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Make Your Social Media Photos Better – Part I (The Earth is not Flat)

Better.” An obviously subjective term. Most of my blogs over the years have been directed at photographers or at least, people with interest in photography. In this series, I am addressing some of the things I see on Social Media. Admittedly, I am an “old” guy (another subjective term). So my Social Media exposure is relatively limited (like Facebook – remember when that was for “young” people?) 🙂 .  The earth is not flat. But we could excuse the casual observer who didn’t know better. When you look off into the distance, you see a horizon, and for all our eyes tell us, you could fall off the edge of that horizon. Except that we know it is not true. We learned it in grade school (or perhaps before). But there is another thing: that horizon we see off in the distance – it is always level.

smartphone users are primarily who I am directing these suggestions to

Today, there are almost 2 billion photos uploaded daily to Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, WhatsAp, and the like. 2 billionPer day.  I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting my head around that. I probably see 20 to 40 a day.  That makes my sample only about 0.00000001%!  But I think it’s enough to support my observations. Modern “smart” cellphones have focused (yes, pun intended) on quality image-making software and hardware.  The newest generation of iPhone and Android (particularly sector leader, Samsung) smartphones have remarkable lenses and pretty capable software for digital image capture. They are perhaps as much responsible for this explosion of posted images as any other one factor.  I would guess that about 1.99 billion of the 2 billion daily posted images were made with smartphones. So smartphone users are primarily who I am directing these suggestions to. The intent here is not to be judgemental, and if my comments offend anyone, I apologize in advance.  No offense meant.  Rather, I am hoping I will suggest some things everyone can do to make those images that all your online friends remark are “beautiful” to, truly beautiful, both aesthetically and technically.  Since you are posing the image, we will assume aesthetics are to your liking. What I am talking about here is the technical qualities that make an image better.  So this series of blogs will address some things I see.

Horizons

Tilted Horizon

This is the single most common fault I see. The vast majority of images I see online, which otherwise are very nice images in many cases, suffer from this malady. As I look at them, I often wonder aloud, “How there is any water left in any ocean or lake on our planet?” Because based on the photographic representations I see, it should all have drained by now. 🙂 There is no special natural talent that skilled and experienced photographers have to get this right. In fact, I don’t believe there is any one of us who see things levelly through the lens without aid of some kind. I had been shooting seriously for many years when my friend, Al Utzig mentioned some tilted horizons on a couple of my images. Unlike some of the images I see on line, they were very subtle, and I didn’t see it. Al suggested that I use a level device on my camera and I have done so ever since. These cost a few dollars and are an invaluable aid, but do some homework when ordering online, as I found some of them were notoriously not true to level (I check mine against a carpenters level). I was surprised at the difference between the “leveled” image, and what I thought was level with just my eyes.  And, my very limited empirical data tells me that most of us lean to the right. But the mechanical level simply doesn’t lie. 🙂

“How there is any water left in any ocean or lake on our planet?”

So how do we fix the problem?  Of course you cannot use the mechanical bubble level on your smartphone.  And it is really only useful when shooting from a tripod – which most of you don’t/won’t do. The fix is really pretty easy and there are three ways I can suggest that will be very easy for any user to adopt. The first two are in-camera and probably the best solution for snapping and posting photos.

Hotshoe Bubble Level

1) Virtually every digital camera today has settings that superimpose grid-lines on the viewer (and on your phone, if the setting isn’t there, “there is an app for that”). This is a very useful feature, and in my view, should always be activated for your camera.  Here is a very good explanation of use of and turning this feature on for both Android and iPhones. The grid lines are really intended as an aid to composition of the photo (more later),  but can be useful where there is a clear horizon line in the image, like the ubiquitous sunset over water image.  If your phone is older and doesn’t have grid lines, there are any number of camera apps available for download that will do this, as well as the other things we will be mentioning.

Viewing Screen Grid Lines

2) Many cameras also have a built-in electronic “level.”  “I have that always on” for all of my digital cameras (I still use the bubble level when shooting from a tripod).  As I have moved to the “small camera,” “street shooting,” hand-held mode in recent years, this has become an invaluable aid to me. It works – I think – better than the grid lines (the grid lines are always on also, as they have another important use, which I will cover in an upcoming blog). Using both gives you the ability to cross-check how things are working. Use is simple. All but the very newest phones (the new iPhone does) do not have this feature and you will have to download an app. There are different variations of this tool, but they all work pretty much the same. There is a fixed horizontal line and a rotating line (usually green or red), or two rotating lines that turn (usually) green when level is accomplished. Just insure that the horizontal lines match up. The tool is superimposed on the viewing screen and doesn’t interfere with composition or shooting.

One of many different variations of a built-in “electronic” level

The last way is a bit more work, and I suspect that few will go to this step. 3) Most of the time, horizon issues can be fixed with digital photo processing software. Of course this adds some steps and an element of complication to the seemingly straightforward process of taking the picture and then “sharing” it somewhere. But if you want the image to look good, it is worth doing if you didn’t get it during the shot. Older photo software required some loss of parts of the edges of the image (“cropping”) when fixing tilted horizons.  These days most software is so “smart” that it fixes those edges pretty well (Photoshop calls this “content-aware” cropping).  My screen capture didn’t pick it up, but when you move the cursor to one of the bracketed corners, a curved arrow appears showing the direction of rotation and you just “grab” the corner and rotate it until the horizon is straight.  Photoshop software allows placement of “guides” (the blue line near the horizon) both horizontally and vertically to help in determining level. The iphone and android stores all have apps that can be downloaded for either a nominal fee or free, which do post-processing (like Snapseed) and many of them have the capability to rotate an image after it has been shot and stored on the phone.

Correcting a Tilted Horizon in Post-Processing Software

So now you have no excuses for posting crooked images 🙂 . I’ll be watching for more level horizons on Facebook.

NOTE:  As I worked on this series of blog posts, I fiddled with my own smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S7), and learned that the native camera app is pretty lacking.  This has got me looking for an adequate substitute app.  What I am finding is that it does not appear that many of these app developers are photographers (or perhaps more accurately, they don’t shoot the way I do).  So many of them have lots of “bells and whistles,” but are lacking in one or more important features. Most notable is the level app.  I can find plenty of stand-alone level apps, but they do not seem to integrate well with the native camera app.  Looking at a full-featured app, I am currently trying out an app called “Snap Camera.”  I will try to remember to report my findings.  One thing is that this is not a free app ($1.99 on Google PlayStore, which I do not think is unreasonable for the benefit – assuming it works as well as I hope).

