ICELAND IN WINTER

The past 17 days I’ve been in Iceland, leading a winter tour for Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris.  My group encountered wild weather, everything from a snow storm to high winds to driving rain to clear skies and bright sunshine…and all on the same day.

For me, there were two photographic highlights.  We worked several hours in a glacial ice cave in Vatnajokull National Park, and the resulting images are pure graphic design.  And toward the end of the trip we were lucky to enjoy a spectacular aurora borealis which lasted for hours.  I’ve seen the aurora many times before, but this one was an incredibly awesome display, with extremely intense colors filling the entire night sky.

Below are my two favorite shots from the trip.  Both were taken with a Nikon D810.  I used my 24-70mm for the ice cave image (at ISO 64), and my 14-24mm for the aurora (at ISO 2500).  FYI, I’ll be leading this tour again in March 2016 and an ice cave shoot is definitely on the schedule.  While an auroral display cannot be guaranteed, we will certainly be out photographing if it happens.  For tour info, see www.photosafaris.com.

 

Ice cave, Vatnajokull National Park.

 

Aurora borealis display.

 

This is not right.

This is definitely not the manner in which I normally photograph.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was having breakfast at a small hotel in northern Japan, a Hokkaido squirrel (Japanese tassel-eared squirrel) was raiding the bird feeders on the porch just outside the windows.  So how could I resist?  I went to my room, mounted my Nikon 80-400mm lens on my Nikon D4s, and returned to breakfast.  Between sips of my morning coffee, I photographed right though the window glass, handholding my camera rig.  Early morning light and ISO 3200; I stayed toasty warm inside. while outside it was very cold and snowy.  A bite of breakfast for me, a bite of breakfast for the squirrel, another photo or two.  This photography gig is supposed to be a lot more difficult.

 

Hokkaido squirrel.

Lightroom — ACR difference

I’m a big fan of Lightroom, and use it as my RAW file converter.  Adobe Camera Raw is essentially the same, but there is one small difference which, for me, is a reason I prefer Lightroom over ACR.  That difference lies in how the two programs allow the user to adjust contrast.

Both Lightroom and ACR incorporate a contrast slider, and in both programs the slider does exactly the same thing.  Watch the image histogram as you drag the slider left or right, and you’ll see both ends of the histogram move simultaneously, expanding or contracting the histogram.  OK, no difference here between LR and ACR.

But go to the Tone Curve, which I prefer to use, and the two programs operate slightly differently.  Both Lightroom and ACR offer two views of the Tone Curve, a Point Curve (where you place points on the curve and move those points), and a Parametric Curve (where the tone curve is divided into sections and adjustments affect that region).  The Targeted Adjust Tool — which allows you to mouse over your image, click on a spot, and drag to adjust — is available in both Lightroom and ACR.  In the Parametric Curve, in both programs, one point can be set on the curve.  You cannot set two points close to each other (for example, two points in the highlights sections, or two points in the shadows).  But go to the Point Curve, and here lies the difference: you cannot use the Targeted Adjustment Tool in ACR when in the Point Curve.  Try to do so, and it affects the Parametric Curve.  In contrast, Lightroom allows using the tool in the Point Curve.  As you mouse over your image using the tool, a “ball” appears on the curve indicating where the point under the tool will fall on the curve, so you can set multiple points exactly.  ACR does allow placing multiple points on the curve, but it does not indicate where any one tonal value falls on the curve; you’re guessing at the precise position on the curve.

Two precisely set points on the Tone Curve, using the Targeted Adjustment Tool in Lightroom.

Frost fog

A couple of weeks ago I was in White Sands National Monument, when a rather rare event occurred for that area of New Mexico.  It had rained for two days, so there was a lot of moisture in the sand.  But the first morning the weather cleared the photography conditions were magical for a few hours.  The overnight temperature had been in the low 20s and frost had formed on everything, while during the early hours a thick fog layer formed, low to the ground.  Wow!  Frost and fog together, a combination that lasted for only a few hours.

Scanner Part Two

I’m rather shocked that my previous scanner post has generated so many emails (42 have landed in my mailbox so far).  To answer everyone at once:

As far as I know, there are almost no dedicated 35mm film scanners currently made, but then I have no reason to keep up on the scanner market.  I’m not looking for a new scanner, and I don’t pay attention to what is out there.  I bought my Nikon Coolscan 4000 back in 2001, and it still works just fine for my purposes.  If for some reason I need a higher res digital file from a transparency, I ship the film out to have a drum scan made.  And  no, I don’ t want to sell my Nikon scanner.

I’m not in the market for different scanner software.  Yes, I know about SilverFast and VueScan, but I see no reason to purchase additional software when I’m satisfied with the results I get with NikonScan.  This is especially true since I make very few scans per year.

I’m not scanning my entire film archive, nor do I have any intention of doing so.  I only make a scan, or send out for one, when I have a very specific need (which is not nearly as often as you might expect).  Indeed, why would I even want to scan all my old transparencies?  Assume that I have 200,000 images (not such a big number, since I’ve been photographing professionally for almost 45 years now!).  Total time it takes to make one scan (pull image, remove dust, make scan, replace film, enter resulting digital file into database with caption info, etc.): about two minutes under the very best of conditions (not including any Photoshop time needed on the resulting file).  OK, 200,000 images @ 2 minutes/image = 400,000 minutes, or just over 833 days straight, working 8 hours per day with no breaks.  No thanks.

