Friday, December 26, 2008

Very nice post about LR/enfuse

Steve Paxton wrote an excellent post on LR/enfuse on Inside Lightroom. Check it out. As I wrote before, Enfuse is the only HDR tool that, using the default settings, gives acceptable results. If you have been disappointed with, or horrified by the ugly blobby images that most tools generate (see for example the results in this otherwise good tutorial - no accounting for taste though - you might love that style), check out the excellent Lightroom plugin LR/enfuse that implements enfuse for Lightroom, and that Steve discusses.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New post at inside Lightroom

I wrote a new post at inside Lightroom about the inner rewards of landscape photography. Check it out. I talk about a evening photohike a little while ago on an evening that it was -19F (-30C) where I was. Wonderful evening and wonderful hike. Here is an example image:

Check out the post and check out the hike images. There is a flickr set of the same place here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Outdoor Photographer

I noted previously that I got my image among the finalists in an outdoor photographer contest. I also received my copy of this magazine a few days ago. I always enjoy the magazine, especially the photographer's columns. It is however, funny to see that it is extremely rare for the cover photograph to be made by any of the cameras, lenses, etc. that the magazine endorses. This month for example had an outstanding cover done by the late Galen Rowell. He made the picture using a Nikkormatt FTN, a standard 35 mm lens and 25 ISO film. Funny how much this contrasts with the banners superimposed on the photograph about the "best DSLRs for true B&W" and "maximum quality" from your digital camera. Galen Rowell's photo is truly superb showing that indeed it is the photographer that matters instead of the gear. This is just standard 35-mm film, not even medium or large format.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vote for my image

I got one of my images in the finalists gallery of a outdoor photographer contest. Check it out here. I'd appreciate you checking it out and voting for the image in that gallery that you like (hopefully mine ;-) ).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lightroom 2.2

If you don't know it by now, Lightroom 2.2 has been released. This mainly pulls in new camera support but it also fixes several major bugs. One of them is the bad scaling bug that I have talked about many times before. Funnily enough, the release notes were clearly written by marketing types as the sentence mentioning that this was fixed doesn't address the bug at all and makes it sound like it was hardly a problem:

"Print Sharpening produced edge artifacts in certain conditions"

The bug had precisely nothing to do with print sharpening. I am sure it could be severely exacerbated by sharpening but it had little to do with it. It even manifested upon cropping in the Lightroom interface! Anyway, I am very happy that this was fixed anyway.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Film vs digital?

Saw this on a Dutch photography blog. A comparison by a British technology show of absolutely giant blowups of studio shot images from a D700 and A F4 using the same lens. Can you guess which one won? Now guess when you know they used ISO 400 film. While interesting and they are certainly correct that in this comparison the digital camera will be the clear winner, if you're a landscape photographer and you plop a good ISO 50 film into any old film 35 mm SLR, you will not match it with a D700. You'll need a 25 MP DSLR to match the resolution of Velvia 50 for 35 mm technology for example.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Camera profiles

I wrote a little piece for inside Lightroom on the final release of the camera profiles. Check it out here. I gave some examples on how the camera-matching profiles can often give you very good starting points for developing your images. Here is another example. This is a shot I never looked much at from Monument valley. It was quite hazy and my camera's command dial was shot because of a car incident the previous day. The ACR default rendering is quite boring and the colors are just completely weird explaining why I never paid much attention to this image. Nothing like what I saw over there. Hover over the text links to see the result of different profiles applied to this image. It sometimes takes a little time for the images to load initially, so be patient.

ACR 4.4 (the default profile for the D50)

camera standard

camera neutral

camera portrait

camera landscape

camera vivid

camera vivid with some optimizations

The last version shows the result of some minor changes to the development using the vivid profile. Mostly just black level increase and a white balance change to get some more magenta in the sky (as I observed when I was there). Clearly, these profiles are very useful even if you're not as bad of a color junkie as I am.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

High resolution landscapes - new blog post at inside Lightroom

I started blogging at O'Reilly's Inside Lightroom blog. I wrote a rather long post about making high resolution landscapes with a cheap 6MP DSLR. Check it out!. I talk about how I made this image from a bunch of handheld shots.

