wind was absolutely howling and the temperature dropped quickly as the light faded. To top it off, there were heavy clouds over the west side of the valley blocking the sunset, so the sky was really disappointing. I moved around and got a few shots of the old house from various angles, then I packed it up as soon as the light faded. 

Mt. Zwischen above the Great Sand Dunes200 mm, 1/3 sec, f/11, ISO 100 When I first reviewed the images, I didn't bother processing any of them because they didn't look promising. But I've been working on post-processing technique the last couple of months (learning the tricks of the "digital darkroom" as they say), and I decided to give a few of these shots another look. I'm glad I held off on deleting these images because the top photo in this post has become one of my favorites. The sky certainly could have held more drama, but I think the more subtle colors in the clouds complement the loneliness of the old house. But I'll definitely be visiting this spot again to try to catch a more intense sky.

Tangled Barbed Wire Fence, San Luis Valley40 mm, 1/20 sec, f/9, ISO 100 If you like this type of photography, be sure to check out Aaron Groen's portfolio at www.homegroenphotography.com.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado San Luis Sangre de Cristo sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2016/2/san-luis-desolation Tue, 02 Feb 2016 15:15:00 GMT
Cuchara by Moonlight https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/11/cuchara-by-moonlight I have been wanting to try capturing some images under moonlight, and last night was the perfect opportunity. It was the night before the full moon, the skies were completely clear, and the temperature was in the mid-30s with almost no wind. I headed down toward La Veta to my favorite view of the Cuchara Valley and Culebra Range. I moved around quite a bit and tried using a wide-angle lens to get more stars, but I settled on using the 35 mm. The image below was from about the fifth different spot I shot from and is my favorite image from the night. I love the contrast of the snow-covered mountains between the dark forest and sky, and the stars almost look like falling snowflakes.

Moonlit Cuchara Valley35 mm, 10 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800 This was my first attempt at capturing moonlit landscapes, and I was fooled by the LCD on the camera and the darkness and underexposed by quite a bit. This photo is a 10 second exposure, but probably should have been 40 to 60 seconds. When I reviewed the images in the field, the whole scene was bright, but at home on the computer all of my images were very dark. I should have been looking at the histogram on the camera and not the preview image-lesson learned. On the other hand, the stars look great because of the short exposure time. If I had taken a longer exposure, the stars would have turned into short streaks, and I would have needed to create a composite of 2 images to have the stars look good.

After about 2 hours of walking around ans exploring by moonlight, I was getting cold and decided to head back home. But the view of Yellow Pine Ranch with the ski area and Trinchera as a backdrop was too good, so I stopped again.

Yellow Pine Ranch35 mm, 10 sec, f/6.3, ISO 400

Seeing the lit houses at Yellow Pine made me think it would be nice to get a similar shot of the village from above, so I stopped again at Lubbock Hill hoping I could see the lights on the Dog Bar and Timbers. Unfortunately, there's not a good view of the village from above on that road (and the lights weren't on anyway) so I didn't get that picture. But I noticed some aspens glowing in the moonlight and snapped a few more images before going home.

Aspens14 mm, 10 sec, f/4, ISO 400

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado Cuchara Devil's Staircase La Veta Trinchera Yellow Pine moonlight photography https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/11/cuchara-by-moonlight Wed, 25 Nov 2015 05:40:26 GMT
Saved by Black and White https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/11/saved-by-black-and-white The iconic West Spanish Peak35 mm, 1/100 sec, f/9.0

Sometimes photography is a game of chance. You scope out a good location, load up your equipment, head out for sunset, and wait for the light show. If you're lucky, the light and clouds intersect with the landscape and you get to see, and hopefully capture, something truly amazing. Other times, it just doesn't happen. That's what happened to me on this evening in the Cuchara Valley for Spring Break 2015. I wanted to get a vivid shot of pink or orange alpenglow on the snow on the West Spanish Peak, hopefully with some nice clouds behind the mountain to catch the golden light. Instead, the clouds vanished as the sun went down, and the mountain was lit up with yellow light. It was a beautiful scene in person, but makes for a pretty boring photograph (the image below was my best attempt at creating something in color-not very exciting, right?).

I had captured close to 50 frames of the mountain that evening while hoping that the light would magically transform as the sun dipped further below the mountains to the west. I was ready to delete the lot of them, but them I came across some truly stunning black and white photographs of snow-covered mountains with the clear blue sky rendered almost black in the background. I decided to try out something similar on this image and was stunned with the results. Over time, this is becoming one of my favorite images. To me, the West Spanish Peak is too imposing to really be beautiful in a photograph of the mountain by itself. I think the best images typically show the mountain wrapped in clouds or as a backdrop to a lake or aspen grove. But in black in white, lit up by the sunlight streaming in from the west, it seems to take on an iconic, majestic character.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Colorado Cuchara La Veta Spanish Peaks West Spanish Peak photography https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/11/saved-by-black-and-white Mon, 09 Nov 2015 15:00:00 GMT
Making a Dramatic Photo https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/11/making-a-good-photo Burning clouds over the Cuchara Valley.Captured with Sony A58 and processed using Adobe Lightroom CC 2015. City Girl posted one of my sunset pictures from last weekend on the Cuchara Foundation page today, and someone asked about the kind of camera that I use. The short answer is that I use a Sony A58, but the camera is only part of the real answer. So I wanted to explain in a little more detail how I get my shots in the field and "develop" them at home.