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Right Time; Right Place Photography

Porcupine Mountains Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Recently, I went through a review and update of my LightCentric Photography photo website.  As I was systematically checking captioning information (among other things), a couple of the images made me pause and reflect on their circumstances as involving a particularly memorable moment of for whatever reason, just being in the right place at the right time.  Sometimes it was planned. Sometimes it was just serendipity.

This doesn’t mean there haven’t been other times and images. There have been too many photographic memories to cover, including trips to New Mexico, Alaska, New England, California, and around the world.

In some ways, the Porcupine Mountains image is my most memorable photo. Taken back in the days of film, I made this photograph on my very first “dedicated photography trip.” I spent a long weekend in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) for the first time since my childhood. The trip was planned with much anticipation of fall color imagery.  For the most part, even though I was there during the first week in October, I was still fairly early for foliage, and was largely disappointed in that aspect of the trip. The trip motivated many more similar excursions to the U.P., mostly in the fall.  I arrived at “The Escarpment,” in the Porcupine Mountains late on a Saturday afternoon. From the Escarpment, you can view the Lake of The Clouds, which is often photographed – especially during peak foliage. Conditions were not what I had hoped for.  It was cloudy, with a 40 plus mph wind.  I had seen images of Lake of The Clouds, and that was my goal for this part of the trip.  Foliage conditions were just starting, and I just did not see the image I had visualized. To make matters worse, the forecast called for worsening conditions, with all-out rain by morning.  So I took a number of images, using a much faster shutter speed and lower aperture combination than I normally would have, bracing the tripod against the wind buffets with my own weight (seemingly counterproductive).  Unlike these days, you could not see a representation of the result on the back of the camera.  I would wait until I returned home, and the photographic processor completed developing my slides.  I didn’t expect much from this location. But on the light table, this one image jumped out at me. It is perhaps the only “keeper” from that take. As I viewed it, I realized that the contrast between the lingering greens, the precocious reds, and the developing oranges and yellows, was actually more visually interesting – indeed satisfying – than some of those images that I had seen that were a complete wash of fall color. There is a photographer’s saying:  “F8 and be there.” I don’t think this was F8, but I was there, and this is what I found. The image here, is prepped for printing, and may look a bit saturated. But I did not touch the saturation sliders in Photoshop.  Instead, I used an old technique (surpassed for most of us by plugins such as NIK Viveza 2), converting the scanned image to LAB color space and making adjustments to the A and B curves. This image has continued to be my best selling photo. It hangs in the main conference room of my law firm’s offices, and draws many comments.

Mad River
Waitsfield, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In 2006, after much bragging to my best buddy, Rich Pomeroy, about the “best fall foliage in the world, bar none,” he called my bluff and we took a week long trip to Vermont. We had take many business trips together before, but this was our first “together” photography adventure. I am delighted to say that we have made numerous other photo trips, and will make many more in future years.  But this one turned out to be kind of a bust. We went during the last part of September and very early October. All during the week, we wished we had waited a week, as the foliage was again in very early (almost non-existent) stages. We worked hard to find some foliage and though we had a lot of fun and made some memorable images, it wasn’t what we had anticipated. Determined to “find” those colors I remembered from my youth in the 1970’s in Vermont, I returned – alone this time – in 1997, a week later. During that trip, I spend a couple nights in central Vermont, driving along it famed Route 100. Mother Nature can be fickle, and the colors were – once again – not as nice as I had hoped (this time a bit past peak in many places).  One morning, I was headed for a waterfall that has turned out to be (in my opinion) unremarkable;  Moss Glen Falls in Granville. But on my way, I got waylaid by a vision:  some color off in the distance of a scenic turnout.  The turnout turned out (see what I did there 🙂 ) to be a nice series of drops in the Mad River. The Mad River is really just a stream or creek that is not really navigable.  It is also the namesake of “Mad River Canoes,” originally built by hand in Waitsfield, where this very same stream wandered through his back yard. A drizzly rain was falling, but I donned my wading boots and spent 2 1/2 hours shooting there.  The image here was actually on a return trip in 2010, when I brought Rich back to “prove” my assertions about Vermont foliage 🙂 . That morning was a magical time. I was all alone with the subject, which remains a really photogenic series of waterfalls.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

In 2009, Rich and I made another memorable photo trip; this time to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. Bar Harbor is a quaint little touristy town with just enough non-photographic things to keep our spouses entertained (well, for about a day that is – but we were there for a week 🙂 ). Acadia is probably one of the most photographed National Parks. There a numerous books about the Park Loop Road, and all the different photographic venues. Otter Cliffs is one, but it is most often viewed more distantly, from another cliff to the north.  From the vantage point, you cannot even see this cobblestone beach. I had a friend who strongly recommended that I “work” to find this spot, which is a cobblestone beach that is not well documented or marked (at least, it wasn’t in 2009). The directions in the books don’t really reveal it, but with some perseverance, and some insight from him, we did find it. We visited it for 3 successive mornings in the pre-dawn, before we got this one. There is really nothing like being in a location like this, literally alone, and watching the sunrise and the morning develop. It was a location worth “working” for.

Burton Hill Road
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Vermont has a special place in my heart. Readers here know I make period trips to Vermont to photograph; usually during the vaunted fall foliage season. I wrote my first eBook on this very topic.  As I did my homework, planning each trip, researching and hobnobbing with members of the Scenes of Vermont forum, I “met” two of my wonderful friends, both of whom also happen to be talented photographers and writers. Al Utzig and I carried on a e-mail correspondence for several years before I finally had the pleasure of meeting him in person. We were good friends by that time and the face-to-face didn’t change that (for me at least – I’ll let Al be the judge of it 🙂 ). Carol Smith, who many of you know as my co-author for the current edition of Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,” was a frequent poster on the Scenes forums and we were all soon to learn, an extremely knowledgeable and observant resource for wannabe Vermont photographers. She was of immeasurable help to me on the first edition and it was a logical progression for her to co-write a second edition which contains much more information, primarily from Carol. In the process we also became good “online” friends. In 2010, Rich and I returned to Vermont. I was there for a week, but Rich was only able to join me on the southern part of the trip for about 3 days.  This trip began with a group of us (particularly Al, Carol and me) meeting at Carol’s Barton house in anticipation of a next-day, early morning “tour,” led by Carol. This was my first face-to-face meeting with Carol, and to my surprise, she still loves me :-). We started at Bean Pond along the US 5 highway, for a foggy sunrise over the pond. The time and images were magical, but while Al and I gushed, Carol promised that the best was yet to come. And boy, was she right. The Burton Hill Road image is by far my personal favorite Vermont image, and perhaps my most “successful.” After others had left, Carol and her very patient husband, guided me around several other areas, including the Craftsbury Common image that appears on the cover of the Vermont eBook. But that morning is one of the most memorable times of any photographic trip. And I got to enjoy it with two of my very favorite friends.