I linked to a gallery of images made this way in a previous blog post.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Foggy and icy morning

This is last Friday morning. It had frozen very hard the night before and snowed the day before.

The image links to a larger version on smugmug. Check it out in flickr here. In order to not blow out the sun, I created this image from 5 bracketed handheld shots combined using enfuse and did a small amount of brightness/contrast and curve work in Lightroom afterwards.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Clear creek near Golden in snow

Click for bigger version:

Link to flickr page for this image.

Fixed - bad scaling in ACR/Lightroom

Just an update on the problems with scaling in Lightroom that I hammered on for a while on my blog. See for example this post and this post. If you have CS4, install ACR 5.2 and you'll see that the scaling problem has been fixed. These improvements will carry over into LR 2.2 when it comes out later this month. Eric Chan from Adobe, who also had a lot to do with the superb new camera-matching profiles, apparently is in large part responsible for these improvements and he used many example images from me and many other people to test the updated algorithms. Great job. When LR 2.2 comes out, this will remove my number one problem with Lightroom. I'm as happy as a tornado in a trailer park, to use a strange Texas colloquialism.

Images from the Canon 5D mk II

Photography blog has a review of the 5D mk II that includes RAW and jpeg samples. Check them out. As I said before, if you want image quality, especially for landscapes, this is a great camera and it is borne out by the images. You can load the RAW into Lightroom and Aperture by using Adobe's free DNG converter to convert them to CR2, or by using ACR 5.2 in PS CS4. The detail is very very good, and at least on par with the D3x sample images posted by Nikon. It remains to be seen if RAW from the D3x also results in better detail than the jpegs they posted. Of course, the D3x is going to be a better camera from everything but image quality such as build, autofocus (which is weak in the 5D) and other factors. A landscape photographer, however should care very little about those, but should care about real resolution, color rendition and weight where the 5D mk II scores very well.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The D3x is out

Long a rumor, now it's real. Nikon released the D3x, a 24 MP monster in a D3 body. There are some very nice sample images here and some other ones in a annoying and crappy flash interface here - gorgeous images though. Gorgeous detail and beautiful color. However, the price of $8k! makes it completely irrelevant for me. If you're a commercial studio photographer then of course this is great, but perhaps offers not that much different from medium format digital except for the use of all your nikon lenses. If you're a landscape photographer, you have to be super rich or super successful to afford this and then you'll still get far better quality using large format analog which will set you back far less. Or go for the Canon 5D mk II, which offers basically the same quality (for landscapes) in a much smaller package. Let's hope Nikon comes out with a D700x to compete with that using the same sensor as in the D3X. The D3x is a monster. A beautiful one, but a monster nevertheless.

Update: Ken Rockwell writes "... Nikon dared ask $8,000 for a $5,500 camera that is the same thing as the $4,200 D3.", and "The D3X is Nikon's greatest camera ever; it's just not worth $8,000, except to turkeys." He is absolutely right. Don't bite at this price. You can get the same quality using Velvia 50 in any old 35 mm Nikon you can get for $50 on craigslist if you own a good scanner or use a good scanning service.

Update II. Wonderful analysis by Thom Hogan here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adobe camera RAW and DNG converter update

Adobe has released the 5.2 update for camera RAW (only works in CS4) and an update for DNG converter. Contrary to what it says on the camera raw download webpage, the camera RAW and DNG converter are now separate installers (use the popup to find them or use the links further in my post), which is a good idea. If you have Lightroom 2.1 and CS3, only get the DNG converter installer. If you have LR 2.1 and CS4 install both. The separate DNG converter installer is here for Mac and Windows. Installing DNG converter will also give you the final release version of Adobe's new camera matching profiles. What's great about DNG converter is that it will allow you to convert RAW files from cameras not currently supported (at least until December) in Lightroom 2.1 to dng such as the Canon G10 and the 5D mk II. You can load the dng files in LR 2.1 and they will be fully supported.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gallery of stitched images

