Monday, August 13, 2018

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area Article #2

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area
John Gilbert
(Click on Any Image To Enlarge It)

Saturday, August 4, 2018 and it's back to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area outside Columbia, MO to shoot the Milky Way.  This took some advanced planning because we had to get a permit from the Department of Conservation to be in the area after closing hours.  The game plan was to photograph the area during the sunset hours, wait till it got dark to photograph the Milky Way, and finally catch the sunrise.  I never realized just how beautiful the night really is, with its sounds, smells, and solitude.  Bob had packed some snacks and water as did Bill and I so we were set for the night.

I was joined by fellow Friends of Eagle Bluffs photographers Bob Colvin and Bill Palmer.  However, we weren't the only ones there to capture the sunset.  Dennis Smarr and  William Settle two other members of Friends of Eagle Bluffs were there as well.  Their agenda was to photograph the sunset then they were off to other parts of Missouri to photograph the meteor showers.  It was a good meetup and a chance to talk photography.

Our first objective was to photograph the sun setting over pools 14 and 15 which are on the southern most part of this 4,431 acre wetland. We were all impressed by an image taken by fellow photographer Matt Farris of this location and posted in Friends of Eagle Bluffs after our last club field trip. We set out to capture the scene as well.  Thanks Matt. The area’s 17 wetland pools allow the flooding of 1,100 acres of moist soil marshes, emergent marshes, and crop fields. These marshes provide year-round habitat for migrating and wintering birds and permanent wildlife and excellent wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities. In the fall, the area’s beauty is enhanced by colorful foliage along the bordering limestone bluffs.

These pools are fed by an irrigation system with water supplied by the Missouri River and a series of river water pumps.  Currently the water levels are low as part of the areas wetland management but this will change in time for the fall migration and the up coming hunting season.  This image was taken with a Nikon D750 and Nikor 20mm f/2 prime lens.  My camera settings were aperture f/10, shutter speed was at 1/25 of a second, and my ISO was set to 100.  Since I was using a tripod I wanted my light sensitivity (ISO) to be as restricted as possible as this really helps to control noise in the image.  This image was captured at approximately 7:00 PM.  The skies were clear but we were treated with some beautiful hues of purple and pinks.

After this shooting Dennis and William left us to go shoot the Perseid's  Meteor Showers at Petersburg, MO.  I was not interested in shooting wildlife but hey I would not pass it up either.  Bob got some good shots of a  Belted Kingfisher. The rest of us drove back towards the Distribution Channel to set up for our Milky Way shot.  We photographed it from three different locations but all with the Milky Way over the channel.  We set up our tripods and sighted in our cameras before sitting back and enjoying the night while waiting for it to get dark enough to photograph out subject.  

When shooting the Milky Way it is important to set you camera up so that it focuses to infinity and this can be a challenge.  However, Bill Palmer suggested that we sight in a bright star using our LCD screen and a Hoodman Magnifying Loop.  It is imperative to magnify your image of a star as much as possible on your LCD screen and then focus on the star manually.  Magnify first with the camera then use the loop to better see the star. Yes, you must shoot in manual focus so the camera does not try to refocus when you take the shot. If you use a zoom lens it will be necessary to tape the lens in place using gaffers tape so that you don't accidentally move it.  You also want to shoot the lens wide open using the lens's smallest f-stop number (largest opening) to allow in as much light as possible.  In my case I was using a fixed 20mm prime and was able to shoot it at f/2.8.

Part of your setup is to determine how long a picture you can take before you get star trails.  For my lens that would be up to 25 seconds.  How you determine this is to divide the number 500 by the focal length of the lens.  Using my lens as an example I divided 500 by 20 and got 25.  If you use a zoom lens you need to do this for whatever length you decide to shot, so if the lens is 10-24mm and your going to shoot it at 12mm you would divide 500 by 12.  There is another factor that I must address and that is if you are using a full-frame camera verses a cropped sensor camera.   With a full-frame there is no adjustment to the lens size to make but If you shoot a cropped sensor camera you need to multiply your lens length by your camera's cropped sensor factor.  In the case of NIkon the crop factor is 1.5 while Canon is 1.6.  What this means in my case of using a 20mm prime on a cropped sensor camera like the D7200 or D500, I would need to multiply 20 by 1.5 to get a 35mm focal length equivalent of 32mm.  I would then divide 500 by 32 and the maximum length of time to prevent star trails would be 16 minutes.  

It really helps to use a remote to trigger your camera so that you prevent any camera movement caused when you depress the shutter.  If you don't have a remote you can shoot in time-delay mode, if your camera has that.  Also I shoot in RAW format so I will be able to recover as much data as possibly in post processing.  Your ISO setting is critical too so that you let in as much light as possible but keep in mind the higher the ISO setting the more noise you will get in the image as well.  For these outing I decided to start out shooting at ISO 3200 but eventually lowered it to around 1200.  Take a series of shots at different ISO sets.  You can change the ISO settings to let in more light or increase the shutter time but don't exceed you maximum time as calculate above.  I varied my shutter time and my ISO settings.

