Enhance Your Photography: Look Into the Smaller “Landscapes”


My personal work includes a lot of landscape shooting, and I usually try to take in a large swath of territory. I often like the grand vistas, the sweeping plains and looming mountains. In urban landscapes I might include wide-angle shots of buildings crowded together, along with bustling streets and milling people. But sometimes it’s the things at my feet that intrigue me too. Here’s a few images from a trip to Bodie, California, a 100+ year-old ghost town built around a gold and silver mine.

These were originally shot in digital color and converted to black and white.

These images are all from the machinery used to extract the gold and silver from the rock ore.

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Techniques for Floral Photography; or Any Photography

Here’s a cool article by C David Tobie on photographing flowers, with emphasis on options, composition, focus, color, combining elements, and much, much, more.


© CD Tobie

Photography Quote of the Day – April 9, 2012

Ladybug, © Sue Saffir

All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget.  In this – as in other ways – they are the opposite of paintings.  Paintings record what the painter remembers.  Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it.  ~John Berger


Take a look at the WORKSHOPS tab above for info on our new Palouse Photo Workshop, June 2012!

Photography Quote of the Day – 4/5/12


Butterflies are self-propelled flowers – Robert Heinlein


Take a look at the WORKSHOPS tab above for info on our new Palouse Photo Workshop!

Photography / Quote of the Day – Feb 24

"Patience" © D. Saffir

“Follow the spiders? Follow the spiders?! Why couldn’t it be “follow the butterflies”? – from Harry Potter

Take a look at our Photography workshop in the Palouse in June 2012!!

Review: Mamiya DF Camera and Mamiya DM56 Digital Back

Not too long ago I wrote a review of the Mamyia AFDIII and the Leaf 22MP back. At the time, I felt it was an excellent camera, and I still do.

In this report, I’ll cover my recent experience with another Mamiya camera and digital back: the Mamiya DF body, and the Mamiya DM56 digital back. Since space is limited on the blog, I’ll hit the high points as I see them.

Bottom line: a greatly improved, highly flexible camera body that, coupled with this digital back, delivers superb image quality. I have a few nitpicking suggestions, but overall this camera is impressive.

New Mamiya DF Body and Mamiya DM56

Dan Cuny, of Mamiya/Mac Group, came to the SCV Center for Photography in Santa Clarita and provided camera gear for us to use. We started the day with a live demo for a number of photographers from the local area, shooting still life.

The camera feels robust and well made. The viewfinder is big and bright, and the in-viewfinder indicators are easily read. We used two lenses: the 80mm f/2.8 lens supplied with the camera, and a manual-focus 120mm macro lens. The camera is very well balanced with either lens mounted. I’ve found that I can work all day without suffering undue fatigue.

The camera can be used with focal-plane, or leaf shutter lenses. Highest sync speeds are reported up to 1/1600. The DF camera body is compatible with existing 645AFD lenses.

The camera was equipped with a Mamiya DM56 digital back. This back provides excellent resolution, 12 stops of dynamic range, and true 16-bit capture. Color rendered by this back is terrific – vibrant, very accurate, and totally clean.

The large, bright screen on the back makes it easy to view images and manage the controls – although performance in direct sunlight could still be improved.

Autofocus feels appreciably faster than previous camera bodies, and reports from others who have tried this camera confirm this.

We set up a Calumet shooting table, and several monolights. We started out with high-key lighting, but switched later on to a more dramatic approach. The shooting table is ideal for this work, providing a smooth, clean translucent plexi surface that allows totally flexible light placement.

Setting Up At The SCV Center for Photography

We shot with the camera tethered to a Mac Book Pro, using the provided 14-foot long Firewire 800 cable. Leaf Capture 11.3 was used to manage capture and image processing.

The Indian bowl we photographed (a personal possession of mine) was initially shot using high-key lighting, with the camera mounted on a tripod. We used a Sekonic hand-held meter to measure exposure, and a PocketWizard Plus to trigger lighting from the camera.

Note the clean contrast lines in the bowl:

High Key

And here’s a version with more directional lighting:

Note lack of shadow noise

Note how clean the shadows are; virtually no luminance or color noise. We were using ISO 100, one step (albeit a relatively small one) above base ISO of 80.

