Pattern Noise in new Fujifilm GFX100

Clean, smooth tones are one of the hallmarks of an extraordinary print. Particularly in landscape photos, smooth tones in skies are essential. Pattern noise in a digital sensor can destroy those smooth tones, and there is no post processing trick to remove it. So I’m really discouraged to see Lloyd Chambers’ report that the new Fujifilm GFX100 is having problems with this due to the inclusion of Phase Detect Auto Focus pixels on the sensor. Check it out at:

Fujifilm GFX100: those PDAF Pixels Make Me Wish I Could have a GFX100 Without Them

I hope Fuji can find a fix for this because it could be a amazing camera for landscape photography with new 4×5 quality.

It seems to be limited to the new 100MP camera. I have a couple clients using the 50MP Fuji and haven’t seen or heard of in in those cameras. The 50MP cameras are excellent, and make beautifully detailed prints.

We Choose To Go To The Moon…

I’m pretty excited about the 50th anniversary today of Neil and Buzz taking those first steps on the moon ,so I want to share some of my photos of the space program. 

I grew up vacationing in Cocoa Beach, right next to the launch site of Apollo 11. Some of my earliest memories are of visiting Kennedy Space Center and seeing the rockets at the visitors center. It’s always given me a sense of being able to touch history to visit there, and made what I saw in childhood picture books “real.” 

That fascination has carried over into adult hood. For about a decade, I’ve been working on a project to capture the rockets and other artifacts of spaceflight with the expressive qualities and clarity that is possible in a fine art photograph. 

The anniversary celebrations today seem  an opportune time to share some of this work with a little more context.  I hope you enjoy it and that it captures some of the wonder of that amazing adventure we started so many years ago. 

First stage of the Saturn V rocket that took us to the moon with its enormous F1 engines.
Launch Pad 39A where Apollo 11 launched from on July 16, 1969.
Forest of Technology, F1 Engines, Saturn V S-IC.
Apollo Command and Service Module.

Sony A7RIV – Megapixel Size Chart

How much print resolution will you gain using the new Sony A7RIV? This chart will give you an idea. Print height and width are listed across the top, and the columns show the ppi file possible from a specific megapixel sensor.

A quick look shows us The 61MP sensor of the Sony A7RIV lets you make a 20×30 with 316.8 ppi of data, a 51 ppi increase over a 42MP sensor at 265.8 ppi, or about a 19% increase. Both will make exceptional 20×30 prints, but the 61MP sensor will resolve more fine detail.

Spots Left for July 13 Workshop

A few spots left for my printmaking workshop this weekend if you waited till the last minute. Sign up and learn how to make your prints with more depth, more tonality, and more richness. Watching youtube just shows you where the controls are, I’ll show you want to do with them to make your prints sing!  

Speaking with Light – The Essence of Photography

My landscape photographs are often about light as much as they are about the subject. Light has a mystery, a majesty, and a power all its own that captivates me. When I go out to photograph, more than anything else, I’m looking for light.

I’ve made this short film to express how light inspires me. I hope it also inspires you to look for the beauty found in light!

Printing is a Process

I’ve been working on client work the last two weeks, along with a presentation and a workshop, so posting has slowed, but I wanted to share some thoughts briefly from my morning printing session today.

Making museum prints is truly a process. Yesterday I fought a difficult client file for an hour trying to find what direction it would go in. The nature of the scene was such that I had to work with it, and I could only exert so much of my will upon it before I departed from the classic photographic look I want to give this client. I tried about three different approaches, and suffered through 2GB photoshop files saving, multiple variations on RAW settings, masks and more. By the end of the session I was mentally tapped, and it’s important to realize that expressing yourself through a print is often a mentally taxing process. I left the process frustrated that I had not achieved what I somewhere deep inside knew was possible. But I was tapped and had nothing else to give it. So I sent a jpeg to the client and closed up shop for the day.

The client gave me a thumbs up last night, but this morning I wanted to revisit the file to make sure that in the rough sketch approach I often use on first attempts at a print, I could actually refine my masks into a final print. Starting with fresh eyes, some good music playing, and a handful of chocolate covered coffee beans, I started looking at the file, and in the moment of clarity a nights sleep created, it became obvious what was missing. Well, actually it was the thought that “wow, those snow fields really look gray…man that is going to look ugly. What if I just made the snow brighter but left the rest of the image the same?” A quick color range mask isolated the snowfields, a curve brightened them, and like magic the whole print came alive in a way I could achieve the day before. That dissatisfaction from the day before vanished instantly, and the print became something that achieved both my personal expectations, and what I wanted to deliver for the client.