Other factors you might want to consider is to set you camera up to shoot using  a white balance setting on  "K" Kelvin and set it to around 3200.  This will lower the temperature and give you a cooler or bluer sky picture.  However, if you shoot in RAW Format you can also correct this in post processing.  In this capture I accentuated the Milky Way in post processing.  After all this was my subject.  I am not going to go into detail of how I processed this image because that would take too long but there are ways to bring out the light and reduce the noise in processing.  I used a Nikon D750 and Nikkor 20mm prime lens.  My aperture was set to f/2.8, and I settled on an ISO of 2500 for this shot, and I used a 20 second exposure time for this.  The light above the tree line is light pollution from neighboring cities.  Your may not see this but the camera will pick it up.

I took dozens of shots of this subject from different angles and locations and each could have a different look depending on how I processed it.  By 2:00AM we were getting pretty tired so decided to move our vehicles to a parking area and sleep until it was time to capture the morning sunrise.  Bob set his phone alarm for 6AM but Bill and I both accidentally activated our car alarms at around 5 AM.  That was OK because to witness the the day come alive was awesome.  

A nice fog had set in over the marshes and the birds had come to life with their singing.  This was such a beautiful time that we all took a series of images from different locations as the sun rose.  The following images are my series depicting the changing light.  It changes by the seconds.

This image was taken from the back of my car over looking pool #4 from the restroom parking lot.  The sun had not broke the horizon but a beautiful hue of colors proceeded it's arrival.  I took this image using a Fujifilm X-T2 mirror-less camera and a Fujifilm 35mm lens. My aperture was set to f/3.4, an ISO of 400, and since I was using a tripod set my  shutter to 1 second.

There was 28 minutes difference between when I shot this image and the previous one.  Fujifilm X-72, aperture f/8, ISO 200, and shutter speed of 1/60 second.

The sun was breaking the horizon and was a beautiful red.  I grabbed my wildlife rig which consisted of a Nikon D500 and Sigma 150-600mm lens attached to it.  This gave me the ability to get in much closer to the sun.  It also gave me a shallower depth of field and help diffuse the brightness of the sun.  Aperture was set to f/5.6, ISO at 720 (set to auto) and a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second to freeze the sun in place.

Once the sun breaks the horizon it rises by the second so the light changes quickly.  Aperture priority is a good setting for this but be sure and use a tripod.  Fujifilm X-72, 35mm lenses, Aperture at f/5.6, ISO 200, and shutter speed of 1/500 of a second.  This was taken handheld using the camera's vibration correction turned on and a higher shutter speed.

My last shot of the morning was the sun being reflected on the marsh and cloaked by the fog.  At this point the light from the sun was much brighter and stronger. I stood on the car's running board to get high enough to shoot at a downward angle.  Fujifilm X-T2, 35mm lens, aperture f/8, to give me more depth-of-field, ISO of 200 and a shutter speed of 1/500 second. Hand held.

This was a great experience that afforded an opportunity to not only participate in an ever changing light display but to enjoy the solitude of the night.  Special thanks to Brady Lichtenberg MDC Area Wildlife Biologist for getting us the permits. 

Good Location-With Friends-Priceless.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Eagle Bluffs

by John Gilbert - Photographer
July 21, 2018
(Click on any image to enlarge it)

On Saturday July 21, 2018 fellow "Friends of Eagle Bluffs Photography Club" member Bob Colvin and I headed to Columbia, MO to photograph the Sunflowers at the University of Missouri Columbia South Extension Farm.  Several club members, who live in the area, had told us about this research facility and the field planted in Sunflowers.  The field is located east of the AC exit off of New Haven Road.

We left Jefferson City, MO at 6:30 am to be able to take advantage of the morning light.  It was a gorgeous day, blue skies and not to hot.  Once we got there we spent a couple of hours just walking around the perimeter of the field taking pictures.  I used a Fujifilm X-T2 and Nikon D500 with a 150-600 mm zoom lens.  Bob was shooting a Canon 7D MKII and 150-600 mm Lens.  The zoom lens made for a shallow-depth-of-field and combined with a wide open aperture f/5.6 made for some nice background bokah.

This first image was taken with a Fujifilm X-T2; Fujifilm 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 Lens; F/5.6; 1/680 second; and ISO 250.  I love the rich colors this camera produces.

There were bees of various types everywhere collecting pollen.  Click on this image to enlarge it and note the pollen all over its body and especially the collection on the rear legs.  Taken with a Nikon D500 and Sigma 150-600 mm Contemporary Lens at a focal length of 500 mm.  Aperture f/8; Shutter of 1/2000 of a second; and ISO at 400.