I put together a quick gallery of images that I stitched from multiple images from simple DSLRs to get a high resolution landscape for an upcoming howto article. The gallery can be found here. Enjoy!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Very interesting collection of clips on the economic crisis

Found this on Salon's excellent "How the world works blog". It's a collection of characteristically clueless comments from Fox talking heads sparring with a tireless and prescient Peter Schiff. It is very instructive especially with what should be obvious to everybody by now. I started reading about this impending crash many years ago. Partly because of HTWW but the signs were obvious quite a while ago. Think about this when you listen to any commentator on TV but especially the FOX folks. This also reminds me of an excellent treatise on the failed ideology of supply-side economics in the book "the night is large" by Martin Gardner. Highly recommended if you want to understand many of the current debates on tax policy and such.

New tool for pixelpeepers

There is an interesting new website called dxomark that has a very comprehensive database of measurements on the performance of different digital cameras. This allow you to do quantitative comparisons between cameras from different manufacturers. Of course, you have to take these things with a grain of salt as invariably you'll find that the most expensive camera is by far the best in these measurements considering noise at high ISO, dynamic range and such. However, if you go out in the field and shoot an image at ISO 100 of a landscape with the camera you would not see any difference to your much cheaper one. And of course, if in such a situation you would shoot using a 4x5 camera with ISO 50 velvia or so, you would get far higher quality images than even the most expensive Canon 1Ds MkIII or Nikon D3. That said, I was curious for a while about what the actual IQ difference is between my D300 and the very yummy D700. Well, here it is. One example is the signal to noise ratio:

which is a full 4 dB better for the D700 at 200 nominal ISO, which corresponds to over a factor of 2 more noise in the D300. This certainly squares with my observation of noise at low ISOs in the D300. If on the DxOmark website, you roll your mouse over the scalebar on the right, you will see what this means for the image. Giving a very similar image to my examples.
Here is the dynamic range:

As you can see, apart from the base ISO, the dynamic range of the D700 is more than a stop better at every setting. That is impressive!

Now if any of this matters to you enough to spend thousands of bucks extra depends on your priorities. I wish I had the financial means to get a D700 and full-frame lenses but right now it is just lusting. I wish it had better resolution though, as from everything I have seen, the D700 gives exactly the same sharpness as a D300. The full-frame advantage doesn't hold up at all in that parameter. For that, use a 5D mkII, or a film camera I guess.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Evening in London

I recently spent an afternoon and evening in London coming back from a conference. I shot a few pictures that are best characterized as "grabshots". As always, London was rainy and cloudy. The links go to flickr pages where you can see bigger versions. Here is a typical wet street:


Around the corner from Imperial college I believe. Which is around the corner from the Royal Albert hall.

Royal Albert hall

I like the color in both. Here is the same wet street

London wet sunset

iPhone at Waterloo station
iPhone rising at Waterloo

The old Vic, one of many theaters in London
The old Vic

No nightly trash pickup:
London street scene

Nelson looking at the moon
Nelson and the moon

Reflection in the water at the river Thames
Thames river reflection

The London eye
The London eye at night

Panorama on the river Thames. 8 or so images stitched together.
Thames panorama

Bridge light and reflections in my lens
Bridge light

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Very interesting new camera(s) from Red

See here for the new RED DSMC system. Far out of my budget, but revolutionary for what it can do. Enormous sensors, still capability that is no compromise and amazing video. These are going to be big!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Some bikeride pictures

Just a few pictures from a recent sunset bikeride. Nothing special.