Eagle in Flight
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Some years were big travel years for me. Others not so much. 2010 was one of those big years. In addition to another trip to Vermont, my wife, son and I went on our first cruise; the Inside Passage from Vancouver, B.C., to Whittier, Alaska. It introduced us to cruising (which to my surprise, I really liked), which has opened travel doors to us throughout the world. There were hundreds of images taken on that trip to Alaska, with some pretty great photographic opportunities.  But the most memorable image of that trip came as a complete surprise to me. We were signed up for a “deadliest catch” look-alike excursion (sans the cold and ice and heavy oceans). When we came ashore, one of the crew who met us saw my “big camera” and said “I see you came prepared. We are going to get some eagle photos for you today.”  Right. He was a tour guide. He certainly wasn’t going to promise me crappy photos.  🙂 I think we were scheduled to be out for 3 1/ or 4 hours, during which they talked about the history of these fishing boats (the boat was an actual boat used in the Bering Sea, just like the ones on the “Deadliest Catch” series, which had been shipwrecked, and then salvaged and retro-fitted with observation seating).  All very interesting, but no “knock your socks off” eagle photos. We saw some, but they were a long way in the distance. At the end of the cruise, they announced that they had a special treat for us, and took us by an uninhabited island, which was in native waters (by U.S. treaty) and therefore not subject to U.S. laws. As I looked, I saw a solitary eagle perched in dead tree. O.k. Then I suddenly heard “plop.” “Plop, plop.” The crew was up in the flybridge tossing bait into the water. The skies next to our boat suddenly turned into what I can only describe as a air to air dogfight as about 30 eagles all appeared, diving and often fighting for the food. I really wasn’t prepared and it all happened in about a 5 – 10 minute sequence. But in spite of my ill-preparedness, I was able to get several good shots. This one is my favorite. I doubt that I will ever get an opportunity to photograph eagles in flight from that close a position again. As our first cruise, it was hard to have it come to an end, with so many amazing and new experiences. But it did. It marked the end of a great trip – and the beginning of many more.

San Francisco Bay Bridge
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

In 2011, instead of a fall foliage trip, my wife and I opted to spend a week in California during the first week in October. My daughter lives in San Francisco, so we used that as a staging point, with an overnight excursion to Napa for some wine tasting. Lots of memories from that trip. My daughter’s place at the time was in downtown, south of Market Street (SOMA). She was just two blocks south of Market and just a few blocks west of the Bay Bridge, the Embarcadero and the eastern part of San Francisco bay. I was up early and somewhere on the street each morning by sunrise or earlier (the 3 hour time differential was a positive, making it easy for me to wake up and roust early). What I really noticed was the relative stillness, just before the world “wakes up.” I made numerous images of the Bay Bridge, which is a favorite subject of mine (I prefer these images to those I have made of the more famous Golden Gate). But this one, I think, best illustrates that early morning pre-dawn calm and stillness.

Blue Angels
Fleet Week
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

That trip had other memories. We made friends with a couple of the winery owners, and in later years would travel with one of them, to the Caribbean and to Ireland, as well as returning to the vineyard when back in California. But the unexpected and incredible opportunity of shooting the air show put on by – mostly – the U.S. Navy, during its San Francisco “Fleet Week,” is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. We shot from the ground for over an hour as the planes flew low over us. I worked hard to capture a “bloom” from the jet fighters as they broke the sound barrier. Because sound and light do not travel at the same speed, it was touch to anticipate. I got just one. But am pretty pleased with it.

New River Gorge Lookout
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Returning to California, Rich and I were able to sneak in a quick 3-day trip to West Virginia’s Babcock State Park, to photograph the often photographed Grist Mill in fall foliage. While we probably missed the peak near the mill, we were able to find peak foliage around Boley Lake in the park. What made this trip special was my first opportunity to meet one of my photographic mentors and a great inspiration to me, James Moore. Jim is an uber-talented nature photographer with many sales and publications; primarily in and around West Virginia. We had become on-line friends a year or two before, and he had a group he was guiding there photographing earlier in the week. Jim was still there when we arrived, but left early the next morning.  We had a nice time to chat and he gave us some great insight about when and where to shoot in the park. In 2012, Jim did me the great honor of asking me to act as a guide for one of his photography workshops in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Jim had heard a lot about it but had never visited there. We spent a great week, learning, shooting, and watching the foliage develop from pre-peak to full peak conditions. Jim had some health problems later in life and sadly those of us who knew and admired him have lost touch. For the West Virginia image here, my model was Jim, and the New River Gorge lookout was one of his favorite spots in the park.

Oxbow Bend
Snake River, Wyoming
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

2012, marked yet another photography trip with my buddy, Rich (and spouses). We joke a lot because I am a “planner” when it comes to these trips. I have usually figured out what I want to shoot, how to get there, how long it will take, and what time of day to be on site. For the most part, Rich is happy to let me do that, and quite often comes home with the better image. 🙂 A couple years before, Rich had attended a photography workshop in Jackson Hole, and the Grand Teton National Park. We both wanted to go again. This time I showed up and Rich was the guide. What a fun and memorable week with many great photo opportunities. As an old school photographer (or maybe just an old photographer), when it comes to scenic shots, I think in terms of a print. What we all want to bring back is a “wall-hanger.” Over the years I have made, printed and framed a number of my images. None has been better that this image of Oxbow Bend. We arrived here (I think the second time) in the pre-dawn hours and there was frost on everything. As the sun rose, the warmer water temps created a wonderful low fog over the bend in the river. May some white cotton-candy clouds would have enhanced this, but it was a great morning and I knew walking away from this shoot that this would be a wall-hanger.

