I recently made a brief trip over to my favorite local stomping ground, Kilgore Falls. And by brief, I mean I had time to fire off a grand total of four shots.
The park closes at sunset, (6:35pm on the day of my visit). I arrived in the parking lot at 5:50. The park police cruiser was already on the scene to make sure everyone cleared out by sunset.
(The park police don’t mess around in Maryland. If you’re not out of the lot by sunset, you risk receiving a fine. Maryland’s park regulations are way out of hand. Compare this to Yosemite National Park: At several locations near the tops of various waterfalls in Yosemite, the park sign says, “Do not swim. Death can result.” In Maryland, if there were any dangerous waterfalls, that same sign would read, “Do not swim. Death results in $300 fine.”)
After throwing my backpack on, I hustled across the easily navigable quarter-mile trail and made it on site just after six o’clock. I took a few minutes to survey the scene, then settled in on the composition I had in mind. Usually, some people-dodging is required to avoid placement of a random human in the shot…but fortunately, I had the falls all to myself.
Being in a hurry or feeling rushed while shooting is never helpful. But, you work with what you’ve got. I set up the camera, fired off four shots (one shot at optimum exposure with the Tony Sweet filter, one shot purposefully underexposed with said filter….one shot exposed optimally without the Tony Sweet filter, and one shot underexposed without the Tony Sweet filter), and double-timed it back to the car.
I made it with 5 minutes to spare.
I spent those five minutes mourning over the loss of my favorite pair of sneakers, which I had forgotten to change out of in my haste. Sneakers are never the same after you wear them in a stream. They shrink and lose their cushion when they dry. I will miss those sneakers. My new pair of sneakers will have big shoes to fill.
Oh well, look at the bright side: Now I have a new favorite pair of stream shoes.
A few notes on the image: I used a 5 stop neutral density filter to slow the exposure. In the image at the top of this article I used what is quickly becoming one of my favorite filters: The Singh-Ray Tony Sweet Soft-Ray Diffusion Filter…which, as its tongue-twisting name suggests, diffuses light and creates a subtly soft and dream-like appearance to the photograph.
To give you a basis for comparison, the photo below was shot without the Tony Sweet filter. Every other aspect of the shot was identical to the photo at the top of this article. The differences are subtle, but to me, the photo below (the photo without the Tony Sweet filter) appears to display a bit more contrast and sharpness than the photo with the filter:
As stated previously, in addition to the shots at optimum exposure, I also purposefully underexposed both images by 1 stop. I do this as standard operating procedure when taking landscape shots with the Nikon D810. For whatever reason, my copy of the 810 has always consistently overexposed by about a third to two-thirds of a stop. In lieu of using exposure compensation, I simply take an additional shot slightly underexposed.
As a general rule, whenever in doubt, I always recommend underexposing slightly. At low ISO, DSLRs are capable of recording significant detail in underexposed areas without introducing noticeable static (noise)…and those areas can easily be recovered in post-process (provided they aren’t too dark). By comparison, even slightly overexposed (blown-out) highlights contain very little recoverable detail.
If you’ve been to my website previously, this shot may look somewhat familiar. The road depicted here is in Hunt Valley, Maryland, adjacent to the north side of Shawan Road, just east of The Oregon Grille restaurant. Every fall, I head over to the road and photograph the foliage. The above photograph was taken this morning.
Hi folks. If you have any interest or curiosity in learning more about how to capture interior architectural photographs, please check out my latest article in the online publication Digital-Photography-School.com:
For those of you who may be interested in visiting Yosemite to capture one of the many waterfalls cascading over the granite cliffs, the ideal time of year is mid to late April. During that time frame, the snow melt off the mountain tops is at full force, instigating the high rate of flow over the waterfall.
I would recommend planning the trip while the moon is full. Obviously, photographing during dusk and/or dawn will always be an exceptional time of day to shoot Yosemite. But, under the moon the shiny granite mountainsides illuminate into a gentle and almost surreal glow. Additionally, the park is jam-packed with visitors during the daytime. At night (the above image was taken just before midnight), the park is essentially empty. This will allow you to freely move around making your setup easy, with no distractions, and no one unwittingly getting in the way of your composition.
To capture a waterfall at night under a bright moon, these are the basic camera settings you should use: In aperture priority and on a tripod, set your aperture to f/2.8 or f/4, ISO 800, and the shutter speed to 20 seconds (no filter). This should give you the ideal balance of a proper exposure, with a quick enough shutter speed to avoid blurring the stars.
Last year I wrote a blog article detailing what I felt were the ideal Macintosh computer setups for building a cost-conscious digital photography “studio”. However, as you’d expect, the never-ending technological improvements in the computer industry have rendered that article out-dated and obsolete. Ah, the price of progress.
