Aug 25, 2018
You can count on one hand how many Pulitzer Prize winning photographers we've had on the show. Actually, you can count them on one finger, and that makes for one lucky finger. Who is it? Well, you'll just have to wait your turn to find out. (Spoiler Alert: It's Jack Dykinga.)
I Say "Focus"…You Say "Scheimpflug!"
In Episode 32 we looked at the basics of view camera construction and in Episode 33 we looked at how that construction allows the lens to be shifted in service of better, more geometrically accurate (or at least geometrically pleasing) photography. Today we look at how that construction allows the lens to be tilted in service of greater depth of focus.
While we've all learned that the near and far distances between which objects in a photograph are in focus is controlled by the aperture, what I call depth of focus, that slab of in-focus-ness is also controlled by the angle of the lens in relation to the film or digital sensor. On most cameras with most lenses, that angle is fixed — the centerline of the lens is perpendicular to the surface of the sensor.
But view cameras can tilt the lens and, in so doing, tilt the slab of focus. The reason for tilting is to capture, in focus, objects from near to far that might otherwise be impossible. Sometimes the depth required is greater than even a tiny aperture can render sharp, and other times we choose to avoid the softening effect of tiny apertures called diffraction. (Episode 19 covers diffraction.)
A field of golden flowers in front of a soaring range of purple mountains majesty, or a miniature billy goat, with a cute little salt-and-pepper billy goat beard, in front of an albino giraffe. You want the near flowers and the soaring mountaintops to both be in focus. You want the billy goat beard and the blonde giraffe eyelashes both in focus. With a view camera, tilting the lens down will convert that slab of focus, that had previously been equidistant from the camera, to a sloping slab of focus (though it's actually a wedge) encompassing both petals and summits or whiskers and lashes.
The angle of the tilted slab/wedge of focus is related to the tilt of the lens — it's not one-to-one — but unless you're going to be tilting your lens, it's not important for you to know the nitty gritty, so we'll spare you the details. The concept is called the Scheimpflug principle, named in honor of an Austrian army Captain in the Great War, Theodor Scheimpflug, who used the principle in reconnaissance photography.
There are actually lenses for Canon, Hasselblad, Nikon and Sony cameras that can shift and tilt. They are expensive, considering they don't autofocus or include anti-vibration technology, but they are invaluable to landscape, product and architectural photographers.
This comment on people leaving their empty rifle and pistol cartridges littering the desert was shot with a 24 millimeter "perspective control" lens, as Nikon labels their tilt-shift lenses, tilted to keep both the message and the mountains in focus, when even a high aperture number was not quite able to do the same due to the extreme nearness of the near.
To learn plenty more about the Scheimpflug principle, including the math for calculating its effects, check out the Wikipedia page at wikipedia.org/wiki/Scheimpflug_principle.
I Say "Lights, Camera"…You Say "Act Naturally."
In a first for All Things Photography I recorded myself traipsing around the desert to capture a couple of photos. This is an effort to allow me more photography time, since I found that time has been reduced in service of the podcast. Well, the show is about photography, so I'll go do some photography and put that into the show. Sound good?
That traipsing resulted in, among other images, a 24-frame panorama of some cactuses backed up by the Superstition Mountains, iconic landscape east of Phoenix. It also gave me fodder for the product review in this episode. Listen in for sounds of me crunching across the desert, clicking a camera, and talking the whole damn time.
The result of 24 individual frames shot to create this panoramic image of the south face of the western end of the Superstition Mountains. At full size, this file could print to about 200 inches wide, or about 5 meters.
I Say "Photo"…You Say "Lemur?"
I had heard mutterings about an inexpensive photo processing app, but didn't think much of or about it. Then I started hearing its name more frequently, though I still didn't think about it. I have several very fine apps, each more expensive than the last, but when I learned that Skylum was purchasing the app, and soon to be updating it a major step, I decided it was time to think about it.
So I thought about it. The application is called Photolemur 2 and the process of using it goes like this: drop your file onto its window, don't bother fixing a cup of coffee or, pretty much, even taking a sip from a cup of coffee, because the app will be done and waiting for you no matter which dilly dally you choose.
You then save the result to disk in any of a common range of file types, during which you can tweak its pixel dimensions, compression settings, naming and color space, and you are done. You can also save direct to an email, to Facebook or Flickr, or straight into a more fully functioning Skylum product called Snapheal. If you think you might have fallen asleep while I covered the options and tools and tweaks, you did not. It does what it does and — oh, okay, you have one control: a slider that allows you to dial back, from 100% to 0%, the changes it made.
You can drop a number of file types (it'll take RAW, JPEG, TIFF or PNG), and you can drop 'em all at once. Batch processing is easy enough because, unless you want to moderate the full effect, you tell it to export the images and it'll do its thing.