And…I actually already have thumbnail images of all my slides.  The slide itself is a thumbnail.  Hold up the slide, look at it.

Nikon Scanner

Yesterday I had to scan a Velvia slide from my files.  Yes, for those of you don’t remember the “old” days, there was a thing called “film” which had to be digitalized before you could use Photoshop on the image.  A film scanner was the answer.  But, a dedicated 35mm film scanner (rather than a flatbed scanner with a film holder) is now quite a rare beast.  I’m not sure such a thing is even manufactured any more.  I have a long discontinued Nikon Coolscan 4000, which is certainly adequate for magazine-sized reproduction.  The problem, however, is getting the scanner to work with any current computer operating system.

I’m running Windows 7 64-bit on both desktop and laptop machines, but Nikon scanner software was written many years before this OS.  I guess I could have kept an old computer around, but no thanks, I don’t want to do that.  So how have I been able to use my scanner — infrequently though I do — along with Nikon Scan software on my current machines?  Ah, Google to the rescue.  Type in “how to use a Nikon scanner with Windows 7 64″ and this link appears (there are other links but this is the one I used):

Follow the directions, and all is well.  Don’t have Nikon Scan software?  It’s still available for download directly from Nikon’s website.

Autumn 2: Visionary Wild Workshop

Continued from the previous post:  Then I drove on, to the workshop sessions based at Boulder, Utah, in the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.  While the aspens on Boulder Mountain were shedding their leaves, the cottonwoods in the lower canyons showed prime color.  And red rock county…well, it’s eye candy for photographers.  All the workshop participants came away with incredible images resulting from a contemplative approach to classic Utah scenery.  Here’s another slideshow, and an invitation to join the Visionary Wild group on another workshop.

Hoodoo along the Escalante rim, at sunrise.Cottonwoods in The Gulch.Hoodoos at first light.Drying mud curls.Autumn cottonwoods define the Boulder Creek drainage.The last aspen color on Boulder Mountain.Box elder in Long Canyon slot.Formation on King Bench at sunrise.A canyon wall reflects the blue color of sky.Cottonwoods and the red wall of The Gulch.Slabs below King Bench.Red aspens on Boulder Mountain.Bounce light on sagebrush and rocks, in Long Canyon.

Autumn 1: Colorado

October was a busy month.  On the way to conducting two Visionary Wild workshops with Jack Dykinga and Justin Black, I spent a few days working autumn aspens near Ridgway, Colorado.  Plagued with bad weather and vehicle problems (after being far off paved roads, by pure luck I happened to be almost in front of the only repair place in Ouray when my truck’s fuel pump decided to quit) I still managed to get some images.  And I will say: I am really happy with the new D810.  Here’s a short slideshow.

Aspens and the Sneffels Range.Aspen grove on Sunshine Mesa.Aspen boles.Aspen grove glowing after rain.The view from Silver Jack.Aspens along Owl Creek Pass.Late afternoon storm near Ridgway.

New Camera…Cannot Open RAW Files

Almost every time a new Nikon camera is introduced, I receive the same email: “I just bought the newest Nikon, but I cannot open the RAW files in either Lightroom or Photoshop.  These programs worked perfectly with my old camera.  Is my new camera defective?”

This past week alone I got five such emails concerning the D750.

When you purchase any camera you should check with Adobe as to which camera bodies are currently supported, given the versions of the Adobe software you own.  Go to this web site:  http://helpx.adobe.com/creative-suite/kb/camera-raw-plug-supported-cameras.html.

The other email I constantly receive is: “I have Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS4, but cannot open the RAW files from the new Nikon I just purchased.”

Well, your new Nikon did not even exist when those old versions of software were created.  Your options are to either upgrade the software (in my opinion the better option as newer versions of software generally offer more), or see if you can use the free Adobe DNG converter with your new camera.  Find out here:  http://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/camera-raw.html#dng.

You might discover you need to upgrade your computer.  Another typical email I get: “I’m using Windows XP, but Lightroom 5 won’t work.”  Really?  Look at the operating system requirements for Lightroom 5:  Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 or newer.  XP is, in computer terms, ancient history.

So now I’m waiting for another email to arrive: “I use a typewriter, but I can’t seem to load Microsoft Word.”

I have no idea how to answer that.

D810 + T/S

Well, I did it.  I bought a Nikon D810 several weeks ago, and I’m extremely impressed with the camera.  I won’t go into all the details about the D810, as there are many, many reviews on the Web.  However, I will note one feature that has not been talked about much, and that is the split screen live view mode.  This is incredibly useful for landscape photography using Nikon’s tilt/shift lenses.  Activate Live View, tap the i button, and select split screen.  The live view image is divided in two, across the short dimension of the frame.  The “plus” and “minus” buttons allows zooming in for a magnified view.

Here’s where this comes into play with a T/S lens.  If you’re making a tilt while the camera is in a vertical orientation, the split live view allows you to zoom into separate points on both foreground and background, on both near and far, and consequently to accurately position the tilted plane of focus.  Being able to view near and far points simultaneously makes using a T/S a lot easier.  I do wish Nikon had allowed repositioning the split across the long dimension of the frame also, for when the camera is used in a horizontal orientation.  But, hey, I’m really happy with what we got.  Really happy.