Venice
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

2013 was a huge year for us. My wife came from a military family, so she had done some limited world travel as a young person. But in our adult lives, we had not traveled out of the U.S. except for a couple trips to the Caribbean, and Canada (which really doesn’t seem like it counts 🙂 ). We decided to kick our cruising up a notch, and booked a Mediterranean Cruise. In many ways, it may have been the most memorable of all of our cruises. It was our third cruise on the Princess Lines, and we were booked on their newest, and best ship. We were excited to see the world over the next two weeks, disembarking from Venice and ending in Barcelona. The cruise ship decided it wouldn’t cooperate, and our cruise was cut short. There was, however, a happy ending to that.

Gondolas
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

As is our custom, we planned to spend 3-4 days in our originating port city before boarding the cruise ship. We walked around Venice for 3 days and boarded the ship thankful for an immediate “day at sea,” exhausted.  But what I can say about Venice is that it is wall-to-wall “eye-candy” for the photographer. I have hundreds of Venice images, but the two shown here represent moments that separate themselves from the others.  The Gondolier was a case of right time, right place. I was looking for shots, and heard them coming. I found this setup and was blessed with wonderful early morning sunlight. The covered gondolas is not original on my part. I had seen at least one other photographer do this. What it would need was very early light in order to make an exposure long enough to capture the motion of the rocking gondolas. This meant either very early morning, or evening. I chose morning because there would be less people, and less activity on the Grand Canal, producing just some gentle rocking. I use this image on my Facebook LightCentric Photography Page Cover.

Lombard Street
San Francisco
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

In 2014, we returned again to San Francisco for several days. I made more trips to the Bay Bridge. I also walked to the San Francisco Giants ball stadium. My daughter took us to Lands End, to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a different perspective, and to Jones Beach. But what I remember the most is walking from our SOMA location, all the way across town and uphill to Lombard Street (the famous s-curved, brick-paved, switchback street that is a “must photograph” when you visit). I made the usual images (except for the nighttime shot with the streaky headlights). Then I looked for something else to shoot. A unique perspective that possibly nobody else had ever done. I think I might have been successful.

Sailboat
Narragansett Bay, Newport
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In 2016, I made a last minute trip to join my buddy, Rich, who was in Newport, Rhode Island for business. I flew in on Thursday evening and we spent two days shooting.  Friday morning, I was on my own and walked around the downtown area and the wharfs, making lots of photos of boats, buildings, etc. Everything was a more or less nautical theme. That evening we went to shoot a lighthouse that Rich had found earlier in the week (Castle Hill Light). This was a photogenic lighthouse, and as we often do, we arrived early to scout best perspectives for shooting. And then we waited on the light. It is often worth waiting for the absolute last of the light to see if anything magical happens in the sky. To our west, the sun set over Narragansett Bay, with beautiful orange skies, but no real photographic interest. But as we watched and waited, this white sailboat approached and passed. Knowing a little about sailing from my past, I made note of the wind, and calculated that the boat (it was actually a large, tour charter boat on the last leg of the day) would come about and come back toward us. I quickly swiveled my tripod head around, took some metering measurements, and waited to frame the boat where I wanted it to be.  I knew I would get 2-3 shots at best of this quickly moving boat.

Tokyo Tower
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

2018 has been kind of a slow year, photographically. But we absolutely made up for that in 2017. In July, we spent a week in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. We saw many amazing sights and I did my usual early morning walking around both cities. I was intrigued by Tokyo Tower, lit at night, and worked hard to find a good place to photograph it from. I took a few from a couple different places. But it turns out that the best I could do was through the window of our Tokyo Hotel.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

In September, we made our 3rd, and much anticipated Mediterranean Cruise. We again spent several days in Venice. One of the other places I had seen and wanted to shoot was the Greek Island of Santorini. We had a wonderful tour guide, who happened to also be a photographer, and he the right time and place for us to be to get shots I am certain I would never have found without his help, in spite of the research I had done.  Did I mention that Venice is “eye-candy” for photographers? Ditto Santorini.

Well.  This was an interesting exercise for me.  I tried to keep it to not more than 15 images. There were many more that perhaps fit the bill. And I am sure there will be more to come. As always, thanks for reading.

 

New Orleans

New Orleans, LA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Some 20 years ago, we spent a long weekend in New Orleans.  We stayed across Canal Street and spent a fair amount of time wandering around the French Quarter. I fell in love with the food, feasting on Crawfish Etouffe, Jambalaya, Gumbo, and red beans and rice.  At some point I wandered into one of the small groceries and asked someone what spices the locals used to with their roux bases.  He pointed to the counter and said “Zatarain’s. I thought he was kidding, because this stuff was freely available in our Saginaw, Michigan grocery chains. But he was serious.  Signs often attract my photographic image, and this one says NOLA to me.

Superdome; NOLA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

This fall was an unusual period for me. I almost always plan a dedicated trip based around fall foliage somewhere. The last couple years have been a bit unsettled, as – for whatever reason – we have had trips planned that involved groups and were more about the social aspect than dedicated photography. Last year we spend almost 2 weeks in the Greek Isles and the Mediterranean and took a late October trip to Las Vegas. This year, work and personal scheduling kept me away much of September and October, with just one very short, 3 day weekend photo trip.  Late October, again, involved a trip, this time for just a couple days, to New Orleans.

Bourbon Street; NOLA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Both of these late October trips were social in nature, with a group of 5 couples. There was not much time for dedicated photography and I didn’t even really try in either instance. There were people I should have connected with in both places, but the schedule just didn’t allow for either. I still hope to return someday with just my camera, no itinerary, and a visit to my friend there who I know can show me the real, New Orleans.

Mississippi River; NOLA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t carry my camera. Very much like my cruises, the shooting became a shoot-when-you-can, point and shoot, street shot exercise. I carried the small camera, as always.  And I shot.  One of the things I would like to do someday is walk around a couple of the cemeteries. I am told that most of them are private and charge an admission. I also am told that the one I got the fleeting “drive-by” shot of – St. Louis Cemetary No. 1 – requires a guide (as Ray notes, sadly, the reason for this is because of vandalism -we have become such a destructive society; both physically and emotionally). A guide is fine, as long as I can take my time, look for, and make some shots. There is one, in the Garden District, I believe, that is public.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

We stayed in the French Quarter. And, for the most part, we literally stayed in the French Quarter, except to venture out to a couple restaurants, a “Hop On / Hop Off” bus tour, and the World War II Museum.  We spend a full day in this museum and still did not see everything.  There is a small, adjacent Civil War Museum that I would also like to visit.  It was a pretty intense day.  I was born at the very end of the Viet Nam war, and had a very high draft number.  I never saw military service, but have family members and close friends who did.  I have always been thankful their sacrifices for me freedom.  But I am not sure I truly appreciate it.  This was an experience that reminded me.  Thank you, to all of you who have served.