I gave Photolemur a workout with a variety of image subjects and lighting challenges. The results were very good, considering how fast it is — though, I'll clarify that it is super fast to present you with how the image will look, it actually does the final processing during the export process, and that took considerably longer. Not long, just longer than the speedy first step. So, during that phase, the export phase, you can grab that sip of coffee, but if you've gotta go to the kitchen to brew another pot, Photolemur will be done before you return.
Here is a saguaro spike (a cactus without arms), photographed in the middle of the day in the middle of the desert in the middle of Arizona. (None of those "middles" is strictly accurate, but they are close enough.)
The RAW file is on the left, the Photolemur version on the right. You'll note bolder colors — the sky more bolder than the ground, which I consider a good choice — with punchier contrast and, seen close up, pricklier details.
Here is a particularly tough photo to work with — a woman with dark skin, wearing a white sweater, standing in the sun with her face in the shade. My original exposure is a good starting point, mostly in not letting the bright areas lose detail. So what can Photolemur, and a couple of other unnamed applications, do with it?
This stack o' images shows the original Nikon RAW image at the top, followed by the results of three apps as they handle it with no intervention on my part save for instructing them to take their best shot at automatically "fixing" the photo. "Brand x" assumes you want to tweak the image so improves things a little. With the press of a button "Brand Y" does a similar job, though different, with colors I find a bit more pleasing. Photolemur does the best job of pulling out detail in the woman's face without letting the sunlit portions of her sweater or skin lose all detail by being too bright. I do wish her sweater were brighter, on the shade side, where it also picked up a blue cast.
For the client, I actually spent the time to improve on the image, making it even better than Photolemur's version but, like I said, this one is very challenging and I don't fault the app for not doing what I ultimately wanted — it takes time and skill to do better, while Photolemur requires little or none of those. (By the way, I believe this is Debbie Sledge of the singing group Sister Sledge; a fact of which I was not aware until someone pointed it out to me. I just thought she was a nice-looking woman with an interesting smile.)
You can purchase Photolemur 2 from the photolemur.com web site for $34.99, or get a five-license deal — share them with your family — for $49. And though I'm not sure about pricing for Windows computers (it's available for both), in the Apple Apps app, it is on sale currently for $19.99, perhaps in advance of the upcoming version? Still, whether it's thirty-five bucks or twenty, the program is super easy to use and gives effortlessly good results.
Skylum will be introducing version 3 of the application in the coming month or so (this is August 2018) and users of version 2 will be able to upgrade a single license for $19. If you'll be starting new with Photolemur 3, when it's available, pricing will be $39 for a single user and $59 for a five-user license. And you can pre-order that five-user Family license, which will include a collection of bonuses, for $49 using this link: https://photolemur.sjv.io/c/478180/500758/8584
I Say "Dykinga"…You Say, "How do you spell that?"
My guest is Jack Dykinga, a photographer with a great breadth of experience and the books and gallery shows and awards (including a Pulitzer) to show for it. He also has a near boundless curiosity about the world and photography's place in it. We cover a lot of territory, so listen closely.
Jack Dykinga in Death Valley, California. Photo by Justin Black.
I Say "Look Down"…You Say "Stay back! I'm wearing a body-cam!"
In the previous episode my photo tip was to look, well, point your camera, straight up and focus on a composition of converging lines.
This time, I suggest the opposite (directionally, at least). Point your camera straight down, whether you can see through it at the time or not, and compose images that might isolate the subject from its surroundings or that might intimate the surroundings without showing more than a little patch.
A rusty iron pot full of rusty utensils and cups, resting on a timber just outside a museum that bills itself as the smallest in the world. The museum, itself, is not much more curated than this clanking collection of caliginous junk, but both are interesting in their own way. By staring straight down, we have little to see but the subject, thus our thoughts are not on whatever other junk is lying in the grass or up against the tree. Hopefully that is enough.
I Say "Quoth"…You Say "You should cover your mouth."
Three quotees grace the audio, each an author and none of them expounding on the topic of photography. Instead, the topic is (in honor of the product review) lemurs, a topic so unusual that I pretty much found just the three quotes. I start with “My first time in Madagascar was awesome because lemurs are kind of funny; they throw fruit at the back of your head when you’re not looking and then point at one another when you turn around.” That is by the author Kevin Hearne from his book Trapped.
His is followed by a quote from Holly Goldberg Sloan, from Counting by 7s, and then William S. Burroughs from Ghost Chance. Listen in to get the goods on these guys, and you might even check out their books. I mean, who doesn't like lemurs?
I Say "We're Done!"…You Say "…"
I Say…"Hello? Is anyone there?"
That's all there is to Episode 34, folks. Thanks for listening and for reading. Please leave me questions or comments below, or head on over to iTunes where you can leave a comment and, very importantly, rate the show. Giving a rating gives other people a chance to learn about the show (it's how Apple does things).