Golden avenue
Golden avenue



My bike

Streamer sunset
Sunset streamer

Another reason why the US made the right choice

As if we needed another reason. Obama set up this extraordinary website detailing the transition. It's very well done. Watch his acceptance speech too, which is superb. The part about the 100+ years lady that went from not being allowed to vote for multiple reasons to touching her finger to a screen to cast a ballot is fantastic. I am a pro-democracy nut and whenever I am allowed to vote for anything I do. I do agree with Churchill's many remarks about democracy - paraphrased: "Democracy is the worst political system in the world - safe for all the other ones." On the other hand, he also made the great remark "The best argument against democracy is five minutes with the average voter." Indeed Bush was somehow reelected four years ago. the first time around OK, but reelect the worst president of modern times?

Although I don't like to talk politics in this place (or in general), I would like to say that this election represents a sea change and a much-needed return to reason instead of the highly dogmatic thinking that marked the last 8 years - a dark period for the US and the world for sure. Following the election being streamed live over the internet into our hospital room where we were recovering from the recent birth was an amazing experience of renewal. The moment NPR started calling the election brought tears to my eyes. This country has turned a new page in many ways and has returned to being that shining beacon. Lastly, I would like to say that the concession speech by McCain was superb. If only that McCain had shown up during the election!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eric Larsen

I recently met a very inspiring figure, polar explorer Eric Larsen. He gave a talk at my work and I spoke to him afterwards. This guy, together with a friend, did the first ever summer expedition to the North Pole and they did it using skies and canoes. One of the reasons was to show how much open water there is on the North Pole and to draw attention to the plight of polar bears. Fittingly they did not see a single polar bear until they got to the actual North Pole leading to some scary moments as they were waiting for the Russian helicopter that was picking them up. An interesting part of his talk was all the excellent photography of which you can see a little bit on his site. Eric insisted on dragging a DSLR along and they charged their batteries every night using solar cells (in summer the sun shines at night on the pole). You think of the arctic sea and the pole as just a big frozen lake, but it is quite convoluted with lots of pushed up ice and other obstacles such as big open rivers. An impressive feat to cross this for sure. Now Eric is gearing up to do a one-year trip visiting the three extremes: The South pole, the North Pole and Everest. See his website on that expedition. The goal is to highlight Global warming by visiting all the coldest places on this world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lightroom 2.1

Yeah! Adobe put out the final version of Lightroom 2.1. Mac version here. Windows version here. This update fixes many bugs that were present in 2.0 and is definitely worth it. Some things were already fixed in 2.1 RC, but this introduces some extra fixes and it's quite a bit faster than 2.1 RC letalone 2.0.
At the same time, Adobe released beta 2 of the camera matching profiles. These profiles are superb and they fixed some small issues in the highlights and other things. Definitely get them as fast as you can. The profiles are superb.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunrise at Blue lake

Order prints from the gallery here.

Flickr set.

This Saturday morning, I got out of bed before 4am and took off for a hike in the Indian Peaks wilderness area. I had been to this place many years ago and had taken some pictures, one of which is one of my most popular pictures on flickr. The objective this day was to return to the same spot and check out the sunrise. I had checked out Google's awesome Google earth and had seen that contrary to summer, this time of year the rising sun shines straight through the valley. The reason for this gets obvious if you check out the below terrain map from Google maps:

View Larger Map

The object is Blue lake, the lake that is slightly to the left of the middle of the map. The glacial valley leading up to it points slightly south of due east. You reach this point from the Mitchell lake trailhead in the Lake brainard recreation area. From that point it is about a 2.5 mile hike to Blue lake. In summer this trail is spectacular for all its wildflowers. Its also an extremely popular trail because of this and its location right next to the 13er Mount Audubon (strangely called Mt. Autobahn amongst Boulderites). Now I would be doing it in the dark, so I prepared everything the night before and set off at 4 am. At about 5:30 I had reached Lake Brainard. The road from Ward was open just like the lady from the forest service had told me. She had not told me that the road was closed at the lake, adding another 0.6 mile or so to my total hike. Mine was the only car there and I took off hiking. After looking at the "beware of mountain lions" sign (see end of post for a daylight image) at the deserted actual trailhead, I set off on the real trail. The moon was out and I didn't even notice for a long while that the batteries in my headlamp had died. Hiking was easy and following the path too as this is a well-trodden trail. When I started coming up to the moraine that separates the lake from the rest of the valley, I looked back and saw that the sky was an amazing purple and yellow glow from the sun being just below the horizon:

purple haze
Bigger in this link

I reached the lake just before civil twilight (about 6.45 am it would start) and started taking some long exposures of the Boulder I had shot so many years ago with Mount Toll in the background. Here is an example:

Twilight at Blue Lake
Bigger in this link

These colors are very close to what I saw. The water had a purple appearance, the sky sort of steel with a magenta tinge and the mountain had started glowing. Rocks like this were deposited by a glacier that must have sat in this valley a long time ago. The often look like a giant has put them down in random spots. The lake looks so downy because of the long exposure - a fun effect here making it seem even more ethereal.
A few minutes before actual sunrise, the mountain got a slight magenta glow:

Just before dawn
Bigger in this link

After which at dawn, it suddenly turned completely on fire:

Bigger in this link

The color was just absolutely amazing and I shot many images all around (which is why the vantage point on the rock and Toll changes all the time): One minute after dawn it looked like this.

One minute in
Bigger in this link

The appearance of the mountain was rather incongruous with the feeling in my fingers. Now the colors were changing very rapidly. This image was taken 6 minutes after dawn:

Bigger in this link

I shot several panoramas that I'll post some other time. For now, I'll point you to the smugmug gallery from which you can order prints where I put a few of the panoramas already. The flickr set of this trip is here.

I had some breakfast looking into the upcoming sun and noted how quickly the color changed. After just half an hour, the color was very flat and not much was left, so I gave up the plan to go to the upper blue lake and left that plan for next time I go here. My pinching boots (don't know why they suddenly started pinching) might have had something to do with it. Here is an example of the color at that point:

The color has gone

I love the deep blue though.
Going down, I shot some grab shots of the lakes I saw on the way.
Icy lake along the way

Lake Mitchell panorama

At Lake Mitchell, I saw the first other hikers. They were going up to go fishing in Blue Lake. Close to Lake Mitchell is the Mitchell lake trailhead, where I took a picture of the mountain lion sign:


I especially liked advice #1: "Walk in groups and make plenty of noise." Unfortunately, there are not many people I can get to go out this early. The only time I have seen a mountain lion in Colorado was when a few months ago two of them were mating not ten feet from our tents near Durango. The sound they make is like an animal that gets skinned alive. It is absolutely amazing. At the time I had not realized that they were mating and I could not see very well what animal was below, so at time I had thought something was getting killed by the enormous lion on top (it was rather dark and they were in the bushes at the side of the creek we were camping near). One of those experiences you never forget I guess. My daughter and my very young brother and sister had been playing a lot in that creek during the day.

Anyway. After the deserted trailhead, I hiked over the road towards my car and saw Scott, a guy I know from my dayjob as a famous ;-) scientist. He was starting on Mount "Autobahn." At the parking lot, I saw that I now was far from the only car. There must have been over a hundred in the different lots that are at Brainard Lake. Also driving down Brainard Lake road, lots and lots of folks in the ubiquitous (in the Boulder area at least) Toyota SUVs and pickups and Subarus were coming up. Funny that people still had to start while I was done for the day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

subprime/credit crisis

I just listened to two outstanding episodes of the always wonderful NPR radio show "this American Life". They do an outstanding job of explaining the origins of the current credit crisis. Listen to the first episode here and the second episode here. The second episode is also on iTunes as a free podcast. For a humorous take on the crisis watch the below sketch from a while ago:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fall sunset in RMNP

last wednesday, I decided to take off and go shoot some fall color somewhere. I ended up in our awesome Rocky Mountain National Park, where I saw many beautiful Aspen groves such as this one (click for a bigger version and to buy prints ;-) ): Update 10/16/08: There is also a full set on flickr now.

This is with back illumination which brings out the color in the leaves very well and I pulled up the foreground a little using a grad ND filter.