After several attempts I was able to lock in on this little butterfly.  They are flighty and move from flower to flower quickly.  I really liked the patterns on its wings and the greenish-yellow hue of its body.  Nikon D500 with Sigma 150-600 at 360 mm.  Aperture f/5.6, Shutter of 1/1000 second; and ISO of 160

For the day I took 673 pictures and could fill up this whole post with Sunflower pictures alone.  I am saving some for flickr.  I was supersized with all the keepers but then out subjects were close and cooperative. After having a great morning we headed to Eagle Bluffs to check out the wildlife.

We were headed to pools 14 and 15 when Bob spotted this young Juvenile setting in a dead tree.  He was right above the road and not the least bit intimidated by our presence. He set there as if it was his throne watching out of his lands and all the while continuing to strike poses for our enjoyment.  By the way the waters at Eagle Bluffs are low and there was little to no water in pool 15.  However, this is perfect for Heron and Egrets hunting for food.

Nikon D500,  Sigma 150-600 mm set at a 500 mm focal length.  Aperture f/8; Shutter speed of 1/1000 second, and ISO of 400.

It pays to travel in pairs because four eyes are better than two and thanks to Bob Colvin who spotted this Red-Headed Woodpecker who, like the Eagle, was not going to get left out of this photo-shoot opportunity.  I just love when nature gives us such great photo models to work with.

Nikon D500,  Sigma 150-600 mm set at a 500 mm focal length.  Aperture f/8; Shutter speed of 1/2000 second, and ISO of 500.  It wasn't until I got this image on my computer and was processing it when I noticed the cobwebs.  I read somewhere that the number of Red-Headed Woodpeckers are down so for me this was a great catch.

We circled on around to pool 15 and on the way back we noticed a Doe with a fawn in the distance and out of camera reach but I and able to see them clearly with a set of Nikon Binoculars.  They were pretty far away and I regret at least not taking a landscape shot with them in it even though they where a block or two from us.  As we continued in their direction,  the Doe and not one but two Fawns came out of the woods and posed for us while crossing the road.

Nikon D500,  Sigma 150-600 mm set at a 600 mm focal length.  Aperture f/8; Shutter speed of 1/2000 second, and ISO of 500.

Bob got the best shot of one of the Fawns running but this one for me was not bad, not bad at all.

Nikon D500,  Sigma 150-600 mm set at a 500 mm focal length.  Aperture f/8; Shutter speed of 1/500 second, and ISO of 500 and EV at +1.

As we were gearing up to leave I noticed this Blue Heron across the Distribution Channel.  It was pretty far away and I was not expecting to capture anything of substance but to my surprise I got a pretty clean shot.  He tried to fly off several times and we just kept pace with him.  He appeared to have capture a fish, maybe dead that might have been two big for him to swallow and I was intrigued on capturing this situation.

Nikon D500,  Sigma 150-600 mm set at a 600 mm focal length.  Aperture f/8; Shutter speed of 1/2000 second, and ISO of 500.

For me this was a very successful day of practicing my photography but wait there is one more shot.  We came across two Bow Hunters and one of them agreed to pose for us.  He even pulled back his bow so we could get an action shot.  I will let Bob tell you his name and a little about him.  We ended up having a great conversation with him.

Well that capped off an exceptional day for both of us and with that it is always good to leave on a positive adventure.  Thanks for stopping by and please leave me a comment if you liked the adventure and the images. 

Monday, July 16, 2018


Photographing The Milky Way
July 13, 2018
(Click on Image to Enlarge-Esc to Return to Normal View)

Recently I signed up for a one day/one night workshop on photographing the Milky Way.  I was accompanied by two friends, Niala Branson and Sharon Tuschhoff from the Cape Girardeau area who are both members of the newly formed Eagle Bluff photography Club and long time members of Club Camera, a closed group of experienced photographers on Facebook.  There were eight participants in all with 3 from Texas 3 from Missouri, and 2 from Kansas.

The workshop was held on July 13, 2018 during a new moon.  It took place at Castle Rock which is a large limestone pillar landmark in Gove County, Kansas. The formation and the nearby badlands are located in the Smoky Hills region of Kansas, which is approximately 11 miles south of I-70 near Quinter, Kansas.

We booked rooms at a Super 8 in Wakenny, KS, a little town approximately 30 miles east of our proposed location shoot.  We all met at 6 PM with the instructor in the lobby to go over the basics and camera settings we were going to need to capture the Milky Way.  It was touch and go as there were thunder storms, with lightning and rain all around us.  There was moderate to heavy cloud coverage in the area we were going to which could have blocked any chances of getting a good shoot of the stars and Milky Way.

Our location shoot was on private range land but the landowners are amenable to visitors and no special permission is required. The two rut path leading back from the dirt road is quite rough, portions of the track having up to 18 inch deep ruts. It takes some careful driving, but you can do it in a car, but a SUV or light truck works much better.