I was quite surprised by this; conventional wisdom concerning high pixel density is that shadow noise will be significant – but not in this case. I used virtually no noise reduction in the images shown in this article – although I can’t say for sure that there isn’t some processing going on in the guts of the digital back. Regardless, performance exceeded expectations.

We also shot a still life of some sea shells. Note the rendering of subtle colors, and in the second image, the sharpness and detail. Impressive.

Shot W/ Macro Lens

Shell Detail

Later in the testing, I had the opportunity to photograph a model in a studio setting. I often use low-key, dramatic lighting in my personal work. The lighting setup was created by a friend, Ron Brewer – I tweaked it a bit, and this is the result:

The highlight/shadow transitions are clean, and free of noise. Also note the high level of detail around the eye (below). These images are not retouched, other than a basic levels/curves adjustment.

Crop from full portrait

The nitpicks? The thing that bugs me the most is the location of the Auto exposure lock button – it is placed toward the outer side of the camera grip – and I found myself having to adjust my hold on the camera to reach it.

The digital back viewscreen, like just about every one out there, is very difficult to see in bright light outdoors, much less direct sun. It is, however, great in other circumstances. Don’t know if this is a solvable problem; at least Hasselblad provides an LCD view of the histogram on top of the camera grip.

And last, battery life, as with all MF digital cameras I’ve used, is less than I’d like. I realize the battery has to power the guts of the back, and the preview screen, but I’m still blasting through several batteries a day outdoors. If Nikon and Canon can make batteries that go a full day, why can’t the MF manufacturers?

Last but not least:

Say what you will about performance of high-end DSLRs, there’s still a noticeable difference between 14-bit capture and medium format 16-bit capture, in color fidelity and accuracy – and as good as DSLR lenses are now, it’s still true that MF lenses are hard to beat.

The flexibility of the camera is very good – given the sync speed, choice of shutters/lenses, software (Phase One or Leaf), and ergonomics. Whether you shoot weddings, studio, fashion, or landscapes, it’s worth a look. I haven’t shown them in this article, but the images I took on location are just as good as those provided here. (by the way, outside temps were over 100F one day!)

And a parting thought: this latest Mamiya incarnation has a new feeling of sophistication and polish that comes through
every time I pick it up. It’s a shooter’s camera.

Link to New Workshops – June 2012 Photo Workshop in the Palouse!


Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation from Mamiya or Mac group in exchange for writing this article.

Creating Deep Black Backgrounds for Your Images

Written by guest author, Ron Brewer

A dark background can draw the viewer’s attention into an image, and create a dramatic effect that is unique and compelling. Subtleties of lighting in the foreground or mid-ground, for example, become more noticeable and have great impact on the “feeling” of the image.

The easiest, quickest way to create a black background for your image is to make it happen in-camera and not in post-production work (such as in Photoshop).

A Dark Background Adds Dramatic Impact © R Brewer


Shoot in a dimly lit room. Use a light source that falls only on the subject. The speedlight (flash) you use in your camera’s hotshoe will work fine for this, but you will want to take it off-camera to create this effect. A remote trigger is best.

And if you don’t have a speedlight, don’t fear. You can even use a flashlight (more on this is a later post).

The first method you could use involves use of a black piece of material in the background of the shot. Place the background at least 4-6 feet behind the subject. Keep the light that is on your subject from illuminating the background, so it stays dark in the image.

I prefer a different method. It is called “working above the ambient” by David Hobby of Strobist fame (www.strobist.com). This method is rather easy to create indoors. It can be done outdoors, but in this case, we are going to focus on an indoor shot.

We want to eliminate the influence of ambient light in the picture. The only light you will be working with will be from the flash. Your camera’s exposure will be set so as not to pick up any ambient light, and then you will bring the power of the flash to the right setting to get a proper exposure on the subject. Sounds challenging? Experiment and it will quickly become second nature.

Image Creation

  1. Use a room or space that has low light
  2. Set your ISO to 100 or 200; at least the lowest “native” setting offered in your camera
  3. Set camera to manual exposure
  4. Set shutter speed to highest available flash sync, usually 1/125, 1/200, or 1/250
  5. Take a test shot without flash. Set aperture small; anywhere from f/11 to f/22. You want the result to be a completely black frame.
  6. Evaluate the histogram. Increase aperture size (from f/22 to f/18 for example) by steps until you start to see ambient light in the frame, and back off to the previous setting.

