I’m excited about my 2017 workshop offerings. I’ve added a brand new workshop on the southern Oregon coast. If you haven’t explored this area, it is a feast for the eyes.
Here’s what I have for 2017:
Wallowa Wanderlust, May 19-25, 2017 (just 2 spots remaining)
Ghost Town Flora
This is my 6th workshop in this amazing area. This year I’ve added many more new sites including some great old barns and a ghost town. I’ve also added some specific photography technique lessons at may of the venues.
Click here for more information.
Southern Oregon Coast, September 22-26, 2017
Port Orford Sunset
Due to the popularity of last year’s Milky Way workshops, I’ve add a new one along with favorites from 2016.
Milky Way and Mt St Helens I, June 17, 2017 (only 3 spots left)
Galactic Center Over Mount Saint Helens Crater
Click here for more information.
Milky Way and Mt St Helens II, July 22, 2017 ( only 4 spots left)
Fog Fills the Toutle River Valley
Click here for more information.
Milky Way Over Mt Hood I, August 19, 2017
Shooting Star and the Milky Way
Click here for more information.
Milky Way Double Play, September 16, 2017
Milky Way and an Abandoned House
New for 2017. We’ll visit two great venues for Milky Way photography.
Click here for more information.
Milky Way Over Mt Hood II, October 14, 2017
Milky Way Over Mount Hood
Click here for more information.
Opportunity in landscape photography knocks every so often and sometimes it’s only for a fleeting moment. This was one such instance.
Here’s an image I recently took with my infrared converted Canon G12 point & shoot. I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful area of the country and even more fortunate to live where I get a decent view of Mt. Hood. On this day I was heading out to get the mail. A storm had passed through earlier in the day. The skies to the west were clearing allowing the setting sun to shine through. The clouds to the east had lifted and the upper atmospheric winds were creating Lenticular clouds. When I looked to the east, I saw Mt. Hood lit up like a candle with dark clouds behind and the Lenticulars lit up. This created very dramatic contrast. Knowing this moment would surely pass very soon, I ran back into the house to grab the closest camera available. It happened to be my G12. As it turned out, these were the perfect conditions for infrared with objects brightly lit by the sun. So I grabbed a few handheld shots.
Here’s one of the shots I got…
Now let’s talk about composition.
Rule of thirds: The mountain is on the right 1/3rd and the contrasty boundary between the land and the base of the mountain is close to the lower 1/3rd. Knowing how dramatic clouds can be in infrared I wanted the upper 1/3rd to be filled with clouds.
Balance: If the clouds would not have been present, I would have lowered my composition. Not only because of empty space, but because it would have been an unbalanced shot. The weight of the trees and the mountain on the right are nicely balanced with the clouds and trees on the left.
Subject: Mt Hood is clearly the primary subject. But the dramatic clouds provide a strong secondary subject.
Foreground: The trees in the foreground provide nice textures and help lead the viewer’s eye into the image.
Leading and framing elements: Again, the trees provide a nice leading element. The ‘v’ shape between the trees to the left and right help lead the viewer’s eye to the mountain. The combination of the trees and clouds frame the mountain.
Visual impact: The high contrast of this image really make it visually exciting. With infrared, this can only happen with RAW image capture and a fair amount of post processing. More on infrared in a future post.
I know…many of you are saying “What the heck is he talking about?”
What exactly is Manual Mode with Auto ISO?
As many of you know, Manual Mode allows you to set aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Setting ISO to ‘Auto’ allows the ISO to adjust to light conditions for a given aperture and shutter speed combination. So it’s kind of like an auto mode except you control depth of field (aperture) and shutter speed.
So when would you use Manual Mode with Auto ISO?
I recently had the great privilege of being part of a tour of the Willamette Falls Heritage site in my home town of Oregon City. The site contains a now closed paper mill on the Willamette River just down stream of Willamette Falls (the second largest waterfall in America). The plan for the site is to restore the site and develop it into green space, retail space, and for the first time in 150 years…public access to Willamette Falls.
The challenges I faced:
- The tour was only 2 hours long and there were 14 other people present, so I could not afford to mess around with camera settings and hold up the tour.
- I shoot RAW so Auto mode would not work.
- The light conditions were all over the map – from unlit darkness inside buildings to daylight conditions outside.
- I was shooting handheld (with a 24-105 stabilized lens).
My first thought was to use Shutter Priority Mode to insure I had a fast enough shutter speed to get sharp images. But then aperture would be all over the map and I’d have to adjust ISO to keep depth of field in check. Remember, I had little time to think and just wanted to shoot.
