Turning over a New Leaf

Red Leaf
Red Leaf, Price Lake, Blue Ridge Highway. | Canon 5D Mark II and 24-70mm f/2.8L @ 70mm | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/4, ISO 100

Since it was launched in 2007, I have been an avid user of Adobe’s Lightroom.  One of the things that I have loved about the strengths of the “Develop” module (also called Camera RAW in Photoshop, as they share the same engine) is that I have felt progressively less need to port an image into Photoshop for further enhancement.  This has been especially true since version three onward, as the local enhancements offered by the brush and gradient tool have made selections very easy.  Need to brighten the bride’s face but keep the dress the same value?  No problem, just use the brush.  Photoshop?  Why bother.

I realize I’m likely the last person to get on board the Nik Software bandwagon (especially since even Google decided that it was a good one to hop onto….or guide into its garage, if we continue that metaphor). Because we don’t really know what that acquisition means, re-sellers are steeply discounting the existing lineup of products.  I tried their demo of HDR Efex a while back and was impressed, and decided to roll the dice and pick up their entire collection for Lightroom.  The disadvantage for some people is that this product cannot be launched from inside of Photoshop: instead, you create a copy of the image as a TIFF file and port it into whichever Nik program you’ve selected.  Since I’m avoiding Photoshop for the most part, this approach doesn’t phase me.

For making color images, Viveza 2 and Color Efex 4 are a pretty amazing combination.  Over the last few days I’ve developed a workflow of adjusting my images globally in Lightroom, and then working on local contrast in Viveza.  If I want the foliage of the trees to be more subdued to make the bare branches of the foreground trees to stand out, it’s easy to do.  No more near-impossible layer masks in Photoshop!

Fall Color and Bare Branches
Colors along the highway, Blue Ridge Highway near the Linn Cove Viaduct on October 14, 2012. | Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 97mm | Exposed 1/15 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100

I have posted this image before; while it is similar to the original, the trees stand out more.  And going forward, I can only see advantages to using Nik software whenever my goal is to make tonal changes to ranges of color.  No, I would not suggest using these programs for every image.  But for those that have commercial value, I can see only advantages.  Below is a series of three panoramas.  The first was the result of stitching in Photoshop, but all of the toning had taken place as global adjustments on the RAW files within Photoshop.  Beneath that is the result of toning the image in Viveza 2, and the final photo is the finished product from Color Efex 4.  Each round of processing builds on the previous.

Price Lake, Lightroom Only
Price Lake, Lightroom Only
Price Lake, toned in Lightroom and Viveza
Price Lake, toned in Lightroom and Viveza
Price Lake, toned in Lightroom, Viveza, and Color Efex 4
Price Lake, toned in Lightroom, Viveza, and Color Efex 4

To my eyes, the key differences in these images can be found in the quality of the clouds and the colors and details of the reflection, especially in the treeline.  I don’t think that this software is for everyone, and some may wish to hold off on purchase until Google makes some sort of announcement to detail what kind of support will be extended to current users as they go forward.  For me, this is a worthwhile process for anything I rank three stars or higher, as well as some of my two star photographs.

More thoughts to come, as well as mini reviews of the 5D Mark III and LensAlign’s new software, Focus Tune!

Field of Gold or Victoria Crowned Crane?

Victoria Crowned Crane head feathers, Sylvan Heights Bird Park, Scotland Neck, North Carolina. | Canon 7D with 70-200mm f/4L IS and 1.4x TC | Exposed 1/125 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 100

Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, North Carolina is an impressive facility situated near Rocky Mount, about an hour and a half from Raleigh.  All the birds are captive and so their behavior is relatively tame (or exceedingly so with some birds) but the opportunities for photography can be hit or miss.  It’s certainly a place I would like to revisit, especially to learn more about their breeding program, but photographically it would be best on a cloudy day: the regular hours are 9 to 5, so early morning light isn’t an option, and the “golden hour” in the evening comes long after the park closes!