Word of warning: If you’re not into computer hardware, reading this article will be less exciting than watching asphalt dry.
Anyway…here’s an updated list of Macintosh computer solutions for digital photography:
THE MAC MINI
In my old blog post from last year, I suggested that the Mac Mini was an excellent solution for those with entry-level computer experience and/or for those who are novices in photography. While that opinion still holds true (The Mini is an awesome choice for beginners), I now believe the Mac Mini is also quite capable of being a bare-bones full-time, “do-it-all” computer for photographers of any skill level.
Why did I change my mind? I own a Mini that my son abuses sometimes…and I put it through its paces just to see if it could handle my photo workflow. And, to my surprise, it handled it all without a hiccup. Uploading, cataloging, post-processing in both Lightroom and Photoshop. The Mini did it all just fine.
Apple offers four processors in the Mini: A 1.4GHz (grass grows faster than 1.4GHz), 2.6GHz (turbo boost to 3.1GHz), 2.8GHz (turbo to 3.5GHz), and 3.0GHz (turbo to 3.5GHz). The 2.8GHz model is powerful enough to efficiently handle Lightroom and Photoshop, provided you max-out the RAM at 16GB.
The “graphics card” is not actually a card, but the Intel Iris Graphics module (which is not upgradeable, unfortunately). As a result, while you can drive two 2560 X 1600 monitors, a 4K monitor via Thunderbolt 2 is not possible. Nevertheless, for photography, a 2560 X 1600 monitor is more than adequate resolution and a great cost-efficient option.
The Mini offers either flash storage or a “Fusion Drive”. A Fusion Drive is a combination of a small amount of flash storage (used for quickly accessing, opening and running software programs), and a larger amount of traditional hard-drive storage (for storing files such as photographs, videos, and music).
If you opt for the Mini with 2.8GHz, you can add a 2TB Fusion Drive, which is enough storage for the casual photographer.
Here’s how I would configure a Mac Mini for photography use:
2.8GHz Dual-Core i5 (Turbo-Boost to 3.5GHz)
16GB 1600MHz LPDDE3 SDRAM (I have no clue whatsoever what LPDDE3 means)
2TB Fusion Drive
NEC EA275WMI-BK 27″ Widescreen LED Backlit WQHD IPS Monitor ($594.00)
Cost of setup: $1,893.00
THE MACBOOK AIR
All apologies if any of you own or use a MacBook Air. I mean no disrespect. But, if you’re in the market for a photography laptop, look elsewhere.
While the MacBook Air is more than capable as a very light and portable machine for generic computer usage (i.e. surfing the web, word-processing, using iTunes, spreadsheets, emailing, Twitter, Facebook, etc…), it is not powerful or sophisticated enough to efficiently handle intensive post-processing of photographs.
The most powerful processor you can stuff in the Air is a gentle 2.2GHz. A toddler’s abacus has more processing power. Even more importantly, Apple does not make a Retina display for the Air (the Retina display is Apple’s version of a high-resolution, wide color gamut monitor), making post-processing a nearly impossible task…especially if you’re a stickler for the details, like color fidelity.
If you’re in search of a portable computer to handle the everyday basics in life, the Air is an excellent option. I’d just stay away from it if you’re a photographer.
If your heart is set in stone on wanting a MacBook Air, this is how I’d configure it for photography:
13″ Macbook Air
2.2GHz dual-core i5 processor
8GB of RAM
512GB Flash Drive
LaCie 4TB Rugged Mini Portable Hard Drive ($219.99)
Lots of patience (priceless)
Cost of MacBook Air Setup: $1,769.99
THE MACBOOK PRO
The ubiquitous MacBook Pro underwent a major overhaul this past year…the result is a lighter, more powerful, and more versatile laptop with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C. Thunderbolt 3 is literally twice as fast as Thunderbolt 2…but, unfortunately, Thunderbolt 3 requires a different sort of plug than Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2. Therefore, if you have a bunch of Thunderbolt 2 devices (like I do), you need an adapter to plug them into a Thunderbolt 3 port.
Last year I said the MBP is simply the best photography laptop money can buy, and the quality of the new version has only strengthened my opinion.
The new Retina display has a wider color gamut than the previous MBP, and you can hook up TWO 5k displays (or four 4K displays) via Thunderbolt 3 on the 15 inch. That’s some serious graphics power for a laptop.
Both the 13 inch and 15 inch versions offer a “Touch Bar” as an option, which replaces the old function buttons at the top of the keyboard. Technically, the Touch Bar adapts itself to whatever program you’re using, allowing you to customize certain changes with the tap (or slide) of a finger (i.e. screen brightness, volume, etc.). The Bar is more of a gimmick than a useful tool at this point, but I’m sure it’s likely to catch on in time and become more helpful.