That kind of process is pretty typical when working. Making a beautiful print doesn’t always happen all at once. It’s a process, with many layers. Each time you peel one layer, more becomes apparent. Its a series of refinements, frustrations, insights, successes, disappointments, and sometimes victory. It often takes time, a fresh perspective. Brute force only takes so much. I’m reminded of the quote “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” It’s a process, and only by continuing to chip away at it do you ever get to a resolution.

Settings That Work

Printed a lovely 24×36 for a client today. I’ve printed the photo before, but not to this large size, so I looked up the settings to build my mental reference library of what settings produce what result. I though it would be valuable to share a real world example of what I think worked to make a gallery quality wildlife photography print.

Camera was a Nikon D850 with a 80-200 lens used at 150mm. Exposure was at f/5 at ISO 640. The results are what I’d expect from a medium format camera using 100 ISO film. Print was made from a ~223 ppi file at the output size. It’s a perfect example of how large prints still look fantastic below 300 dpi. I was also surprised with how much the lens resolved with the high resolution sensor of the D850. It’s exciting to see how the D850 is helping photographers raise the bar on wildlife photography.

I can’t say enough how striking it was, and the effect it had on me. Most important to the photo was the subject, the light, and the moment captured, but when you throw in a high res capture, the effect is a stunning piece.

Sony A7RII Miscellaneous Information

I made the switch to mirrorless in late 2018 with the Sony A7RII. Sony had given me a loner camera a year earlier that let me know that the quality was at least equal to my previous Nikon D810. I had also spent over a year with an a5000 as a every day carry camera that has gone everywhere with me, and made me very comfortable with the Sony image quality. The ability to put together a very light 42mp camera kit with high quality lenses for hiking and backpacking is what tipped me over to Sony.

I am really happy with my choice, which came down to image quality first, high quality light-weight lenses, and overall compact form.

This page is not meant to be a complete review, but a place to hold important reference information and some miscellaneous info for A7RII users or perspective users.

Manuals
In true quirky Sony fashion, the most detailed “manual” is not the manual but a separate document called the “Help Guide” which is available as a website or a downloadable PDF.

E-Mount Lenses
Spreadsheet of select E-mount lenses assembled to find lightest weight options. Really good lenses tend to be heavy, but for backpacking some quality sacrifices are acceptable. The question is, do I carry three average lenses that are light, or just one decent zoom? Sigma has teased Art quality lenses in a lighter form factor which would be my preference. My landscape work is mostly at f/11 anyway, and a f/4 or f/5.6 might be a good fit for street photography too.

Wikipedia article on E-Mount lenses – list of lenses, adapters, other interesting stuff.

Annoyances
-No intervalometer
-Batteries not keyed to prevent wrong way insertion
-Lens release on opposite side of Nikon/Canon
-Lens index mark location on flat instead of outside of lens mount
-Direction of lens rotation opposite of Nikon
(This lens stuff really annoys me as a 30+ year Nikon user. It’s hard to overcome that muscle memory, but even then, the Sony way just seems awkward. Fair or not, it’s my gripe)
-Large RAW file size – Nikon uncompressed NEF are much smaller. Takes up more memory card space, longer transfers, etc
-9 frame RAW buffer – older body with a lower costs comes with trade offs – works for landscape photography, but is still noticeable when doing brackets
– small grip size, feature and bug, works great for my normal landscape/fine art stuff, but shooting a multi hour event with heavy glass really begs for the extended size battery grip.

Updated 4/5/2019

Visualization

Celestial Cascade, Tuolumne River, Yosemite, California
Nikon D810 with Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4
1/45 sec, f/10, ISO 64

Photographs aren’t just about what we see, but about what we feel, what we believe. 

Visualization is one of my most important tools in that lofty goal when I’m trying to “see” and make a photograph.  Put simply, before I even take out the camera, I see in my mind’s eye what I want the final image to look like, and I use that visualization to direct all the creative choices in exposing and processing the photo. 

This may seem unimportant when a digital camera can give us a instant preview after we click the shutter, but visualization goes beyond that. That little camera LCD screen can’t show us all the possible processing choices we might make, nor can it match the range and depth of a final print. The visualization a skilled photographer makes goes way beyond what the camera can display. 

I find this to be particularly true in black and white, and by learning to visualize better, it opens our eyes to new possibilities. It can enable us to “see” better, both what is in front of the camera, and what is in the mind of the photographer. 

Take for example the photograph above, Celestial Cascade, Tuolumne River, Yosemite, California.   

