Monday, September 8, 2014

Signs of Autumn at 8000'

Katie, Polly, and I had a beautiful day up in the Sierras on Saturday. We started out with a late lunch an Sorenson's Resort, and then continued up into Carson Pass, exploring US Forest roads. This was a digital day for me, using my Fuji XE2 and a Fuji 10-24mm lens. By all accounts, this lens is one of the finest ultra wide lenses ever made. I have no idea if that is true since I have nothing to compare it to, but so far I am extremely happy with it. I've collected a humongous pile of undeveloped film, so I'm not going to shoot anymore until I get the rolls I already have developed. Since we're moving in a few weeks, nothing is expected to happen in that arena. 

The one thing that has really impressed me with the Fuji is the ability to pull highlights and shadows out of the RAW files. The JPEG files had white skies and very little shadow detail. Looking at the LCD screen while I was shooting made me consider shooting multiple exposures and blending them. But I'm lazy when it comes to post processing so I knew I'd never actually get there. Instead I just used Lightroom to pull back the highlights and boost the shadows and I've got incredible dynamic range with detail on both sides. 

That does leave a little bit of a flat looking file, so after running the adjusted RAW file through Nik Define to remove any noise, I pop the file over to Photoshop to do a contrast boost and selective toning. I wish I didn't have to use photoshop, but I use luminosity masks for my contrast and color work and I like to do selective sharpening using layers. The end results are photos that have the range of a blended HDR file but are more natural looking. Also less artifacts from blending multiple exposures are evident when doing 30-400 second exposures.

Even though long exposure times weren't needed for the color photographs, I used a 6 stop filter to expand exposure times out to 30 seconds so I could add my secret glow technique (hot breath on the lens for the last 5 seconds of exposure) to give the pics a dreamy appearance. Of course, that can be done post with the digital files, but I like to keep my workflow as similar as possible with film and digital.  Their is some weirdness in the sky on these photos. I "forgot" to take off the polarizer and polarizers don't work when shooting at 12mm and there is sky in the picture.

Seconds before the sun slipped under the mountain ridge to the west. I find long exposures with the HiTech IRND filters increase saturation and my 6 stop adds just a slight magenta color cast. The color cast would be easy to remove, but why bother? Me likey. 

I'm now in shadow, but the sun is still just catching the tips of the pines across the lake. The lens was at about  12mm and I was only about 12' away from the upright tree. That tree was 18-20' tall. That's wide. Wide angle is like crack. When I shoot with 16 stops of ND, I use an 85mm slide in filter holder that vignettes at anything over 16mm or so. I can find plenty of comps that work lovely when I can only go 16mm that work. However, as soon as the filter holder comes off, suddenly all the comps I find only work at 10-12mm.

Really, this is the same shot as above, just a couple steps back and a lower perspective. I prefer this comp to the other in all respects except the tree is cut off. I also exposed differently. Since the sky is not as prominent in this picture I didn't worry about not blowing it out, but as you can see, I probably over exposed about 2/3 of a stop here. With Astia film, I would have had to use a ND grad filter of 2 stops on the sky which would have made the top of the branch go dark, but it seems the X-Trans sensor of the Fuji camera has at least 50% more latitude than slide film. With slide film I figure I can go about +2 to -2 from the middle zone of the exposure and retain good detail . With the Fuji XE2 I can go about +1 1/2 to -4, so I'm learning I should underexpose just a hair for shots with wide dynamic range.

We also found a little waterfall on the backside of Blue Lake, CA that I've never seen in guidebooks or maps. It's so much fun to go on these excursions with Kathryn. She is such an adventurer and climber. She did shy away from the lake with the "Leech Alert" however. 

I rarely like black and white digital, except what I've seen from 16 bit MF cameras and the Leica Monocrom. This picture really pushed me. I just kept thinking about an interview I read with Rolfe Horn. Rolfe prints for Michael Kenna and himself and talked about just how much darkroom manipulation goes into an excellent photographic print. So when I'm shooting black and white film, I expose and develop for a flat file, knowing I'll adjust digitally later, much the same as fine print makers will use different grade papers, filters, and dodging & burning. I did the same digitally here and I am happy with the results. The above photograph accurately represents the vision I had when I took it.
Here is what a "flat" negative might look like after a little contrast enhancement, but no dodging or burning. I ran out of steam doing the first photo. I also just wasn't as happy with the composition as the first and am not sure if it merits the extra work. It's very "been there, done that" and white it's technically a good exposure, it's not very unique.

It's hard to judge scale without a familiar object in the scene. I'd say the lower triple falls were each about 10 feet tall and the upper falls were about 12-15 feet tall. Every thing in the picture was a ruddy brown color with the exception of a few bushes. The trees, shrubs and rocks all blended together. Horrible stuff in color, even though it was quite lovely in real life.

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