At one time I didn’t understand the relationship between aperture & image sharpness. I read many magazine articles and books where Landscape Photographers would commonly say they stopped the lens down to the smallest aperture to ensure the image was sharp from front to back. What I hadn’t realised is that they weren’t discussing image sharpness but depth of field. I also hadn’t realised that many of these photographers were using medium format cameras where depth of field could be a real issue. Fortunately, I now understand this relationship but there continues to be misinformation published on the subject.
Here then are the key points you need to be aware of in relation to depth of field:
- Depth of field is how much of your image appears to be in focus from the nearest point to the most distant.
- Depth of field is determined by the aperture you use. If all other variables remain the same, as you make the aperture smaller (larger f/ stop number), you will increase the depth of field.
- Other factors affecting the depth of field include:
- Where you place the point of focus – the nearer the camera the shallower the depth of field. It’s also worth remembering that the depth of field will extend twice as far beyond the point of focus as in front of it.
- The size of the film or the image sensor – the smaller this is, the greater the depth of field at the same aperture.
- The focal length of the lens can also make the depth of field appear greater – a wide angle lens makes the depth of field appear greater than a long telephoto lens.
When I first started in photography, what I failed to grasp is that the factors determining how sharp an image is are different to depth of field. Let’s take an example where you shoot three images using a typical lens; the first image with the aperture as wide as it will go, the second with the aperture as small as possible and the third with the aperture between the two extremes. If you then review the images looking at the point of focus, you would find that the third image with the aperture at mid-value is the sharpest image. This is because lenses are design to perform at their best when aperture is closed down by a couple of stops. Once you go to the smallest aperture though, the performance and sharpness is compromised by something called diffraction, which makes the image appear soft.
One benefit of using a Micro 43 camera for Landscape work is that you can typically achieve front to back sharpness (depth of field) without needing to stop the lens down to the smallest apertures. In my own work I tend to shoot Landscapes with the lens set to 12mm (24mm equivalent on a full frame camera). The aperture I tend to use is f/7.1 or sometimes f/8.0. Providing you place the point of focus correctly you will have all the depth of field you typically need and the lens will be near to its optimum performance.
Where I use the Sony RX10 which has a smaller 1-inch sensor, I tend to shoot with an aperture of around f/5.6 for full depth of field at 24mm. And when I was shooting with the LX5 compact camera I was using f/3.5 to f/5.0 for full depth of field at 24mm.
I hope this helps all you small sensor Landscaper photographers.
For those of you who are Nik users, you might be interested in a new video I uploaded to You Tube. I’ve had a lot of correspondence in the past where people have struggled with how to use Nik Color Efex and why it’s different from Viveza.
Generally speaking, Color Efex is all about adding special effects to your work. But there are also a few of the filters that I think are essential. These can help you improve your photography or correct problems very quickly and I use them regularly with my own work.
This video looks at the first of these filters, which was used to enhance the image above as well as correct a serious colour cast. Even if you don’t currently use Color Efex you might find the video interesting.
If you read my newsletter on Lenscraft you will know that I’m working on a new book about HDR. You might find this odd if you know me well; following a brief fling with HDR back in 2007 I decided I didn’t like the technique and have been quite vocal about it. As a Landscape Photographer, I find unrealistic techniques make me cringe.
So what’s changed? In short, my understanding and skill with some of the software tools.
The image above which is from one of the worked examples in the book is a case in point. These images were shot on a Canon 5D and at the time I couldn’t tame the dynamic range with filters. I shot the sequence in the hope that one day I would be able to produce a realistic looking HDR image from them.
Well I think that time may be getting closer. The image isn’t yet quite as I would like it but it’s certainly appealing and doesn’t suffer from some of the obvious HDR signs that make me cringe.
And the software used for this? Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 – best of all it’s free.
The trick to making this approach work is to keep the Detail setting to “Realistic” when Tone Mapping. Also set the Depth to “Normal” and Drama to “Deep”. As you process the image be sure to increase contrast selectively as well as darken shadows. Once you have completed the Tone Mapping step it’s worth the image into Viveza where you close the shadows down and apply additional contrast if necessary.
It takes a little practice and feels as though you are engineering the HDR look out of the image. It’s time consuming but I think it’s worth the effort.
Last week I posted a blog entry with a suggested mission statement and questions. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I want to be sure that I am meeting the needs and expectations of you my readers. Secondly, it can be a struggle at times finding interesting material to write about.
