Tech Talk - Moreno Tagliapietra

Tech Talk

"Late Summer Night", Larchmont, NY, 092318

Nikon D3s, Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm 1:2.8 at 28mm

15 sec, f/8, ISO3200, +3 stops correction

Single shot developed in Camera Raw

"Late Summer Night # 2", Larchmont, NY, 092318
Nikon D3s, Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm 1:2.8 at 28mm
15 sec, f/8, ISO3200, +3 stops correction
Single shot developed in Camera Raw


Why I Write These Notes

Amateur photography - taking pictures for love of the art - is such a personal matter. You can pick whatever subject, gear and technique you want with no need to justify your choices to anyone as long as they make you happy. After a 50+ year love affair with photography, one thing I can do is share my choices of gear and technique, and the reasons why they work for me. Hopefully, this will help other fellow amateurs make some sense of what's available out there and simplify their own choices.

My Gear (September 2018)

- Nikon D3s
- Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm 1:2.8
- Nikkor AF-S 80-200mm 1:2.8

- 2 x Olympus E-M5 Mark II bodies

- Olympus 9-18mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

- Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens

- Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens

- Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens

- Olympus MC-14 teleconverter lens

- Nikon P7800 camera

Olympus M43 Mirrorless System

Why M43? Easy answer: size, weight, price. It is true that the larger the sensor the higher the detail, dynamic range, and high ISO performance (lower noise). On the other hand, with the more advanced M43 bodies and pro lenses I can make my own fine art quality prints up to 24x36" up to ISO800 (with judicious noise reduction and sharpening in Camera Raw). This with gear which is very portable and competent, and costs one third to one half of similar full frame equipment. The latest Olympus and Panasonic flagship bodies are closing the gap with advanced DSLR's even with continuous auto-focus with tracking which has been a weak point of these systems. The latest mirrorless electronic viewfinders are gorgeous. They allow you to change settings without taking the camera away from your eye and show you exactly what you are going to get out of your captures.

Go-anywhere Nikon P7800

This is the jacket-pocket camera I have with me every time I get out of the house with no plans to photograph. The Nikon P7800 is slow in writing to memory even if, with a fast card, it's better than what the reviews state taking about 1sec for Raw + jpeg captures. Otherwise, this is a truly good, small camera with excellent image quality for a 1/1.7" sensor and an even better 28-200mm f/2-4 lens. The full frame, RGBW EVF is small but quite functional and the feature set is remarkably extensive. I regularly use the fully articulated LCD for shots low to the ground and above my head. I push the ISO setting up to 800 and process the captures in Camera Raw for good 12x16" prints. At ISO100 I can print up to 17x25".

The following is a picture taken with the Nikon P7800 in Larchmont, NY, in -4dF weather (-25dF wind chill) with the camera almost sitting on the ground:

-4dF Sunrise

Nikon D3s

I recently acquired a professional full frame 12Mp Nikon D3s body (perfect condition, 15,000 clicks) with 28-70mm and 80-200mm AF-S 1:2.8 zooms. It was a very handsome hand-me-down from family friends. I have been shooting outdoor subjects with it for the last couple of months. At the same time, I have been going through its 430 page manual and other on-line material, and feel that I now have it under control. Huge and heavy, it is an absolutely awesome camera with excellent low light performance and very good AF-C tracking. It is considered by many pros to be the best built DSLR ever. I have run some empirical tests and found that, everything else being equal, it has more than a 2 f/stop advantage over my 16Mp Olympus E-M5 II's in terms of noise and detail. This means making 24x36" high quality prints up to ISO3200.

The following is a 1361x907 pics detail from an ISO3200 D3s Raw photo of New Rochelle, NY, developed in Camera Raw and upsized in Photoshop CC 2018, Preserve Detail 2.0, to 24x36" at 240ppi. There is no noise in the sky but plenty of fine detail in the distant apartment building.

Processing Software

I shoot Raw + jpeg with the most conservative jpeg settings (which gives me the most reliable histogram) and develop both in Camera Raw. I can always quickly improve the jpegs even with the excellent work done by the Olympus jpeg engine. I find that expertly using Camera Raw's noise reduction and sharpening gives astounding results especially with high ISO files. I complete any further processing in Photoshop CC with the additional use of Photomatix for HDR, MS ICE for panoramas and now, with the recent (2018) firmware upgrade, with the E-M5 II in-body focus stacking.

Printing

I print at home with an Epson P800 up to 17x25" (Red River papers) and use a friend's 24" Epson printer for 24x36" enlargements. I mostly print on art papers and canvas. I find the P800 to be a great printer with its limited footprint and ability to handle 3" core rolls for long landscapes up to 17 inches by 10 feet.