National WW II Museum
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

NOLA has rich, mixed cultural tradition, and appears readily accepting of people, cultures, ideas and freedom.  And often, in its acceptance, its humor.  I liked the humor in the “One Way” sign.

Bourbon Street; NOLA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

There is a mix of architectural and artistic style in French Quarter.  And while Bourbon Street is perhaps the most well know by outsiders, the many streets that weave across the quarter have a great deal of unique charm and beauty.

Royal Street
French Quarter; NOLA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

French Quarter
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

New Orleans is also known for its music. Jazz and Blues are what I mainly conjure when I think of NOLA and I was disappointed to find that 20 years after my first visit, most of the music in the bars and restaurants in the French Quarter were performing modern rock music.  I guess the shopkeepers have to stay open and in order to do so, must cater to what attracts today’s visitor.  But I would have liked to have seen more Jazz and Blues.  I can find modern rock music in almost any other venue.  The street musicians were a little more likely to be playing jazz/blues music.

Street Musicians
French Quarter
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

And of course, the occasional “second line” parade sported jazz (although I think these are more commonly seen in some of the wards outside of the French Quarter).  This was a small one that happened by us and was over very quickly.

Second Line Parade
French Quarter
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

There was art and architecture everywhere we looked.

Piano in the Window; French Quarter
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

French Quarter
NOLA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Architectural Detail
French Quarter
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I just finished the latest John Grisham novel, which was set in the 1940’s.  Mostly in his home stomping grounds of Mississippi, NOLA played a substantial part, and there was mention of the Hotel Monteleone.  We did not make it, but I am told that a Martini in the bar is an experience that we should not have missed.  I shot this from a balcony bar on Halloween night.

Hotel Monteleone at night
French Quarter; NOLA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As seems to be a common refrain from me, this is a city I need to visit again, and spend more time when I do :-).

St. Louis Cathedral
NOLA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Photographing the Michigan U.P.; Update – Iron Mountain Area

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As I noted in my recent blog about my quick U.P. trip this fall, I did have an opportunity to scout two new areas.  The first was the Escanaba Area, and particularly, the Garden and Stonington Peninsulas, which I covered in the previous blog.  My plan was to to shoot as much as possible around the good light, but if the weather was uncooperative, to make the approximately 1 hour drive to Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Perhaps unfortunately, the weather was not very cooperative all weekend.

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Perhaps best known these days for its provenance for nationally noted sports coaches, Iron Mountain’s welcome sign boasts of being “the “proud hometown of Tom Izzo and Steve Mariucci.” But it certainly is also world-renowned for its namesake.  At one time, Iron Mountain held one of the largest iron ore producing and processing resources in the world.  There is still a mine there, which can be toured.  While I am not sure I would consider the area a photographer’s destination, a day trip would probably be filled with opportunities.  The color in Iron Mountain was still nice, but well past “peak” when I was there in the second week of October. Escanaba is approximately 50 miles further west (from Escanaba) on U.S. 2. Being inland and at a higher elevation, this area’s probable normal “peak” is late September to early October.

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The area is blessed with some nice natural phenomena, including rivers, waterfalls, rocky foothills, and lakes.  Just east, and outside of town, there is a roadside stop for Fumee Falls.  Fumee is perhaps the most accessible of the numerous waterfalls in the Michigan U.P.  This was my first trip to these falls.  There are two drops visible from the roadside, with a small, photogenic footbridge across the stream at the bottom of the second and larger drop.  Many years of visitor traffic has resulted in significant erosion of the original falls area, and today, viewing is restricted to the boardwalks which border the falls.  While this perhaps limits the photographer’s access, it hopefully preserves the falls for the future.  Although the light was terrible, I was able to make a couple “record images.”

Lake Antoine
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Just to the Northeast of the downtown area, is a nice small lake, Lake Antoine.  The northern 1/2 of the city of Iron Mountain borders the west endo of the lake. There is a significant residential presence around the west side of the lake.  On the east end, is Antoine Park, a public beach, picnic and boat launch.  I found a small memorial park with a fishing pier on the way to the lake, and make a couple images.    Antione Lake Road loops around the lake and crosses U.S. 2 both to the east of and to the north of town.

Understory; Fumee Recreation Area
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

About 4 miiles east of downtown is the small community of Quinnesec.  In about 2 1/4 miles, you will come to County Road 10 (a/k/a “Upper Pine Creek Road), which goes north, to The Fumee Recreation Area. The entrance is marked, but it is a rustic sign, about 1 mile north of U.S. 2.  There is a parking lot and no motorized travel is allowed beyond. There are two lakes, “Little Fumee Lake,” and “Big Fumee Lake.”  The recreation area has several trails around both lakes, with a total of about 8 miles of trails, which are used by walkers, runners, bicyclists and horseback riders.  I walked the short trail around “Little Fumee.”  Again, the light was awful, but I could see the possibility of some nice imagery.

Fumee Recreation Area
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

On the county road in to the recreation area, I also found some nice farm scenery.  The shot here is on what appears to be a private road, called “Baclack Road.”

Farm near Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

 

Escanaba Area; (Update – “Photographing Michigan’s UP”)

Sturgeon River
Nahma; Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Six years ago, I made my first gambit into “publishing.”  That word used to be a big deal.  These days?  Not so much.  With just a little initiative and some cash, anyone can now publish online.  So, in 2012, believing there was a need,  I published my first eBook, “PHOTOGRAPHING VERMONT’S FALL FOLIAGE.”  The book was the result of my personal experience with a dearth of current, useful information about “places” in Vermont that I had seen in print, but did not know how to find.  So I began keeping relatively detailed notes on my own shooting experience in the two places I have spent the most time in:  Vermont and the Michigan Upper Peninsula.  The book (now in its 2nd edition – 2017) seem to be relatively well received, and so, I decided to add the Michigan eBook, “PHOTOGRAPHING MICHIGAN’S UPPER PENINSULA,” to the mix.  By the time I was ready to pursue publication in earnest, I realized that my own personal experience was not enough.  Adding a co-author (done, now for both books) would at least double the coverage and give the reader not only more material but new and different insights.  With that in mind, Kerry Leibowitz and I co-authored and published the Michigan UP photography book (when a second edition will be in the outing remains to be seen).  Until that does occur, the best that I can do is to try to update readers with new information here, and hope it somehow gets “out there.”

