20 Sep

We had a lot of fun at the Fallasburg Fall Festival for the arts, and enjoyed talking to the hundreds of people that stopping by to admire and purchase our prints! Several images were show favorites, and many people had questions on how I achieved a particular look. It is always great to answer all those question in person, and it gave me the inspiration to continue my ‘Making of:’ serie of blog post.

Fall and Water was one of the most asked about images (it fit very well in the Fall Festival theme). People were initially attracted by the vivid colors (Q: Do you Photoshop? A: Do I ever!), but the more people looked at the larger format prints, the more they noticed small details… and they kept being drawn to the image, looking for what was that kept their attention.

In taking and processing this image I had set out to try to capture a bit of the beautiful fall atmosphere around the waterfalls of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I took many pictures of waterfalls, and the recurring theme in my mind was Water and Fall… just a play of words that kept on coming back in my head, and slowly moved my focus from the beautiful waterfalls to the concepts of Water and Fall (both the season and the act of falling).

I started scouting a small stream flowing along the rocky path I was on, and quickly found a neat and colorful arrangement of leaves that suggested an interesting composition (I admit I did a little bit of ‘landscaping’ by removing a couple of leaves that were in the way, and arranging my subject a little – is that worse than photoshopping? 😬). I had my Fall, and there was water all around… Now how to make them come together!

The first thought was to capture the glisten of the wet rocks to enhance their texture, almost like a clear gel coat. I was using my Singh-Ray VARI-N-DUO filter, and I took care to set the polarizer aspect of it in such a way to retain some of the reflection from the rocks to create the effect I wanted.

Setting the filter close to its maximum density allowed for another creative use of the flowing water. By using a very long exposure time (30 seconds) the water almost disappeared, leaving a soft transparent layer that separated the portions of the composition above water from the background. This is similar to the use of a shallow depth of field, but the effect is unique enough to catch the attention of the viewer with a very strong demarcation between the sharp and soft portions of the image.

I post-processed this image to further enhance the color and texture of the scene with a combination of subtle local color adjustments, saturation and sharpening. The result is what you see above. I have a large print of this image hanging in my office, and every time I look at it it brings back memories of a beautiful fall day in the UP!

16 Sep

For the second year in a row we have been juried in to the Fallasburg Arts Festival, and we will be showing our photography at Booth @20 this weekend! Stop by and visit us, and enjoy the 100 vendors, the food, the music and the great fall weather! In addition, Whitney Lassini will be demonstrating glass lamp working techniques on Saturday and Wire Wrapping techniques on Sunday within the Pavillion!

As this is our last show for the season, we will be running a 20% show special discount on all fine art photography!

03 Jun

Cinquecento is a Diptych captured while vacationing in Italy last year with my family. While on a tour of the Umbrian countryside we stopped for a couple of days in the town of Montecastello di Vibio, a delightful old village in the region of Umbria.

I had recently acquired a Canon EF 8-15/4 L Fisheye zoom, and Montecastello, with its narrow cobblestone roads and stone buildings seemed a great place to look for interesting perspectives that could be captured in a fish-eye projection…

Canon EF 8-15/4 L

Canon EF 8-15/4 L

This lens is a very interesting fish-eye, especially when used on a full frame camera. At 14 mm and above it acts like a traditional full frame fish-eye, with a diagonal FoV of approximately 180 degrees. At 8 mm it becomes a full circular fisheye, providing a 180 degree circular image and a very unique, distorted perspective that begs to be put to creative use. In particular, it differs from a rectilinear super wide in the fact that only radial lines passing through the center of the lens remain straight, and all other straight lines become segments of circles of increasing curvature as they are farther away from the image center. This makes it so that subjects composed primarily of curved lines and placed in the center of the image and near the lens are rendered in a very pleasant, exaggerated distortion. Straight lines, on the other hand, are very visibly altered, but that too can be used for a composition advantage.

The perfect subject was waiting for me just around the corner!

Fiat 500, the original!

Fiat 500, the original!

An original Fiat 500 (probably older than I) in perfectly restored conditions was parked in one of the narrow alleys. There was barely room for a person to walk by on either side, and the small car was dwarfed by the stone buildings on either side of it.