The Castle Rock limestone, chalk and shale formation is fragile and may not last many more years. The tallest spire fell following a thunderstorm in 2001. But there is still a lot to see here. I found the badlands area just south of Castle Rock to be more interesting.  We got there around 7pm and selected our location for the Milky Way Shoot.  We were all on a burm lined up in a row.  Good time to take some shots of the area while waiting to see if the clouds were going to move out and if the Milky Way would show itself. This first image was taken with a Fujifilm X-T2 and a 18-135mm lens.  I shot this at f/8, 1/800 second shutter speed and ISO at 400.  My focal length was 21mm and the camera was hand held.  Note, that the shutter speed was higher than the focal length which really helps freeze any movements from hand-holding.  Keep in mind this was a mirror-less camera so there was no shutter movement to deal with. It was taken at 7:57PM (6:57PM actual day-light time)  In this shot I am facing north-west.  You can see by the clouds and the storm south of our location and it was moving east.  The sun coming from the west was reflecting light behind all the storm clouds which made for this shot.

Monument Rocks (near by) and Castle Rock are designated as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas as a duo entry because of the scientifically significant fossils these ancient chalk beds have produced and because they have been highly eroded into unusual spires and shapes, making them spectacular landmarks on the plains of western Kansas! 

Monument Rocks are large, heavily sculpted chalk monoliths that are sometimes referred to as the Chalk Pyramids. The site has been designated as a National Natural Landmark as well. In eastern Gove County is Castle Rock, a chalk spire that stands by itself in the valley of Hackberry Creek, though immediately south of Castle Rock is an extensive outcrop of chalk, capped by the younger Ogallala Formation.  

This second image was taken around 8:22 PM and reflects the setting sun carpeting light on some of the rock formations.  This is definitely a good example of high contrast between light and dark.  This is not a composite of multiple images but a single shot that was taken in RAW format.  I composted for the light so as not to blow it out and since I was shooting in RAW format was able to recover the dark and shadow areas.  I did not use the rule-of-thirds for my composition but cropped using the Golden Triangle.  To get as much light as possible I shot at f/5 which limited my depth-of-field (DOF) somewhat.  I used a shutter speed of 1/480sec and an ISO of 400.  In hind site I could have change my settings to a higher f-stop for greater DOF which would have reduced my shutter speed and accomplished the same correct exposure.  My camera was set to a fixed ISO of 400 with aperture  manually set but shutter speed on automatic.  I was so excited taking pictures that I broke the cardinal rule of not checking my camera settings each time I moved to a new location.

This is probably one of my favorites because of the beautiful light and colors being reflected by the setting sun.  It was 8:50PM, just about 30 minutes from the previous shot above yet the light is changing by the minute.  As the sun continues to set the light will change by the second.  OK so for this shot I increased my DOF by using an aperture set to f/8.  Now with this aperture and an ISO of 400 my shutter speed was only 1/40 of a second but since I was shooting with a focal length of 24mm and this lens has vibration reduction I was able to capture this image hand-holding the camera.

The chalk was deposited during the Cretaceous Period of geologic history, about 80 million years ago, when the central interior of the U.S. was covered by a seaway. The several hundred feet deep water contained single-celled animals that drifted to the sea floor for eons, creating a mucky ooze. This material was perfect for trapping and preserving the remains of animals that lived in that ocean, such as fish, turtles, sharks, swimming reptiles called mosasaurs and plesiosaurs, swimming birds, gliding reptiles called pterosaurs, as well as invertebrate animals such as giant clams. Today the chalk beds routinely give up these fossils. Probably the best-known fossil from these beds is the famous "fish-within-a-fish" on display at the Sternberg Museum in Hays. 

As I stated earlier there was a lot of lightning as the storms passed across our path.  The good news was the clouds were moving out of the area allowing the stars to show themselves.  I opted to process this image in black and white because there were low hanging clouds and a lot of dust in the area which gave this image the appearance of banding.  Since my camera was on a tripod I was able to use a slow or longer shutter speed and was able to capture the lighting's effects.  I counted between each strike and timed it so that I would get lightening feedback while my shutter was still open.  

This was taken with a Nikon D750 and a 20mm Prime Lens.  Aperture was set at f/2.0.  I used a shutter speed of 15 seconds.  At this point it is getting dark and it was time to use a much higher ISO which I set to 3200.  Yes the trade off is increased noise but I was able to remove it selectively in Photoshop.  I had calculated the length of time I could set my shutter speed at using the 500 Rule.  What is that?  You divide 500 by your lens focal length  and this will give you the maximum shutter length before the stars start to leave trails in your image.  So with my lens being 20mm I divided 500 by 20 to get the length of time I could use or for this lens up to 25 seconds.  Remember I was using a Full Frame camera.  If I were to shoot with my Nikon D500 or even my Fujifilm I would need to take into consideration my cropped sensor factor.  For Nikon and Fujifilm it is 1.5 for Canon it is 1.6. Example:  If I used this same lens on my D500 I would need to multiply the lens length by 1.5 or in this case 30 (20 x 1.5) and then divide this into 500 and my maximum shutter time would be 16.6 or just say 16 seconds prior to getting star trails.  Why does this happen?  Because the earth is rotating.  There are devices to attach to your tripod to counter this effect.