The Munising area, with Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and The Hiawatha N.F., still remains the “most bang for the buck” destination

The Michigan e-Book had a perhaps unbalanced focus on the northeastern U.P., particularly in the area between Munising and Paradise.  This encompasses much of the “Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore,” and the Hiawatha National Forest.  But my continuing research seems to support the proposition that this is still one of, if not the most fertile ground for the outdoor and landscape photographer.  There is just so much to shoot in a fairly compact area, that it remains the most “bang for the buck” destination, especially for a new visitor.

Having spent a lot of time in and around Munising, I only had a brief window to travel to the U.P. this fall and I wanted to explore some areas that I had only touched on and had not extensively explored.  The eBook has only coverage of Fayette State Park, and a couple nice waterfalls in this area (all of which I had visited on a short trip in late October, 2007).  So this year, I spent the better part of 3 and 1/2 days driving and exploring (and occasionally shooting) in the Escanaba area.  I’ll summarize some of my “findings” here.

Farm on Stonington Peninsula; Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The area which I am calling “The Escanaba Area” is a part of the U.P., which is basically the south-central part of the main peninsula, nearly bordering on Wisconsin.  The area is bounded on the south by Lake Michigan.  To the east of Escanaba are two peninsulas, which extend south into Lake Michigan; the Stonington Peninsula, and the Garden Peninsula. Stonington is the first peninsula, to the east of Escanaba, and forms Little Bay De Noc and Big Bay De Noc, between the “mainland” and the peninsula.  My hastily planned trip had not included any particular destinations on this peninsula, but perhaps some driving and exploring.  I have a friend who has a cottage on the Stonington Peninsula, however, facing Escanaba, and I was able to stop and see him – and get some suggestions for possible shooting locations.  The bays De Noc and their peninsulas reach toward the iconically famous “Door” Peninsula of Wisconsin which forms Green Bay, in Lake Michigan.

Fayette State Park is a location definitely worth a stop

Originally, my primary focus was originally on the Garden Peninsula.  I arrived there on Friday afternoon.  “Garden” sounds awfully inviting.  I am not sure where the name comes from, but it is really not anything unique as far as Michigan goes.  Fayette State Park (an old iron smelting operation in the late 1800’s) is a few miles down the west side of the peninsula.  The area was preserved as a State Park in 1959, and the grounds are nicely kept.  Most of the old buildings, including brick blast furnaces, some housing, and timbers in the area where the ore boats docked, have been preserved.  Most of the trees around the park, including up on the bluff behind the harbor, are Beech, Birch and other varieties, which tend to turn a bit later and last a bit longer than the more colorful Maples.  They are more yellow, rust and orange in coloration, but still provide a nice photographic opportunity.  There are a couple very large maples on the grounds near the furnaces that seem to also turn later.  Most of the U.P. was well past peak the weekend I was there.  The harbor, called “Snail Shell Harbor,” is a harbor of refuge on Lake Michigan and has a nice modern harbor which can hold just a few boats at a time.  My shot of the old crib timbers was made from the modern harbor, and is one of my favorite “U.P.” Images.

Fayette State Park, Michigan U.P. – Copyright 2007 Andy Richards

The drive down to Fayette State Park begins at the small community of Garden Corners, at the northern base of the peninsula, where U.S. 2 intersects with MI 183.  As you follow down toward the park, you pass through the town of Garden.  It appears to be a mix of farm and summer dwellers, and there is nice harbor – Garden Bay – that the town borders.  Wikipedia notes that it has a year-round population of less than 1,000 people, and the median income is well below the U.S. officially published “poverty” line.  As I approached Garden, I was greeted by the bittersweet view of one of the near-ubiquitous “Wind Farms,” that have cropped up over the State of Michigan.   I am certainly cognizant of the desirability of cultivating renewable energy resources.  And where there is water, there is wind.  At the same time, It is hard to see these massive, whirly-gig, towers as bucholic or photogenic.  Form subsequent research, I learned that this was the first wind farm in the U.P.  It has been the subject of some controversy, and appears at the moment, to be the only such farm in the U.P.

Unfortunately, I saw very little sun and experienced mostly grey, dreary sky and drizzle for most of the weekend.  While overcast conditions can sometimes enhance colors, in my opinion, there is only so much you can do without including the sky in landscape photos.  So This weekend would not turn out to be very good for shooting.  I drove the perimeter of the Garden Peninsula, including a stop at Fayette State Park.  By this time of year, the park is essentially closed up for the season (although I think it was still “officially” open), and almost deserted.  That is actually a good thing for a photographer.  I briefly walked parts of the park, and confirmed in my mind that this is a location definitely worth a stop.  I took a couple cross-roads, also, as thought I had recalled some “long view” farm scenes which might reveal some fall color as well as views of the lake in the background.  It may well be that inhabitants of the area could tel me otherwise, but I did not find anything really worth a stop on the balance of the peninsula.

Farm Scene; Stonington Peninsula; Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The Stonington Peninsula, however, revealed several worthwhile items and some rather picturesque driving, particularly along the eastern side of the the peninsula.  Though not necessarily providing the “long view” of Lake Michigan in the background, there were – nonetheless – some nice farm views.  Had the weather been more inviting, I might have spent more time exploring some of the side roads and shooting.

View From Farmer’s Dock
Stonington, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

My first “stop” in Stonington was provided by my friend who had the cottage nearby.  There is a public boat launch just south of the small community of Stonington, called the Farmer’s Dock.  There is a nice rock bluff to the northeast across the water, that was nicely lit by the only sunrise I saw all weekend.  Saturday morning turned out to have some early sun and then some late sun, alas with the same cloudy, dreary conditions in between.  My research told me that sunrise was around 8:00 a.m. (one of the positives of fall shooting is that the days are shorter – which means the mornings aren’t so awfully early 🙂 ).  My hotel was about 45 minutes from the dock, so I left at 7:00.  The dock is just under 14 miles down Delta County Road 513, from the intersection of U.S. 2, east of Rapid River.  The boat launch entry is on Swede 13 Road.  While I cannot say this is a recommended destination, if you are in the area, it has some promise.