    © R Brewer

    Next, you’ll start working on lighting the subject. We’ll discuss using flash first:

    1. With your flash off-camera, set it to a power that is sufficient to properly expose your subject. You might start with the flash about two feet from the subject and to its side (for example, let’s say the subject is something small, like a single flower bloom). Try setting the power to 1/128 or whatever the lowest power setting is on your flash. Take the shot and check the LCD and histogram. If the shot is over exposed, then lower the power of the flash or move it farther away from the subject
    2. If under exposed, then up the power of the flash or move the flash either closer away until the proper exposure is achieved.
    3. Do not adjust the camera exposure settings or you will start recording the ambient light again. Camera exposure settings are set to remove the ambient light from the picture, not to set the exposure of the subject.
    4. Put another way: set the exposure for the subject by adjusting the power setting on the flash or by changing the distance between the flash and subject. In essence, you are going to adjust the amount of light on the subject until it properly exposes the subject at the exposure settings you have already set into your camera.

      Setting Up For A Dark Background

      (red circle is the subject)


      1. If you find that you are still getting some light on the background, then use something to block the light from hitting the background. Such items are called a “gobo” which will “cut” the light. You can even use a small piece of cardboard. Set the cardboard up close to the flash head, placing it between the flash head and the background. The light will hit the cardboard and be blocked from hitting the background.
      2. Using a black background in your shots will provide a unique look to your photographs. Using a black background makes the foreground colors of the subject really pop. And it guides the viewer’s eye to go straight to the main subject and not drift out of the borders.
      3. With practice, you’ll find that this is a very simple process which you can execute very quickly in most indoor situations. Not only is it a lot of fun, you can end up with some great pictures.

        Written by Ron Brewer, January 2010 www.ronbrewerimages.com

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        Blending Images In Photoshop For Increased Depth of Field

        One of the most intriguing tools in Photoshop is layer alignment and blending. One practical use for these is macro photography – I have been experimenting with creating images that have depth of field that is nearly impossible to get in a single frame. (this post was originally written in Jan 09; updated Dec 09)

        Why? Because a 105mm macro lens on a full-frame camera has depth of field of about 0.6mm at f/16 – in other words, a very, very thin slice. Combining multiple images with different focal points gives us – voila! ….a merged macro image that should be completely in focus.

        Here’s how it’s done:

        Use your camera of choice, preferably with a macro lens. Create the normal setup with the camera on a tripod. Set up or manage lighting, put the camera on aperture priority, and meter. I typically use mirror-up mode as well, and shoot with a remote. Shoot in RAW format if you can. (I used a Nikon D3 digital camera, and the new Nikkor 105mm Macro VR lens).

        Typical aperture on these shots ranges from f/8 to f/16 in the 35mm class – higher f/stops tend to soften the image through diffusion error. Start at f/8 or f/11.

        I usually work close to the lens’s minimum focusing distance.  I shoot several frames of the subject, changing the focal point to different parts of the subject, left to right and/or top to bottom. The camera must be absolutely still so that the frames will register with one another. If we could mark the focal points, they might look something like this:

        Transfer the images to a folder on your computer. Open the folder with Bridge. Select the images you’ve captured (in this case four), press Command-R to open them in Adobe Camera RAW. You’ll see this screen:

        Make your adjustments to the first picture only. Be conservative. Now click “select all” in the upper left corner of the dialogue, and then click “synchronize”. All of the RAW files will be updated.

        Now click “Done” (blue arrow) in the lower right hand corner. Camera RAW will close and return to Adobe Bridge.

        The four images will still be highlighted in Bridge. Go up to the main menu, choose Tools>Photoshop>Load Files Into Photoshop Layers.

        The images will be loaded into a single Photoshop image with, of course, four layers. Open the layers dialogue and select all the layers.

        Once this is completed (may take a while) go to the main menu, and click Edit>Auto-Align Layers. You’ll see a bigger dialogue, again just click Auto.

        Once this is finished, go back to the Edit menu, click Edit>Auto-Blend Layers. Click on Stack Images, and Seamless Tones and Colors. Click OK.

        Photoshop will launch into an analysis of all the layers, create layer masks to use the best portions of each layer, and blend the images. You should see an amazingly sharp image with significant depth of field. This is truly something new under the sun! Here’s an example:

        flower red combo 1 copy final

        My good friend photographer Ted Dayton told me about this, and I should add one of his points here: “take more pictures, with more focal points, than you think you need.” He’s right – once the images are blended, you’ll see the difference.