As was the case with the old MBP, a Fusion Drive is not an opinion…you can only get a very fast flash drive for the machine’s internal storage…from 256GB capacity all the way up to a ridiculously expensive 2TB.
The ideal MBP setup for photography:
15″ MBP with Retina Display
2.8GHz (turbo boost to 3.8GHz) Quad-Core i7 processor.
16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM
512GB Flash Drive
Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB memory Graphics Card
LaCie 4TB Rugged Mini Portable Hard Drive ($219.99)
Cost of Setup: $2,918.99*
As I said above, the MacBook Pro is the finest laptop for photography.
Well, the iMac is the finest desktop for photography. By. Far. It recently experienced an upgrade, getting Thunderbolt 3/USB-C, faster processors, and better monitors. The 21.5 inch model utilizes a 4K display, and the 27 inch has a 5K display with support for a billion colors. Clearly, Apple had photographers (and videographers) in mind when they upgraded these displays.
If you choose the 27″ iMac, you can opt for a ridiculously fast 4.2GHz Quad-Core processor with turbo up to 4.5GHz. By comparison, my 4-year-old Mac Pro has a Six-Core 3.5GHz processor with no turbo. The extra two cores do little, if anything, to improve speed. For an example…suppose you have a V8 and V6 engine side-by-side. Obviously, the V8 has two more cylinders. But, if the V8 has less horsepower and less torque than the V6, which engine would you prefer (if they cost the same)? When using a computer to drive Lightroom and Photoshop, what matters far more than number of cores is the power of the processor.
The 27″ iMac can drive one external 5K display or two 4K external displays. So…if you want (and can afford it), you can have two 5K displays (the 27″ iMac itself, plus one external 5K display) sitting right next to each other on your desk. That’s pretty cool.
Apple offers quite a few different models of the iMac with several different processors. To be honest, the more expensive and faster processors technically aren’t necessary to drive Lightroom, Photoshop, and/or any other third-party post-processing software you like to use. While tricked-out iMacs might run a little bit faster…if price is an issue (and when isn’t it?), I would be more than happy with the base processor, and prefer to spend my money on the larger 27″ display and maxed-out RAM. Next to processing power, nothing helps a computer run more efficiently than adding RAM…and, obviously, the larger display with support for more colors is a great benefit to photographers.
Here’s my recommended iMac:
27″ iMac with 5K Retina Display
3.4GHz Quad-Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz)
32GB 2400MHz DDR4 RAM
2TB Fusion Drive
Graphics Card: Radeon Pro 570 with 4GB memory.
Cost of Setup: $2,599.00*
* As you can see in the comparisons above, if you don’t mind using a desktop computer vs. a laptop (and don’t have the need for a portable machine), the 27″ base iMac is not only significantly cheaper than the MBP, it’s faster (more powerful processor with more RAM), with cheaper storage, and a much larger and more advanced monitor.
THE MAC PRO
Stay away from this catastrophic abomination of a computer like you’d stay away from a Sony Betamax. If you’re around my age (44) or older, you may remember Betamax. In the early 80s, it was hailed as the new mainstay for video cassette recorders. Problem was, the video industry never bought into Betamax…they went with VCRs instead. VCRs won, Betamax lost. So, anyone with a Betamax basically ended up with a machine that played tapes which no one made.
Unfortunately, I bought into the hype when the funky-looking Mac Pro came out. Compared to other pro-level desktop computers, the MP is extremely diminutive with no space for internal peripherals…and therefore nearly impossible to make any internal upgrades…but hey, that’s ok because you can add peripherals to it on the outside. Great, right? Wrong.
(If it sounds like I’m a little bitter about the Mac Pro, it’s ’cause I am)
Apple tried to revolutionize the professional desktop computer industry…I’ll give them credit for having the guts to try. To make a computer successful, it needs the industry to buy into it and make processor and graphics card upgrades as they become available. But that never happened. The computer industry just snickered at this machine and went on about its business, never offering upgradeable hardware for the Mac Pro. Newer processors and graphics cards do not exist for the Mac Pro, and they never will.
I can’t even sell it on Ebay. No one wants one of these things…and who could blame them?
According to Apple, they will be offering a completely redesigned and fully-upgradeable Mac Pro in the distant future…and by “distant” I mean not until at least 2019, in my opinion. Oh…and Apple publicly admitted the current Mac Pro was not designed properly to be a long-term solution. Gee…thanks.
Cost of Setup: 4 years of regret.
THE IMAC PRO
When I first read that Apple is coming out with an iMac Pro, I quickly thought to myself, “Finally, here’s my replacement for the cylindrical Mac Pro”.