After the sunrise, I headed across the peninsula, in search of a “tunnel of trees” my friend also recommended.  About 2 miles back north from the Swede 13 Road intersection, on CR 513, you come to the intersection of CR513 and Old K10 17 Road (approximately 12 miles south from U.S. 2).  K10 will take you east across the peninsula.  In about 6 miles, you will cross County Road 511.  In about another mile, you will turn south and after about another mile, east again.  At some point the road will have changed from pavement to gravel.  As you round the bend, you will see the tree tunnel, which appears to go on for about 2 more miles.  Colors were mostly yellow, gold and orange.  But it is an impressive tunnel.

Tree Tunnel
Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I drove a few more of the back roads on this part of the Peninsula, but really didn’t find much else to photograph. There are lots of “curve in the road” shots, but none that really got me excited. I did follow County Road 513 to its southern end, on Peninsula Point, where the Peninsula Point Light stands. It is not a particularly noteworthy or photogenic light, and I did not even take a “record” image. For the lighthouse hunters out there, it may be worth the drive, though the last mile or two is a narrow 2-track.

Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I drove up the eastern side of the Peninsula during the balance of the morning, and then down the coastline along Lake Michigan to the historic town of Nahma.  County Road 513 goes nearly the entire length of the peninsula, and to the north, is where I found some nice farm scenes.  Again, the poor shooting conditions meant that I didn’t make as many stop, nor explore the side roads as much as I might otherwise have done.

Farm; Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

My morning ended by visiting the so-called historic town of Nahma.  While it may have some charm in the busy summer months, there was little going on there this afternoon.  They do have some pretty well preserved natural areas.  I stopped a couple times along the Sturgeon River, which empties into Lake Michigan just west of the little downtown.  The opening image was made there.

I spent my afternoon driving up the Hiawatha National Forest Road H-13, up to just south of Munising.  The sun peaked out for an hour or so that afternoon and I visited the old haunts: Pete’s Lake, Mocassin Lake, Counsel and Red Jack Lakes.  Hot afternoon sun made any shooting pointless, but I was able to confirm that they still hold their place as premier shooting destinations.

Headed back toward Escanaba, I decided to find a rather difficult to find, waterfall; Whitefish Falls on the way home.  I was able to find it, and discovered some significant changes, which I will discuss in an upcoming blog.  I finished the day at the National Forest Campground boat ramp back on the Stonington Peninsula.  The entrance to this boat ramp is  just 2 miles south of U.S. 2 on County Road 13.  There was some nice color there, but I was really too late for any good sunlight for shooting.  But Mother Nature obliged me with the only sunset I saw all weekend.

Sunset; Little Bay De Noc
Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

October Foliage; November Weather

Scenic Overlook; Epoufette, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Once autumn arrives many of us who are outdoor photographers wait with at least subdued excitement for the foliage changes that occur, particularly in the northern and western parts of the U.S.  Over the years, I have come to expect a week or two of cool, sunny-to-partly-sunny, weather during the month of October.  When November comes, those of us in the northern parts, and in the mountainous regions in higher elevations know the show is over and winter is coming.

From my observation, this year was odd.  From all appearances, the foliage in the Northeastern U.S., was reasonably good, to spectacular in some places; what we have come to hope for in early to mid-October.  But the weather has been “November” weather:  cool, windy, cloudy and rainy.  Certain “conventional wisdom” has it that rainy, overcast conditions actually enhance color foliage photography; intensifying color that can be captured because of the lack of short, blue light rays that cause randomized reflections.  To a point, I concur.  This is particularly true with closeup images.

Farm; Trenary, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

But that same conventional wisdom acknowledges that photography, at its core, is about light.  Good light = good imagery.  Bad light often results in wasted effort.  I often use that time to scout locations, and sometimes to shoot to make “record” images or to look later at composition.  And, in my view, solid, gray overcast skies make for bad light.  What I am looking for is either partly cloudy with puffy white clouds, or “edge” weather (just before or after a storm) which can create dramatic lighting.

My time in the field has been abbreviated this year.  I spent 3 days in the Michigan “U.P,” exploring new territory (for me).  Based on others’ images, I may have missed the best color, which seemed to be evident in my old “hunting” grounds in the Northeastern U.P., and perhaps up in the western portion in the Porcupine Mountains.  In our eBook, Photographing Michigan’s U.P., Kerry Leibowitz and I concentrated heavily on the northeastern region from Marquette to Sault St. Marie, along the southern shore of Lake Superior, and in the Hiawatha National Forest.  Those places are still the premiere locations.

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

But in my Travels, I had spent a brief stint in the Escanaba area.  Two peninsulas jut down into Lake Michigan just east of Escanaba, which is the southernmost part of the U.P., on Lake Michigan.  Without intending to denigrate Escanaba, for the outdoor photographer, does not appear to hold much interest for outdoor photographers.  If there is any promise, it would be during the summer months, when the boat marina is full of boats.  My interest, however, was in the two peninsulas.  The first one, immediately east of Escanaba, forms Little Bay De Noc.  I am not certain the peninsula has a name, but since the small community at the southern tip is Stonington, for my purposes, I will refer to is at “The Stonington Peninsula.”  The second peninsula, further east, is known as “The Garden Peninsula.”  Lest you get excited about what the name suggests, it gets its name from the township and community which is at its northern base; “Garden Township.”   If Kerry and/or I ever get ambitious enough to edit and write a Second Edition, we will augment the brief coverage of this area with some of my findings.  In the meantime, I will probably just do it as a series of separate blogs here.

Sunset; Little Bay De Noc
Rapid River, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I was able to make a day trip from my Escanaba motel to Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Iron Mountain is perhaps best known as the hometown of MSU basketball legendary coach, Tom Izzo, and NFL coach Steve Mariucci.  But long before they were born, Iron Mountain was one of the top producers of iron ore in the United States.  Its higher elevation meant that the foliage there (mid-October) was past peak, though there was still some lingering color.  But I did find a couple areas worthy of some photographic interest, including a waterfall I had not yet had the opportunity to visit.  This was my first time in Iron Mountain.

And finally, I was able to visit Whitefish Falls (not to be confused with Laughing Whitefish Falls) which is addressed in the eBook, but has been difficult to find in the past.  As my separate upcoming blog will confess, I may have added to that difficulty (stay tuned for some clarification).

