Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The glow

Intimate landscape in Zion National Park's Taylor Canyon. We were here at sunrise time and the light hitting the canyon walls bathed everything in a red glow.

The glow
The glow.
Nikon D300, 3 images stitched. Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 at 50 mm, f/16, 2.0s, ISO 200

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Swirly - Sunset on lollipop formation in White Pocket, Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-28 mm f/2.8 at 17 mm, f/16, 1/15s, ISO 100

This was taken during a spectacular sunset on the White Pocket formations in the Vermillion Cliffs wilderness. The White pocket is one of the few places where you don't need a permit and I spent overnight here with some good friends photographing the place. There are many pictures of this place on my website and many more that I haven't worked up yet. Truly an extraordinary place with amazing formations on every corner. It is just really hard to reach with a many miles long deep sand road.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

On seas of calm

Sunset on the Great Sand Dunes, April 2015. I got sandblasted quite heavily on top of this dune and even though I was wearing many down layers and a good windshield, I still was colder than I often am on snow laden trips. Nevertheless, sunset on top of the dunes is still very much worth it and I highly recommend you try it if you get a chance.

On seas of calm
On Seas of Calm. Nikon D600. Token 16-28 mm f/2.8 at f/16, 1/5s, ISO 100

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dream Lake October 2007

One of the major advantages of shooting raw is that you can go back later and process using newer processing tools and styles. Certainly in the last 8 years not just the quality of cameras but also the quality of tools has increased tremendously. In 2007, I made my first sunrise trek to Dream Lake and beyond. I have never blogged on those images but have shared a few on my website. However, at the time I was disappointed with the color in many of the images as they came up in Lightroom. I had also taken a few images on Velvia that were much better with respect to color and detail but I lacked a good scanner so I never shared those either. I was testing scanning some film using a viewer and a macro lens on my DSLR and naturally did a comparison with the old 6 megapixel DSLR images. It struck me that those images were all processed using the very old processing engine from Lightroom at that time and at a time Lightroom did not have any camera matching profiles. I simply hit reset, which chooses camera default for me and the most current pressing engine and the images came out looking very similar to the Fuji Velvia scans. Sliding a few sliders and they looked better! I also discovered that I had shot many panoramas for stitching at high resolution that I had never seriously stitched because I didn't like the color. Stitching these gave me better resolution than the Fuji Velvia scans. I will share a few of these old, new images below. As always click on the images to see them bigger and two order prints.

The red dawn
"Red Dawn". Nikon D50. Stitched from 3 images each at 18mm Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, f/8.0 6.0s
This was just before dawn. The mountain was glowing quite outerwordly as you can see.

Purple at sunrise
Purple sunrise. Nikon D50. Stitched from 6 images each at 26 mm Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, f/4.0 1/40s
When the first light rays hit the top of Hallett peak, the color had changed to purple everywhere.

Radiate Radiate. Nikon D50. Stitched from 6 images each at 26 mm Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, f/4.0 1/40s
Just moments later the color changed again to the more neutral blues you see here.

A window on time
"A window on time". Nikon D50. Single image. Nikon 18-55mm at 18mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, f/8.0 1/30s
This is from a single shot but I really liked it. The velvia version of this image has the tree areas almost completely black. The digital shot easily reproduces those.

"Witness" Nikon D50. Stitched from 6 images Nikon 18-55mm at 24 mm, f/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, f/11 1/50s
This tree was always intriguing to me and I had set up the shot as you see here, but I had never been able to make it stand out like I wanted. With the more modern tools in the current Lightroom, it was trivial to brush it up a bit and make the whole image pop as I saw when I was there. Works really well in this treatment I think.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lightroom 2015.3 and 6.3 available

I know a lot of my readers use Lightroom. The last 2015.2/6.2 release has been quite the disaster with a messed up import screen and a lot of bugs introduced that slowed the program way down. I could not get the 2015.2 nor the 2015.2.1 version to work reliably on my main machine, a retina mac book pro, regardless of whether I turned off the graphics card acceleration (something most of heavy users of Lightroom should probably do) or whether I turned off the "add photos screen" so I had to revert to 2015.1.1 to get anything done. This morning Adobe released 2015.3 which promises to fix most of these issues. I will install later today and report on whether it now works right. Get it here.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Gate keepers