We all set around waiting for the clouds to move out while praying the storms/rain would stay south of us, which they did.  In the meantime everyone focused there lens to infinity using white clouds in the north and then marked their lenses to be able to get back to that setting when it was too dark to see.  For those using zoom lenses the instructor had gaffer's tape which he used to mark their settings to prevent their lenses from accidentally moving.  Once you find the infinity focal length you must switch the camera to "manual focus". 

While waiting for the clouds to move out of the way of the Milky Way I looked behind me and just could not pass up this shot. The sky was clear except for a few clouds with very low opacity and the heaven was blanketed with stars. 

For this composition I used the Nikon D750 on a tripod and the 20mm lens.  My aperture was almost wide open at f/2.  My shutter speed was set for 20 seconds and my ISO was at 6400.  What can I say, lot of noise but was able to remove a lot of it in post processing.

Well at around 11:00 PM the Milky Way began to show itself.  In this image there is still some cloud coverage between the Milky Way and the top of the rocks so parts of the Milky Way are still hidden.  With and ISO of 6400, an aperture of f/2 and shutter speed of 20 seconds I was able to capture this image.

Probably the best shot for ME because the Clouds had moved out and it was around 2:00 AM.  Everything I have read is that the Milky Way is at its brightest during the summer months when it is in the norther hemisphere, best seen during a "New Moon", and reflects its best light between 2 AM to 4 AM in the morning.  

Nikon D750 with 20mm Lens, Aperture at f/2, Shutter set to 15 seconds and ISO at 6400.  In the future I will opt for settings of f/2 or f/2.8, Shutter somewhere between 20-25 seconds, and ISO at 3200.  The secret is in post processing and shooting in RAW Format so that no data is thrown away by your camera.

The Milky Way: A galaxy contains stars, gas and dust. In a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way, the stars, gas, and dust are organized into a "bulge," a "disk" containing "spiral arms," and a "halo." Elliptical galaxies have a bulge-like central region and a halo, but do not have a disk. Bulge: The bulge is a round structure made primarily of old stars, gas, and dust. The outer parts of the bulge are difficult to distinguish from the halo. The bulge of the Milky Way is roughly 10,000 light years across. Disk: The disk is a flattened region that surrounds the bulge in a spiral galaxy. The disk is shaped like a pancake. The Milky Way's disk is 100,000 light years across and 1,000 light years thick. It contains mostly young stars, gas and dust, which are concentrated in spiral arms. Some old stars are also present. Spiral Arms: The spiral arms are curved extensions that begin at the bulge of a spiral galaxy, giving it a "pinwheel" appearance. Spiral arms contain a lot of gas and dust as well as young blue stars. Spiral arms are found only in spiral galaxies. Halo: The halo primarily contains individual old stars and clusters of old stars ("globular clusters"). The halo also contains "dark matter," which is material that we cannot see but whose gravitational force can be measured. The Milky Way's halo may be over 130,000 light years across.  Stars, Gas, and Dust: Stars come in a variety of types. Blue stars, which are very hot, tend to have shorter lifetimes than red stars, which are cooler. Regions of galaxies where stars are currently forming are therefore bluer than regions where there has been no recent star formation. Spiral galaxies seem to have a lot of gas and dust, while elliptical galaxies have very little gas or dust.

I am intrigued with night photography and plan to continue to pursue it so as to improve my skills. Planning a trip in August to to photograph the Milky Way.  Thanks for visiting my Blog.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Eagle Bluff

Columbia, Missouri
July 8, 2018

The high for the day was 90° but during my morning visit it was in the low to mid 80’s.  The sky was clear and it was a sunny bright day.  There weren’t a lot pf people in the area; however, the roads were dry and what cars were there stirred up a lot of dust. It is wise to roll up your windows when you see cars approaching and always use the inside circulation of your car air conditioning. Even this won’t stop dust from getting into your vehicle or on your equipment but it helps.  If only folks would slow down when approaching a park car. Always remember to clean your equipment after a day in this area or any area that is dusty or sandy.

I started off the day looking for the Sunflower Field.  The field is on Private Property, even though it is in the confines of Eagle Bluff and it appears the City of Columbia has added two pump stations on the road leading to the property.  I also noticed a sign halfway to the field that indicated “authorized vehicle only”.  Just a note of caution and please respect this owners property and his crop. Yes, these are not growing wild they are a commodity and damaging them could cost some bucks.