Watching my step

Fallen Broadleaf maple leaf at Oyster Bay, Olympia, Washington.
Fallen Broadleaf maple leaf at Oyster Bay, Olympia, Washington.

One good thing about being slightly less than sure-footed is that I frequently look  down at where I’m walking, and see things that I might otherwise miss.  As much as I love breathtaking, expansive landscapes, sometimes it’s the small and quiet moments that really affect me the most–particularly on a journey of self-discovery and renewal.

Like Snowing Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossom Petals
Cherry blossom petals, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham, N.C. | Canon 5D Mk. II and Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZE lens | Exposed 1/160 @ f/4, ISO 100.

While I was not able to use the Zeiss 85mm lens I rented nearly as much as I had anticipated during the week that I had it, I will say that it is disappointingly soft wide-open, but sharpens up dramatically by f/2, and is wickedly sharp at f/4.  The detail in the fallen cherry blossom petals is amazing!

Also, some big  changes are coming as I am in the process of becoming an LLC in the state of North Carolina.  More to come…

Daffodils in bloom

Daffodils in bloom
Daffodils in bloom, Durham, N.C. | Canon 5D Mk. II and Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZE lens with Canon 25mm extension tube | Exposed 1/80 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 800.

Last week was far busier than I had anticipated when I scheduled the rental of a Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZE lens.   I feel that I wasn’t really able to put the lens through its paces, mostly staying close to home due to a couple of developments that I’ll be announcing here shortly.  Since I was working at home I worked with subjects at hand: loaves of bread, the cat, and our garden.

While soft wide-open at f/1.4 (to the point of being almost unusable), by f/2 this lens is razor sharp, and features the oft-fabled Zeiss micro-contrast: in-focus part of the image does seem to defy its two-dimensional nature.  However, working in close quarters is where this lens struggles: the minimum focusing distance is three feet.

For this photograph of the daffodils that were in bloom in our front yard until yesterday, I had to resort to a 25mm extension tube, which presented me with the opposite of my problem: suddenly I had no choice but to be closer to my subject than I would have wished!  That said, I think it works in this example.  I’ll have a couple more to share after I get a spare moment to work them up.

Ice dripping from leaves

Melting ice
Melting ice, Durham, N.C. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/80 sec. @ f/4.5, ISO 800

I made this image last Thursday during the second winter “storm” of the season in Durham.  It was a dusting to this Midwesterner’s eyes, but a pretty one at that.  Many of the images I created seemed to be a touch melancholy.  It seems a fitting image for today, which carries a decidedly somber mood.

On a fall day – Part Three

Fallen, Sandy Creek Park, Durham, N.C. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mk. II lens @ 160mm | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 800

Parting Thoughts on the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II lens

When I first received the new 70-200mm lens from Canon Professional Services, I was instantly reminded why I sold my old 70-200mm f/2.8 (non-IS) a few years ago: it’s big and it’s heavy.  But it lets in a lot of light, and you can achieve very nice, selective focus with it.  I didn’t have  an opportunity to make any portraits with it, which is too bad because I think it would be an excellent lens for that application.  I did take it out on the street, but I was very conscious of walking with an enormous white monstrosity: subtlety is not an option with this lens.

A Worthwhile Upgrade?

The image quality is remarkably high (although I wouldn’t consider its resolution to be any greater than it’s f/4 stable-mate, and while the image stabilization is improved over the previous version, I did not think it any better than the aforementioned 70-200mm f/4L IS.  That said, this is the first zoom lens that I would consider using with the 2x teleconverter on a regular basis.

If you currently own the older IS version of this lens, you might wonder if it’s worth the upgrade.  I would offer that I believe the image stabilization is certainly better, but if you shoot sports, that might not matter to you at all.  The image quality is higher, and will enable you to use the 2x teleconverter freely.  If neither of these features interest you, then you can probably pass on this lens and wait for something “better.”

Scattered leaves floating in the water
Scattered leaves floating in the water, Whippoorwill Park, Durham, N.C. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mk. II lens @ 80mm | Exposed 1/40 sec. @ f/3.5, ISO 400