        Camera Test: Mamiya 645AFD III Camera and the Leaf Aptus DL-28 Digital Back

        I recently received a Mamiya 645AFD III medium-format camera to test, accompanied by a Leaf Aptus II DL-28 digital back, and several lenses. 


        I’m going to report on my experiences with this camera, starting with an overview and first impressions in this post. In subsequent posts, I’ll cover a variety of shooting situations (in studio and on-location), image quality, and the Leaf Capture software and its performance. Note that this is one of the cameras we will be using on the upcoming Focus 09 Fine Art Printing and Art Reproduction Seminar Tour October 2-21.


        The camera arrived in the original packaging, which is well designed, protecting the camera quite well.


        Ergonomics are top-notch; the camera is well balanced, and controls are logically placed and fall easily under one’s fingers – in short, it just feels good. 


        Camera, lens, and digital back build quality is excellent. This is clearly a pro-level camera, robust materials and construction.


        In the next image, basic features are marked by the numbers. Number 1 is located next to the shutter release, and shutter controls: single, continuous, mirror-up, and lock. Number 2 shows the settings screen, which indicates battery life, aperture/shutter speed, and the like. Number 3 shows the dial which controls shooting mode – Aperture priority, shutter priority, program/auto, manual, X, and custom function. Number 4 indicates the digital back, 5 the stylus used to activate controls on the back.






        Controls on the front of the camera include depth of field preview, and a focus mode selector (single, continuous, manual).


        The camera is powered by AA batteries, which is a plus in terms of cost as compared to camera bodies which require more expensive 123 batteries.





        Mamiya lenses have a strong reputation for build and image quality. Focusing rings are well-dampened, and autofocus lenses are quick and quiet.


        Some specs on the digital back: 28MP, which produces a >150MB file @ 16 bits. The sensor size is 44x33mm, and offers  ISO ratings of 50-800. Pixel pitch is 7.2 microns, which is larger than, for example, the Nikon D3x which features 5.9. Dynamic range is reported to be 12 stops.


        So far, I’ve used the camera mostly in-studio, with a couple of short sessions outdoors. To this point, the in-camera meter has been accurate, handling high-contrast situations accurately. More to follow on this topic.


        The camera may be used shooting to a CF card, or tethered to a computer. The days of using an attached hard drive are gone. The battery mounts underneath the camera back, which I find convenient as it helps balance things when using longer lenses.


        The digital back shoots at 1/fps. It has an excellent, bright viewing screen, 6x7cm, which has very good contrast and color. It can be viewed outdoors, but direct sun is a challenge. In-studio it is, in a word, stunning.


        A feature of the Aptus digital back is it not only provides a preview and histogram of the image – it is a touch-screen controller for the camera, controlling quite a few functions.


        In short, one can set up the parameters of the shot, from color space to pre-sharpening to pre-set camera profiles – all with a tap of the included stylus.


        Now some have criticized this for being “too complex”, or “too fancy”, and I just can’t agree. It is much quicker than push-button driven controls, and the menus are clear and pretty easy to follow.


        For example, one can set up the camera to provide a simple image preview, image preview with histogram in the corner of the image, or histogram overlaid on the image. Quite flexible and useful.







        RAW file format is now compatible with Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture. I applaud the company’s approach to open architecture – makes it much easier to work in a variety of circumstances and locations. We don’t always have control of the resources available to us in the field!


        Image quality is excellent. Although the camera provides ISO settings up to 800, as a practical matter image quality begins to suffer at 400, and has significant color and luminance noise at 800, even in bright light. To be fair, this camera was designed for lighting-controlled situations – ie, ISO 50-100.


        I used the camera in studio to capture some macro shots of an orchid. We used the new Westcott Westcott TD-5 lights with daylight-balanced fluorescent bulbs installed. (a check with a spectrophotometer shows these to be dead-on at 5500k).


        The macro lens is a 120mm f/4 model, updated with a 16-bit CPU. The focusing ring is smooth, perhaps a little heavy to turn. I’d like to see a little less pressure needed, and a better turn ratio for close focusing – after all, this is a manual focus lens. Having said this, I had no trouble at all focusing the lens. (There is a very accurate focusing indicator in the viewfinder).