I used three cameras today.  For the Sunflower Field I was shooting with a Nikon D750 and a Fujifilm X-T2.

This first image was taken with a Fujifilm X-T2.  I was using a 18-135 walk around lens. My settings were as follows; f/5.6, 1/180sec, and ISO of 200.

My second image was also taken with the Fujifilm X-T2 and same lens.  My settings were as follows; f/5.6, 1/160sec, and ISO of 200. I haven’t accomplished the art of fine tuning the focus, using focus peaking. (Focus peaking works by detecting edges of highest contrast in your scene and therefore most in focus and highlighting them in a bright color, usually of your choice.)

The above image was taken with a Nikon D750 with a Tokina 100mm Macro Lens.  My settings were as follows, f/8, 1/250sec, ISO 100 and EV of -1. I processed this so that only the flower in the lower right corner would be in focus.  I used a Gaussian Blur Filter and Radial Filter to help accomplish this.

My final image of the Sunflower Field was of the flowers looking to the sun as if worshiping the energy of its rays.  I positioned myself in order to shoot the back of the flowers as they were facing east.  The flowers will follow the sun as it travels across the sky to the west.  Also taken with a Nikon D750 and macro lens the settings were set to f/8, 1/250sec, and ISO 100 and a -1 EV.

I traveled on with no set plan or place to go just looking for wildlife. I ended up taking the road towards Pools 14 and 15.  There were a lot of White Egrets and Blue Heron in the park today.  The water is low in Pool 10 with only shallow water and an exposed mud floor. This makes for great hunting for invertebrates, and fish for these birds.

Turning from one gravel road to the next I saw a large gathering of Egrets and Heron.  I grabbed my camera, the Fujifilm, and when I did I must have locked down the safety buttons on the shutter dial and ISO dial and also moved them to their maxes.  Bottom line I was shooting at f/22 and an ISO 12500. Yep 12500.  

Now this image is not the best, no let’s put it in its proper perspective, it sucks and normally I would delete such a capture.  It has a lot of noise, not to mention focus was off but I am posting it in this blog because I wanted to show the number of Egrets/Heron in the area. I also was amazingly surprised at the picture. I drove down the road and naturally they all flew off so I couldn’t repeat the capture and it wasn't until I drove off that I notice the locked up controls on my camera.  (You have to push in a safety button on top of the control wheel in order to turn the control and change the settings and these had not released.)

Some of the pools have patches of American Lotus flowers in bloom.  Beautiful flowers but these plants are invasive and uncontrolled will take over all the pools.  It appears MDC is addressing this problem as I noticed a patch that were dead, appearing to have been sprayed. On this particular day I was able to compose the next two images of an Egret feeding among the flowers.  The Egrets don’t appear to be as skittish as the Herons especially when hunting for food.

I switched to my Nikon D500 and Sigma 150-600mm lenses for these shots.  My settings were as follows; f/5.6, s/1000sec, and ISO 125.  My focal length was 310mm or a 35mm equivalent of 465mm.  Normally I shoot at f/8 because this lens is sharpest at that setting and I for sure did not need the light.  What this boils down to is forgetting to check my settings prior to taking the shot'

My final catch for the day was this Blue Heron perched on a Wood Duck House. Like I mentioned earlier these birds are flighty and quick to take to flight once your vehicle gets near or for sure if you stop the car. 

Settings for this image was f/6. 1/1000sec, and ISO 280. My focal length was 460mm or a 35mm equivalent of 690mm.

Well it was only natural for him to take to flight.  I mean after all I was a block away and posed a major threat to his safety.

If you enjoyed this post please leave a comment.  I have been told that unless you have a Google account you have to prove you are a human.  This prevents spam so please take the time to go through the questions and steps or better still set up a Google+ account and create you own personal social network that you can restrict to photography, photographers, and photography groups. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018



Software that sharpens an image does so by looking for parts of an image which has significant changes in color or luminosity and it applies contrast to pixels on either side of those changes therefore it gives the appearance of sharpness.

What is the best method for sharpening?  The one that YOU are the most comfortable with.  The purpose of this article is to take a look at the various methods offered by Photoshop.

The methods offered by Photoshop are Sharpen, Sharpen Edges, Sharpen More, Smart Sharpen, Unsharp Mask, and High Pass.  (Fig. 1-1) The first three are blunt in their techniques and should be used with caution.

In this article we are going to look at “Smart Sharpen”, “Unsharp Mask”, and “High Pass”.  There are other methods also and there are presets that can help as well, such as the NIK Collection, Topaz Labs, TKActions by Tony Kuyper and I am sure many more.