Since this photograph is in black and white, what you see above is not what my eye saw. To the naked eye, it looked like this:

As part of a short hike with my family, we stopped to enjoy a favorite section of river and the coolness of this mountain stream. As my kids played with the rocks and waded, I had a few moments of quiet. The time of day didn’t seem conductive to making photographs, with high sun and contrasty light. But as I watched the water and contemplated the beauty of the scene, I found myself enjoying the patterns made as the water surged under the bridge and built into a wave, with the patterns of white foam it produced, and the play of sunlight reflecting as a million stars on the ever changing surface. The patterns reminded me of my friend David Ashcraft’s photograph “Universe Expanding”, and I knew if I just looked more deeply, I could express what I was seeing and feeling. I wanted to turn this little patch of the Tuolumne river into a proxy for the the infinite sea of stars in the night sky, and into the deeper realities of that infinite nature for which words are hard for me to find. 

At this point, my camera is still in the bag, but my mind is fully awake. The color was not interesting to me, so I decided that this should be in black and white. Once I switched that switch in my mind, things started to become clearer. I wanted the photograph to focus on the water and the patterns of sunlight and motion. Contrast would let me do that, and then all of a sudden, I saw in my mind exactly what I wanted the print to look like. It was at that moment that I went for the camera bag, and worked through the settings that I thought would give me what I saw in my minds eye. I was without a tripod and trying to work more freely, so I had to work within the shutter speeds that would let me hand hold the camera. I wanted some blurring of the water, but the light was so bright that even at ISO 64 and f/10 I was still at 1/45 of a second, but that happened to work out well for what I wanted to show. 

The thing about visualization is that it makes processing easier to a degree because you already know the look you want before you even open the file. That visualization guides your steps and choices of tools. 

RAW processing was pretty minimal. I just brought down the exposure and the highlights a little to try and hold detail in the foamy water. 

The Photoshop adjustments are all global changes. First I used Channel Mixer to convert the image to black & white using the red channel, as I liked how it allowed some of the shapes of the underlying rocks to come through. 

Then I added a simple one point curve that darkened the image overall, but by the placement of the point, biased that darkening to the shadows and midtones. This is one of the reasons I really like curves. They give me the instantaneous ability to exercise very precise control over how and where changes to density and contrast is applied. Instead of the linear “more or less” of a slider, I can move the points in both the x and y dimensions, as well as decide how many points to use. Points create inflection points that change how the curve works up and down slope, and those inflections are where I find the control to achieve what I envision. 

The file shows I played with a second curve as I looked at some alternative tonal relationships, but rejected that for my original curve. 

I want to draw attention to how simple this was to process. A single frame camera exposure, two minor moves in RAW, a simple conversion to black and white, and one curve with one point. This is an exercise in working with the materials, and seeing “through” them to how they can work at their most fundamental level. I’m not opposed to greater complexity in processing, but the more you work “with” the process, the easier making a photograph can become and the more you free your vision. 

My final step for this photo was cropping. Cropping is a creative decision for me, and I usually play with crops on every photographI make in attempt to find the composition that best draws attention to the subject. The goal is to eliminate as much distracting information as possible. Also, I’m not fond of the 2:3 ration, and I prefer the more squarish 4:5, and as well as the 1:1 square. I often find the 2:3 just includes too much and makes it hard to create the tension I like in a composition. 

For this photograph I settled on a 1:1 square crop, which I mark using the cyan “guide” lines, which are saved in the file so I know how to crop the Master File when making targeted files for screen or printing. In many things, Photoshop provides multiple paths to the same solution. I’ve been using this for crops since before Photoshop added a way to preserve crops, so it’s what works for me. 

The end result is something I wanted to say, but for which I had no words. Through visualization and applying the craft of photography, I was able to give voice to that vision, and in this case, the result is an expression of something I felt, more than what I saw before the camera.

Buying A Printer

Buying a printer can be a big decision and a significant investment. I’m posting these quick thoughts from an email with a client today to start your brain thinking about some of the decision points, and I hope to expand this into a full article in the future.

To buy a printer or not is a big question. It comes down to a couple things:

1. will it make you money?

2. will it really save you money?

3. Is the cost inconsequential compared to the convenience? 

4. Will it give you control you can’t get with a lab?

5. Do you need the faster turnaround times. 

A printer is like getting a dog, it has needs (ink, paper, maintenance, profile making/testing) that cost money and will always be there, and you need to take care of it. Unless you print a lot, the total cost of ownership is going to be close to just sending out, but if you want to print a lot, it makes those individual prints less expensive.

At the $400 price point, a printer can be more easily justified. Once you get to the $1,000 17×22 printers, you have to be printing enough to make it work out.

Printers should be viewed as consumable/disposable items, as painful as that sounds. They are made to work for a couple years, not forever, and the manufacturers expect you to upgrade. Do not look at it as a long term investment. It’s not like buying a car, it’s like buying tires, you expect them to wear out. 

Thoughts or experiences? Share them in the comments!