Following publication, the post has drawn a lot of very useful feedback both as post comments and direct email. I would like to say a huge thank you to all those people who went to the trouble of contacting me to share your thoughts. This post is my attempt to put some structure around how I will use the blog and website in the future, based on your feedback. I should point out that I may deviate from this at times, but generally you can expect the following:
- The Lightweight Photographer blog will be used to answer the question “what am I doing at the moment”. This can include things that have caught my interest such as a new piece of software or new things I am experimenting with.
- There will be a mix of equipment based the cameras I am using, probably in the ratio I use them. This means coverage will be skewed to Micro 43 but other equipment will also be featured from time to time. I will include thoughts about accessories such as tripods, filters as well as film, scanning, medium format, compact cameras and full frame. In short, you will hear about what I have been doing with my equipment and what my thoughts are.
- If there is important news I will share it through the blog.
- I will cover image processing, especially where I am frustrated with something, where I learn something new or I simply just want to experiment.
- I will share any tips that cross my mind as I work.
- I will continue to share examples of my images.
- This is where longer tutorials and articles will appear. Material will be both written and video based with a definite emphasis on education/how to. This material is likely to be skewed towards image editing.
- I will continue to develop Lenscraft as a free resource for photographers.
- The Lenscraft Creative Store will continue and feature both free and paid products. More products will be added as time allows and this is where I will share my annual Christmas gift for members.
- This is a new channel I would like to develop. It will feature image editing videos as well as “out in the field” video footage.
I hope this sets out the future of the blog and website, providing reassurance of what to expect. My intention now is to focus on some of the answers to the questions I raised.
Once again, thank you.
I have been reading some books about blogging recently and apparently I need a mission statement – okay, let’s go with this for a moment. When I started The Lightweight Photographer blog it was my intention to share information about lightweight cameras as well as information about achieving fast results when editing images. Four years on and I feel I have lost a little bit of focus. In an attempt to address this, I wrote a mission statement.
To create a valuable resource of lightweight photography information and to make this freely available.
And this is where I now need your help. When I sit down to write these blogs, as well as the tutorials on Lenscraft, I am guessing a little about what people want. I am also guessing as to what problems and concerns people have about following a lightweight approach. So…
- Do you have concerns about the image quality of micro 43 for example?
- Do you like to print A3 images and wonder if you will be giving up print detail?
- Are you concerned about noise levels with compact cameras?
- Do you wonder about the aperture you should use with micro 43 cameras for depth of field?
- Do you shoot with a Lightweight camera? Why?
I really want to hear about your concerns, thoughts, observations and questions. This will allow me to focus the blog and my website to hopefully respond to some of these points. If it is to do with photography but in particular lightweight cameras and image editing, then I would like to hear.
Please take a moment to let me know your thoughts.
The Friday image this week seemed to draw a few favourable comments so I thought that I would post another similar image. I have also included the colour image below, but this time I personally prefer the colour image. I can’t say why this is but the colour image seems to have more depth to it.
Recently I found myself in an art gallery looking at some of the paintings. I can’t recall why I was there and it’s not something that I ordinarily do. As I stood, staring at an amazing landscape painting, a realisation struck me. The painter was simply using techniques to create the illusion of light. These techniques had to be mastered but they could also be learned.
Now this might not seem like a revelation to many of you, but it was like a light going on in my head. What I realised was that photography is becoming more and more like painting all the time. Most photographers spend a significant amount of time adjusting their images with tools like Lightroom and Photoshop in order to achieve their vision. What really struck home is that we should be looking to these old master art techniques when adjusting and enhancing our photography.
Looking now at works of the old masters, I see the use of shadows to emphasise light as being a core technique. You might think that I’m just referring to contrast here but I’m not. Their techniques and work are somehow different. It’s not like taking the contrast slider in Lightroom and boosting contrast globally. No, they are creating shadows to give the illusion of light and it’s not something that’s easily replicated with a few sliders in our editing tools.
What I take away from this is that we should be embracing the shadows not remove them. We need to include blacks in our images and not be afraid to make the image low key. Just because we have the tools to look into the deeps shadows doesn’t mean that we should.
This blog post was originally intended to finish with the above paragraph but then I decided to look for photography that reminded me of old paintings and came across the work of Kevin Best on Flickr – amazing isn’t it. I then took a look on amazon and found his book.
What spooked me though is that I had purchased this book a couple of years back but never read it. I’m off to download it to my Kindle again to see what I can learn.