I took this capture hand held, with the camera held at the hood level, and slightly pointing upward. The front of the lens was no more than 2 feet away from the nose of the car. The framing was chosen to create a contrast between the straight lines of the pavement, converging to the imaginary center of the image, and the curved verticals arching towards the top of the frame.

The capture worked, and I am quite pleased with it. It would have been a fun stand alone picture, but as I started walking around the car I noticed that the windows and the moon roof were open, presenting me with an irresistible opportunity…

Fiat 500, interior

Fiat 500, interior

I quickly shoved my camera through the driver’s window, pointed it towards the front holding it approximately where the head of the driver would had been and captured an image in the blind. The image is not flawless – you can see the reflection of my shirt and a piece of my gear in the side view mirror, and the sky is blown out – but the effect is to provide the impression of sitting at the wheel!

When the two images are framed side-by-side, or used for the front and back cover of a photo book, they effectively present a 360 degree panoramic view of the scene, from the inside and the outside!

The EF 8-15/4 L is definitely a specialized lens, but the creative potential is huge! It is sometimes a little difficult to pre-visualize the results, but with a little trial and error it opens up completely unique perspective, and fun ways to approach composition!

30 May

With this post I am starting a series dedicated to some of my favorite images, where I will be discussing the story behind the picture.

The first one is a little planet projection of a pano taken in Fort McAllister, GA. I visited Ft. McAllister a few years ago while vacationing in Savannah, GA. I was traveling light, with just my EOS 5D Mk III and a couple of lenses, without my trusty (and somewhat bulky) tripod and all of my pano gear.

It was a cloudy day, and I did not have any specific photography goals in mind, just looking to enjoy the visit and be a tourist for a day.

While walking on the fort’s grounds, I was intrigued by the sod covered bunkers that peppered the landscape, and I decided to walk atop one to see if I could find an interesting view… What I saw was the tree line enclosing all the grounds, a few small dormers that acted as vents for the bunker below my feet, and grassy mounds all around me covering other bunkers.

I thought it would be interesting to take a 360 degree panorama of the scene, with the intent of creating a ‘little planet’. Only one challenge, I did not have any pano gear with me!

I set out to capture three circular rows of images with my EF24-70/2.8L set to its wide end and f/8. To minimize the parallax errors inherent with a hand-held capture, I placed the nadir of my shot in a flat grassy spot, with no near objects sticking up from the ground plane. I also made sure to capture the two dormers on the roof of the bunker in a single shot, so that the stitch lines would not travel through them. I picked a small weed on the ground as a reference for the start of my rotation, firmly planted my left foot as a pivot point, cradled my camera in a portrait orientation and started the first row trying to keep the visual horizon level. By using my foot as a pivot point and cradling the camera to be approximately over it, I tried to keep the rotation of the camera as close as possible to the pivot axis, in a rough approximation of a pano setup.

Without moving my pivot foot, I the proceeded with the second (top) row of captures, using the tree tops as a level reference, and finally the third (bottom) row. Finally, I stepped aside from my pivot point and took one nadir shot at arms-length distance, which would fill the nadir and cover up the image of my foot!

All the images were stitched in PTGui, using the PoV correction function for the nadir fill shot and the Masking function to exclude my foot and leg from the stitch.

The shot worked, with a little luck and a little planning! The final projection was set as little planet, creating an interesting view of the location!

Ft. McAlister, GA - little planet

Ft. McAlister, GA – little planet

(Note: in this image I left a small black spot to indicate the nadir where the center of rotation was. That was erased in the final picture)

28 May

I just received notice that my art was selected for the second year in a row to participate in the Fallasburg Fall Festival for the Arts!

The Fallasburg Fall Festival is one of the premiere juried art show in west Michigan, and I had a great time showing my art there last year! Looking forward to the 2016 show, which will be held September 17 and 18, 2016 at the Fallasburg Park in Lowell, MI.

Admission is free, and great food vendors and bands will add to the enjoyment of more than 100 art booths.