Epson SureColor P800:


*****

How I Shoot

After many years of shooting and printing, criticizing my own work, reading tons of published material, participating in industry events and studying the composition and light of master photographers and painters, I got to the point where I can see my subjects just by walking around and pre-visualize how my camera will record them. Before taking my camera to my eye, I have already made all the main decisions on what to shoot and how to do it.

I am an engineer (who reads manuals from cover to cover including the 430 pages of the D3s') and setting up my cameras so that they do what I want is not a big deal.

I like to photograph hand-held and use a tripod only when absolutely indispensible (after years of running up and down the Green and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire with a 30lb Manfrotto monster).

I strongly appreciate the portability of mirrorless camera systems and, at the same time, the competence and image quality of large and heavy full frame gear.

I have done a lot of different photography but today I mainly shoot landscapes, plants, and old architecture, and do still-life studies in my home DIY small studio. I do some animal photography, especially shore birds (and the birds at my feeders), just because I am often out in Nature. I love to photograph in natural light and heavy weather.

I prefer zoom lenses because they allow me to exactly frame my pictures in-camera (with some room around the perimeter for easier post-processing). I tend to close down my lenses one or two f/stops to shoot as close as possible to the lens sweet spot. I use extreme wide angles very rarely because I don't like what they do to the spatial relationship of different objects in the picture. With wide landscapes, if called for I prefer to shoot a 2 or 3 frame panorama which also increases the resolution of the capture.

Especially in the Northeast, where the vast and majestic landscapes of the West are missing, I often use a medium length zoom (i.e.: 80-200mm) to isolate the more intimate corners of larger panoramas (the pictures within a picture).

I typically bracket my exposures +-1 f/stop (or more with very high contrast subjects). Bracketing is painless and costs nothing, and provides additional insurance of proper exposure. With very high contrast subjects I also use realistic High Dynamic Range processing.  HDR is somewhat controversial but some of my "grade A" pictures would not exist without it.

I built my own in-house still-life stage that allows me to light my subjects from every direction. The photos of back-lit thin flowers are breathtakingly beautiful. The flowers become semi-transparent and the pictures look like watercolor paintings. When I get inspired, I also process pictures of other subjects for a painterly look.


*****

About Photography

If anyone promises something along the line of "photography made easy", run for your life. Photography is a demanding art form which today involves some very capable but complex technology. Nevertheless, mastering this technology is easier than improving one's creativity and learning the workings of human visual perception.

Creativity is the ability to identify and evaluate compelling subjects, light quality and direction, composition and perspective, sharpness, color, brightness, contrast, etc., especially how the camera sensor will record them (pre-visualization).

Understanding human visual perception is learning how people's eyes collect light and how the brain processes the resulting electric signals and constructs a mind image.

Creativity grows by watching and listening to master photographers and painters, and from relentless experimentation. Human visual perception is something that needs to be studied in order to process images that work well with the idiosyncrasies of our eye-brain visual system.

Mastering camera gear mostly comes down to learning how to set it up to capture well exposed, sharp pictures of your chosen subject.

Human Visual Perception

When it comes to vision, people and digital sensors work quite differently. Sensors are monoscopic and linear - twice the amount of light equals twice the amount of signal -. People's eyes are stereoscopic and non linear - light sensitivity drops with increasing brightness and color sensitivity the other way around -. They explore a scene more like a video camera by jumping around from one point of interest to the next with only a 5 degree central angle of view in sharp focus but with a dynamic range much wider than any digital camera. Everything else is peripheral vision good for seeing shapes and movement. The signal from the eyes reaches the brain where it is deconstructed into its basic components such as color, contrast, saturation, sharpness, etc. Each component is analyzed and recognized by different areas of the brain and then a final image is assembled in the occipital cortex.

This analysis and interpretation process is strongly influenced by many personal factors such as intelligence, education, life experience, familiarity with the subject, mood, etc. To make things even more complex, we witness the outside world with all our senses and a print is typically a limited testimonial of the entire physical and emotional experience. I converted completely from film to digital in 2004 because of the post-processing power of the latter. After the capture, Photoshop allows me to render the final image as close as possible to my memory of the original scene.

Sources of Learning

I read a lot and found Michael Freedman's three books "The Photographer's Eye", "The Photographer's Mind" and "The Photographer's Vision" particularly informative and inspirational. Martin Evening's "Adobe Photoshop (CC) for Photographers" is my go-to, encyclopedic guide for the software. Scott Kelby's "The Adobe Photoshop CC Book for Digital Photographers (2017 release) offers comprehensive coverage of Camera Raw, the Photoshop module where most of the typical processing of Raw captures should be done.

I consult dpreview.com and imaging-resource.com almost daily. These sites provide timely updates on new camera gear, useful articles/videos on technique and informative (often amusing) forum discussions.

A very exhaustive article on digital photography vs human vision is found here:

http://www.visualexpert.com/Resources/confusion.html