When I got to the park, I realized that I should just hike to a lake that I photographed years and years ago and that on the map looked like it was ideal for sunset photography - Mills lake. It is a short 3 mile hike from the trailhead and I was in time to make it. It was 4:45 when I started and the sun would set around 6:30 pm. On my way there, I saw many people with big photography gear coming down which surprised me. Don't they know that the best light was still to come? And I can tell you it absolutely did. Strangely enough this is a thing I see quite a bit. To get the best light for the better pictures, you need to sacrifice your dinner or breakfast time and often hike in the dark and cold. The Aspen grove I posted above was just a quarter of a mile onto the trail. This scene was a little further on the trail (much better large):

By this time, the trail had become completely empty and I had the place basically to myself.
Getting closer to Glacier gorge, the sun peeked over the edge of the mountains and illuminated some trees in the valley below:

A little later, I came around the corner to a point where 8-years ago or so we had shot our christmas card photo. The moon was rising above the edge of a nearby mountain that was illuminated by the setting sun. Just spectacular I think:

In the forest after this overlook, there was a beautiful waterfall. After the waterfall, you come accross a rock overlooking the valley. I had taken a picture a long time ago in this same spot that you can compare this to.

After taking some pictures of Longs peak being reflected in a little pre-pond to Mills lake, I reached Mills lake still in time for the sunset. At the headwater side of Mills lake there are many trees lodged into the outlet. I had photographed them in winter. This time around I was struck by the superb reflection of the sunlit peaks in the lake and the geometric shapes the tree trunks made. Here is one example:

I also shot a very high resolution version of this that can be seen here.

This long lens image of Longs peak is striking because of the moon and the beautiful color.

At this point, the sun started setting and the colors took on this amazing red tint:

I love how you can see the reflection of the moon in the water and how the submerged logs take on the sunset color.
Now the sun had set mostly completely and I started walking down the trail. I talked a little to two campers that were going to camp just on the other side of the lake and that were hurrying to get there before it became completely dark. A waterfall begged for my attention and turning around, this amazing scene unfolded:

Seeing scenes like this is like a religious experience. The warm feeling wore off just a little when I realized that I was quite a ways off from the trailhead and that it was becoming dark really quickly. Since I hadn't planned on going on a hike, I had not brought my headlamp, so I walked back the three miles in the moonlight.

That's such a long exposure that the moon moved a bit causing the slightly oblong shape. The white dots are stars coming out. The hike back, notwithstanding the dark was beautiful and serene. I had to use my cell phone's light a few times to check the signs at trailsplits and arrived at my car around 8. I love trips like this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interesting new video capabilities in new cameras from Canon and Nikon

two recent cameras, the Nikon D90 and Canon 5D mk II have added high def video capabilities to DSLRs. The D90, a successor to the D80 but now with the image processor of the D300 and up, does 720p at 24 fps, while the full-frame 5D mk II adds 1080p at 30 fps. Here is a piece of video shot with the D90 I found online

Nikon also has lots of video on their D90 website.

On the Canon side, the 5DmkII has far higher resolution and better low-light performance than the D90 for almost 3x the price.

Vincent Laforet (from the obscene amount of gear) has shot a very interesting video showing off the capabilities of the 5D. See it here. The video very effectively shows off the capabilities of the camera. Beautiful stuff. Also superbly deep colors. There is not much story but that is not the point I guess.

These developments are very interesting as they allow very high quality but budget movie shooting with real lenses. Game changers indeed. I don;t think I would buy either of these cameras because of this feature though. On the other hand, I think the 5D mk II is very interesting as a camera for landscapes, but financially this is not a simple thing as I would need a whole new set of lenses too.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dead trees

Some images of burned trees. I like the moodiness in these images. The links go to their flickr pages where you can find a slightly larger version. These were all taken in Mesa Verde National Park where a few years ago there were major destructive fires.

Reaching for the skies

A new hope

futile B&W


It's alive