        Image quality is superb. On macro shots, I recommend using a sturdy tripod or studio stand, and mirror-up mode for maximum clarity. 


        The image below shows an orchid photographed in-studio, with a cutout at 100% to demonstrate sharpness. The white “fuzz” you see isn’t sharpening artifact, it’s part of the flower!




        I’ll be photographing a number of subjects this week, including some acrylic paintings for a fine art reproduction project that just came in. More to follow!





        We’ll be working live with this camera, among others, at the upcoming Fine Art Printing and Fine Art Reproduction seminars in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. These one-day intensive sessions start at the beginning of October 09. For more information, go here.





        New Series: Getting It Right In the Camera – Managing Depth of Field

        We have a new guest author joining us. Ted Dayton (teddaytonphotography.com) has decades of experience as a commercial photographer, shooting celebrities, fashion, stock, product, architectural, and others with great success.

         He is one of the best photographers I know, producing work that is distinctive and meticulously crafted. He is also President of the Santa Clarita Photographer’s Association, and a graduate of Brooks Institute of Santa Barbara.

         In this article, Ted discusses Depth of Field, one of the key issues surrounding the topic of “Getting It Right In the Camera”.


        Popular Myths About Camera Lenses and Depth of Field

        There is a myth that wide-angle lenses provide more depth of field than long lenses.

        I would like to set things straight, as some readers may still be believers. We tend to use wide lenses and long lenses very differently and our perception of their relative Depth of Field properties is affected accordingly.

        Wide lenses seem to have more Depth of Field because we tend to use them in ways that do in fact provide a lot of depth of field. We tend to back away from our subjects so we can see a wide view of things. This distance-to-subject dynamic affects Depth of Field as much as aperture setting does.

        The lens is focused closer to infinity than for close-ups, and all lenses and all aperture settings provide greater Depth of Field as the plane of focus approaches infinity. We also tend to stop down when using short lenses in order to include as much information (sharpness) as possible in support of our wide view of things. So, we think of wide lenses as providing the greatest amount of Depth of Field.

        With long lenses, we tend to shoot closer to a wide-open aperture for many reasons. Stopping down requires longer shutter speeds, which lead to shaky pictures if taken hand-held. Long lenses are harder to hold still and faster shutter speeds that are accessible when shooting closer to wide-open solve the problem.

        And, long lenses are great for isolating distant subjects from other elements, especially if we use them, ahem, wide open. And so we think of long lenses as producing less Depth of Field than shorter lenses because most long lens photos we take do have shallow Depth of Field.

        But it isn’t so!

        Try this exercise on your own: put some common object like a basketball on the table in the backyard and take pictures of it with lenses of all focal lengths. Shoot all of these pictures at the very same aperture and fill the frame the same amount with the ball in every single frame.

        Look closely when you edit and you will see the same amount of Depth of Field in every frame regardless of focal length, because of two things: the aperture setting didn’t change and the size of the ball in the frame didn’t change. This test is easier to understand if you use a fairly large aperture, like f/4. If you focus on the nearest part of the ball with a 28mm or a 200mm, the rest of the ball behind the plane of focus will be equally out of focus no matter which lens you use! (note: we did not provide an image example because we feel it is important for readers to perform this exercise and see this for themselves – David)


        Depth of Field is a function of aperture setting PLUS the distance from the camera to the subject. You will soon discover that aperture setting is not the only reason why backgrounds are nice and soft or too much in focus.

        The relationship of the distance from:

        • camera-to-subject
        • camera-to-background
        • subject-to-background

         ALL affect how in- or out- of focus the background appears.

         Backgrounds far away when the subject is close to the camera will be very out of focus and backgrounds close to the subject will be much more in focus.

         Said another way, the closer you get to the subject, the more you must stop down the aperture in order to see a given amount of Depth of Field. 

        The farther the camera is from the subject in focus, the closer to wide-open you can shoot while still getting deep Depth of Field. As I said before, distance-to-subject has about the same effect on Depth of Field as aperture setting. How we use our lenses creates our perception that they don’t all behave the same way, but the laws of optics and 35 years of experience say that they do!

        Ted Dayton, Valencia, CA

        NOTE: NEW PHOTOSHOP WORKSHOPS TAUGHT BY DAVID SAFFIR – First session is Turbo Portrait Retouching, July 19, Santa Clarita, California. For more info, go here.