It's been a daunting task to keep up with the images that are being ingested into Lightroom. I have a set of images to share from the Great Sand Dunes, which I visited back in April. I've only shared some fully immersive panos from that trip but I haven't shared much in the way of actual images. See an example of one of such immersive panoramas here. Worse, I haven't been able to share many of my images from a trip to White Pocket in 2014! The best images from that trip except for the ones in the link are still locked up in my Lightroom catalog. At the same time, some revelations in digital imaging as well as the new panorama tools in Lightroom have made me go back to even earlier times. The image I share below for example was taken on October 31 in 2009 in Zion National Park while exploring the Narrows with my friend Dave. We were there just on the cusp of fall color hitting and once in a while we would find trees in the canyon that were in color like the one on the right here while the one on the left is still mostly green. We were in full wetsuits and at places we had to hold our gear above our heads as the water was near our shoulders. I was reminded of these images and the trip while hearing about the tragic deaths that occurred in the slot canyons in this beautiful park just recently. The image below is a stitched high resolution composite of 9 images along the gorgeous Virgin river in the park just a few days ago. I shot this with my D300 camera using the kit lens using my old homemade panoramic head. I stitched this using the new panoramic tools in Lightroom and edited and cropped. The native image is 7530x7530 pixels or 57 megapixels as I cropped from the full stitched image for a better composition. I hope you enjoy the image

Gate Keepers. Zion National Park. Oct 31, 2009. Stitch from 9 images, Nikon D300, Nikon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 at 35mm, f/16, 2.0s, ISO 200.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Playing with the new panorama stitching mode in Lightroom CC/6

I've been playing extensively with the new panorama tools built in Lightroom CC/6 that just came out a few weeks ago. The quick and dirty conclusion is that it is not so useful for what people normally do with it, which is horizontal panoramas, but it is extraordinary at stitching the high resolution composites I like to do. Let me elaborate on this. Traditional horizontal panoramas are made by somebody panning (preferably on a tripod) the camera horizontally. What you would do is select the individual shots in Lightroom and then hit Photo-Merge->Panorama when you right/control click on the images. This brings up a simple dialog after a short while where you can select the projection and output your image. The good and the bad of this:
The good:
  • Generates a 16-bit floating point pseudo raw file (a dng). This allows almost full control of the resulting image concerning white balance, shadow/highlights, etc. without any loss of quality. This is extraordinary and quite unique. Everything else will render a white-balance baked in file including my preferred method using hugin.
  • Uses the full resolution of the input file
  • Corrects for lens distortion, vignetting, aberration, etc. all automatically
  • Corrects for exposure automatically
  • Stitches are very high quality - I wonder what algorithm they use as it is different than Photoshop's merge to pano.
The bad
  • Generates absolutely gigantic files with no way of generating a slightly smaller scale. It needs a slider with a resolution multiplier (i.e. 0.5, 0.25, 0.1, etc.)
  • Very easily generates curvy horizons with no way of correcting this. This is the main issue in my opinion why it is not good for simple horizontal panos. If your horizon is not in the middle of the images it almost always generates a curved horizon. This cannot be corrected in any way as Lightroom lacks the adaptive wide angle filter you would use in Photoshop and the dng files generated in Lightroom cannot be directly edited without rendering them to tiff in Photoshop. The interface needs a way of dragging the images up and down to give you more control over this. The gold standard for panoramic stitching: hugin, does this with a few clicks and drags.

Interestingly, these pros and cons actually make it extraordinarily good at stitching the high resolution composites I have blogged about before (see for example this post). These are images that are built up from several rows of individual images. You will want to select the rectilinear projection (i.e what Lightroom calls "perspective"). An example is the below image that I never stitched before from False Kiva in Canyonlands National Park, an extraordinary place that is not shown on the park map or any of the USGS or USFS topo maps. The composite was done using 12 images arranged in 3 rows of 4. Each image was shot at 70 mm, f/16, 1/100 and ISO 100 using a Nikon 24-85 mm f/3.5-4.5 lens.

I on purpose left the images undeveloped and as you can see I exposed for the highlights not to blow out as you should always do with digital images. I simply selected these, let Lightroom put them in a panorama with perspective selected. What came back into Lightroom was a 14722x15848 pixel image (after cropping). I only had to rotate it lightly to get the horizon straight, change the white balance to a more appropriate value and play with shadows and highlights and here it is:

"Window on the world", stitched from 12 images from a Nikon D600, Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 at 70mm, f/16, 1/100s, ISO 100.

To show you the incredible detail in this image, here is a closeup near the center of Candlestick tower, a prominent landmark on this side of Canyonlands.

Note that on a typical display, you are looking at a print of 12 ft x 13 ft or 3.6 x 4 meters, which is higher than a single story of a typical house! The slight softness you see here is owing to the fact that the lens was focused at the hyperfocal distance and not infinity and I was shooting at f/16 where diffraction should be evident.

So if you make high res landscapes using stitching, give Lightroom a try. The great thing is that it gives you a very flexible dng file that you can edit like any raw file with much more latitude than if you stitch with any other piece of software. The only "disadvantage" is that the image you'll get is absolutely gigantic.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Glowing wings

Twilight light makes the wings formation in the Bisti Badlands/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in Northern New Mexico glow.

The Wings in the Bisti badlands are glowing in warm twilight light
The Wings in the Bisti badlands are glowing in warm twilight light
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-288mm f/2.8, 21 mm, f/18, 6.0s, ISO 100.