Hope to see you there!

–Stefano

02 Mar

I am very excited to be in this great regional art competition! My photograph ‘Presque Isle River Gold’ in a Museum Edition was accepted, and will be part of the exhibition in the King Gallery, Lowell from March 4th to April 16th.

The print will be for sale, and is supplied with both a Warranty Certificate attesting to the quality of the materials employed and with a Provenance Certificate attesting to the authenticity of the print.

If you are in mid Michigan you could plan a visit to the King Gallery anytime during the Exhibition period to check out my work and that of many other regional Artists! For a map you can see the link at the bottom of this post!

26 Feb

Rarely I have been more excited to see a software update! The Color Checker is an integral part of my reproduction work flow, and I use it anywhere I can to get a consistent and accurate baseline for my raw conversion.

With the switch to the Canon EOS 5DS R though I had all sorts of trouble, as the software was apparently unable to deal with the large size images generated by the camera… Finally X-Rite solved the problem with a software update that is automatically applied when the Color Checker Passport utility is started.

All is good again in my color managed workflow, and I am smiling… Yes, I know, I am a color nerd!

30 Jan

The most recent update to Adobe’s Lightroom introduced a new feature that has me very excited, Boundary Warp! Here at LLW we are all for large scale, hyper detailed panoramic images and we have developed a solid workflow to achieve optimal results.

When logistics allow, we shoot multi-row panos either on our Really Right Stuff pano setup or on a Gigapan Epic Pro in order to capture well aligned frames with minimal parallax error. In other instances (especially when traveling by air) we need to be more expedient and resort to hand-held capture. With practice, especially for single row panos, hand-held capture is quite feasible. The largest challenge are scenes that contain strong vertical elements (I.e.: trees) spaced on near and far focal planes, which would generate strong parallax errors in the final stitch due to the camera not being rotated around the entrance pupil of the lens.

Typically we process our images in Lightroom first, synchronizing settings across the whole batch, and then we export the individual frames to PTGui to perform the alignment and stitching. PTGui is extremely fast even with gigapixel class images, and has a great variety of output projection choices that allow us to create great panoramic images. As an example, the little planet projection below was captured hand-held as three 360 degree rows and then aligned, stitched and projected with PTGui with very little effort.

Ft. McAlister, GA - little planet

Ft. McAlister, GA – little planet

Today, though, I want to show you a great new capability of Lightroom that I find very exciting and that is not available in PTGui.

Let’s start by selecting a set of images to stitch from the library module:

Merging to Panorama

Merging to Panorama

Here we are selecting 11 frames taken with the EOS 5DS R during our recent trip to Monument Valley. From the pop-up menu we select Photo Merge -> Panorama.

Panorama Merge Preview

Panorama Merge Preview

After a few minutes to process the eleven 50 MegaPixel images Lightroom presents us with a preview very similar to what we would get from PTGui. Here we selected a Cylindrical projection as we are dealing with a single row pano with an horizontal field of view of almost 180 degrees. Until a few days ago the choice of projection would have been all that we could have selected. Note that while the capture was pretty well aligned on the horizon, the borders of the image are not rectangular due to the re-projection of each image in the output canvas. This is unavoidable, and the common solution is to crop the borders out to produce neat edges.

This would be fine in this case, but in captures that are less precisely aligned the amount of ‘scalloping’ of the edges can be significant, and thus the amount of image content sacrificed in the final crop could be more than desirable.

The latest version of Lightroom adds an incredibly nifty tool to the pano merge dialog, Boundary Warp.

100% Boundary Warp

100% Boundary Warp

By setting the Boundary Warp slider to 100% the irregular edges of the image are stretched to fill the empty space in such a way that the resulting distortion is unnoticeable. Note the rail on the right side of the image, which remains straight before and after the warp. In a simple mouse drag we have a perfect image border, and we did not have to sacrifice any image content to a crop!

We did crop the rail on the right for aesthetic reasons in the final image, which totaled in excess of 177 MegaPixels for a printed size of 92″ by 40″!