The most important part of getting a good photo is to be there. In fact, I think this is about 95% of the process. As a photographer, you have to pick the location where you want to shoot, be there at the right time, and be ready for whatever the light presents. Sometimes you get lucky and the land, light, and sky present something spectacular; sometimes you just get to enjoy being outdoors (there's really no downside, is there?) When I shot this particular picture, I was in a location and set up to shoot the West Spanish Peak (and got this). After the sun went behind the mountains behind me, I turned around and saw the clouds over the mountains lit on fire from below. While the clouds were beautiful, I could not get a good composition from where I had been standing. I walked down the road a ways and was able to get this shot just before the light faded.

Since it was after sunset, I had to use a tripod to get the shutter speed of 1/8 second at f/11 and keep the ISO at 100 for best image quality. I zoomed to 75 mm for this shot to fill the frame with the most interesting part of the light in the clouds. However, the image that came out of the camera (shown below) really lacks the drama of the final image.

Undeveloped photo from the camera.This image lacks the drama in the clouds and the foreground is too dark.

In the image above, the foreground is really dark, and the light in the clouds is missing the color and vibrancy that I saw. This is because the camera is trying to balance the exposure of the entire scene. Even though the sun had already set behind the mountains, the sky was still much brighter than the land. Since the camera tries to process the whole scene, the sky ends up looking washed out and the landscape is too dark. I could have lowered the exposure to capture more of the drama in the sky, but the foreground would have been totally black.

Fortunately, digital photographers can post-process images on the computer to make adjustments to our photos just as film photographers can manipulate their exposures in the darkroom. To me, this is not "Photoshopping" the image. For this photo, I increased the exposure on the foreground, darkened the clouds, and brightened the glow in the clouds to bring out the colors and the drama. The final image looks a lot closer to what I remember seeing than what I downloaded from the camera.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Cuchara photography sunset https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/11/making-a-good-photo Sun, 01 Nov 2015 21:29:43 GMT
Milky Way Over Cuchara Valley https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/10/milky-way-over-cuchara-valley Mid-October is a great time to view the Milky Way in Cuchara. The sun sets earlier in the evening, the skies are typically clear with fall weather, and the Milky Way is directly above the southern horizon as soon as darkness sets in. I wanted to try to get a good Milky Way photo during the summer, but the Milky Way doesn't get this high in the sky until about 2:00am and I never made it out. When we were in Cuchara for the Bear Fair in mid-October, the weather was perfect to give it a try.

The photo at the right is a composite of two images taken 40 minutes apart. The foreground is a 20-second exposure taken just before dark. The sky is a 25-second exposure taken 40 minutes later when the sky was fully dark.

The photo below was taken the following evening at Yellow Pine Ranch. It is a single 20-second exposure with the Milky Way visible in the sky and reflected in the pond. 

Both photos were taken with the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens on the Sony A58.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Cuchara Devil's Staircase Milky Way https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/10/milky-way-over-cuchara-valley Wed, 14 Oct 2015 23:20:00 GMT
Upper Huerfano Trailhead https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/10/upper-huerfanotrailhead Perspective24 mm, 1/100 sec, f/11

This is one of my favorite photos from the summer of 2014. Our family spent the day driving to the trailhead in the Jeep with beautiful scenery the whole way there from Cuchara. After crossing over La Veta Pass on Hwy 160, we took Pass Creek Road into the Huerfano River valley. We stopped to explore the ghost mining town of Redwing, then headed up the very rough road towards the Upper Huerfano Trailhead. It took us a lot longer than we anticipated to get there (did I mention that it is a ROUGH road?), but the drive is worth the effort. I took this photo just after we left the trailhead where the trail passes through this meadow with a spectacular view of Mount Blanca and the Iron Nipple. I got a second photo after the girls had disappeared back into the trees, but I like this one a lot better because of the sense of scale and excitement that they bring to the scene. It was too late in the day for us to hike very far up the trail. We haven't made it back to this trail yet, but we are definitely going back.

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jnstovall@outlook.com (Cuchara Valley Landscapes) Iron Nipple Lily Lake Trail Mount Blanca Upper Huerfano https://www.cuchara.photography/blog/2015/10/upper-huerfanotrailhead Thu, 08 Oct 2015 14:54:05 GMT