UNSHARP MASK:  This filter is flexible in that it gives the user control over its effects. There are three adjustments which can be applied when using this mask, Amount, Radius, and Threshold.  “Amount” controls how much or how little to increase the contrast of pixel edges.  Increase this slider too much and you will get halos around the edges. Increase too little and you will get practically no effect.  For high resolution images experts indicate that you can push this slider to somewhere in the neighborhood of 150% all the way up to 300%. (Fig. 1-2) 

It’s all about your taste.  Remember you can tone it down with the opacity slider. 

“Radius” determines the number of pixels surrounding the edges that will be “contrast-enhanced” to provide the sharpening effect. The greater the value, the wider the edge effects become, and the more pronounced and obvious the sharpening becomes.  It appears that a value, somewhere, between 2 and 3 will yield the best results on an uncropped image from a camera with a sensor of 12Mp or 18Mp.  Your camera’s sensor and your computer monitor can have a bearing on the outcome so experiment with this.  Saved-as Practice image and get away from it for an hour or two or even a day.  Come back and review your practiced image.

“Threshold” determines how different, surrounding pixels are, before considering them for sharpening.  The greater the value, the less the sharpening effect.  I have mine set at 1 but have used a higher value like 2 or 3.  Some experts recommend 3 or 4.

SMART SHARPEN:  This is the Cadillac of the sharpening filters because it gives the user control over sharpening and the sharpening algorithm.  It also allows for controls of sharpening over shadows and/or highlights.  It’s not perfect yet but Adobe is getting there.

The Smart Sharpen dialog window gives two modes of operation. “Basic” and “Advanced”.  (Fig. 1-3) The “Advanced” mode is where you can tweak the shadows and highlights.  There are three tabs in the “Advanced” mode, Sharpen, Shadow and Highlight.  This lets you control how the shadows and highlights areas are dealt with.   The “Amount” and “Radius” sliders work in the same way as they do in the Unsharp Mask.  However there are two additional sliders “Reduce Noise”, and “Remove”.  

Reduce Noise is self-explanatory but remember reducing noise will soften an image.  

The remove option allows you to specify the sharpening algorithm.  For still images the choice is between “Gaussian Blur” and “Lens Blur”.  For moving subjects the option is “Motion Blur”. There are those that believe that “Lens Bur” has the edge in quality when shooting stills.

The “Shadows” slider consists of Fade, Tonal Width, and Radius.  The “Fade” slider controls the amount of sharpening in the shadow areas.  Sliding to the right adds more sharpening while sliding to the left adds less.  The “Tonal” slider controls the range of tones in the shadows that will be sharpened.  They work together with both sliding in the same direction to increase or decrease sharpness.  The “Radius” slider controls the pixels around the shadows but a lot of pros see that it has little effect and recommend just leaving it alone.

The “Highlights” controls are the same as the “Shadows” but targeted to the highlights.  The Smart Sharpen Filter is a RAM hog on a 32 bit system and works best on a 64 bit system.

IMPORTANT:  The most important thing to know is that, since you are sharpening on a pixel basis, different sizes of any given image require different amounts of sharpening – which is fairly obvious, but often overlooked.  So set Photoshop to display an image at “Print Size” when applying sharpening. (Menu>View>Print Size)
HIGH PASS: This is not included in Photoshop’s sharpening menu. It is found in a sub-menu in the “Other” section under the “Filter” menu. (Fig. 3-3) In order to use this menu you have to create a duplicate of the background image. (Menu>Layer>Duplicate Layer) and apply the filter to the duplicate layer, with the blending mode set to “Overlay” or “Soft Light”.  However, Soft Light results in less pronounced sharpening. The only control slider is the radius slider.  The larger the number the more the sharpening.  Using this filter is about the same as using the “Unsharp Mask” filter but with less hassle because you have to create a separate layer.  Since sharpening is your last step you could combine all the layers into a combined layer and then apply the sharpening.  Hold down Ctrl, Alt, Shift, and E to create a new layer that combines all the layers underneath it.  Keep in mind this will apply sharpening to all your adjustments as well. 

Rule-of-Thumb, I like to apply sharpening to various parts of my image and not the whole image. To do this I will add a “Black Layer Mask” (Menu>Layer>Layer Mask>Hide All) to my combined layer (Ctrl/Alt/Shift/E) and using a brush set to white will paint sharpening to the areas I want.  I always start with a low capacity (selected from the brush tool bar) and make several passes. I set flow to 100% and smoothing to anywhere from 0 to 100%.  Smoothing prevents the jitters from painting with the brush while using a mouse. I have found that this works great with sharpening wildlife images.
Well that’s it.  I hope this helps and if you have your own method for sharpening please share with the group.