Artist Point, Monument Valley

Artist Point, Monument Valley

Here are some quick peeks with the loupe at 1:1 magnification to show the kind of detail available in the final image:

Incipient HooDoos

Incipient HooDoos

Mittens in the Distance

Mittens in the Distance

Vertical Face detail

Vertical Face detail

Buttes with Snow

Buttes with Snow

The image quality achieved is impressive, and the detail in the final print is beyond anything that we have achieved in hand-held captures before! Now if I could just stop grinning and order another 8 terabytes of disk storage…

10 Jan

For a landscape photographer who’s goal is to produce large, impactful prints, image resolution and sharpness are critical considerations. The introduction in 2015 of high megapixel DSLR like the Canon EOS 5DS R provided for a significant step increase in sensor resolution, and brought along much discussion on what did that mean for the rest of the image capture system (lenses, supports, data storage, computer processing and so forth).

From a purely technical point of view, the small pixel size in the new sensors (approximately 4 microns) impacts several aspect of the capture:

  • ISO sensitivity and noise: The smaller pixels collect less light, so maximum ISO sensitivity and noise suffer.
  • Diffraction limit: The sensor in the Canon 5DS R out-resolves a theoretical lens with an aperture smaller than approximately f/5.6.
  • Hyper-focal distance and Depth of Field: The smaller pixels require a smaller Circle of Confusion in order to capture a sharp image. As a result, the apparent depth of field of a lens/aperture combination is less.
  • Control of camera shake becomes more critical: Canon did an excellent job dampening the shutter and mirror mechanism, but the resolution of the sensor is such that any minor motion during capture is enough to generate a soft capture.

The consensus internet wisdom (?) is that in order to take advantage of the 50 Mpix resolution the camera can only be used with the finest (and most expensive) lenses, on rock solid tripods with mirror lockup, cable release, and calm winds. For extended depth of field, multiple focus-stacked captures should be employed. While all of this without doubt would maximize the chances of a high quality capture, the practicality of photographing the Landscape under the elements sometimes requires the expediency of hand held capture with whatever lens is mounted on the camera (for me likely either the 24-70/2.8L or the 70-200/2.8 L IS II).

Over the Christmas 2015 break I had my first opportunity to practice capturing images without my trusty RRS TVC-34/BH-55 in Monument Valley, AZ. We had a short time to drive through the loop road, and very cold and windy conditions (felt like at least 40 Mph sustained).

The image below was captured handheld, with my 24-70/2.8L (first generation) at 32 mm/f11, 1/160s, ISO 400. In order to capture enough apparent DoF the lens was stopped two full stops past the diffraction limit, and the ISO was raised to 400 to give me a fast enough shutter speed to counteract the motion caused by the wind both on the subject and on myself.

Monument_Valley_Raw_handheld_full.jpg

At this resolution, this appears as a successful capture. Let’s look at the detail:

Monument_Valley_Raw_handheld_raw_crop

This is a 100% crop of the foreground, including both some dead wood (not affected by the wind) and some brushes. Note how the details are very soft, both in the fine structure of the wood and of the dried brushes. This is less than what one would expect from $5,000 of equipment, but is consistent with the limitation of both diffraction and micro-shakes that were inherent in the capture conditions.

This proved to be a great chance to try out a new (to me) piece of post production software, Piccure+.

Piccure+ implements a sophisticated de-convolution algorithm to compensate for both lens aberrations and micro-shakes. In this image the primary source of softness was the small f-stop, with a secondary contribution from the less than rock solid hand-held capture.

Piccure+ managed to recover a great amount of sharpness, as shown in the crop below:

Monument_Valley_Raw_handheld_piccure_crop

The results are great and produce a file that is printable at 30″x20″ with almost no interpolation and with beautiful detail. It takes a few iterations through the preview window of Piccure+ to determine the right settings, and about a minute for Piccure+ to process the 50 Mpix TIFF out of Lightroom, but the results speak for themselves.

At $99.00, Piccure+ is a steal, especially when compared to the cost of the camera hardware! While I am usually fanatical about a perfect capture, Piccure+ allows me to obtain beautiful results even when the situation requires expediency. Highly Recommended!