A while back I read about using Manual Mode with Auto ISO and BAM…there’s my solution. So I set the camera to Manual Mode, shutter speed to 1/60, aperture to f/8, and ISO was to Auto. I figured ISO would be all over the map but my Canon 1DX handles noise very well, so I wasn’t too worried about noise at higher ISOs.
This method worked like a charm. If I wanted shallower death of field, all I had to do was bump aperture down and not worry about other exposure settings. Of course all other metering concerns were still there, but that’s always part of the game and I’m used to that.
I was surprised that the highest ISO chosen by the camera in all the shots I took was 6400 and that was in a very dark area with some light streaming in from a distant doorway. Most shots were in the 100-640 ISO range which all resulted in noise free images.
Are there any drawbacks to using Manual Mode with Auto ISO?
- Exposure compensation is not available in Manual Mode. But this wasn’t a big issue. None of my images were too far under or over exposed.
- If your camera does not handle high ISOs very well, you may want to compensate for this by adjusting aperture or shutter speed accordingly to get the ISO down to an acceptable level in low light.
Would I use Manual Mode with Auto ISO again?
Absolutely. But only when I want to concentrate on shooting and not have to think too much about camera settings.
That’s right…I recently delved into the world of mirrorless cameras and bought a (barely) used Sony a7. Don’t worry, I still have my collection of Canon DSLRs and lenses. For those of you who don’t know, the a7 is a 24MP full frame camera and is well known for great image quality and high dynamic range along with good low light performance. Mirrorless cameras don’t use a pentaprism and associated mirror which means many things. Namely, the viewfinder doesn’t look through the lens but rather the camera uses live view for everything.The a7 has an electronic view finder (EVF) which basically duplicates the main screen inside the view finder. MIrrorless cameras are quite a bit smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts.
Why did I buy the a7? Well, I wasn’t in the market but saw one become available through a post in Facebook. The “kit” included the body (less than 2000 clicks), an L-bracket (which I love using on my other cameras), and a Metabones lens adapter for Canon EF lenses. I want a camera that I can use for travel and backpacking. The a7 fits this bill very nicely because of the small size and light weight.
Here are my initial impressions. More to follow as I use this camera more.
The EFV takes a little getting used to but the display is bright and sharp with no noticeable lag when things move. But it is not as sharp as and SLR’s viewfinder.
Even though the Metabones adapter transfers electrical signals to the camera from the lens for aperture, image stabilization and auto focus, AF performance is sluggish at best. Not a good setup for sports or wildlife photography. I setup the camera for back-button focus (which I use on all my cameras), and it works fine…you just have to be patient. I will use this camera as a manual focus camera most of the time.
I also setup the camera to allow focus magnification. This means I can magnify the image in live view to get focus spot on (manually of course). But the really cool thing here is that the image in the viewfinder magnifies too. I tend to use a viewfinder most of the time anyway because my close vision is not that great for looking at the LCD screen. One thing I found out is the focus magnification does not work with every lens unless the lens is set to manual focus.
I have taken a handful of mages so far and my first impressions are mixed. Image quality is very good. Dynamic range is noticeably more than the 5D II (2.3 stops more). I have not processed many of the images yet but the RAW images look a bit HDR-ish….meaning a little un-natural.I do like not having as many blown out highlights and lost shadow detail. Much more to come on this front as I start processing these images.
Exposure metering seems to be very good. Canon DSLRs tend to under expose (at least my 1DX, 5DII and SL1 do). I have yet to use exposure compensation on the a7. I have highlight warning turned on for all my cameras. This provides instant feedback on over exposed portions of an image (blown out highlights blink on and off black). The a7 takes this once step further but showing you blown out highlights AND lost shadows…VERY nice.
The build quality seems quite nice. Feels like a solid chuck in your hands. Weather sealing seems to lack a bit. Even though Sony claims it is sealed, I would not want it out in the elements without protection. The battery and memory car doors do not have gaskets.
The controls are nicely laid out. But the small size of the body means the controls are bunched together fairly close. I may get used to this but for now I have to look at the controls to make sure I’m pressing or turning the right button or dial. One control I’m not fond of is the dial on the back of the camera. ISO is set up on this control, and turning it is a bit cumbersome and inaccurate. Again, getting used to it is probably the key. The a7 is one heck of a customizable camera. There are three custom buttons and you can assign functions to several other controls. Very nice.
Battery life on the a7 is less than stellar. Batteries are small because if the small size of the body. Compounding this is the fact that the viewfinder and rear LCD screen suck power since this is a live view centric camera. I’ve read that the a7 will only shoot around 300 shots on a single charge (the 5Dii will shoot about 1000 shots on one battery). I have no reason to dispute this. Hence…extra batteries are a must. The camera came with three and I just ordered two more along with 2 AC/DC chargers (one for home and one for the car). So even though battery life is lame, I should not have a problem with this setup.
