Friday, October 29, 2010

Focus, Group f/1.4 vs Group f/64

When I started trying my hand at travel photography, I was inspired by Ansel Adams and believed in the "Group f/64" philosophy of "everything in sharp focus". For some subjects, I still think this is the best choice but since I started doing some portraits (of people), I've fallen in love with the shallow depth of field of large aperture prime lenses. When the subject of a photograph is a person's face, background clutter can be a distraction and a shallow depth of field allows the eye to be drawn to the face, particularly the eyes of the subject which I usually want to be in sharp focus.

Esther (shot at f/2.0)

Lately, I've been trying this shallow depth of field more and more in other situations, for portraits of things and even landscapes. Sometimes I wonder, how much of an image needs to be in focus for the photograph to convey the story I have in mind?  For example, the following photograph, looking through the spokes of an old wagon on a ranch in southern Arizona, has very little in focus. There is just one wagon wheel spoke in focus, and only part of that. Still, I like the feeling of the image, the out of focus ranch house still tells the story without really needing details. I'll plan to explore this style more in the next weeks.

Looking through a wagon wheel at the ranch house, Empire Ranch, AZ. (shot at f1.6)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

iPhone 4 Camera, surprisingly good, needs raw.

I'm guessing there is no application that can be written for the iPhone that will allow me to capture the raw file from the little 5 megapixel camera.  Too bad!  I find the tiny camera to be a gem, with a sharp lens that focuses quite close to the camera. (See photo below)

A "Horselubber" grasshopper eating one of its own kind on an asphalt road.  I just set my iPhone on the road next to it and used an application with a 3 second timer to fire the shutter.

As many have said, sometimes the best camera is the one you have with you.  When I bought my iPhone 4, I was looking at the latest model iPod touch but the specifications for the camera on the touch were so much worse than the iPhone, I decided to ditch my old cell phone and switch to the iPhone just to get the better camera.  I find the back illuminated CMOS sensor on this camera performs well, giving reasonable shutter speeds in dim light (in spite of the auto ISO adjustment) and sharp JPEG files with good pixel to pixel resolution.  Of course I'd like more control over the shutter speed and ISO settings but these can be worked around, sort of, by carefully picking the part of the image the meter sees.

A sculpture found at La Entrada and River Road in Tucson.  I picked a bright point in  the center of the image for both focus and metering, keeping the sky dark and not blowing out the highlights.  I made the sky darker when I converted to black and white.

I have found there are various useful applications for the iPhone camera.  One that I like is "Camera Plus" which has a timer setting that delays the shutter for a few seconds after I touch the screen to take a photo.  This allows me to better use the "Blur" tripod and mount I bought for the phone from Mobile Mechatronics Inc. (  The "Camera" app that comes with the phone provides a setting for in-camera High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography which sets the camera to take 3 photos at varying exposures and merges the three into a final image that covers a wider range of exposures than a single photo could.  Of course, the camera and subject must stay fairly still for this to work.

On the left is the "normal" image taken with the iPhone camera, on the right is the HDR version of the same image taken at the same time.  Notice the blown highlights and darker shadows in the first image.

The fixed aperture of f/2.8 on this camera means the depth of field is always the same. I find this compromise to be acceptable for the small size of the camera.  Given the tiny sensor size and the 3.85mm focal length of the lens the depth of field is quite deep even for macro shots.

Vines on a slope.  Even a couple of feet away from the camera the depth of field is a couple of feet.  For closest focusing distance, it is only an inch or two (see first image in this post).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Serendipity is Relative

Last Saturday, I had intended to get out in the field for some photography, but ended up cleaning the house most of the day (including shampooing carpet, rearranging furniture, etc. etc.).  So, Sunday morning I had some psychological withdrawal symptoms, got up early and headed down state route 83 toward Sonoita.  I had intended to do some more shooting of flowers (gone to seed) along the road, and I did some of that, but then I decided to drive in to the Empire Ranch because I hadn't been there for a few years.

The Empire Ranch is an old ranch preserve in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.  I've visited the area for 20 years, off an on, to photograph the old buildings and equipment as well as the trees and flora along the nearby creek.  When I arrived, I saw a number of old stagecoaches and other horse-drawn vehicles scattered around the property as well as some tents, stacks of folding chairs and other event paraphernalia.  There were a couple of guys loading 19th century buggies onto a trailer pulled by a pickup truck and I spoke to them, commenting on the coaches and buggies.  They told me that there had been an "open house" at the ranch the previous day and they were busy packing up the various equipment that had been brought in for the event.

A "Mud Wagon" was used for muddy or rough conditions, canvas was used on the top and sides to reduce weight. I converted this image to black an white for the "old timey" effect and because the wheels were too, too  yellow.

So, I photographed coaches and buggies.  These vehicles are used in the Tucson Rodeo Parade every year and, serendipitously, I had a chance to photograph them in their "natural environment".  Generally, when I see things like this, they are in a museum or in a parade or somewhere surrounded by modern "stuff".  Of course, another person, not interested in photographing old wagons, wouldn't necessarily be as pleased as I was to happen upon this circumstance, hence the word "relative" in the title of this post.

The other thing that was nice, after the guys left in their truck, there was absolutely nobody else around, I didn't hear or see a soul except for a couple of cars driving down a dirt road that passes by the property.  I also consider this part of the serendipity, with a lot of people around, I often find it hard to get a shot without onlookers, which are the shots I enjoy most.  So, getting up early and exploring old haunts payed off on this day for me.

An old wagon shows the size the apparent fragility of the wheels used, I liked the circle within circle effect apparent from this perspective and I used a shallow depth of field to emphasize the foreground wheel.