Farm near Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As the images here illustrate, it was difficult to find nice light for photography.  As they will also illustrate, the Munising area (northeastern U.P.) still holds the top honors for diversity of color and imagery.

Is Digital Capture Too Easy?

Do We Take Digital Capture For Granted?

In the “My Story” page on this Blog, I suggest that it would be a wonderful exercise for “new” photographers to begin with a truly all-manual camera and color transparency (“slide”) film.  Perhaps there are readers here who don’t even know what that is (or was).


For many photographers – particularly nature and outdoor photographers – a process called color transparency film, became the medium of choice

The “brave new world that digital “capture” has given us has also done a pretty good job of hiding the technical aspects behind the curtain (no pun intended).  To understand that statement probably requires a little trip down memory lane.  The original idea, of course was chemical reaction caused by exposure to light (hence, “exposure”) light on a medium. The reaction caused the chemical to change color (or at least contrast).  While there were some prior experiments, the first “permanent” photographic image was probably the Daguerrotype, in the 18th Century.  Over time, the chemical medium of choice became silver nitrate crystals, suspended in an gel-type emulsion which we called “film.”  A series of red, green and blue layers were later added to the process, to create “color” images.  Compared to the vivid color we see on our computer screens today, early color film was rather subdued.

Black and white, and later, “color reversal” films were designed to create a “negative” image.  The negative image was developed in a chemical bath process in the darkroom.  Then, a second process was used to expose photographic paper (coated with a silver crystal emulsion of its own) to yield a “positive” image.

I believe there is a learning “take-away” from the color transparency film story

For many photographers – particularly nature and outdoor photographers – a process called color transparency film, became the medium of choice.  The color transparency was designed primarily to be projected onto a screen by shining a light through it.  It was also possible to create prints for personal use and for publishing with these images.  In its early stages, this process was confined to a very complex development process, that required very expensive equipment.  Perhaps the first and most famous was the vaunted “Kodachrome.”  Later, processes were created that would allow a less expensive, more routine form of development of the film.  The draw of the color transparency was its detail and realism.


Color transparency film is rarely used anymore, primarily because of the modern digital sensor.  Film had certain limitations, including relatively low ISO ratings (particularly in relationship to grain).  While the film industry made wonderful advances – particularly during the 1990’s, the arrival of digital sensors turned the photographic industry on its “ear.”  Suddenly, we could have a variable ISO “film” in our cameras.  And the quality of digital sensors has continued to get better and better, allowing for a relatively grain-free image at previously unheard of ISO ratings in the tens of thousands (compared to perhaps 200 ISO in a color transparency film).

If digital is so good, why do we care about all this?  Aside from the fact that history is interesting to some of us, I believe there is a learning “take-away” from the color transparency film story.

Our eyes are amazing biotechnical wonders.  Those familiar with cameras that allow user input, are perhaps familiar with the established system used to characterize the amount of light allowed to “expose” the medium (whether film or digital sensor), known as “f stops.”  Scientists say that the eye is altogether capable of seeing a range of up to 30 stops (though, at any given time, depending on lighting conditions, the useful range is perhaps closer to 10 stops).  Neither film nor digital sensors are capable of that much range (though digital technology will probably get there one day).  Because of this limited range, what we are able to record and present is much more limited that what our eye can actually see.  The magnitude of this range is known as “exposure latitude.”

Our eyes are amazing biotechnical wonders

Without getting into a detailed analysis of the various and relative exposure latitudes of different films and digital sensors, knowing these limitations is instructive.  As a general rule, B&W film had greater latitude than color negative film (perhaps comparable to the best digital sensors).  But color transparency film had nearly zero practical latitude.  When shooting slides, I would often under or over expose by 1/3 stop.  Any more than that and the image exposure just began to deteriorate.  So how is that useful?  It forces us to be thoughtful and careful about our exposure techniques.  I learned early on that I could be a bit sloppy when using negative film and still get acceptable exposure.  With slide film there is no margin for error.

But if other media is more “forgiving,” why does this all matter?  Well, what you can see in the darkroom is that there is a lot more you can coax out of a well exposed negative than a poorly exposed one.  And sometimes that is the difference between “acceptable” and “desired” results.  Using color transparency film was an in-your-face demonstration of how critical correct exposure is.  I have always thought of my digital sensor recordings as “digital negatives.”  And, much like the physical film “negatives” the quality of the “digital negative” critically impacts what you are able to do with it in post processing.  Getting correct exposure will yield desired results!

This image, made on Fuji Velvia; the most colorful and saturated film of the day, even with digital “enhancement” shows the more subdued colors and contrast ranges of transparencies

Of course, the comparison between film and digital is not exact.  There is a “science” to correct exposure with a digital image, and the response to exposure latitude is mathematically different.  Enough so that different and new techniques evolved for exposure judgement.  This technique, know as ETTR (or “Expose To The Right”), recognizes use of the graphic, “Histogram” for judging exposure.  I explain this exposure theory and technique in The Perfect Histogram, posted here in 2010.  While again, not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, there are many parallels to shooting with transparency film and optimal use of the digital sensor.

So, to my original question, do we take digital sensors for granted?  I believe many of us do, by not doing the “homework” involved to understand how these marvelous tools do their work.  The “cover” image was taken with my Smart Phone (the ill-conceived Blackberry Priv – Blackberry’s last ditch stand and attempt to compete in the Android world).  My first digital camera had a sub-2 megapixel sensor and produced, small, rather low-quality images.  Today’s smart phone cameras rival nearly any other small-sensor camera out there.  Most of them do not have the ability for significant user technical input, but the ability of the software to “do it for us” yields some impressive and often acceptable results.  But I will stick to my more sophisticated equipment and my knowledge of it, to obtain desired results.  And if you want a “tough lesson” learning experience, grab an old manual SLR camera and a roll of Kodachrome 25 and make some images!

I am experimenting with a beta version of WordPress’ new “Gutenberg” editor, which uses “blocks” of information.  Like anything new, there is a learning curve.  And bugs.  I like the ability to customize backgrounds, and to insert multiple images as “galleries” instead of just a single image at a time.  I am not sure I like the captioning,  I like that they have added drop caps (my prior solution was to make just the first letter in a bolder, larger font).  I do not like the in-your-face, hugeness of the drop caps.  I hope the final version gives us some more adjustability.  Likewise, I would like the ability to use font colors in the blockquotes, and vary the fonts within the text boxes.  Time will tell, but I apologize for any “wonkyness” here.