Overall I’m pleased and look forward to learning much more about this camera.
Sony has terrible documentation and help with this camera (and probably others). The a7 has built-in WiFi. A great feature. One aspect of WiFi is the ability to shoot remotely via a mobile device with an app. Sony offered no help repaying how to set this up. So onto Google. Better but still not what I needed to get this working. It seemed simple enough. Download the free app on my iPhone (PlayMemories). Then go into the camera to get the WiFi name and password and enter this into the WiFi connection on the phone. The camera then said “connecting”. OK…we’re on our way. NOT!! After hours of research, I still could not find the solution. But alas, I figured it out (on my own). In the a7 menu, activate “Smart Remote” which brings up the camera’s WiFi hotspot name and password. On the phone go into Settings > WiFi and type in the name and password. The camera says “connecting” but it won’t actually connect until you get out of Settings on the phone and activate the PlayMemories app.
The a7 has what’s called ‘focus peaking’. Basically this is a feature that provides visual feedback when focus is achieved. The sharpness of edges is detected and turns a color when focus is achieved (white by default or other user-selected colors). Focus peaking even shows you your depth of field near to far…VERY powerful. Since I use the a7 with my Canon lenses and primarily with manual focus, this feature is extremely useful…especially considering that the EVF is not the best for determining focus…particularly at night with moving objects.
I’ve been using the a7 quite a bit since getting it about 5 weeks ago.
Things I really like:
Focus peaking … but with a caveat. I like it because auto focus with the Metabones adapter is too slow so I use the a7 as a manual focus camera. Focusing manually via the EVF or LCD is not easy unless you magnify the image. Focus peaking does offer very useful things I talked about in the 12/20 update.
The small size and light weight is turning out to be a nice feature. This is a camera I don’t mind taking everywhere.
WiFi is turning out to be a great feature for shooting remotely.
Things I don’t like:
Some controls are a hard to use – especially with big hands/fingers. The rear dial which controls ISO doesn’t have a very tactile feel. It needs more resistance and needs to be larger.
I’m a big view finder guy. I don’t like shooting a camera like a point and shoot/phone. It feels un-natural to me. Holding a camera’s view finder up to my eye not only feels better but it helps stabilize the camera. My arms are closer to my body and there’s another point of contact to my body. Yes, the a7 has a view finder and I use it. But being electronic has its drawbacks. Namely resolution and refresh rate. Images are too grainy and the image it too bright. Objects in motion jitter because of the slow frame rate. Nothing better than an SLR’s view finder in my opinion.
White balance indoors leaves lot to be desired – even with RAW. Incandescent light results is very orange images. I have to turn down the color temp all the way in post processing for a natural look.
Things I’m on the fence about:
Image quality…images are sharp with lots of resolution. At first I thought the increased dynamic range would be a big benefit. I’m finding that it’s the opposite in certain situations. Some images have an un-natural look to them – almost a light HDR look.
Overall I still very much like this camera. I think it’s best suited for tripod work with subjects that allow me to take my time with.
I’m pleased to announce new Lightroom course offerings. Good friend and fellow photographer Rebecca Benoit and I have been working hard on a comprehensive module-based series of classes targeted to everyone from the novice to the pro.
Click here for more information and details.
Our Wallowa Wanderlust workshop in early May was a great success. The weather provided a lot of interest in the sky (and on the ground). The hills were green and the mountains were packed with snow.
Here is an image I took during the workshop. This is the Triple Creek Ranch octagonal barn near Joseph. Restoration of this fabulous bark was completed in 2013. It is still used for everything from livestock auctions to weddings.
This image was shot handheld with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L lens (tilt-shift).
- ISO 200
- Auto W/B
The 24mm tilt-shift lens was used with camera handheld level and lens shifted up to eliminate distortion (vertical lines of barn bend in when standing close to an object with the camera pointed up).
Lightroom 5 was used to convert the RAW image and make initial adjustments for color and contrast.
The image was then sent to Photoshop CS5 where I used luminosity masks to set white and black points. A curve adjustment layer was used with a mask to isolate the clouds and add contrast to them which had the added benefit of creating a vignette around the barn to help emphasize it.
The images was then sent back to Lightroom 5 to isolate the clouds once again with an adjustment brush and reduce clarity (smooth out the clouds) and decrease saturation (the clouds had a blue cast causing a distraction). At this point I wanted to emphasize the barn a little more. So I used the Radial Filter in Lightroom 5 to isolate the front of the barn and increase exposure and decrease contrast (subtle, yet effective).
Needless to say, I can’t wait for next year’s workshop where we have many new sites to visit and explore.
Thanks for looking.