Information for this presentation was obtained from an article by Karl Williams Photography 2011

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


By john gilbert

I have said it before and I will repeat it now, shooting in jpeg throws away valuable recoverable data.  Furthermore, when you shoot jpeg you are letting the camera “post process the image for you”.  Don’t believe me?  Do this test, go outside and shot a picture and shoot it in jpeg and then shoot it in RAW.  Download the two pictures and compare the file size of the jpeg with that of the image shot in RAW.  You should note a huge difference in the number of megapixels which make up each image.  The RAW file, depending on your camera, can be twice as big as the jpeg file.  So what happened to all those megapixels?  The camera post processed the jpeg image based on the camera’s internal stored memory data and then discarded all the pixels it did not use.  Threw them away not be seen again, co-poof, gone.  No chance of ever recovering detail in post processing.  Did you know that the discorded data could be up to 61% of the total that could have been captured?  The next images were taken with a Nikon 24megapixel camera, Nikon D750. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)
The above image was captured as a jpeg right out of the camera and consisting of 11.92MB and at a resolution of 300ppi.   When you compare this to the image below (Image II) it is obvious that the camera has applied some processing.  The RAW file below is muted or dull and flat in appearance. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)
This second image is the unprocessed RAW file and contains 28MB of data, just waiting to be processed.  Note the difference in the sizes of the two images, 11.92MB for the jpeg and 28MB for the RAW file.  That is a loss of data of approximately 57%, this will differ with various cameras but the principal will always be the same.  What happens to that data?  It is lost.

So what is so important about this?  The ability to recover highlights and shadows in post processing is lost.  Many times, as I will show later in this article, data can be recovered in processing.  Today’s cameras have the ability to record a large amount of dynamic contrast, the difference between lights and dark, which can be brought forward in the digital darkroom (computer).

Let’s look at image III taken with a Nikon 36megapixel camera, Nikon D810. Even though I used two different cameras from different periods in time the principal of lost data from shooting jpeg versus RAW is the same. Just for information this was captured at Millstream Gardens on the St. Francis River.  This RAW file is 76MB in size.  The jpeg version of this image would be about 29MB or 61% less data.  Note here that the sky appears to be washed out or overcast.  However, on the day this picture was taken there were in fact clouds in the sky.  But standing in the shade and shooting a scene that has a bright sunny background is definitely a high contrast scenario.  But like I said today’s cameras can capture a large range of light/dark contrast. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)

So I am going to take this image into Photoshop and process it to bring back the details not showing but were in fact captured by the camera.  How can I do this? Because the data is still there in the RAW file, it was not discarded by the camera but in fact was captured and stored on the SD card.  This affords me the opportunity to recover as much data in the image as is possible.  I usually begin with some general adjustments in a RAW processer.  My RAW converter is “Adobe Bridge”. I use it to set the camera mode, correct for “Chromatic Aberration” should any exist and enable “Profile Correction”.  I use Layers in Photoshop to pull back the light and open up the shadwows but this can be done in “Bridge” or “Lightroom”.

Before we go any farther lets explain Chromatic Aberration and Profile Correction.  Chromatic aberration (also known as color fringing or dispersion) is a common problem in lenses which occurs when colors are incorrectly refracted (bent) by the lens, resulting in a mismatch at the focal point where the colors do not combine as they should. 
It can appear as a green or red fringe around the sharp edges of your subject.  Chromatic Aberration happens because your lens acts as a prism; bending light depending on the various properties of the glass.

Profile correction allows you to fix lens problems such as distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting.

There is a lot that can be done in “Bridge” or “Lighroom” and for general purposes you should be able to accomplish everything you need in these programs.  You can adjust the temperature, to make your image cooler or warmer.  Adjust contrast locally or globally.  Pull back the highlights in case there is some spiking of them and open up the shadows.  Adjusting clarity can make a picture appear to be sharper and you can even apply sharpening and reduce noise as well.  You can also adjust the saturation of colors globally or increase non-saturated colors by adjusting the vibrancy slider.

Image IV is the completed processing of the RAW file.  Note that I was able to recover some really nice clouds, opened up some mid-tones or shadows, brought out the colors, and increased the overall sharpness, all without distorting any parts of the image.  Because of the file's size I could enlarge this picture for printing without any loss of detail. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)

I should point out that shooting in RAW will require more processing time and this can be daunting if you have taken hundreds of shots.  Today’s software’s make it possible to process one image and then copy the adjustments to subsequent images.  There are hundreds of presets available to aid in the processing task as well as plug-ins like NIK and Topaz or even On1.

I shoot in RAW but there are times when jpeg is the way to go.  For example when I shoot a sports event like a high school football game I will shoot in jpeg.  I have even been known to shoot wildlife in jpeg and RAW at the same time.  Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with whichever method you prefer and with cameras offering 36 to 50 megapixels there is a lot of room for adjustments even in a jpeg file.  I have seen some drop dead gorgeous landscape images that were taken in jpeg mode.  But to capture that breathtaking sunset or sunrise or any dynamic range landscape I encourage you to shoot in RAW format.  Beside for me post processing can be as much fun as actually taking the image.  Well maybe the next best thing to taking the image.