The iMac Pro is going to be an awesome machine: A state-of-the-art 8, 10 or 18 core processor that turbos up to 4.5GHz, a Radeon Vega graphics card (that is supposedly up to three times faster than the fastest graphics card in the current iMac), FOUR Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports (and the ability to connect two external 5K displays), an up to 4TB flash solid-state hard drive, an even better monitor than the new 27″ iMac, 10Gb ethernet, and up to 128GB of RAM.
But…the next question you have to ask is: Does a photographer really NEED all of this power to simply catalog, post-process, and print photographs? The answer is an emphatic “No”.
Then I read what the base price will be, and I laughed. Supposedly, the iMac Pro will start at over $5,000.00. So, if I want the base model of one of these, I’d have to fork over the cost of a Leica M Type 262 camera. No thanks. If I had 5 grand to burn, I’d rather have the camera.
I’ll just stick with my old Mac Pro until it dies, then go for a regular 27″ iMac…but I appreciate the effort, Apple.
If you do any work with Neutral Density Filters, here’s a helpful reference chart of exposure times:
For example, let’s say you’re looking for a target exposure time of around 1 minute and have a 10-Stop ND filter with you.
Set your camera and lens up on the tripod for the composition you’re seeking, then dial in your aperture to f/8 (for argument’s sake we’re starting at f/8) in aperture priority mode, lowest ISO, and check to see what your camera recommends for shutter speed (remember, in aperture priority mode, you choose the f-stop and the camera will choose the appropriate shutter speed for the “correct” exposure).
Arbitrarily, say the camera sets the shutter speed at 1/30s. Looking at the chart above, if you dial back the shutter speed to 1/15 seconds without a filter on, adding the 10-Stop filter will give you the target shutter speed of 1 minute. You can close down the aperture one stop to f/11, which would increase shutter speed to 1/15s.
Now put the camera in manual exposure mode, and manually focus the shot (auto focus gets weirded out and may not focus properly if you use an ND filter on the front of the lens, so manually focusing before adding the filter is the best way to achieve proper focus). Next, if using a Nikon, you set shutter speed to “Bulb” (on a Nikon, selecting “Bulb” means you manually control shutter speed depending on how long you press the shutter release…I don’t know what other camera systems name it).
Finally, you mount the ND filter on the front of the lens, press and hold the remote shutter release for one minute, and you’re done!
Here’s a real-life example of what an ND filter can do for a photograph: I set up two cameras right next to each other: A Sigma Quattro DP0, and a Nikon D810 with the Nikon 14-24mm lens at 14mm.
This is a shot taken with the Sigma DP0 Quattro, no filter attached. This camera has a fixed lens at a full-frame focal length equivalent of 21mm:
I was in aperture priority mode, and the shutter speed was 1/6s at f/22, ISO 100. (Can you see the car in the clouds?)
The shot below (which is the same one I shared a few weeks ago), used a 5 stop ND filter on the Nikon D810 at 14mm (you can see how much wider the composition is than the 21mm shot above):
Both images were taken at exactly the same time. As you can tell, the clouds were moving pretty quickly that evening…and moving in the same direction (west to east) as the lawn was cut. Had the clouds been moving in a different direction, it would have made the photograph look geometrically awkward since the clouds wouldn’t have lined up with the mowed grass.
In my experience, Neutral Density Filters have proven to be the single most valuable type of filter I’ve used. Not only can ND filters allow you to shoot at extremely long exposures which would not be possible without these filters, but an ND filter can also allow the photographer to control depth of field, regardless of the amount of ambient light available. For example, on a typically bright sunny afternoon, using a fast prime lens wide open (at, say, f/1.4) would be difficult, if not impossible, due to an exceedingly fast shutter speed beyond the capability of the camera’s shutter (usually 1/4000s or 1/8000s). But, with an ND filter on, you can slow down that exposure, without any loss in image quality…and grab that portrait with a crisply thin DOF.
You can also use an ND filter to remove any moving objects from a scene. For example, if you’re shooting a waterfall, and there is no possible way you can set up the shot without people walking into your composition…if you use an ND filter to extend the exposure time, any moving objects will literally disappear and become invisible (provided the objects aren’t a source of light, like flashlights or a mirror reflecting the sun). It’s MUCH more efficient to use an ND filter to clean up the scene rather than trying to clone out everything in Photoshop later.
A cloudy sunset from a few days ago in Hunt Valley, MD. A healthy wind was responsible for causing the motion blur on the trees to the right.
I was testing out the Lee SW150 Mark II filter holder, a contraption which mounts on the front of the lens via an adapter. The SW150 II allows you to use up to two 150 X 150mm square filters, by sliding the filter into the grooves on the front of the filter holder.
For an explanation of filters, you can check out this article: